Twenty minutes after we arrived I was upside-down with snot, sweat, saliva and tears pouring down my face. Straining to touch my toes on the floor above my head, I was learning the hard way that Hot Yoga wasn’t, as I had been hoping, just hot girls doing stretches in Lycra.
OK, this is Ukraine, so the room was also full of hot girls, but like me they were also sweating their way through a no-nonsense Yoga session in a room as hot as a Sauna.
I don’t know who thought of the concept of Yoga in an oven, and it’s as ridiculous as it sounds but it was also one of the most ‘extreme’ hours of my life and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think I was the only wuss who stopped and took a drink mid-exercise and everyone else was slimmer and more streachy than me, but it didn’t matter.
Hot Yoga takes place in a basement at 23 Observatornaya Str which is just off Artema street, one-block from Lvivska Square and behind the House of Artists (for those who know Kyiv, that’s the building with seven large women on it).
There had been a slight mix-up with the booking and the receptionist (sweat manager?) had no idea about our booking, but she was all smiles and assured us that everything would be OK as she handed me some slippers and showed me where to get changed etc. Everything was OK and shortly after 18:30 about twelve of us were stretching, balancing and sweating in our little basement hot-box.
It’s pretty hard to describe how much sweating I did and at one point my right eye felt like it was trying to pop out of my head, but despite the hell-like conditions it was actually a lot of fun and (afterwards) thoroughly relaxing – easily as relaxing as a ‘strong’ Thai massage but without the need for a Thai woman to climb on you and no elbows in your back.
For some reason our hour-long session overran giving us an extra 15 minutes of the hot-stuff, but to be honest, I was pretty messed-up by this time and our ‘bonus’ felt more like unnecessary torture. For a newbie like me, 60 minutes is just fine.
The hot salon is small, low-key and friendly with everything you need for a sweaty session, including showers, towels, drinks and mats etc and although the website says you should book, it did seem that anyone could walk-in and join a session at any time if there’s space.
So, if planking in a sauna is your kind of thing – Hot Yoga is the perfect way to end a hard day.
Thanks to Marina for the invitation and the team at Hot Yoga for looking after us.
Tip: guys, forget your t-shirt, it is completely pointless and you’re better-off without one. Do not forget water – you’ll need lots of it.
Podil (Podol in Russian) is perhaps one of the oldest, quirkiest and most diverse district in Kyiv. Its mix of ‘pre-revolution’, Stalinist, 1970s and modern ‘fake-old’ buildings, dotted with ancient burial grounds, hills and ‘elite’ tower-blocks makes it a fun place to explore. In Podil you’ll find small winding streets of faded pastel-coloured houses, ancient trams, crappy roads, sleepy boulevards, students, businessmen and babushkas all jostling for space on its small squares, ruined pavements and a patchwork of small courtyards.
Since the Maidan revolution last year, Podil has also become a hipsters paradise of coffee shops, animal-themed kiosks, tech companies, galleries and burger bars.
It’s the home of Kyiv’s most famous street (Andriyivsky Spusk) a large University, a massive Soviet market and a port where you can take a small ferry along the river to drinking beer and listening to loud Russian pop-music. It has Kyiv’s poshest hotel, three million sushi bars, a mosque and the bizarrely-named but wonderfully cheap bar called ‘Beer Online’ where you can eat and drink with local students, alcoholics and expats – all for the cost of a bottle of Evian in western Europe.
Podil is the kind of place where a drunk a man can introduce you to a small bronze statue which he claims to have married, where a bar called ‘live fuck die’ may appear in the middle of the revolution and where you can invent entirely new words during an excessively drunken underground karaoke session. I know because all of these things have happened to me in this crazy district on the banks of the Dniper. Basically, for those who love Kyiv because of its striking contrasts, weirdness and unpredictability – Podil offers everything you could wish for and more and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
However, nothing in Podil is as cool as the new ‘Samo Sad‘ (СамоСада) or ‘self garden’.
I first saw a post about Samo Sad somewhere online but didn’t pay much attention to the article as it looked like ‘just another park’ amongst the hundreds of others that literally ‘Spring’ to life in early May. About two weeks later on a typically warm and sunny Sunday, my housemate Gregory invited me to join him at a new ‘garden’ near our house on Horiva Street.
Misjudging the weather quite spectacularly, I put on a large orange body-warmer and wandered down to join him and Vika and to see what ‘new garden’ he was talking about.
