Tips for Planning a Trip to Chornobyl

Please read my Visiting Chornobyl post first.

I highly recommend the day trip to Chornobyl from Kyiv if you are visiting the Ukrainian capital (one of my favorite travel destinations!). Planning a trip to a former Soviet nuclear site might seem overwhelming, but I’m here to help you by giving an overview of booking your trip, how to be your best-and-most-informed-tourist-self, along with other helpful tips to make the most of your trip.

There is also advice for those that may start, stop, or be in the middle of their menstrual cycle as they tour Chornobyl. Please use the struggles–the blood, sweat, and tears of those that have walked before you–to plan accordingly. And anyone reading this paragraph that just thought ugh or shuddered at the thought of periods, kindly getoveryourself, Over half the population has one.

MiddleWorldAdventures Guide to Planning a Trip to Chornobyl:

Tip #1: Be Your Best-Tourist-Self

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Chornobyl facility today

One of the best tips I have is simply don’t be that guy. So-called Dark Destinations are increasingly becoming more popular, which is great, as long as visitors show the respect that these locations deserve. Intentionality and remembering the events that occurred at these sites is not only respectful, but gives you a better experience as a visitor.

Here are a couple of MWA rules on being a respectful tourist:

  1. Don’t take sexy selfies at the front of a nuclear site. You just look like an asshole.
  2. Don’t steal anything.
  3. Don’t ignore the rules of the tour guides: when they say stay out of the buildings, keep out.
  4. Be patient. You’re not the only person visiting, we get that some things are an inconvenience but speaking (loudly) about it does not solve the problem. 

Part of being your best-tourist-self is also being your-most-well-informed self. There are a ton of great books on the explosion of reactor four (including Higginbotham’s extensively researched book published last year). But if reading isn’t your thing, the HBO miniseries is not only a fairly accurate (and beautifully shot) representation of the actual events in 1986, but was also endorsed by Svetlana Alexievich, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature for her work. A couple of really great sources on Chornobyl:

  1. Alexievich, Svetlana. 1997. Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster. Picador: New York.
  2. Bogart, Anne and Holly Morris. 2016. The Babushkas of Chernobyl. Chicken and Egg Pictures.
  3. HBO. 2019. The Chernobyl Podcast. HBO. 
  4. Higginbotham, Adam. 2019. Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster. Simon & Schuster: New York.
  5. Mazin, Craig, creator. 2019. Chernobyl. HBO & Sky UK.

Tip #2: Book Ahead

Prypiat, Ukraine

Since the site was opened for tourism in 2010, thousands of tourists signed up to see the power plant and surrounding villages each year. There are a couple of tour companies and multiple options for tours. We booked the one day tour from Kyiv, but there were two to even seven day options with the company we used.

You’ll need to decide what is important to you and how much time you’d like to spend in the area. Booking ahead is important and remember to have all of your travel documents in order prior to making the reservation.

For us, we had a limited time in Ukraine and it was important for us to see the plant, Prypiat, and a few of the abandoned villages. Luckily, our tour included a stop at the former Soviet Duga base, which was an awesome addition to our day and one I didn’t know was even an option to tour. Other options included an underground tour, visiting the control center of the plant, and staying overnight in city of Chornobyl.

I included a map here of the stops included on our tour:

Tip #3: What to Expect

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Zalissya, Ukraine

Traveling to the site of a nuclear explosion is obviously not an every day adventure. I did a fair amount of research prior to leaving and was still surprised by a couple of unexpected aspects of the trip. A few friendly reminders::

  1. A lack of cell phone service: I know this seems obvious, but many of the areas on the one day tour (and I’m assuming many sites on the longer tours as well) did not have cell phone service. I thought it added to the overall experience but just expect that you may not be able to play Pokemon Go in Prypiat.
  2. It is a very bumpy two hour bus ride from Kyiv to the Exclusion Zone.
  3. There is a lot of walking around. Not only wear closed-toed shoes, but also comfortable ones. 
  4. Bathrooms (or lack there-of): There are not a lot of bathroom options on this trip (see below) so make sure you are strategic with each stop.
  5. Don’t touch anything. Seriously. The amount of radiation exposed to you on a one day trip is about the same as a flight, but as the tour guides say, limiting yourself to radiation is also your responsibility. 
  6. Window seat: Visitors can’t walk the Red Forest–it is too highly radioactive, even to this day–but you can see the forest from the bus on the way to Prypiat.
  7. Potentially fall in love with your devishly-handsome-hot-dog-eating-in-a-full-suit bus driver. We LOVED Valeri. He had an amazing mustache and was just the coolest dude I’ve ever met. 

Tip #4: Pack the Essentials

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No shame in mustard and cheese sandwiches.

Overall, you’ll be spending about twelve hours either inside a bus or walking around deserted sites in the Exclusion Zone. Here are a couple of the essentials I’d recommend packing for a day trip:

  1. Food: If you’re a person who starts to get grumpy when they are hungry or lacking caffeine, make sure to brown bag this day. There are a number of great grocery stores in Kyiv where you can stock up on sandwich supplies, water, and snacks. Be mindful to check for still or sparkling water (I’m looking at you, American friends) and also that mustard can be extremely horseradish-forward in Ukraine. You are only fed lunch on the one day tour with the option to buy small snacks at the checkpoint, so I’d recommend packing food with you.
  2. Toilet Paper: Literally every single bathroom (either indoor or out) did not have toilet paper. The indoor toilets did not have seats. This is a use-the-restroom-at-your-own-risk situation so my recommendation is to BYOTP (see the last point for more information on the bathroom situation).
  3. Hand Sanitizer: Read above. The soap situation was not any better.
  4. Battery Pack: This is a long tour with a ton of beautiful photography opportunities. Or, if you’re like me, and running with an iPhone 6 with roughly a 45 minute battery life, bringing a battery pack is essential.
  5. Sunscreen/bug spray: We visited in the spring and did not see too many insects, but sunscreen (at least for my pale skin) was needed. Pro-Tip: use a sunscreen without microplastics like the one carried here.
  6. Clothing: It might be hot on the bus but cool outside. Bring a sweater or early 80s windbreaker, whatever is your jam for that day.
  7. Medicine: The ride to the Exclusion Zone is bumpy. If you’re a person prone to motion sickness, I recommend bringing some kind of medicine to help with the bus ride.

Tip #5: Menstrual Cycle Survival Guide

I am here to help you survive your period inside a Soviet nuclear disaster zone. My best advice is to pack supplies regardless if the tour falls before, during, or right after your menstrual cycle. Basically, there are absolutely zero options so being prepared for the worst case scenario is ideal, and in my opinion, worth the effort. Unfortunately for me, I learned the hard way when my always-unpredictable cycle started almost a week early and the eve of our Chornobyl trip.

My advice is to pack your preferred supplies: tampons, pads, cup, etc. if there is any possibility that you may experience your period while on the tour. Tampons and pads can be purchased at pharmacies in Kyiv (NOT grocery stores). If you are sporting a cup, I’d also bring a backup form of product. BYO any cramp or headache medicine with you.

As noted earlier, toilet facilities are scarce on an all-day tour. After leaving Kyiv, you have a roughly two hour bus ride to the Exclusion Zone checkpoint. There are facilities at the checkpoint, both portable toilets and access to indoor plumbing, but they are not (obviously) in tip-top shape. The portable toilets are made for taller individuals, so be prepared if you’re short like me as this space was difficult to hygienically navigate successfully. There was no toilet paper, soap, or hand sanitizer in either location. The indoor bathrooms did not have toilet seats.

If you booked the one day tour, the next actual bathroom isn’t until lunch at the nuclear facility. Here, the bathrooms are indoor, but again without toilet paper, seats, or sanitizer. I (along with my friends) ended up hoarding extra napkins out of sheer desperation to help with my situation. You’ll have a lot of walking after lunch, so this is your last bathroom facility until you return back to the Exclusion checkpoint.

Once at the checkpoint, the same access to the indoor and outdoor facilities will be available before traveling back to Kyiv.

im_ready_game_of_thrones

Overall, my best advice is to have fun, be present in the moment, and pack extra toilet paper and sandwiches. Which I feel is solid advice for any situation you may find yourself in.

 

 

Currently:
Reading: “Last Journey into Slavery” (National Geographic)

Continue reading

Visiting Chornobyl

Two quick notes before I discuss dark tourism and AllTheThings Chornobyl:

Spelling: As noted in my Kyiv post, I am using the Ukrainian government’s preferred transliterations of names into English. While both Ukrainian and Russian use the Cyrillic alphabet, the pronunciation of words can be different between the two languages. The commonly used English spelling for the nuclear plant in Northern Ukraine–Чорнобиль–is “Chernobyl”, the Russian translation of the word, rather than the Ukrainian “Chornobyl”. This transliteration was continuously used following the end of the Soviet occupation of Ukraine and even after Ukrainian became the country’s official language in 1991, overthrowing the Soviet-imposed Russian. The same can be said for the town of Прип’ять, as most English speakers use the Russian transliteration “Pripyat” over the Ukrainian “Prypiat”.
Here I am going to use the preferred Ukrainian transliterations of the words–Chornobyl and Prypiat–in my following posts as a way to decolonize language. I know this seems insignificant, but I do not want to use the language of the oppressors in these posts (even if it means unlearning literally twenty years of spelling). Changes such as these are small, take time and I’m obviously still learning and will make mistakes, but let’s put forth the effort to #decolonizelanguage. Any published works that use the Russian transliterations will remain unchanged in how I cite them here.
History: I am not going to outline the entire history and impact of the explosion of reactor four. I discuss a number of great sources that can go into detail far better than I could in a following post.

I’ve wanted to visit Ukraine since I was a kid, learning a bit of Russian through documentaries and watching the Olympics on TV. When we had the opportunity to travel to Kyiv last spring, I was ecstatic to start planning the few days we had in Ukraine.

Of course the question that popped up was should we visit Chornobyl?

Kopachi, Ukraine

I first read about the nuclear disaster as a freshman in a class at Kent State. One project included presenting to the class as the fictional head of a tourism office for your assigned country, encouraging would-be travelers to visit. Assigned with Belarus, I began researching the country and learned how their population was significantly impacted by the Chornobyl disaster, where 70% of the Ukrainian nuclear meltdown landed, contaminating 23% of the surface area of Belarus. Hundreds of thousands of Belorussians died from Chornobyl-related deaths and the country is still struggling to recover from the disaster. Over a million people remain in the exclusion zone, food is still grown and consumed on contaminated land, and the government has yet to disclose any information on the impact of the disaster:

“Belarus’s official policy on Chornobyl is aimed at persuading ordinary people to think about it as little as possible, and getting international organisations to allocate as much funding as possible to cleanup operations. Minsk spends billions on ‘making life safe’ in the contaminated zone, though independent experts believe that it would be cheaper and safer to simply resettle people.

Over 26bn Belarusian roubles (about US$1.3m), 25.5bn (US$1.26m) from public funds, have been allocated to the clean-up between now and 2020 – a considerable sum for Belarus, whose total annual budget is about US$9bn…

The Belarusian government is, however, determined to limit its costs associated with Chornobyl, and each year reduces the area of the zones defined as contaminated or dangerous, using as justification the natural decay of isotopes such as Caesium-137 and Strontium-90.”

Ivanova, Tatyana. 2016. “Belarus’s Chernobyl Taboo.” Open Democracy. Available here.

I was pissed off. In ClassicAshlyn fashion, rather than write a Why You Should Visit Belarus paper, I instead presented on governmental corruption, the impact of policies on the lives of citizens suffering from exposure to radiation, and the lack of medical treatment, safe housing, and employment.

I enrolled in more Political Science and History courses the following semester, declared my major in Poli Sci in 2009, focusing on Russian Studies and Geography. Nerdalert but I continued reading and researching the impacts of Chornobyl on the region.

Valissya, Ukraine

Back to 2019: we decided to book the tour.

