Pictured above: Shevchenko Park in Kyiv
I love the snow. Literally everything about it. Okay, maybe not the slush. Thankfully, this week we finally got some snow in Kyiv. I spent my school days gazing dreamily out the window - yes, even sometimes while I had class. There's nothing more mesmerizing that watching fat snowflakes falling from several floors up. Sometimes they swirl with the updrafts and currents and it's fun to see where the wind comes and goes. One day this week we even had sparkly snow! I've only seen this phenomenon a few times, and before I thought that it had to do with sun and snow happening together. I've changed my hypothesis on this, as I saw the snow sparkle when it was falling in the evening once it was already dark. The flakes were tiny and any time you looked closely they were perfect, six-armed crystals. I now think that they sparkle because the snow was happening during colder than normal temperatures. It was about -10°C on this day and usually you don't see snow when it's this cold. Maybe I'll ask someone with a degree in Meteorology (joke because I have one and don't know the answers to this stuff).
Pictured above: Some of my favorite snow scenes from around Kyiv. Left to right: 1) Overlooking the Dnipro River, 2) a sunny day at St. Sophia's Cathedral, 3) a night walk through Shevchenko Park.
Likely one of the reasons why I love the snow so much is because my relationship with snow and ice has been mostly positive. I have a feeling that this would be a different story if I had to drive my car to work every day. Luckily, Kyiv has an amazing metro (subway) system with trains that come every 2 minutes during peak times. I cannot imagine what traffic in this cobble-stoned city center would be like without the metro. Also, I really can't imagine driving in the snow and ice and really would not want to. The metro will probably be a Kyiv entry all of its own.
Some of my favorite experiences in the snow have been:
I have not fully met my bucket list of snow activities while living in Kyiv. I always wanted to try skiing again (bunny hill only) and I always wanted to try sledding. I'd love to walk across the Dnipro River, but I might be too nervous to do that. Maybe one day if we have a few moments to spare at school after a snowfall I'll borrow a sled and try it out somewhere.
Pictured above: Rime (frozen fog) on plants on a below-freezing day
Living the first 30+ years of my life in places where "cold" was 10°C (about 50°F) I wasn't sure what I was getting myself into when we first committed to Ukraine and all the horrible stories about winter. Yes, it can definitely get cold here, but surprising not as cold as what I've read about living some places in the mid-west USA. The coldest temperature I've experienced in my 5 years (as per my trusty indoor-outdoor thermometer) was -20°C, which really felt no colder to me than -10°C. A strange thing is that once it's damn cold outside it doesn't feel any more cold once it gets colder. That said, I've also learned to calculate whether or not it's -15°C based on whether or not the mucus in my nose freezes. Sounds strange, right? Feels strange, too. But it's like a little built-in thermometer. On the rare occasion when it's that cold I usually wrap a scarf around my mouth and nose to keep the lower half of my face warm. This fogs up my glasses so I take them off, but it also coats my eyelashes with moisture and then that moisture freezes! I saw the strangest photo on Instagram from a girl in Russia who had done this until a thick layer of ice crystals formed on her eyelashes. It looked freaky-cool and now I'm waiting for the temperature to drop again to try it. I've even heard stories from teachers about getting to school to find their hair has froze due to not drying it completely before leaving their house. All the things you'd never think about.
Finally, we can't have a post about the "snow globe" without a picture. So here it is. Whether we end up in a new location that has seasons (unlikely) or not, I hope that one day I will once again live somewhere that snows.
We've made the incredibly difficult decision that this will be our last year in Kyiv, Ukraine. We first came to this city in 2013 and only a few months later the protests began on Maidan Nezalezhnosti Square in the center of the city (only a few blocks from our house). Since then we've watched this city, country, and people struggle, overcome, and evolve into what is now an up-and-coming completely hip cafe city (or at least this is how we see it). In other words, I've grown quite attached to Kyiv. Sure, there are still quirks, but you learn to accept and cherish them instead of always judging. While we're here I want to take the time to reflect on some of the things I've grown to love about the city and people who have hosted us for the past five years.
Wintertime in Kyiv... some complain, but I absolutely love it. I am lucky to have an apartment with a spectacular view over a city landmark (the National Opera House) along with heaters that work very well and not all people have these comforts, so perhaps I am an exception to the rule. I love watching the snow fall as I look out over the opera house. A friend of ours once described it as a snow globe view and that's definitely how I see it. If I were to find a cheesy snow globe featuring the opera house for purchase it would be mine in a heartbeat. The past two years there has been a laser light show projected onto the opera house each evening near curtain call. Even though it's sponsored by Rafaello and is sprinkled with advertising it's quite a sight. I'm impressed with how creative people can be and how they can manipulate light in such ways.
Also there's the Christmas market. We've been lucky each year to arrive home from the holiday just before Ukrainian Christmas, which is celebrated on January 7th as per the Julian calendar. With the market still abuzz at St. Sophia's, we wander around to see the lights, watch people, and sip glintvine (mulled wine). Some years there is snow making the scene even more magical, but this year it was almost 10C as we walked around on Christmas day. Sure, the market wares are not unique and once you've seen one you've seen them all, but it's such a fun atmosphere and is definitely something that I'll miss.
Finally there's the Nutcracker ballet, which gets some extra shows around this time of year. We've watched it at least twice and the music takes me back to childhood. The dancing and backdrops are always impressive. I feel like we haven't taken advantage of enough of these shows in our time here. The opera house and all its shows will probably be a future post.
There's more to Christmas time in Kyiv than this, but these are my standouts. That said, I am looking forward to experiencing how the holiday season is celebrated in our next destination!