Summer Part II: Ukraine and Hungary

Hello family and friends!
I am back from my travel adventures to Crimea and to Budapest.   This past adventure has been particularly interesting as I have had the chance to enjoy Ukraine (Kiev and Sevastopol) through the eyes of two visitors/tourists who have never been to Ukraine before- my very best friends: John Theroux and Pat Holmes.
Finding my friends, Pat and John, in Kiev!
For those of you who do not know John and Pat, both are long time friends and the three of us (plus others on different trips) have traveled together during the past 18 years!  We have enjoyed many forms of travel, many stories, many cribbage games, and even a few beers together.  John and Pat promised me they would come to visit no matter where the Peace Corps sent me - and they did.  Ukraine and Hungary are the latest shared travel adventures.

John and Pat in front of the Shevchenko National University in Kiev.
Yes, the building really is that RED.
It was really fun to tour Kiev through the eyes of 1st time visitors.  The photos taken in Kiev are from Pat and John and show another interesting side to Kiev, the capital of Ukraine.
John in a Mig -20 (?) in the park commemorating the History of the Great Patriot War, 1941-1945.
photo from Pat Holmes
Pat in front of "artillery?" in the park commemorating the History of the Great Patriot War, 1941-1945.
photo from John Theroux
The moon and the statue of the Motherland in Kiev photo from Pat Holmes
After three days in Kiev, we took the overnight train to Sevastopol– the capital of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea—but part of Ukraine— to explore new cities and also swim in the Black Sea.  
Sevastopol is a naval port city that is home to the Soviet Fleet.   The Russians and Ukrainians have signed an agreement that will keep the Soviet fleet in Sevastopol for quite some time —basically the Soviets need access to the Black Sea and the Borphorus Straits and Ukraine needs natural gas.   Sevastopol has a huge natural harbor with many inlets that house shipping facilities, both commercial and military. The main city center is located near the water and has a wonderful promenade all along the harbor that has ferry landings, shops, restaurants, military facilities and places to sit and to swim. The harbor is very clean, so clean that many people swim from the harbor embankments.  
Sevastopol Harbor - some of the Soviet Fleet
Sevastopol Harbor- near the City Center 
Sevastopol Harbor- near the City Center
Looking back at the Sevastopol Harbor-the City Center- while on the Ferry
Sevastopol Harbor- crossing the harbor on a ferry
On our first full day, the three of us went to Balaklava, a former secret Soviet submarine based in the suburban coastal town with the same name.  The tour of the base is interesting, but by American standards lacking in "hands on" stuff-- like a decommissioned Soviet submarine to crawl over or to climb in and see what "was so secret".  We walked through the LONG, ENORMOUS tunnels that secretly housed nine submarines during the cold war era.  A very nice 45 minute tour and GREAT practice for my Russian language as the tour was in Russian; some of the photos had English descriptions.
Map of Balaklava Submarine Base and installations

Submarine entrance/exit channel and also start of the tour

Sample Torpedo in one of the underground chambers

Long canals for the submarines to enter the base
After the tour, we hopped on one of the many ferries that take beach goers to the beaches along the Crimean coast outside the Balaklava harbor.  While the beach was truly a "pebble beach" (probably rocks is a better word), the Black Sea was inviting and the swimming excellent, even if accompanied by many little jellyfish- all the non-stinging variety.  Whew!
View of one of the "secret entrances" to the submarine base as seen from the harbor ferries
The first of our three beaches - Balaklava "Golden Beach" - along the Crimean coast
On our second day, we visited Sevastopol's WONDERFUL 360 degree Panorama museum, a museum with fabulous painted images of the Charge of the Light brigade and the siege of Sevastopol in 1854.  My photos do not do justice to the wonderful museum, which is a MUST for every visitor to Sevastopol.  
Painted Images and 3-D from the Sevastopol Panorama Museum
Painted Images and 3-D from the Sevastopol Panorama Museum
Painted Images and 3-D from the Sevastopol Panorama Museum
Painted Images and 3-D from the Sevastopol Panorama Museum
Painted Images and 3-D from the Sevastopol Panorama Museum
Painted Images and 3-D from the Sevastopol Panorama Museum
After the museum, we followed the flocks of beach going tourists to the ferries that took us to the beaches to the north of the city.  These beaches, while a hike to get to, had much smaller, finer pebbles and the surf was better.  AND  fewer jellyfish!!!
Beach on north shores above Sevastopol harbor
Ukrainian women sunbathe STANDING UP!
This young lady stood and rotated to the sun for 2 and 1/2 hours.... 
On our third day, we walked the Sevastopol harbor promenade and just "people watched".  Then, we took a taxi to Khersones– a suburb of Sevastopol about 25 minutes to the west– known for ruins from the old Greek settlements and, of course, a beach or three!  Again, the water was very clean, very clear and very refreshing, but the rocky coast line was challenging! While we missed Yalta (too packed with tourists at this time of year), we thoroughly enjoyed the visit to Sevastopol and our swims in the Black Sea!
Trying the beer in Sevastopol
Our adventure continued as we took another overnight train back to Kiev and then flew to Budapest, Hungary.  This was the first visit to Hungary and to Budapest for all of us. YES!!! WE ALL LOVED BUDAPEST.   
Budapest - at night
View to Castle Hill
From the moment we landed at the very modern, very nice, very efficient Budapest airport, everything worked.  Friendly immigration agents - "Hello, Welcome to Hungary", quick and easy taxi service, and smooth roads.  After the bad roads,  crooked sidewalks and noisy cars of Ukraine, Budapest is all the more charming and comfortable.  Such a welcome change of pace.  

