Friday, June 27, 2014

5 e-books featuring Ukraine

There aren't many e-books featuring Ukraine out there. A search on Amazon's Kindle store lists only 802 results; compare that number to almost 10,000 results for the same search in physical form!

Out of the 802 results on Amazon, here are a handful that you might want to check out:

1. The book I'd been waiting for

The Boy Who Stole from the Dead is the sequel to 2013's The Boy from Reactor 4. Long-time blog readers may remember my book review / cat photo shoot from last spring. I devoured The Boy from Reactor 4 in just a few days. All the travelling, the dramatic moments, the mystery behind this sullen teen boy and his tight grip on an old locket... it was impossibly good.

Monday, June 23, 2014

8 more Kharkiv restaurants

Despite the turmoil of the past few months, Kharkiv's restaurant scene has kept its doors open for the most part. A few players have closed up shop, others have just opened or continued to grow.

The best place for falafel morphed into a gaudy Sandwich Club.

Churrasco Bar, worst nightmare of local vegetarians, has expanded and taken over the old corner spot of Cinema Club café.

The strangely-named Кушаwell Café is gone.

Tuk Tuk now sells fast food noodles in 4 locations.

We've attended a few birthday parties and get-togethers around town since February's post, including an afternoon in a café with canaries and dinner at a new Turkish restaurant that's proven to be a hit with students. Here are a handful of places you might like to try for yourself the next time you're in town...

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

How our story began

A long, long time ago, D took me on a trip to visit the city he was born in.

We'd been dating for perhaps a year or two and I still couldn't really understand what Ukraine was. It was only some far away place with a complicated history. Ukraine meant that he drank more tea than anyone I'd ever met and had a family that drove to town to bring him food, worried he wasn't getting enough from the university cafeteria. It meant a super-sexy accent when he spoke English, and hours spent together checking his literature essays for grammar mistakes. It meant me scratching my head continuously over wait?-what-language-do-people-speak-there? Beyond those things, I had no other notions of the country (except for a shady vibe from a geography teacher who had briefly visited the place and came back convinced he'd been followed by the mafia).

D must have taken pity on me, or maybe he was just tired of trying to explain everything, because one spring day he proposed the trip idea. After a long hot summer of driving tour buses across the Arctic Circle -
- we got on a plane in Alaska and disembarked in a daze in Kyiv. The capital city felt overwhelming. I remember following D through the streets, focused completely on not losing sight of his heels. Eating fast food baked potatoes in an underground mall. Taking a bus tour of a bajillion monasteries and cathedrals, all of which started to blend together after the second stop. We caught the train to Crimea, pretty much just showing up at his relatives' place... who took it pretty well. Score one for Ukrainian relatives.

But like I mentioned before, the magic of Crimea is not found in Simferopol. Simferopol is full of buses and markets and passengers in transit. The real draw is the seashore.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Cable cars in color + street art

Yesterday we had the chance to ride the newly painted-and-windowed cable cars that Brandon Price wrote about in May. He was right on all accounts. While the updated version is bright and eye-catching...

how they look now
how they looked before
... the windows are a big disappointment, slashing chances of getting a great photo. But on the upside, like Brandon mentioned, a lot of the windows are missing. Certain cars have 3 windows, some only 2, others just 1. Maybe windows were randomly removed for summer? Or, based on the gaps in the frames of the remaining windows, perhaps the others fell out? 

The whole experience of riding the cable cars feels different. Ticket takers have actual box offices now, not sun umbrellas. There's an electronic turnstile to go through before getting onto the platform and longer lines to wait in. The casual days of drinking beer in open carts seem to be long gone.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Ode to the Ukrainian tram

Not everyone likes riding the trams.

"They're sooo slow", some friends complain. "And they're old."

I love the trams, though. For me, "slow" becomes scenic. "Old" means it's pretty much the cheapest way to get around the city.

A tram can seat just over 30 people or squeeze in almost 60 if they aren't opposed to standing, but most trams I've been on aren't even halfway full. The few that have been packed with passengers have been memorable, especially if it's a hot summer day :p Still, I'd take that over an equally hot and crowded marshrutka any day!

One ticket costs a few grivna (about 25 cents US). Sometimes you pay the driver directly for a ticket, other times a conductor wanders up and down the aisle, brusquely collecting coins and bills. I've always wondered how she can remember who already paid, who just boarded, and if she ever encounters situations like this one.

One insider secret:

Wednesday, June 4, 2014


A long time ago I got an email from a girl who was considering teaching English in Ukraine. People contact me about this all the time but most disappear after sending one or two emails. This girl, though, didn't vanish into online oblivion. She sent more messages, more questions, more ideas, and then, lo and behold, she actually showed up in Kharkov.