Friday, March 30, 2012

Euro 2012 Preparations - March

The Euro 2012 football championship is two months away and I've begun to see changes here in Kharkov. Prior to this the most noticeable (to me) preparations had been several ads placed near the train station, including large pictures showing manly men with factory equipment and hard hats and the slogan "Euro, we're ready". At that point I was never sure if Euro meant the football championship or EU admission. The manly men pictures have since been taken down.

Meanwhile, several themed-merchandise vendors have set up shop in the Caravan mall. You can already buy hoodies in bright colors and magnets with the Euro 2012 logo.

Big changes have taken place in the metro. More and more related ads and announcements are popping up on a regular basis. And- remember those cool old signs/maps? (Refresh your memory here.) They've now been replaced with these fancy signs.
I guess the new signs do look more user friendly.... but the old ones were so unique! I told this to a Ukrainian friend- that the old signs were much cooler- and he cocked his head, looked at me, and said "To you, maybe. But not to us."

Monday, March 26, 2012


First, watch this.
Then let's talk. We went bowling at Holiday this weekend. There wasn't much of a crowd despite it being 10 pm on a Saturday night... or is that not surprising? There were two guys drinking beer in the lane next to ours. One guy was so drunk that he threw his ball not only at the pins (occasionally) but also in all kinds of other directions, even towards our table. Who guessed that bowling was such a hazardous sport? Holiday turns into a bowling and drinking establishment only after 10 pm. The TV screens still show pictures of pizza and salad but you can't even get a bowl of nuts after 10 PM so all that drinking really goes to your head!
A булава!
Since this was a birthday celebration, D and I brought an old-fashioned Ukrainian gift- the булава. Please keep in mind that the man we presented this to is over 6 feet tall and is made of solid muscle. According to tradition, the булава belonged to the getman (usually fierce-looking men, military leaders of Ukraine, head of the cossacks). D presented this gift as tradition dictated- the gift must be offered three times, refused the first two times and finally accepted the third. Our friend then put his hand on his heart and heroically sang the Ukrainian national hymn.
 Here's a fitting ending for this story- later that night our friend walked home (say, 4 AM). By this point he had discarded the box and was just carrying the булава by hand. He had almost made it to his building when a police car pulled up beside him. "Young man, where are you going with that thing?" Imagine this scene! Luckily he was eventually able to convince them that he was not Conan the Barbarian. Anyways, after bowling we made a snap decision to try getting into the Holiday night club next door. I was skeptical that they'd let us in, since we were all in casual clothes and many places have фейс-контроль (face control). I was wrong. This may be because the cover charge was an astonishing 25 bucks per person, so they were willing to overlook our fashion shortfalls. Why so expensive? I'm glad you asked!
The new Cossacks
Just randomly, on the most haphazard chance, and by all of our lucky stars we'd stumbled upon a Kazaky performance. Right now you're probably thinking- a) wow, that's AWESOME or b) What's a Kazaky? For a) readers: yes, it was!!! For b) readers: The Cossacks were a military organization in Ukraine several centuries back. They were the manly men of old Ukraine; they toted around weapons, shaved their heads, and fought everyone.
The old Cossacks
Now, fast forward to 2010. Four hot guys, dancing in heels, gender-bending a little. And did I mention they can dance! We got there just as the show was starting and it was as loud and as energetic as I hoped it would be!!! I love these guys. It was a short show- it felt like twenty minutes, so we stuck around after they left the stage. The music was 50% Russian pop, 50% eighties music (Bon Jovi, etc), and the dance floor was teeming with women. Women in corsets, women in stilettos, women in sparkly makeup. I've never seen so many long-haired women in one place in my life- it was like a hair convention. Men lurked on the edges of the crowd, watching and waiting. I walked in front of a camera and got in the angry crosshairs of a TV reporter dressed like Morticia Addams, no joke. Security were all over the club and were quick to crack down on any rule-breakers. In all, the club was okay but it was a little stiff: it was obviously a place to see and be seen and some people there had such massive egos that they could attract planetary matter from another galaxy. Remember this, NASA, in case of emergency. But who cares. Because... Kazaky!!!

