How to Grocery Shop Abroad

One of the main differences between grocery stores in the U.S. (at least in the places that I’ve lived) and Kyiv is instead of large one-stop grocery stores with a wide variety of items, here there are smaller grocery stores with a more limited selection. When it comes to grocery shopping, we are extremely lucky that we can find most things here in Kyiv at our local grocery store. However, there are times when you just want certain foods and spices/seasonings that you are used to from America that aren’t sold at the local grocery store.

Add in the fact that my husband has a dairy allergy, and I have had to come up with solutions for grocery shopping. These challenges are nothing I haven’t found a way around. In the past 4.5 weeks or so of living here, these have been my hacks for grocery shopping:

Grocery Store:

Get things like eggs, milk (yes, they have lactose free milk), juice, bread, tortillas (I was shocked to find this!), tea, coffee, mayonnaise(even the vegan kind), granola, ketchup, mustard, hot sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, honey, cooking oil, peanut butter (yes!!!!) rice, pasta, (most) meat, pasta sauce, veggies, and fruit, rice cakes, and most cleaning supplies (called household chemicals here).

Online Grocery Delivery:

I have gotten heavy things like bottled water (we can’t drink tap water here), and things I can’t always find in the grocery store such as lactose free butter, lactose free yogurt, bacon (the kind at the grocery store near us isn’t cured like what we are used to in the U.S.), and some flavors I enjoy of jam. These are delivered to my door (if you place your order early enough, it can be delivered same day) for 69-79 Hryvnias ($3 USD). Being car-free at the moment, carrying heavy items is not fun, which is why I choose this option for heavy or bulky items. You can also order pretty much all of the things listed in the Grocery Store section above through this method of shopping. I suspect I will use this option a lot in the winter when I don’t want to walk to the grocery store in the snow and in sub zero temperatures:)

Embassy Commissary:

The size of a mini-mart, we have a commissary at the Embassy that we have utilized for convenience to get American goods. You can get some things that you can’t find at the grocery store such as vanilla extract, a selection of baking ingredients and mixes, a small selection of frozen American foods, American cereals, marshmallows, coconut oil, some spices, and canned black beans (since black beans aren’t popular here in Ukraine).

Walmart.com:

In approximately 2 weeks, you can have delivered stuff such as taco seasoning, spices, brownie mix (for people like me who don’t care to make from scratch when Ghiradelli does such a good job of making a mix), Panko bread crumbs, popcorn, cereal that is not sold at the commissary, steel cut oats, cupcake liners, and dairy-free chocolate chips, along with most other household goods that Walmart sells that are not liquid. That is important- no liquids, gels, or aerosols can be shipped overseas via our DPO (Diplomatic Post Office). Just be aware that when you buy food from Walmart, they sell them in jumbo size or multiples of the same item.

Golden Gate

Kyiv is full of history and interesting museums. One such place that exemplifies this is Golden Gate.

This park was a short walk from our temporary apartment, so one sunny and warm weekend morning we went to check it out.

For a small fee, visitors can enter the building, which was rebuilt in the 1980s as a reproduction of the original 11th century fort and church.

As part of the feе, visitors can go to the rooftop and check out the view.

Golden Gate is located right off the Golden Gate Metro station, and there are several restaurants and vendors around. In fact, locals come from all over to buy flowers from vendors in the park surrounding the building!

St. Sophia’s Cathedral

On our first weekend here in Kyiv, we did some exploring. The first place we went was St. Sophia’s Cathedral. We bought a ticket that allowed us to go up the bell tower, into the museum, and into the Cathedral. I have to say, the ticket price (less than $10 USD) was worth it!!

The grounds were well taken care of, and very peaceful

Upon entering the Cathedral the first thing I noticed was the gold artwork at the back.

The Cathedral was pretty big, and in each room artwork was displayed. The attention to detail was top notch.

After checking out the museum and buildings, we went to the top of the bell tower to check out the view

I highly recommend visiting St. Sophia’s Cathedral if you are in Kyiv!!

