Chornobyl Power Plant & Prypiat

The Chornobyl Power Plant and the city of Pripyat were the final stops on our tour. 

Where are we?

It was incredible to just be there. That’s the only way I can put into words the way it felt to stand at the place where everything happened. If you were just randomly driving near the plant–which is still in use today–you’d never know that the worst nuclear accident in history happened there.

Pripyat, once coined “The City of the Future” is frozen in time. Originally built to service the Chornobyl Power Plant, the city included almost 50,000 people–men, women, and children–before being evacuated following the explosion of reactor four. With over fifteen schools, an amusement park, pools, cinemas, hospitals, and parks, Pripyat was meant to be a shining example of Soviet life. 

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Only three kilometers (less than two miles) from the plant, Pripyat was forced to evacuate in just three hours, a day and a half after the explosion. Supposedly the clocks in Pripyat are frozen to 11:55, the moment electricity was cut off in the city and right before the announcement to evacuate was made. 

Чорнобиль (Chornobyl Power Plant):

Originally covered by a sarcophagus (Ukrainian: Укриття and interestingly in Russian called Объект “Укрытие”, which means not sarcophagus, but rather, “covering”) made of concrete and steel that encased the exploded reactor, the structure was deemed beyond repair in 1996. Construction on the “Chernobyl New Safe Confinement” was started in 2010 and finished in 2019. Funded by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the new confinement cost a total of €2.15 billion (an interesting note is that the EBRD, an international financial institution, ceased providing funding to the Russian Federation after the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014).

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Construction for the original covering began just 24 days after the explosion and was completed in 206 days. Reactor four is currently covered by the Chernobyl New Safe Confinement, which also contains the original sarcophagus, a structure in use from 1986-1996.  The new structure was called “the new tomb for the most dangerous waste in the world” and is taller than the Statue of Liberty and is bigger than Wembley Stadium.
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Monument to the Reactor 4 and Builders of the Sarcophagus with the new NSC in the background. Higginbotham notes that this structure also serves “as a final monument to the last resting place of Valery Khodemchuk–a radioactive mausoleum to memorialize for generations to come the first victim of the accident” (366).
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For reference, workers walking past the old sarcophagus and behind the same monument.

City of При’п’ять (Prypiat):

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Now an abandoned city, Prypiat was founded in 1970 to serve the Chornobyl Power Plant.
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Nature has taken over the city.
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Avanhard Stadium (Стадіон «Авангард») was built just for Prypiat but unfortunately was never used.
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The explosion of reactor four happened before the stadium’s first match.
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Prypiat’s amusement park was also never used. Scheduled to open on May 1st, 1986, the city was evacuated before it could be enjoyed by the inhabitants of Prypiat.
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There are rumors (and photographic evidence to support) that the park briefly opened ahead of schedule on April 27th to distract those who lived in Prypiat from the nuclear disaster occurring nearby.
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The Ferris Wheel of Prypiat has is one of the famous symbols of the Chornobyl disaster.
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Bumper cars 
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The amusement park (known in Russian at the time as a “Park of Culture and Rest” (“Парк культуры и отдыха”) also includes a mural drawn after the city was evacuated.
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Walking through the city.
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The Polissya Hotel (Ukrainian: Готе’ль Полісся) was used in the 1970s to house visitors to the city and is one of the tallest buildings in Prypiat.
The hotel before the evacuation of the city.
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The Hotel as it stands today.
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This building was used by Valery Legasov and Boris Shcherbyna as a command center after reactor four exploded at the power plant. They were tasked with investigating the accident and limiting the impacts of the radiation.
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Prypiat’s Cinema
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The Palace of Culture Energetik (Russian: Дворец культуры Энергетик).
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The Palace was built for Prypiat in the 1970s.
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Prypiat supermarket–considered a luxury for a Soviet city.
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Residential buildings
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Now abandoned apartment buildings.
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One of the many dogs that visited us on our tour. Nature is surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) flourishing without humans. These dogs however, are given beds and warm blankets during the winter and there are organizations that provide medical care for them as well. Many of the dogs here are descendants of the pets left behind by their evacuated owners and were not found by Soviet soldiers ordered to kill any animals in the city to stop the spread of the radiation.
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I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to travel here. My hope is that, rather than frame the explosion of reactor four as the past, we understand that the decisions that led up to the most disastrous nuclear accident in history, as well as the resolutions made in the aftermath of that event, are still impacting us today. The amount of radiation and contamination of Ukraine, Belarus, and numerous other places not only killed people, but are still ongoing issues for those living in these areas, now, in 2020. For me, this was not a simple understanding of a decision gone-badly, but a study into place, justice, and science wrapped into a human-made disaster. 

