Expat Life in Kyiv – January 2018
January in the UK may be the end of the Christmas and New Year holidays, but in Ukraine, they have barely begun. New Year’s Eve starts the festive celebrations, meaning that the Christmas decorations and markets only started just before we went home for the holidays.
Christmas Day in Ukraine is on the 7th January, and their traditional New Year is on 14th. This is because the Orthodox church follows the Julian calendar, rather than the Gregorian calendar. The Gregorian calendar was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII because the Julian calendar had mismeasured a calendar year, and it was actually too short by about 11 minutes. This might not seem an issue, but over time it started to mean that the seasons were in the wrong places. While the country uses the Gregorian calendar now, the Orthodox church in Ukraine continues to use the Julian calendar, hence the different times of Christmas and New Year.
A week in Morocco
The extended Christmas holidays meant we had an extra week’s holiday after enjoying Christmas at home with our families. Somewhere a bit warmer than Kyiv called, and we headed to Marrakesh in Morocco for a few days there exploring the beautiful buildings and fascinating souks and markets and eating great food, and then a couple of days by the sea in Essaouira.
Our first visitor to Kyiv
January brought our first visitor to Kyiv. Kris’ sister Sharon flew out for the weekend to see us and to see Kyiv and Ukraine for the first time.
It’s more beautiful than I imagined
was her evaluation. Which is a good one I think.
While there are some very good free walking tours of Kyiv, we didn’t get up early enough for that, so we designed our own walking tour of Kyiv. Ours took in many of the sights: Golden Gate, three cathedrals, Andryivksyy Descent, some art galleries, museums and parks and also included some fantastic food. I’ll write our tour into a blog for you to do yourselves later.
Revolutionary Restaurant – Last Barricade, Kyiv
We also used the visit as an opportunity to try another of the funky restaurants that Kyiv has many of: Last Barricade – or Ostannya Barykada in Ukrainian. Part of the group of restaurants owned by chef Dima Borisov, which also includes Kanape where we went on my birthday, the restaurant gets its name because it is built around one of the original gates of Kyiv.
Last Barricade restaurant has a speakeasy idea, as it’s ‘hidden’ underneath the main square at Maidan. To enter it, you need to enter the lift inside Globus Shopping Centre, and press the button cryptically marked ‘OB’. The lift doors open onto what looks like gift shop, selling all kinds of Ukrainian products. At the desk, you are asked for a password. The password is BORITESYA E POBORYTE, meaning ‘Keep on fighting and you will win’ or something along those lines, coming from a poem by famous Ukrainian Taras Shevchenko, who you can read about in our recent Metro Monday post – Universitet Metro Station.
Giving the password means that a ‘secret’ door appears in the wall, which you go through into the restaurant beyond.
The choice of password is linked to the revolutionary theme of the restaurant, not surprising given its location under Maidan, the scene of the 2014 protests and revolution. Entering the restaurant, you are faced with a wall of metal hands, signifying Ukraine’s struggle for independence. Inside, the restaurant has displays of belongings from various revolutionary fighters and photos of protests.
On entering, as it was our first visit, we were offered a tour of the restaurant, which included seeing the remains of the ancient Kyiv walls, and travelling along the bar on moving chairs, which was fun.
Last Barricade prides itself in serving 100% Ukrainian food and drink.It has, apparently, so far the only 100% Ukrainian bar in the world. All the wine, spirits and beers are local, as is all the food. Kris’ sister, Sharon, decided to try the nettle beer that we’d had in Kanape on my birthday and was suitably impressed. Kris and I had the house beer, both dark and light, which was also good. They also offer bottles from various craft breweries around the country, including Pravda and Varvar. After the food, we decided to try some of the local tinctures (spirits): Rhubarb and ginger, chocolate, cherry and chilli pepper, galanga and horseradish. Yes, horseradish spirit. It tasted like you’d imagine.
As with many Dima Borisov restaurants, the food is served in an interesting style. We order forschmack, which is a local fish pate, and was served in ice cream cones. A friend from the UK’s dad, who was also with us, spotted coypu on the menu and thought it was a good opportunity to try this river rat. I wouldn’t recommend it. I guess it’s quite cold in rivers in Ukraine, and it was very fatty. We introduced our guests to salo, the Ukrainian speciality, which is actually pork fat. We also added a baked cheese. Last Barricade has a huge local cheese selection to choose from. All of this was served with a big basket of dark and light Ukrainian breads.
If we consider it by Ukrainian prices, Last Barricade is relatively expensive, but by UK standards, and considering the food quality, the interesting decor and the great service (the waiter patiently tried to teach Sharon Ukrainian during the meal) it was cheap. We paid about 500 grivnas each for the meal. It’s currently about 38 grivnas to the pound, so do that works out at under £20 a head, including drinks.
January’s Metro Monday was Universitet metro station, next to Taras Shevchenko University. It’s beautifully decorated with busts of famous Ukrainian scientists and writers. You can read more about them, and see the photos, in the blog: Universitet: Home of writers and scientists.
What Kate and Kris Ate
We shouldn’t talk about Ukrainian food without mentioning salo. Salo is basically pork fat and a proper delicacy. It is often served with black bread and vodka, but can also be cooked and added to borsch or crispy on vareniki. It sounds so unhealthy, but Ukrainians swear by its health-giving properties if you just eat a little, and honestly, it’s not like there is a huge obesity issue in this country. I’d imagine it keeps you warm in the winter.
Where Kate and Kris Drank
Speaking of salo, it can also be an accompaniment to beer. Craft beer has taken off in Kyiv, as it has all over the world. There are lots of craft beer breweries and taphouses opening all over the city. You might remember that back in our September blog, we talked about Pilsner on Pushkinskaya Street. It sells Tsypa beer, a craft beer from the Carpathian region of Ukraine. This brewery now has several pubs around Kyiv. The other Saturday we tried out Tsypa Taphouse on Yaroslaviv Val, near Golden Gate.
Tsypa Taphouse serves most of the Tsypa beers, as well as other Ukrainian and international craft beers, such as Angry Hound, Varvar, and First Dnipro. Alongside, it has a whole menu page devoted to different types of salo.
Blogs we published in January
Our first post of January was our Year in Review, with all the things we got up to in 2017, including living and travelling in Thailand, seeing Komodo dragons in Indonesia, exploring Myanmar and then moving to Kyiv.
After 18 months living in Bangkok, we put together our cost of living, which we thought might be helpful for anyone planning to move there, which has been quite popular on the teaching in Thailand groups on Facebook: Cost of Living – Bangkok.
We published a guest post on Teaching English in Taiwan, with lot of useful information for people thinking of trying it out.
Blogs we appeared in in January
Siddharth and Shruti have been publishing collaborations of people’s experiences doing food tours around the world. When we were in Yangon, Myanmar, back in July, we did a fantastic tour with Yangon Food Tours, which we wrote about for one of their posts: Food Tours Around the World. We’ve been writing our own blogs on Myanmar recently, so we’ll talk more about it on this blog soon.
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