Maybe it's because I didn't actually know that much about Ukraine before I went there. But that's usually how I travel and explore—see first and question later. Minimizing expectations seems to help dodging disappointment.
But while I marinate over some of the more complex issues surrounding this country that seems far closer to the West and the European Union than it does the Eastern Bloc, there's one thing I saw in Kiev (a.k.a. Kyiv or Київ) that I can write about now.
I can manage to write about it without much contemplation because I understood mosaic-tiled monster park-slash-playground implicitly the moment I saw it.
Of course, mosaic tile is a craft that's practically woven into the fabric of Ukraine—at least based on the murals at sites both ancient and sacred—but this version at the Park "Landscape Alley" (Парк "Пейзажна Алея") is especially modern.
Not only that, but it's also contrarian.
Something so whimsical and decorative would've not been possible in Kiev before Ukraine declared itself independent of Soviet Union rule in 1991.
After all, Soviet design—whether industrial, civic, or infrastructural—is strictly utilitarian.
And one utility is generally not enough for anything designed under the Soviet regime. Every thing—building, factory, machine—has to exhibit multi-functionality.
At Landscape Alley, however, no one really needs to climb a totem of mosaic pillows. It's not necessary for anything.
But nevertheless, children do.
With its depictions of The Little Prince and characters from Alice in Wonderland like the Cheshire Cat, this park—which screams individuality and spits in the face of uniformity—could conceivably be found anywhere in the West.
It's not so terribly different than other parks in Cuba or even California.
And yet, I'd never seen anything quite like it.
After a full day of walking around Old Kyiv and standing under the shadows of monuments of the Cossacks and other ancients of Ukraine, I was ready for something a little more uplifting—and I was completely delighted by Landscape Alley.
And after all that Ukraine has been through in terms of revolution and the Russian military intervention in the east that's been happening since 2014, the Kyivites deserve a little more than a little levity.
After wandering around for a bit, I asked my tour guide whether there was anything more to see beyond the Alice in Wonderland playground. "Not really," he said.
But that turned out not to be true—because there was yet another children's playground just beyond it...
...where mosaic faucets drip mosaic-tiled doughnuts...
...and tiny tots learn how to cross bridges...
...as the sun trickles in between the trees.
I didn't find out until later—in fact, after our group had already left—that there was even more to see beyond the whimsy of it all along Peizazhna Alley (Пейзажна алея).
I saw only a small preview of the so-called "Fashion Park," which is less of a playground and more of a proper sculpture park.
But based on the "The carpet" bench by Lilia Poustovit, the "Reading Glasses" bench by Sergey Danchinov, and "The balance" bench by Andre Tan—the only Fashion Park sculptures I saw, not recognizing that they were part of something greater—there was no shortage of playfulness and fanciful expression there, either.
What a refreshing shift after so many monuments of men on horses in the historic town squares.
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