Dark Tourism, or visiting sites of historical tragedy, should include respect and intent by the traveler. Places like Hiroshima, Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre, Pompeii, Chornobyl, and Auschwitz carry a great deal of weight and should be treated as such. That doesn’t mean visitors shouldn’t go, but the approach should certainly have a greater level of respect for what took place there. One of the ways travelers can be respectful to the sites–and people impacted by events that occurred there–is to inform yourself and act respectfully to the surroundings. This means read a book (my plea for 2020) and not take selfies in front of buildings where people were killed (the new “I was here” desecration) or steal things from the site.

Unfortunately, many visitors choose to tour these sites and act like absolute assholes, showing blatant disrespect for what occurred there. Last year, the Auschwitz Memorial took to Twitter to ask visitors to be more respectful and not take selfies in front of the camp or on the train tracks (I was horrified to find initials etched into the barracks of Auschwitz when I toured the death camp in 2017). Following the release of HBO’s Chernobyl, the increase in visitors to Prypiat included a number of people disrespecting the tragedy that took place there. The writer-creator of the show, Craig Mazin, also posted to Twitter after “sexy selfies” of visitors started surfacing.

I wanted to be as respectful and responsible to both the people and the place. Yes, I did take pictures, but tried to keep in mind the magnitude of what occurred there.

Prypiat, Ukraine

We visited before the HBO miniseries Chernobyl aired and even then I was shocked at the commercialization of the tour. Having visited both Auschwitz and Chornobyl, the level of kitsch in Ukraine was jarring to me. Stands selling candy and Chornobyl-branded condoms–“they glow in the dark!”–at the checkpoint before entering the exclusion zone felt extremely disrespectful. While the number of deaths attributed to the disaster are debatable, the fact that people died there, people were forced to evacuate their homes, and continued health and environmental concerns loom over not just Ukraine, but the surrounding areas, seemed to be forgotten in exchange for touristy trinkets.

“Human curiosity is inevitable, and denying the existence of this vast, charged space that is a crucial part of Soviet and global history would be impossible and pointless. But Chernobyl has yet to find an appropriate tone for its tourism. Potential danger is almost commodified as a feature of the visit. We wore the suits and waved the Geiger counters not because we needed to, but because those who brought us there sensed that we wanted to feel close to danger.

Unlike some other sites of tragedy that, despite mass attendance, are places of solemnity and reflection, this is a messy and morally queasy experience. That scoop of kitsch radioactive ice-cream may stick in your craw and, for the moment at least, it probably should.”

Nolan, Megan. 2019. “Chernobyl Welcomes the Tourists–‘A Messy and Morally Queasy Experience.” The Guardian UK. Available here.

I thought about the impacts of the disaster on the people who lived here over twenty years ago and what it meant to buy radiation branded sexual protection on the same road where they were forced to leave everything behind.

Debris at the Soviet Chornobyl Duga Base, Ukraine

I hope to be as respectful as possible in the following posts about our tour. I highly recommend visiting Chornobyl, but with well thought out intentions, not as a shithead tourist stealing toys from an abandoned kindergarten.

Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk.

I’ve broken down my Chornobyl posts into the following topics/stops:

Tips for Planning Your Trip to Chornobyl: I include everything you need to know for a day trip from Kyiv to Chornobyl including what to pack, best resources for being your best-most-informed-tourist-self, and how to survive your period in a nuclear exclusion zone.
The Villages of Zalissya & Kopachi: Two of the 188 villages evacuated. 
Chornobyl Power Plant & the City of Prypiat: Serving as the nuclear city to Chornobyl power plant, Prypiat was evacuated two days after the meltdown.
Chornobyl Duga Base: A key part of the Soviet missile defense early-warning radar system, the now abandoned “Russian Woodpecker” is 150 meters tall (almost 500 feet).

I hope you enjoy these posts as much as I loved our tour. It was truly such a unique and amazing opportunity to visit.

Further Reading:

Chornobyl & Belarus:
Hjelmgaard, Kim. 2016. “In Secretive Belarus, Chernobyl’s Impact is Breathtakingly Grim.” USA Today. Available here.
Ivanova, Tatyana. 2016. “Belarus’s Chernobyl Taboo.” Open Democracy. Available here.
Kenigsber, Jacov E., Viktar F. Minenko, and Elena E. Buglova. 1996. “Radiation Effects on the Population of Belarus after the Chernobyl Accident and the Prediction of Stochastic Effects.” World Health Statistics Quarterly 49:1. 58-61. Available here.

Dark Tourism:
Gold, Hannah. 2019. “Please Stop Taking Selfies at Chernobyl, Requests Series Creator.” The Cut. Available here.
Nolan, Megan. 2019. “Chernobyl Welcomes the Tourists–‘A Messy and Morally Queasy Experience.” The Guardian UK. Available here.
Street, Francesca. 2019. “Chernobyl and the Dangerous Ground of ‘Dark Tourism’.” CNN Travel. Available here.
Sunkara, Lavanya. 2019. “From Auschwitz to Chernobyl: Tips on Respectfully Visiting Dark Tourism Sites.” Forbes. Available here.

 

 

Currently:
Listening: The United States of Anxiety (WNYC Studios)

2019 Year in Review: Favorite Books

Reading is my all time favorite hobby (nerdalert) and I thankfully had time this year to get through a ton of different books.

Me, in most social situations.

I love non-fiction and wanted to share my top ten of 2019:

What is a Girl Worth?: My Story of Breaking the Silence and Exposing the Truth about Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics
Rachael Denhollander

I was really looking forward to Denhollander’s memoir and found it to be one of the most impactful books of 2019. As the first person to come forward publicly against Nassar, she has been one of the loudest voices seeking justice for survivors. In What is a Girl Worth? (the question she posed at Nassar’s hearing), Denhollander details the struggles to come to terms with the sexual abuse she survived first in her church and then at the hands of her doctor; In both instances she was quieted and the perpetrators of her abuse were not held accountable. Denhollander’s book tells the struggle of a woman fighting to create change against institutions that enabled child abuse to happen.

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee
Casey Cep

I loved Furious Hours. The book tells two narratives: Harper Lee’s life and the trial of Robert Burns. They intersect as Lee covered the court case and Cep uses Lee’s notes from the trial to finish the story in this true-crime/biography. Furious Hours does a great job telling the gripping case of Robert Burns while providing respectful insight into the life of the very private Harper Lee. Cep’s writing is great too– I highly recommend this book if you’re a fan of Lee and/or true-crime.

The Girls: An All-American Town, a Predatory Doctor, and the Untold Story of the Gymnasts Who Brought Him Down
Abigail Pesta

The Girls is a collection of stories told by survivors of Larry Nassar’s abuse. The narratives collected by Pesta are difficult to read, but show the grit and perseverance of these athletes as they overcame injuries and in many instances, mental and emotional abuse at the hands of the people that were supposed to protect them: their coach and doctor. Pesta’s writing is empathetic and places the stories of the survivors at the center of the book. The Girls is a good introduction for those unfamiliar with the sport or who may still be asking “How did this happen? How did no one know?”

How to be an Anti-Racist
Ibram X. Kendi

Part memoir, part political guide, Ibram X. Kendi’s How to be an Anti-Racist was one of my favorite books of 2019. After developing cancer following the publication of Stamped from the Beginning, Kendi notes that he is unable to separate racism and cancer: “Our world is suffering from metastatic cancer. Stage 4. Racism has spread to nearly every part of the body politic, intersecting with bigotry of all kinds, justifying all kinds of inequalities by victim blaming; heightening exploitation and misplaced hate; spurring mass shootings, arms races, and demagogues who polarize nations…” I love Kendi’s writing and as a scholar in race relations, How to be an Anti-Racist reads like one of his lectures, one desperately needed today.

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to Present
David Treuer

Described as the “counter-narrative” to Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Treuer describes how, rather than ending in 1890, Native American life and culture has survived. Despite the American government’s tactics to destroy them, Native Americans have persevered and survived even the most brutal of policies and massacres: “I have tried to catch us not in the act of dying but, rather, in the radical act of living,” Treuer states. This book is a must-read for those not only interested in Native American history, but those needing to combat the long-accepted narratives of Native life in America.

On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal
Naomi Klein

This collection of essays by Naomi Klein makes the case for a drastic systems overhaul to fight global climate change. Rampant and unchecked capitalism, she says, has created and continues to worsen not just environmental degradation, but also the disenfranchisement of people. Free-market ideology, Klein argues, has devastated communities; the push for growth is unsustainable, and is killing people and the planet. She quotes various social movements that were seen as unthinkable at the time–Roosevelt’s New Deal probably being the most cited–as the proof that systematic change is possible. At the heart of this shift should be equal places at the table and a drastic overhaul of how we define (and value) growth.

How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States
Daniel Immerwahr

Immerwahr’s incredible book, How to Hide an Empire, details how the power and colonialism of the United States stretches far beyond the “logo map” we see in classrooms: “You might see the intrusions of colonialism into recent politics as a sort of hangover– a price paid for yesterday’s excuses. In this view, empire is an affair of the past, even if its effects linger on,” Immerwahr notes, “But empire is not past yet.” Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines were seen as strategic locations for military bases, even if the native populations did not have the same rights as mainland Americans. This book taught me so much about the imperialist policies of the US and Immerwahr’s work is incredibly relevant for our modern times.

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men
Caroline Criado-Perez

I purchased Invisible Women after I traveled to a country with a couple of friends last summer. My friend, a man who stands at 6 ft. 3 inches, casually noted that the portable bathrooms meant for all of us were actually built for people like him. Why? I thought as I struggled to regroup following a rather horrifying period experience in a port-a-potty.

Using data as her lens, Criado-Perez’s book details how the one-size-fits-all approach to not just bathrooms, but healthcare, community planning, and economic systems put women at a disadvantage. One case showed that orchestras hired 50% more women after blind interview practices were implemented–more women were hired because the interviewers couldn’t hear the sound of their heels walking into the room. Gender bias is in how we design things (intentionally or not, she argues, the bias is there): fitness monitors don’t track women’s steps as accurately, speech-recognition software commonly misunderstands women’s voices (Google alone is 70% more likely). She notes that “designing the female half of the world out of of our public spaces is not a matter of resources. It’s a matter of priorities, and currently, whether unthinkingly or not, we just aren’t prioritizing women. This is manifestly unjust, and economically illiterate. Women have an equal right to public resources: we must stop excluding them by design.”

Know My Name: A Memoir
Chanel Miller

In 2016, I remember pulling up the victim-impact statement of then-Emily-Doe during the sentencing of Brock Turner and being completely blown away by her powerful words: “To girls everywhere, I am with you.” I, along with 18 million others, read: “On nights when you feel alone, I am with you. When people doubt you or dismiss you, I am with you.” Three years later, Emily Doe came publicly forward as Chanel Miller and released her memoir, Know My Name. Throughout the book Miller struggles to find her own identity as someone other than Brock Turner’s victim. She details the incredible frustration of working within a system supposedly meant to protect her, but instead favored the perpetrator of the crimes against her. Those who read her 2016 statement know Miller’s poignant writing and this book is a testament to her talent. It can be hard to read at times, but as society continues to doubt survivors, absolutely vital if we want to change the current system.

What You Have Heard is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance
Carolyn Forché

My favorite book of 2019 is Forché’s memoir, What You Have Heard is True. I received the book as part of my Strand subscription and am so thankful the New York-based bookstore introduced me to this book. Forché was invited by Leonel Gómez Vides to travel to El Salavador and document the country’s horrifying civil war through her poetry. She meets a number of people touched by the war: insurgents, peasants, and military personnel. Her years in El Salvador eventually led to Forché’s activism as a “poet of witness”. The book is beautifully written and a testament to bear witness, no matter how terrible the events: “It was as if he had stood me squarely before the world, removed the blindfold, and ordered me to open my eyes.”

