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A Memorable European Vacation! The Unique Experience that is Kiev - Ukraine

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By Alfie D'Souza, Illinois [ Published Date: August 3, 2014 ]

Kiev-Ukraine is on the global news these days for a wrong reason. As most people around the world have probably seen on the news, Kiev has been experiencing a certain amount of civil unrest, as pro-European demonstrators clashed with the government's security forces. Although violent actions have ended, but the Ukrainians are still facing a threat from their neighbors, the Russians. But according to sources, most of the city remains by and large safe for visitors, and the airports are open with all flights landing and taking off as scheduled.

Kiev is the capital city of Ukraine, its largest economical, political, educational and cultural center. Kiev offers endless opportunities for tourism. Traveling to this city may be one of the most pleasurable experiences in your life. Ukrainians’ very lifestyle will be as interesting to foreign visitors as the capital’s major attractions and museums. And I had the greatest opportunity to explore Kiev and its surrounding places, when my Indian friend who got married to a Catholic Ukrainian girl, invited me to join their wedding celebration. I was offered a deal by my friend- all I had to do was just pay for my airfare from Chicago-USA to Kiev, Ukraine, and rest ofall the other expenses like accommodation, food, sight-seeing etc was borne by him. Wow- a deal which was hard to resist, and my 10 days trip to Kiev was one of the best vacation that I ever had.

Have you ever had one of those travel experiences that so exceeded your expectations that it created lasting memories? My first trip to Eastern Europe was Kiev, a place about which I knew nothing. To this point my only experience with Ukraine was the nesting dolls and a bottle of expensive Ukrainian made Vodka. However, one of my friend a day before I was to board the Lufthansa Airlines to Kiev,  told me to get prepared for something special. She said that I would fall in love with the people of the Ukraine, and the city as well.

I arrived by plane at Kiev airport, and there was a sense of intimidation, but also a sense of safety in my customs experiences. All in all, though, by the time I travelled to my downtown hotel, all anxiety was gone. It was fascinating to cross the huge river, and circle around and up a winding hillside road to enter the city. The mix of modern shops, historic architecture and the ever visible high-rise housing created an inability to focus on any one point. However, once I arrived in the city center, things changed quickly.

There was an old world charm to the city I did not expect. Beautiful old homes and businesses interspersed with Soviet monolithic buildings made for an eclectic visual experience. The huge government buildings seemed built with an intent to make me feel small, while the iron gates of the smaller homes seemed quite inviting. The ability to walk around the city, feeling safe and comfortable was a definite plus. There were museums, shops and music – a waterworks tour and even a Chernobyl museum.

Kiev has a plethora of museums, theatres, opera houses, historical buildings and gardens are to be found, laid out on either side of the picturesque Dnieper River. The western bank is home to the older part of the city and was, pre-urbanisation, characterised by its forested hills, as well as steep ravines and winding rivers, which serve as ice-rinks in winter. Watched over by a statue of the historic protector of Kiev, Michael Archangel, the city also boasts a successful blend of the old and the new. Modern buildings nestle against historical gems and cultural wonders rub shoulders with trendy, buzzing nightclubs, bars and restaurants.

With a skyline defined by the golden domes of numerous churches and monasteries, the streets of Kiev, one of Europe’s oldest cities, exude a sense of permanence. It has stood here for centuries, its fortunes rising and falling, but today Kiev exists as a striking modern city which preserves its past, to the delight and more interest of visitors. On holiday in Kiev visitors cannot ignore history, but also revel in the many attractions of this cultural city of charm. Kiev is blessed with some of the most beautiful, sexy, charming women in the universe. Any red-blooded single male, will feel that he is in paradise!.

When I think of the city, the color that comes to mind is not orange but green. It's a very leafy place. A beautiful string of parks stretches along the hills above the river. It's probably the best walk in the city. Eventually, you reach the high-walled Kiev-Pechersk Lavra. Once one of the most important centers of Orthodox Christianity and home to 1,000 monks, it was taken over by the Soviet government in 1930. Religious activities resumed over time. Today, some buildings are secular cultural museums and some are part of a religious complex operated by the Orthodox Church.

Beneath several of the churches is a labyrinth of tunnels, used by reclusive monks in times gone by and now the resting place for many saints. Carved into the 660 yards of stone tunnels are a number of tiny, elegant churches fitted with glittering gold icons. Parts of the cave complex are open to the public. For me, lighting a candle and walking through the cramped, whitewashed passages is both strange and moving. Along with tourists, devout worshipers come here to kneel and pray next to the small, glass-topped coffins. Part of the Lavra encompasses the secular exhibitions -- which run the gamut from displays of ornamental gold fashioned by the mysterious Scythian peoples who once ruled the Ukrainian steppe to the marvelously quirky Museum of Micro-Miniatures Food was wonderful, and portions were gracious.You could eat borscht for lunch, and McDonalds or TGI Fridays for dinner. The only problem while visiting the restaurants or fast-food shacks, most of the stewards/waiters/waitresses hardly speak English- so communicating with them is kind of tough. Most of the time I just ordered my food, pointing my finger at the items on the menu card or on the menu board. But at TGI Friday's, they have two dining sections- one section for those who speak Ukrainian language, and the other section for English speaking clients. I also tried some authentic Indian food at a Indian restaurant, where the Ukrainian waitresses clad in Salwar Kameez were looking gorgeous - more than me concentrating on the food, my eyes were simply wandering?

