Kiev (Kyiv)

Nesting dolls

Things I knew about Ukraine before this trip included: the painstakingly decorated Easter eggs,  that the traditional women’s dress is a heavily embroidered white tunic with garlands of flowers (sadly, it occurs to me that I probably know this because of the Olympics), that it is a former Soviet republic and that it is the land of perogies, borscht, vodka and Chicken Kiev.

I had wanted to travel somewhere I had never been this fall. And more than that, I wanted to travel somewhere I didn’t know much about. I had narrowed it down to Japan, India and Israel when Matt proposed another option: Kyiv and Prague. He was going on a business trip and invited me to come along. Obviously, I jumped at the chance.

Kiev

ARCHITECTURE & CHURCHES

After being in Kyiv for a week I feel like I know a lot more but I’m still not entirely sure where to start. It’s a strange town. Alongside the easter eggs, flowers and Soviet stuff is some incredible architecture. I’ve been going for a run every morning that it’s not been raining and even on the side streets outside of town there are enormous, beautifully decorated and colourful buildings (some recently revived, some in need of repair and some in progress) with printed scaffolding over top to show what the building is meant to look like. Probably there are modern buildings somewhere in the city but I haven’t seen many.

Lavra

The next thing of note is all the churches. The beautiful golden domes of the Russian Orthodox churches peek out from the colourful buildings at every turn, or at least it seems so from our hotel, which is positioned right between St. Sophia’s cathedral (an almost 1000-year-old cathedral with its wedding-cake bell tower) and St. Michael’s Golden-domed monastery. St. Andrew’s is a short walk away and looks like it should be some giantess’ jewelry box but the inside felt too red and ornate to me and came off looking a bit gaudy. My favourite is St. Volodymyr’s which is a pretty standard-issue Neo-Byzantine cathedral on the outside but inside is all black and gold and candlelight, making it hard not to feel the glow.

Icon

Kyiv Pechersk Lavra monastery / Kiev Monastery of the Caves is HQ for Russian Orthodox churches in Ukraine. They believe it is one of four places in the world where the Virgin Mary lives and there are also 73 “imperishable relics” – the bodies of saints who were buried in the caves and who have been deemed uncorrupted. That belongs firmly on the list of things I didn’t know about Ukraine before this week. The top part of the complex is maintained by the church but feels fairly secular – there are many churches but also souvenir stands and a series of museums. I wandered around there for a bit and then went to the lower part, it was obvious that something very different was happening…by now I had noticed that women cover their heads when they’re in the church and so I had been trying to do the same on my visits but here all the women’s heads were covered and everyone bowed and crossed themselves coming through the gate. But there were no tourists, no English words anywhere and I had no idea what was going on, so I went back up to the gate and bought a tour.

Church

First we got dressed to go underground. Women have to have covered arms, a covered head and wear a long skirt and there are wraps to be bought or borrowed for this purpose. My tour guide was lovely and patient with all of my questions but as she explained all the mysteries of the saints to me and how they died and how to pray to them, I couldn’t help but feel awkward. It was unbearably hot in the catacombs with all the people and my jeans / skirt / shirt / wrap / headscarf combo, carrying a candle and trying not to get beeswax all over the place as we all jostled against each other in the narrow corridors. I was the only tourist in a place packed with pilgrims waiting patiently for me to get out of the way so they could access the relics and I felt badly. I’m so glad I went but I will be processing it for a while….what it means to be a tourist and what a privilege it is.

Dumplings

FOOD

In terms of food, there are PLENTY of perogies, borscht and vodka. Actually, they are not perogies but varenyky (or vareniki) – the difference being that perogies seem to be baked or fried after they’re cooked and varenyky are simply boiled or steamed. They are all over the place, in all kinds of flavours, as well as pelmeni – which are dumplings filled with raw meat and then cooked whole. So far I’ve had mushroom (both pelmeni and varenyky), and cabbage, potato, meat, sour cherry and blueberry varenyky, and you would think that I would be getting tired of them by now but I assure you that I have a very high dumpling threshold. My favourite (by a long shot) is the sour cherry and I want to try the poppyseed ones before we leave but I’ve already had sour cherry three times and I’m not sure I’m going to be able to come away from it.