“Our Grandmas are very clever”
Samo Sad is a small square of land which is about 20 meters wide and is guarded by two straw sheep. Well, at least I think they are sheep and in authentic Ukrainian-style one is wearing sunglasses and the other has a pink bow tied in her hair. Along one side of the plot is a pub, there are two restaurants across the street, a ‘produkti’ (corner-shop) on the opposite side, a ridiculous but fun ‘Crab Coffee’ kiosk on one corner and a recycling centre for used bottles on the other. The cetnre piece is a large tree and if you crawl through a hole in the bushes and fence there is a basketball court behind.
So what is it? Well, it was (and officially probably still is) a peice of land which is being leased to the Russian Embassy (yes its occupied territory), and right now Samo Sad is a community garden and 20 square meters of cool.
I met Gregory and Vika sitting under the tree on the newly erected bench which now circles it, and just as they just started mocking my winter jacket an old lady stopped to inquire about this random new ‘garden’. Vika explained that a bunch of activists had reclaimed the land and were building a community space, a stage and a herb garden. The old woman responded that she also lived in Podil and was very proud to see such an initiative.
As a stood there like a big sweaty orange, I felt a sense of pride too. This garden isn’t just another space – it represents a complete 360 degree change of mentality and symbolizes not just a new-found confidence which has spread through Podil, but also a shift in power back to the people and their neighborhood.
A local activist explained in more detail.
The space, she said, was reclaimed and landscaped by the same Volunteers that took it upon themselves to patrol the streets of Podil in March 2014 when the police vanished following the grim climax of the Maidan protests and massacre in the city centre. They have built and planted a vegetable garden in boxes, erected a stage, built a number of wooden chairs, found a piano from somewhere and assembled it all around the grassy square. This will not surprise anyone in Ukraine, but the Babushkas (grandmas) often come to the garden and tell the young growers what they are doing wrong and how they should be growing this and that vegetable. The hipsters come on their bikes, families bring their kids and the drunks come and sit and get quietly drunk. It is the first real, organic community I’ve seen in five years in Kyiv.
“So why is the piano padlocked?”, I asked. “Well”, the activist said, “it is because people were leaving the pub playing it late at night when they are drunk”. This (somewhat understandably) irritated an old woman in the apartment bloc next door who vented her anger by logging onto Facebook and complaining to the community via their new Facebook page.
“Our old people are very smart” the she explained in a matter-of-fact way – highlighting, for me anyway, the real and ongoing social media revolution that’s taking place.
So far it seems that the local authorities have given their silent approval to the project but this is Ukraine and so we can be fairly sure that Samo Sad will eventually attract much drama, scandal and controversy. But, for now at least it symbolizes everything that is good about Ukraine. It shows the very best of Ukrainian community spirit and it is Podil’s stubborn, understated and beautiful answer to the vitriol which has been thrown in their direction by those claiming the city is overrun by Nazis.
Samo Sad is a peoples garden for people who deserve ever inch of it.
So, I finally did it. I finally packed everything, loaded it onto the bike and went for a very long ride.
Some may say, that with only a week to go before the start of my journey, I should have done this ages ago. They might be right, but that’s not the point. Yesterday, I learned what it was like to ride my bike fully-loaded, how heavy/hard it is (or actually isn’t) to ride up-hill with all me gear and I discovered that I am fit enough to cover the 80km distance that I’ll need to maintain for the next month. I even did some stairs, which not easy with 35km of bike and luggage.
However, yesterday wasn’t all plain sailing. I had planned my trip so I would arrive at Camping No1, Kyiv’s only campsite, so I could test my tent erecting-skills and camping prowess. I would, I told my flatmate Gregor, sleep the night there and then do another long day on the bike on Sunday – just to prove beyond doubt that I was ready.
Well, I should have known better and checked before leaving because ‘Camping No1’ which is ‘open all summer’ should actually be called ‘Camping No’ because it doesn’t exist. It looks like it might have existed many years ago, but despite the 5 star rating and enthusiastic Facebook page and website – its closed, shut-down, locked up and decaying behind a rusty fence.
My plans for relaxing in the sunshine and drinking a cool beer in my proudly assembled tent were ruined. I was knackered, red and homeless and with only one option – a further 15km by bike back home.
