Most people arrive in Ukraine by plane. Borispol airport in Kiev is relatively calm for this part of the world. Providing you don’t arrive at the same time as a jumbo load of tourists from the Far East, you will be through immigration quickly and on your way into the city. At around 20km, the journey should take much less than an hour, although traffic can be dense during rush hour.
As the motorway crosses the Dnieper river, look to your right for your first glimpse of Kiev – or at least two of its best-known sights. In the foreground, the massive Motherland statue, a figure holding sword and shield and facing towards Moscow. Built as a monument to the Great patriotic War (World War II), it is three times larger than the Sphinx and dominates the skyline from many points in this city. In the background, you see the golden cupolas of the Pechersk Lavra or Monastery of the Caves. Towards the end of the day, with the sun glinting off the gold, it is a wonderful site.
The main street is called Kreshchatik and it lies in a valley running through the centre of the city. On either side, steep hills take you to residential areas, academia buildings and cultural centres. Kreshchatik contains many of the main shops, either above ground or, in recent years, in underground malls. At the weekend, the street is closed to traffic and becomes a promenader’s paradise. Many an evening can be whiled away in strolling along, looking at the street entertainers, pausing for a beer or deciding where to eat.
The restaurant scene in Kiev has blossomed in recent years with many different cuisines catered for. If you want to eat Italian, Chinese, Indian, Mexican, Georgian, British – or even Ukrainian – you won’t be short of choice. Obviously, there is the ubiquitous irish bar (or in, fact, three at last count).
One of my first jobs on arriving in Kiev is always to visit the Theatre of Opera and Ballet to review the programme. Throughout the season (September to June) there is a continually changing programme and with tickets still reasonably priced, it’s quite feasible to see a couple of operas and a couple of ballets within a week, without breaking the bank.
In addition to the two monuments mentioned earlier, there are all sorts of others to visit: the Golden Gate, immortalised by Mussorsky in his Pictures from an Exhibition, the statue of Bohdan Khmel’nyts’ky, the controversial Independence Monument in Maidan Square to name but three. There are churches galore – the most beautiful of which is undoubtedly St Michael’s, but also look out for St Sophia’s and St Andrew’s.
Anyone who has visited St Petersburg will feel at home in Kiev – there is the same look and feel about the place. On the other hand, who wouldn’t feel at home in Kiev – it’s a lovely little city, with friendly people, an efficient (if crowded) metro and loads to see and do. Just be sure to take a good pair of walking shoes.