It was an uneventful 3 hour plane journey across Europe but, being the kind of people that much prefer the cold, we were more than ready to get off the oven that we had been flying in. Even better, we had spied a very white landscape as we landed – Ukraine had had plenty of snow in preparation for our arrival. Making our way through the airport and security, getting our passports stamped by an airport official with a very severe countenance, was an easy enough task, beyond this, however, we suddenly realised how unrecognisable the language was to us! Trying to decipher signs was mostly useless, the different alphabet made sure of that!
Before catching our bus into the city centre we got some money changed over, we were unable to get Ukrainian currency in England so instead we brought with us pound sterling, with the view of swapping it over in situ. Although it felt wrong to have no local currency when entering, we very quickly realised this was not going to be a problem. We got a small amount changed at the airport (knowing the rate would be much worse for us) and the rest we changed periodically throughout our trip. Around the city, on nearly every street was a currency exchange booth which offered very competitive rates and a hassle free way to procure some Ukrainian hryvnia (UAH).
We jumped on a bus outside of the airport which would take us to the main rail station and from there our apartment was a half hour walk away! Coming from a country with an increasingly ‘Americanised’ service industry (“I hope you have a greeeaatttt day!!!”) we are used to a very chirpy level of interaction with people, we soon learnt not to expect this in Kiev, people were not overly friendly but they were incredibly helpful and forgiving of the language barrier.
The minibus trundled at speed towards the city centre; we found the driving far more chaotic than we are used to, with cars squeezing through tiny gaps and a lot of last minute manoeuvring. Although to be perfectly honest, Callum and I live in one of the most rural parts of England, so there is a good chance we would get this impression from any city during the busy time! The journey gave us a fast paced glance at the city we would be exploring for the next few days. The snow hung heavily on the branches of trees and was piled high by the sides of the roads. The streets were lined with apartment blocks, most of which had huge, incredible murals painted on the sides of them. Christmas lights were plentiful and shone brightly through the misty evening air, the whole place had a lively buzz despite it being fairly late in the evening.
After being dropped off and consulting a map on which direction we needed to head, we started the second part of our journey on foot. It was -6°C when we arrived and the wind which blustered down the streets between the tall buildings was icy, making it feel significantly colder than -6°. As we got further from the station the hustle and bustle of people diminished, and for the remainder of the journey it was quiet. The pavements were icy and very slippery, we had to concentrate on our footing (and we still had several, what we call, ‘woah fuck!’ moments!) The huge piles of snow created by the roads being ploughed encroached on the pavements and we found ourselves clambering over the mounds where necessary.
The streets were made up of more of the decorated tower blocks and some beautiful old buildings nestled in between, the general style of the older ‘town house’ buildings was pretty, with small detailing around the windows and doors. Some of the apartments had shed-like porches built over the balconies, most likely an extra barrier between the houses and the unforgiving cold outside during winter. There was a significant amount of graffiti on the buildings and things seemed a little make-shift in places, but it didn’t detract at all from the overall feel of the place. We passed by several small park-like areas tucked away between the housing, the benches and monuments covered in a thick blanket of snow turned orange by the illumination of the dull streetlights overhead.
Finally we arrived at our apartment, it was on the 7th floor of a nice looking apartment block, and the road had a few shops, basement bars and restaurants dotted along it. We were ready to get settled and spend the small amount of evening left relaxing. The place itself felt pretty authentically decorated, although I have to admit I have never been in a Ukrainian home before so I have no real idea what ‘authentic’ is… all I can say is that it felt extremely different from home and I loved that!