As an Indian, I find it extremely stressful to travel abroad for pleasure. Coupled with the triathlon-level exhausting visa paperwork involved and the prohibitive euro-rupee exchange rate, I could never imagine travelling to Europe — until I went to Kiev a few weeks ago.
It’s visa on arrival for Indians and all I needed was travel insurance and an Airbnb booking. What’s more, Ukraine turned out to be as cheap as India. I experienced a sliver of the European life at prices straight out of Goa. The Ukrainian capital is filled with a bevy of amazing bars and restaurants. And everyone’s dressed to the nines even on the streets. Contrary to popular opinion, the city is safe and people can be seen gallivanting even at 3 am on a weekday. Bars and clubs are open well into the early morning, a concept as alien as it can be to someone who inhabits the bowels of Noida.
There are also loads of massive green spaces, which would have fallen prey to land sharks in any Indian city. The city has amazing aesthetics across it. On my taxi ride from Boryspil Airport, I noticed that even the massive condominiums featured beautiful graffiti that gave them a very edgy look, as if I was in the art district of Detroit or Beirut.
Of course, no trip to Kiev will be complete without visiting Maidan, where people got together in February 2014 to overthrow the government of the president at the time Viktor Yanukovych for deciding against joining the European Union. “The Kiev Moment may also live on as an imperishable example and rebuke to trespassing tyrants for whom military muscle bypasses morality. You leave Maidan feeling that history’s clock should stop at moments like this. But it never will,” wrote Nigel Andrews of the Financial Times a year later.
The loss of more than 100 people has been beautifully commemorated at this monument that was a city within the city for the protesters. It certainly didn’t feel great to know where the Russian snipers were placed during those heady few days. To shake off my post-cataclysm torpor, I headed towards Mariinsky Park, which reminded me a lot of New York’s Central Park in terms of gorgeous foliage. This leafy place is completely natural, unlike NYC’s manmade marvel.
A panoramic view of Kiev
A breathtaking view of Kiev River Port and the Dnieper River awaits you from a corner and it is worth dying for. In terms of cuisine, you must absolutely have the borsch, a sour soup that was manna for my travel-weary soul on day one.
No trip to Kiev is complete without a visit to Saint Sophia’s Cathedral, an 11th-century monument with enough atmosphere and architecture to make it a shoo-in for a potential location of any Game of Thrones episode. There are beautiful paintings of Jesus and his apostles that are simultaneously antiquated and marvellous.
At a time when the world looks like a giant tourist trap, Kiev seems hell bent on being indifferent to tourists — English is hardly spoken and most of the restaurant menus are in Ukrainian. That said, non-Ukrainians aren’t scoffed at in the least. The street signs are in English and the Google Translate app works like a charm. It was a great relief to see that there are no street vendors looking to peddle ersatz souvenirs to unwitting tourists.
For those looking to seamlessly mesh their FitBit stats with unalloyed ancient history, the city offers loads of therapeutic walks with history oozing from each of those cobbled streets.
It’s important you stay in the city centre. My Airbnb on Mykhailivska Street was perfect — a hop, skip and jump away from the Maidan and Khreshchatyk Street, the stretch where high fashion meets streetwear.
Pancakes at Smørrebrød
A bowl of borch
Among the must-visit restaurants is Smørrebrød, a Norwegian restaurant that’s every bit as Scandinavian as its name suggests. Its pancakes with blueberry jam and Aperol Spritz cocktail deliver all the gourmet bang for each of your precious bucks. For authentic Ukrainian food, you ought to make a trip to Petrus-b, located near the city’s football stadium where Real Madrid recently beat Liverpool to lift the Champions League. The Pelmeni, a Russian version of dumplings, and Kvashenaya Kapusta, a local riff on Sauerkraut, are truly out-of-body experiences. And if cocktails are your poison, go straight to Parovoz Speak Easy, which is nestled inside a movie theatre. Have any of its gin-based cocktails to experience bliss.
Kiev offers you a quintessential first-world experience for a week at Rs70,000 (flight tickets included). If that isn’t a steal, I don’t know what is.