Currently:
Watching: The Outsider (HBO)

2019 Year in Review: Favorite Podcasts

I love podcasts. I’m always listening to something.

I can’t list any new music for you (except LIZZO because of course) but I can (and often annoyingly) go on a tangent about a new episode of some podcast covering an obscure murder, new media commentary, or policy about to pass.

A mood.

One of my new favorite genres is a podcast that accompanies a TV show or hosts a book club. For whatever reason, most of the ones I listened to (Chernobyl, Game of Thrones) also included Peter Sagal, not that I’m complaining. Nerdette gets a special shout-out for their ever-changing podcast that included special series of TV recaps and book discussions.

Here are my favorite podcasts of 2019:

Weekly Series:

My Favorite Murder
Exactly Right

My Favorite Murder is an oldie but a goodie for me. I’ve listened to Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark for the past few years and continue to love their weekly podcasts. They’ve extended beyond strictly murder to include cult stories, wrongful convictions, and natural disasters, which has been met with some push-back from fans, but I’ve enjoyed the episodes this year.

Code Switch
National Public Radio

A weekly race and culture podcast from NPR, Code Switch was one of my must-listen series last year. Hosted by Gene Demby and Shereen Marisol Meraji, each episode tackles issues of race and intersectionality in politics. “A Tale of Two Districts” and “Political Prisoners?” were a couple of my favorite episodes.

Keep It
Crooked Media

I am horrible with keeping up on pop culture (see above) but Keep It is my weekly update on what is happening in the world of music, tv, and culture. Hosted by Ira Madison III, Louis Virtel, and now Aida Osman, the podcast hit one hundred episodes this year. Each week they discuss different aspects of culture and politics, along with the occasional brunch recommendation.

On the Media
WNYC Studios

I’ve been listening to On the Media since 2007 (!!) when OTM was only a show on NPR and before anyone knew what podcasting meant (I’m so old). Each week hosts Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield cover the impact of media on American politics and the world. “Why Many Afghans Don’t Understand 9/11” and “We Need To Talk About Poland” are absolute must-listen episodes.

Reveal
The Center for Investigative Reporting, PRX

A weekly investigative journalism podcast, Reveal focuses on telling the stories of important issues as host Al Letson says, with the intent of “finding out what really happened”. “To the Ends of Earth” and “Year of Return” were two of my favorite episodes this year.

Limited Series:

1619
The New York Times

Last year The New York Times released the 1619 Project, an ongoing study into the impacts of slavery that first began in the United States 400 years ago. An accompanied audio series to the Times‘ magazine was released in August and I loved the series. “The Fight for a True Democracy” and “The Economy that Slavery Built” are absolute must-listens; In the second episode, Jesmyn Ward (author of Sing, Unburied, Sing) reads her piece on the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves and it is one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking works I’ve heard all year; I think I listened to her reading the piece at least ten times.

Buried Truths (Season 2)
WABE

Hank Kilbanoff returned for the second season of Buried Truths to tell the story of A.C. Hall, a black teenager murdered by police in Macon, Georgia in 1962. The podcast beautifully covers Hall’s story and how the impacts of race and police privilege are still as much of an issue today as they were in the 1960s. Buried Truths is an amazing podcast and one of my favorites of 2019.

This Land
Crooked Media

An eight episode podcast developed by Crooked Media, This Land investigates how a 2000 murder in Oklahoma opened a case of land rights by five tribes in the state. Rebecca Nagle, a journalist and Cherokee Nation citizen, tells the dual narratives of the murder of George Jacobs and how the American government continued to marginalize Native Americans through policies that ignored treaties. Nagle’s ability to tie together true-crime, history, and politics makes This Land one of the most important podcasts of 2019.

In the Dark (Season Two)
American Public Media

Season two of In the Dark told the story of Curtis Flowers, a Mississippi man who had been tried six times for the murder of four people. APM‘s year long investigation revealed a number of problems with the Fifth Circuit Court District, District Attorney Doug Evans, and investigator John Johnson. While a majority of the second season was released in 2018, new episodes in 2019 updated listeners on Flowers’ case, including a report from the Supreme Court. In the Dark’s shocking investigation was one of my favorite podcasts of last year.

White Lies
National Public Radio

White Lies is an absolute podcast masterpiece. Hosted by Alabama journalists Chip Brantley and Andrew Beck Grace, the series focuses on the unsolved murder of James Reeb, a white minister killed during the Selma protests of 1965. A four year long investigation, Brantley and Grace tell the story of not only Reeb’s death, but also how the culture in Alabama continues to protect the perpetrators of the crime to this day. In one episode Grace narrates: “Anyway, it was so long ago. Why go back? Why dig this up? Why reopen these old wounds, bother this old man? That was then. What’s past is past – water under the bridge. But you know what? That’s bullshit. We know it’s not true. The past is not past.”

Currently:
Reading: Such a Fun Age (Kiley Reid)

2019 Year in Review: Favorite TV Shows

What a year for television shows! I’ve always struggled with committing to an entire season, but this year I was able to watch a ton of great shows, both new and returning.

It was also a great year for television actresses: Regina King, Catherine O’Hara, Zendaya, Toni Collette, Elisabeth Moss, and the cast of Big Little Lies.

My reaction seeing End of the F***ing World Season 2 in my Netflix queue.

This was a difficult list to narrow down, so I wanted to include a couple of of other shows I loved this year:

  • Mindhunter continues to be amazing; I’m glad the show introduced more people to the Atlanta child murders and the fact that the cases remain unsolved.
  • I finally got on board with Stranger Things and fully love the series, so much so that Chris and I dressed up as Steve and Robin for Halloween.
  • How can you not love the second season of Big Little Lies? So dramatic, so over the top, so much love for Meryl Streep’s fake teeth, and this iconic scene:
Image result for big little lies gif"
BIG MOOD.
  • Another year of The Handmaid’s Tale and another year of frustration. The show can be soooooo good and this season was full of amazing scenes and social commentary–the Natalie birth episode still keeping me up at night, why aren’t we talking more about this!?–but the show overall can be incredibly slow. I’m all for a plot that takes a while to get there, but most of the episodes I thought were way too much filler and not enough substance. Maybe this is anxiety from the last season of Game of Thrones?
  • Admittedly, Euphoria is A LOT. There’s a ton of things happening in this show, to the point where it can make the viewer feel overwhelmed with allthethings. I’d argue though, that’s kind of the point. At the center of the show is Rue (played to perfection by Zendaya), a high school student returning home from an overdose and stint in rehab. She still uses, struggling to overcome her father’s death, and striving to feel loved, which she believes she’s found in her new best friend, Jules (a trans woman wonderfully played by actual trans woman Hunter Shafer). A great cast, awesome makeup, killer soundtrack, and one of my favorite shows of the year.
We stan a queen.

Here are my favorite shows of 2019:

Comedies:

The Good Place (Season 4):

KRISTEN BELL.

Oh, The Good Place. TV’s most positive show just ended THIS WEEK and I’m still recovering from the finale. I binged all three seasons in time to watch the fourth in real-time. Shur’s take on morality and the qualifications to what make a “good” human (and therefore entry into “the good place”) got a little old throughout the seasons, but I did love how everything came together in the last episodes. Similar to Handmaid’s Tale, there’s only so many plot-twists that can happen when your main protagonists are limited on where they can go (and the storyline is rooted in the idea of “place”) but the last season beautifully wrapped everything up. Call it comforting or sentimental, but it’s nice to have a series about basic human morality show us the complicated story of what it means to be human.

Can we also just talk about how great Maya Rudolph is as the Judge? And how truly awesome Marc Evan Jackson is as Shawn?

Succession (Season 2):

SUCCESSION. Do yourself a favor and binge this show if you haven’t seen it yet. The writing is so smart, the characters incredibly witty, and the plot just cruises (pun intended) through the season’s ten episodes of who may succeed patriarch Logan Roy. The finale, This is Not for Tears, is one of the most brilliant episodes of television I watched this year. A show about terrible people being awful, this final episode was less about who would inherit the big job and more on who would become the family’s sacrificial lamb.

All the performances are clutch and wonderfully acted but for me, Tom (Matthew Macfadyen), Roman (Kieran Cuilkin), and Cousin Greg (Nicholas Braun) are my absolute favorites. I almost fell over when Tom stole chicken from Roy’s plate to prove he couldn’t be pushed around any longer.

The Righteous Gemstones (HBO)

HBO’s other family-centric comedy this year, The Righteous Gemstones, written by and starring Danny McBride, was also one of my favorite shows of this year. Less clever than Succession, Gemstones has a slow couple of first episodes, but the last few of the season were great. I’ve missed Danny McBride’s writing and acting so I’m maybe being a little sentimental here, but there’s just something about watching an outrageously ridiculous comedy each week.

It’s hard to pick favorites, but for me, the scenes with Judy (Edi Patterson) and Baby Billy (Walton Goggins) absolutely MADE this show.

The End of the F***ing World (Season 2):

The End of the F***ing World‘s season one finale was pretty perfect. As great as that ending was, I really loved season two. Yes, there’s a lot of redundancy in terms of rehashing what happened to Alyssa and James, but I felt that the creators did a good job of bringing the characters beyond the Romeo and Juliet-esque ending of season one. Instead, Alyssa and James are figuring out how to move forward from trauma and abuse, admittedly less dramatic but I’d argue, more human: “It was a fitting end,” James says in a voiceover, “A doomed love story. A perfect tragedy. And then I didn’t die.”

An arguable (very) dark comedy, the story of James, Alyssa, and now Bonnie, a new character linked to the couple, was one of my favorite shows of the year. The awkward and endearing couple show that you can work through trauma in whatever way you have to in order to move past it.

Schitt’s Creek (Season 5):

Schitt’s Creek is IT. There isn’t enough space or time to talk about how great this show is: the writing, the acting, the comedic timing etc. etc. The sheer joy of Schitt’s Creek draws you in and unlike other shows tied to place (I’m looking at you Handmaid’s Tale), does a good job of building around that common theme by giving space for the characters to either grow–David and Alexis–or not (MOIRA)–in a genuine way.

This cast is amazing. Dan Levy (David) and Annie Murphy (Alexis) are perfect. But the relationship between Eugene Levy (Johnny) and Catherine O’Hara (Moira) is my favorite part of the show. As always, Eugene Levy is endearing in a way only he can be while O’Hara proves she has always been the queen in how she portrays the eccentric Moira (and her wigs).

Can we just talk about Stevie’s performance (played by Emily Hampshire) and how this scene is absolute perfection? Maybe of any show of all time?!

Dramas:

Years and Years

Years and Years is criminally underrated. Emma Thompson, as always, is incredible as politician Vivienne Rock and Jessica Hynes, a favorite from her days on Spaced (1999!), has one of the best performances of the year in her role as a political activist.

The BBC show tells the story of one Manchester family over the fifteen years following an event in 2019. Immigration, technology, and love are just a few of the overarching themes of a show that follows the story of each character as Britain experiences both political and economic instability. Muriel, the matriarch of the family says: “It’s all your fault… Every single thing that’s gone wrong, it’s your fault. Every single one of us.” Hynes’s performance in the final episode is heartbreaking and overall I loved this six episode show.

Watchmen:

REGINA KING ❤ ❤

Based off of Alan Moore’s graphic novel, the HBO adaption Watchmen was one of the most bizarre, intense, and interesting shows of 2019. Starring Regina King–who is absolutely perfect as a daytime baker and vigilante by night–the story centers around Tulsa, Oklahoma and how the 1921 terrorism of “Black Wall Street” resonates in modern relationships and policing. As in the early 1900s, modern intersections of race and power drive the narrative of the show’s packed nine episodes. The storytelling of the show is amazing–episodes are jumping between time periods, places, and perspectives, but somehow manages to tie everything together in a satisfying, albeit for me, heartbreaking way.

