1. Springtime. Ukrainian winters are long and cold but damn the Springtime makes up for it! Blink and you’ll miss the transition from snow to sun, however if you’re lucky enough to be in Kiev in May/June – the burst of green shoots, blossoming trees and smiling people will warm your soul.
2. You are never more than 100 meters from a bank. In fact, if stand anywhere in Kiev and spin 360 degrees you’ll probably see at least three.
3. Puzata Hata (Belly House) …which should actually be called Belly Heaven. Puzata Hata restaurants sell cheap, tasty Ukrainian food and, dotted all over Kiev and they are a massive hit with locals and foreigners alike. Simply grab a tray, choose from a huge selection of national dishes and then stuff your face! Nobody leaves a PH hungry.
4. Crossing the road. Almost all crossroads or intersections in Kiev have a pedestrian crossing and pedestrians have the right-of-way. Just walk and the cars will stop.
5. Every car is a potential taxi. This is one of the most endearing things about Ukraine and other ex-soviet countries. Just hold you hand out and soon-enough someone will stop to give you a lift. Negotiate your price and you’re off.
6. Marshrutkas. These little yellow mini-buses buzz around the city like flightless bumble-bees and they are awesome. Wherever you are in Kiev, you can find a Marshrutka to take you home, or take you where you need to go. On top of this they’re super-cheap at just 2.5 UAH (25 cents) a trip.
7. Paying for your Mashrutka. As if they weren’t cool enough already, you can pay for your Marshrutka by passing your money to the person in front of you. He/she will pass it on and you can watch as your money moves off to the driver. Relax as your change works its way back to you.
8. Kiosks, Small square box-like street shops. They’re everywhere and its amazing what you can get from their little tiny windows.
9. Metrograd (Metro-town). It’s an underground shopping world, crammed full of expensive (but cheap-looking) stuff that nobody buys. However, it’s fun to explore and get lost there, especially when its cold above ground.
10. Babushkas (grandmas) and the fact that it is both friendly and respectful to call all old women ‘Babushka’
11. Sushi. Ukrainians love sushi and despite the fact that I’ve never seen a Japanese person in Kiev, the Sushi is pretty good.
12. You can find middle-aged men performing bad (but heartfelt) love songs in public on the street Karaoke machines.
13. Soup with every meal. Ukrainians (and now me) love soup. It makes every dinner feel like a special occasion.
14. Train picnics. Your fellow train passengers will feed you, talk to you and look after you.
15. Mama. Mamas rule in Ukraine. If Mama is not happy then nobody is happy. If you hear a mobile phone ring in Kiev there’s an 85% chance it will be Mama calling to check on someone.
16. Summer. Unlike the summer in the UK – here it is long, dry and very hot.
18. Exchange Booths. Change your dollars or Euros into Hrivna with these women in small boxes. They are even more common than banks.
19. Boat-Trips on the Dniper, complete with great views, booze and bad pop music.
20. Public outdoor Gyms which people actually use! Kids, adults, businessmen, grandparents – everyone can workout for free.
21. Wide Sidewalks. Kiev doesn’t have cycle paths, but thanks to shrewd Soviet city planning it does have wide streets and large pavements. OK, they’re not always in great condition and they’re often covered in cars, but they’re a great place to avoid the traffic.
22. The Botanical Gardens.
23. Beer. Ukrainians are infamous for their love of Vodka however, they also make (and drink) some very good beers. The only problem is, they’re impossible to pronounce whether you’re sober or drunk! (Slavutych, Chernihivske etc).
24. Art Galleries. Dotted across the city, Kiev has some intriguing art spaces. From crumbling exhibition halls, to shiny modern glitzy-galleries, there are plenty of places to stroke your goatee and ponder the exhibits.
25. Zhovten Cinema (www.zhovten-kino.kiev.ua) with its small ‘halls’ (rooms) complete with sofas and DVD-player-run screens. Zhovten blurs the boundary between staying home and going out, however, its cheap, fun and they show a wide range of foreign art-house films. Apparent this is the best ‘cinema for sex’ in Kiev. I was told this.
26. Boulevards. Kiev has many wide, tree-lined boulevards where you can walk, talk and drink beer.
27. Flowers. Ukrainians are flower crazy. They’re obsessed. Not only are there flower shops all over the city, but many of them are 24-hour flower shops!! If you ask a Ukrainian if it is necessary to have flowers available at 4am on a Wednesday morning, they will simply tell you: “Yes, of course!”
