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Destinations, Europe, Travel Blog

How I ended up making Motanka dolls in Ukraine

February 11, 2014
Ukrainian Dolls

Yes, you read it right, dolls. I never thought that I’ll be making dolls and especially in a country like Ukraine.

After walking around Kiev, I, Claudia, a fellow traveller, and Natalya our Active Ukraine tour guide travelled 20 minutes to the outskirts of the city for lunch and our handicrafts session. The last time I did serious handicrafts was in high school, and I remember that I was pretty bad at it.

Yulia, our host, greeted us as we entered her home. Yulia, her boyfriend and their dog welcomed us to their humble apartment.  We were hungry and fortunately to my relief, she ushered us immediately to the dining table for lunch.

Yulia prepared varenyky (potato dumplings), borscht (beet soup) and salo (cured pork fat) . And yes, you guess it, the food was delicious. I particularly can’t get enough of salo especially when eaten with salt and raw garlic cloves.

Over lunch, we chatted about Kiev, the city and their culture. Yulia does arts and crafts as her profession. She paints and sculpts eggs and makes dolls for a living. She even crafted dolls for display on one of Kiev’s biggest Church. And she does this travel session together with her sister as part of their sidelinebusiness. So I’m happy to see that we have experts to teach an amateur like me.

After the hearty meal, we proceeded to the living room to start the doll making action.

We were brought to create a Motanka doll – a traditional handmade doll that was once use as a symbol for fertility and procreation. In Ukrainian tradition, the doll acts as a talisman that symbolises wisdom and protection for home.

We were handed the materials – cloth, thread, cotton balls, rice and flowers to stuff our doll. We had to first make the head and stuff it with rice. Once it pretty much look like a head, we went on tying knots for the hands and the body.

After, we had to tie in two strings around the head, alternating to make a square in the centre of the face. Ukrainian dolls are not your typical doll, it has no eyes nor a face, just a square that made it look like a cyclop. Yulia told us that there was no face as they don’t want dolls to reflect much of the human form, as they are afraid of it being use for black magic (=Voodoo dolls in some culture). Instead,of a face it has cross that is symbolises the sun.

It was an arduous task to do that required some patience and magic slight of hands. I finally made the face of my doll and we put in some clothes and a head band.

My verdict? I don’t think I’m seeing myself doing dolls for a living. But definitely, it was an activity that is out of the ordinary and I enjoyed doing on a Sunday afternoon.

But one thing is for sure, I’ll stick back to communications as a day job.

I had an amazing time with Active Ukraine who arranged this doll making activity as part of the Kiev’s Off The Beaten Path tour. Many thanks to Oksana and Natalya for the amazing experience. All views however are my own.

Destinations, Europe, Travel Blog

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!

Education, Europe, Experiences, Travel Blog

Kiev: A tale of two cities

January 29, 2014
Ukraine, Kiev - Independence Square

When I visited in Kiev last year, it was a different city than what is in the news today.

I went there in November, a couple of weeks before the current political turmoil started. I’ve been invited by my two former couchsurfer guests, Artem and Oleksandr, who had convinced me to visit them in Kiev.

Life in the city went on as normal. There were no barricades, no protesters, no riot police officers. Roads were full, not of protesters, but of cars and yellow marshrutkas hailing in passengers along the highway. People were preoccupied of their own daily lives and not of political discussions.

 

 

My first day in Kiev, I walked around Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti) with my friend Artem. The main avenue across Indepedence Square, Khreshchatyk, were closed on weekends for Kiev locals to enjoy a stroll on that autumn afternoon. There were segways, young Ukrainian girls selling sweets and people participating in local games of hanging on a tube for more than 90 seconds.

There were no riot police officers and protesters clashing on each other. Instead, I saw mascots of Puss in Boots, Despicable Me minions and giant pandas crowding  the square. The only tension I felt then was when a giant stuffed Tigger was bugging us to pay to have a photo with them.

The roads did not smell of teargas but of coffee coming from weird snail-shape pink coffee carts.

The city skyline had hardly any smoke on it but instead it’s the golden domes of the St.Andrew and St. Sophia churches that greeted my eyes as I looked upwards.

From the viewpoint overlooking the Dnipro river, the city was brown and red, not from smog and flames but from autumn leaves scattered on the roads.

I came to Kiev without much expectations yet left with a vow to visit again.

However my dream of coming back may not come anytime soon.

As I watch the news today and follow my friends’ Facebook posts, it’s obvious that it’s not the Kiev that I saw in November. I feel anxious and disheartened with the news I received. I feel helpless not having the power to act to curb the situation. It’s hard to see the once vibrant Maidan square is now tainted with blood from the ongoing violent protests fuelled by contrasting political ideologies. What I see is not the reflection of the vibrant and happy Kiev locals that I once met  but rather of people tired of oppression, corruption and political unrest.


 (Photo by Sasha Maksymenko)

 

It’s hard to imagine how fast the city transformed to what I currently see now. And the outlook looks like there will be no easy end out.

Unfortunately, the spotlight it continues to gain is not only the spotlight it deserves.  I hope that after this turmoil, whenever it will be, the Kiev of my memories will still be there.

And I hope that a lot of travelers will not be discourage to visit Kiev after this event. For sure I won’t be.

It’s a great city that flourishes with traditions, historical sights and of people that despite the language barrier are willing to help you. Not forgetting also that it’s a place that has one of the cheapest public transportation and bottles of vodka.

I hope that this underrated travel destination will rise back from the ashes and show the world it’s true side – the side that people deserve to see.


 (Photo by Sasha Maksymenko)

 

It’s a city that stood the test of time for thousand of years and I have high hopes that it will stand this test as well.

But now, from a mere spectator, all I can do is hope that the situation will be better.

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