A weekend in Kiev

Kiev – not just famous for the awesome deepfried breadcrumbed chicken with garlic and butter, also a destination to visit for the amazing orthodox architecture and for the more adventurous, the opportunity to visit Chernobyl. I loved Kiev and can’t wait to go again, provided you have a European passport, it is a cheap, lovely and easy place to go for a fabulous long weekend.

Kiev is a wonderfully walkable city which is safe and lovely. The highlights of our weekend were

Walk around town and see the amazing architecture

Wander up Andriivs’kyi Uzviz (Andrew’s descent). This is a lovely old street with nice shops, albeit some of them are a bit touristy. At the top there is the lovely St Andrews church, designed by an Italian architect.

St Andrews
St Andrews

Then head down to the sky blue St Michaels Monastery which is quite lovely, and cross over to see St Sofias – Kiev’s oldest standing church. You can easily see the highlights of Kiev old town in a 30 minute walk, but I would stretch it out to a couple of hours to see everything. Ladies – don’t forget to cover your head when you visit the churches (either a scarf or a hoody works)

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St Michaels
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St Sofias

You can also wander a bit further and see St Volodymyrs cathedral and then walk down to Independence Square through the modern bit of town. Less lovely, but still interesting

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Volodymyrs
Walk/Bus out to Lavra to see the monastery

Kiev Pechersk Lavra is a monastery based on a 900 year old underground cave system which still has mummified remains of the founding monks. Visiting the caves is a pilgrimage for many who walk the tunnels with lighted candles. Behave appropriately. Outside of the tunnels the orthodox church architecture above ground are beautiful

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Lavra
Head up to Chernobyl

I didn’t actually visit Chernobyl as had concussion and wasn’t up for the drive, but my darling hubby did and found it pretty interesting (photo’s are his). There are multiple tour options to head out there, all of which involve a bus, tour guide and a meal of some sorts. Interestingly, darling hubby did think that the Chernobyl experience was somewhat ‘curated’ as there were a few places where oxygen masks were artfully displayed alongside kids tours.

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Eat Chicken Kiev

We had intended to try a couple of different restaurants in Kiev, but after the first meal at Kanapa we just kept going back. It is expensive for Ukraine, but the food was astoundingly good. I would be tempted to go back to Kiev just to eat their Chicken Kiev. In addition to Kanapa, there were plenty of good cafes serving great fruit pie.

Additional Info
  • We were in luxe mode this weekend and we stayed at the Fairmont Grand Hotel Kyiv, which was pricy but cheaper than the Radisson or the Hyatt It was nice enough, but the breakfast was a bit pants. Hotels were expensive here!
  • the town is very easy to walk around, don’t bother with cabs
    • The free in your pocket guides are pretty good and can be downloaded here

 

Visited May 2015

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Off the Beaten Track – Moldova

Honestly I thought that Moldova was a made up country, because I had mistakenly confused it with Molvania – the subject of a spoof guidebook….., so was happy to realise my mistake
Moldova is lovely.  A small and perfectly formed ex Soviet Republic with a few nice things to see, friendly people, and everything is within easy reach of the capital Chisinau (pronounced Kishi -now).
Wander around Chisinau
The town is small, really small, everything is within walking distance.  My favourite building was the bright blue St Tiron Cathedral.  Other things worth wandering past are the small Orthodox cathedral in the cathedral park.  Wander to the other side of the street from the cathedral and stroll through the other park – Stefan cel Mar.   There is also a fine arts museum if you are so inclined and some large and pretty ugly government buildings.  The lonely planet aptly describes Chisinau in lacking any ‘pulse quickening
must-sees’ and that is right, but it is pleasant enough.

St Tiron towers
St Tiron towers

St Tiron Gatehouse
St Tiron Gatehouse

Get a car and driver and head to Orheuil Vecchi
This is definitely the best thing to see in Moldova – a complex of cave monasteries carved into a massive limestone cliff.  Monks still live in the complex today and it is an active monastery so dress appropriately.  There is a lot to see, but my favourite part of this place were the other ‘tourists’, most of whom were local and quite religious.  It was fascinating to see their reverance for the monks and the monastery.
We had lunch in a local restaurant next to the monastery.  The food was astoundingly good – and included a cherry pie thing and some Mamaliga which is a bit like cornbread – delicious with sour cream and meat.  The place didn’t have a name, none of them do…. but if you have a guide am sure they will take you somewhere decent
You can get buses from Chisinau, but they are infrequent.  I rented a car and driver so I could see a bit more of the area