Regina King (Angela) as the ass kicking superhero and police officer, struggling throughout the series to understand the truth of her family’s past. King notes that “so much of this country was built by black people, but yet in a lot of regards, we’re orphans because we don’t know where we’ve come from. There’s a metaphor in there for the history of the real America.”

Unbelievable:

One of the most heartbreaking aspects of Unbelievable is that the true-crime series is actually true. The story of Marie, a young woman who recants her account of rape after pressure from police, is at the center of the show and gives light on the struggles women face when reporting abuse. After a series of rapes occur in their town, detectives Grace Rasmussen and Karen Duvall (Toni Collette and Merritt Wever, who are great in these roles) begin connecting the pieces showing that a serial rapist has been committing these crimes, including Marie’s assault.

At the heart of Unbelievable is the question of who actually gets to be believed. Marie, a low-income young orphan, does everything right when she reports her rape: she consents to medical exams, explains the event multiple times to a number of people, and submits to questioning, and yet is made to believe that she invented the account and is even hit with a false reporting charge. Marie isn’t taken seriously but that part isn’t unbelievable, right? Here the show demonstrates the inherent problems within an unjust system–who gets to be believed and who is worthy of our time and empathy isn’t equal.

Chernobyl:

Chernobyl is easily one of the best five episodes of television this year. From the beginning the series draws you in as the horrifying tale of the Soviet nuclear disaster slowly unfolds. Jared Harris (Valery Legasov) is haunting, wonderful, and is the perfect protagonist to show the costs of attempting to save the world from nuclear ruin–the lives lost, the environment destroyed, and combating a regime intent on keeping such a disaster a secret.

We toured Chernobyl a week before the show premiered on HBO and all I can say is, holy shit.

The show is beautifully shot with such an attention to detail that viewers can forget that this isn’t REALLY 1986 Ukraine. I highly recommend listening to the Chernobyl Podcast with show creator Craig Mazin (can we also talk about how Craig Mazin, who is known for The Hangover Part II and III, created Chernobyl?) and NPR’s Peter Sagal as they discuss decisions made for the show. Emily Watson, as scientist Ulana Khomyuk, is one of the characters created for the show; she’s a combination of a number of scientists that worked to clean up the damage. Her interviews with the first victims of the explosion are absolutely heartbreaking. Much of the show, including the story-line of Vasily and Lyudmilla Ignatenko, was based on the incredible book, Voices of Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich, who has endorsed the show.

When They See Us:

Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us is one the best shows of all time. While the miniseries was snubbed by the Golden Globes–many of arguments blame how difficult the show is to watch– the fact is that her portrayal of the Central Park Five IS hard to watch, mostly because the story of these teenagers sent to prison for a crime they didn’t commit not only happened, but is demonstrating how institutional racism is still happening in America today.

A legal system that allows for the arrest, interrogation, and eventual sentencing of children for a crime they did not commit is unjust. And yet, the power and outrage of When They See Us is not only showing the viewer that these things happened, but continue to happen. Disenfranchisement is seen throughout the show: a lack of money means inadequate legal representation, inability for families to see their children, and the sheer racism of a prosecutor to refuse to believe anyone other than these children of color could commit this crime. The lack of empathy throughout is heartbreaking and shows what happens when those in power see others as less than; Linda Fairstein refers to the kids as “thugs” and “animals” rather than the eighth graders they are.

All four episodes are powerfully written and acted, but the 90 minute finale centering on Korey, who is sentenced to adult prison as a minor, is absolutely brutal. Viewers might not be able to finish watching a show so outrageously unjust and unbelievable, but the point of When They See Is, is that it is.

Currently:
Listening: The Racist Sandwich (Soleil Ho and Zahir Janmohamed)

2019 Year in Review: Favorite Coffee Shops, Snacks, and Restaurants

THE 2019-in-review post you’ve been waiting to read is HERE.

Last year I had some of the best food of my life and couldn’t just limit this list to strictly brunch as I did in 2018. If we’re being honest, I couldn’t choose between a couple of my favorites, so I made an obnoxiously long list so I could include allthethings. Classic Spilis.

I’ll review my favorite coffee shops, brunch stops, the clutch snacks of 2019, favorite dinners, and best desserts. Because it’s me, I also included two lists of my favorite cuisines too: Indian restaurants and nachos. Because let’s be honest, is it REALLY an Ashlynbestoffoodlist without them?

The answer, dear reader, is no.

Here we go!

Favorite Coffee Spots:

I’m an extremely boring coffee drinker (cowboy coffee–Americano, black). While I’m no-frills on my coffee, I love spending time in unique shops when traveling to a new place. Here are a couple of my favorite spots from 2019.

Brașov, Romania:

Habitat Concept Room 
Brașov, Romania
We stopped at Habitat for the morning before our trip to Bran Castle.

Gdańsk, Poland.:

Café Józef K.
Gdańsk, Poland
Absolutely loved this shop! I visited during one of our last mornings in Gdańsk and enjoyed this view. The interior is super unique.
Drukarnia Cafe
Gdańsk, Poland
Drukarnia takes their coffee seriously. It’s hard not to be super impressed with their attention to beans and brews.

Paris, France:

Soul Kitchen
Paris, France
The incline up to Soul Kitchen is completely worth the hike for a coffee or breakfast at this little shop in Montmarte.
Restaurant La Recyclerie
Paris, France
A former train station, this cafe offers coffee, lunch, and dinner in an enormous, reclaimed space. Their menu changes daily (based on availability in their urban farm) and they also host workshops on repairs and community activism.
Coffee here is only one euro! They also serve unique cocktails later in the day.
Americano with a view.

Kraków, Poland:

Massolit Books & Cafe
Kraków, Poland
I spent a few hours in this cozy cafe sipping cold brew and perusing their used books. Their coffee is great and they offer hundreds of English titles at affordable prices.

Tromsø, Norway:

Smørtorget
Tromsø, Norway
This. Cinnamon. Roll. Though. I wandered into Smørtorget and immediately decided I had to try one of their freshly baked goods. This roll was perfect for coffee-dipping. The space is gorgeous and cozy, especially during the Norwegian winter.

Örebro, Sweden:

Gamla
Örebro, Sweden
I had to go with my first authentic Fika in Sweden! This vegan treat was a perfect way to start my first day in Örebro.

Best Brunch of 2019:

Budapest, Hungary:

Murok Cafe
Budapest, Hungary
I know, I know, this isn’t a food photo, but Murok is so adorable that I had to include this picture over the bagels and hummus we shared on a chilly November morning. We stopped by Murok so I could shop at the Conscious Design Market, which featured a number of local designers selling sustainable products. To top it off, Murok also allows dogs, so I happily nibbled on a bagel while looking at artisan goods AND pet puppies. The ultimate win, win, win.
Szimply
Budapest, Hungary
A solo trip to Budapest meant extra time wandering the city and visiting a couple of places on my (ever-growing) list. I’d been hoping to visit Szimply for a while–they offer a continuously changing menu with a ton of veg options–and happily had an amazing (and super affordable) meal. This avocado toast was out.of.control and I literally gasped when they brought it out to me. Those colors! That egg!

Stuttgart, Germany:

Kleinigkeit
Stuttgart, Germany
This adorable brunch started off one of my best days of 2019. Kleinigkeit is small and their staff is super friendly; we had our poached eggs with a beautiful view. I can’t recommend this spot enough!

London, England:

Caravan Exmouth Market
London, England
Our last breakfast in London was one of the best brunches of the year. Caravan has a huge veg and dietary-restrictions-friendly menu, along with an extensive coffee selection. I ordered the jalapeno cornbread (!!) with chipotle mayo and avo. I’m still dreaming about this absolutely perfect brunch dish.

Warsaw, Poland:

Shabby Chic Coffee & Wine
Warsaw, Poland
What’s better than brunch? TWO in one day! We visited Warsaw this spring with two of favorite people–Heather and Chris–and had wayyyy too much fun eating pierogi and wandering the city. One morning, Heather and I left early to grab coffee at Shabby Chic and ended up ordering this amazing open-faced sandwich to share. Homemade bread+blue cheese+pears+walnuts+honey is THE combination.
Restauracja Zapiecek
Warsaw, Poland
Full from our secret sandwich, Heather and I brought the coffee back to our apartment, ready to head back out for brunch with the guys. We stopped at Zapiecek for pierogi (acceptable at any time of the day) and ate our dumplings outside in the sun.

Paris, France:

Treize au Jardin
Paris, France
To say I planned our trip to Paris around the World Cup match and brunch at Treize au Jardin is not an exaggeration. Southern bunch?! ALL DAY?!
After ten years in the south, I MISS brunch. And I mean the brunch food that sticks to you all day. I ordered the tomato pie, one of my favorite dishes of all time, and it was delicious. I would rank it third overall best tomato pie of my life–a huge accomplishment–only after my wonderful friend Heather’s version and Babs Ambrose’s pie. It was OUT OF CONTROL GOOD.
Biscuits and pimento cheese–does life get any better than this?

Favorite Snacks:

Somewhere Outside Chernobyl, Ukraine:

Spicy Mustard & Cheese Sandwich
Somewhere Outside Chernobyl, Ukraine
As I’ve mentioned before, I am 100% a brown-bag lunch person. Thankfully we all packed sandwiches on our day trip from Kyiv to Chernobyl, and damn those snacks were clutch. This mustard was unexpectedly spicy but really good (I also LOVE horseradish and to say it was horseradish-forward is an understatement).
If you’re planning on visiting the site of a Soviet nuclear meltdown, pack sandwiches. I can’t stress that enough.

Glasgow, Scotland:

Truffle Fries & Macaroni and Cheese
Chinaski’s
Glasgow, Scotland
Is there a better combination than mac & cheese and french fries? This pre-dinner snack was perfect after a looooong day exploring the city. This literary-themed speakeasy also had amazing cocktails–all you need in the world.

Bran Castle, Romania:

Turkish Coffee & Cheese Roll
Bran Castle
Bran, Romania
Another amazing combination of drink+snacks was the Turkish coffee we ordered before entering Bran Castle and my cheese bread I engulfed after the tour. I LOVE Turkish coffee and the guy making these was hilarious and kind. He even allowed me to ask him multiple questions about the process and snap a few pictures of his work.
This freshly baked cheesy bread was amazing and the perfect end to our Bran Castle visit.

Tromsø, Norway:

Vegan Hot Dog
Raketten Bar & Pølse
Tromsø, Norway
Known as the home of the best hot dogs in the world (according to guests) and the tiniest bar in the universe (according to aliens), Raketten is a small, one-person hot dog making operation in the center of Tromsø. I ordered the vegan version, complete with spicy homemade mustard, fried onions, and a freshly baked ciabatta bun. Whoever thought to put a hot dog in ciabatta?! The kicker here is that I don’t even really like hot dogs and yet this was so good, it was one of my favorite snacks of the year.

Budapest, Hungary:

Tócsni
Vörösmarty Square Market
Budapest, Hungary
One of the absolute must-have snacks in Hungary (or honestly in Europe) is known by a number of names, depending on the region. Tócsni is basically the potato pancake version of lángos, a deep fried dough (similar to an American elephant ear) covered in garlic, sour cream, cheese, and peppers. I prefer Tócsni, especially from the Budapest Christmas Market. Totally worth the food hangover.

Favorite Indian Food Spots:

Indian is one of our favorite cuisines. I’m still trying to work on my skills at home, but there is nothing like authentic meals when we travel. Thankfully, I found a couple of great locations last year:

Fairfield, California:

Amar Indian Cuisine
Fairfield, California
My brother-in-law, niece, and I took a trip to Amar so I could stock up on Indian spices before returning to Hungary. We stopped in the store, grabbed a couple of things (including a huge container of ghee–score!) and at check-out the owner recommended having lunch at their restaurant next door.
I’m so glad we did! This was Caroline’s first Indian meal and girl can put down the naan like her aunt. The restaurant was great and had soooo many options available for lunch.

