First Impressions of Kiev
I’m now halfway through my time in Kiev, Ukraine and it’s definitely left quite an impression. For a destination that I defined as being scary and intrepid, I’ve felt safe, comfortable and pleased during my time. So before everything wraps up, here what I’ve found to date.
Time flies! I had one personal hiccup and that was my phone deciding to die two days ago. As such, I’ve been in a flux of what to do next. I’ll most likely pick up a new one in the next day as being without one is a whole ‘nother level of unnecessary stress.
On the plus side, it has been refreshing and a sobering experience being temporarily analogue. I have to rely on my instincts, do my research in advance and use more people skills. I can’t wait to get that phone. This morning was spent in loops walking around my hostel’s neighbourhood aimlessly. Tomorrow I’m striving for less of that.
Is Kiev Safe?
Yes! I pocket my caution to the wind and zip it up securely just in case. The only negative dealing was a bus where the fare collector didn’t give me my two hryvnia change. That’s worth about 6p (10c) so nothing kicking a fuss for, though I was very tempted.
Around town be mindful of the pigeon / animal handlers, bracelet people but they didn’t seem sinister or anything, more that there were after an easy buck. They only shady dealings were locals snickering in their dialect. Play ignorance, it’s a more enjoyable game.
I would say in Kiev I tended to head home a bit earlier in the evenings. One thing about the city is that everything (at least in the main centre) is open super late. Many shops close at 10pm and many restaurants at midnight. So, great for the night owls which I am with a bit more company.
On the flight over, I hastily studied the two apps on my phone for understanding the Cyrillic alphabet. I managed about halfway through before falling asleep. But even knowing a few more characters was super helpful. A lot is going to be in English/ borrowed words but it feels that much more comforting understanding a few more signs. And it’s a cool alphabet. Think of it as a secret code between you and 166 million other people across the globe.
As to communicating with people in real life… I approach the strategy of being silent but polite. Not that many people in Kiev (and wider Ukraine) speak English (even in stores that have a sticker saying they speak English). A few gestures get the trick done, but try avoiding pointing as that’s rude in Ukrainian culture.
The price is right
One of the appeals of Kiev is that everything is so darn cheap. This is true. But weirdly, prices of things run a funky gauntlet. Whilst getting a bus from the airport cost me 17 UAH, a t-shirt would cost about 200-300 UAH. Malls boggle the mind with UK-level prices. Don’t expect to find equivalent things cheaper here, it’s largely identical for brand name stuff.
Where the costs are comically low, it’s the day-to-day life things: public transport, food, drinks. I was so surprised to see a bottle of coke only costing 12UAH when it’s such a cash grab in every other country in the world. It’s okay to buy a drink for a change! Some supermarkets show where products are imported from, and that explains a monster difference in prices of things. For example, my laundry powder cost 12UAH versus a box of tide which was 166UAH.
The other thing about Kiev (maybe Ukraine): card payment is available almost everywhere. It is a cash society (i.e. buses, markets, food vendors, souvenir shops) but every other thing I’ve come across is happy for credit cards, with no surcharge or minimum. So that’s a good way to go and not as cash reliant as it was made out to be.
- Public transport is sketchy and fantastic! Use Google Maps to find all the crazy routes. The cost is next to nothing and there’s always come characters on the ride.
- Fast food everywhere. They love the stuff.
- Lots of underground arcades and walkways. Perfect for summer and winter.
- A lot of the buildings are reconstructions. But they still stand magnificently.
- Fashion styles range from interesting to wild. Also looks.
- Crazy, massive parties for the weekend on the street.
- Soft serve parlours everywhere.
- Super walkable (at least the main road).
- It doesn’t feel touristy. 95% of the people look like locals.
- It’s been hot!
- Did my first river cruise. Yawn.
- I’m so brown.
- So many cellphone shops. Is this a sign?
Where to from here?
Another two free days here in Kiev before my Chernobyl tour. I don’t feel that I’ve ticked off too many tourist things, my pace has been shattered since being phone-free. With more time in Ukraine I might have had a chance for a day trip out, but I’m comfortable taking it easy and getting some life-admin and writing done instead. Lviv and Odessa both sound wonderful, but are overnight experiences to get there. Ukraine is huge.
Tomorrow – the current plan is to pick up a shiny new phone first thing, grab an Instagram-worthy brunch and then check off all the other main city sights that I should be seeing.