Saturday, January 28, 2012

Lounge Café

We had the chance to visit this café during the holidays. It's located next to the AVEK gallery so it's the perfect ending to an afternoon of art and history.
I think I was shivering from the cold when I took this picture! But this is more or less what it looks like in real life, just less blurry

U.S. vs Ukraine: Totally Random Observations

Disclaimer: These are just my thoughts and views. I'm no social scientist (yet)- this is for entertainment only.
  • Three-course meals. In America the words three-course meal conjure images of fancy restaurants, French chefs, and exquisite food and drink. In Ukraine, a three-course meal is the solid, standard fare of the working class. It's the столовая (cafeteria). Первое блюдо, второе блюдо, третье блюдо. Do a Google image search for these words. It's like soup, meat/grains, and dessert... and it's cheap. I guess a better translation is a three-dish meal. That said, if you see an offering like this, go for it. They're usually very tasty and filling.
  • Cops and soldiers. In America the sight of these people comforts you. Soldiers get thank yous from strangers on the street, they get applause on airplanes, they get to cut in line. You feel proud when you see someone in uniform. On the other hand, cops and soldiers are avoided in Ukraine. If you see one, you cross the street. You don't make eye contact. You certainly wouldn't trust them to look out for your best interests.
  • Okay, yes, I'm naïve....but I didn't realize the natural state of eggs is to be covered in chicken poop. So sue me.
  • While trying to switch to a minimalist lifestyle I developed a habit of reusing old jars. There's something satisfying about removing a label and getting a pretty glass jar. I like to use them to display loose-leaf teas, rice, pasta, etc....they look beautiful and there's the fact that when we move we can get rid of the jars with no guilt about having spent a lot of money on them. One totally weird and awesome thing about Ukraine? The jars here: jam jars, pickle jars, tomato sauce jars- the labels all peel off instantly. Occasionally you need to do like 25 seconds of scrubbing to get the glue residue off, but most of the time you don't even need to do that. I love it. Back in the states it's different: companies practically use super glue and it's really difficult to get the jar clean.
  • This always throws me for a loop. In the US, the poor rent homes and the rich own homes. In Ukraine, it's the poor who own and the rich who rent.
Can you think of any other differences?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Mail in Ukraine

Yes, five- count them, five!- months after arrival, a trip to the Ukrainian post office was finally carried out. Ironically, to mail Christmas cards. During the last week of January. Ahem. ANYWAYS. I remember time consuming visits and complicated rules from the Russian post office ("you used the wrong color ink, that's very bad, нельзя, you must start over") but the experience here was a breeze. There was no one in the post office- only three handsome soldiers on their way out the door- at 4:30 PM. D did all the talking....no wonder my Russian fails to improve....and it took about 15 minutes and $2 to send two letters to America and a postcard to Russia. That's amazing; in America it cost $1 just to send a single postcard internationally. And then, haha, they would complain about the street address being in Russian: "We can't read that. You should write in English." Me: "You don't need to read it. Just deliver the mail to Russia and they will read it." US Post Office, grudgingly: "Hmmm....well, okay. I guess that sounds logical."

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Paris

There's a popular French restaurant here named Paris. (Sounds funny: "hey, wanna go to Paris tonight?") I've been there twice and have been meaning to share the details with you for ages. Before I forget- Paris also shows films. You can check out their movie schedule here. You can find the menu too if you hunt around long enough.


First, the decor. Most restaurants here have that minimalist chic feel. Paris is unique. It's cluttered, but in a cozy way. Each time I've been there we sat in a different area. The first was on an upstairs landing. The table top was covered in glass and miscellaneous trinkets were scattered underneath the glass top. The walls were striped in dark shades of pink. And, since the overhead lighting is dim to non-existent, there were full-sized lamps on every table. I've come to recognize this as Paris' trademark. It's a romantic idea, but it can easily mean that instead of talking to your date, you're talking through a big lamp. (You can request to have the lamp removed, though. I've even seen the staff bring a candle over instead.)