After 55km, I was less than impressed to find this…
Today, Sunday, I woke up ate and slept almost all day. I have been absolutely exhausted, so despite the fact that I can cover the distance once, repeating it day after day for a month is going to be a whole different kettle of fish (probably dried fish since I’m in Eastern Europe).
In between sleeping on the beach and eating, I did at least find time to put my tent up today (much to Yulia’s despair) so at least I know that it works and where to put the poles etc. I really didint want to do that for the first time after 80km on a bike in the sunshine, or worse – in the rain.
So, with just a week and 12 hours to go. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.
At 06:00am on Monday morning (10th August), I fly from Kyiv to Budapest and will then pedal my way slowly along the river Danube, all the way to the black sea and back to Odessa.
On a completely unrelated note, I just noticed a large warning label in my boxer-shorts which says ‘KEEP AWAY FROM FIRE’. What exactly do underwear makers think I do in my pants?
Joking aside, since almost everything in life should be ‘kept away’ from fire, the label suggests that my ‘protective’ garments as exceptionally flammable – so much so that they warrant a special warning. Is this a good idea?
What if I enjoy laying in my pants, smoking? (which I don’t but its entirely possible that I would) – surely I shouldn’t be at risk of having my prized assets flame-grilled if I drop a match? If mattresses, sofas and a whole bunch of other inanimate objects must be fire retardant if they wish to be sold in the EU, shouldn’t pants? At least a man can run away from a flaming sofa – what’s he going to do if his crotch goes up like an Iraqi oil well?
Mention cycling in Kyiv and many people look at you in horror.
‘But, our drivers are crazy and the roads are awful’ they say. Or, “I love cycling, but I would never do it here, it’s too dangerous’.
The first statement is undeniably true but Kyiv’s drivers are less crazy than Belgian drivers and if you own a mountain bike then the holes in the road are just fun. The second statement blatantly false. Cycling in Kyiv is no more dangerous than in most other European cities. In fact, if you go to the right places, it is a lot safer, more beautiful and more fun. There are park, forests, beaches and crazy markets to explore!
To see what I mean watch the video below which shows the highlights of a 52km ride around Kyiv yesterday.
After the massacre in Kyiv early last year the massive police presence in the city evaporated and almost vanished overnight. The few cops that remained immediately rebranded themselves with Ukraines Blue and Yellow flag and joined joint street patrols with local volunteers. Since those early post-revolution months, they have scarcely been seen. The DAI (traffic police) have still been out annoying drivers but the cities brutally corrupt civilian police have been in hiding.
Needless to say, Kyiv didn’t descend into anarchy and the city returned to, and continued in its usual quiet, safe and self-policing self.
For those of us who live here and especially for those who, like me, have been arbitrarily detained by the pre-revolution police – that has been a welcome state of affairs.
Yesterday however they returned in force. Or more accurately they returned as a new force. Dropping their Soviet era ‘Militsiya’ name, the new ‘Politsyia’ have been completely re-recruited and trained from scratch in a Georgian-style root-and-branch reform.
Thousands of people applied for the new positions and those that were lucky started their work yesterday. 27% are said to be women (apparently higher than the EU average) and last night they were out in their new shiny cars – clearly enjoying their flashy blue lights*.
This is undoubtedly the most visable and well promoted if the post-revolution reforms and I think there’s a general feeling of pride here in Kyiv in their new officers.
Let’s hope they manage to retain this respect and do what all good police forces should – stop criminals and protect innocent people, whatever their views, race, religion or political affiliation.
Good luck to them.
*the new police cars seem to have their lights set to ‘always flash’. Perhaps it’s a way to draw attention to themselves.
A few years ago I joined a ‘bike parade’ in Kyiv as part of the national bike day. Back then a few hundred cyclists met in the centre, did a short tour and then peddled over to Truhaniv Island for a bike-picnic.
It was nice, but not really significant and cycling was still seen as a fringe sport for weirdos or people who couldn’t afford a car.
Since then, I haven’t seen or participated in any bike events in Kyiv, but post Maidan I have witnessed a huge boom in the popularity of cycling and the gradual establishment of a cycling movement which looks set to revolutionise the streets of Kyiv.
I decided to join the fun and so, as a proud new member of the Ukrainian Cyclists Association I decided to join this years event.
It coincided with Kyiv day (yes Kyiv has a day too) and it was the start of spring so Kyiv was quiet and sunny – a great day for cycling.
