Weekend in Kiev
After a quick bite, explore the metro, one of those rare Soviet things built to last. The language barrier will get worse here as there are hardly any maps, let alone signage in English. Get your thinking cap on and start matching Cyrillic names with what you see on the map. Luckily, Kyiv metro is nothing like Moscow's branched out forest. There are only four lines. Go down at Poshtova Ploscha (Postal Square) and get off at the next stop, Maidan Nezalezhnosti - the revolution square where you started this morning.
Conquering the metro shall continue the next day unless, of course, you want to try your negotiation skills with local cabbies. It is far more adventurous and cheaper to venture down to Khreschatyk station and get out at the next stop, Arsenalna. After a 15-minute walk across this less touristy, yet still historical, part of the city, you will wind up at the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra. Dating back to the 11th Century, it has accumulated enough stories of miracles and pain to become known as the second Jerusalem among the Orthodox Christians. This is a vast monastic complex where three hours will fly by like it was three minutes. After taking in the breathtaking views over the Dnipro and exploring iconic churches and museums, make it to the monks' caves before they close at 4 pm. In these bewildering, badly lit underground cells more than a hundred mummies of ancient souls have survived centuries without any special treatment. Clerics watch for the proper dress code but will provide suitable attire if you show up bare-kneed.
After this journey down the spiritual past, walk toward a protrusion of the more recent history. The World War II museum occupying sprawling grounds next to the Lavra. It impresses visitors with its outdoor collection of tanks and intimidating stone soldiers the size of houses. The indoor part of the complex is heavy on archival material and is only good if you know the language.
To digest the weekend, settle down for a Ukrainian meal in Opanas restaurant in a small park. Located in the downtown's backyard, it is more popular with locals than tourists. Built in the image of a Ukrainian thatched-roof hut, it stands opposite another intellectual landmark, Taras Shevchenko University. The venue serves fantastic borsch, an arguably Slavic invention, and amazing potato pancakes. To get here from the War Museum, you must brave the metro again. But that is what Kiev and the rest of Ukraine are like: nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Yuliya Popova is the editor of the Kyiv Post, a multilingual online and print newspaper.