Sunday, September 30, 2007

Weekend in Kiev

Fountain of light brightens Independence Square in Ukraine's capital

I traveled up to Kiev for the weekend with some other students. We took the night train out of Odessa and arrived in the capital city early Sat morning. I wasn't sure what to expect of Kiev--I was pleasantly surprised with abundance of trees and parks. The city is also quite well kept and easy to navigate. There is a metro here--something Odessa desperately needs--but the all the public transport was jammed packed even on the weekend.
A church in Kiev Pecherska Lavra--a.k.a. Caves Monastery. This is a located on 28 hectares of land on a bluff overlooking the Dnipro River. This was quite a big complex with numerous churches of various sizes scattered about. We went into the caves deep below to visit the mummy monks in one of the subterranean churches. The monks were in these very narrow labyrinths deep below the ground where it was super dark (only candles in your hand), hot, and claustrophobic. They say the monks bodies are believed to have healing powers and the pilgrims will bow and kiss them. I had to be careful not to light the woman on fire in front of me with my 12" candle as she continuously bobbed her head up/down as she paid respect to the monks. You could even see an occasional protruding finger or decimated hand.

So if you are a woman in the must wear a head scarf and a skirt to go into a church--no long pants or shorts. BUT a mini skirt the size of a large belt with fishnet stockings and stiletto heels is acceptable long as you have the head scarf.

We met Vladimir on the train. He is originally from Tajikistan but now lives in Ukraine. He decided to show us around the city but we still had to look at the map to find our way around. He has worked on several cruise ships and was applying for a job on another. He was going to have to take an English test so by spending the day with us he got to brush up by speaking English to me the American, James the Brit, and Simone/Anett--the Germans.

The independence monument overlooks downtown Kiev

St Michaels Monestary. The original (circa 1108) was torn down by the Soviets in 1936 and this reconstruction replica opened in 2001.

The Rodina Mat (a.k.a Nations Mother, I think) stands proud raising her sword high above Kiev. This monument is a monstrous 62 meter tall hunk of steel sitting on top of the Museum of the Great Patriotic War of WWII. It seemed as big as the statue of Liberty (well...I was only 4 yrs old when I saw that) and completely dominated the sky line. The first thing I thought when I saw it was: "what the hell is that thing?". The area was littered with old soviet military tanks, helicopters, cannons, missiles, etc.
Just another view of Rodina Mat just to get an idea of its imensity.

Several art displays lining the main streets of Kiev. This one had several pics of various forms of trash. I think Ben and Patrick would appreciate this...I wasn't quite sure what to think.

No need for bussing the tables here--pigeons did the job at most outdoor cafes.

An old emergency vehicle sits in front of the Chernobyl Museum.

We visited a museum dedicated to the victims of the April 26, 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion. It was quite moving and very sad as we viewed identity cards and photos of those killed in the aftermath of the explosion and video of firefighters who went in to clean up immediately after the disaster with minimal protection from radiation.

Chernobyl is about 60 miles NW of Kiev and on the Dnipro River....which flows into Kiev. You don't drink the water but I think they swim in it though. It was very fortunate for Kiev that the winds during the days following the meltdown were away from the city but unfortunately the heaviest radiation fallout went into Belarus. You can take tours in the 10 km exclusion zone around the power plant. This gal Elena Filatova has an really interesting website about riding her motorcycle through the zone. Check this out:

Friday, September 28, 2007


Russian is extremely complicated with all these damn cases and word endings!!!

OK--my brain is completely saturated at this point. I have only been here a few days and I feel like I am actually losing the Russian that I knew before I got here. Today my teacher was chatting to me in Russian and started to explain something in English and it didn't even register. I didn't realize she was speaking in my native tongue. I have nearly yanked all of my hair out. I shouldn't have got it cut before I left because I could have saved some $$.

I have had 3 different teachers so far and they have all been great. Each has a different teaching style and this is refreshing because after a few hours I need a bit of a change. Tamara has these sticks that she beats me with if my grammar is incorrect. Not really, we would toss these sticks back/forth as she would have me simultaneously recite verb conjugations. She would also throw a stuffed animal fish at me.
Here is Tamara throwing sticks at me while I spew out Russian verb conjugations.
Lyoubov was another one of my teachers. She actually told me that my pronunciation was very good--I sounded Russian. I think she was lying... She is actually quite pretty--I am not sure why she didn't smile for the camera.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Food in My Kitchen

My dinner every night has been pelmini and veggies. I can buy all of this fresh from the market!

So Svetlana brings me breakfast every morning. She seems to be bringing me something different each day. I have also been making most of my dinners at home since I have very little time to do much else. There is a market, bank, kiosks that sell things from booze to vegetables, to cell phones. There are also people on every corner selling fruits and veggies. Its like being able to go to the farmers market everyday.
Blinis filled with cream in the morning.

