Kyiv Pechersk Lavra

The CLO office offered an excursion to see the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, which is translated into English as the Monastery of the Caves. The excursion included a guided tour of the Monastery and access to local honey vendors, so of course I signed my husband and I up.

Dating back to the 10th Century, the Monastery has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also voted as one of the seven wonders of Ukraine. There are many buildings on the grounds, including quite a few churches, a Seminary, a bell tower, and catacombs. The grounds offer a nice view of the Dnieper River and the city as well.

Some of the grounds are undergoing renovation, and there are over 100 monks in residence. At one point there were over 1,000 monks! We were able to peek in several of the churches to listen to the beautiful music and see the Baroque architecture. We also got to see the catacombs and caves, which we had to light candles and to see. It was a cool experience. A side note, women are supposed to cover their heads in most churches here in Ukraine, so I was advised to bring a scarf. They also frown upon shorts, which ended up being fine because our tour was on an unseasonably cool day in August.

On the grounds there were also vendors selling fresh honey, which is a seasonal thing here, so we bought some. There were at least twenty vendors selling different types of honey- but our favorites were sunflower honey and buckwheat honey. The vendors allowed us to try so many types of honey that I was almost in sugar shock:). We even got to try honey that has the consistency of butter, which was AMAZING!! Of course we bought that as well.

Photography is prohibited inside the buildings, which is a shame because they are so stunning inside. Thus, here are some pictures of the grounds and our honey haul:

Our honey haul, I believe we got all this for around $12 or $13 USD.

Babushkas

Babushka is the Russian word for grandmother. In our apartment building, the front desk attendants are of a certain age that they could be grandmothers, so of course I call them the babushkas.

The babushkas take their job very seriously. They monitor who goes in and who goes out, and if they don’t know you, they will stop you and ask what you are doing here and who you are here to see. One afternoon I came home from running errands to a babushka who waved me down to let me know that two people from the Embassy came to visit earlier that day while I was gone.

One time a person was parked in our parking spot in the garage and we told the babushka, and they quickly took care of the matter. Another responsibility of the babushka is to give us our monthly utility bills. And without fail they will wave you down and make sure it is paid.

Of course most of our communication is non verbal. I use Google Translate and hand gestures the majority of the time. Somehow, we understand each other fairly well. With each week of language lessons I am able to communicate with them better. A few weeks ago I said good afternoon (добрий день), and I got the biggest smile from one of the babushkas.

They also have other responsibilities that may or may not be work related. They take care of watering the plants in the lobby, and will give you a big smile if they see you bringing home flowers or a plant and compliment you on it. The babushkas act as a grandmotherly figure to those in the building and dote on the little children who live in the building. I have heard stories of the babushkas making sure you are dressed properly in the wintertime, making sure everyone wears a hat and has a good warm coat and gloves on before they go outside, and I completely believe that the babushkas would do that.

I think each building should have a babushka. We would all benefit from babushkas in our lives.

National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War

On a glorious sunny 70 degree weekend day, my husband and I decided to go to the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War. The Memorial Complex is both indoor and outdoor, on extensive grounds covering quite a few acres.

We spent about two and a half hours there. The grounds contained two indoor museums and a long pathway that had sculptures and war machines such as tanks and helicopters. The grounds were truly beautiful and there were so many artifacts to see in the museums.

It was quite an informative and sobering afternoon spent learning about the war from the Ukrainian perspective. Admission to the grounds is free, however you pay small entrance fees to different areas if you want to get a closer look at different machines (such as the inside of a WW2 helicopter) or the indoor museums. The money spent was completely worth it as the items we saw were carefully curated and everything was so nicely done.

There was a guided tour in English that we encountered while in one of the museums, for those who want a more involved and informative experience. I highly recommend visiting this museum to anyone who comes to Kyiv.

Getting Around Kyiv

There are a good amount of methods of transportation that you can use to get around Kyiv:

Tram:

For 8 UAH (about $.25 USD) you can purchase a one-way tram ticket. Trams come approximately every 15 minutes and are fairly speedy. You buy your ticket on a tram and then use a machine on the tram to punch holes in the ticket to show that you are using it for your trip.

Metro:

Also 8 UAH (about $.25), you can purchase a one-way Metro ticket. Kyiv’s Metro is the deepest metro in the world and is super fast.

City Bus:

Another option is the city bus, which I have not yet taken. I have heard that they run quite frequently and are faster than the tram.

