Podil, Kiev’s Historical Commercial Center – my home away from home in Ukraine

Kiev’s historic neighborhood of Podil sits along a bank of the lovely Dnieper River, one of the major rivers of Europe. The Kyiv River Port in Podil is the main river port of Kiev. It is here that I have made my home-away-from-home while I travel around Ukraine for a few weeks.

My safe, clean, and well-priced accommodations are part of a relatively new chain of hostels in Eastern Europe called *Dream Hostels. The price of a dorm bed is about US$10 per night, which is typical for hostels in major cities in Eastern Europe.

When my plane landed in Kiev from Budapest, I was thrilled to finally be at this historic Eastern European city. I had missed Kiev during my extensive travels of the Former Soviet Union in the late 1980’s. The explosion of the Chernobyl power plant reactor on April 26, 1986, put Kiev off limits to visitors during that time.

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Kiev, Ukraine’s capital and largest city, is around 1400 years old. It is considered to be the center of East Slavic Civilization and reached its Golden Age in the 10th-12th centuries. Golden-domed Orthodox churches abound. Many have been rebuilt due to their destruction by various conquerors over the centuries.

Podil was the birthplace of the city’s trade, commerce and industry. It is an intriguing, progressive neighborhood, albeit a bit rough around the edges with some property in ruins and many with graffiti-covered walls.

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I frequently visit Podil’s historic Kontraktova Square and dine at my favorite cafe called Puztz Khata. This popular Ukrainian cafeteria-style chain offers local specialties at bargain prices. Occasionally I ask a young person in line a question about the food, knowing they probably speak English. They usually do.

Kontraktova Square is usually bustling in the early morning hours. Street vendors are busy setting up their displays, people are standing in line at the take-out window at a pop-up coffee house made from an old bus, trolleys are screeching as they round corners, well-heeled people are scurrying through the swinging doors at the Metro station, and elderly people are sitting on park benches conversing and watching the world go by.  In the midst of all this hustle and bustle church bells occasionally toll from one or more of the many churches that are dotted around the area. Most of the churches are the faiths of Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church.

Restaurants, cafes and coffee shops of all levels, types, and nationalities add to the diversity of the square. The massive brick Old Food Hall (shopping arcade), now only a shell, dominates the square along with a ferris wheel called the “Great Wheel.” After a devastating fire in 1811 Podil was rebuilt. Most of Podil’s beautiful, old stately buildings, including the Old Food Hall, are from this era.

On International Women’s Day the activity in Kontraktova Square increased dramatically. The spring-like temperature didn’t deter people from enjoying the seasonal ice skating rink. Families were strolling; children were darting around on scooters. Food stalls lined one side of the Old Food Hall and along the nearby wide pedestrian street. A line was forming in front of the stall selling popular Georgian street food. Street bands and musicians were vying for the attention of passers by.

Many women were carrying a small bouquet of flowers. A young couple asked me to take their photo with their camera and then the woman proceeded to congratulate me (in English) on being a woman!

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* https://dream-hostels.com

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Visiting Great Market Hall and Saying Goodbye to Budapest

Great Market Hall is located in Pest at the end of the historic Chain Bridge. The market was built in 1897, and is the largest of all Budapest market halls. The cast-iron Chain Bridge which was built in 1849, spans the Danube just under the Royal Palace on Castle Hill. I always tried to combine a visit to a thermal bath on the Buda side of the bridge with lunch or a snack at the Great Market Hall on the Pest side. Thus, by walking over the bridge, I was able to periodically enjoy stunning views of the Danube and the Hungarian Parliament Building, sometimes at sunset.

Food stalls and eateries are located on the second level of the market. They get packed during lunchtime with tourists and locals. The main attraction of the stalls is langos, a national street-food dish of deep fried dough topped with sour cream, garlic butter, and cheese, plus just about anything else you want to put on it. Due to the calorie count of this food, I usually opted for the more healthy, traditional goulash soup.

Browsing the colorful market was always a delight, offering everything from foodstuff to clothing, cookware, and souvenirs for the tourists. The smell of Hungarian paprika was always in the air. Fresh-baked apple strudel in the bakeries was hard to pass up. Language was never a problem here for me due to the fact that most of the young people working in the shops spoke English. The older people in the shops knew enough words in English to communicate with English-speaking customers.

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Following are a few photos to say goodbye to the dynamic city of Budapest. I’m off to the Central European country of Ukraine, where I will visit Kiev, Lviv, and Odessa for a few weeks.

 

 

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