Perched on a hill above the Dneiper River, the gold-domed city of Kyiv (Kiev is the Russian spelling) is still reeling from the Orange Revolution in 2004. However, Kyivans are equipped with a can-do attitude, having successfully protested a bogus election, and it's starting to show in the local tourist industry. Due to the lingering Soviet mindset in some establishments, don't be surprised by less-than-stellar service from some public employees, but at the same time, you can expect some of the most genuine hospitality in the world from everyday people. It is truly a city at a crossroads.
A trip to Kyiv would be incomplete without a visit to one of Christian Orthodoxy's most important sites, the Percherska Lavra. Expect to spend a least a few hours exploring its 10th- and 11th-century churches and their underground catacombs that hold the mummified remains of early monks. To get a sense of modern Kyiv, take a leisurely stroll along Khreshchatyk, the city's main avenue. Perfect for shopping, grabbing a snack, or watching street performers, it's also famous for its part as the center of the Orange Revolution.
One of the best and most economical options for accommodations in the city is renting a private apartment. Former Peace Corps volunteer (and this reporter's husband) Nick Stokes, who spent two years living in Ukraine, rented apartments when visiting the city with friends. "Whenever we needed a break from our villages, we all met in Kyiv. More than once, a large group of us rented a three-bedroom apartment, complete with a Jacuzzi and sauna, just steps from Khrystchatyk, for about $75 a night." There are countless ads in the English language newspaper, the Kyiv Post, as well as on the Internet. You can even arrange for a room at the local train station by approaching any of the old women holding signs (they may not speak English, however). Most rental agents are reputable—if you're at all wary, just ask to see the place before you commit.
Ukrainian food is cheap, and what it lacks in price is makes up for in taste—if you like starches, fats, and meats, that is. If you're not counting carbs or fat grams, you should make sure to have at least one lengthy sit-down traditional Ukrainian meal. This will cost about $10 for two people at a touristy restaurant in the city center. However, at a local cafes away from the tourist attractions, expect to pay no more than $3 for everything. Don't forget to wash it all down with a shot of Ukrainian vodka, which you can buy by the bottle for less than $2 (although paying a little extra for higher quality spirits is definitely worth it).
Before taxes and fees, flights from New York usually go for about $600 in the winter low season and $1,100 during the summer. Cheaper deals can sometimes be found with Aerosvit Airlines, the country's national carrier. Besides paying less, flying with Aerosvit has an additional benefit—or danger, depending on how you look at it: "While domestic carriers will now charge you for your vodka, Aerosvit will treat you to a litre of your own for free," says Stokes.
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