Monday, May 28, 2012

The Lopan River is open for business!

 This is definitely on the to-do list for next weekend!!! Already done!

Boats can be rented from several places along the river (see pictures). It costs 25 grivna / hour per person.

There are lots of bridges to row under!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Stargorod and Patrick Irish Pub

Natalie has just returned from a trip to Spain. "It's amazing!" she cries. "Everyone was smiling! I ate paella! There was even..." she pauses here with a tone of awe in her voice, "access for the handicapped in the metro and in the museums."

Natalie wants us to go to Stargorod and keep talking over some food and drink. Stargorod is one of the most popular restaurants here. More than a restaurant really, for it's a brewery as well. It's so popular that tables (which can be reserved online) are booked in advance and when we show up, every table in the massive open room has been reserved. We are led outdoors to the summer patio, which is also overwhelmed with people. In fact, there's a second summer patio slated to open next month.

We didn't get here without some dissent. Mine, mainly. For some reason I've always shied away from coming here. Maybe because it's so focused on beer, maybe because it's a hot spot for other foreigners, maybe because it's not what I pictured when I imagined moving to Ukraine. But tonight, tonight there is no getting out of it. We are going to Stargorod.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Security Message from U.S. Embassy

Received the following message by email two days ago. Does anyone know the story behind this?

U. S. Embassy, Kyiv, Ukraine

Security Message for U.S. Citizens
May 24, 2012

The U.S. Embassy informs U.S. citizens of recent instances of “corporate raider” actions taking place at businesses in various locations around Kyiv and other cities in Ukraine.  The most recent “corporate raider” example took place in the early evening on Sunday, May 20, 2012, when approximately 100 men armed with clubs swarmed the Lukiyanivka (Lukyanivska?) Market in Kyiv in connection with an ownership dispute.  The intruders physically attacked workers and vendors at the market.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Money: 100 grivna

It's always good to have one of these in your pocket:
The 100 grivna note (top = old, bottom = new). About $12 USD as of May 2012.
I've been wanting to write about Ukrainian currency for a while. Money is something that we handle and view daily but rarely do we actually stop to see what's on the bills. That's a pity because money can be used as a cultural shortcut. Think about it: what's printed on the bills is probably going to represent the most important places and people in the country. If you learn nothing else but these faces and places, it's a good start.

Also, I've got some great photos of really old money (dating from the USSR days all the way back to the 1700s). I'm really excited to share those with you in a later post!

Let's get back to the 100 grivna note.

The man shown on the front of both bills is Taras Shevchenko, the mega-famous Ukrainian poet. Born 1814, died 1861. Do you enjoy his poetry?
New bill
Old bill
When I am dead, bury me
In my beloved Ukraine,
My tomb upon a grave mound high
Amid the spreading plain,
So that the fields, the boundless steppes,
The Dnieper's plunging shore
My eyes could see, my ears could hear
The mighty river roar.

One of Kharkov's famous landmarks is this statue of Shevchenko. You can see it for yourself in (of course) Shevchenko Park.

                                      Moving on...

On the back of the older note is St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the 7 Wonders of Ukraine.
This cathedral has been around in one form or another for about 1000 years!! I think D and I visited it back in 2007.

On the back of the newer note is a landscape of Central Ukraine (Cherkasy?) and a кобзар (kind of traveling musician in the past).

I found this кобзар on the streets of Kharkov:
More info on the Ukrainian grivna:
10 grivna, 20 grivna
50 grivna
500 grivna

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Snapshots of Ukrainian Life, Part 9

