The Euro 2012: Is that a United Nations Convention?

Good Morning! It has been one of those weeks that someone pushed the fast forward button on time and forgot to tell me. Lesson learned, planning ahead simply isn’t enough anymore, the new standard is plan for the unexpected (but still in advance).

Today has a more frenetic focus. First, an explanation for the title of this post is in order; before becoming so intertwined with Ukrainian culture I had absolutely no idea what the Euro Cup was. I also thought Kiev would be a cozy little city with a “tourist” district and maybe some rolling hills, I was not aware it was such a behemoth city of around 5 million. I know that people use the world “eurocentric” to describe people who are unable to think outside the cultural box, but I think that eurocentric would be inappropriate to describe this sort of misunderstanding because the Europe they are talking about apparently does not include any of Eastern Europe. Instead I will admit to a case of full blown americentrism. I think this is probably not a real word, but it describes how little I knew about cultures that are not American or beloved by American Mainstream Media until recently.

For some reason, I took comfort in the existence of a Chanel store in Kiev. It validated the city as “real” to me. In addition to Chanel, there is every kind of high end and couture shop I am not able to afford in Kiev.

The photo to the left could be a perfect analogy for Kiev. Slava pointed out to me that there are essentially two buildings pictured here: one, you need to look at the top to see clearly and realize that it does not match the americanized business park look that is the majority of the exterior; two, that americanized exterior was literally built around the older part of the building. Lord have Mercy! That is unheard of at home. What would possibly cause Ukrainians to do such a thing? The Euro Cup 2012.

I had no concept of the sheer size of Kiev. It has around 5 million residents. You are reminded of this any time that you ride the metro. It is also home to lots of shiny, new sky scrapers. It is amazing what a city can achieve a mere 20-ish years after the fall of the Soviet Union.

The Euro Cup is one of the biggest soccer (or football, whichever you choose) events, taking place each year in a chosen host city. I arrived for the final festivities. The host of the Euro Cup benefits by having every kind of football fan pour into their city to watch the matches. What follows is a very passionate kind of tourist, flowing alcohol and lots of public urination.

This is a view of the entrance to the metro. It is probably the best way to get around the city. I would consider you suicidal if you volunteered to drive. Plus driving tends to take so much time. The metro has some beautiful stations. They are historic and artistic. Better than Paris or London. Also, Kiev has notoriously long and fast escalators.

As a final point, many Americans do not know how cheap having a cell phone is in most other countries. It is so cheap, in fact, that quite a few people have a phone for each major carrier to get free minutes by talking to people with mutual cell phone providers.

Kiev Polytechnic Institute

One of the older buildings which has aged so well.

Kiev Polytechnic Institute (KPI) was not exactly on my “must see” list. I certainly never expected to find it to be one of those hidden gems in Kiev, saturated in it’s own history and grandeur. KPI was established in 1898 and boasts around 40,000 students spread through its three campuses. This post only has photos from the Kiev campus. I feel that it might be more difficult to impress me with the beauty of a university because I graduated from one of most beautiful colleges in the United States (Agnes Scott College, you should stop by if you’re in the Atlanta area). I was floored by the whole campus, it doesn’t feel like any other part of Kiev. If you have a penchant for old buildings and love of history, here is your place in Kiev. I will let the photos speak for themselves.

One of the older buildings, which smelled of fresh paint.

KPI is a little world carved into Kiev, with some serious impact in the scientific world. The list of notable people who have spent time as faculty or students includes Dmitri Mendeleev who is father of the table of elements and E.O. Paton who invented electric welding. A more complete list is available at the KPI Wikipedia page. Throughout the campus there are small statues of recognition to former KPI members who have made an impact in the world. Sometimes, they are statues of the person’s face, other times they might be a small plane in recognition to the career of the person.

A view of the courtyard.

Even among such intelligence and modern thought, I felt I was part of a different time in history as I wandered the campus. I was told of the extensive and historical collection of documents the library houses. When trying to enter the library, a man stopped us to tell us the place was closed while finishing his cigarette. As an outsider, I could only think about what 150 years of smoking indoors has done to those documents. But then, you have to stop.Take a deep breath. And channel Billy Pilgrim by saying “And so it goes”.

KPI has some of the most expansive lawns that I have seen in the city. During the academic year, students populate the area to socialize and rest between classes. Also, it is one of the only places in Kiev where there seems to be a lot of squirrels.