Welcome to Kyiv

Our first two and a half weeks or so in Kyiv have been a whirlwind of activity. I have started Russian lessons, learning how things operate around here, exploring the city, and my husband started his job. To say the least, we have definitely been busy!!!

My husband’s supervisor met us at the airport with a big SUV for our many bags. We cannot thank her enough for what she did for us that day!!! She took us to our temporary apartment right in the city center and instructed us on how to use the washer, dryer, etc. and also pointed out some sites and stores to check out along the way. She also bought us some groceries (meat, fruit, vegetables, tea, honey, bread) to hold us over for a few days, which we thoroughly appreciated.

Luckily we arrived on a Friday, so we had a weekend to settle in and get over jet lag. We did a lot that weekend- We explored some of the sites (St. Sophia’s Cathedral, the Maidan, and Golden Gate Park, among others) and tried out restaurants around the area (we found a fantastic seafood restaurant, and Georgian food is highly recommended those who have never tried it before!). We also basked in the beautiful weather and tried to come to terms with the fact that we are finally living here now!!! In Europe!!!

The following week was busy with meetings for both of us at the Embassy, my husband jumping in right away with his job, getting internet installed, and me finding grocery stores, dry cleaners, etc. in the area and getting essentials for the apartment that we did not take with us to post. UAB arrived Thursday of our first full week here so we were able to have our own pillows, towels, and the rest of our clothes and hangers, among other things. I spent a good portion of Thursday doing laundry and unpacking about half of the UAB and finding a place for things.

The following weekend was more of a recoup and rest weekend with a little more sightseeing thrown in, then the next week I started Russian lessons, had a hair appointment at a beauty salon, tea with other Embassy spouses, and discovered the wonders of online grocery delivery!! Yes folks, they can deliver groceries, household items, etc. to your door same day!!! It saved me the trouble of going to two or three different stores and trying to decipher what items are without the help of Google Translate.

From my limited time here thus far, here are my impressions of Kyiv:

1)It is very hilly. I have a feeling my legs will have nice definition by the time I leave here.

2)Most servers at restaurants speak English, there are English menus (or items in English) at a large amount of restaurants, and there are many signs around town in English. In fact, we stumbled upon a pub that had country music playing and U.S. memorabilia on the walls. A good amount of stores have workers who know some English. In general, I’d say this city is pretty easy to get around if you don’t know the language. If all else fails, use Google Translate.

3)There are coffee shops (sometimes multiple coffee shops) on every corner. Coffee is a big deal here and the locals really like it.

4) You can get pretty much anything you need here, you just have to know where to go. Yes, that includes peanut butter!! I found a lot of American brands such as Tide, Dove, Kleenex, Glade, Lays, Pringle’s, and Colgate, and also Barilla pasta and pasta sauce, and there are non-dairy milk and yogurt options here!!

5) The variety of cuisines in restaurants is noteworthy. There are French, Italian, Sushi, Ukrainian, American, Middle Eastern, Uzbekistan, and Georgian restaurants, among others.

6)Cost of living is sooo cheap!! Most things are about 1/2 to 1/3 the price compared to the U.S.

7)There are so many trees, parks, and greenery around here. Very lush and beautiful landscape.

8)Drawbacks/inconveniences- Appointments need to be made in advance for pedicures and hair styling. No walk-in places like in the U.S. Also, it takes 2-3 times longer to wash and dry clothes.

9)The streets are narrow (well, except for the main streets) but the sidewalks are wide. I suspect that is because the snow will accumulate in snowbanks on the sidewalks during the winter.

10) Food: more variety than expected in the supermarket. Right now, lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, onions, cucumbers, radishes, avocados, bananas, oranges, mangos, lemons, kiwis, and apples are the produce you will typically find at the grocery store. I do have to say that the potatoes are excellent here, along with the honey. I have started to see street vendors selling strawberries though. Other differences, if you order a salmon salad, you will probably get raw salmon (like lox) on your salad. And pretty much every salad has a hard boiled egg on it. If you order cheesecake, you just might get this:

Well, those are my first impressions!! I will have some follow up posts soon on the excursions around town that my husband and I have gone on in the past few weeks..