Gdańsk, Poland:

Zaika Truck
Gdańsk, Poland
We grabbed lunch at Zaika while we were walking St. Dominic’s Fair. We ordered the curry and loved it.

London, England:

Indian Kati Rolls
Camden Market, London, England
My apologies for the blurry photo but I only snapped one picture before eating this amazing wrap. We stopped at Camden Market on Saturday afternoon and the entire place was absolutely packed with people. Thankfully I was able to find the Indian Kati stand and this wrap was incredible. Masala paneer in a naan wrap is all you need in the world.

Kraków, Poland:

Bhajan Cafe
Kraków, Poland
My lunch at Bhajan was the perfect way to end an amazing day in Kraków. I traveled to the city solo and spent the morning wandering the parks and visiting a couple of bookshops. The entire menu is veg friendly and the staff were kind enough to not judge me eating a meal meant for two people entirely on my own. Sooo good.

Budapest, Hungary:

Rajkot Palace
Budapest, Hungary
I actually had my favorite Indian meal on New Years Eve. Rajkot Palace was amazing; this Palak paneer was on point and Chris’s chicken vindaloo had him sweating from the spiciness.

Best Dinners:

Glasgow, Scotland:

Hillhead Bookclub
Glasgow, Scotland
There is something to be said for just honestly good sandwiches. We spent our last night in Glasgow enjoying Hillhead Bookclub’s unique menu and options. This veg reuben included seitan pastrami on dark rye bread.

Cluj-Napoca Romania:

Casa Dacilor Brancusi
Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Our last night in Romania we ate an amazing traditional meal at Casa Dacilor Brancusi. Of course everything I ordered was potato-based (always, ha) and this dinner was the perfect end to a fun road-trip through Romania.
This is the Salată Orientală.
I also ordered Cartofi franțuzești, which is a French style Romanian dish of potatoes, eggs, and cheese. My amazing friend Monica (whose hometown is Cluj!) always made this dish for me in Hungary and it was so special to order this with her in Romania.
The star of the show were these Papanaşi, Romanian doughnuts. I still dream about them.

Kraków, Poland:

Marchewka z Groszkiem
Kraków, Poland
I absolutely love this restaurant. I ordered my favorite pierogi–Ruskie–with a side of the blue cheese sauce (out of this world).
As well as strawberry and mascarpone dumplings for dessert. The owners were kind enough to let us order a couple dozen to take home with us.

Tromsø, Norway:

Bardus Bar
Tromsø, Norway
We absolutely loved this tiny restaurant in Tromsø. I ordered the mushroom and barley risotto and it was soooo good.
Plus you can’t help but love a dinner with a view of the city’s library! ❤ ❤

Kyiv, Ukraine:

O’Panas
Kyiv, Ukraine
I can’t say enough about O’Panas. Their menu is incredible–full of traditional Ukrainian food and wine–and the atmosphere is fun and comfortable. A place I can order a deruny, mushroom soup, and varenyky?! Easily my favorite dinner of 2019.
View from our table.

Best Dessert:

Suisun City, California:

It’s It Ice Cream
Suisun City, California
One of the best parts of visiting my sister in northern California is sharing an It’s It ice cream sandwich with the coolest girl in the world, my niece Caroline. Our favorite is strawberry and according to Caroline, ice cream sandwiches are appropriate for any time of the day. Best way to live life.

Pannonhalma, Hungary:

Viator
Pannonhalma, Hungary
After a long walk around the Pannonhalma grounds (in perfect weather, such a beautiful day) we stopped for a late lunch at nearby Viator. This dessert was amazing.

Szigliget, Hungary:

Villa Kabala
Szigliget, Hungary
An absolutely terrible picture, I know, but one of my favorite desserts of last year was enjoyed overlooking Lake Balaon on a date with a good friend. We ordered four (!) courses and left happy. This restaurant is an absolute gem.

Mezőlak, Hungary:

Garden & Ice Cream Shop
Mezőlak, Hungary
Only open during the summer months, this adorable shop in Mezőlak offers the best ice cream around. We spent a couple of perfect afternoons enjoying ice cream and wandering the small village.

Mindszentkálla, Hungary:

Kő fagyi?
Mindszentkálla, Hungary
Located near Balaton in the sleepy village of Mindszentkálla, Kő Fagyi? is a quaint ice cream shop with absolutely amazing flavors. The owners were previously a dress designer and software developer who sold gave up their careers in Budapest to make ice cream. I was encouraged to try a scoop of mango–which is usually my least favorite flavor–and within seconds I knew this cone would be the best I’d have all year.

Favorite Nachos:

Nachos are my all-time favorite food. While finding a decent order in Europe is tricky (so much disappointment) I managed to find a couple of awesome options this year.

Örebro, Sweden:

Mocca Deli
Örebro, Sweden
An unexpected treat in Sweden, these nachos were topped with all the best veggies.

London, England:

Maria Sabina @ Southbank Centre Winter Market
Jubilee Gardens, London, England
I know nachos don’t scream “winter food” but I couldn’t pass up the chance to order my favorite food at the winter market in London. This guac was amazing.

Tromsø, Norway:

O’Learys
Tromsø, Norway
Here’s the thing: Oumph! brand meat substitutes are the absolute best. High in protein, low in carbs and fat, the Swedish brand is my favorite. It’s always such a treat to find a restaurant that carries Oumph! and this was the first time I’ve had them as nachos (all the hearts for eyes emjois).
So amazing, I ordered them twice.

Vacaville, California:

Freebird’s World Burrito
Vacaville, California
Sorry Europe, but nachos in America are just so good. I ordered Freebird’s when I visited my sister in California last spring. My only complaint is that these nachos used Beyond Meat, (which is great!), but that they were more expensive than the steak option. Boo.
Still awesome, even at the premium price.

Sign in Cluj-Napoca, Romania

Cheers to good food in 2020! 🥂🥂

2019 Year in Review: AllThe[Travel]Things

2019 was a busy travel year for me! I was lucky enough to visit amazing new places and return to a couple of my favorite cities. As potentially my last full year abroad, I wanted to make the most of my time in Europe and I definitely accomplished that goal this year.

I tried to be as present in the moment as I could; mindfulness has always been a struggle for me–I’m always on to the next thing–but I am getting better at taking time to enjoy just being here.

My super fun murder mystery birthday party! LOOK AT THAT CARROT CAKE CHEESECAKE.

In Classic Ashlyn style, I wanted my travel post to include all my favorites: new and old places, landscapes wandered, and the best libraries I visited in 2019. I also had AMAZING experiences including traveling in Warsaw during the 75th anniversary of the Uprising, petting reindeer above the Arctic Circle, and attending a World Cup match in Paris.

Here’s a (mostly photo) overview of AllTheThings2019: travel, libraries, sports, experiences, and of course, dogs.

AllThe[NewPlace]Things:

Bran Castle, Romania:

Brașov, Romania:

Chernobyl, Ukraine:

Cluj-Napoca, Romania:

Esztergom, Hungary:

Gdańsk, Poland:

Glasgow, Scotland:

Kyiv, Ukraine:

Mindszentkálla, Hungary:

Örebro, Sweden:

Pannonhalma, Hungary:

Paris, France:

Peleș Castle, Romania:

Pripyat, Ukraine:

Stockholm, Sweden:

Stuttgart, Germany:

Tromsø, Norway:

Versailles, France:

Warsaw, Poland:

AllThe[ReturnTrip]Things:

Bratislava, Slovakia:

Hungarian Countryside:

Somló Mountain during poppy season.

Kraków, Poland:

London, England:

AllThe[Scenery]Things:

Cluj-Napoca, Romania:

Hoia-Baciu Forest

Fertorákos, Hungary:

Fertőrákosi Steinbruch (Quarry)

Gdańsk, Poland:

Westerplatte

Kraków, Poland:

Ojcow National Park

Örebro, Sweden:

Oset and Rynningeviken Nature Preserve

Stockholm, Sweden:

Rosendals Trädgård

Stuttgart, Germany:

Schlossgarten

Tromsø, Norway:

Lake Prestvannet
Folkeparken

Vallejo, California:

Blue Rock Springs Park

Warsaw, Poland:

Palace on the Isle (Pałac Łazienkowski) in Royal Baths Park

AllThe[Library]Things:

London, England:

The British Library ❤ ❤

Örebro, Sweden:

Pannonhalma, Hungary:

Archabbey Library

Stuttgart, Germany:

Tromsø, Norway:

Warsaw, Poland:

Warsaw University Library ❤ ❤
One of my favorite places in the world. Books + Rooftop garden!

AllThe[Fun]Things:

Budapest, Hungary:

Budapest Beer Week
New Years!
Buda Castle Wine Festival

Gdańsk, Poland:

St. Dominic’s Fair (held every year for the last 756 years!)
Pierogi-making class

Tromsø, Norway:

Meeting new friends at a Sami reindeer camp ❤ ❤
Hiking frozen lakes above the Arctic Circle

Versailles, France:

Wandering through the Queen’s Hamlet

Warsaw, Poland:

In Warsaw for the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising.

AllThe[Sports]Things:

Győr, Hungary:

First ever Junior World Championships!
Team Russia
Team Hungary
Team USA

Paris, France:

THE WORLD CUP I’M STILL NOT OVER THIS

Stuttgart, Germany:

Stuttgart World Cup!
Aliya Mustafina, Russia
Simone Biles, USA

Warsaw, Poland:

⚽⚽⚽

AllThe[Dog]Things ♥:

Porkchop in Budapest
Arya Tonks judging your life choices

🤍🤍🤍🤍

I’m so thankful for everything I had the opportunity to see and do last year.

Egészségedre to making 2020 all you hope it to be!

Currently:
Listening Moon: The Original Soundtrack (Clint Mansell)

“The reality is the policy you have in place is only as good as the culture surrounding it.”: January Update on MSU, the USOC, and USAG.

“‘The reality is the policy you have in place is only as good as the culture surrounding it,’ she said. ‘And it’s only going to be as effective as the hearts of the people who have to implement it. And so how you message on abuse, how much you demonstrate that it matters is by how you handle it. That is what really changes the culture.'”

Shamus, Kristen Jordan. 2020. “Rachael Denhollander: MSU is ‘Actively Reinforcing the Culture’ that let Nassar Thrive.” Detroit Free Press. Available here.

Need to catch up? You can read my last post here.

Another year, another update on the fallout from Nassar’s abuse. #surprisednotsurprised that the institutions that allowed the most prolific sexual abuse predator in the history of American sport continue to struggle to change culture and policy.

USA Gymnastics has found a new National Training Center, which shockingly includes medical tables out in the open, as opposed to the dusty table in the backroom of the Karolyi Ranch. I guess even the simple steps are something to give them credit for, although at this point it seems like we should be wayyyy beyond this.

Survivor Amanda Thomashaw attends a Michigan State University Board of Trustees meeting in December 2019.

A new book, Start By Believing, has brought a number of scathing documents to surface and I hope this will help put former CEO Steve Penny behind bars for good. Again, not surprising to find out how much he knew and covered up or that the person who smuggled medical records from the Karolyi Ranch was working at the organization up until December of last year.

Michigan State University, in their apparent steadfast mission to keep on being terrible, has continued to refuse to release the over 6,000 documents requested by the Michigan Attorney General’s office. Klages and Simon are still denying they knew anything about the abuse on campus, statements directly in contradiction to evidence collected by police.

The most positive development in this “hey let’s hold enablers and abusers accountable” long game is the recent raid of John Geddert’s home and gym (the photo at the beginning of this post). Former USAG Coach of the Year, Geddert has been under investigation for years for not only physically and emotionally abusing athletes, but also protecting his long-time friend Larry Nassar, who molested potentially hundreds of girls in Geddert’s gym.

