Monday, October 13, 2008

Some neat people and things I saw in Kyiv

I was in Kyiv Sept. 10-13, with really only two full days there. Not nearly long enough!

We were supposed to arrive mid-day on Sept. 9 and have 3 days in Kyiv. But a delay on our Air Canada flight to Toronto from Winnipeg (where I hooked up with some family members and the tour) resulted in missing our connections on Austrian Airlines from Toronto to Vienna and Kyiv. So we spent an extra 24 hours enroute, with two overnight stays (such as they were) in Toronto and London, and much sleep deprivation.

However, we finally made it ... and lucked out on the weather. It was warm but not hot, about as perfect as you can get.

Kyiv (and especially Khreshchatyk) was nothing like I remembered, only а bit like I expected, but all I hoped for ... and more.

What an incredible city! So vibrant and colourful, teeming with life and an air of hopefulness that I didn't detect back in 1984. It helped that this time I knew some locals (thanks to the internet!) and was able to hook up with one, and meet even more.

After getting my mom and myself settled into our room at the Hotel Rus, my first order of business was to call my fellow blogger and good friend Vasyl... who was a little concerned that I didn't call as promised on (what was supposed to be) my first day in Kyiv. But we connected and agreed to get in touch the next day, after our tour of the Pecherska Lavra (Monastery of the Caves).


I had heard enough about "proper attire" from friends including Orysia and Myrna. My nieces, however, were under the impression it was ok to wear slacks, as was their Baba. After we took a family group picture, some Russian Orthodox nuns walked by and gave us a dirty look. Shortly afterward my jeans-clad niece said one of them beat her with a cane! Seriously. She thought it was just a jostle at first, but after 3 hard whacks on the leg she figured it was deliberate. So I was very glad I wore a skirt and a scarf!

When we got back from the tour, we wondered what to do for lunch. I called Vasyl and he suggested meeting at a favourite restaurant of his, called Antresol. My sisters and nieces came along and we all ordered the duchess salad, which Vasyl recommended (and which was quite delicious.) To drink, we all (except for one wise niece) ordered what we thought would be some nice fresh-squeezed lemonade ... you know, the kind you get at fairs and exhibitions here at home?

Well, silly us. We forgot we were far from home.

What we got was fresh-squeezed lemon juice. Pure, plain, pucker-powering lemon juice. It was drinkable once the waitress brought us a pile of sugar cubes and some water. (What she must have thought of us crazy Canuck women is anyone's guess.) In our defence, none of us could speak a word of Russian beyond "dosvidannya" (not a very helpful word in that situation). Likewise, the poor waitress spoke neither English nor Ukrainian. Nor could anyone else ... until Vasyl got there. All in all, quite the experience and a lesson remembered for the rest of our trip!

Looking a tad jet-lagged there and having quite the bad hair day. But, as you can see, happy to be there and finally meeting Vasyl in person. (And none the worse for the lemon juice.)

After lunch Vasyl showed us some sights along Khreshchatyk, including the Maidan ... a.k.a. Independence Square (where the famous Orange Revolution took place) and what he said locals call "the chick on a stick"...

Afterwards, he very gallantly took us shopping. All five of us. (Brave man!) I needed batteries and (obviously) a hair dryer, so he took us to Цум which he said locals consider a sort of bargain store.

Good grief. Army & Navy and Wal-Mart are bargain discount stores! This store reminded me more of the old Eaton's, only glitzier. It was amazing what we saw there, from cosmetics to appliances, jewellry and lighting fixtures to fine china and wine and spirits. The store was brightly lit, immaculate and just a joy to be in. It's hard to think of Цум as a descendant of the soviet-era Ґум, which I visited in 1984. (And which more closely resembled Army & Navy ...)

This was the one in Moscow in 1984, but I don't imagine the one in Kyiv would have looked much different. The modern-day Kyiv descendent Цум is a lot more fashionable ... as are the shoppers! (Orysia warned me before we left that these days most Canadian tourists tend to feel quite frumpy in comparison to the locals ... and, as usual, she was quite right.)

After I got my batteries and hairdryer, my sister and nieces wanted to shop for clothes and shoes so Vasyl, my other sister and I left them at the underground mall on Khreshchatyk.

Then we hit some bookstores ... my favourite! My sister teaches nursery school and wanted some new books for work, so Vasyl pointed her in the right direction. He also helped me find some excellent Ukrainian-language synonym-antonym dictionaries.

