Back from the dead and basics about Kiev
So I’m back from a hiatus of several months. To be honest, maintaining this blog is a bit harder than I thought (ok it’s as much work as I thought but my motivation seems to be less than expected). I kinda lost that drive to write and make content for some time… but I’m back and I hope to be able to make updates with all the stuff that’s happened in between!
Anyway, there’s a lot of stories to be told, so let’s get to them!
So in my last post I alluded to writing something about my trip to Kiev in May. Funnily, in between that time and now, I’ve actually been able to go to Kiev one more time. Both times for business but I feel like I was there enough and interacted enough with my local colleagues that I feel like I really got to know well Kiev.
Ok but first – Ukraine. I mean to be honest, this country has never been on my radar of places to go. I knew nothing about Ukraine (except Chernobyl and Chicken Kiev) until like 3 years ago when I started working in a company which has a presence in Ukraine. I guess normally people are perhaps drawn to visit Ukraine to see Chernobyl, but visiting disaster zones is not exactly my cup of tea (it still isn’t and I don’t know if I would ever want to visit Chernobyl).
In any case, in May, I first had the chance to visit the capital for work. By this point, I’ve heard so much about the food and lively city that I was just raring to go.
I will admit that I had some apprehensions about going. First and foremost was the fact that I don’t speak/read Russian or Ukrainian, so I knew it would be a challenge to explore alone. Second is the fact that I am an Asian woman traveling alone, and there are a lot of stereotypes, misconceptions etc etc that’s always at the back of my mind whenever I’m going somewhere new. (Honestly this whole thing is worth one really long blog post – and some therapy sessions – in itself)
In any case – in both areas, I realized there’s just absolutely nothing to be concerned about. In most of the places I went to alone, almost all the time people could speak at least some rudimentary English that it was good enough to do what I wanted. At one time I even went to a wedding dress fitting with a lady who spoke almost no English – but it still was a nice experience and we got by fine with Google Translate.
This brings me to the other point: Ukrainian people are extremely nice, open, and friendly AND, despite being one of the very few Asian looking people around, I found it super easy to just blend in with the rest. I never felt singled out for being foreign. People are genuinely interested in helping you have a nice time in their city.
Most people speak Russian and/or Ukrainian. There’s some sort of political thing about speaking Russian vs Ukrainian – but as a tourist, no one will care. Knowledge of one or the other is already way better than just knowing English.
In Kiev, English works ok. You can’t expect everyone to know English of course but I honestly never had any problems in any of the stores I went to.
I used my credit card a lot. Most of the places accept them, but of course if you want to buy some trinket in a random stand in the metro station or buy a coffee at a small coffee stand – don’t expect them to take cards. It’s always useful to have some hryvnias (the official currency) in your pocket for these situations.
There are many banks and ATMs around Kiev so personally I had zero problems with using my Belgian bank card to get some local currency.
My advice – buy a prepaid simcard when you arrive. Last time I paid like 80 hryvnia (3 euros) for a sim with unli calls to anywhere in the world, with 3GB data. Found it super useful when I had to call Spain and Belgium unexpectedly during this trip. I didn’t even finish this data allocation for my weeklong stay.
Sim cards are widely available in supermarkets like ATB so it’s not that big of a problem to find them. You just insert it on your phone and register. It does help to have someone who can understand Russian, but in any case you could probably ask for help at the hotel reception.
Anyway if connection on the go is not THAT important, almost all the places have free wifi anyway.
Kiev is well connected by metro. In between metro stations, everything is quite walkable.
One ride on the metro one way is 8 hryvnias. This is only 0.30 euros!!
For tickets, you need to either buy a token for a one ride ticket, a metro card or have a credit card with pay wave.
If you have a credit/debit card with Pay Wave (contactless), you can use the contactless system to pay for trips on the metro. You just tap it on the barriers.