Borscht, traditional beet soup, is predictably delicious and slightly different everywhere but it always comes with a side of garlic brioche and sour cream. Actually, everything comes with sour cream and you always get a basket of bread with a meal (including with the borscht and brioche).

Chicken Kyiv is apparently a Russian dish in origin but Ukrainians have either adopted it or they share a common love of cutlets because there are plenty of similar items on the menus under different names. All of the fried things I’ve had in Kyiv thus far have just tasted like oil though, so I am not a fan.

And of course, there is vodka. We have had lots of local beer and been happy with it (Stare Misto and Bitburger are the favourites), and there is wine from the area as well, but vodka is everywhere. So far we’ve tried regular and organic, and honey-pepper, cranberry and horseradish flavours. The horseradish smelled like it came out of a barn but on the palate it was beautiful – infused with horseradish for certain, but also honey and raisins and some other things. I’ve been told that no one drinks vodka for the taste but I might have to argue for this one because it was amazing. The honey-pepper was infused with honey and a bird’s eye pepper and is so perfectly balanced between sweet and spicy.

What else? There is so much bread that I’m beside myself – piles for breakfast, along with cold cuts, sausage, cheeses and two kinds of smoked herring. There is also kasha, a mushy Russian granola / porridge which is interesting. For lunch I’ve mostly been having beer and dumplings and in between there are amazing pastries – favourites are raspberry or the new-to-me combination of pineapple and ricotta or cottage cheese.

Almost every restaurant has shashlik – barbecued shish kebabs – cooked over an open fire and salo (lard) shows up on a lot of menus too. Basically, it is just pork fat so that takes some getting used to, but it does help with all the vodka.

Embroidery

The season is turning and the weather is getting a bit cooler, but there has been a beautiful fall breeze rustling the chestnut trees. I’ve been happy to be outside and I’ve spent a lot of time reading and taking it all in. I wish I had had more time to explore farther afield, outside of the city.

Art market

Leaving Gastown

Gastown

I’ve always loved Gastown, even when it was seedy – maybe especially when it was seedy. My friends and I used to come downtown from Langley and sit for hours in the Talking Stick Cafe (now Cork &Fin) or La Luna (now Smart Mouth) with our sketchbooks and finish off the night at the Irish Heather (now l’Abattoir). We were always at the Heather, except when we were at the Cambie. In more recent years I have  loved and frequenting the cocktail bars that go so perfectly with brick and cobblestone and ghostwriting and secret spaces and history in this town. Now we live here and we got married across the street because we love it so much. I wrote about it often on Smoky Sweet, my food blog (now defunct).

Gastown

While it has changing and growing, I’ve realized that I am really starting to like it as a community. The fact that people live here is probably missed by most of the photographers in front of the Gassy Jack statue and that’s okay – I love hearing all the different languages in the street while I’m walking my dog and I even love catching snippets from the tour buses going by under our window in the summer. I could not give a Vancouver recommendation to a tourist that didn’t involve a stop in Gastown, but I also love the locals and the pace of the neighbourhood.

Salmagundi West

Since we got Riley we’ve spent a lot more time hanging out in alleys. I’d already seen all the gritty things that New York writers put in their books to be shocking, but now I know the names of some of the people and I leave jackets and toques out on days it isn’t raining.

Gastown

Gastown was built on a bar so it’s only fitting that so many of the best ones are here and we’re not in them as often as we used to be but still love l’Abattoir, Wildebeest, Alibi Room, Pourhouse, Clough Club, Boneta, the Diamond, Bambuddha and Cuchillo. The Irish Heather is still here, thank goodness, it’s across the street now. We even have a David’s Tea and our own East Van Roasters coffee roaster now while we still frequent Milano and Revolver for coffee. I am in Opus way too often for art supplies and then in Salmagundi West and MacLeod’s Books for wandering and art inspiration. My One Yoga studio is only a block away, as is Gastown Tattoo and we have a dog park with a beautiful beach just on the other side of the tracks. It’s home. Gastown

As much as I love travelling, I also have a strong sense of home and place and community but I haven’t felt as tied to a neighbourhood as much as this one since I lived in Victoria. As we prepare to move to Seattle, there are many things to consider in a neighbourhood, and many things that we won’t even be able to know until we’re on the ground. The Ballard neighbourhood is reminds me a lot of Gastown so I look forward to exploring it regardless of where we end up, and I will also look forward to come back to visit.