All of this sounds like a dream. How wonderful would it be to go to school in a city of 5 million and a school ranked in the top 1,000 in the world? There, are some downfalls of course. I didn’t show pictures of the ugly buildings, which outnumber the beautiful ones. Call it a rose colored tour of KPI. Don’t be afraid to share your experiences with me to make this better!

Besarabsky Rynok or the Most Fancy Market in Kiev

This is an entrance to the market.

I was always curious about Besarabsky Rynok, but happening across a New York Times article  “36 hours in Kiev, Ukraine” by Finn Olaf Jones, solidified the food market on my destination list.  The trip to any city market is exciting to me, but what makes Besarabsky Rynok unique is the variety of goods offered. For instance, anything that can be consumed in pickled form can probably be found here. This is less of an international food market, and more of a national tribute to Ukrainian cuisine. In addition to fresh cut meats, you can find Ukrainian sweets and dried fruits here. It is considered by locals to have the best quality produce, but also the highest prices. I am keen on believing this because when I entered on a Saturday evening, I was one of a small number of people there–maybe due to the prohibitive prices. There is a particular group of people who tend to shop here–Ministers of Parliament, it is somewhat close to their offices and they have no shortage of money.  And contrary to almost any other market in Ukraine, you shouldn’t dream of negotiating with the vendors at Besarabsky Rynok.

Men wade through the dried goods stand.

My time in the market was cut short by a security guard telling me that I cannot take pictures. For a moment I tried to communicate in English and then gave up, disappointed, but my most enduring feeling was irritation. At a certain point, my most immature side surfaced and I sneaked a few more photos before stealthily leaving.

Meat is an essential part of the Ukrainian diet, being a vegetarian there can quickly get monotonous.
The Produce Section.

The other main way to get your produce in Ukraine is through a generic grocery store or through women who sell their goods on the roadside stands. I would deduct that most people use a combination to feed their family.

The “Pickled Everything” counter.

Above is an example of the enormous amount of pickled items available here. Would you try one of the pickled items available? I suspect that Ukrainians are so fond of pickling and preserving due to the harsh winters, at least compared to a mild Atlanta winter. I was reminded that this is one of the few places where the vendors would actually shout at me in English, which is relatively rare in Ukraine. How they knew I was English speaking, I will never know.

Art in the Park: Kiev’s Landscape Alley

Since Landscape Alley is situated pretty high up on a hill, it also provides some amazing views of the city.

We are back for a second look at Landscape Alley today. In the first part, I mentioned that all of the artwork and sculptures were created by Ukrainian artists. It is probably one of the most popular tourist destinations in the city, especially when taking into account that it’s free. The perspective of an outsider is that this is some great public art.

This playground is much more colorful than the standard ones at each of the apartment complexes.

When Landscape Alley first opened to the public in Kiev, I have been told that some local residents really liked it, while others thought it was an embarrassment to the city. They would exclaim that this was not art, and the artists were just trying to make a mockery of the city. Now that Landscape Alley has had time to grown on the residents, there was a collective agreement that more sculptures should be added to Landscape Alley.

This bench is a great piece in how imaginative and functional it is.

 

A sort of phenomenon that tourists might notice while trekking to the various attractions, is that young Ukrainian women dress up (maybe in their new favorite dress) then they go to some premeditated destination in the city with a trusted friend and will spend a lot of time taking pictures in front of statutes or posing in new settings. I am willing to bet that within a couple of hours those photos will appear on the Russian version of Facebook. This “hobby” can add time to your minute with the statue for family photos, but more importantly you are getting a taste of modern Ukrainian culture! Ukraine is a very image conscious place, they have more than one channel dedicated to fashion/model culture, so this may play a role in why you have a twenty something hanging out with the fanny pack crowd.

Part of the lure of Landscape Alley is how family friendly it is, and having multiple playgrounds in one relatively short walk is part of that reputation.
This is a little neighborhood in Kiev, tucked into a valley which is below Landscape Alley. It’s so quiet down there!

