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A walking tour of Kiev in photos

February 4, 2014
Saint Andrew's Church

After my post last week on the Euromaidan issue, you may be wondering why I am passionate on talking about Kiev in the first place. Kiev is an underrated destination when it comes to travel but the places, people and experiences you get from the city is amazing. In an unusual feeling, I felt somewhat at home there – where I embraced the chaos, lack of structure, food and the abundance of alcohol (like a full aisle in the supermarket dedicated to vodka).  In my weekend trip there last November, I realized that the city has a lot to offer and and here are some of my favorite ones.

Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square)

Kiev’s Independence Square is the place to be for locals and visitors alike. The main boulevard traversing Maidan Nezalezhnosti is closed on the weekends converting the busy highway into an urban concrete park. And funnily enough, the streets got crowded with the most random set of characters. From mascots of giant pandas and minions, girls in traditional Ukrainian costume and segways – they had it all there. Today, this is where the current tensions at Euromaidan is taking place and though I hope that the giant pandas will be back once these tensions are over.

Kiev Funicular

The Kiev funicular connects the historic uppertown to Podil, the city’s commercial area. It’s been transporting people up the Volodymyrska hill for over 100 years. The best part of this funicular is the view of Kiev and the Dnieper river that you get to see as you go up.

Volodymyrska Hill

At the end of the funicular, you’ll get treated to a panoramic view of the Kiev and the winding Dnieper river. It was autumn when I travelled so the colours were grey, brown and red. Still beautiful though!

Saint Sophia Cathedral

A few blocks from the viewpoint at Volodymyrska Hill, you get to walk towards the St. Sophia Cathedral. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was first constructed in 1037 and is believed to be named after the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. It’s green and golden domes acts as its crown and one of the towers transforms into a viewdeck. 

St. Michael’s Golden Domed Monastery

Opposite to St.Sophia’s Cathedral is the blue St. Michael’s Golden Domed Monastery. Next to the St. Michael’s Golden Monastery is a small monument honoring those who suffered from the famine in 1941 brought by Stalin during the Soviet times.

Saint Andrew’s Church

Kiev knows how to rock it when it comes to churches. Saint Andrew’s Church sits atop of a hill and accordingly to stories, the apostle Andrew came to this hill and declared that the present day Kiev would become a great city. I think Saint Andrew was right on that.

Andriyivskyy Descent

Probably the most colorful part of the city and known as the Montmartre of Kiev (though I think it’s best to recognize is by its real name). The street starts from a top of the Saint Andrew’s Church and goes down to Podil.  I went there with the Active Ukraine team for the first part of our day tour. I’ve enjoyed going through the shops finding strange knick-knacks from teddy bears, toys, souvenirs, and army clothes. You can even see a monument to a couple that when you touch the lady’s nose, it’s supposed to bring you good luck. I’ve touched her nose as well as her ass for extra luck. 😉

City Life

Out of the usual touristic activities, I particularly enjoy going around and just seeing the city. Here are my favorite off the beaten sights at Kiev.

Flowers Galore

As much as there’s a McDonalds in every corner in most capital cities, in Kiev, they are all about the flowers. There’s a flower shop in almost every corner and most of them are open 24 hours. I don’t really get why they are open all day, but when you have fights with your girlfriend at 2 in the morning, you know where to buy a last-minute apology.

Kiev Metro

At 2 UAH (0,17€) a ride, Kiev is home to the cheapest metro system in the world. It’s even cheaper than a ride in the Philippine Metro (0,24€). It’s clean, efficient and spacious.

The city also has one of the world’s deepest metro station. Arsenalna is 105 meters below ground and it takes about 10 minutes just to get out of the station. It’s a perfect for speed dating too. (according to this couple below).

Vodka

Combining with cheap metro stations, Kiev also has  cheap vodka. There are aisles in the supermarket dedicated to vodka alone. And yes, this is secretly my favourite highlight of the trip. 🙂

Coffee

While I am not a regular coffee drinker, having “Startrucks” or café in trucks that sells coffee on every corner of the street. It’s convenient especially after a chilly walking tour. And yes, the coffee was better than I expected. Beat that, Starbucks!

I travelled there with my local friends and I was also supported by the wonderful team at Active Ukraine who had given me a complimentary Off the Beaten Tour at Kiev. All thoughts in this post are my own.

Have you been to Kiev, Ukraine? What are your favourite places in the city. Share it on the comments below!

Travel Blog

Crazy Nights in the Ruin Bars of Budapest

April 18, 2012
P1050519b

I always think that for a trip to be full there should be a balance of a busy sightseeing day and a bustling nightlife. Any trip is defined not just by the sights and monuments you see but also by the places where you hang out after and the people who you spend getting drunk at night with.

During my first trip to Budapest in 2009, I have missed out on the Budapest nightlife – and it somewhat made me think a lot about coming back.

Back then, my host and very good friend, Csenge, lived outside of Budapest, which meant that she can’t stay & drive at night.  It was a great trip, don’t get me wrong, as I have seen a lot of Budapest – but by the time we were leaving I felt that there was something missing.

Csendes - Budapest Ruin Bar - 25travels

I promised to return to Budapest the minute I left Hungary. But things didn’t work out that easily – and it took me two years to finally make it back! This time, experiencing the nightlife is at the top of my itinerary – and I didn’t fail on it.

Together with Roy of the Riding Dutchman – we made it to Budapest for a two day trip during the Easter break.