Kiss

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

summer

You know those summer days when you were a kid that stretched on and on? You would ride your bike to the store and then a friend’s house and entire days would pass where nothing happened except being hot. And then just when you thought you could not be more bored, it was time to go back to school and you instantly wanted to take back all the bad things you said about sitting around doing nothing. My summer was not like that at all. This past spring we decided to move to Seattle and got everything ready…and then deferred it until next year. Then I applied for and was accepted to the Master’s program at the Centre for Digital Media and decided not to go. It is too much of what I have already been doing as a career for me to spend the time and money learning. I went to Tofino for an epic spring break surfing and diving, we got a dog and closed our company,  we learned to sail, I started Crossfit, took about twenty classes online, and read a lot of books.

And then there were more adventures:

Summer

Diving Skookumchuck Narrows

Some friends and I went to Powell River and did a couple of dives in Mermaid’s Cove at Saltery Bay before heading to Egmont and doing some wreck, drift and wall diving at Agamemnon Channel, the wreck of the HMCS Chaudiere, and the rapids at Skookumchuck Narrows. A fantastic trip.

Warbonnet

Barnacle

Visiting the International Buddhist Temple 

I took myself to Richmond’s International Buddhist Temple for a mini-adventure. It has the largest gold Buddha in North America and many beautiful murals and gardens. Once inside, I really did feel transported – I would have loved to stay and read my book or meditate by one of the pools. There’s also a restaurant on site where you pay by donation and that was pretty exciting too,  although they brought me way too much food.

Temple

Riding Highway 20

In July we rode our motorcycles Highway 20 through the Cascades to Osoyoos and then home through Manning Park. He wasn’t in it so much for the stunning mineral-rich turquoise lakes, beautiful wastelands of flooded river banks, mountains or valleys but rather for the sexy S-curves and the lack of stoplights. When I stopped to take a photo of the scenery, Matt took one of the road. It was hot but we were both so happy.

Walterses

We stopped for lunch in Winthrop, a delightful gold-towny surprise and then stayed in Osoyoos, which was less exciting than I remembered – especially with not being able to do any wine-tasting or fruit-hauling.  But we were just there for the road so next time we’ll stay in Winthrop and ride it all the way back too.

Keremeos

Visiting Quadra Island

We had tried and failed to go camping a couple of times so Matt finally found us a cabin on Quadra Island for the August long weekend. Quadra Island is pretty far away but in exchange for a bit of a car ride (which Riley would give half her breakfast for anyways), we got an enormous house with an enormous patio, a hot tub and a bbq! We were delighted and wished we could have stayed a lot longer.  I could see urchins 60 ft down from the deck (which had me regretting not bringing my dive gear), and porpoises playing in the channel a little ways out. We went canoeing and beachcombing and hiking to explore the bluffs. Riley was so happy to be able to run around outside by herself and explore under the deck. She did go in the canoe and in the water with a little coaxing, but we weren’t there long enough to get the ‘city’ out of her – she still peed in the driveway every morning.

Walterses

Sea

Quadra Island

Nick Bantock Art Workshop

The next weekend found me on another ferry, this time to Sidney-by-the-Sea by the Swartz Bay ferry terminal. I went for an art workshop with Nick Bantock that was even more awesome than I could have imagined. It was less technique heavy than the workshops I’m used to with Jeanne Krabbendam but provided enough ideas and energy to get me started on several projects – which I will probably have to revisit come winter.

art

Diving Browning Pass on the Mamro

I lasted about seven months after the last trip to Browning Pass before I had to book it again, this time on a liveaboard. I wanted to go back with a camera but now I think I may just have to go back every year. I’ve been diving in some amazing warm water places but this has got to be one of my favourite places in the world, mist and mountains (and more orcas!) topside and a world of colour down below – corals and sponges covered in fish and invertebrates – stretching as far as the eye can see.

Browning Pass

Undersea

There were only 6 of us on the boat which was nice and cozy. We had an opportunity to stop at Telegraph Cove  – an old whaling station – on the way up to Port Hardy and have a look through the museum. The whole town is on boardwalks around the cove and the museum has whale skeletons of all varieties. You think you understand how big whales are but it really hits home when you can stand inside a jaw with other people or use a vertebra as a stool.

Whale vertebrae