**Note to Readers: I am not from Ukraine and I have no language skills to speak of, so if you have any details to add about Ukraine, please don’t hesitate to bring them into the conversation! Thanks. Elise

 

 

 

Art in the Park: Kiev’s Landscape Alley (Part 1 of 2)

This week is going to be devoted to looking at some of the urban art that Kiev has to offer. One of the more enduring and interactive exhibitions of Ukrainian urban art is Landscape Alley on the Right Bank of Kiev. To do this post, I had to get some help from Slava, who is much more knowledgeable than I about the history of this park. From the eyes of the outsider, this Landscape Alley (translated from Paysazhnaya Alleya) is a pleasant surprise that winds past some restaurants and parks. I first visited this park in October and then again this summer; during that time, Landscape Alley grew as locals embraced the park which resulted in the creation of new sculptures. Landscape Alley is almost always busy, with people of all ages taking a stroll or sitting to enjoy a beer while their children play. Most of the sculptures are made of colorful tiles and look very child friendly. The sculptures are humorous and playful, featuring references to famous children’s literature in some of the pieces. You would be hard pressed not to find a child bouncing from the playground (which functions as a piece of art itself) to a fountain or bench. Landscape Alley makes Kiev’s rather gray and neutral background pop to life. Dotted along the entrance to the park are usually young people sitting in a circle around a guitar or couples resting on a blanket.

A reference to the Princess and the Pea is what came to mind when I looked at this sculpture.
Locals posing for a picture.
There is practically a line to have your picture taken in front of most sculptures.

According to Fashion Park website Landscape Alley was a group effort, with pieces “created by Ukrainian artists: Nazar Bilyk, Zhanna Kadyrova, Konstantin Skritutskiy, Mihail Vertuozov, Alexey Vladimirov, Vasiliy Tatarskiy, Aleksander Alekseev, Vladimir Kuznetsov, Alexander Lidagovsky. There are also the unique garden benches designed from the sketches of well-known Ukrainian fashion designers: Alexey Zalevskiy, Lilia Pustovit, Andre Tan, Zinaida Lihacheva, Olga Gromova, Lilia Litkovskaya and Sergey Danchinov (for TM IDol)”. For locals, Landscape Alley can serve as a tribute to the local art community because it features artists that are native Ukrainians. These sculptures are a great family friendly destination to visit that is free in Kiev. If you notice the buildings that serve as the background for these pictures, you will notice how they contrast in spirit and character from the sculptures. The neighborhood that is home to Landscape Alley is not so pretentious, giving a tourists a peek into everyday life.

I was especially impressed by this mural, because the pictures allow the viewer to add so many details to the face, making it seem so real.

Check back on Friday for the second part of Landscape Alley and some cultural comments on how locals approach it.

**Note to readers: I am not from Ukraine, and lack language skills. In the spirit of not sounding like a know-it-all I will be happy to correct any unintended errors, feel free to contact me if you have anything to add to the conversation! Thanks, Elise

Yes, people do still throw coins in the fountain.

A Walk through Ukrainian Streets

These photo’s are from a walk taken on the Right Bank of Kiev. The oldest parts of the city were built on top of the hill, with some gorgeous buildings. In Kiev, I can confidently say that the majority of the 5 million or so residents live in buildings that look vastly different from these beauties. It seems (from my non native perspective) that the gorgeous architecture was reserved for business and government buildings. The majority of buildings that “regular folks” live in are described as ugly by residents and I wouldn’t argue with that description. They are usually buildings that look as if they are badly in need or some external love (can’t really judge the internal trappings). One important detail is that since the end of the Soviet Era, living in these uglier buildings has become more class based; as real estate moguls have erected glittering residential buildings, they are only available to those with significant resources.

This building (above) is of the Kiev Opera House it is so beautiful and it’s opulence gives credit to Kiev’s historic contributions and respect of the arts. The opera House is also close to many great restaurants, making date night easy for those who don’t have a car in the city. Another beautiful Opera House is in the city Lviv/Lvov, but I couldn’t get a quality photo of it.

The above and below photos are of the spires of historic buildings, Orthodox Catholic churches that were built long before the Soviet Era. During Christmas time I stepped into a religious service, and I was blown away by the beauty and largely female audience.One of my favorite parts of my time in Ukraine was that if you are in Kiev during a religious holiday, you can open your window to hear a choir singing in many parts of the city.

This is a picture (above) of Saint Michael’s Cathedral. It’s history goes back to the 11th century, but is still accessible to the public. Do you think that America has cathedral’s that compare visually to the one’s in Kiev? To be on the Right Bank of Kiev, is to hear tires going over the brick roads that help to keep the historic feel of the city. The brick roads can be seen in most of the photos in this post.

Make sure you come back next week because I am going to be doing a two part post, on one of the best public art installments I have seen!