We were hosted by my very good Hungarian friend, Daniel, who I met and hosted in Brussels three years ago. It was a long overdue reunion, and I was happy that he’s available to show us the night life of Budapest. I know from all my talks during the past years that Daniel knows a lot about the coolest areas in Budapest – and he didn’t disappoint I may say. 🙂

Budapest nightlife is all about ruin bars.

Ruin bars are called “ruins” simply because they used to be old buildings, apartments etc.

Ruin bars, from the outside, looks similar to most doors in the Pest district. But inside, each ruin bar has a distinct personality that differentiates them from bars I normally see. The look reminded me a lot of a living room of a student flat.

It’s a mish-mash of random things, numerous rooms, blackboards as menu. The interior is decorated with stuff varying from torn-up sofas, dolls, posters, sewing machine tables, zippers on the roof. It was as if an artist decorated the walls and ceilings from things bought from the flea market.

Even if it was eclectic in the eye, it runs like any typical bar. And most of the bars even have free wi-fi (other bars owners, hope you’re reading this)

As good as our guide was, we manage to visit a lot of bars (a given). And here are just a sample of the ones we visited (more likely, the ones I remember. :p)

Trapez

Trapez - Budapest Ruin Bars - 25travels

It was our first stop for the day (day meaning around 2PM) after a visit and some shopping at Nagycsarnok (Great Market Hall) on Fővám Tér. Trapez is a popular student hangout since its location is close to Hungary’s Corvinus University. A big black board dominates the ground floor with posters and masks accentuating the bohemian feel of the place. Going up the creaky steps gets you into the main hall – which looks like the attic of a mountain cabin – with wooden beams and decorated with road signs, large paintings and other random oddities. 

We were there early in the afternoon and on a weekend, so there was no one except us so we didn’t see it in its full life. But it didn’t stop us from order a beer and a shot of palinka – an Eastern European spirit made with plum mixed with flavours such as peach and apricots.

Szimpla Kert

Szimpla Kert - Budapest Ruin Bars - 25travels

Szimpla Kert prides itself for being the first ruin bar in Budapest having been established in 2001. It has a large open courtyard, a dwarf on a swing and a Trabant, an old communist car, as one of the tables. Definitely, I understand why it remains to be one of the most popular ruin bars in Budapest among locals and tourists alike.

Again, we were there in the afternoon – so by far, there was hardly any happening – but Daniel assured me that this place gets busy at night. He explained that it had lost its bohemian touch, given its popularity with tourists, but it’s still worth a visit.

At Szimpla Kert, I had my first try of Froccs – a Hungarian wine spritzer made by mixing white wine and carbonated water. And there are varying names to each mix depending on the ratio of wine and water. Ratio varies from 1 to 1, to 9 parts wine to 1 part water. We got hosszúlépés – a spritzer with 1/3 wine, 2/3 water.  It’s worth a try definitely, but I think after spending two years in French Brussels – mixing wine with anything is a bit strange. But hey, in the Philippines – we used to add ice on our wine glasses – so screw it. 😛

Corvinteto

Corvinteto - Budapest Ruin Bar - 25travels

Fast forward to late at night after a couple of glasses of Belgian beers, glasses of 1euro Jim Beam whiskey, countless Hungarian beers and wines– we ended up in Corvinteto. Corvinteto stands at the topmost level of a department store. It’s known for its rooftop parties with a grand view of Pest but since it was freezing outside, the rooftop wasn’t open. But with a little help from its killer electro music and dynamic (and hot*) crowd, we continued to party until late at night.

Instant

Instant - Budapest Ruin Bar - 25travels

Instant - Budapest Ruin Bar - 25travels

After recovering from a long Saturday night and a Sunday afternoon spent sightseeing – we started Sunday night at Instant. The interior is more close to a flat party – complete with rooms, sofas, tables and people who you don’t know – rather than bar. There are two dance rooms (basement and on the first floor) offering two different kinds of music. At the centre is an interior courtyard with a guy with an owl as an head and a herd of stuffed rabbits (?).One room has sewing machines as tables and furniture glued in the ceiling. It’s pretty much as eclectic as it can be. Crowd is quite good but alcohol is pricier compared to other places.

Anker Klub

By the standards of a ruin bar, Anker seems to be less bohemian and eclectic as how I defined it. It is unique (for not being too unique) in a way that it’s a “real” bar with a great crowd of people.  Crowd is good, music was so-so and drinks are relatively cheap. And they have some Belgian beers on tap which I think is enough reason to include as a stop.

Csendes

Csendes - Budapest Ruin Bar - 25travels

Csendes is Daniel’s favourite bar and I guess I see how it became so.  It’s less of club but more of a place to sit-down and talk kind-of-place (Csendes actually mean silent in Hungarian ).

It still keeps within the description of a ruin bar with its strong ambiance and eclectic-designed roofs, floors, toilets, and ceilings. Ornaments of posters, old photos, and electric fans to a bathtub for a seat, complete the entire picture.  We spent a couple of hours at Csendes just trying to chill and talk together with a pint of Soproni (so far, the only Hungarian beer that I liked) before going back to Instant to complete the night.

I definitely do not regret coming to Hungary even for a short week-end. Every minute of our trip counts and I can say that Budapest definitely should pride itself for its amazing nightlife, cheap booze, amazing music atmosphere and friendly people.

Definitely, I think there’s more to ruin bars and Budapest from what I’ve seen – so maybe I’ll calendar in another date to come visit!

 

Have you been in Budapest? Have you visited any ruin bars? Share your advice and comments on the box below!

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