Uber:

Uber is super cheap here in Ukraine and I rarely have to wait more than 8 minutes for a ride. On average they have been around 4 minutes wait time for me. To get around town costs about 75-125 UAH (about $3-$5 USD) on average.

POV (A.K.A., your car):

We have a sturdy vehicle for road trips and weekend use. The issues with driving around Kyiv are there is rarely any on street parking (just make your own spot sidewalk parking) and the occasional parking garage has super tight parking spaces if they exist. And not to mention the streets are not in the best condition and you will be apologizing to your car for all the potholes that you will drive over. My advice, have very good shocks on your vehicle.

Zhitnii Rynok

The CLO office here in Kyiv recently arranged a shopping excursion for new arrivals to post. This past weekend we went to several places- a Rynok (a food market), Epicentr (a cross between Target and Home Depot the size of IKEA) and Auchan (a hypermarket/supermarket that also sells some home goods).

The first place we went to was Zhitnii Rynok. The Rynok had two levels. On the upper level were Vyshyvankas (traditional Ukrainian embroidered clothing), and the lower level had food stands with fruit, vegetables, meat, seafood, nuts and spices for sale. I bought a half kilo of dates (1.1 lbs) for around $4, as well as some veggies.

Outside of the Rynok were other fruit and vegetable vendors as well. I will definitely be back as there were so many options and other stores inside the Rynok.

Botanical Gardens

Recently I took advantage of the gorgeous weather here in Kyiv and ventured out to see the Botanical Gardens. Located just off the Universytet Metro Station, the Botanical Gardens are free to enter, and offer a lovely escape from city living.

Locals were sitting on benches enjoying the sunshine, kids were playing (there was a playground there as well), and I can imagine it would be a great picnic location as well.

As you can see from the picture of the map, there are many different walking trails, and I only got to see part of the Gardens. I will have to go again to explore more!!

2 Months In..

Here’s a little I’ve learned in these past two months living abroad:

1)Knowing where to shop for food and home goods is absolutely key. And I do believe there is a workaround to just about everything. Even if that solution means ordering something online. Ask around, use the CLO (Community Liason Office) as a resource, but I am telling you, things I didn’t think I would find here after going to 6 or 7 stores I ended up finding. So ask around.

2)Things will be different to what you’re used to, and that’s OK. Another country’s version of Mexican seasoning might be different from what you are used to, people might park cars on sidewalks, KFC might not have biscuits or extra crispy chicken breasts, but just roll with it. There will be things that each country has that you will love (hello online grocery ordering and Georgian food), and some that you don’t. That’s part of the adventure of living abroad.

3)PCS (Permanent Change of Station), A.K.A., moving from one country to another is brutal. It is mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting. It is stressful. PCS weight gain is a fact and the packers will try to pack things that they shouldn’t. But the good news is that you realize you can survive on few items, and it doesn’t last forever. And when you get your HHE, it is like the best day ever.

4)Embassy folk truly are amazing, giving, and so welcoming. I could not believe how quickly that they have become friends, sounding boards, and a wonderful support system.

5)Take language lessons!!!! Trust me on this, it will help with everyday life. And Google Translate is a lifesaver.

6)Having facilities come and fix things around the house and hang up artwork is kind of awesome. As is packers helping unpack your HHE.

7)Use every weekend that you can to explore!! Go to all the parks, malls, aquariums, festivals, and things that you can. Take trips around the country or to neighboring countries. Take advantage of the fact that you are living in a different country for what is in the grand scheme of things is a short time and make the most of it.

8)Missing important events back in America kinda sucks. In the past couple of months we have missed birthdays, a high school reunion, and a funeral. Do what you can to be included such as FaceTime and let people know that you really wish you could be there in person.

9)Do what you can to maintain a “normal” everyday life. Subscribe to Netflix or Hulu or YouTube TV to watch your favorite shows, make FaceTime dates with family and friends back in America, and for goodness sakes occasionally suck it up and pay the higher price in the commissary for some familiar foods.

10)Leave as many U.S. electronics at home as you can (sell or donate them) and buy local electronics with local plugs and voltage at post. Even though we are provided a few transformer boxes, you will want your transformer for other more important electronics such as computer or the living room T.V. You don’t want to risk ruining your hairdryer, flat iron, or precious kitchen standing mixer or the transformer provided at post from using said U.S. voltage electronics. Also, you might have to use your U.S. voltage appliances in interesting ways, such as this:

Yes, that’s a griddle on the floor of our kitchen. Ahhh glamorous overseas life…