Taki Maki and Caravan/Daffy

Caravan and Daffy are two malls that lie at the end of the metro's Saltovskaya line, ie, the blue line. As these are two of Kharkov's major shopping meccas, everyone ends up here sooner or later. You can find grocery stores, lingerie stores, an iStore, a Reebok store, well-known fashion stores (U.S. Polo, H&M, etc), home decor stores, food courts, bowling alleys, ice skating rinks, kids' play areas, kitchen gear shops, etc, etc.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Youth Park

Now that the weather has improved and the ground has defrosted, it's time to get back out and explore more of Kharkov. Here's a park I rediscovered recently in Холодна Гора.
"Welcome, Youth Park" in Ukrainian
It's pretty easy to find this park:
Option 1) Take tramvai #3 to Холодна Гора. Ask someone to tell you when you get to the park- the tramvei will eventually stop directly in front of it.

Option 2) Take the metro to Холодна Гора, exit the metro, and walk down Полтавский Шлях (the main highway) in the direction away from the city center. If you find yourself walking towards a big church or the train station- wrong direction! If you continue down Полтавский Шлях in the right direction, towards the outskirts of town, you will soon see a military academy.
On the other side of the highway are more training facilities, including a track, barbed wire, and a even a tank. Just past this academy is Youth Park. Right now Youth Park is filled with dead grass and creaky old playground equipment but this weekend several brave families and couples were venturing out, picking their way through the mud. The children didn't seem to mind the mud at all! 
 The park is pretty small- perhaps a 10 minute walk will take you through the entire thing- but it has a cool art corner if you want to linger. Check it out:
 One last thing- you may notice lots of trees around Kharkov with what appear to be leaf balls in their branches. These leaf balls are green even now, while the rest of the tree stands bare. Last fall a friend mentioned how this disease appeared in the trees of Kharkov and since it's too expensive to eradicate the infection, it will continue to spread throughout the city.
That unfortunate news aside, it's spring! Wherever you live- get out, go to a park, enjoy the season! : )

Friday, March 23, 2012

For every person who wants to teach...

For every person who wants to teach
 there are approximately thirty people 
who don't want to learn much. 
~ W. C. Stellar

In an attempt to keep thoughts of work from taking over this blog, work is not often the topic.... but it's probably time for a little update.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Crimean Fast Food

Although the likes of McDonalds is popular throughout Ukraine, in Crimea it's more traditional to eat at a place like this.
Cafe Firefly (located in Yevpatoria): chebureki, pelmeni, beer on tap, cold drinks
Чебуреки, or chebureki, are one of my favorite foods. Do a Google image search- you'll quickly see that they're the most delicious thing ever! Chebureki are popular in Crimea. You'll see little stands (called a чебуречная) on almost every street. Anyways, back to the cafe-

We started out with a cabbage salad, of course.
Then on to pelmeni (Russian dumplings).
My beautiful, beautiful chebureki!
One with cheese, one with meat
And for D, the local favorite.
For those of you planning a trip, a meal like this costs less than $10 in most small cafes. We sat at long tables surrounded by groups of men drinking over lunch and families feeding their energetic children. One guy was passed out in the corner.

If you're interested in making your own chebureki, head over to There is a recipe there (ahem, a recipe starting from scratch). If you want your food faster, you can make chebureki like D's mom does in the states: mix up some raw ground beef with onion and spices, add a little meat to the middle of a tortilla and fold the edges together, wet the edges with water and press so that the edges stick together, fry in a hot pan with oil until browned (about a minute). They taste like HEAVEN just out of the pan!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Рюмочки and toasts

This weekend our friends Timur and Yulia came over for a long-postponed and eagerly-anticipated drinking night. Yulia is an amazing cook and brought all kinds of tasty treats, like these:
I've forgotten the name, but the things covered in sour cream have a meat filling and are made from fried mashed potatoes.
Timur brought a local news article about Lewis Caroll's trip to Russia in which Caroll discovered the word защищающихся (the one who defends himself). Apparently Caroll then transcribed the word in his diary as zashtsheeshtshayoyshtsheekhsaya, which is technically correct...but seriously??? As Timur's newspaper article concluded "Not a single English-speaker has been able to pronounce this word."