Sources:

Higginbotham, Adam. 2019. Midnight in Chernobyl: The Untold Story of the World’s Greatest Nuclear Disaster. Simon & Schuster: New York.

 

Currently:
Reading: The Atlas of Unusual Borders (Zoran Nikolic)

Chornobyl Duga Base

One part of our day trip to Chornobyl from Kyiv included a stop at the former Soviet base operating a Duga Radar Tower. What is a Soviet Radar Tower you ask? I had literally zero idea about this structure until we pulled up in the bus and walked the short way to the tower, also known as the Russian Woodpecker. As most know, I love AllTheOldAbandonedThings so I was of course fascinated by this Soviet adventure.

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This stop was an incredible look into Soviet military operations during this time period. With over 1,500 personnel at the height of operation, the base and tower are now abandoned, along with the other Soviet dreams for technological and societal prowess; this base met the same fate as the “city of the future”, Prypiat.

In his article for Newsweek, Alexander Nazaryan notes the connection between these two sites in Chornobyl:

“If anything, the military purpose of Chernobyl 2 [the Duga Tower] is a reminder that the purpose of the Chernobyl power station was never entirely civilian, either. While it did provide vast amounts of electricity to Ukraine, its four reactors were of the RBMK variety, meaning they could be easily switched between the fission of uranium for civilian purposes and the enrichment of plutonium for military ones. That left the top of reactor lightly covered, in order to make the switching of fuel assemblies easier. That’s why, when the thing unleashed its fiery belch one April day, a good part of Europe got a dusting of radionuclides.”

Nazarayan, Alexander. 2014. “The Massive Russian Radar Site in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.” Newsweek. Available here.

I can now cross “wandering around an abandoned Soviet base in Northern Ukraine” off my bucket-list.

Where are we?

This tower was part of the Soviet over-the-horizon radar (OTH), an aspect of the government’s missile defense early-warning radar network. There are two Duga towers: one here in Chornobyl and another was built in eastern Siberia.

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Known as the Russian Woodpecker because of the distinct tapping sound made by the system that interfered with other broadcasts, communications, and transmissions without warning, the tower is ENORMOUS. You can listen to the tower’s distinct tap-tap-tap sound here.

Like Prypiat, all operations at this hidden military base ceased after the explosion of reactor four. Today, the tower and buildings are deteriorating into the same woods that hid the operations taking place here during the Cold War.

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Abandoned buildings on this base include a kindergarten, work spaces, and apartments, along with the enormous tower.

Chornobyl Duga Base:

