One of my first discussion topics with students or people I meet when I’m somewhere new is asking what they think I absolutely must see that most people miss. From what I’ve learned people do like talking about the famous local places, historical sites, restaurants, etc. even if they haven’t been there. But, as one would expect, they’ll talk more enthusiastically about the places that they love and have a connection to. It’s sort of if local New Yorkers are probably less inclined to go to the Guggenheim than a tourist; they’ll talk about it as a place to go sure-but then they’ll tell you the nearby gallery that a friend owns is definitely worth checking out-and sometimes it is.
By this process you will often hear some places that are strange and out of the ordinary-sometimes worth visiting after more research. You will also start hearing places that, though maybe not famous enough to make it into a New York Time’s 36 hour guide to Kyiv, start seeming to be the top answer for a “What is the most overlooked spot in Kyiv?” question in a make-believe Family Feud episode.
Survey says: Dream Town mall. Yep. A mall was what I heard I should definitely see time and again (if not the most, definitely close to it). Let me make clear right now that there is no problem with translation: Dream Town mall is a mall.
Now why, unlike Rodina Mat (where I planned to go Saturday except the weather was pretty ugly), Kievo-Pecherskaya Lavra, or the Pinchuk Art Center, wasn’t Dream Town mentioned in the 36 hour article? My answer: they didn’t budget their time correctly. Okay…maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration; but everyone I talked to was right. Even though I am not a shopper I still have to say that, having never been to Mall of America (and keeping in mind I’m in Ukraine), Dream Town is pretty epic.
So I only went in one of the two Dream ‘towns’ (the one with clothes, not the one with furniture and home goods etc.) but each are 80, 000 square meters of shops, amusement and artwork installations. The one I went into had some Western shops everyone would know, but also a lot of shops that I hadn’t heard of.
Again though, the most impressive thing was what students had told me: the art installations throughout. I’m not an artist or a critic and I don’t think this was high quality stuff. But, it’s a mall. It looks like a lot of it was done to make the place aesthetically different with different zones and frankly, I was impressed. With the weather gray and muggy outside, it was a nice to move from China, Paris, and the jungle inside.
All of that said, I retained my shopping bias as literally the first store on the right when I went in had the bag that I ended up deciding would replace my lost bag (tear). This keeps my maxim alive that it’s good to spend as little time shopping as possible, though again it was pleasant to check out everything in this Town of Dreams. After all, next time I may not go shopping but instead to the top level where one can go to the roller skating rink, the ice skating rink, the bumper car area, or the cinema. Yep: if you love retail it’s a dream. If you are a mall walker, it’s a dream. If you are Karl Marx, it’s a nightmare.
Shootin’ Around My Neighborhood: Podil
Dream Town is nice but no time soon will it replace my favorite area to walk around: my neighborhood. Podil is the oldest area in Kyiv and some of the housing looks it. However, a rich history inundates the district all over and its home to one of the city’s older schools in National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. Kontraktova Square and Poshtova Square are also both nice squares.
And, my favorite part of Kyiv ends up in Podil, Andriyivskyy Descent (I hope to write more about the ‘Monmarte’ of Kyiv at a later time). What is nice is my home is located a bit away from these sites (see: busier areas) but still easily within walking distance.
One quick story about my locale and how that can influence my daily feeling of worth. First, I’m realizing Kyiv is between Poland and Georgia in so many ways (Yes I knew my geography before I came). I felt productive in different ways every day in Georgia because I could always learn something or teach through interaction with my host family or other locals in Martvili simply by being around. It didn’t have to be English as it may have been different games or somethings as simple as how to fist bump; anything made me feel like I was mixing cultures in a positive and productive manner. In Poland-and especially Krakow-that existed but it was a lot easier to get caught in a shell of comfort without reaching out to others.
Here in Kyiv and specifically Podil again it’s the middle ground. It’s easy and at times tempting to do the latter, but there are great opportunities to interact everywhere. Last Sunday on one of my neighborhood walks (that phrase is copyrighted to Stephen Heleniak) I saw a young teenager playing on a basketball hoop. I went over, was blown away by his level of English but still taught and then played him in a best of 7 game of P-I-G. My pride may have been a bit dashed (I lost in 7 games, the rim was ridiculous, I don’t know why I wrote this) but it was a great deal of fun to mix it up, play some basketball, and learn that someone in Ukraine likes the Miami Heat because of (not in spite of) Lebron James. . .and lose to a teenager…hmm…looking back I have no idea why I played this game. Maybe it was all just a bad dream. (Kidding)