Why, what's this? Tranquilizing shaving foam? Yes, please.
  •  I tried to talk D into buying anti-hangover shower gel (that's what it actually says on the bottle) so I could post a picture of it, but he refused. It's bright yellow, you can't miss it on the shelf! Another oddity: anti-aging foot cream.
  • This one really should go in a fashion entry, but... shoes. Shoes in Ukraine. Please tell me- are stilettos truly comfortable? My co-worker Kathi used to always shake her head in amazement at what her students would wear to class, as they swore that they were completely at ease in pencil-heeled thigh-high boots and 4-inch wedge gladiator sandals. Last week I saw a girl on the street with a sprained ankle (yes, it was all bandaged up!) wearing a 3-inch wedge heels. She was limping along with a boy on her arm and as we passed, I heard her say to him that she'd worn a long sundress that day because she didn't want people to notice her ankle. Really, I am trying to understand, but why didn't she just wear sneakers or a boot, then? Or pants? Also about shoes- note the sidewalk to the right. It takes major talent to navigate this (or cobblestone) in heels!
  • Root beer and marshmallows are not sold in Ukraine. My students got excited when I mentioned root beer one day.... until they found out it wasn't actually related to beer or alcoholic. As for marshmallows, there's a sweet called zefir (зефир). It's nothing like a marshmallow, trust me. People may try to convince you of this.
  • A popular car decal for Victory Day: Спасибо деду за победу! or Thanks, Grandfather, for the victory! It can still be seen on various cars around town.
  • Have you heard of Chernobyl Diaries yet? Here's the description: The film follows a group of six young tourists who, looking to go off the beaten path, hire an "extreme tour guide." Ignoring warnings, he takes them into the city of Pripyat, the former home to the workers of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, but a deserted town since the disaster more than 25 years ago. After a brief exploration of the abandoned city, however, the group soon finds themselves stranded, only to discover that they are not alone... The movie opens at the end of this month. It will be interesting to see if it's shown in Ukraine and if so, what the local reaction will be. June 13th update: It's already being shown at a local theater (photo above). The Ukrainian title is called "Forbidden Zone". Also, this article may be of interest to you: Chernobyl Diaries: Reducing A Nation's Decade of Suffering to A Get-Rich-Quick Scheme.
  • More metro lore. Want to be the first one on the train? Do this- while waiting for the train, look at the edges of the platform. You'll see a lot of dirt and scuff marks. The areas that are slightly more polished looking indicate where the doors open. Stand there if you want to be one of the first ones to board. Try it out!
  • Most grocery stores and drug stores in Kharkov have little lockers for your bags. Shoppers usually lock up whatever they're carrying (purse, etc) before going into the store. Not sure if this service is offered as a convenience or in order to prevent people from stealing things. I'd always assumed that the lockers were a safe place for your bag but as it turns out, that's not so. A friend just had his bag stolen (cell phone, money, and passport) from a locked locker. Others say that this has happened to them too, so beware!
  • Last but not least, a souvenir cart in Odessa. In English... and SPANISH!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Мужчина на кухне 4

With the hot weather (70 - 80 F or more), we're not sure what exactly to cook.

These were D's most recent soups:

Friday, May 18, 2012

Prospekt Gagarina

You're probably familiar with Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space. Here's an artistic representation of him at the Prospekt Gagarina metro stop:
The metro ladies practically threw D in jail for taking this picture. So appreciate his hard work!
Entrance to the metro.
After about 10 minutes of walking we reached a park along the river. The benches were filled with families posing for pictures and the elderly at rest. Couples strolled by, the girls often shyly carrying a rose in hand.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

How to make plov (for lazy people)

Step 1: Get some spices.
You can buy them loose like this at the market or prepackaged at the store.
Step 2: Add spices while cooking the rice.
Those little berries are like raisins, but better.
Step 3: Fry vegetables and meat.
Seen here: beef, eggplant, and mushrooms. Totally lazy and nontraditional choices.
Step 4: Stir meat, veggies, and rice together. Enjoy : )
Behold, the completely non-authentic version of plov.

The French Bakery

There's a neat little French bakery near the Pushkinskaya metro stop. D's been trying to take me there for weeks. He enrolled in a weekend psychology class in that part of town and likes to stop in for a bite to eat afterwards. "Katya" he says, "they have the most delicious cake ever!" This coming from a man who prefers fruit to chocolate?!- obviously I had to go investigate the cake for myself.
View from the street.
This gigantic sign is in the entryway.
Look for the big Eiffel tower in the window.
The French bakery is very small and narrow. There's plenty of space to devour a pastry but you'll have to do it standing. This keeps the bakery pretty fast-paced because most people don't want to linger over a cup of coffee while standing up (but you're welcome to do so).

Here it is- the cake:
"Napoleon" cake. I have to agree with D- it is quite good!
The BEST thing about this bakery?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A picnic to celebrate the May holidays

Ukraine recently celebrated Labor Day. In America we celebrate this day on the first Monday in September but in Ukraine it falls on May 1st and is called International Labor Day. Decorations appeared all around the city, like these red flags along the highway.

And I saw these red flowers at Lenin's feet... but am not sure it's because of Labor Day or just because. Meanwhile, Victory Day happened on May 9th.  That photo of the billboard on the right? That's a Victory Day celebratory message from the communist party. Because these two holidays are so close on the calender, I hear people referring to the first week of May as the "May holidays" and accordingly taking a week of vacation.

Our friends Yulia, Timur, and Alina invited us to celebrate Labor Day with a picnic at their house. We started with plates and plates of beautiful закуски (appetizers). 
As we all know, one thing that will never happen at a Ukrainian picnic is someone going hungry :p
I even tried salo (salted pork fat) with mustard. The next challenge will be *gulp* the legendary chocolate-covered salo.
Next we began

Monday, May 14, 2012

HR Peppers

This year is the first time that the peppers are fully staffed. The worker shortage has ended at last.

The Answer Key

(This relates to the test.)