The second time I visited we ended up in a different part of the restaurant. Check it out for yourself:






One of trickiest parts of dining at Paris is navigating the menu. On the first visit they didn't even give us menus. The waitress simply came over and talked us through the choices. The second time we got menus. All five of them: three separate dinner menus, a drinks menu, and a dessert menu. And they all looked like the menu above so
A) your Russian had better be up to speed
B) bring a dictionary
C) just point hopefully.

That said, even if you're just guessing wildly, chances are good you'll end up with something delicious.
My main selection: "African plov with rabbit"
Avocado and shrimp salad

More metro, part 3

The Pushkinskaya metro stop. (Alexander Pushkin was a famous Russian poet and author who loved to fight duels, btw. His literature has been mandatory reading for generations of Russians and Ukrainians.) I hear this metro station is the deepest one in Kharkov at about 100 feet/30 meters underground. It's certainly got a long escalator to the top!

Here are a couple shots from University, the metro stop underneath the giant Freedom Square.
As always, the coolest lighting!

And, after much effort... and scolding from the metro ladies for taking pictures at this station, I am at last able to present to you the Historical Museum metro stop.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Update

Wow! January 2012 is almost over! I'm shocked that it's already the 22nd but at the same time, so many things have happened this month that it's surprising they could take place in so little time. After we got back from our rushed and relative-filled trip (sleeping on so many couches! :p ) to Crimea, a friend and fellow teacher from Kiev came to visit. We had a great weekend together: ice skating, eating large amounts of chocolate butter (THE GREATEST FOOD ON EARTH!), going to the sauna with wine and more friends, sightseeing, and tracking down a good restaurant for shish-kebab. After she left, I was ready for some lazing around but instead had to go back to work. And a soul-crushing day early at that, a Sunday, to cover some conversation classes. In fact, the week almost broke me. I was so tired from Crimea and visiting and visits that I had no energy reserve for work. At last, though, the week came to an end (albeit with the sad demise of Megavideo) and recuperation could finally begin.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Yevpatoria, the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Ukraine

At the invitation of an aunt, we also got to spend a few days in Yevpatoria.
the train station
The cheapest kind of train, aka electrichka. Yes, those are real wooden benches. Enjoy. (And wear a sweater!)
In the summertime, Yevpatoria is a vacationer's paradise. You can stroll along the seaside in the warm sun and spend time at any number of resorts. It was still nice in the winter, but most of the city was shut down. D's aunt called Yevpatoria a dying city and it did seem a little sad in the winter.
The bread factory (but it does produce delicious bread!) There was also an abandoned Pioneer's home (Soviet-era children's group) that was too full of despair to photograph.
Ukraine definitely takes the prize for cool monuments
In memory of those killed in WWII.
The morning after we arrived, D's energetic 70-year-old aunt practically chased us out of bed with a stick and hustled us out the door on a city tour. One of her friends promised us a tour of the city with a "surprise at the end!"
Yevpatoria has a lot of old buildings, which I love to photograph. 
The city was filled with "Yevpatoria, congratulations on 2500 years as a city!" notices. Seriously, 2500 years?! That's insane!!!

We visited a reconstructed portion of the ancient city entrance and learned about the city's slave trade history. You could go inside the gate/tower to view ancient artifacts....or sit down and enjoy delicious tea at a Tatar restaurant. Guess which option we chose?

This video was taken during our tour. We're in the "old city", walking towards the mosque and you can hear the call for prayer being broadcast.
video

The mosque
You can walk into the courtyard....and even into the mosque! We didn't see a single other person here but all the doors were unlocked.
We finished our tour with an impromptu celebration on the beach- including wine, hooray! At noon!
Someone else tried to join the party but our tour guide said no :p
"Walruses", or New Year's swimmers. Note the Santa hats.

Then, as a treat, we spent our final night in Yevpatoria at this mind-blowing hotel. We went to investigate the spa and ended up staying for the night. They had a two-story spa: heated swimming pool, jacuzzi, Finnish sauna, Roman sauna, Turkish sauna, Russian sauna, salt cave, tropical shower, "bucket" shower, circular shower, oxygen room..... Being winter, the place was almost deserted. We went from room to room, staying in the saunas until the heat became unbearable and then cooling off in the bucket shower (if you are D and you enjoy having a very cold bucket of water dumped directly on your head) or taking a tropical shower (if you're me). We also both got full-body massages and peels in the hammam/Turkish bath and felt practically reborn afterwards. And one more added bonus- winter rates = $80 a night for an ocean-view room with a balcony, admission to the spa, and breakfast. For 2 people!

