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 café 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"!

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