The True Colors of Kiev

I had anticipated gray. Drab gray and maybe some varying hues like ash, charcoal and smoke. How was it that the sun was shining—brightly? Shouldn’t it be overcast and drizzly in a former republic of the Soviet Union?

While wandering through the streets of Kiev in 2006, I marveled at the range of colors: the Easter egg baby blue of the Wedgewood like St. Sophia’s Cathedral; the almost sapphire blue of the sky; the glittering gold of onion shaped spires on the stately Orthodox churches and the Outback orange of Tara Shevchenko National University of Kyiv.

Even a little Soviet era car parked haphazardly outside Kiev’s Besarabsky Market sported an electric leprechaun Kelly green paint job.

For some reason the botanical bounty of Ukraine’s capital surprised me, too. The greenery of the many parks, the red flowers that bloomed and lined sidewalks as well as the multi-colored floral arrangements available at several stalls in Besarabsky’s created a stop-and-smell-the-roses vibe. The food I consumed even had electric color like the bright luscious red of the most delicious tomatoes I had ever eaten in my life.

I had anticipated much more asphalt, slate, cement and pavement. Really, walking around Kiev was more like sauntering along Main Street, Disneyland, when you half expected to be hunched over in a bleak and endless breadline out of a grainy newsreel.

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Travel Oops: Seriously, Do I really like Nescafé?

The crystals before they work their magic. @Editor At Large

The crystals before they work their magic. @Editor At Large

Kiev, Ukraine, 2006, 8 a.m.

Dipping a teaspoon into the plastic jar and scooping out the sparkly, gravely grounds, I added them to a boiling cup of water and watched the particles dissolve into dark brown ribbons. It took about 30 seconds.

This was not right. The dark brown steaming liquid was ready in an instant as it promised — like a powdered NASA beverage. It was not coffee; it was — Nescafé.

Having arrived in Kiev late the night before, I was tired and desperate for some caffeine. I looked through the cupboards and fully stocked refrigerator of the apartment where I was staying and found nothing else resembling coffee. And this apartment was set up. The refrigerator housed what looked like two frosted glass sculptures full of Ukrainian vodka, international meats and cheeses that could have been part of a catering tray from a UN smorgasbord, fresh bread and bags of luscious red tomatoes. So how was there no bag of ground goodness in there?

©Commons Wikimedia.org

©Habib.mhenni Commons Wikimedia.org

And it wasn’t just the taste, I hated the idea of instant java — no grinding of beans; no brewing; no aroma wafting through the kitchen while you try to wake up; no holding of the cup to warm your hands.  Just dump some coffee flakes — I mean ‘crystals’ — into boiling water. It was almost like adding fish food to an aquarium. Where was the ritual in that? Drinking coffee is sacred in some countries. Was a coffeehouse close by? Surely Starbucks was somewhere in Ukraine’s cosmopolitan capital city.

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Gimme Shelter — Cool Structures and Statues

© Edward Schuck

Travel Oops is introducing another new feature — it’s not actually about Oopses, either. I wanted to include photos of architecture in the blog, since buildings can be such beautiful sights. So here’s the first cool building to feature: Uspens ky Assumption Cathedral Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, in Kiev Ukraine.

This is one of the many gorgeous cathedrals in Kiev. The golden onions are so striking especially against a vivid blue sky. Because of seeing so many 1980s movies with Soviet villains and sinister settings, I was constantly amazed at the beautiful colors I saw in Kiev when I visited in 2006. You almost go there with the impression everything will be grey, steel, cement and dark. Or course there were the Soviet cinderblock buildings, but the wonderful sensory details are so prominent in Ukraine.

Silos, Cows, Poppy Fields and Ukrainian Soldiers with AK-47’s

© Edward Schuck

Cows, silos, barns, and cornfields. Count these as the main sights of a trip I took in 2006. One would think this place was Iowa, Wisconsin or my home state of Minnesota. Nope. I was in Ukraine looking at fields of corn and pastures of cows. Lots of fields and lots of cows.

Ukraine has long been considered the breadbasket of Europe, and so is the region from where I hail. While it was a nice coincidence, being in breadbasket turf, even in another country, was not necessarily what I wanted to experience. One of the main ideas behind travel is to visit places and appreciate cultures that are different from your own.

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