arrive… dacha… city day
Wednesday October 6 – Arrive Kyiv
Mikola and Ella met us at the railway station, commandeered the proper baggage handlers and off we went to the outdoors. The weather was cool and with a bit of breeze, nothing to match the activity swirling around us. We were waiting for two cars — driven by Natasza’s relatives. One would take Brian, Ella and Mikola (MEE ko lie, the Ukrainian version of the Russian Nikolai) to their apartment, the other would take Natasza, Carol and me to our apartment, then take Natasza to her parents’ place. Off we went… it wasn’t far to our apartment at 36/16 Reitars’ka Street.
We were met at our apartment by Nikolai, the check-in manager for bestkievapartments.com. The last email we got said, “Our manager will be wait for you in the apartment, so if you can then call directly to him/her. Number of manger who settle clients is +380672314009. Manager will show you apartment and explain how use everything. Also manager will give you keys from the flat.”
He also accepted $475 cash ($95 per night, a 5% discount due to an email misunderstanding). He tried to get Carol set up with WIFI for her iPad ($3 per day), but nyet… wouldn’t work.
Natasza asked what we were going to do. “Take showers, kick back and relax a little,” I said.
“How many hours,”she asked, “two?”
“Give us three,” I said.
She said, “OK, a taxi will pick you up at 2:30, take you to my parents.”
Unpack, put away clothes, shit, shower, sit… feels good. The apartment is very nice. Location seems good… we’ll see.
Nikolai came back at 2:30 and gave the address of Natasza’s parents to the taxi driver who took us on a wild ride through Kyiv, on a parkway, on a freeway and finally on two small streets and stopped in front of a big apartment block. He gestured “Here?”
I said and gestured, “If you say so.” We got out. Nobody was around. We were standing on a road with many potholes and no sidewalks. The nearest building had no number and no directory by the door. Is this the right building? Don’t know. We walked around. Cold. Pretty lonely out here. Two women walked by. I tried to show them the address on my scrap of paper. They waved me away and went into the building. Here comes a guy out of the building. Mikola! We squeezed into the tiny elevator for our trip to the seventh floor.
We entered the apartment through a big door into a vestibule, passed the room where Natasza stays when she’s here, and into the dining/living room. Brian, Natasza and Ella were waiting, the table loaded with food. Sliced meat, sliced cheese, tomatoes, mushrooms, potato cake stuffed with ground meat, pickled cabbage, herring. Fruit juice, water, Champagne, vodka, Cognac that Brian had given them, tomato juice and Mikola’s home made red wine and rose.
Carol and I were seated on a very low couch behind the table, and served Mikola’s borscht, a fine version of red borscht, hearty and good. The plates of food were passed and we ate. Good, simple food. I didn’t know if I should take food pictures — after all, I had just met them — so I didn’t (you’ll see plenty of food pictures later). We talked and smiled and nodded and ate and drank and it didn’t matter that Ella and Mikola spoke not a word of English and Carol and I spoke not a word of Ukrainian or Russian.
We went to see the room where the party will be held in the hotel across the road. It was a sanatorium in Soviet Times. Nice place… just right for 35 people.
Back at the apartment, we drank some more and talked some more and it got time to go “home.” A guy on the fourth floor of the building is a taxi driver. He’ll take us back. Guy has a big, new Chrysler mini-van. Nice ride. Brian and Natasza ride along.
We were sent away with bags of food — potatoes, carrots, onions, peppers, sausage, cheese, tomatoes and tomato juice. I remarked that the tomato juice was especially good – seasoned with sugar – so Ella gave me a liter jar. And not to forget the gifts:
A package of five 100ML bottles of Neimiroff flavored vodka, a wooden spatula that I used for a coaster in our apartment, and a wooden bracelet for Carol.
The fancy schmancy TV in our apartment has many channels, but only four or five in English: CNN Europe, BBC Europe, another 24/7 news channel and a couple of nature channels. And soccer anytime you want.
Thursday October 7 – Kyiv, Dacha
At 10:30 Brian and Natasza picked us up to go to the dacha. Same driver as last night, but today a compact black Ford. Through Kyiv, Independence Square, out of Kyiv to freeways, smaller roads, fields, trees, a dirt road and stop at the dacha.
Mikola and Ella have about two acres of sandy black loam and a shed with a root cellar. We watched potatoes, carrots and beets being dug, along with sweet potatoes that Brian brought them last year to plant. A cabbage was picked, as well. Nearly everything that Ella and Mikola eat comes from this dacha.
Nearby, we visited the dacha of Natasza’s Godmother Katerina and her husband Dmitri Romanovich. This is the first person I’ve seen in a three piece suit, and the first introduced by their full name. Babushkas were present, both named Pasha, a diminutive for Praskov’ia. The first is Mikola’s aunt, the other is a neighbor.
Once again, we gathered around a food laden table. While we were all standing, Dmetri said that he and Katerina were very stressed about this meal… important guests coming from far away. But now that he’s met us (and the meal is on the table) he is no longer stressed. He welcomed us to his home as family with a toast with Katerina’s home made vodka (man… that is good stuff). We were seated and food was passed.
