Kiev is a great city. Don’t know why more people don’t go there — it would certainly make a good companion stop to Prague.

It feels Western European (Paris or Barcelona or wherever). The main street is beautiful in day and night, surrounded by expensive shops, big Ukrainian flags and monuments, and various squares and social mingling places.

The underground caves — where saints from centuries are supposedly still buried — is one of Kiev’s most popular attractions and is indeed quite interesting. Hot, stuffy, dark, but fascinating. Since Ukraine has loads of religious folk and religious visitors, people are constnatly kissing the pictures of the saints which hang overhead the bodies.

The WWII memorial — or, as they call it in Ukraine/Russia, "The Great Patriotic War" — is well done.

There are a bunch of ethnic restuarants in addition to local Ukrainian fare. We ate at a Japanese place one night to mix it up and the sushi was solid.

Best of all, Kiev is relatively cheap for a big city, so you can explore and eat and travel like you can’t in western Europe.

P8040038_2 P8040045

Trying to Immerse Yourself in Ukrainian Culture….

At a nice, authentic Ukrainian restuarant for dinner tonight, recommened by a Swiss guy / ex-New Yorker on the plane from Odessa.

Beautiful architecture, nice menu, friendly staff. Ah, the full experience!

And then we hear two Americans at the table opposite from us. It’s rare to hear / see Americans in Ukraine. They weren’t just making small chit chat, though. Through unavoidable eavesdropping I learned at least one of them served in Iraq and both were in the military at some point.

It was a little bit intense to overhear them sharing stories about the war zone as I tried to enjoy the Ukrainian food.

Recap: Odessa, Ukraine

Odessa is supposedly Ukraine’s second most international city, but you wouldn’t know it from landing at the airport. The airport is old and run down and filled with Soviet-era aircraft.

The city itself though, while still showing spots of disrepair and poverty, largely shines in its beauty (right on the Black Sea!) and diversity (most people speak Russian, not Ukrainian, for example).

We arrived Wednesday afternoon and after exiting the terminal got approached by many folks asking, “Taxi?” It felt like India. I hate getting badgered by illegal taxi people.

We walked around that evening and found a nice place to eat that was ridiciously cheap but still pretty good. So cheap, in fact, that we double checked the dollar to griva conversion rate. Ah, 1 dollar to 5 griva. Life is good. We also popped in an orthodox Christian church — women all wearing headscarves, bowing over and over again. Yoikes.

I participated and spoke at a conference on corporate social responsibility the following morning, and then hung out at the beach that afternoon. The Odessa beaches are lovely. There are several easy restaurants / cafes overlooking the beach. The Black Sea looked good from afar though I hear it’s too dirty to swim in. We smartly paid 10 griva to a young kid to go get us some white chairs to sit on in the and — made it much more comfortable

The best part of my visit to Odessa was the main reason I’m even in Ukraine/Russia to begin with: judging and partipcating in a youth entrepreneurship event, here. About 10 teams from around the world came here to compete. I’ll blog more about this on my main blog, but suffice to say that the cultural exchange and stories and dancing were awesome. It’s always fun to spend time with people from other cultures and hear about their lives.

The final thing to say about Odessa is the fashion sense of the women. Here’s my post on my main blog about this. Simply put, it’s pretty skimpy. Maybe even slutty.

If you’re going to visit Ukraine for just a day or two, go to Kiev. Any longer, and Odessa should be on the list. It’s not a world class city, but it’s accessible, friendly, and interesting in its own ways.

So long, Odessa! So long, Black Sea!