Caves at Orheil Vecchi
Caves at Orheil Vecchi

New Monastery at Orheil Vecchi
New Monastery at Orheil Vecchi

Visit the Monastery at Curchi
I had a lovely wander around Curchi. There wasn’t much going on until we hit one of the back churches and we stumbled on an orthodox christening.  They didn’t seem to mind an audience, I got lots of smiles.   They do take religion very seriously, and that means a serious amount of make up and some seriously high heels. (side note –  I am always feel as if I am letting kiwi girls down as I slob around the world with no make up and my flip flops but I don’t seem to care enough to dress better)
Curchi
Curchi
Additional tips
  • I was working hard and earning money when I went to Moldova so I splashed out and stayed at the Nobil Luxury Boutique Hotel.  I even got my hair cut at the salon in the hotel – that is when you know you are living dangerously when your hairdresser doesn’t share any common language with you.
  • I was really surprised at how good looking the monks were in Moldova. Really!
  • I am not much of a drinker but Moldova apparently have very good very cheap wine!  there is an enormous winery at Milestii Mici which has 200km of underground wine storage tunnels if you are thirsty
  • The food is surprisingly good, I particularly liked the Branza – which is local cheese.
  • If you fancy you can head to Transdniestr, but there is a possibility that you will get detained and hit up for bribes.  I wasn’t in the mood that day 😃
  • If you want to make friends, listen to the  Zdob și Zdub and talk about them enthusiastically when you arrive.  They were Moldova’s highest ever entry in Eurovision, and I had my ears blasted in the car with their beats wherever we went

Visited May 2014

Places to Return to – Georgia

Georgia is stunning!  The Caucasus mountains, the black sea and some amazing orthodox architecture.  The people are friendly and relatively modern.  The food is amazing.  I can’t believe more people don’t come to Georgia.  I loved it and can’t wait to go back.  My recommendations for Georgia

Head to the Kazbeg and climb up to Tsminda Sameba

It is a thrilling, albeit rough, ride up the Georgian Military Highway, almost to the border with Russia to reach the Kazbeg, a sleepy mountain village in the shadow of Mt Kazbeg.  On the way, you pass the gorgeous Ananuri fortress, which is worth a visit.

Ananuri Fortress
Ananuri Fortress

Once in Kazbeg, you can climb up to the spectacular orthodox church – Tsminda Sameba at 2200m.  These Georgians take their religion pretty seriously, and none of the 80 year old villagers think anything of walking up 1000 metres to go to a service.  The Russians actually built a cable car up here in the 80s, and the locals promptly destroyed it – you can’t see any evidence that it was ever there.   Don’t expect any respite when you sweatily arrive at the church either.  Like most orthodox churches in this part of the world, there are no seats.  Only lazy people need to sit down to hear a sermon for two hours, good orthodox christians are happy to stand up.

Bustling metropolis of Kazbeg
Bustling metropolis of Kazbeg

The church is spectacular, but the setting more so.  If you have time, I would recommend staying a few days and getting some hiking in, and perhaps climb Mt Kazbeg (5047m)

Tsminda Sameba
Tsminda Sameba
Visit davit gareja

Davit Gareja is a collection of old cave monasteries right on the border with Azerbaijan.  So close to the border in fact, that I decided to go for a walk in Azerbaijan, as I hadn’t technically visited at this point.   Getting there is easy from Tbilisi, though we did run into a very NZ like traffic jam on the way there

Traffic jam en route to Davit Gareja
Traffic jam en route to Davit Gareja

6000 monks were killed here when the monastery was sacked by Shah Abbas in 1615.  The monasteries never fully recovered but there are still monks living there today.

Davit Gareja
Davit Gareja

Its easy hiking around the many caves, and worthwhile going the hiking to check out the frescos (although be on the look out for snakes)

Cave Frescos
Cave Frescos
wander around tblisi and eat a lot

Georgian food is good!  So good in fact, that whenever I travel to a former Soviet Republic I check to see if they have a Georgian restaurant and make a point of going to eat there.  My favourites are Khinkali (meat dumplings), Kachapuri (cheese bread) and Mastnis Supi (yogurt soup).  They sound heavy to eat, and they are, but Georgians are masters at spices and herbs, so the food is delicious!!!!

Old town architecture Tbilisi
Old town architecture Tbilisi

To counter the calorie intake from all the good food, I would suggest taking in the sites of Tbilisi to get your step count up.  I really enjoyed the new Tsminda Sameba in Tbilisi (yup same name as above, it means Holy Trinity), wandering round the old town to visit the little old orthodox churches, and enjoying the huge stalinist monstrosities in the new town.

 

The new Tsminda Sameba in Tbilisi
The new Tsminda Sameba in Tbilisi
Additional tips
  • I only had 5 days in Georgia and getting public transport was going to be slow!  So, I used a local agent to provide transport and an english speaking guide (a groovy young feminist called Tamuna).  It was about $150 per day just for me, and both the guide and the driver were fab.  They also entertained me with lots of local music.  I booked this through http://www.georgicatravel.ge.  If you were time pressured, you could do everything above in a long weekend.  If you had more time you could go to Svaneti and the black sea
  • I stayed at the Radisson on points.  It was fine.  Being cheap, I made sure I made a packed lunch and snacks to take with me from the very good breakfast buffet
  • Ladies don’t forget a headscarf or a hoody if you want to see the inside of the churches

Visited May 2011