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This base near Chornobyl was such a hidden secret that the location did not even appear on maps of the region; it was simply referred to as a summer camp.
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I can’t put into words just how massive this structure is in real life. The tower is higher than the surrounding forest: at 135 meters (443 feet) high and 300 meters (984 feet) wide, visitors can see the structure towering over the trees on the drive through the woods.
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The plans for the first Duga tower started in 1946 as a way to combat the extension of missile ranges. This mission was accelerated in the 1960s as the Soviet Union became increasingly under threat of missile attack by the United States.
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The construction of the base and tower actually cost double the price of the power plant built in Chornobyl.
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These Duga systems were powerful and could emit over 10 MW.
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While the source of the Woodpecker signal was under constant speculation, NATO intelligence named the signal STEEL WORK or STEEL YARD. They were able to figure out that the location of the signal was in the USSR but there were conflicting sources on the exact location.
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The signal from this Duga Tower went silent in 1989 for supposedly unknown reasons but there are a number of factors that could have contributed to its demise: the end of the Cold War, the fall of the USSR, the success of the US-KS early warning satellites eclipsing the need for this type of structure, and of course, the explosion at the power plant which now placed the Duga Tower in the Exclusion Zone.
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There are a number of conspiracy theories surrounding this Soviet base and the Duga Tower.
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The documentary The Russian Woodpecker (2015) proposes the conspiracy that the explosion of reactor four was in fact a cover up for the design flaws of the Duga Tower. 
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Others believe the Duga tower was used by the Soviets for mind control purposes.
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Our tour guide in front of the tower. It really is absolutely enormous.
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We also toured through one of the buildings near the tower and on the base.
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The amount of electronic waste just strewn about the site made my heart hurt.
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Many structures on the base are still standing even though the operation here has been officially discontinued; the exact date of its termination is unknown.
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One of the most unbelievable aspects of this base is the level of priority given to its mission and the amount of money (7 billion Rubles) contributed to make this idea into a reality, only to see all this work and materials completely abandoned today. Nazarayan notes: “It’s almost like everyone agreed to play an incredibly dangerous game that, after half a century, suddenly seemed pointless and even boring. When it was over, the players dropped their toys and went home.”

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Sources:

Nazarayan, Alexander. 2014. “The Massive Russian Radar Site in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.” Newsweek. Available here.
Spencer, Luke. 2016. “The Top Secret Military Base Hidden in Chernobyl’s Irradiated Forest.” Atlas Obscura. Available here.

 

Currently:
Watching: Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola)

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Villages of Zalissya & Kopachi

Our day trip included visiting the villages of Zalissya and Kopachi. Zalissya is the first stop after the checkpoint into the Exclusion Zone while Kopachi is farther north; visitors can see the Chornobyl plant from Kopachi’s road near the Red Forest.

Where are we?

Both villages were two of 186 communities (including over 100,000 people) evacuated after the 1986 Chornobyl disaster. Kopachi, highly contaminated even to this day, remains abandoned, while other villages have seen a number of their former inhabitants return. These “self-settlers” chose to live within the Exclusion Zone, despite the health risks. One woman, Rozaliya Ivanivna, returned to Zalissya and became the village’s only inhabitant until she passed away a few years ago.

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I highly recommend the 2016 documentary, The Babushkas of Chernobyl. The film shows why three women returned to their homes inside the Exclusion Zone and how they live in their villages post-disaster.

Many chose to return because these are their homes, where they grew up, and where their families are buried. “I won’t go anywhere, even at gunpoint.” says one of the self-settlers in the documentary, Babushkas of Chernobyl. The women in the film, and many of the 1,200 people who chose to return to their homes (illegally) inside of the Exclusion Zone, survived Holodomor, the Soviet-induced famine that killed seven million Ukrainians, not to mention WWII, and the invasion of the Nazis. For many, the connection to home is greater than their fears of radiation poisoning.

Залісся (Zalissya):

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The first stop on our tour was the village of Zalissya. This path was previously a well-traveled road into the village.

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Located in the Exclusion Zone, the village was abandoned in 1986 and nature has taken over the once-bustling community.

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Unlike Kopachi, most of the buildings here remain above ground: homes, a grocery store, and the cultural center for the village are still standing.

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The forest near the village is slowly taking over. We visited on a beautiful day and were able to see how much nature was thriving in this once inhabited place.

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Zalissya is 30km (18 mil) from Chornobyl and was the first village to be completely abandoned after reactor four exploded.

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At the time of the explosion, Zalissya was a thriving village with over 3,200 inhabitants. The villagers initially did not know what (or the impacts of) the events taking place at the plant.

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Zalissya was also previously a collective farming village.

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Most of the inhabitants evacuated from Zalissya were relocated to the Borodyanka (Бородянка) region, roughly an hour and a half south.

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The supermarket for the village.

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Many left their belongings behind and their possessions can be seen scattered throughout the village.

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Oleksander Leonenko, evacuated from the village at age 22, said: “To tell the truth, we did not suspect we were leaving forever. The only thought we had was about coming back; maybe in three days or maybe in a week. But we would come back for sure.”