Let’s get into it:

Michigan State University:

  • While John Engler resigned as interim president of MSU over a year ago, he has yet to agree to be interviewed by Attorney General Dana Nessel for her investigation into how the university allowed Nassar’s abuse; Engler has stated that he thinks the AG office is “biased against him”. Due to the university’s indemnification policy, they are still paying Engler’s legal fees, including $207,000. Engler made a number of controversial comments during his tenure including asking survivor Kaylee Lorincz, “if I wrote you a check for $250,000, would you take it?”
  • In December, Attorney General Dana Nessel stated that the investigation into how MSU handled Nassar’s abuse throughout his years at the university is at an “impasse” as the Board of Trustees has continued to withhold several thousands of documents from police. The university has cited attorney-client privilege as to why they are not required to hand over documents. Five of the eight university trustees have stated that they will review the 6,000 documents requested and “consider” releasing them to the AG’s office. Nessel responded:

“It’s unclear how the trustees can say with certainty that the information contained in those documents is not relevant to our investigation. In fact, the depth and breadth the university has gone to in withholding those documents only increases our fervor to obtain them.”

LeBlanc, Beth. 2019. “Nessel Clarifies: Nassar Investigation at ‘Impasse’ with MSU.” The Detroit News. Available here.
  • Four board members voted against the independent review which would have included the documents requested by the AG’s office.
  • Former MSU president Lou Anna Simon’s attorneys are planning to ask a judge to dismiss the four charges against her in relation to Nassar’s abuse at Michigan State. Simon is charged with two felonies and two misdemeanors of lying to police. She that while she knew of the 2014 Title IX investigation into Nassar brought forward by Amanda Thomashaw, but did not know any specifics behind the complaint. This directly contradicts evidence found by detectives that show Simon discussed Nassar and the investigation into whether he sexually abused Thomashaw in 2014. He was later cleared of the charges.
  • Former Michigan State University head coach Kathie Klages has a trial date for February 10th; she faces two charges of lying to police. Klages denied knowing of sexual abuse allegations made against Nassar, including two accounts brought forward by gymnasts in 1997. During her time as head coach, Klages forced her athletes to sign a card supporting Nassar and told the mother of a survivor that the 30,000+ images of child pornography found on his home computer were planted.
  • This week Rachael Denhollander criticized the lack of change in culture and policy at MSU as the university has yet to complete an independent investigation into not only how Nassar was able to abuse hundreds of girls on campus, but also how multiple complaints were dismissed by the administration:

“MSU is consistently messaging that they care about money and liability more. And in that case, they’re going to be completely ineffective at actually changing the culture. They’re going to be ineffective at communicating to survivors that there is a safe place to speak up. They are going to be ineffective at communicating to their own employees, that abuse reports have to be handled properly. Because essentially their messaging is that if you do mess up, we’re going to cover for you because it would be too expensive if we don’t. They’re actively reinforcing the culture…

I have even less hope for USAG than I have for MSU, if that’s even possible. It is the same set of problems. USAG has not taken the most basic steps. They have yet to identify even one mistake that was made. They have yet to identify one abusive coach, one abusive dynamic that should not have been allowed to flourish. They still have people working for them who actively covered up for Larry.”

Shamus, Kristen Jordan. 2020. “Rachael Denhollander: MSU is ‘Actively Reinforcing the Culture’ that let Nassar Thrive.” Detroit Free Press. Available here.
  • A woman has filed a lawsuit against the former MSU medical resident Michael Phinn further citing the lack of oversight by Michigan State leadership. Phinn was sentenced to five to fifteen years in prison for sexual assault (among other charges) after two women testified that he used his lab coat to expose himself to them and forced the women to watch videos of himself masturbating. The lawsuit also names Michigan State and former dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine, William Strampel. Strampel was Phinn’s (and Nassar’s) supervisor and was criminally charged for neglect of duty and sentenced to one year in prison last August.

USA Gymnastics & The United States Olympic Committee:

2012 Olympic Head Coach John Geddert
  • Amy White, a USA Gymnastics staffer who, under direction of CEO Steve Penny, removed medical records from the then-National Training Center, Karolyi Ranch, is no longer working for the organization. The notice in December 2019 did not state whether White had been fired or left the organization voluntarily. In a statement to the Senate in 2018, Kerry Perry–who replaced Penny as CEO–testified that the documents were given to Penny after White removed them them from Texas and brought them to USAG headquarters in Indianapolis. The national team met at the Karolyi Ranch every month and many gymnasts state they were abused by Nassar there.
  • The book Start by Believing (John Barr and Dan Murphy) was published this month and included a number of previously unreported documents relating to the Nassar case. Most damning are the documents that show then-CEO Steve Penny was aware of Nassar’s abuse earlier (and in more detail) than previously thought. He stated that gymnast Mckayla Maroney “felt no therapeutic effect but felt [Nassar] was getting sexual gratification” by abusing her under the guise of medical treatment, specifically penetrating her in Japan (2011), London (2012), and Belgium (2013). The document further states that USAG attorneys Dan Connolly and Scott Himsel offered Penny a choice:

“‘We can tell the full story of what we’ve learned thus far,’ the attorneys wrote in an email obtained by the authors. ‘We think it is highly likely that would become a media story and prompt Larry to sue for defamation… Neither Dr. Nassar nor USAG wants the attendant negative publicity at this time.'”

ESPN. 2020. “Book Reveals New Details of How USAG concealed Nassar Complaints.” ESPN Online. Available here.
  • Remember that Penny did not first alert police–a requirement of Indiana law–but instead hired Fran Sepler, a workplace harassment investigator, to interview gymnasts about the complaints against Nassar. She interviewed 2012 Olympians Maroney and Aly Raisman, along with Maggie Nichols, a 2015 World Champion and current gymnast for Oklahoma, about their abuse. Maggie is one of the first elite gymnasts to come forward when her coach overheard her discussing how uncomfortable Nassar made her feel at a national training camp.
  • USA Gymnastics has again postponed hearings related to complaints made against coach Maggie Haney. Haney, the owner of MG Elite Gymnastics, coached 2016 Olympic Champion Laurie Hernandez, along with a number of other elite gymnasts including Jazmyn Foberg (who now competes for the University of Florida) and current national team member Riley McCusker. The three year case began when eleven allegations of emotional and verbal abuse were made against Haney. Hernandez no longer trains at MG Elite, but McCusker, a 2018 World Champion and one of the front-runners for the 2020 team, still trains with Haney. Both Haney and McCusker were at the National Training Center this month.
  • Child sexual assault charges against former USA Gymnastics Athletic Trainer Debbie Van Horn were dismissed this January. Van Horn worked closely with Nassar for years at the-then National Training Center: Karolyi Ranch. Nassar called Van Horn his “neck” that kept his head on and further said she was “the single most influential person in the history of sports medicine for the sport of gymnastics”. Mattie Larson, a 2010 World Championship silver medalist, stated in her victim impact statement that Van Horn was in the room when Nassar abused her at the Karolyi Ranch. In addition to Van Horn, four others have been criminally charged in relation to the Nassar abuse including former CEO Steve Penny, who is facing charges of evidence-tampering, also in Texas.
  • USAG has named The Gymnastics Company as the new training center for the women’s program. The 42,000 square foot space in Indianapolis replaces the Karolyi Ranch as the official training site for US elite athletes, who meet at the location each month. One change from the secluded Karolyi Ranch is that the therapy tables are set up in plain view of the gym, rather than in a back room, which Nassar used to conceal his abuse of athletes.
  • While USAG’s decision to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy may have stopped the investigations and payouts to survivors, a recent article by The Washington Post found that USA Gymnastics has paid attorneys $1000+ per hour which:

“rank as extremely high for a bankruptcy of this size involving sexual abuse victims. Three lawyers have billed more than $600,000 individually in the first year of the case, according to a review of legal bills filed in court, part of more than $7 million in legal fees approved, by a judge, on a preliminary basis.

To some attorneys and victims, the rising legal fees are prompting concerns about how much will be left for victims when the case is over.”

Hobson, Will. 2019. “While Larry Nassar Victims Wait, Lawyers Cash in on USA Gymnastics Bankruptcy.” The Washington Post. Available here.
  • On Tuesday, attorneys representing survivors motioned to dismiss USAG’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Representatives stated that the survivors and USA Gymnastics are not any closer to settling mediation disputes and legal claims. USAG filed for bankruptcy in December of 2018, an act that halted all legal investigations (including the organization’s depositions) and the USOC’s decision to revoke their status as the national governing body for the sport. If approved, this request for dismissal would force USA Gymnastics to “confront the lawsuits filed in courts across the country and could also be exposed to new ones.” According to the filing, there has been no progress in months between USAG and the athletes suing the organization.
  • On January 21st, law enforcement raided the training center and home of John and Kathryn Geddert. John, the 2012 Olympic Head Coach and owner of Twistars gym, was accused of mental and physical abuse of athletes before being suspended by USA Gymnastics in 2018 and has been under investigation for two years. His gym was one of the locations Nassar used to abuse gymnasts, often playing the “good guy” counterpart to Geddert. Makayla Thrush, a former athlete at Twistars, spoke about Geddert’s abuse and enabling in her victim impact statement in 2018:

“Do you remember the time you got so mad at me? I don’t even know why that’s just who you are. You threw me on top of the low bar, ruptured the lymph nodes in my neck, gave me a black eye, and tore the muscles in my stomach. You told me to kill myself not just once but many other times, and unfortunately, I let you get the best of me because after you ended my career I tried. John you never even called me by my first name.”

Murphy, Amy. 2020. “Update: Police Raid on Twistars and Home of Former US Gymnastics Coach.” Fox 47 News. Available here.
  • In addition to Thrush, a number of other athletes have stated that Geddert knew of the abuse. 2012 Olympic Champion Mckayla Maroney also stated that she told Geddert while sharing a car in 2011 that Nassar was molesting her. In The Girls, multiple gymnasts told similar stories of Geddert walking in on Nassar abusing them while cracking jokes about their breasts and other body parts.
  • Rita Wieber, the mother of 2012 Olympic Champion and former Twistars gymnast Jordyn Wieber, released a statement 24 hours after police raided Twistars, stating: “I was encouraged to think that there is still a chance justice is going to be served.”
  • The attorney representing a number of survivors published this statement on the raid:

“On behalf of the hundreds of Larry Nassar victims represented by our team, I applaud the actions of the Michigan Attorney General and the Grand Ledge Police Department. The search of John Geddert’s home and Twistars offices is long overdue. Geddert was the handpicked by USA Gymnastics, the USOPC and the Karolyis to coach our 2012 Olympic Team. Every member of the Fierce Five was sexually assaulted by Larry Nassar under his watch. It is now time for search warrants to be served on USA Gymnastics and the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee so that Nassar’s victims and the public will finally discover who within these organizations actively concealed Nassar’s crimes.”

Dolinar, Elise. 2020. “Larry Nassar Victims’ Attorney Issues Statement on Raid of John Geddert’s Assets.” NBC 25 News. Available here.

On a positive note, last year I read both The Girls (Abigail Pesta) and What is a Girl Worth? (Rachael Denhollander) and I highly recommend both if you’re interested in learning more about the topic.

Currently:

Reading: The Testaments (Margaret Atwood)
Watching: The Good Place Season 4 (Netflix)
Listening: Scene on Radio (Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University)

“Give Your Square Life”: Stockholm, Sweden

lovely lovely Stockholm

Stockholm ❤ I was only in Sweden’s capital city for roughly six hours–not nearly enough time–but thankful to spend a gorgeous day in the “Beauty on the Water”.

While in Örebro I took the train from the central station to Stockholm. Forever the thrifty person I am, I booked the two hour trip on the older train (about 30 Euro) and it was great option. Even the discounted train (as the lady who helped me said: “You know it’s the OLD one?”) was super clean and efficient. I caught up podcasts and finished Not that Bad by Roxane Gay, which was one the most powerful books I read in 2019.

Gamla Stan (Old Town)

My limited time in Stockholm meant I had to prioritize what I could visit–I felt a little piece of my heart break as I eliminated stops off my list–but I was able to see a good deal of the city and one of my absolute favorite places I’ve ever visited: Rosendals Trädgård.

