If you had told me a few years ago that I’d be visiting five countries in a matter of months this year, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. If you were to have also told me that the unique and beautiful country that I visited over the summer would be in a state of inner turmoil just a few short months later, I probably wouldn’t believe you either. But here I am, scrolling through the news pictures of the riots in Ukraine, disheartened by the changes in such a short amount of time.
I was so fortunate to be on a project this year that brought me to Kyiv, Ukraine. I love visiting new places, and couldn’t wait to see another side of Eastern Europe. However, trying to deal with celiac disease in Ukraine was baptism by fire for me. I do not speak Ukrainian, nor can I read Cyrillic letters. I tried to translate “no gluten” on my phone, but it turns out I had to be connected to the internet to access the phrase, and could never quite verify that the translation was actually correct.
The nice thing about European hotels, especially nice ones, is that they usually have a great breakfast spread. They’ll lay out every food you can imagine that might be considered breakfast. The Hotel Opera in Kyiv was no exception. Every morning I ventured down to the restaurant where I was treated to a fresh fruit buffet, and made to order eggs.
Lunches were definitely more of a challenge. The offices we worked from for the week weren’t in the most popular area for restaurants, and we didn’t have much time to step away from our work for a meal. We alternated days going to a quick corner stop, and a luncheon restaurant nearby. I had to take a leap of faith in Ukraine, and go with my gut. It was a risky chance to take, but I unfortunately hadn’t planned for any other option. Thanks to the culture, my food didn’t really have any additives, nor did it make me sick during the trip. I always found the simple meals while we were out, keeping to sausage and sauerkraut or borscht for the most part.
My workload that week kept me from venturing out for dinner, which actually worked out much easier for me. The hotel restaurant staff understood my concerns about gluten, and were able to help me order my meals each night. I alternated between ordering room service and meeting my coworkers in the hotel restaurant. Here are some pictures of my favorite Ukrainian meals.
Travel Tip #1: Breakfast can be your best friend, and usually a guaranteed meal. Since hotel staff tend to be bilingual and able to better accommodate foreign requests, they’ll be able to answer your gluten free questions. Fill up early in the day since you may run into challenges for lunch and dinner.
Travel Tip #2: Do research about a city or culture before you go. Learn what their common dishes are, and what ways you could potentially be contaminated.
Travel Tip #3: Most translation apps on your phone need to be connected to the internet in order to access their language databases (including anything you’ve previously translated). Before you leave for your trip, verify whether or not your app will work in an area without service by attempting to translate a phrase while your phone is in airplane mode.
A little bonus on this post, there have been too many devastating pictures posted of Kyiv riots recently, so I’d like to share a few of mine from earlier last summer that show the country’s true beauty.