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Zalissya’s once busy roads are now only walking paths.

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One of the inhabitants, Rozaliya Ivanivna, came back to Zalissya after the explosion of reactor four. Known as one of the “self-settlers” that returned to the evacuated communities inside the Exclusion Zone, she lived alone in the village.

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Living a self-sustaining life, Ivanivna became annoyed with tourists walking through the village. She has since passed away, but her belongings remain in Zalissya. Her garden also continues to grow.

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I was super annoyed that tourists were touching things and even moving other people’s belongings! Now that Zalissya is considered a tourist site, people seem to forget that this was someone’s home and life before being forced to move.

Копачі (Kopachi):

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Kopachi, located 4 km (about 2 1/2 miles) from Chornobyl, was evacuated on May 3rd, a week after the nuclear explosion. 1,114 people lived in the once-thriving village before they were forced to leave their homes.

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Unlike other locations within the Exclusion Zone, most of the buildings in Kopachi were demolished and buried as an experiment to suppress the radiation. Today, only the village’s kindergarten and one additional brick building remain standing.

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The burying of the building materials did not negate the contamination from Chornobyl; today the soil and water around Kopachi are contaminated by plutonium, caesium-137, and strontium-90, having seeped into the water table from the burying of these radioactive houses.

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The village remains somewhat radioactive even today, exceeding normal numbers by 5x the approved amount.

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The “Parents’ Corner” of the kindergarten.

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Entrance into one of the two buildings left above ground in the village. Kopachi is also near the Red Forest, an area that received the highest dosage of radiation from the Chornobyl explosion, and was “cleaned” up in a similar way; most of the trees were knocked down, buried, and covered with sand.

For me, walking these villages was one of the most impactful aspects of the trip. So often the Chornobyl disaster is portrayed, or even just feels, like it was a long time ago. Seeing the homes of people forced to leave and the possessions they left behind is a reminder that this happened just thirty years ago.

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Zalissya, Ukraine

Currently:
Watching: The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan)

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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.

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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)

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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 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)

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)

Things I’m Loving 10.25.2016

To Watch: Peaky Blinders and The Office (again)

Similar to House of Cards, Peaky Blinders has been on my list forever and I’m just now getting around to watching it.

he-drinks-lot-he-rarely-drunk

If you haven’t seen the show I definitely recommend it; Cillian Murphy plays the leader of the Peaky Blinders, a criminal gang in post WWI England. The three seasons are on Netflix and not only have a ton of great actors including Sam Neil, Tom Hardy, and Helen McCroy, but the cinematography is gorgeous, the soundtrack is awesome, and the story is insane. Murphy does an ahhhhh-mazing job portraying Tommy. Get ready for lots of cigarettes and Jameson shots.

sure-he-does-smoke-lot

After finishing Dexter, Chris and I moved on to watching the Office in our random free time together. We just finished season seven and are taking a break before moving on to the post-Michael seasons. I’ve definitely cried at least four times (Pam and Jim going on their first date, Pam and Jim getting married, Michael and Holly getting engaged, Michael leaving, Dwight reading a Harry Potter bedtime story… the list goes on and on).

dance3

A good reminder of when I had “Sometimes you just have to be the boss of dancing” as my email signature. #professionalsupervisor

The Office is just SO. GOOD. It was good when it first aired and it’s still good now. It’s too hard for me to pick a favorite character because they’re all great in their own way, but I have to say that Creed’s random one liners are just the best.

87vyd

Maybe because I’m a creepy old man deep down in my heart?

I’m nervous to finish the last two seasons–I never really watched consistently after Michael left–so I’m hoping for the best that it can be without Steve Carell. The last season of Scrubs so severely impacted me that I’m a little terrified to continue.

To Play: Jack White’s Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016

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I think everyone knows my love for the great Jack White so this inclusion is definitely unsurprising.

