Sunday, 21 March 2010

A great place to walk off stress

Even before the inhabitants of Kyiv started walking around with gauze masks on their faces to avoid catching the flu, the city seemed to suffer from a lack of oxygen. Not long ago praised as one of Europe’s greenest urban centers, the medieval town is now besieged by cars and their aggressive drivers, who sometimes recall ancient steppe warriors in their contempt for civilized pedestrians. The sidewalk is often no safer than the side street.

But if you really like to walk – to burn off stress, get some fresh air, or just get to know Kyiv, head toward the city’s hem: Podil.

There are several ways to get from the center to Podil, but the best ways are by foot. For most people, this means a meander down Adreyivsky Uzviz, whose cobblestone road islined by day with artisans, artists and the tourists who feed them.

As you wind down the Uzviz toward Podil, you may notice that the landscape begins to rise to your left. Once you’ve passed the Blah Blah Bar, with its blue tent decorated with Christmas lights, and just beyond the black door of the Pyscho Art center [both on the left], you will see a steep metal stair case leading up along an even steeper embankment.

Climb the staircase and you will find yourself commanding an excellent if alternative view of the city. There are also some grave stones and what looks like some kind of bunker up there – of course filled with trash and graffiti to subdue any swelling of romanticism in the curious.

Getting down from this high ground, which, depending on what historical sources you believe, might have been the scene of all sorts of significant events during the days of Kyivan Rus, can be a bit tricky, as some of the trails lead only to rooftops of buildings below. Suffice it to say that it’s best not to go up there in dress shoes or high heels.

Another way to get down to Podil without having to negotiate your every step against the advances of an Avar in a Mercedes, a Hun in a Jeep, or a Cuman in a Lada, is to turn left at the top of the Funicular.

Yes, instead of paying Hr 1.5 and possibly subjecting yourself to the flu of fowl, swine or Californians, you can walk from Mykhaylivska Ploshcha to the River Port along steps under a canopy of trees and leaves.

The first part of this descent is actually a brick ramp with little ridges every meter or so to keep you from slipping in wet weather. The second stage is stairs – as uneven, uprooted and cracked as any other steps in the city. This staircase used to take one all the way to the lower entrance of the Funicular but now exits to the left of a new building under construction next door.

But the foot adventure doesn’t have to end here. Looking up at the embankment that you’ve just descended could be a trip back in time: Medieval Princess Olga awaiting the tragic return of her husband; the men of Prince Vladimir, the Christianizer, tying the statue of the pagan god Perun to the tail of a horse to be dragged down to the Dnipro. Or, if you look down the cobblestone road leading to European Square – an endless army of Mongols is overrunning the city again – this time in cars.

In the other direction, Sahaydachnoho Street welcomes the visitor to coffee houses, sushi bars and the other accouterments of capitalism. In some sense, these establishments, and the business district growing up around them, are in keeping with Podil’s commercial history.
But again, if you want a place to really walk, keep heading toward the water, past the McDonalds and across the overpass to the river’s edge. Just like the hills above are being crowded out by banks, business centers and housing developments, the water front is being infested with floating eateries and hotels.

But if you brush dismissively past the tawdry beer tents and air gun ranges, beyond the first couple of ballroom barges toward the foot bridge across the Dnipro, you will find yourself walking along a cement dock between a high wall and low water. The fishermen aren’t exactly romantic, and in the summer there’s much trash lying around, but in the colder months you still get a nice mile of relatively peaceful strolling along the water, with no cars (and virtually no boats) to bother you.

If you take the boardwalk away from the center of town, there is a quaint little Orthodox Church called the Blessed Miracle Maker Mykola perched right above the water’s edge, just past the barge featuring a Japanese restaurant. Behind this church is a nice spot to just look at the Dnipro and try to forget about the cars roaring past behind you along Naberezhna, the embankment.

On the weekend, most of Podils’ numerous streets between Kontraktova Ploshcha and Taras Shevchenko Metro stations are also nice to stroll along, with the sidewalk car parks having receded to Podil’s main thoroughfares. Here you can walk between the hills and the river that created the city almost 1500 years ago, when most people got around by foot.

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