After our pleasant little introduction to Ukraine’s capital city, Peder and I set off on our first full day of sightseeing: a walking tour of as many must-see landmarks as we could cram into the second half of a day.
We left St. Michael’s Monastery just after 3pm (remember, we’d been up socializing with our new Russian friends until the wee hours of the morning) and headed straight for a small funicular railway that would take us down to the riverfront mercentile district of Podil.
From there we looped up towards the city’s main boulevard, following it to Maydan Nezalezhnosti – Independence Square. Independence Square is the city’s most popular meeting place, made famous in late 2004 when it became ground zero for the Orange Revolution.
Once again, I must pause to briefly reiterate just how much we were loving the vibe of the city. Here in Independence Square, students gathered for photographs in front of statues and fountains, children ran circles around their parents laughing and playing, and street performers peddled balloons and trinkets to the cheerful crowds. It reminded me in many ways of Prešernov trg in Ljubljana, except that it had more of a “big city bustle” than “small-town quaintness” type of feel.
Next we continued towards the bizarre House of Chimeras, an early 20th century building that’s literally covered with demonic-looking animals and gargoyles. It looked like something straight out of Ghostbusters.
…It also happened to stand directly across the way from the Presidential administration building. Interesting view President Yushchenko must have 😛
From here it was a short walk to leafy-grean vul Shovkovychna, a main road through Lypky, a neighborhood full of mansions built by some of Kiev’s wealthiest aristocrats,
And into Misky Sad, a huge green park with a spectacular overlook of the Dnieper River and Eastern side of Kiev.
As Peder and I stood atop the overlook surveying the vast city below us, we couldn’t help but comment on how surprised we were – both at how sprawling the city actually is, and at its remarkably plentiful greenery.
When I first envisioned the “capital of Ukraine,” I saw in my mind’s eye a drab soviet-style metropolis of gray concrete buildings. That couldn’t have been farther from reality. In fact, in many ways Kiev didn’t even look like a capital city at all – its healthy mix of trees, waterways, and buildings made for too pristine and beautiful a city to be an obvious “capital.” Certainly a far cry from drab and communist.
Continuing farther through the park and slightly downhill, we soon came to the massive Rainbow Arch, part of the Friendship of Nations monument celebrating the 1654 unification of Russia and Ukraine.
Beneath the arch, a statue of two brothers representing Russia and Ukraine has more recently been supplemented by an image of Cossacks and other Ukrainian patriots.
…as well as some Coke-sponsored seating and a Jumbotron for viewing the afternoon’s soccer match 😛
Leaving the small square we found ourselves once again looking over the street leading back to St. Michael’s Monastery, where we first kicked off our day.
We followed it back past the National Philharmonic and to St. Sofia’s Cathedral, just a block away from St Michael’s.
Because the sun was starting to set we decided to pick up our pace, hurrying past the National Opera Theatre and St Volodymyr’s Cathedral and heading straight for Kiev University.
“In 1901 Tsar Nicholas I ordered this building to be painted blood red in response to student protests against army conscription.” (Lonely Planet)
The park across from the university did seem like a fantastically social student hangout, but as we were nearing the end of the tour we decided to press on – making a mental note in case of a free evening later into our stay. The one last stop ahead of us was Kiev’s only remaining Lenin statue, looking straight at Bessarabsky Rynok – an indoor fruit market that had sadly already closed.
…And which had apparently been replaced by some live outdoor club event, complete with dancers and a DJ!
Now that was a hard temptation to resist…but we were both pretty exhausted (not to mention way under-dressed), so we decided to call it a night and make our way home to catch up on some much-needed sleep. We had a big day ahead of us, at Kiev’s undisputed number-one tourist attraction (and the holiest place in the entire country).
Still, we did opt for a slightly longer route that let us pass once more through vul Khreshchatyk, the city’s main throughfare.
As it was now around dusk, the streetside cafes had filled with young people dressed to impress, hopping out of shiny sports cars and sometimes even sipping drinks right on the walking promenade – even though it’s supposedly illegal. Maybe the “cops hassling everyone” thing really is unique to Odesa, as the cops who first shook us down had said; we simply assumed they were trying to save face. Maybe we got this country all wrong after all.
And after just a few early-evening photos as we passed back through Independence Square, our first (half-)day in Kiev at last came to an end.
So, who’s ready for a visit to the Ukrainian capital? 🙂