Acoustic Recordings is exactly that–an album of old and new acoustic songs from The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather, and Jack’s solo work. Record #1 I almost feel like was made just for me and includes all of my favorite songs from the older White Stripes albums. “Apple Blossom”, “I’m Bound to Pack it Up”, “Hotel Yorba”, “We’re Going to be Friends”, “You’ve Got Her in Your Pocket”,”Well its True that We Love One Another” and “Never Far Away” (not White Stripes, but same time period) are amazing as always but there is something about hearing them back to back. [Look, I tried to cut it down, but its impossible given the amazing-ness of all those tracks]

Like all Third Man albums, definitely get this one on vinyl. It’s worth it.

I’d also recommend watching his awesome performance on Prairie Home Companion this week. Special mention that you should watch (or re-watch) the Catholic Throwdown between White and Colbert just because everyone needs it in their lives.

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To Do: Fall Floral Arrangements

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This week I also attended a fall pumpkin floral workshop here in Pápa. It was a TON of fun and I learned a lot. This was my first time arranging flowers in a pumpkin 🙂

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To Eat: This Pumpkin Soup + Veggie Burger

Chris and I had to take the car to Veszprém (about 45 minutes away) to complete an inspection for Hungarian insurance. While it took FOREVER (I swear I will never complain about American DMVs ever again) our lunch made the annoyance SO. WORTH. IT.

We stopped by Elefant Etterem es Kacevo for sandwiches and I fell in love. First pumpkin soup of the season–which was perfect for the day’s rainy and gloomy weather–plus my first veggie burger in Europe!

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Blurry because I was too excited to hold my phone properly.

Maybe the best veggie burger (not black bean based) ever?

To Read: Voices From Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster

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I’ve been meaning to read Voices from Chernobyl for a while and just started the book last week. The first time I studied the Chernobyl disaster was during my beginning semester of undergrad at Kent State. We were tasked with writing a paper from the perspective of a country’s tourist office, promoting certain aspects of a particular area that would encourage tourists to visit. For whatever reason I was assigned Ukraine and instead wrote a paper about how the Chernobyl disaster was largely covered up, overviewing how people in Ukraine, Belarus, and surrounding areas are still greatly affected by the fallout, and that the corrupt government continues to ignore this issues. #classicspilis

Voices From Chernobyl is a collection of stories from different people experiencing the disaster. From grandmothers forced to evacuate their homes, workers tasked with cleaning up after the disaster, and women taking care of sick family members and children born with developmental problems due to the meltdown, the book allows those directly affected by Chernobyl to tell their story.

“If we’d beaten Chernobyl, people would talk about it and write about it more. Or if we’s understood Chernobyl. But we don’t know how to capture any meaning from it. We’re not capable of it. We can’t place it in our human experience or our human time-frame. So what’s better, to remember or to forget?” (page 86).

Similar to This American Life, the power of the book is in the stories, providing the human connection to Chernobyl. This wasn’t a cut and dry disaster cleanup, but rather has so many intersecting narratives of family, culture, nationalism, health, and love that you wouldn’t know of without this type of collection. Voices From Chernobyl took over ten years to complete and earned Svetlana Alexievich the Nobel Prize for Literature.

To Look Forward To: Business of Disaster

A still running water pipe floods the foundation of a home destroyed by the storm surge of superstorm Sandy in the Staten Island borough neighborhood of Oakwood in New York

Hurricane Matthew tore through Haiti, Cuba, and the eastern coast of the United States this month; luckily for us we suffered no damage and all of our friends are okay, but there are a lot of people not as fortunate and need help (internationally and abroad. Omprakash is an organization trusted by a close friend if you’re looking to donate).

After essentially attached to the weather channel and Live 5 News–with a six hour time difference–I became really interested in how FEMA and flood insurance works should there be damage. Sure, the process of buying flood insurance has been explained to me but how do private insurance companies work with the federal government? The federal government with local and city governments?

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“Its Complicated.”

NPR and Frontline released The Business of Disaster detailing the complicated relationship of this private/public partnership and the impacts it has on taxpayers, particularly during disasters like Sandy and Katrina. Watch the documentary here.

Source for the graphic.

In order to make a new resiliency plan–considering storms will only become increasingly unpredictable and devastating from climate change–we need to first understand the systems in place. And how we can make them better.

Ashlyn (2)