I have spent the last 20 days in Ukraine and I must say I enjoyed the trip quite a lot. Ukraine is home to warm people, impressive architecture, tons of history, and interesting food. On this trip, I have visited Kharkiv, Kiev, and Odessa. Each city is a little different and I enjoyed each one for its own unique reasons.
I landed in Kharkiv late on a Sunday night. Customs was a breeze; I quickly grabbed my bag and called an Uber. About 40 minutes later I arrived at the Premier Palace Hotel. I had previously done research online and had read that this hotel is arguably the best hotel in all of Ukraine. There were several other hotels I could have stayed at but I could not resist the opportunity to stay at a 5-star hotel for only $90 per night.
After check-in, I quickly inspected my room and it was everything that I could have hoped for. The room was complete with a huge bed, safe, work area, relaxation area, and a fancy bathroom. It was everything that I had hoped for and then some. I reviewed the room service menu and hotel information. Unlike most hotels the prices for room service seemed super cheap.
The Premier Palace Kharkiv has 6 restaurants; the Terrace Grill, Pacific Spoon, Sky Lounge, Viennese Cafe, Lobby Bar, and Beriozka Shop. I found myself holding a lot of my business meetings in the Lobby Bar and relaxing after work at the Sky Lounge. The Sky Lounge had excellent sushi. I never thought I would find myself hyping up the sushi in Ukraine but I had it almost every night.
At this point I had been on the road now for about a full month so I was in desperate need of a shave and haircut. Luckily the Premier Palace has a full-service barbershop called “Plan B”. It is a pretty fancy place and I got a professional shave & haircut for around $15.
I was also highly impressed with Premier Palace Kharkiv’s gym & spa area. There was a large gym with a ton of weight machines, dumbbells and treadmills. The spa houses a salt water pool, steam room and dry sauna. Having these facilities made it easy to keep up with my fitness routine during my stay.
I am extremely lucky in the fact that I have many friends in Kharkiv that were excited to show me their city. I think the most interesting thing that I learned about the city is that most of it was destroyed during World War II. During my stay, I got to see many cool things including Assumption Cathedral, Gorky Central Park, and a local pub.
I took a high-speed train from Kharkiv to Kiev, which I thought was an interesting experience. The train ride took about 4 hours and was a great way for me to get an idea of what the Ukrainian countryside looks like. It was a beautiful ride with snow flurries in the air for most of the journey. After arriving in Kiev, it took me about 20 minutes to locate my Uber car because the train station is such a busy area. It reminded me of a market or something like you would see in Israel. Once I found the Uber, I was dropped off at The Premier Hotel Rus.
After I got to the hotel, I checked in and investigated my room. For $40 per night this place was nice. My only complaint was that instead of a queen-sized bed they pushed together two twin beds. This is normal practice in Europe but I find it hard to sleep because no matter how hard I try, I always fall in-between the crack of the two mattresses.
My stay in Kiev honestly was uneventful, I spent most of my time at the hotel. I developed a routine of waking up, eating breakfast, going to the gym, doing a business meeting somewhere, usually outside of the hotel, followed by a few beers before bed at the lobby bar. I also went to a restaurant near the hotel a few times called Just Relax. It was an American BBQ styled restaurant and I found a few other English speakers there so it was a nice place for me to have a beer or two after a hard day’s work.
One exciting thing did happen while I was in Kiev. Tuesday morning after waking up, I discovered a message on Facebook. A stranger had messaged me informing me that she had been recruited by my friend Svetlana from Tel Aviv to deliver me a gift. Svetlana is my friend from the wine store in Sarona Market and I had just seen her a couple weeks prior during my trip to Tel Aviv. Hearing this news made me so happy and I arranged to meet her friend later that night in the lobby of my hotel. Svetlana had sent me a delicious gift of chocolate covered dried strawberries. In case anyone is wondering, I ate all of them!
On Thursday morning, I woke-up at 6:00 am to catch my 9:00 am flight to Odessa. I arrived to the airport 2 hours ahead of my flight, but my efforts were in vein because my flight ended up being delayed for 2 hours. I wasn’t bothered by it and spent the time working from the lounge in Kiev’s domestic terminal.
By 12:00pm, I had landed in Odessa and it was a beautiful day. I would guess the weather was 65 and sunny! My plan was to stay in an apartment I had previously rented, which is right above Mick O’Neil’s Irish Pub. The apartment is small but perfect for a solo traveler. Up until this point I had been doing laundry by hand in my sink, so it was a real treat to have access to a washing machine.
On Friday, I was invited by a friend to go to a private Mauy Thai lesson at a gym called Grigo Gym. The gym is an old-school boxing gym without fancy equipment located in a courtyard within the city of Odessa. This gym reminded me of the gyms I grew up training at and as soon as I walked in I felt right at home. The instructor only spoke Russian, but to my surprise it wasn’t an issue at all. He would perform a motion and I would just copy his movements. With my basic Russian language skills and his basic English skills we seemed to be communicating just fine. I took my first class here with a friend but at the end of the class I knew that I needed to continue my training here throughout my remaining days in Odessa. In total, I attended 4 private sessions with this trainer and feel like I learned a lot from him.
On Saturday, I was invited by the same friend to go to a traditional Russian Spa. I didn’t know what to expect but it sounded healthy and I was up for an adventure. I met my friend at his house early in the morning and we went together to the spa. For me it was an interesting experience, I have never been somewhere like this in USA. The spa had a locker room, rest area, sauna, steam room, shower area, massage area, ice cold pool, and special treatment area. We started out by sitting in the sauna for 5-10 minutes, followed by 10 minutes in the rest area. In the rest area, we ordered some sort of traditional Russian beverage called Kvass. To me it tasted like slightly sweet beer but contained no alcohol and it was delicious. Next we reported to the treatment area, which was probably the most interesting part of the experience. Here you strip down naked and enter a sauna room that contains a wood burning stove. There is a man in this room that gives you some traditional Russian massage using oak leaves. He will hit you with the leaves and massage you with the leaves all while feeding the fire and throwing water on the metal stove. This man is also responsible for monitoring your heart rate and will tell you when your body has had enough of the heat. After this special treatment, you stand in a shower and a cold bucket of water is dropped on you to help cool your body back to a normal temperature. Some people will immediately jump into the ice bath but I did not have the courage to do so. This spa was one of the manliest experiences I’ve ever partaken in and given the opportunity I will certainly be back.
On Monday, I went to the airport to pick up Andy, who is a longtime friend and co-worker. This is Andy’s first time in Odessa and I was excited to show him the city. Together we prepared for a busy workweek filled with many meetings with friends and business partners. Besides drinking and partying (which we did plenty of), Andy and I had the opportunity to run the Potemkin Stairs together. I must admit, I think we both felt a bit like Rocky as we ran up the giant staircase.
This trip to Ukraine was one of my most memorable trips and probably my healthiest. I learned a lot between the language, culture, and trainings. I also feel like I lived a good balanced life style, meaning I did a lot of business, trained hard, made a lot of friends, and partied responsibly. I will look forward to returning to Ukraine this spring and this time I will stay for a longer period. I plan to stay for at least a month and will focus on practicing my Russian language skills, hanging out with friends, and training martial arts. I want to give a big thanks to everyone in Ukraine who I have met and made my trip special. Without my friends, I would not have had even close to as much fun and I truly appreciate all of you.