The Time Between Packout and Post..

As if the packout wasn’t tiring enough, I spent the following week on the go with a jam packed schedule..

First stop, Savannah,Georgia. Savannah has been on my bucket list for quite some time and it lived up to and even exceeded my expectations. The drive was not bad- around 6 hours or so. The city was quaint, charming, and full of cute restaurants and shops. I couldn’t go to the south and NOT have shrimp and grits, so that was my dinner.

It was everything I could have hoped for and wish I could have stayed there for a few more days at least! I hope to go back during home leave to spend more time in this charming city!!

From Savannah I drove about 10 hours to D.C. It was a loooong day and wish I could have planned better to break it into two days, but hindsight is 20/20 as they say.

I had one day to run some errands in D.C., then my husband and I went to up north for his brother’s wedding. It was a quick 48 hours and about 4.5-5 hours drive each way, but hey, at least I didn’t have to drive!!

My husband had two more days of training before we left, so I ran errands and checked things off my list of to-dos. Then, we were off for 24 hours in Paris!!

We ended up with three checked bags each in addition to our carryons. The red eye flight was uneventful. I attempted to sleep during some of the flight, but alas I did not get more than an hour of sleep. I think I was too excited for our day in the city of lights…

I traveled to Paris about 10.5 years ago with one of my best friends, and it was just as great coming back this time with my love. We were tired and jet lagged, but we did a lot of walking and eating in those 24 hours that we were there!! We had crepes, croissants, soufflés, sandwiches on baguettes, escargot, and great wine. What more can you ask for?

We needed that extra day to decompress and somewhat adjust to jet lag, and of course Paris is such a beautiful and wonderful city to be in, so why not?? Paris is another city I definitely hope to travel to again- for more than 24 hours next time!!!

The Packout

Hi All! Now that I have a minute to collect my thoughts, I took some time to tell about the move overseas.

These past few weeks have been a complete blur for me. It all started about three weeks ago with the packout. Two days of backbreaking work, sweat, running around, and answering all the questions from the movers. We had professional movers move everything for us and a person came to clean our apartment after, but it was still two very long and exhausting days.

Day 1:

I ran to Dunkin Donuts to get food and coffee for myself and the movers. Two movers came to move our UAB and HHE, which for those who aren’t in the know of foreign service acronyms are Unaccompanied Air Baggage and Household Effects. We were allotted 450 lbs for the two of us, and arrives by air much quicker than HHE, which goes by the literal slow boat.

We had an area blocked off for UAB with stuff we wanted sooner – towels, pillows, clothes, some household goods, etc. Somehow we filled our 3 allotted boxes that the movers had for UAB but were still underweight by 80 lbs!!! I was pretty annoyed because I could have found 80 lbs worth of stuff to send if the movers would have had another box that we could have filled. I will have to plan better next time and put some heavy smaller items in UAB!

Word of advice- bring the towels, pillows, and hangers with you in your checked luggage if you can if you are going to post. Or mail them to post before you leave so they will be there when you arrive. Same with pans, cups and plates. Trust me on this.

From reading other foreign service blogs, I thought there would be at least 3 or 4 movers, but there were only 2, and they worked tirelessly with hardly any breaks from 9:30 – 4:30. I watched them carefully pack everything we were taking to post. We were also underweight in HHE by about 1,000 lbs!! This makes me feel better because it gives us a little leeway to buy some stuff here in Kyiv. A chunk of that amount was also household consumables, so that will not be included in our next HHE.

I swept and cleaned as stuff was packed up, even though we had a cleaner come. There was an embarrassing amount of dust and debris and some items I thought I lost!! (Hello, earrings and necklace).