The people were also quite interesting. While a somber disposition seemed common, there was a welcoming spirit to visitors. When I visited the outdoor markets, English was common, and negotiating was expected. I brought home a great variety of nesting dolls, books and collectibles to remind me of the experience.

The ten must see places in Ukraine are: The Crimean Resorts: Crimea is a fascinating region to explore, as well as a great place to spend a vacation. Across the centuries it has attracted settlers such as the Greeks, the Venetians and the Genoese - all of whom founded cities along the coast and inter-married with the local people; Carpathian Mountains :Carpathian Mountains are considered to be the Green Pearl of Ukraine. It is one of the most popular resorts and tourist centers of the country. A beautiful mix of natural areas, forests, meadows, shepherds and humans living in harmony with nature is what makes the mountains so attractive to tourists!

Kiev-The Capital of Ukraine: Kiev (also known as Kyiv), a scenic city of close to 3 million people situated on the Dnieper River, is the bustling capital of Ukraine. Ancient Kievan Rus, which reached its greatest period of ascendancy during the 11th and 12th centuries, was a center of trade routes between the Baltic and the Mediterranean. The art and architecture of Kyiv are world treasures; Lviv : Lviv is a very poetic city steeped in legends both ancient and relatively new. Narrow medieval streets paved with stones, architectural decoration done in different styles – all preserved in its original form. In ancient times Lviv was the capital of a mighty Slavic state called the Galicia-Volyn principality. Being a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and then Poland contributed to the formation of the city's unique image.

Odessa: Odessa is referred to as the "Pearl of the Black Sea" is the 3rd largest city in Ukraine, the largest city along the Black Sea, and the most important city of Ukraine for trade. Odessa's mild climate, warm waters and sunlit beaches attract hundreds of thousands of people year around. Its shady lanes, beautiful lightly pastel buildings and cozy squares impart to the city a certain air of intimacy; Yalta : Steep mountain peaks serve as a lovely backdrop for Yalta the jewel of the Crimean peninsula. There is no surprise that the writer Anton Chekhov would choose to live in this seaside resort—it seems to be a combination of Carmel California the French Riviera and Greece. Yalta (pop. 80 000) has exemplary resorts, museums, and beaches.

Kamyanets -Podilsky: Kamyanets-Podilsky, one of the oldest cities in Ukraine, is considered a phenomenon of great cultural importance. A rocky island skirted by the tight loop of the Smotrich River flowing in a picturesque canyon, served as a unique pedestal on which over more than a thousand years both well-known and anonymous masters created a miracle in stone; Chenihiv : Chernihiv has known human settlement for over 2,000 years. The region comprises a very important historic region, notable as early as the Kyivan Rus' period, when the oblast' cities of Chernihiv and Novhorod-Sivers'kiy were frequently mentioned. The city of Chernihiv was the second most important Ukrainian city during the Rus' period of Ukrainian history, often
serving as a major regional capital.

Sophievka Park-Uman: Uman dendro park Sophievka is the real world landscape architecture masterpiece of the end of the XVIII-th century and the beginning of the XIX-th. The park is spread over the territory of 154,7 hectares and is situated at the outskirts of the ancient town Cherkassy, Uman region. It is considered to be the standard of the landscape composition of water, land, architectural works and sculptures; and Poltava : Poltava which is located between Kharkiv and Kyiv in Ukraine, is best known as the site of a 1709 battle between a coalition of Cossacks, led by Mazepa, and the Swedes (Charles XII) against the Russian army of Czar Peter I. The subsequent Russian victory in battle established Russia's prominent position in Europe and consequently Ukraine's decline. I saw all these places through a sight-seeing rented coach, which lasted for about seven days.

While this trip was not inexpensive, like flight charges, local food and sight-seeing expense, the time is well worth the investment. Travel to Kiev and you will have the opportunity to expand the diversity of your experiences in a way you will never forget. I know I won’t.

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J M Bhandary, USA :
A great Travelogue..Alfie, Kudos.
You have covered a lot of interesting aspects of travel in Kiev - history, customs, sports, cuisine, sights,..all very interesting. Photographs also cover a wider array of life in the area...Thanks..enjoyed reading.
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