This was also one of my first solo trips and it was fun traveling on my own. Picture a lot of intentional wandering, coffee stops, and as always, a long trek to the city library (because of course).

Stockholm is an incredible place with tons of beautiful architecture, history, and lovely green spaces. I’m so thankful to have spent the day here, especially during the summer, when the capital has up to 18 hours of sunlight per day.

Where are we?

The first inhabitants of the area that is present-day Stockholm moved here after the Ice Age (around 8,000 BC) and Old Town was constructed by the Vikings in 1000 CE. Founded across 14 islands, the city is connected by 57 bridges, earning the nickname “Beauty on the Water”; the name Stockholm is derived from the words stock (“log” in Swedish) and holm (meaning “islet” and most likely referring to Helgeandsholmen in central Stockholm).

 St. Gertrude’s Church in Gamla stan

After working for years in the sustainability field in Charleston, one of the most interesting parts of visiting Sweden (and especially Stockholm) was seeing sustainability practices in person (skip ahead to fika pictures if you don’t want to read my nerdy-sustainability ramblings).

Named the European Green Capital Award by the EU Commission in 2010, Stockholm has the distinction of being Europe’s first “green capital”. The landscape, location, and population growth of the city provides unique challenges to Sweden’s sustainability goals.

The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA)

Known for its green spaces, which make up 30% of city’s area–the other thirds being urban and water–Stockholm utilizes a “community planning” system that:

“focuses on enhancing or altering the production and consumption of society that is normally left up to the market to determine. Planning is about formulating strategies to improve the quality of life for Swedes and the quality of the natural environment. Planning and environmental policies focus on this ‘dual’ purpose of urban development patterns and green space preservation–crafting guidelines and policies to ensure that humans are close to nature and that natural areas maintain their ecological functions.”

Nelson, Alyse. 2018. “Stockholm Sweden: City of Water.” Landscape Australia. Available here.

As a country, Sweden has committed to reduce GHG emission by 40% by 2020 and zero net GHG emissions by 2050. They also implemented the Swedish Environmental Code (1999) which:

“requires that an environmental impact assessment be carried out before permission can be given for an environmentally hazardous activity. This assessment takes into account the impact on people, animals, soil, water, air, the landscape, and the cultural environment.”

The Swedish Institute. 2018. “Sweden Tackles Climate Change.” Sweden Official Site. Available here.
Djurgårdsbrunnsviken, a bay of Saltsjön, was used for Olympic rowing and swimming competitions during the 1912 Summer Olympics.

My priorities included visiting the Old Town, Rosendals Trädgård, the Stockholm Public Library, and seeing the views from the water. While I had a small time-frame in Stockholm and chose to walk through the city, I’m sure you could hit more on your list by using public transportation (and a chance to see the world’s longest art gallery); I just love walking and enjoying new places on foot.

Here was my journey: Norrmalm (Centro) → Gamla stan → Djurgården → Östermalm → Vasastan (north of Norrmalm) → Norrmalm (Centro).

The Sites:

Old Town (Gamla stan):

St. Gertrude’s Church (Sankta Gertruds kyrka) is located in Gamla stan and is dedicated to Saint Gertrude (626-659).
The German guild of St. Gertrude was founded in the 1300s by German merchants living in Stockholm.
The Old Town is known for its different shades of gold seen throughout the area.
Stockholm’s Old Town is one of the best preserved European historic districts, thanks in large part to the pedestrian-only streets here.
The Cathedral Church of Saint Nicholas (Sankt Nikolai kyrka) is the oldest church in Gamla stan and was founded in the 13th century.
The Church has been the site of a number of important Swedish historical events including weddings, funerals, and coronations.
The Grand Square (Stortorget) is the oldest square in Stockholm.
If I had more time I would have loved to tour the Nobel Museum and Library, which included an exhibit about Martin Luther King, Jr. while I was there.
Fun fact: the Nobel Prizes in physics, medicine, literature, and chemistry are awarded in Stockholm every December but the Nobel Peace Prize is presented in Oslo each year.
The Square’s well was designed by Erik Palmsteft. Land elevation caused the well to dry up in 1856 but today the landmark is connected to city water.
The Stockholm Palace (Stockholms slott) is the official residence of the Swedish monarchy and includes 1400+ rooms (600 with windows).
Construction started in 1697 amd was completed in 1754.
The House of Nobility (Riddarhuset)
French architect Simon de la Vallée began planning construction for the building but was killed by a Swedish nobleman in 1642, just a week after work began; his son, Jean De la Vallée finished the work in 1660.
Riddarholmen Church (Riddarholmskyrkan) is one of the oldest buildings in Stockholm and the former medieval abbey for the city. It is located on Riddarholmen, an island close to the Royal Palace, so not technically Gamla stan, but I was able to catch a view of the beautiful church on my way to the Old Town.

Rosendals Garden (Rosendals Trädgård):

Rosendals Trädgård is one of my absolute favorite places I’ve ever visited. Home to one of the most sustainable cafes in Stockholm, the property features a number of gardens, an orchard with over 100 apple trees, and greenhouses. Reader, I was in love.
Previously modeled after the Royal Horticultural Society in England, the garden also housed a training school that closed in 1911. Today the main purpose of the space is to “present biodynamic (organic) garden cultivation to the general public” through lectures, courses, exhibitions, and let’s be honest, awesome looking dishes.
The bakery on site is AMAZING and includes a number of breads and treats. The building on the left and behind the raised beds was the “drop off station” where customers brought their plates and serviceware once finished with their meal. It made my heart happy to see such clearly labelled instructions and zero contamination between recycling and composting, even during the lunch rush. This is a pretty serious operation that the patrons also respected.
One of the old greenhouses is now used as a shop.
The space includes Trädgårdsbutik and Plantboden, two shops where customers can buy supplies and fresh produce grown on the property.
With plenty of places to sit and walk, I could literally spend all day (or the rest of my life 🤔) here.
A wonderful friend who studied in Uppsala University in Sweden recommended this amazing place to me. Thank you Erika ❤
Near the orchard.
The original orangery.
♡ ♡ ♡ ♡

Walk through Djurgården:

This was about a 45 minute walk (one way) but totally worth it, even with my limited time-frame.
Statue of Jenny Lind: Known as the “Swedish Nightingale”, Lind was one of the most highly respected opera singers in the 1800s. She also toured the United States with P.T. Barnum; a fictionalized account of their relationship was part of the plot of the film, The Greatest Showman (2017).
“The Lady Working for Peace in the World” was built by the Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.
Sirishov is a villa near Rosendal’s Palace with some parts of the house dating back to the 1760s.
The view from the other side of the bridge including the Nordic Museum.
The Nordic Museum (Nordiska museet) was founded in the late 1800s and includes the cultural history and ethnography of Sweden from 1520 to present.
The museum contains over one million objects.
The Blue Gate (blå porten) is the entrance (or exit) to the Royal Djurgården (Kungliga Djurgården).

Östermalm:

The largest district in Stockholm, Östermalm features many of the most beautiful buildings in the city.
Oscar’s Church (Oscarskyrkan) is one of Stockholm’s major churches and was built in 1897.

Stockholm Public Library (Stockholms stadsbibliotek):

Stockholm’s Public Library opened in 1928 and is known for its tall rotunda.
The Library was recently named one of the world’s most beautiful libraries by Conde Nast Traveler. I also spent time having fika here and it was a lovely break before catching my train back to Örebro.

Drinks & Shops:

Forever packing my lunch:

Here’s the thing: I’m forever packing my lunch and snacks. I was a “brown bag” kid in school and that has definitely continued into adulthood. Because Sweden is more expensive than other countries–and their grocery stores are out.of.this.world–I packed a couple of sandwiches for this trip. Hi beet hummus, spicy mustard, greens, and veg options!
Östermalm is a beautiful place to sit and eat your packed lunch while catching up on podcasts.

Sara’s Art & Coffee:

As soon as I arrived in Stockholm I had to stop for fika in Gamla stan. Sara’s Art & Coffee is an adorable cafe offering coffee and treats. Source.

Rönnells Antikvariat:

Specializing in rare books and literary merchandise, Rönnells Antikvariat is located near the National Library of Sweden and the Mikkeller Bar in the Östermalm district.

Slow Fox:

I loved this graphic design / music / bookshop in Gamla stan.

Mikkeller Bar:

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it to the Mikkeller Bar in Stockholm but it’s at the top of my list of places to visit next time. The Dannish microbery originally used “cuckoo” and “phantom” practices; instead of operating as their own facility, they collaborated with other brewers to make experimental beers. Source.

♡ Skål

Nationalmuseum Skeppsholmen Konstbiblioteket & Arkiv
Wandering Gamla stan
View from Rosendalsvägen

Currently:

Reading: Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee (Casey Cep)
Watching: Succession Season 2 (HBO)
Listening: The Provability Gap (NUT Radio)

Deruny & Varenyky: Kyiv, Ukraine

Great Lavra Bell Tower

Last spring (I know, I know, I am soooo far behind on posts AND in what world is it already 2020?!) Chris and I had the opportunity to tag along with our friends, Heather and Chris, to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv. Always at the top of my Dream Travel Destinations List, I was so excited to help plan our short trip. We had roughly three days in the country, and including our trip to Chernobyl (post to come, I promise), this left about a day and half to wander the capital.

Near Podil

Get ready because this post is going to be looooooong and a little heavy on the political, historical, and yes, grammatical side (and wayyyy too many pictures). As a PoliSci nerd who studied Russian history, particularly the influence of the Soviets on Ukraine and the Baltic states, I can’t help but discuss many of the topics I’ve researched in the past that I finally was able to see the effects of in person (still can’t believe it).

To be honest, it has taken a long time to really reflect on our few days in Ukraine. The history, vibe, and culture of Kyiv is so difficult to put into words; it was definitely a lot to process and ingest considering my background (and as a person who leisurely reads books like Environmental Justice and Sustainability in the Former Soviet Union in her free time, my nerdiness knows no bounds).

Hermione gets me

We opted to stay in the historic neighborhood of Podil, a quick Uber ride into the center of the city. Kyiv also has an expansive metro (including the deepest station in the world at 10.5 meters below the ground #yikes) so you can easily move from different areas of the capital. When getting into our Uber at the airport, Heather and I quietly air-exclaimed-in-delight that our driver was listening to the Neverending Story soundtrack, clearly one of the highlights of the year.

Ballerina dancer statue (wood) created by Constantin Skritutsky.

Kyiv is extremely affordable (roughly 35 US cents for a train ticket or $2-6 per Uber ride) and the food is amazing; you can easily find a Ukrainian, Georgian, or Eastern European dinner for less than $10 USD. Happily for us, we were able to find #allthefood while we were there.

Another view of the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra

Unfortunately, it was a little rainy and chilly while we visited, but thankfully we were able to see as much as we could in the small amount of time we were in Ukraine. Mostly everyone we met were friendly and spoke English; while I remember some Russian–and the language is similar to Ukrainian–the most important words to learn are деруни (“deruny” meaning potato pancake) and варе́ники  (“varenyky” = dumplings similar to pierogi). I’m only being half serious here, but for real, learn those terms because these dishes are on point in Kyiv.

Enjoying our walk through Podil (check out that ORANGE RAINCOAT)
📷: Heather

Where are we?

Kyiv is the capital and most populous city of Ukraine. The legend goes that the city was founded by three brothers and leaders of the Polyanian tribe of the East Slavs: Kyi, Schek, and Khoryv. Each brother established his own area on a hill and this together became the formation of the city; a nearby stream was named for their sister, Lybed.