We arrived on Saturday afternoon, August 13, and after unpacking , we went for a walk along the Danube.  Our hotel, the Budapest Intercontinental (which I HIGHLY recommend) was right in the middle of the city and faced the Danube.  We could sit in the sidewalk cafĂ© and see the river and the Castle Hill district. The city was designed by the same city planner who did Paris!  Budapest has interesting architecture, nice streets, inviting restaurants, broad avenues, nice parks, lovely public art and sculptures.  

We even tried the Famous thermal baths/spas.  Great fun and the water was so clean!    

We spent our third day in Budapest taking the "hop on hop off"  tours and also walking the Castle Hill area.  Sadly my camera died (of all places for my camera to die!!!) The photos of St. Mathias church are courtesy of my pals.

The trip was great– over much too fast!  We are all definitely returning to Hungary to continue exploring Budapest and possibly to hike in Hungary. 
I am back home in Luhansk and ready to resume work, read about more potential grants  and prepare English lessons for the coming year.  

My batteries have definitely been recharged for my remaining 10 months of Peace Corps service. This past summer I have seen my family at home in San Diego and in Italy and my best friends here in Ukraine and  I have shared my world and my work with  everyone!
This week Ukraine will celebrate 20 years of independence on August 24.  It will be fun to see the celebrations!
Enjoy the remainder of summer, where ever you are.
Sending lots of love and I hope you are all doing well.  
A box of chocolates!!!  These are called "Mozartballs"!

Summer 2011- Part I: Italy and Language Camp

Hello Family and Friends!

I am back from Italy and from Peace Corps Russian Language Camp and now home in Luhansk for two days before I get back on the train to return to Kiev.  Believe it or not, I do work and I am not just traveling around! Our organization's office is under remodel and I have been working from home between travels!  When I return from my next round of travels- Crimea and Budapest, I return to work in a newly remodeled office!
La nostra terrazza in Rezzonico, Lago Como, Italia
My week in Italy with my daughter, Frances and son-in-law,  Josh, was wonderful.  Fran and Josh found a very good “rent-an-apartment” service and reserved a lovely 2 bedroom 2 bath apartment in a small town on the north-western side of Lago Como, Ressonico.  The kitchen was small but workable, the bedrooms and bathroom were fine, and the terrace with the view of Lake Como DIVINE.  I did not realize how much I enjoyed sitting outside on the terrace/patio and having coffee or reading a book.  California and/or Hawaiian lifestyle… I will not take it for granted anymore.

I arrived late Saturday 16 July, in time to have the first of MANY delicious Proseccos.  Josh is really a wine connoisseur and his choices of wines for the entire week were excellent.  Prosecco labels to look for in the US are:   Altemasi-Trentodoc-Brut, Gancia-Brut,  and Carlo Gancia, Cuvee Platinum-metodo classico.  The Altemasi -Brut was our absolute favorite.  
Dinner "al fresco""
The castle of Rezzonico

The beach at Rezzonico

We lost our view during a rainstorm!
Every day, we slipped into a very easy routine:  exercise in the morning, then have coffee outside on our terrace, and then go out sightseeing, visit a village on the lake and have a pizza or a Panini at the “tavola calda” /small restaurant on the lake.  Home around 6p.m. for hors d’oeuvres and more Prosecco on the patio and then we all cooked dinner and dined of course, on the patio. 
Fran and Josh - ready for morning exercise

Scenery near our small apartiment

Scenery along the road to the top of the hill

Scenery along the road to the top of the hill- almost to the top

Bellagio, Lago Como, Italia

Wine Tasting in Bellagio

Varenna, Lago Como, Italia

Menaggio, Lago Como, Italia


Had to get my feet wet!

Lunch in Gravedona, Lago Como, Italia

Fran and Josh at lunch in Gravedona, Lago Como, Italia

We spent one day driving to St. Moritz, Switzerland, as we realized it wasn’t that far north of us.  LOVELY drive, beautiful valley leading into the mountain pass, then a switch back road of about 25 turns  and then a high valley, glorious lakes and then, St. Moritz.  I did not realize the town was so small, built into the hillside.  AND when we were there (July 22)  is was 47 degrees!  We wanted to have lunch with a view of the lake and we ended up finding a glorious 5-star hotel, the KULM Hotel, and wandered into the lobby.  It was warm and the hotel served lunch in the lovely lobby that had a glorious view of the lake.  We had a small, delicious, but expensive lunch - the Swiss Franc to the dollar is quite something! It  was certainly nice to see how the “other half” lives!
Waterfalls - en route to St. Mortiz, Switzerland

St. Mortiz, Switzerland

St. Mortiz, Switzerland

St. Mortiz, Switzerland
St. Mortiz, Switzerland
It was very hard to leave Italy- the weather, the crisp air, the clean villages, the smooth/good roads….and to leave Fran and Josh.   After living in Ukraine for 17 months, it is amazing to see that Italy really works!!! And Italy enjoys having tourists!

The Russian Language Camp was “camp”; I have not been to camp in 40 years.  We had many language classes, activities and sports and we are supposed to speak exclusively in Russian.  It was very good for me to practice Russian again, especially as I had been having way too much fun speaking Italian.  THE MOST EXCITING PART OF CAMP—I have improved my Russian language ability!  I have been graded “intermediate HIGH” level and I WON THE PRIZE at the camp for the person who tried the hardest to speak Russian all the time and participate in activities.  The Peace Corps Staff were so funny when they gave me the prize… I am  the only one they know that speaks Russian with an ITALIAN accent!

Summer 2011: Part II Crimea and Budapest will appear in mid-August.  Until then, I hope all of you are well and enjoying the summer.

A big hug to everyone!