If you do not have this kind of credit/debit card, you need to line up on the window and buy a token from the lady. Normally you can buy only one token at a time as they are encouraging people to start buying the metro card. But anyway if you aren’t in Kiev for long, there isn’t much sense in buying a metro card.
There are also official bus lines that run through the city, but I honestly never saw a need to use it as a tourist. Metro + walking works well.
If you’re lazy, Uber is available in Kiev! It’s also super cheap to get an Uber. For a night ride of 8 kilometers (around 15 minutes), I paid only around 4 euros. Taxis are also everywhere and are on par with this cheap rates. Personally I’m more comfortable with Uber as it’s easy to be clear about the location you want to go to. There are also some other taxi apps specific to Kiev, but you may need to research more about it.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also take a ride in a Soviet staple, the Marshrutka. If you find a line in the street, it is probably a line for a Marshrutka. It’s basically a bus, but by private “companies”. I think some routes are only served by these Marshrutkas and normally unlike normal buses, they will stop in non-designated bus stops. If you are from the Philippines, it’s the soviet version of a passenger jeepeny. Complete with having to pass money from one passenger to another so you can pay the driver.
I took a quick journey on one with some of my Kiev colleagues, and honestly it was just like riding a bus (albeit a really old soviet era bus). I don’t know if I could recommend riding it though if you don’t have anyone who knows the system riding with you. It would be quite tough to understand the rules at first and the routes of where the bus would go (Google Maps won’t give you transport directions with Marshrutka unfortunately).
Anyway what’s there to do in Kiev?
- DRINK COFFEE
Aside from the motherland monument, the single most obvious thing about Kiev is that people are coffee addicts. You cannot walk 100 meters without encountering a coffee stand, coffee shop, coffee vendor, or literally any kind of place that will see you caffeine. They don’t sell only normal espresso, cappuccinos and lattes – they sell pretty much the whole gamut of coffee based frappes and shakes. Even the tiniest coffee stand sells you at least 10 different kinds of coffee frappes. It’s insane. Not only that, they are all reasonably priced (read: not starbucks level). You can expect to may around 2 euros for some decent coffee.
Food is cheap, good, and I’ve found here a lot of cuisines not normally available in Western Europe, America or Asia, and did I mention it’s CHEAP? I now know how Swiss people feel when they go and visit almost any other country.
If you’re eating for lunch, check if the restaurant has business lunch options. I’ve been able to eat one full course meal (salad, soup, mains and drink) for around 4 euros at the Banka Bar because of business meal. It’s quite popular in most restaurants but of course your choices are more limited than ordering a la carte.
As I mentioned, don’t’ be worried about not speaking the language. In restaurants, most of the places I went to alone had at least one person who could speak English and normally had an English menu. If not, I mean there’s always Google Translate.
One of the best meals I’ve ever eaten was in a yacht club by the Dnipro river (below).
While you’re there, I would recommend to try local Ukrainian food of course (aside from Chicken Kiev), and my new found favorite cuisine, Georgian.
Some stuff to try…
Under the Ukrainian side:
- Salo – only tried the spread on the bread (I suggest not to google what it is and just eat it)
- Golubtsi – MY FAVORITE
- Deruny – basically potato pancakes
- Kvass – a drink that can only be described as a combination of beer and coca cola
- Okroshka – cold milk soup
- Vareniki – dumplings (can be sweet or savory)
- Borscht (of course) – I’m not a big fan of beets so I tried the green borscht which was great
Under the Georgian side:
- Khachapuri – basically pizza, damn tasty pizza
- Khinkali – dumplings or the Georgian xiao long bao (times 10)
That’s just a short list of what was quite memorable to me.
Honestly there are SO MANY restaurants of many different kinds of cuisines and all of them pretty great (and cheap).
Small shout out to Puzata Hata. A really great and cheap place to buy all kinds of local food for cheap.
If you want to ask for some recos, feel free to hit me up.
On my next post, I’ll list down all the possible stuff to do in Kiev city center. 🙂