I swear it's just easier to learn the Russian alphabet!

Monday, March 12, 2012

The most awesome photo ever, runner-up

Remember the MOST AWESOME photo ever?

Well, I found a runner-up.
And no, it's not the нижнее белье (underwear) ad with the woman in's the sign underneath her.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The столовая, or Cafeterias of Ukraine

A play on words: победа = victory, еда = food.
Some people like fancy restaurants and exotic dishes but I prefer the good old столовая, aka cafeteria Ukrainian-style. (It's pronounced st-low-vai-ya.) A good столовая is my favorite place to eat because the food is Russian/Ukrainian, fast, and cheap...or as the outside sign usually advertises: быстро, вкусно, недорого! I haven't found one here in Kharkov yet (found!) but in Crimea we got to visit several. Two were pretty unimpressive, with typical take-you-back-to-the-USSR service to boot, but another was so good that we went several times.

This is a rather nice set-up for a столовая. The wallpaper and molding are fancy despite an old and cracked floor- and note the obligatory chandelier. Ukraine is crazy about chandeliers. I like it; it adds a touch of elegance to normal life.

This столовая is also different in that it lacked a buffet line. In most such establishments you take a tray and grab whichever items interest you or pester the eternally-grumpy cashiers until they reluctantly lay down their hostility and hand over a dish of food.

Here's the kind of food you can expect from a столовая:
Salads. Cabbage salad is the healthiest salad available and is usually available fresh or marinated (like sauerkraut). People seem to believe the marinated version is tastier and sometimes will try to argue with you if you pick fresh.
Pelmeni! (dumplings) in chicken bullion.
The items mentioned above, plus a cream of mushroom soup.

I started eating this borscht and then remembered to take a picture. The first time I ever encountered borscht- on a camping trip with other students- all of us refused to eat it because it looked so strange. Now I love the stuff! Борщ is my religion.
Жаркое, or a cross between a stew and baked meat and potatoes.
I was SO EXCITED to finally try this dish: голубцы, or pigeons. No, not real pigeons but ground meat inside baked cabbage. Funny, when I think of pigeons I think of flying rats of the skies but here the word can also imply this dish or "dear" (term of endearment).
Mashed potatoes drowning in butter.
A popular dish- homemade кутлеты, meat patties/cutlets, and more delicious- guess what?- cabbage!
A fancy chicken dish D ordered. At $3 this was one of the most expensive dishes on the menu.
You must have a cup of tea! It's usually Lipton tea.
It's common to drink tea at the end of meal and not drink any liquid during the meal (unless it's beer or vodka!)

Do you see the progression? You order from three courses at the столовая. First is the salad, then soup, then a main dish. Most items here cost between $1 and $3. If you're ever in Russia or Ukraine I recommend visiting several столоваяs!

Тhe sign in the background: шашлык = shish kabob.
"Golden Beach"

Also, about meat: a couple years ago a Russian family moved to Alaska and I was assigned to assist them in their resettlement process. During their first weeks in America they were insistent on getting йод (iodine, for health) and a meat grinder and were then incredulous when I told them that those things weren't commonly used in the states. (Why use a meat grinder when you can buy ground meat at the store containing meat from over 400 cows, haha.) Needless to say, iodine is widely available here and relatively cheap and most families grind their own meat. You can buy a meat grinder at any home electronics store or- in some meat stores- ask them to grind the meat you buy. That's why I feel more comfortable ordering dishes with ground meat in Ukraine, knowing it probably came from one animal.

