Flea Markets and Street Vendors

Lately we have been checking out flea markets and street vendors around Kyiv for unique items.

We found a pretty large flea market full of books, movies, dvds, clothes, and so on. Definitely worth going once for the experience but at that time there was nothing I noticed that screamed “buy me!” It didn’t help that we went later in the day when some of the vendors had already closed up shop. We ended up at a galleria across the way with a solid food court and some good shops where my husband and I got some deals, and then to an Epicentr a block or two away, so the day wasn’t a total loss.

Yesterday we stumbled upon a long row many meters long of street vendors on Andriivskyi Decent, which is a long, windy road here in Kyiv. There were so many unique, hand crafted items and artwork!! We will definitely be back there again.

Maidan Nezalezhnosti

One of the more famous landmarks of Kyiv is Maidan Nezalezhnosti. Translated in English, it means Independence Square, and is simply called Maidan by locals. Maidan is a hub for shopping, dining, and people watching in general. Underground is a shopping mall, and the square is a good central place to start to explore the main Boulevard, Khreshchatyk, or to go to Meriinsky Park. It is also not far from Golden Gate and St. Sophia’s Cathedral.

They have street performers, festivals and many other events occurring throughout the year at Maidan. After dark we have seen a water show from the fountain set to music. It is quite spectacular.

For more history and information, check this link out:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maidan_Nezalezhnosti

Learning a New Language..

I am super fortunate that I have some extra time on my hands now to do things around the house, explore my neighborhood, run errands, catch up on things I’ve been wanting to do that I haven’t done in a long time, such as uploading a year’s worth of photos onto a photo hosting website, and to learn a new language..or two.

The Embassy arranges for employees and their spouses to learn the local language if they wish, up to 4 hours of tutoring a week. I am fully taking advantage of this benefit!!! Here in Ukraine the two main languages spoken are Ukrainian and Russian. As I have mentioned in a previous blog post, I have been using the app DuoLingo to learn Ukrainian. It has helped me, but I figured that since there are quite a few countries where Russian is spoken, it might be more useful to take Russian lessons than Ukrainian. Russian can be used for our time here, for when we travel to another Russian speaking country, or perhaps if we get a future post in another Russian speaking country.

Although at restaurants most menus have an English translation under each item, at food courts and food stands, the menu is usually in Ukrainian or Russian, with little to no English. It is a challenge to look at a menu and not know what the items are or how to pronounce them correctly.

In addition, the front desk attendants in our apartment building do not speak English, which is another motivating factor in learning Russian. I have had to use Google Translate to communicate.

My tutor and I meet twice a week for two hours at a time. We discuss situations that I might encounter on a daily basis and how to communicate with Ukrainians using Russian. I have learned a lot of vocabulary and phrases. My pronunciation is getting better each time.

I had to get a big notebook to take notes, as I am learning so much each time!! Our lessons are pretty free-form, as my tutor writes words and phrases based on our flow of conversation about everyday life.

I feel that I have learned more in my 4 weeks of Russian lessons than I have in 7 months of DuoLingo- not to discount DuoLingo, because I have learned a lot, but the tutoring lessons have been so practical!! Not only am I learning the language, but we discuss cultural differences and nuances as well. It has definitely been a productive use of my time, and I highly recommend it to anyone going to a post where they do not speak the language.

Mariinsky Park

A few weekends ago my husband and I stumbled upon a gem of a park here in Kyiv- Mariinsky Park. It was lightly drizzling, and we were taking a walk. I saw what initially looked like a small park, so I said “let’s explore this park when it’s not raining.” Well, we circled around the area, and the rain had let up, so we decided to check it out.

The park was much bigger than I initially thought it was. That weekend there were two festivals/events with music going on. The first one was a cultural festival and the other was a stage with a DJ and electronica music. I only took pictures of the cultural festival, where there were singers and dancers dressed in beautiful costumes:

After spending a little time checking out the festivities we continued walking through the over 130 year old park.

There are many events that are held throughout the year at Mariinsky Park, so we will definitely visit again!! For more information about the park, check this out:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mariinsky_Park

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 without a car 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 receive 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 started Russian lessons, explored the city a little, 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 sightseeing thrown in. The following 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 am starting to see street vendors selling strawberries. 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..