Borsch and Verenky are the staples of Ukrainian Cuisine and a trip to Ukraine would not be complete without trying any.
You will never try two bowls of Borsch that are the same as everyone has their own way of making it. Some make it thin like a soup, others make it thick like a stew but it is my favourite meal in Ukraine and I have some on every visit. Borsch is typically made from beetroot (beets), tomatoes, stock, potatoes, sour cream and sometimes with meat like beef or chicken.
Verenyky is kind of like Ukrainian Ravioli. You can get a variety of different fillings. The most popular fillings are usually cottage cheese, potato, meat and cabbage but you can also get the sweet variety which is my favourite with cherries or blueberries.
In Ukraine, most people follow the traditions of Eastern Orthodoxy and celebrate Christmas according to the Julian calendar on January 7th. Over the weeks before and after the holiday, Kyiv is decorated with colourful lights, Christmas trees and nativity scenes. There’s a Christmas market at Maidan Nezalezhnosti and along a few blocks of vul Khreshchatyk that sells all kinds of meats and breads, honey, nuts, spices, cakes and sweets, clothing, and of course the usual tourist stuff. If you’re looking for a souvenir there are some kiosks with more unique items but you have to walk a bit down the street away from the main square to find them. There are also lots of choices for food and drinks along the square and the boulevard including hot coffee and chocolate to keep warm and Ukrainian favourites like shashilik, a chicken kebab served with a spicy ketchup.
Try to time your visit during a weekend; vul Khreshchatyk is closed to traffic and it really amplifies the festive atmosphere. Tons of people fill the streets and at Christmas time there’s children’s rides, music and lights. My favourite time to visit was in the evening when the colourful lights come on, street musicians come out, and groups of friends and couples meet up to start their nights out. Many stores stay open into the evening so you can pop in and out to do a little shopping and see some of the elaborate holiday toy and candy displays. Dress warm and plan to visit in late December to mid-January to be in Kyiv for the holidays, a uniquely beautiful time to see the city.
Ukraine became independent from the Soviet Union on 24th August 1991 and is celebrated every year with a huge concert and celebration on Kyiv's Main Street Kreschatyk. Here you will see some of Ukraine's most famous singers/bands perform.
During both of my visits to Kiev I have witnessed political protests of one form or another. Both times the protests were outside the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament) or around the area. Both times they were peaceful and it was very interesting to see. All the Ukrainians that I have met have a great interest in politics and have a clear idea of how they want the country to be.
Kiev is the Russian spelling of 'the mother of all Russian cities', but it's the capitol of Ukraine, so officially ought to be spelt, & pronounced - "Kyiv"...
Now that Ukrainian is the first language of 'the new Ukraine', all road & direction signs around the capitol are bi-lingual Cyrillic, with Kyiv printed above, or before, Kiev...
However, everywhere but L'vov, Russian is still the language on the street, & when waiting at public transport terminals, you'll hear the taxi & minibus drivers announcing to potential customers, "Ki-ev, Ki-ev, any1 for Ki-ev?"
The difference in pronunciation between the 2 languages is subtle, but nonetheless, & despite what you might be told by people, Russian & Ukrainian are NOT the same 'yizik'...
Ukrainian is much more Slavic, & alike Polish, with many fundamental words, such as those for days of the week, & months, bearing no resemblance whatsoever to their Russian equivalent...
Also, Ukrainian emphasises the sibilant sounds of the alphabet, whereas Russian is equally sibilant & guttaral, (& therefore a tongue-twisting language to learn!)
So, Kiev or Kyiv - it's your preference, but it's all the same place, however you say it...
Like in England it is very nice to receive flowers as a gift but in Ukraine chosing an odd number is the key. In Ukraine you would only buy an even number of flowers to put beside the grave of someone who is deceased.
You should also never give flowers or gifts over a threshold. So if you are outside of a door do not pass the flowers to the person on the otherside of the door. Go into the house first or get the receiver to come out.