Svetlana seems to be giving me lots of fresh stuff for breakfast--this is yummy.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Ukrainian Jackpot

The Black Sea and the run-down beaches of Odessa

I made it to Odessa! Most of these blog updates will probably be a little short since the Internet connection seems to be dreadfully slow. I really feel like I hit the jackpot by coming here to study Russian. Great home stay situation, running trails along the beach, great teachers, and a pretty city overlooking the Black Sea.

First of all I ended up with the taj mahal of home stays. Its actually more like a small apartment. I figured that I would be in concrete block bldg living with a family. Instead I am in a small house in a side alley in the middle of town. Svetlana (I cant remember her husbands name) has a nice garden with lots of flowers and fruit. I have a key to my own flat right off of the garden with a kitchen, bedroom, tv room, kitchen and bathroom--unbelievable. She brings me breakfast in the morning...something different every day. Its super quiet too.

My large bedroom

The kitchen

The entry area to the apartment

And the garden where I study in the afternoon/evening.

The streets here are very "leafy" with lots of trees lining nearly every avenue. The buildings are set back from most of the roads so it feels really spacious and park-like.

I am impressed that the Russians didn't totally destroy the beaches with developments. There is about a 1/2 mile buffer between the city and the shore which is about 10 km long that is filled with dirt trails and pedestrian walkways. I have even seen many people running and biking here. The beaches are really polluted though and I am not sure if I want to get into the water. Everything along the beach is really run down too and I don't think has ever been maintained.
More paths along the 10 km beach corridor
Climbing wall on a bluff above the beach belonging to the Ukrainian Alpine club

Odessa Alpine Club

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Hungary for Critical Mass

A cyclist watches over the crowd at the Critical Mass event in Budapest

Hey..had a great time wondering around Budapest today. Bob and I caught the big Critical Mass (CM) bike event late in the afternoon to promote biking and raise awarness to drivers that bikes have every right to be on the roads. Apparently last years CM brought out 50,000+ bikers and was the largest turnout ever for CM--and this years was expected to exceed that number. Bob says the CM event in Fairbanks pulled out 10 or so bikers and stirred up controversy among the rednecks that think bikes should NOT be on the roads--ridiculous!
Raising of 10's of thousands of bikes in the city park

We caught this street fair where the arts were being promoted with a Graffiti Battle. There were kids lining the streets with spray cans aimed at large canvasses.

The trash cans of Budapest

20th century art dangling from above in the Hungarian National Gallery
Mementos of a sadder times line the walls of the Horror Museum

Looking good--garden art at a small gallery

And a few scenic shots--the Danube winding its way through downtown Budapest from high above at the Citadel. There was actually quite a bit of smog lingering over the city and the air quality was rather poor.
The chain bridge and St Stephens Basilica light up the night skyline

Friday, September 21, 2007


Shoes on the shores of the Danube

Budapest--I made it here right on time with no travel probs. Bob met me at the airport with bus/metro tickets and we headed into the city and found our hostel. He came down from Berlin for the weekend to meet up and check out the city. First impressions--quite modern and clean (seems to have shaked off any communist feel...except for the metro which was like a 50 year old tin can barrelling down a dark tunnel), not too bustling and pleasantly relaxing, beautiful setting along the river, impossible to find toilets, and super easy to navigate.
The river steps in front of the Hungarian Parliment

Monday, September 17, 2007

Equinox Marathon

Smiling Trevor--he was the talk of the race because he grinned for the entire 26 miles. He decided to run the race last minute with very little training and whizzed through the course.

The equinox marathon was this weekend. We forecasted rain for race day and fortunately the timing was off and the drops didn't start to fall until most people had finished. I decided to just run the relay this year with Scott from Anchorage and a friend of his. I got to run the first relay leg so this gave me the opportunity to watch a good portion of the race and see a bunch of friends finish the grueling 26 miles over very hilly terrain.

Kristen cruises along at mile 23--she kicked ass and came in third place amongst the women.

Scott exchanges the bib with Steve for the final 9-miles back to the University. Each leg of the relay is about 9 miles long. Steve has a long and painful decent down to the finish.
Scott is happy now that the long climb up and over Ester Dome is over
Still smiling--Jim's got a bloody nipple. Trevor planned ahead and lubed up his nipples with vaseline to prevent chafing.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Quick Trip to CO

My niece Katie admires the view of Boulder from NCAR

I made a quick trip down to Colorado to see some of the family over the weekend. I got to spend some time hanging out with the nephews/nieces. Here are just some shots from the trip..

They give anyone their permits these days--My oldest nephew Timothy drove us from Boulder back up to the house in the mountains. He actually is a pretty good driver for a kid..

Katie and I goofing around at the ice cream shop.

Meghan and her ice cream

Meghan dressed up Mark in her colorful sun hats....

Electrical currents mesmerize Katie.

The Moffat tunnel is right near my bro's house up in the mountains. Its about 6 miles long and opens up on the other side of the continental divide at Winter Park. There is some really beautiful hiking all around here.