Roast chicken thighs
Potatoes and short ribs
Salad of beets, beans, potatoes, celery
Egg salad with corn and crab
Fresh tomato salad
Creamed red cabbage and fish
Cheese garlic and egg spread
And the aforementioned home made vodka
Our plates were small. Food was passed three or four dishes at a time, food eaten, then another wave, and so on. Thus, we ate small bits of many things. All in all, a very good meal celebrated with good company.
After, Brian and I went to relieve ourselves in the outhouse on the far corner of the property. We’re talking not only outhouse but hole-in-the-floor outhouse. This presented quite a contrast to the compact, yet artfully decorated house where wondrous food was prepared and consumed.
After pictures and socializing, we moved on to Natasza’s dacha. It is not cultivated, but has many fruit trees, nut trees and berries, and a stream runs through it. The house where Mikola Topchii was born is still standing on that land. So we were treated not only a day at the Dacha, but three dachas in a day… An entirely new experience for me and mine.
The trip back was uneventful except to stop for a few cows to cross the road; this in the shadow of a 20 story high-rise building under construction.
Back at the apartment, we hung for a bit until I said “Let’s go for a walk.” Natasza led us to St. Sophia, a green and white church with many golden onion domes. On down the street is St. Michael’s, a blue and white church with many golden onion domes. Beyond that a park leads to the funicular down the high cliffs to the river. It was dark and quite cool by then, so the long walk home was made with dispatch.
Carol and I stopped at a cafe near our apartment –and the Radisson — for some light food. Chicken wings for me, spaghetti with vegetables for C. The restaurant was called Yaroslava, don’t know what it means. The food and service were what we had come to expect in Kyiv restaurants, not so good.
Friday, October 8 KYIV • A City Day
The day being lovely and sunny out the window, we went out to try it for ourselves. Walked to Coffee Life, just around the corner. Coffee As Life Style is its tag line, printed in English on the back of waiters tee-shirts. It’s connected to the Radisson, though a separate storefront. That gives you a clue.
We had our coffee and pastry while C did her email and internet and I was just thinking… It’s weird to be in a city without street names. Of course the streets have names, but they’re not on street signs and they’re so long as to be unpronounceable. So I have to say, “The coffee shop around the corner,” rather than, “the coffee shop on Hanover Street.”
Oh, and yes, in the internet cafe we did learn that Tim Lincecum beat Darryl Lowe of the Braves 1-0, in a 14 strikeout, complete game, playoff effort. Giants will now play the Phillies for the National League Championship. Go Giants!
So, we walked down “our street,” not the street of Coffee Life. It was a nice walk — all downhill, I might say, good for pedestrians, but not a pedestrian street, no storefronts. We passed a striking art deco building, a park, a Pinocchio carved on a tree stump, a Clint Eastwood Dirty Harry poster.
It’s a nice street, busy, but not too much: urban, but with trees, a nice street to walk — except for the cars parked on the sidewalk. We walked all the way to the big boulevard that runs on the diagonal. The guidebook says this is vul Khreshchatyk, the broad main street of Kyiv, but I dare you to find a sign.
We started looking for a place to have lunch, up the street, back, then off the diagonal street and on to take a left on a street that goes back to the diagonal and, well, we found a Japanese noodle restaurant. Can’t go wrong here.
We ordered by pointing at the pictorial menu. I thought I ordered shrimp with noodles, but it turned out to be noodles with chicken, green beans and mushrooms. Pretty good, though. Carol had the Miso Soup and a California Roll. I had a Stella Artois to drink. “Stella” is universal. Walk into a Japanese restaurant in Kyiv and say, “STELLA” and they’ll answer, “big or small?”
We met Brian and Natasza, spending the afternoon and evening on tourist things including the LAVRA monastary.
We came out of the subway at dusk, just as the street lights were coming on, to a street we recognized as leading uphill to our apartment. We looked around for a place to eat (and take a pee). Carol said, “Kyiv is not known for it’s restaurants because nobody eats out.” We passed some coffee places, pastry places and came upon SUNDUK, a rollicking beer hall with dining on three floors… jam packed, with a line. Just as we arrived, they decided to open the basement and we were the first seated.
The waitress was very pleasant and patient with us and reminded me of what Carol might have been like as a young waitress – but Carol never was a waitress. In any case, we ordered:
M – grilled salmon
C – mutton skewer
B – mutton loin
N – fish with potatoes
Alas, the food was uninspired. My salmon, nicely grilled and moist, was served with fanned wedges of orange and lemon – 2 each – and seven green olive halves. The salmon fillets “head” was propped up on a wedge of cucumber. That’s it; an odd assortment of things and flavors, no potato or vegetable, but a rolled flour tortilla.
Rollicking beer hall – 10
Sunduk food – 3
Oh… and cash only again. So why not tell us in advance? That’s the way it is in Kyiv. A cash society. Everybody knows.
Brian and Natasza walked up the hill with us and stopped in for a vodka. That was nice.
Delighted to get these great photos!!!
Interesting. Why not on Rectorsite?
It’s mostly about food and this site is more public. I’ll be doing travel parts with more photos on r-site.
China: also a “Cash Only” society. The only credit card charge we made on our trip last year was at a fancy Hot Pot restaurant. Everything else — even train tickets — was cash. Period. Good thing our ATM cards worked there too!