After that, we went to the famous Kupidon bar. There, we met Vasyl's friend Roman Romanovych before he went off to do his radio show (which is called Roman welcomes his guests and airs Thursdays at 6 pm local (Kyiv) time). Then, who should show up but Andriy Denisenko, a.k.a. Riffmaster, and his manager, Andriy Honcharuk.

(L-R: Andriy H, Vasyl, me, and Riffmaster.) What truly great guys. I wondered if a Ukrainian rock star and his manager would be interested in talking to some old broad who does this little radio program in Canada. But as you can see they were very charming and chivalrous! :-) Very down-to earth and not the least bit pretentious, just a delight to be with.

BTW, Vasyl tells me to expect more Ukrainian-language releases from Riffmaster, as he has discovered that doing music in his native language allows him a much richer musical expression... and his fans agree. Hopefully those new releases will find their way to me. In the meantime, there's a Riffmaster tune on this Sunday's playlist which Vasyl sent me earlier. It's called Misiats.

The next day was a tour to Kaniv, and then supper at a restaurant called Козацькa Втіхa (I think?), where Vasyl said we could get some good, authentic Ukie food. We also lucked out and got some live music to go with it.

These musicians were Oleksandr Litvinenko and Volodymyr Ovcharchyn, members of a 5-piece group called Cheremosh. They were fabulous musicians and entertainers, and showed us a most wonderful time. I was fortunate to have my handy-dandy recorder with me, as Vasyl had planned to meet us there and bring with him Dirk Lustig of Toy-Toy Accent Toys, so I could interview them. Unfortunately they didn't make it, but since I had the recorder with me, I couldn't resist putting it on the table and just letting it run! (I aired a portion of it on Nash Holos on October 5.)

The only downside to that fun evening is that it used up most of the memory card, and I had an interview with Dirk the next morning (which Vasyl rescheduled from the night before). BTW, Dirk is the guy who, along with Vasyl, is pretty much responsible for the drive to get Kyiv on the board of the world edition of Monopoly. He is a Swiss national with a peculiar, and very powerful, love for Ukraine. Another down-to-earth, unassuming guy with a huge heart.

We had about an hour together before I had to leave for the airport and the flight to Simferopol. Over a cup of espresso (the first time I ever enjoyed strong black coffee!) Dirk and Vasyl gave me a detailed overview of the political situation in Ukraine ... as well as a fair bit of sympathy when my recorder stopped in the middle of the interview and the floor refused to open up and swallow me whole. Hopefully I will eventually catch up with Dirk for a long-distance interview to get his take on the outcome of that Monopoly vote, and plans for World Edition.

There were a couple of whirlwind tours during our brief visit to Kyiv, including a trip to Kaniv, the burial place of Taras Shevchenko. As I started out saying, it was not nearly enough time in Kyiv. I would dearly love to return and spend much more time there, exploring the fascinating historical and modern sights, and mingling with the wonderful people who live in that amazing city.

More pix and recollections to come ...

5 comments:

Stanislav said...

Last time I was in Kyiv for 3 weeks and it was not enough to see what I feel like must to see. Defiatnely a culturally reach city. Thank you for report Pawlina.

Pawlina said...

What struck me was the keen sense of joie de vivre ... I did notice some discrepancies in wealth, a lot of gawdawful concrete-boxy construction, and much building exterior maintenance that was neglected. But that's hardly unique to Kyiv.

The air of expectancy and optimism put me in mind of western Europe in the 80s. My sister had honeymooned in Europe a few years earlier and remarked that Khreshchatyk reminded her of the Champs-Élysées.

The Kyiv I visited last month was in stark contrast to the Kiev of my recollections back in 1984 ... it's like the city has come back to life. And I want to go back!

Vasyl said...

Well Pawlina that was some report... I will have to share it with Roman Romanovych Shwed, Dirk Lustig who is currently at a toy fair in New Orleans, and Riffmaster and Andriy Honcharuk...

Vasyl said...

Well Honcharuk has already given me his feedback about this post... He e-mailed me, with the following: "That's great!!! Yeahhh!"

Pawlina said...

Thanks, Vasyl! It was so great meeting you and the guys, and not nearly enough time together. But I enjoyed every second of it and hope to be back again soon, for much longer.:-)