28. Metros. The metro in Kiev opened in 1960 and very little has changed since, however – its still brilliant. It is incredibly noisy but it’s fast, extremely clean and safe and for just 20p you can cross the whole city! The little blue Metro tokens are also very cheap souvenirs.
29. Salsa Clubs and dancing. The Ukrainian love of dancing is one of the most surprising things I discovered here. Almost all the girls I know take some kind of dance classes and no the names and styles of many others. In the summer, there are numerous free salsa parties where Kievians go and shake their booty.
30. Museum of Miniature. This is possibly my favourite museum in the world because every single exhibit makes you say ‘wow’. You can also read the world’s smallest book!
31. The Pecherska Lavra. Here there are caves with mummified saints, healing fountains, golden-domed churches and a lot of Monks.
32. Rodina Mat. The mother of all Ukrainian mothers. If there was a fight between Rodina Mat and the statue of Liberty, Rod M would kick Liberties arse!
33. Language Exchange Club. LEC has been running for a number of years now and the organisation is a real tribute to the decency of people. Meetings are organised throughout the week and they are free for anyone who wants to go and talk and practice foreign languages. There are philosophy clubs, finance clubs, Turkish, Russian, Italian and German clubs + many more
34. Street markets offering everything you could ever need in the world. This is trade as it should be – cheap and fun.
35. Late shopping hours mean that you can buy shoes at 10pm all week …if you want to.
36. Ukrainians. I think I could write a whole book about Ukrainians, but its enough to say that Kiev wouldn’t be the same without them.
37. Beaches. How many large European capital cities are covered in large sandy beaches? The answer is: not many. But Kiev is and they’re a BBQ and Sunbathing heaven.
38. Autumn. If you thought spring was beautiful, just wait until Autumn.
39. Free Street Concerts. I don’t think a week goes by in Kiev without a free stage show and pop-concert.
40. Kreshatik Street. It’s the main street in Kiev and Kievians and visitors alike love to stroll here. Its also closed at the weekend so you can stroll even more and enjoy the many (sometimes bizarre) street performers.
41. Break-Dancers. They’ve been break-dancing on Kreshatik since I first came in 2005 and they’re still going. They’re a part of the city.
42. Ukrainians will tell you what they think and they will ask you direct questions. Its both awkward and refreshing.
43. Discount Cards or ‘cartushkas’. I keep losing mine, but discount schemes are super-popular here.
44. Old People waltzing in the Teatranla Metro station.
45. Colourful painted things
46. Holidays, name days and ‘other’ days. Whatever day it is – someone will be celebrating in Kiev. Woman’s day is by far the most important (it’s a day off and requires you to buy a lot of flowers (of course)), but last year on ‘day of man who defends Ukraine’ my colleagues presented all the guys with some presents. 16th July is ‘accountant’s day’ …wtf?
47. Olivia. These restaurants sell simple, cheap and tasty Italian inspired food. Amazingly, you wont find Sushi on the menu.
48. Kiev is covered in fountains and water features. No self-respecting park would be seen in public without a fountain.
49. Pajowlusta. It means ‘you’re welcome’ and EVERYONE says it if you say ‘thank you’ (spasibo) …even if they look grumpy, angry or depressed.
50. Kiev Trams. They were made in the Neolithic period and upgraded a little during the Iron Age. Since then, they have been moving people around Kiev without modification. Tram drivers are normally serious looking women.
51. Superstitions. Ukrainians take many superstitions to be indisputable facts. A cold draft, for example, can lead to kidney failure or infertility. Fact. Also, don’t put your hat, money, and especially your keys on the kitchen table – that’s just wrong.
52. Maidan Square and its big, proud soviet buildings.
53. White shoes and beige trousers. You’d be laughed at in England, but here you’ll be cool.
54. Ukrainian noises. Its hard to describe them here but Ukrainian females make very high (often loud) noises when they speak. The guys make very low, tough noises.
55. Kiev is incredibly safe and people are very well behaved. If you have any problems, they will probably come from the Police, not the Kievians.
56. Podil District. This is the heart of the old-town and a center of trade and commerce. It’s beautiful, diverse and charming …in an ‘old and falling down’ kinda way.
57. The water museum. Where else in the world can you learn about wather purification, ride in a fake lift, sit on a massive fake toilet and stroke a lucky Koi Carp?
58. Supermarkets advertise themselves using huge pictures of food. Much of it looks awfu.
59. ‘Death and the Penguin’ by Andrey Kurkov is a lovable story of one man and his pet penguin in Kiev in the 1990s. The Author lives in Kiev.
