Before moving on to Poland, I’ll post just a few remaining Ukraine blog notes that didn’t make it into any of the preceding entries.
Note that this is in addition to my Odesa Observations post, which deals only with that one very unique city.
• Ukrainians seem to put sour cream on every type of food imaginable. Even in their soup and on their dessert. It’s pretty tasty…but a bit strange at the same time
• Apparently the widespread popularity of Rollerblades I observed in Slovenia wasn’t unique to that country, but common throughout this part of the world in general. Lots of Rollerbladers in East Europe. Cool!
• I found it quite surprising how many Ukrainians speak Russian almost exclusively. While I can’t claim the ability to personally differentiate between the two similar-sounding languages, whenever I’d ask someone how to say something in Ukrainian they’d almost invariably reply “I speak Russian, not Ukrainian!” According to Wikipedia only 17.3% of the population are Russian-speaking (as compared to 77.8% Ukrainian). These numbers do not reflect my personal experiences at all.
• While we’re on the topic of language, I should probably mention that Peder has once again managed to amaze me with his linguistic ability. OK, so this isn’t really a Ukraine observation – but it seemed like the appropriate spot to mention it 😛 Although he’s never even listed Russian as one of his many languages, reading and understanding Cyrillic has seemed to pose no problem at all. Justin = jealous.
• Most people know that soccer is the most popular sport in the world…but as the World Cup rapidly approaches, it’s been almost overwhelming to see just how popular it truly is. Every city we’ve visited recently has had at least one massive soccer event in a public park or square, often with mini-fields for local kids to play, jumbotrons for audiences to watch, and all kinds of games, food, and drinks to draw in the masses. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when the World Cup itself finally rolls around…
• Lest I sound like a broken record, I’d like to say just once more what an incredible shame it is about the corrupt Ukrainian police. This country has so many amazing things to offer – its friendly locals, colorful history, lively cities, incredible nightlife, beautiful women, diverse nature, countless monuments, sunny beaches, and probably just about anything else you could possibly desire. Yet the constant reminder that “You are foreign, and therefore you must pay” just never ceases to put a damper over the whole experience. After the first half-dozen shakedowns it really starts to feel like you’re just waiting for your number to be called; waiting for your turn to pay the fine for existing. I can only hope that as Ukraine vies for entry into the EU, they start cleaning up their act…because honestly, I would love to come and spend some more time in Kiev. If only I knew I could do so without the risk of being extorted or arrested just for being foreign.
• Along these same lines, I found it interesting that although drinking in public is now technically illegal, it doesn’t seem to be enforced anywhere outside of Odesa. Throughout both Kiev and Lviv we’d often see people sipping beer in parks, on beaches, in front of supermarkets, even while walking through a busy main intersection. I suppose it’s one of those “we can hassle you for it if we want, but usually won’t” type of laws. Whenever we asked a local about it they said that they were aware of the new law but had thus far never been bothered. Lucky them.
• Now that our trip through Eastern Europe is nearly complete, I can pretty confidently say that Kiev is my overall favorite city. How unexpected. For purely touristic purposes I’d still probably choose Mostar, but as a place I’d be most inclined to come back and spend a month just living and experiencing, Kiev is right at the top. It’s got everything: lightning-fast public transit, great nightlife, ample greenery, beaches, even a free (albeit very strange) outdoors gym 🙂 I’d almost go so far as to say that Kiev has earned a spot on my “master list of cities to live,” which now includes Los Angeles, Kyoto, Tel Aviv…and Kiev.