Arrived, July 22nd and Departed, July 29th – many of our photos got deleted, so unfortunately we don’t have any to share from Kiev, but were luckily able to salvage some from Odessa and Kharkov.
Originally we were supposed to go to Russia, to visit Moscow and St. Petersburg, but due to our lack of preparedness and knowledge of visas, that plan had to be abandoned (we’ll try again in a few years!). Lucky for us, Ukraine doesn’t require a visa for U.S. citizens and seeing as it’s Val’s birth country, we rerouted our itinerary to explore Ukraine for a week.
We flew from Cologne, Germany to Kiev the morning of July 22nd. We encountered a small hiccup at border patrol leaving Germany because our passports didn’t have the entrance stamp from Paris when we first started the trip. This is pretty essential as it is meant to show the starting date of our 90 day allowed stay in the Schengen Zone. We didn’t even know that we only had 90 days, so once we were able to get through border patrol, we had to start thinking of how to reroute our trip. The original plan was to do Turkey, Greece, and Croatia in August and Italy, Southern France, and Munich in September. Since we started the trip on June 1, we would have till the end of August to visit Schengen countries, which would mean that we wouldn’t be allowed into Italy, France, or Germany in September. The plan now is to visit Italy and Greece, both part of the Schengen Zone, in August, and to do Turkey and Croatia, which are non-Schengen countries, in September. We’re still trying to figure out if we’ll be able to go to Munich for a long weekend at the end of September for Oktoberfest. Technically speaking, we bought ourselves a week by going to Ukraine since it’s a non-Schengen country and we believe that the allowed 90 days don’t have to be consecutive.
Anyways!!! Sorry to get side-tracked, back to Ukraine! My favorite aunt, Inna, has one of her best girlfriend’s still living in Kharkov – Tanya and her husband, Andrey. Andrey was kind enough to arrange for a driver to pick us up from the airport in Kiev and take us to our hotel room. Our first impressions of Kiev was that it’s quite a large city. Some of the buildings looked very rundown, but no more so than you’d see in most other cities around the world, while other buildings were high-rise new construction. The public transportation system was especially interesting as the trams and buses in use probably haven’t been upgraded over the past 50 years – it was a fun blast from the past, very retro 🙂
While we were in Mexico getting married, we had let a family friend’s friend’s son, who’s from Kiev, stay in our apartment while he was visiting NYC. Karma came back around and Natalia and her son, Sasha, returned the favor by showing us a great time in Kiev. The first night, Natalia treated us to dinner at a traditional Ukrainian restaurant – the food was delicious and a nostalgic reminder of Val’s family’s cooking. The next day, Sasha, took us on a tour of the city. We started off in the city center and visited a few churches and WWII monuments. The churches in Ukraine are incredibly beautiful with bright color accents and shiny gold tops. There were about 5 brides getting their wedding photos taken in the square by the church and we kept running into more brides at every monument we went to. If we didn’t have Sasha to show us around we could have just joined one of the bride’s posses and we would have gotten a grand tour of Kiev! Our favorite part of the day was when Sasha took us to through Andrew’s Descent which is a long, winding, down-hill street that is lined with artists and vendors selling paintings, jewelry, matroshkas (wooden nesting dolls), soviet-era military accoutrements, and various other souvenir-like items.
If you’re interested, we found this article that does a fairly good job of telling about some Kiev’s attractions and has photos of several of the places we visited as well – http://www.bangkokpost.com/travel/intertrips/198889/kiev-charm-offensive
The original plan was to head to Kharkov from Kiev, but Tanya’s husband, Andrey offered to show us around Odessa for a couple of days. It was an offer we couldn’t refuse, so the next morning we were off to explore Odessa!