I'm curious to hear from Ukrainian readers- what do you think of the столовая? Do you enjoy eating there or is it too plain? Would you ever go there on a date or is it just a cheap place to grab a meal? Was it more popular during the USSR than now, or vice versa?

Yevpatoria II: the Black Sea in the off season

There aren't many people on the beach in March...
...but there are a lot of hungry birds.
In just a few months these beaches will be packed with people and resort rooms will be filled up.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Yevpatoria II: Architecture

Ready for a quick tour? : )

I'll show you the glamorous and the disintegrating, the old and the slightly-newer, the colorful and the bleak.

And here's a little reminder- Yevpatoria = 2500 years young!
Nothing of what I'll show you now is that old. We're looking at mainly USSR stuff today. For ancient stuff, check out this entry.

Let's go!
This is a monument (wall) to Yevpatoria's history and rulers. Just to the right, out of the picture, is an eternal flame...except sometimes it's off.
This is right down the street from the previous picture- maybe 50 steps away. I enlarged the picture so you could clearly see the date on the apartment building: 1912. If you make this picture even larger on your own screen, you can see the details and carvings (or what's left of them).

The sidewalk underneath the building is closed off because of falling bits and pieces but people still live here. Just like most of Ukraine, what you can see of people's living areas looks nice and modern but no one takes care of the outside.
A museum. And canons!
This kind of detailing is popular here. Tatar? Or Turkish?
An old, slightly creepy house that's for sale. There's even a round Rapunzel tower in the back.
A vaguely sinister children's sanatorium (resort), including obligatory Lenin statue.
Pretty typical, especially the colors, although people tend to use white with a blue accent instead of the other way around.
Along the main walk in front of the sea.
An old aquarium
Not sure who this is. In the background is a very upscale hotel called "The Empire". It prominently features the Russian double-headed eagle symbol. Next door is another hotel called "The Russian Sea". Kind of sounds like a political statement about Crimea, doesn't it?!
New vs old. D loves this picture.
Probably a Soviet era mosaic. I like how the woman looks just as strong as the man!
Yevpatoria's seaside is very walk-friendly. And if you're under 3 feet and 50 pounds and have generous parents, very drive-your-own-toy-car-friendly.
A mosaic of the Crimean peninsula, found near a skateboard park.
Aquarium designed like a shark's mouth. And that's only the outside!
The inside. There are two stories like this. The only incongruity? The pterodactyls in the staircase. Cool-looking, though!

And finally, in preparation for my next entry..... the sea!!

We've gone out walking every day here and noticed a significant increase in other people outside today. This could be because it's 8 марта (Happy Women's Day!) and families wanted to get outside to celebrate. Or it may be because spring is coming soon and with it- tourists. Lots of shops, restaurants, amusement parks, and hotels are still boarded up but occasionally you'll see bursts of preparations taking place.

We stopped to buy a gift for someone and the saleswoman turned out to be a Ukrainian speaker. At first I was wondering why I couldn't understand her, then I realized it was Ukrainian! She was really friendly and inquisitive and struck up a conversation with D- who valiantly tried his best to answer in Ukrainian for THE FIRST TIME I'VE EVER HEARD HIM DO SO! It was so odd that I started laughing; I couldn't believe he could do it at all! It was so weird to hear! I wish I spoke a little Ukrainian too....more than я трохи розумію or дуже дякую. At the same time, one of my co-workers knows some Ukrainian but not Russian and he feels at a bit of a disadvantage in Kharkov. People say the languages are so close, and they are in many ways...but they're not that close. It's like English and Spanish: you can try to use Spanglish in Mexico but you just feel like a freakin' huge idiot.

One more quick note about the architecture. My absolute favorite building is an old apartment building that's just down the street. It's crumbling and got one of those "so-and-so lived here from 1875 to 1926" historical markers. There are actual gods and goddesses carved into the top and around the window frames. If only it wasn't right across the street from the police station and lots of loitering cops!