It was a BIG event! There were literally thousands of bikes. Kreshatik (Kyiv’s main street) was closed for a bike race and everywhere you went there were people-powered pedalling machines.
There were …
Kids on bikes
Bemused shop keepers, street cleaners and police officers (mostly smoking) and watching the cyclists
Vyshevankas on bikes
Pravy sektor on bikes (just to make sure that RT.com could label all cyclists as fascists)
Flat Lie-down bikes
Cruising bikes playing System of the Down
Belarusians on bikes
People drinking beer on bikes
Company-sponsored groups of bikes
…and even a man smoking a pipe on a bike!
It was an impressive sight and I was happy to be part of the day. It’s hard not to see this as part of a broader ‘Europeanisation’ of Ukraine (yeah that word is ridiculous but its relevant) and it will be interesting how far and how fast Ukraine moves to support its new cyclists.
Also, there were still a few things missing from the day…
Police on bikes
Bike lanes for bikes
Politicians on bikes
Army men on bikes
So maybe they’ll be ready for next year.
On to Troeshina
Following the crowds down to Truhaniv island, I wanted to see how far I could go along the islands and (if possible) across to Kyiv’s left bank.
This means crossing the footbridge onto the island and then heading north on the road that runs through the island. this road takes to you Moscovski bridge (that name wont last long) and then you cross onto the top half of the island. This top half is even more delightful than the bottom half of Truhaniv and I found myself cycling through meadows that could easily have been in England. Eventually you pass some Soviet era (but cute) holiday camps and if you persevere like me – you’ll cross a little bridge and find yourself on the left bank somewhere near Troeshina. It’s a pretty weird place, even by Ukrainian standards, but its interesting in a village-meets-city kind of way. There were no other cyclists by this point other than a few local dedushkas (old men), but there are paths to cycle on and its pretty easy to find Moscovski bridge again from here (just follow the river).
After bouncing back to Brussels and Oxford for the umpteenth time this year, I’m back in Kyiv and back on the sofa-sized seat of the cycling machine at SportLife in Podil.
The guy who looks like he’s from Finland is running, as usual, on the machine infront of me and, as usual, he’s wearing two t-shirts a woolly hat and full length leggings. Next to him is a man who’s almost as round as he is tall and in front of the both loads of swimmers are doing lengths in their Speedos and rubber hats.
Having swum in about 10 different countries European countries, I can say with considerable expertise that even something as simple as swimming cones with a fair amount of cultural baggage. Ukraine is no different. This place is Speedo and regulation-heavy up to the point that all swimmers have to visit a doctor and obtain permission to swim. Yeah, it’s pretty weird.
Anyway, it’s nice to be back and after a few weeks of heavy-work and very little cycling I’m looking forward to tipping the balance in favour of more cycling and many hours on the bike on Ukraine’s sunny but painfully bumpy streets.
Next week I’m booked onto a cycling tour to some Ukrainian castle and after that I might attempt to cycle 150k back from Chernigov which is somewhere up-north near Belarus.
Before any of those things we have our next ‘Open Mic’ event (tonight) and as it’s now in its 3rd month it looks increasingly ‘stable’ and therefore likely to continue. This is good news for Kyiv.Cool and for everyone who likes to entertain and be entertained 🙂
Surprisingly, even after the killer race on Saturday I bounced out of bed on Sunday, grabbed my bike and set-off to get some morning sunshine.
This week I fitted my new seat-post and ‘tweaked’ the saddle to give what seems like a better ‘fit’. So, I wanted to test my handy work.
I found the seat-post via Google because it offered an extended ‘head’ which would push the seat slightly further back. It’s made by a company called ‘Velo Orange’ and I like it its shiny silver style more than the original black one.
Kyiv is now in full spring blossom and I managed 24.5 KM before arriving back at Podil.
I discovered some cool new places down by the river and stopped for breakfast at Milkbar in the city center where Jeff and Anna joined me for Eggs Benedict which had fish instead of ham. A weirdly tasty alternative.
This graffitti announces that a popular online trading site has changed its name.
18.5 (today) in 1944, Stalin ordered the mass deportation of Crimean Tartars from Crimea as a form of collective punishment. Following Russia’s recent invasion of Crimea, once again they are living under Russian occupation. This graffiti in Kyiv is a tribute to their struggle.