After day 1 I of course decompressed with a tasty beverage

Day 2:

Day 2 started out the same. This time there were 4 movers and it went much quicker. They started around 10 and were done by 2:30. It was bittersweet looking at stuff that will be in storage for (we believe) 18.5 years!! By then we probably won’t want any of the stuff, but hey, we’re keeping it anyways. Among the items in our HHE was furniture and precious momentos, as well as some camping equipment and bicycles.

After the movers left I raced to the cable company to return our cable boxes and came back in time for our house cleaner, who did a phenomenal job of making our apartment sparkling clean. I then checked in to my hotel later that evening and crashed hard after taking a well deserved soak in the tub in the hotel room.

It was mentally draining, answering questions about what stuff went where, keeping an eye on the movers to make sure they pack our stuff nicely (at one point a mover started to wrap a Kleenex box with about 2 tissues in it for storage. I literally had to remove it from his hands and say “that’s staying here, no need to pack this!”). It was physically exhausting cleaning out the fridge and pantry and sweeping up after the movers and scrubbing the walls and baseboards with Mr. Clean magic erasers. It was emotionally draining looking at items that I hope are shipped safely or that I won’t see again for a long time.

Even with all the emotions and physical drain of the packout, I have to say it went well with only a few hiccups, which is the best that anybody can hope for.

6 More Weeks…

It’s hard to believe that the past 3 months have gone by so fast. What have I been up to?

Here it is in numbers:

67-Current streak on Duolingo (i.e., days in a row of learning Ukrainian)

38-# of years around the sun

3-# of flights to D.C. to see my husband

2-# of times my husband has been able to come to Florida to see me:)

2-# of meltdowns I have had (my poor husband)

Countless-

#of online orders for clothing, household goods, etc. to prepare to move overseas

# of trips to the clothing drop offs in the area to drop off bags of clothes

We are entering the home stretch of our time in the United States(well, for now), so we have both been busy with the logistics of preparing for an overseas move. Diplomatic passports, visas, flight arrangements, international drivers permits, and pack out have all been scheduled and/or completed. I have been busy purging many items from our house that do not bring me joy (thanks Marie Kondo!) and working away at my job.

We had wonderful visits in February and March for Valentines Day and my birthday, exploring D.C. and it’s wonderful culinary scene. I was able to see an old friend that lives in Arlington, and my husband and I were able to meet up with some of his old friends that he met 20+ years ago in South America.

It has been a good thing that I have been to D.C. so many times, because I have been able to test out jackets of varying weight for the winter temps. I have been craving winter temps ever since we moved to Florida (call me crazy, I know), so I was ecstatic to feel cold weather again. My husband also has been reacquainted with living in a colder climate after living in Florida for 3 years.

More travel has already been scheduled between now and when we leave for the Ukraine- I am going up to D.C. again to see the cherry blossoms, have a mini reunion with some of my hubby’s friends, and to get set up with our new bank. My hubby is coming down to Florida to do some final purging of his stuff, final doctor visits, and getting his vehicle ready to ship overseas. Also, we are going up north to see his brother get married before we leave!!

It is a huge transition for me- I will be unemployed, leaving a career I have had for over 15 years, living in another country- that I do not speak the language of fluently, by the way- and my husband and I are going to have to be on the same page using one budget and living off of one paycheck for the first time in our married lives. The anticipation of this got to me, so being human and all, I had a couple of meltdowns. Both during visits to see my husband in D.C. My poor husband- he deserves so much credit for putting up with me, a demanding training schedule, and organizing the logistics of the move. I acknowledge he is under so much stress too. But we are working through it and excited to be FINALLY settled in Ukraine soon.

I know I will miss many things about living in the United States, but I am sooo ready to be living full time with my hubby again. FaceTime really has been so good for our relationship, but it is no substitute for being with my hubby in person. There is so much to look forward to and we can’t wait for our adventure to begin in 6 weeks!!!

P.S.- here are a couple of pictures from the famous Georgetown Cupcakes we visited during my birthday weekend.