If or when you come to any of the countries where they sell kvas - TRY IT!! I have tried quite a few brands now and I have to say I really like it. The first time I tried it was in Kraków. That one gave a very slight but sensible tingling feel on the tounge. But the taste was nice. The next time I tried there was a completely different taste and no tingling (which I have in fact only noticed once) but still, the taste was good. Everytime I have tried kvas the taste has been different from the other times! In Kiev I bought a 1L bottle in a food store for 7 Hryvnia. It tasted very much of dark rye bread (which is natural since kvas is most often made of bread and water that is put into fermentation). Just outside of the store close to my hotel I bought half a litre in a plastic cup for 5 Hryvnia. There was just a big, happy smile all over the face!! That was the best kvas I have ever tasted this far, it was absolutely wonderful! Sweet in taste and light in colour, so this was not made from rye bread.
As it is fermented it ought to be some alcohol in it but I have never been able to sense it.
Victory day is a day where most of the ex soviet countries celebrate the lives of the soldiers who died fighting for Independence against Nazi Germany. In Ukraine Victory day is a bank holiday and is considered a non working day although some shops and restaurants in the city may still be open. If Victory day falls on a weekend then the Monday nearest will be non working and will be a long weekend.
There is usually some sort of Parade or concert going on during Victory day and not just in Kyiv but most of the major cities in Ukraine. On my last trip to Kyiv I even saw some Russian protest although I am not completely sure what that was about.
See my Kyiv travelogue for some pictures of the Victory day concert that i saw in May 2012.
One of the popular drinks found in and around Kiev is Kvass, a fermented beverage made from dark bread. It is served by the glass, by the pitcher, in plastic bottles like soda pop... but no pop, only a low alcohol level, generally less than 1%. Generally classified as a non alcoholic drink. The taste is pleasant and I started enjoying it fairly quickly.
According to my local Kiev experts, corruption is rampant. Quite often when one party is booted out of office, the bootee party members are jailed quite often for fraud....The winning party probably is just as bad and evil, but that is what happens when there are winners and losers in Ukraine. There are posters all over Kiev to "Free Yulia", a very wholesome looking politician who is on the losing side. My Kiev experts say she is just as corrupt as the next....
The Ukrainian Ocarina known as the Zozulkoyu (named after the cockoo) is similar so many other slavic ocarina's. The Ukrainian model is known to reproduce bird sounds exceptionally well in the hands of a skilled player...or exceptionally bad bird sounds in the hands of someone like me.
The Kievites and the city visitors celebrate the City Day on the last weekend in May.
This festival has become very popular of late and attracts thousands of people to improvised stages all over the city, in each of its ten districts.
A big part of the festival is the tradesmen exhibition in St.Andrew's Descent where you can see and buy lots of souveniers of folk handicrafts, pictures of local painters and lots of other trivia.
The city looks expecially festive on those days when the chestnuts are in blossom!
European Square along with Independence Square often become places of meeting of thousands of people who come there to attend different concerts.
The traffic is closed in Khreshchatyk and you can walk freely enjoying the music and your company.
There are concerts in summer in front of the Ukrainian House (the National Cultural Center).
These concerts attract lots of people on weekends.
When you come to Independence Square, you will see the Gate of Archangel St.Michael who is the Patron Saint of Kiev.
The statue stands in the middle of Independence Square and was dedicated in 2001.
Archangel St.Michael is represented on the city's coat-of-arms.
I think it's a good idea for all the visitors of the city to browse Independence Square and take some pictures of it.
The city consists of ten districts, among them three districts are located on the left bank of the Dnipro and seven – on the elevated right bank of Kiev.
People call the elevated part of Right-Bank Kiev Upper Kiev and the flat part of it - Lower Kiev.
If you have some time before your train leaves, why not take a bus tour of the city?
The bus tours are organized by Krayevyd Co.
Its booking-office is at McDonald's restaurant outside the railway station.
The bus tour lasts for two hours.
It costs 50 UAH for a ticket (the price can change).
The bus tour takes you around the main sites of the capital:
- St.Volodymyr's Cathedral in Shevchenko Boulevard,
- Sophia Cathedral in Sophia Square,
- St.Michael's Cathedral in St.Michael's Square,
- St.Andrew's Church in St.Andrew's Descent,
- the National Opera House in St.Volodymyr Street,
- Independence Square and Khreshchatyk;
- European Square;
- St.Volodymyr's Hill;
- Contract Square;
- Petro Mohyla Academy;
- the Ukrainian parliament building in Hrushevsky Street;
- Dinamo stadium named after Lobachevsky;
- Cave Monastery;
- a visit to St.Flor's women's monastery .