Kiev is a city which has ambitions and a taste for grand scopes. Packed with contrasts, it boasts wide boulevards, historical architecture and gilded church domes. They even glitter on days when the rest of the city covers itself in almost impenetrable fog. It has plenty of post Soviet legacy, loud ad billboards and signs. As well as cars known to stop right on the sidewalk. Anywhere it pleases their drivers, or so it seems.
As you ramble the streets of Kiev, surrendering to its unique pulse, you will soon realize all the above are but the silt of time which has in no way damaged he genuine soul of Kiev, the place of which Makhail Bulgakov, the legend of Kiev and one of its most famous denizens, wrote that “there is no city in the world more beautiful than Kiev”. The ideal time to visit Kiev is in the spring. Its parks are literally flushed with succulent vibrant spring tide greenness and the city itself, in all its multicolored splendor of characters, seems permeated by the energy of life.
Pecherska Lavra in Kiev
A part of the Kiev must see list is a trip to the legendary Pecherska Lavra which, because of its famous catacombs, is called “the cave monastery”. The church complex, built almost nine centuries ago, belongs to the most special places in Kiev. And, even if you do not attempt to see all museums and exhibition halls on its territory, you should count with spending at least three hours there. Do visit at least some of Kiev's most extraordinary museums: you are not likely to find many cities featuring museums dedicated to a single street, or lavatories, or just books.
House with Chimaeras
There is no shortage of places surrounded by all sorts of myths and mysticism. For instance, the so-called House with Chimaeras, one of the city's strangest and most extravagant buildings with a roof and façade populated by all sorts of monsters, animals and fairy tale characters, including snakes, mermaids and dragons. The architect Gorodetsky, “the Gaudi of Kiev” designed the house. Considering the vibe of the building, it is hardly surprising that legends have surrounded the house from its first day.
According to one of them, the architect dedicated the building to his daughter who had committed suicide by drowning herself. From one side the house appears to have three story's, from the other all six are visible. On a cloudy day, it does really seem reminiscent of a fairy tale castle. By the way, be warned not to visit the building at midnight, when the fantastic creatures adorning the façade will come alive. The bizarre image of the building does have a slightly more rational explanation. Gorodetsky was a passionate hunter and most animals featured as the façade sculptures actually belonged to his real or desired trophies. Sadly, the interior of the building is off-limits to the public.
Kiev is a city for long walks. Do explore any of its parks, Vladimirkiy or Marininskiy for instance. Or the city's central artery, Khreschatyk which offers just about everything, from shops to restaurants of any sort. While the street itself is not really beautiful, there is a certain character to it.
Do not forget to visit Podil, a district you absolutely have to see to make your stay in Kiev complete. Podil is the city's lowest part with the undulating terrain. It was the home to merchants and dealers. In 1811, a giant fire incinerated countless houses and churches. Although rebuilt, you are not likely to even notice as you wander its streets. Everything seems just slightly time-worn, tinted by the patina of time and intangible bohemian charm. It is also one of the busiest Kiev districts, housing a number of the best and most original art galleries in the city.
Podil is also home to one of Kiev's oldest streets, Pokrovskaya, built as early as in the middle of 1400; its original name was hardly romantically inspiring: Gnilaya (Rotten) street. During the Soviet era its name changed after Zelinsky. He invented the gas mask. It was also one of the few streets spared by the great fire. It looks almost the same today as it did hundreds of years ago. Almost very building here has a story of its own. One of the main landmarks of the street is the Belfry (number 6).
There was an adjacent church where the great writer Mikhail Bulgakov married his first wife Tatyana. In 1935 a school building came in its place. The belfry itself has survived since the 1700's. The street owes its current name to the opposite mid 1500 Pokrova Church (number 7). The number 5 building is an 1808 Empire style building. It was once owned by the well-known jeweler Samson Strelbitsky. He was responsible for many of the countless treasures in the Kiev churches. At number 1 you will find the House of the Weeping Widow designed by the architect Nikolaev. He was a well-known merchant dedicated to single mothers.
An industrial yard in Podil, a place you normally would not look twice at, is the surprise scene of the Tsekh (Workshop). It's one of the leading Ukrainian contemporary art galleries. Getting there is an adventure by itself. First you have to push open the time and weather worn iron gate, then walk past the guard's booth.
Don't let the sight confuse you. Walk on to find the right door in a corner at the back of the yard. The former factory's premises escape looking just too squalid by the skin of their teeth. And yet the place suits the concept of the venue perfectly: retaining its style and not following the stream. Tsekh is very much its own art gallery, focusing on Ukrainian art and steering clear of excessive obsessing with world-renowned names and mainstream stars; the gallery has spunk enough to look for its own new stars. In a way it is experimenting with the aim of recording the current state of Ukrainian art here and now, the way it is today. It is also definitely the place to go if you care to see an altogether different, alternative Kiev.
Pinchuk Art Center
Regardless of the level of your interest in contemporary art, stopping by at Kiev's Pinchuk Art Center is a must. It is a place that already has earned the status of an institution and, in a sense, is one of the symbols of the new Kiev. The 2006 opened exhibition space is one of the most ambitious in Eastern Europe. Its owner, the son-in-law of the Ukrainian ex-President Leonid Kuchma, the shark of the country's metal industry Victor Pinchuk, is the second richest man in the Ukraine.
Paul McCartney's gig in Kiev's Independence Square is also among the many feathers on his cap. Pinchuk Art Center gallery is something of an entertainment show boasting some globally well-known names. From the British troublemaker extraordinaire Damien Hirst to the German photographer Andreas Gursky – as its highlights. The gallery occupies four levels and features a permanent exhibition of projects by the German video artist Julia Stoschek, presenting a 7 hour video story.
Late 2008 the gallery closed its doors for several weeks to get ready for the two mega projects launched simultaneously in mid-January. The first Eastern European show by the British artist Sam Taylor-Wood and the Russia 21 group exhibition featuring luminaries of Russian contemporary art. The well-known Blue Noses group among them as well. Incidentally, Sam Taylor-Wood was also one of the artists with works which were on show at the 52th Venice Biennale. He was part of the Ukrainian exhibition. Although local gallery's tend to accuse Pinchuk Art Center of exaggerated interest in global stars and indifference towards local artists, there is no denying that Ukraine has to thank it for the fact that more and more prominent “names” came to Kiev and the general furor is provoking an increased interest in art.
While Kiev, like Moscow , still loves with sushi, the contemporary life of the city echoes by its restaurants. To sample some truly delicious and inspired culinary variations on the Ukrainian national theme, head for the Decadence House. Although said establishment, owned by the Carte Blanche restaurant chain, it has already earned the fame of the epicenter of the local glamor circles. It's here that they serve up the most brilliant versions of the traditional Ukrainian borscht or Chicken Kiev. If, however, you would like to have an authentic Ukrainian meal in the traditional environment, do plump for O'Panas in Kiev's centrally located Shevchenko Park with its slightly kitschy national-themed decor or for Pervak featuring eight different themed dining halls and a design inspired by the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.