Kiev’s Main Square

Kiev’s main Square, Maidan Nezalezhnosti (sometimes referred to as Maiden for short), has huge old buildings that will take your breath away. It is at the center of the main street that runs through the city, Khreschatyk. Those majestic buildings you see in the pictures were spared from World War II. On the weekends, the main street actually closes down to cars so that pedestrians can enjoy it. If you visit it regularly, you might begin to recognize some familiar faces. One of my favorites is a woman who is panhandling, but for her cat who is elaborately dressed and leads a life of extravagance. You can find her always on Khreshchatyk, but not always in the same spot. The Main Square if probably one of the more tourist friendly areas. Maidan offers some great restaurants and 24 hour coffee shops (not as good as Golden Ducat though). It is where almost everything happens in Kiev, concerts and political events.

In the midst of hosting the EuroCup 2012, you can still see the political protesters who are protesting the imprisonment of Yulia Tymoshenka. It was explained to me that sometimes (though not in all cases) that people are paid to protest.

Speaking of political events, the above and below pictures are a protest for Yulia Tymoshenko, the former Prime Minister of Ukraine who most believe was wrongly jailed. In comparison to an Occupy protest, I would consider them very low in noise level and pretty tame. There are no real barricades to keep the crowds back on a Friday night.

A closer view of the Yulia Tymoshenka protest.

Khreshchatyk is a great place to find a restaurant of any persuasion. Within a block of the metro station is are Indian, Japanese, traditional Ukrainian and Latin style restaurants. After about 24 hours in Ukriane, you will realize that sushi seems to be available at virtually every restaurant, so you don’t need to limit yourself to one nationality.

These beautiful historic buildings are now home to international staples such as La Perla lingerie and nearby Gap.

One thing that may be surprising to a foreigners is the parking rules in Kiev, of which there are none. You will literally see people driving on the sidewalk, and more often than that, you will see people parking on the sidewalk. Or anywhere really. It never stopped shocking me. Maybe I will provide some pictures later. What do you think of Main Squares? Are they relevant? Would you bear the tourists to see it?

I have some exciting blog news, Airports Made Simple reblogged my post providing airport and flight advice, the post is titled Come Fly with Me: Tips for a Somewhat Comfortable Flight. Feel free to peek at the AMS website and see what else is going on!

And now for some acknowledgement

I was surprised and flattered this past week when Jeanette of French Paintings nominated me for the One Lovely Blog award. Jeanette is a compassionate artist (painter) living in France, writing about her musings and artwork. Her blog is great for some cubicle daydreaming and peeking into the mind of an artist. Jeanette, THANK YOU for being supportive of me despite my rookie status in the blog world. Encouragement has been priceless for me.

Following the rules of accepting the award, here are 7 things you might not know about me.

1. I listen to NPR almost all the time, barring Prairie Home Companion (sorry PHC fans).

2. Since the age of 18 I have lived in 6 states.

3. My drink of choice is Organic Valley chocolate milk.

4. I don’t own a TV (proudly).

5. I love to talk politics. I also just love to talk.

6. My monthly budget has a separate category for my latte habit.

7. When not listening to NPR, I am probably listening to Van Morrison.

Part 2 of this is to share some of the blogs I spent (too much) time on.

1. Global from Home this website is for those who have some roots. A wonderful writer, and focus on multiple cultures. Elise, yes we share a name, has already received the award, but in the spirit of disclosure, this is a GREAT site.

2. prsnldvlpmnt they are travelling the States in a van.

3. schwingeninswitzerland a couple of expats in Switzerland. They give great cultural tidbits and have some great photos.

4. My Life is a Romantic Comedy a blogger new to Detroit, blogging about her experience. Her perspective makes me laugh.

5. Globally Misguided a woman is travelling after ditching the corporate ladder scene. The writer provides some great insight.

6. Alex Travel Bum I like this blog for it’s photo’s, perspective, and his choice in travel destinations. Who wouldn’t love to go to Granada and experience the caves!

7. Stupenders even if you hate travelling, go to this website. This girl has a wicked sense of humor and has left me laughing so hard I cried in public repeatedly. My favorite is her post “What even is packing?”.

8. Phil Diro This man has impeccable taste in men’s items. I am taking note for the upcoming holiday season.

9. Pictures Don’t Count a girl plans her escape to New Zealand. Gutsy. May we all remain this way.

Snoop around and see what these folks have to offer. Some are seasoned experts, some are new to the game. Enjoy!

Where to have coffee in Kiev

Happy Tuesday Everyone! Ukraine tends to be a country that has tea time and a tea aisles that resemble a shrine colored with all that nature will allowed to be steeped in water. Me, being an American with coffee running in my veins, had to stifle my panic after finding there is not a very high quality coffee scene in the Ukrainian cities I have been too.

The Golden Ducat at Arsenalna station.