60. Architecture. I’m no expert, but the old late 19th and early 2th century here is fascinating and often colourfully painted in pastel pink, green or yellow.
61. It is customary to make a short but profound and sincere speech about someone when it is their birthday. You must stand up, make the speech (looking like you mean it) and then drink to their health. Now wait while everyone else at the table does the same.
62. Plastic flowers. Whoever first imported plastic flower into Ukraine must be a rich man.
63. Kievians love languages and often speak three or four. Naturally bi-lingual (Ukrainian and Russian) most Ukrainians also speak English and study French, German, Spanish etc
64. Communal toilets and washing facilities are common.
65. The State Air Museum.
66. “of Ukraine”. Ukrainian Ministries insist on adding ‘of Ukraine’ to all official State institutions just in case you forget where you are. “The Ministry of Funny Walks of Ukraine” etc
67. Glamour. Kiev is a glamorous city and the Kievians love to be glamorous
68. (almost) everything is in Cyrillic, including the tourist attractions and metro maps. At first its daunting, but as you get better at reading, its extremely rewarding – you feel like a code breaker every time you identify the correct Metro stop.
69. Flowerbeds, flower tyres and other city gardens. While Soviet apartment blocks lack any notable character, the abundance of flowerbeds and makeshift gardens do a great job at compensating. Old tyres, concrete tubs and a wide selection of other ‘containers’ are often painted and planted with great effect.
70. Turquoise. It seems that turquoise, green and blue were the only colour available in Ukraine in the past 300 years. As a result almost all stairwells, fences and all official buildings are painted in a shade of turquoise or bluey-green.
71. People will speak English with you even if they only know a few words.
72. The USSR lives-on in the details, on the buildings, in the street-names and even on the butter. Communist icons and insignia are hiding everywhere like forgotten Easter eggs.
73. You can spend days exploring deserted factories and spooky buildings.
74. You can get a good (and big) coffee from the back of a car, thanks to Kiev’s ingenious Coffee Cars
75. Semki (Sunflower Seeds) and Salo (fat on bread)
76. Holiday photos and birthdays are a big deal and you will be expected to join in with both.
77. People peel and eat bananas the wrong way!! (this has to be seen to be believed, but its true)
78. Feminists in Ukraine (Femen) campaign about negative attitudes towards women by exposing their breasts and performing half-naked publicity stunts. This confuses the hell out of everyone.
79. Ukraine is a black and white (for us or against us) kinda place and there’s always something to protest about. These protests are almost always peaceful and involve music, flag waving and loud monologue speeches which you don’t need to understand to enjoy.
80. There are lots of small friendly birds which will sit at your feet and eat your dinner with you.
81. There are digital ‘iBoxes’ everywhere. You feed money into them and pay for your mobile phone or other things. If you are at home, you can ask other people to feed the machine and buy you credit.
82. Kievians never miss a chance to pose. Give them a flower, a tree, some autumn leaves or a sports car and they will pose for pictures like a 1980s model.
83. You can get a 3 course ‘Business Lunch’ for less than 5 Euros.
84. People still carry multiple mobile phones and have multiple SIM cards because it’s cheaper to call that way. I used to do this at Uni and now, 10 years later – I’m doing it again 🙂
85. Although I don’t condone it, you can watch any movie you want for free on vk.com
87. Dried fish
88. People do funny things for money. Today I watched a man spinning (turning around and around) to earn money. Crazy.
89. Ukrop (Dill) Beetroot and Compot (juice made from boiled fruit)
90. People are very polite when they ask for money. A guy the other day insisted on telling me that he was from St Petersburg as if it made a difference. Actually, not all people are polite; one woman did have a hissy-fit and started crying the other day because I wouldn’t give her money to get the Metro.
91. Occasionally the service is incredibly friendly, even if its slow. A waitress yesterday tried to upgrade my coffee and sell me some syrup and cinnamon! No thanks, but thanks for offering.
92. Its normal to be late
93. Moustaches are still cool here
94. You can park and drive ANYWHERE. Roads are for cars and pavements are for cars in Kiev.
95. Ukrainians say ‘our people’ when they talk about themselves.
96. There’s no compensation culture. People actually look where they’re going.
97. People will smuggle you into places. This has happened to me in the Circus, on the train and at the theatre.
98. People clap when the airplane lands.
99. The Opera/Theatre/Ballet are amazing and super-cheap
100. Andryivsky descent
101. Although they often complain, Ukrainians really love it when you remind them of all the reasons to love this place. I could probably double this list if I had more time.