While in town, we had a date night: wine tasting, dinner ("literary cafe" in a building where Anna Akhmatova briefly lived), and a movie at Theater Ракета. I wondered why the ticket prices were US-style prices until they handed us 3D glasses. They were pretty upscale glasses too, not the cheap kind theaters use back in the states. We watched The Darkest Hour, a movie about American tourists in Moscow during an alien invasion. I really liked the movie, or what little I got of it, since it was in Ukrainian and most of the humor didn't seem to translate well. Movies here are shown in either Russian or Ukrainian language, and the movies I pick always seem to be the Ukrainian ones. Alas. Just when you've learned one language half-decently, it turns out to be the wrong one! :p

We also found a cool place called Колизей, or Coliseum, next to our hotel. It's a ground-story cafe by day and an upstairs bar-restaurant-laser tag-night club-movie theater-bowling alley by night. What else could you ask for? And the laser tag is Starship Troopers-themed. Serious, serious awesomeness. Their food was mouthwatering. Just click a few pages into their "crazy menu", I beg you. It does not disappoint. They also have quite a selection of cocktails to go with all their crazy parties (including a lot of gay pride nights? Or maybe just half-naked people nights, can't tell.) AND a FREE movie theater. You just need to order food while you're watching the movie, which isn't hard since you're sitting in brand-new, super-comfy leather couches and have a touch-screen for ordering in front of you. It turns out it's really easy to rack up a bill when all you have to do is press a button and they bring you food. Be careful.

Anyways, I really enjoyed Yevpatoria and meeting D's family there. I hope we'll get the chance to re-visit in the summertime and see what draws the crowds. If you don't want to wait for my report, go here for some nice summertime pictures.

Sevastopol, the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Ukraine


"Hero-City, Sevastopol"
It was my first time in this city, which is home to Russia's Black Sea fleet (navy)....begging the question: Crimea- is it Russian or Ukrainian? I saw pro-Russia graffiti but people carry Ukrainian passports....while speaking Russian.

We found a place to stay in Sevastopol through the usual route: not hotels.com, but rather a phone call from D's cousin's wife's mother to her friend's neighbor. Ah, Ukraine. You just have to be here or it doesn't make sense.

but we got to stay in this living room for $10 a day and made a new friend.
we stayed on the top floor!
Sevastopol was blustery and wintry (I know, duh!). We spent a lot of time doing our favorite activities: walking around and eating.
I tried to convince D to walk around Victory Park (Парк Победы) but he wasn't game. Instead we sat on a bench near this monument, ate a snack, and found a really nice man to ask for directions to Khersones.
Crazy about Ukraine's recommended Sevastopol spot:
the ancient Greek city of Khersones.




The ruins surround St. Vladimir's Cathedral.
Ah, the Black Sea. In January.
The sand is made of tiny shells!
I think this was a copy but you can still view the originals in a protected area
More Black Sea. In January. Take that, Alaska!


Can you believe how clear the water is?
This beach was made out of smooth pebbles and sea glass. I was kind of hoping to find an ancient coin hidden among the stones, but no luck.

Everyone's favorite spot for a picture.

St. Vladimir's Cathedral again.
You can go inside and tour if you'd like!
By the way, Khersones is one of the Seven Wonders of Ukraine. I hope you get the chance to visit this amazing place!

Because of its military history, there are lots of war memorials and monuments placed throughout Sevastopol.

We made numerous attempts to visit a mysterious place called "The Panorama", involving a crazy steep walk up a crazy steep hill, but the stars never aligned. (It turns out D has been trying to visit this place his entire life, but every time he tries, The Panorama is closed or something something something...) Instead we settled for a ride on a nearby Ferris wheel and a ten-dollar visit to a terrarium.

Behold, Sevastopol!