There is a place I was introduced to, eventually becoming a regular, called the Golden Ducat (translated to English). It is a relatively small franchise, I was first there in January while spending Christmas in a beautiful city called Lviv or Lvov. The shop there has mirrors on the ceiling and is decorated with rich, dark wood. It is a little piece of heaven in an enchanting city.

The inside of the Arsenalna Golden Ducat.

In Kiev, there are two Golden Ducats, one is near the Arsenalna station on the tube, (pictured above). They have a parrot there with an opinion about everything. The wall near the parrot cage has hundreds of coins stuck in the crevices of the wall if you look closely. The second coffee shop is my favorite one, off of Kreschatk Station on the tube (where the main square of the city is). You exit in the opposite direction of the main square and go up two sets of huge escalators and turn right. It’s about two or three blocks directly down the street. Truth be told, the second Golden Ducat is easily walking distance from Arsenalna station as well.

The Kreschatk Golden Ducat.

Why is Golden Ducat worth coping with the potential tourists that will be milling about? First of all, it is arguably the most famous coffee shop in Ukraine for a reason. They boast no artificial ingredients and care deeply about the quality of their chocolate. Second of all, they have a friendly staff, who will smile and remember your face. Third, the environment is both romantic (candles!) and laid back enough where you can come by yourself and not be made aware of it by everyone around you. All of the shops share a narrow, dark staricase and very solid wooden furniture. They are popular with the international crowd, don’t worry they have English menu’s. Personally, I would recommend their frappe. It is a delicious mix of milk, chocolate, ice cream and coffee.

The interior looks almost medieval.

There are tons of other coffee shops in Ukraine, but none have the homey, original feel of Golden Ducat. The some of the other coffeeshops feel strangely like Starbucks or at least taste like corporate interest. On a plus side, some of my less favorite one’s are open 24 hours. If you have visited Ukraine and had a great latte, feel free in chime in and leave a recommendation!

**A note to readers. I am not from Ukraine, and have absolutely no language skills, so I am going to step out on a limb and openly admit that I may have misspelled some items. When possible I use Google to check for accuracy, but for instance, you will notice no link to the Golden Ducat website, that is because I couldn’t find one. Please bear with me and feel free to share any information that may be helpful to others! Good luck on your search for that perfect cup of Joe!

Kiev: Life on the River

This was actually a view out my kitchen window.

Ukraine. More specifically, Kiev (also spelled Kyiv), is quite a departure from America. The first thing is the Cyrillic alphabet. Yikes! It is like instantly being illiterate, but as an adult with expectations of literacy. You cannot even guess which sounds to make. Then there are the implications of a country that is struggling to carve an identity out of the nightmare that was the Soviet Union.

A view of the city on the Right Bank.

Americans have a cultural disposition to smile. Ukrainians do not, at least the urban folks. Once you come to understand the historical reasoning, don’t take it personally. To put it lightly, the Soviet Union did not focus on fostering a sense of community. Once you get past the bristle, I feel as if the people I met were some of the kindest around, going to the ends of the earth just to make you comfortable.

The Left Bank.

Kiev is spread over both sides of the Dnieper River; a city of around 3 million. It’s the largest city in Ukraine, and you can be reminded of that daily when you ride the tube. Another unique form of mass transit in Ukraine are these yellow buses called marschrutka. They are to Ukraine what the double decker bus is to London.

There is an island between the Right and Left Bank, called Hydropark, where locals go to cool off in the summer heat. Another nearby island boasts a nudist beach.

One of the more curious things about Ukraine, is that it seems most restaurants serve sushi regardless of the contents of the remaining menu. Peanut Butter is very difficult to find. And don’t even think about looking for a reliable cupcake! What food would you miss if you were in a country that had very distinct cuisine?

If you are a smoker, you only have a few more months of blissfully smoking indoors. As you read this, you might think “duh, just like New York”; the difference is EVERYBODY smokes here. I can’t imagine how restaurants and bars will change once this legislation takes effect. There are two English language newspapers in Kiev, otherwise English is not something you might expect to hear everyday unless you job demands it. I also learned that if a young person is speaking English, look at their clothing and proceed with caution because they may be an American missionary; this could cause unnecessary grief for those not looking to be saved.

Along the bridge you can see people fishing, and sometimes people jump off the bridges into the water, others try their luck with bungee jumping.
Kiev cityscape of the Right Bank.

Today is an exciting day because I am going to be making an effort to post twice a week (likely Tuesdays and Fridays), but shorter posts. Stop by earlier in the week to peek at This American Adventuress!