Welcome to Kiev! The Modern City

Trip Start Mar 01, 2012
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Flag of Ukraine  , Kiev,
Monday, July 30, 2012

Drop off my luggage after a good game of charades with the, what do you call the lady who's like a doorman but she lives there? There was a great story about one- Elegance of the Hedgehog... There's no one home at the hostel, so she tells me to go eat. There's an adorable retro-Soviet diner across the street and I have a bowl of peImeni with mushrooms- yum! I guess these delicious dumplings are from Siberia- good thing I didn't discover them sooner. I have just enough time after lunch to change my shoes and join the free tour downtown. I just love these tours! Hope I can find them in all the places I visit.
We start the tour on Independence Square, Maidan Nezalezhnosti. Our guide, Victoria, shows us a memorial from the Orange Revolution- it's not a war monument, but a monument to the many people who found love during the revolution - a monument to romance.
We each look up the distance to our nations' capitals from the city's 0km marker (which is actually across from central PO here in Kiev!), the Globe Monument- nicknamed "Lollipop". We are currently 7828 km from Washington, DC.
Across the street is the Hotel Ukraine- a project of Stalin's. It wasn't finished before he died, so the city quickly completed it. Even with the hasty construction, it was once Kiev's most luxurious hotel.
Just to the left of the hotel is Europe's largest flower clock- built in 2010 to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the victory in WWII.
In the center if the square is a column, typical of the Soviet Era. It celebrates 110th years of Ukrainian Independence. The woman atop the column symbolizes the beauty and glory of Ukraine and its women. She is crowned with a wreath of elder rose, a typical Ukrainian flower featured in many national poems.
The main street, Khreschatyk, is also called the American Walking Mile, due to its length. In Soviet times, the square was called simply, City Square or Horse Market Square, but today it's called European Square and proudly displays European flags. Ukraine eagerly anticipates her welcome into the EU.
We pass Ukrainian House, now an exhibition hall. There are often strikers outside. This week there are residents supporting the controversial attempts to have Ukrainian declared the second official language.
On the banks of the Dnipro River we see a statue symbolizing Russian and Ukrainian friendship. The rich Russian is on the right, bare chested, after giving the shirt off his back to his Ukrainian comrade.
There's a great view from up here. We can see Podil on the right bank. Kiev's most popular site for weddings, St. Nicholas' Church, sits on the water. The Left Bank is newly developed. Only 300,000 people live there.
Victoria shares a famous quote about Kiev by the French author, Honore de Balzac. I can't seem to verify this with any online sources, but it's an apt and pretty comment, so I've paraphrased here:
I've seen many cities with parks, but I've never seen a park with a city.
We follow the river to Mariinskyi Park and pass a cute monument to a frog. I didn't catch the entire explanation, but it's a parable relating to stingy people. The frog has swallowed a man, maybe a really stingy one? Now everyone thriws coins inside. Legend has it, if your coin is the last one to fill up the frog, you will own the whole estate.
We cross the lover's bridge, which historically was only open to royalty. Victoria is very surprised to hear that no one on the tour (we represent Canada, Australia, Turkey and Brazil) shares the sweet, eastern European tradition of the newlywed locks.
In 1922 the royal vegetable garden was transformed into Dynamo Stadium. It is surrounded by lush gardens, but still clearly visible from the path. Not sure why anyone buys a ticket with this view!
We approach the "Mushroom Stage" where amateur performers hone their skills. None of us have the desire to perform, but there is a cute girl in a leotard that seems about to do something as we leave...
The Mariinskyi Palace was built by Elizabeth I in the 1700's. She was engaged to be married and wanted her wedding to be in a church like the ones she had at home in SPb. It very closely resembles the Summer Palace. Unfortunately, this love story did not have a happy ending. Peter the Great did not approve of the match for some reason and they never married. The building was used for Presidential ceremonies until 2007 when renovations began and continue today.
We pass the Parliamentary Building- its imposing size and grey color were used to glorify communism and intimidate people. There's a statue of a general that liberated Kiev from the 775-day Nazi occupation. Every 9th of May, residents bring flowers to show their appreciation.
The first national bank of Ukraine is really pretty. When it was constructed in the 1900's, the design was selected by a contest. It was ahead of its time with running hot water, electricity and AC that circulated air from the rose garden-that must have smelled amazing!
The official Presidential residence takes up several buildings. Across the street is the infamous House of Chimeras (monsters). It was designed by the same architect as the National Bank, Wladislaw Horodecki. It was very modern for its time, constructed entirely of concrete. The company wanted free advertising, so they gave him all the materials for no charge. Additionally, it sits on a hill- in fact, from one side it appears to have only three floors, but as you walk around the hill you see that it actually has six. Because of the uneven foundation, the land was undesirable for construction, so he got it for free. With such low overhead, he had great artistic freedom. It's crazy looking! Covered with all kinds of animals, real and imaginary. He was hunter, so there are lots of safari animals. Apparently he got the idea from his young daughter who asked him to put all the monsters on the outside of the house so they wouldn't visit her in her dreams. The inside was very modern as well. It had a wine cellar, an ice room for food storage and a room for his cow! We didn't see the inside though. You have to make a reservation up to six months in advance for the tours.
Our last stop is on Kiev's fanciest shopping alley. Horodecki used to come to a cafe on this street every day. He would bring a copy of the safari book he wrote. I decided to have a chat about it with him...
After the tour I head up to Mykhailivska Ploscha (think that means plaza) by funicular to check out the pretty cathedrals. I wander back down Andriivski Descent; its curvy alleyways remind me of Toledo in Spain. There are heaps of street musicians. I spot some people high on a hill and hike up for an amazing sunset view overlooking the city.
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