Here was the decision: be convenient to everyone around me? Or be...there's really no other way to put this... ornery? To simply state my terms and then not concede ground, not sit down at the negotiating table and open a dialog. I've never done anything like that before. It's so easy to say "yes" to people that we forget how hard it can be to say "no". And it's even harder to say "no" when you're asked a second time, or a third. But here's what I learned: stand your ground. Maybe it's true, maybe this was a test from the universe. Regardless, I'm pretty sure that the way I live now will be the way I'll be living in 10 years, so it had better be in a good way. I don't mean the logistics of life. I mean priorities, values, and goals. The deep stuff. Whatever problems I'm facing now will probably be something I struggle with down the road. Isn't this just par for the course? Weight, self-esteem, poor health, money, whatever the problem is, it follows people throughout their lives. It's rare to escape, to make a clean getaway, but it's what we all fantasize of doing.

What am I talking about?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Odessa, Part III: Odds and Ends

The math seems a little off here: we spent fewer than 48 hours in Odessa and this is already my 4th post about it! That must say something about the place...

Here are the last bits and pieces that I thought you might find interesting, dear readers:

Remember Deribasovskaya Street?
Here's a quiet daytime shot:
Everyone is seeking shade
There is some unforgettable architecture along this street.
This famous building is called the Passage.

The Passage unites many merchants under one (glass) roof.

Another common sight on Deribasovskaya Street? These marriage agency signs:
The men seeking Ukrainian brides are... cowboys? This is an ad soliciting women for an agency called Anastasia. I saw another interesting ad in Sevastopol informing women they could win a car by joining a marriage agency site.
Elsewhere around town:

A church near the sea port. The church stands between some very pricey yachts and a very tall (and pricey) glass hotel.
We took a boat ride to cool off and I snapped this photo of the beach. Told you it was hot!
The only sad part? A trip to Odessa involves much obligatory monument-viewing and we didn't shy away from this. But it wasn't until later that I heard about the monument to L. L. Zamenhof, the creator of Esperanto. That would have been pretty awesome to see! According to old sci-fi books (the kind set during the Cold War that got me interested in Russia in the first place) Esperanto was to be the language of the future. In fact, according to Harry Harrison it should have been the language I'm writing in now :P It was invented before the turn of the century, created by a man who lived in the Russian empire (now Poland) and was designed to be incredibly easy to learn. As it should be, if we're all supposed to learn it! I don't know about you, but learning new languages isn't easy for me. Over time Esperanto hit the jackpot- it's probably the most popular artificial language around today. Now it's even a language option on Google Translate!
Props to Google! Language #64 as of Feb 2012.
And finally, one little piece of Soviet trivia: cities who went above and beyond the call of duty in WW2 received a special title. Instead of just being called City X, there are twelve cities with the official title of Hero City X. Odessa is one of these. (You can find the others by searching for "hero city" on Wikipedia.) In 1945 Odessa was honored with the new name of Hero City Odessa. Look at this sign at the train station. In Ukrainian it reads Welcome to Hero City Odessa!
Goodbye, Hero City Odessa! Until we meet again!
More photos from this trip on Facebook

Odessa, Part II: Otrada Beach

That first day in Odessa almost melted us alive so we hit the beach on day two.
"Otrada Beach. We are waiting for you at French Boulevard 17 A. Tram #5, trolleybus No 5, 7, 9, 10, 11."
A short taxi ride got us to this point:
If you walk through this gate, you'll find the канатная дорога on your right. This is one of those words I know in Russian but not in English. What do we call this in English? Is it cable cart? Or cableway?

Let's stick with канатная дорога. There's a description in Ukrainian on the third sign: Канатная дорога. Quick, romantic, unforgettable. At Otrada beach...but maybe not so cheap at 15 gr/person.

It's a peaceful five minute ride down the hill to the beach. The cars travel at 1.4 m/sec and the ride is 425 meters long. As you travel you pass over hotels, a church, tennis courts, a soccer field, and- this time of year- trees exploding in green. The cars are painted in bright colors, many of them featuring Soviet cartoon characters like the wolf from Ну погоди!
Martin's car had a more recent paint job.
Recognize this guy?
At the bottom...
...the beach awaits!
Inviting, right? And chilly!
A wooden chaise lounge can be rented for a just couple of dollars.
This is how we spent most of the afternoon: Martin and I lounging about like civilized humans, D splashing in the water like a big fish.
The beach was still in the early stages of preparing for the summer crowds. Men were working with hammers and ladders and many food stalls weren't open yet. The hot weather had drawn a smattering of people. Locals were fishing off the piers, teenagers were flirting from towels on the sand, vendors were walking by with snacks, and a DJ was playing music in the background. I watched as a couple posed for wedding pictures in front of the sea while another couple took a windsurfing lesson.
More wedding stalking? You bet!
We skipped the канатная дорога on the way back. It's also possible to walk to Otrada from French Boulevard if you're willing to walk either up or down a big hill. In our case, up. The good news is that there's a nice track to enjoy before the vertical ascent starts. This is the first time I've seen a track like this in Ukraine.
Odessa boasts many other beaches as well.
Otrada, by the way, means pleasure or comfort in English.

More pictures of Odessa on Facebook