My Top Five of Ukraine
Our time in Ukraine was an eye-opening experience. We met some wonderful people who invited us to see Ukraine from their point of view and I felt that was priceless. It wasn’t without its frustrations; my Mom can vouch for how often I called and regaled her with our latest train/bus/general miscommunications as we tried to pick up some of the Ukrainian language. But all things considered, we had a great time in Ukraine! So without further ado, here were my top five favourite parts about our travels in Ukraine!
Sitting pretty close to several other European countries, Lviv feels like it has much more of an international influence than Kiev. Where Kiev is grand, Lviv is colourful. I loved how approachable Lviv is, it was so easy (and fun!) to walk around. I also enjoyed the little bursts of quirky creativity that you found around the city. Like the Lviv Chocolate Factory! Definitely a must visit while you’re in Lviv. Also, something fun a friend recommended to me, Lviv is full of themed restaurants! Nathanael and I went to a pretty tame (and hilariously corny) Harry Potter-themed place, but they get much wilder than that. Kryjivka is an Ukrainian Partisan Army-themed hole-in-the-wall that require a secret password (“Glory to Ukraine”), and serves up huge helpings of traditional Ukrainian dishes with a side of allowing you to shoot a gun in the air at the bar! In a completely different artistic direction, you can visit Masoch Cafe. Named after Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch, a writer from whose name the term “masochism” was derived, this cafés claim to fame is the complimentary hand-cuffing and whipping (at your request) that come with every purchase.
Kamyanets-Podilsky is dramatic to say the least. Surrounded by the formidable natural moat created by Smotrych River canyon (everytime I read, “Smotrych” I read it as, “Smooch” and smile), the old town and castle perch on their rocky islands, these days connected by a road. Things were pretty quiet while we were visiting, but I’ve read in a number of places that Kamyanets is still somewhat of a hidden gem. While tourism picks up in the summer, it doesn’t get anywhere near the levels of other European attractions boasting similar, natural fortifications. The interior of the castle was interesting, but a bit closed down since it was winter. What was really special was the hike we took alongside the castle, across the canyon. You could really get a feel for what the Turkish Sultan Osman was talking about when he told his troops to let Allah conquer the castle and they hotfooted in out of there. Special side note, Kamyanets was home to the most delicious borscht we have ever had! If that doesn’t convince you to visit, nothing will 😉
Pechersk Lavra, Kiev
Kiev Pechersk Lavra, also known as Kiev Monastery of the Caves (how cool is that?), is a monastery complex overlooking the Dnipro river. Originally founded as a cave monastery (hence the name) in 1051, it expanded over the centuries and has been a centre of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. The monastery was founded by St Antony, a Greek, and his follower, Feodosy, as they slowly dug a series of catacombs in which they, and other monks, would live and worship. This became what is now called the lower lavra, with the extensive church and museum complexes being referred to as the upper lavra. A lot of people recommend half a day to see everything, but I think a full day is better. Everything is really interesting to see, but there aren’t a lot of signs so it’s nice to have extra time to figure things out and meander around. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but Nat and I didn’t see the caves. It wasn’t our fault though, they were closed off (we think? It was always a bit hard to tell in Ukraine) while we were visiting. But everyone says they’re amazing, so definitely go see them! I also loved the Dormition Cathedral, the golden-dome tops, gold scrolling, and windowed portraits made it one of my favourite cathedrals in Kiev.
Handicrafts and Artwork
I think it was pretty clear in my last post, but I love Ukrainian handicrafts. It’s pretty amazing that women would hand-embroider, lace, and weave works of art for family members and themselves to wear on a daily basis. Look at some of these incredible dresses! The designs, colours, and techniques vary by region, but create a beautiful mosaic of traditional designs across Ukraine. Pysanky, decorated eggs, are the Ukrainian handicraft that we were most familiar with, but I had no idea the range of types! Check out this great article here, it talks about different types of decorated eggs, where the style is popular/originated, and has great pictures. Something I hadn’t heard of quickly fell in love with were the montanka, Ukrainian knot-dolls. A lot of history, symbolism, and a splash of superstition go into making the dolls. They’re hand-made by a spiral rolling process, symbolizing eternity and life/death/fertility cycles, but can’t be sewn, for it’s believed that you can sew in both bad and good thoughts. This is just scratching the surface of the traditional arts passed down through the generations in Ukraine that you can see and enjoy (and even bring home with you) today.
Can we talk about how amazing Ukrainian food is for a second? I love it! Borscht has to be one of my favourite soups out there, and we found the best borscht we’ve ever eaten in a small diner in Kamyanets-Podilsky. Mmmm, beets and sour cream… Varenyky, dumplings, are always delicious of course, and another favourite of mine was kotleta po-kyivsky, better known in North America as “Chicken Kiev”! When I was craving something sweet, my go-to was a jam or poppyseed-filled pampushky but my favourite indulgence was a slice of medovik, a heavenly, layered torte. Don’t forget an obligatory shot of horilka (vodka), you’ll find a huge selection of flavours ranging from spicy to sweet to savoury, so taste away!