Friday, April 4, 2014

Kyiv or Kiev: one of the world's great cities

It is not often we go to world capital cities and not know what to expect. Usually we have seen images in films or TV programs, but that was not the case for me when it came to Kiev, or Kyiv as Ukrainians prefer to call it. (They note that Kiev is the Russian name, and given the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine, locals understandably prefer the Ukrainian name.)

With a population around 2.8 million, it is the 8th largest city in Europe, and most people here consider Kyiv a part of Europe. Indeed, so does Rogers. When I arranged my international cell phone roaming package for this trip, I had to get two separate plans: one for Ukraine and one for Russia.
I'm not an engineer but this new bridge appears over-designed to me, unless they are building an apartment tower over it!
Kiev is a waterfront city, bisected by the Dnieper River that flows to the Black Sea. It has had a tumultuous history. My guide book noted that during the Russian revolution and civil wars between 1917 and 1921, the city changed hands no fewer than 18 times.
During WWII half of its population including most of the substantial Jewish population were killed.  At one time there were over 250,000 Jews in the city, including many of my relatives, representing 44% of the population. Today there are less than 30,000.
While the leaves are just coming out on the trees, you can tell Kyiv is a beautiful green city, with impressive buildings, parks and public spaces.  However it is not 'green' when it comes to transportation.
This is the ticket, which you cancel by inserting into a wall mounted punch in the bus or streetcar. In addition to the driver, there is a ticket agent on the bus. Again, fare is 15 cents.
The 2012 Euro-cup football event helped make Kiev a more international city with English signage in the subway and around the city.
While this is not the oldest streetcar I saw, it's not one of the newer ones either. Kiev is a bit like a streetcar museum!
While there is a good and very inexpensive public transit system (a bus or streetcar costs 15 cents; the subway is 20 cents, the very Russian funicular that connects to the waterfront is 15 cents) it is very much 'motordom' with few cyclists, congested streets and cars parked all over many of the sidewalks.
The streetscape incorporating my hotel
The corridor outside my hotel room at 11 Mirrors Design Hotel
A very early morning or early evening (I can't remember!) view out of my hotel room
As a result of devaluation, this is a relatively affordable city for tourists. I stayed at the 11 Mirrors Design Hotel because it was rated #1 on TripAdvisor. It was very stylish and I can highly recommend it.

A fairly typical streetscape...there is extensive use of this warm yellow paint colour around the city.
As an architect, it's hard for me not to focus on the buildings. I saw a lot of marvelous old buildings, and some that weren't so marvelous.
I am most curious to see what it's like inside these blocks...
Sadly, many buildings are in need of repair and renovation. The truly grand buildings are usually churches, cathedrals or government buildings.
This somewhat run-down building with the modern billboard is somewhat representative of the contrasts one finds throughout the city.
For some residents Kyiv is also affordable, especially those who drive an endless parade of black Lexuses, Mercedes and Porsches (which I might add cost much more than in Canada). However for many others life is tough. Nonetheless, during my three days here, not one person has approached me for spare change, and I haven't seen anyone lying down in the streets, like one finds at Burrard and Georgia.
Those driving fancy big cars are paying $1.30 to $1.50 a liter. However, this week Russia raised the price of natural gas by 80% and fuel prices are also expected to increase.
While  it is hard to ignore the political events evident in Independence Square and elsewhere in the city, addressed in my previous blogs, for those of you who like me had no real idea what the city looks like, here are more photographs taken over the past three days in the historical part of the city.
The Ascent is a famous and popular street frequented by tourists.
I couldn't really tell if this was a new building, or renovation of an old building. Normally I'd say new, but there's so little new building in the city I'm not certain.
While there were not a lot of tourists, there were some, although few seemed to be buying the various souvenirs for sale. What I don't understand, and this applies to most cities, is why do so many people sell things that no on really wants?
There are a lot of strip clubs around town. I'm told they are a bit different than North America clubs. But since I was also warned that people often try to put something in tourists' drinks to knock them out and steal their money, I can't tell you what the difference is!

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