St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery (All photos in this blog post are taken by Carly Berthiaume)
Carly Berthiaume is a recent Mizzou journalism grad who studied abroad in Brussels during the fall of 2018. When she wasn't attending her study abroad classes, working at FTI Consulting, sampling fine chocolate or hanging out in Grand Place, she was taking weekend trips to other European countries. What a life, am I right?!
And while Carly was able to visit popular European cities such as Amsterdam and Barcelona, she also took some weekend trips off the beaten path. This week, I asked Carly to tell me about her spontaneous trip to Kiev, Ukraine and some of the sights she was able to see when she was there.
Photo of Carly Berthiaume taken by Daphne Psaledakis
At first, Carly had some hesitations about visiting the Ukrainian city, particularly regarding her safety.
Carly unabashedly said that her parents also had hesitations. Her parents weren't necessarily expecting their daughter to travel to Ukraine when she studied abroad.
"Well, I told my parents and obviously, they were not a fan of this plan," Carly said."But they were in the United States. I was in Europe. And I was like, you know what, I'm halfway there. And I'm so glad I went."
Carly's friend Daphne Psaledakis, another j-schooler on the trip, ultimately convinced her to buy the plane ticket to Kiev. Daphne told Carly that it would be a trip that they would never forget. And Carly agreed.
"There are so many tourism hotspots in Europe, and any one of them would have been beautiful and fun and a great experience, but we really wanted to go somewhere that was different that we wouldn't get to go to again," Carly said.
Fast-forward to Kiev.
We'll start off by setting the scene: it was cold. Very cold. 5-15 degrees Fahrenheit to be exact. The duo decided to visit Ukraine in November, which wasn't necessarily peak season for tourists. Their decision to visit Kiev during the colder months, on top of the fact that they were Americans, made them the talk of the town.
"There weren't many people staying there. So I feel like (the locals) gave us extra attention, which was nice," Carly said. "And also there weren't that many Americans that were in Kiev, Ukraine, so they were very interested in us!"
She also said that among some of the first things she noticed about Kiev, in addition to the puzzled Ukrainians, was how stunning the architecture was.
"They had these structures that were centuries old and they were in beautiful light blues, greens, pinks and really bright oranges and yellows,"Carly said. "Everything was gorgeous. For anyone who loves architecture, Kiev, Ukraine should definitely be on their list to visit."
St. Volodymyr's Cathedral
Some of Carly's favorite stops included:
St. Sophia's Cathedral
St. Andrew's Church
St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery
Perhaps her most memorable stop of them all was Independence Square.
"There was a revolution in Ukraine in  and a lot of people were killed by the state," Carly said. "So, they have a huge monument at the center of the city. And we walked there and people were, you know, laying out flowers and stuff like necklaces and photos. And it was very sad to see how immediate that pain was for so many people, that still even years after it happened, there were so many people who went there to memorialize the people who were lost. So that was definitely worth seeing."
Carly's fascination with Kiev didn't stop at the architecture.
"As someone who likes farmers markets and flea markets, and yes, shopping overall, they had a really great market area," Berthiaume said. "They had a cute little shopping area and a lot of homemade goods and people would like paint things, even nesting dolls, and it was right before Christmas. So I bought a whole bunch of stuff. It was really fun."
She also said that they enjoyed walking around the various parks and exploring the European "hipster" cafés throughout the city.
Another perk about Kiev? The food scene.
"I had amazing food,"Carly said. "We had some traditional Ukrainian foods. I don't remember the specifics of what we ate. But I remember being so impressed by it and it just tasted amazing. And we went to a wine bar and we met a lot of really nice people that were also surprised by the fact that we were American. So yeah, we did not know the languages, but everyone was so friendly, and they were really helpful."
In addition to finding some cool spots around the city, Carly said that they also managed to score some great tips from a local. Her friend Daphne was an intern at Reuters in Belgium. Some of her coworkers put them in touch with a Reuters employee who was based in Kiev, whom they were able to meet up with once they were there.
"It was such a good conversation and she gave us all these amazing recommendations of where to go to eat and what was worth visiting. She was such a good resource and just such a nice person. And we walked out we got food with her that day we walked around went shopping for a bit and it was just a lot of fun. She was so helpful."
St. Andrew's Church
After hearing about Carly's experience in Kiev, and seeing some of the stunning photos she took, I've officially put Kiev on my travel bucket list. However, I might be convinced to visit during the summer, when it's a little bit warmer out!
I also talked with Carly in length about how she and Daphne planned the trip, considering they were both young, female travelers. Unfortunately in today's world, it's no secret that female travelers have to take precautions when it comes to their safety, particularly in cities that aren't considered top tourist destinations.
Carly admitted that she learned some hard lessons during her trip to Kiev. After becoming familiar with traveling to other parts of the EU, Carly didn't realize much additional prep-work was needed to visit a place like Ukraine, a country outside of the EU.
"It didn't cross my mind that they would have different kind of money, that they wouldn't use euros," Carly said. "And then I also realized that my cellphone plan wouldn't work there properly. When I went there, I went there with like, 50 Euros, which isn't that much where you're going for an entire weekend! And they don't accept credit cards at a lot of these places. So that was risky."
Her friend Daphne, however, planned ahead. So, Daphne was fortunately able to help Carly out if she needed to temporarily borrow money or contact her parents.
Besides telling others to avoid making similar mistakes, Carly had other helpful tips to give fellow female travelers.
"So, first of all, if I'd say if you're a woman, specifically, or if you're not someone who's very well traveled and knows people in the city, do not go alone," Carly said. "If you have a coworker who knows someone in the city, ask them to put you in touch with the people who already live there...and ask them the places to avoid, the places that they would recommend visiting or the places that are worth skipping. Because they're the ones who are the experts on it. No tourist will be able to tell you the safest and most dangerous places in the city."
She also stated how it's important to have a game plan for what to do if you find yourself in a compromising situation.
"And then also, obviously, people should listen to travel advisories from the U.S. Embassy and obviously have the common sense to look up where the Embassy is located," Carly said. "We definitely did that. We had the address written down on hand."
At the end of the day, Carly said that it's most important to just be a safe and alert traveler.
"Don't walk on the streets with your face on your phone and not looking up, Carly said. "Make sure you are always aware of your surroundings. If you're walking somewhere at night (which we did and probably shouldn't have), don't be on your phone, but have your phone in your hand, ready to call for help, if need be."
So, there you have it! If you already had Kiev on your list of dream destinations, I hope this article was informative for you. Or, if you're like me, and didn't know much about Kiev, I hope that you'll consider adding this artistic city to your travel bucket list.
From living in Brussels to visiting other cities like Porto and Heidelberg, Carly has visited a number of fascinating places. I have a feeling that this won't be the only time that she will appear on Now Boarding.
Do you have a travel experience that you'd like to share? I'd love to have you on the blog. Feel free to contact me on social media or hop on over to my contact page.
Until Next Time,