Another view of the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra

One of the oldest cities in Eastern Europe, Kyiv has a complicated history and plays a vital role in the region. Enjoying relative independence until becoming part of the Tsardom of Russia in 1667, the primarily Christian city fell increasingly under Russification in the 19th century; a greater number of ethnic Russians moved into Kyiv, resulting in a domination of Russian speakers in the city. Following a period of prosperity after the Russian Industrial Revolution, the city was the center of a number of conflicts including the German occupation in WWI, the Russian Civil War (1917-1922), and the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-1921. The leadership and status of Kyiv changed sixteen times in two years (1918-1920).

Abandoned building near Podil.

Ukraine became one of of the founding republics of the Soviet Union and was under Soviet occupation from 1921-1991. While an increase in Ukrainian population and culture migrated back into Kyiv and the city became a scientific and industrial center for the region, a number of events devastated the country including the Great Famine of 1932-1933 and Stalin’s Great Purge of 1937-1938.

The Great Famine is known in Ukrainian as Holodomor (Голодомо́р в Украї́ні: “to kill by starvation”) and millions of people died during this time, most of whom were ethnic Ukrainians. Scholars believe the man-made famine was created by Joseph Stalin as a way to either shut down the Ukrainian independence movement or an intentional policy by the Soviets to eliminate the Ukrainians; many consider the unreasonable quotas implemented on Ukrainian farmers and peasants should be considered genocide. While an exact number is impossible to determine, it is estimated that between five and ten million people died during Holodomor. The Ukrainian government recognized the event as genocide in 2003 and was finalized by the Kyiv court of appeal in 2010.

Kyiv is also known for the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant disaster (1986) that took place 100 km from the city; northern winds moved radioactive debris north and the capital remained mostly safe from the accident.

Kyiv Pechersk Lavra

Ukraine declared independence on August 24th, 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, but issues with Russian influence remain. In 2013, protests against the Ukrainian government’s decision to decline signing an agreement with the European Union (instead furthering ties with Russia) took place in Kyiv’s Independence Square. Nicknamed Euromaidan, the movement resulted in more than 100 deaths and 2,500 people injured. These protests against corruption, human rights violations, and abuse of power led to the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution and the removal of President Yanukovych from power.

Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

And for a little political grammar nerdiness (skip ahead to the potato pancake pictures if this bores you):

Why am I using the “Kyiv” spelling instead of “Kiev”? The latter version–the translated Russian word for the city–has been the more commonly used spelling by the West. Kyiv is the transliteration of the name from Ukrainian and established by their government as the official spelling in 1995. As the country is no longer under Soviet occupation, many are opting to use the preferred spelling of the Ukrainians–as we should–rather than the Russian pronunciation.

“There’s no reason other than old colonialist inertia to continue using a Russian spelling for a Ukrainian city name,” Dr. Shevchuk said.

Zraick, Karen. 2019. “Wait, How do you Pronounce Kiev?” The New York Times. Available here.

Full disclosure: correctly spelling the capital city is a challenge for me. I studied in the United States and most of my academic work focused primarily on Russian influences on Ukraine, so of course I’ve always spelled the city as Kiev.

While we’re on the topic, let’s try to stop referring to Ukraine as “The Ukraine”. English speakers have historically added the “the” as a way to refer to the country as “the borderland” part of Russia, rather than its own entity. Incorrect both grammatically and politically–Russian and Ukrainian languages do not even include definite articles–if we want to correctly refer to the Eastern European country bordering Russia, Ukraine (solo) is the right pronunciation. Using “the” is disrespectful to Ukrainians as it is seen as a denial of independence. #decolonizelanguage

Kyiv is unlike any other city we’ve had the opportunity to visit. I absolutely recommend taking a trip to see the amazing buildings, unique landscapes, and experience the history (and let’s real, the cuisine) of the city.

The Sites:

Kontraktova Square (Контрактова площа):

Kontraktova ploshcha (Square of Contracts) is the central square in the historic Podil neighborhood.
Pretty amazing to walk out of your apartment and see these beautiful buildings.
Monument to Petro Konashevych-Sahaidachny, a Cossach Hetmanm, built in 2001.
The Pyrohoshcha Dormition of the Mother of God Church was established in 1132, destroyed by the Soviets in 1935, and rebuilt in 1988.

Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (КиєвоПечерська лавра):

The Kyiv Pechersk Lavra is an absolute MUST visit in Kyiv and is also known as the Kyiv Monastery of the Caves.
Founded in 1051, the monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and over 100 monks still live there today.
Visiters can book a tour either online or on-site (we purchased ours at the Lavra) and includes a tour of the underground caves. This was also the only real conversation in Russian I had while in Kyiv and the older woman who sold us the tickets referred to Heather and me as “sweet girls” ❤

It’s an incredible tour, but also very small quarters. Okay for me at 5 ft, but not as easy for the Chrises. Poor Shaw basically blocked the entire entrance to the caves as we started descending the stairs. It is a very tight squeeze with people moving in both directions.

The caves are corridors that included living quarters and underground chapels for the monks. A number of catacombs and mummies are also under the monastery and we were able to see a couple on the tour.
The Lavra has a number of buildings including the Belltower, Dormition Cathedrial, and eight churches.
View of the city from the entrance.
Cemetery with a view of the Motherland Monument.

The Ukrainian State Museum of the Great Patriotic War (Музей історії України у Другій світовій війні):

Just a short walk from the Lavra, the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War is a huge area commemorating the German-Soviet War. It was opened by Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in 1981 and is one of the largest museums in Ukraine with over 300 THOUSAND exhibits.
This monument, near the end, is named “Crossing of the Dnieper”. The Battle for the Dnieper (1943) killed over 500,000 people (counting the number of deaths on both sides).
The museum includes a TON of armaments and machinery used by the Soviets after WWII.
Originally named the “Museum of the Great Patriotic War”, the parliament of Ukraine changed the name to its current “National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War” in 2015.

This change was a part of a greater law that banned all Nazi and communist symbols –including street names and monuments; the term “Great Patriotic war” was also outlawed.

The Motherland Monument (Батьківщина-Мати):

One of the most famous buildings of the Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War, the Motherland Monument is 102 meters (335 feet) tall and can easily be seen from across the river. Construction began in 1979 and was opened in 1981 (again by Brezhnev). The building of the monument was controversial as many felt that that the materials and funds would be better used in other areas. The cost is estimated to be over nine million rubles (in the 1970s).
Today the Motherland Monument remains controversial; when Soviet and Communist symbols were outlawed in 2015, WWII monuments were excluded from the policy and the statue was allowed to remain as-is, complete with the state emblem of the Soviet Union on her shield.
📷: Heather Shaw

Taras Shevchenko University & Park (Київський національний університет імені Тараса Шевченка):

Taras Shevchenko Monument. Shevchenko is one of the most famous Ukrainians and known for his art, writing, and ethnography.
Shevchenko Park is the smallest park in the city.
The trees have eyes.
The original “Red Building” of Taras Shevchenko University.

St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral (Собор святого Володимира):

St. Volodymry’s Cathedral is the mother cathedral of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and named for Prince Vladimir I of Kyiv.
Under Soviet occupation the cathedral remained open and tourists were able to see a working Orthodox Church.

Independence Square (Майдан Незалежності):

Independence Square (Майдан Незалежност) is the central square of Kyiv. The Independence Monument was built in 2001 to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Independence of Ukraine and stands at 61 meters (200 feet) tall.
The Square was the site of the start of Ukraine’s independence movement in 1990 as well as most political rallies in the city. Non-political events also took place here until the Euromaidan deaths in 2014. A memorial for those murdered–The National Memorial to the Heavenly Hundred Heroes and Revolution of Dignity Museum–is located here.
View of the Square today.
A photo of the 2014 Euromaidan Protests

Saint Sophia’s Cathedral (Собор святої Софії):

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Saint Sophia’s Cathedral was built in the 11th century and includes a bell tower and the House of Metropolitan.
The name of cathedral stems from Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia cathedral and is dedicated to Holy Wisdom, not a saint named Sophia.
The cathedral fell into disrepair following the pillaging of Kyiv in 1169 and Mongolian Tatars in 1240. It was further damaged in the 1500s when Poland and Ukraine attempted to unite both Orthodox and Catholic churches. While repairs were made and the cathedral improved, Soviet anti-religious campaigns of the 1920s almost had the buildings destroyed in favor of a park.

Today, the complex is a secular museum of Ukraine’s Christianity, with no religious services held in the space.

St. Andrew’s Church (Андріївська церква):

I am so bummed to not have my own picture of St. Andrew’s Church during the daytime. The beautiful Baroque church was built from 1747-1754 and sits at the top of the Andriyskyy Descent.
Source

Golden Gate (Золоті ворота):

The Golden Gate of Kyiv was the main gate for the city in the 11th century. The building was dismantled during the Middle Ages and rebuilt by the Soviets in 1982.
The rebuilding of the gate for the 1500th anniversary of Kyiv (!!!!) came under controversy as no images of the original building existed. Many felt that the reconstructed building should be torn down with only the original ruins allowed.

Restaurants & Pubs:

Podil East India Company:

The Podil East India Company is a small craft bar with an amazing Indian-inspired menu in the Podil neighborhood. So basically, all my favorite things in one location.

Craft vs. PUB:

“No water, only beer.”
Right next to Podil East India Company is the small and well-stocked Craft vs. PUB. Always a fan of underground beer spots, we enjoyed a couple of beers before heading out to the see the sites. I had the Mango IPA by KF Brewery (Ukraine).
Source.

Drunken Monkey:

Yet another underground pub, Drunken Monkey has a great selection of beer, cocktails, and an awesome menu of snacks. Highly recommend the appetizer plates after a long day trip to Chernobyl. I tried KF Brewing’s Naked Pug (because of course I did).
Bonus: The Drunken Monkey is a quick walk from OMG Ice Cream (see below).
Source.

Coffee in the MISTO:

I really enjoyed Coffee in the MISTO. Located in Podil, the shop is adorable, with a cat theme and small snacks available to purchase with your coffee.
Always appreciate a vegan sandwich on dark bread.

Holy Beans Coffee Company:

The motto for Holy Beans Coffee Company is “a pretty food coffee company” which of course I appreciate. We stopped for coffee and dessert-for-breakfast before touring the Lavra.

OMG Ice Cream & Coffee:

Honestly one of the best ice creams I’ve had in Europe (truly a top honor considering the amount of ice cream I consume in each city), OMG Ice Cream is located in Podil and makes homemade and seasonal flavors. I tried the pistachio and it was lizziemcguirewhatdreamsaremadeof.gif
Source.

Kanapa:

I can not say enough about Kanapa. Located near St. Andrew’s Church, this restaurant specializes in Ukrainian cuisine. Their menu includes a map of where their ingredients are procured, so obviously I was immediately sold.
This was my starter: pumpkin with goat cheese, hibiscus powder, and basil butter.
Followed by double varenyky with mushroom powder.
SO GOOD.

O’Panas:

We also stopped for (a HUGE) Ukrainian dinner at O’Panas, located near Taras Shevchenko Park. The restaurant is decorated in traditional fare and boasts an amazing menu with a ton of great local wines. Our server was wonderful, respectfully tried to listen to my broken Ukrainian, and didn’t judge us (at least to our faces) when we ordered 30 dishes.
Mushroom dumpling soup  🙌   🙌 
Not pictured: cabbage rolls that smelled like heaven.
Hi, this is just my casual deruny with cheese and porcini mushrooms + my varenyky with potato and mushrooms. Clearly I was feeling mushrooms this day.

Seriously, can’t recommend O’Panas enough.

❤ На здоровье

Raincoat game STRONG
“Життя без науки – смерть”
(“Life without science equals death”)

Created during the French Spring Festival (2013) by French muralist Julien Mullen (Seth) and Ukrainian artist Vladimir Manzhos (Waone), this mural is located on building 2 of the Mohyla Academy.
One of my favorite spots of our trip ❤

You can also download a Google Map of all my favorite places here.

Currently:

Reading: On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal (Naomi Klein)
Watching: Watchmen (HBO)
Listening: In the Dark Season 2 (APM Reports)