Experiencing the Local Flavor of Kiev, Part I

Getting in touch with the local culture when traveling is always an interesting challenge for any traveler. Finding it is half the fun. In Kiev I found it by visiting local markets, dining with a friend of a friend, eating at a traditional restaurant, attending a ballet, and even visiting popular tourist sites.


Upon disembarking from the Kiev Funicular on Volodymyrska Hill on the edge of Old Town, I enjoyed a piano performance of popular tunes whenever they were being performed. Behind the performer was a brick gate topped with a golden cross, which was an entrance to St. Michael’s Monastery. In front of them was the towering building of the Ministry of Finance of Ukraine. If the music wasn’t there to cause me to pause there on the cobblestone path, the striking contrast presented by these two institutions always did.

Volodymyrska Hill is located on the steep right bank of the Dnieper River on the edge of Kiev Upper Town. The Saint Vladimir Monument, dedicated to Vladimir the Great, overlooks the embankment. He was the ruler of Kievan Rus from 980 to 1015 and the Baptizer of the Rus people. His influence was significant with regard to Kiev’s Christian history over the past 1000 years.

Knowing how immobile the piano on the path was, I wondered how long it could last exposed to the elements. Once when I passed by a man was working on it. I never got my answer as to how such as instrument can survive the elements there, but I did get an answer as to how it stays tuned.


I was fortunate to be introduced to Alex, a native of Kiev, by a friend from Newport, Rhode Island, where I live when I’m not globetrotting.

Alex, a professional who works in the TV production business, was a gracious host. He introduced me to traditional food in a couple of area restaurants, and took me to the Petrivka book market, a second-hand book market in the outskirts of Kiev. He said it dates back to Soviet times when finding certain books was a challenge given the closed borders with the west.

One evening we took a trolley to a popular Ukrainian restaurant with a friend of his. Our table was in a reconfigured old wine barrel. He ordered a shared traditional Ukrainian meal for all of us, which contained an abundance of meat. A strolling female vocalist and a male violinist performed a few Ukrainian folk songs at our table while we ate. It was good fun!


The Sholem Aleichem Museum in Kiev is in honor of the Jewish author Sholem Aleichem, whose works inspired the script and songs of the hit musical Fiddler on the Roof. He was born in 1859 in a village in Kiev Oblast (region). Being a big fan of this musical, I visited this museum. His humor was prevalent there, especially in the form of the popular Jewish dolls that were displayed.

While visiting the museum, I got into an interesting discussion about old synagogues with Rafael, one of the volunteers. The beautiful, historic Brodsky Synagogue, which was just around the corner from the museum is a functioning synagogue today. It was built in 1898 and was devastated during WWII by the Nazis and was subsequently used as a puppet theatre.

Rafael and I continued our discussion by email as he wanted to learn more about America’s oldest synagogue, the Touro Synagogue, in Newport, Rhode Island. I was grateful I was able to share something of importance to this man who was so knowledgeable about local Jewish culture and history in Kiev. Understandably, it was simply because of the fact that I live in lovely, historic Newport, and the city’s rich Jewish heritage is present in its synagogue.


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