• Bulgaria!

    Bulgaria: An old Turkish bridge. Go Now!

    Bulgaria
    The isolated mountains of Bulgaria hide cultural gems around every corner, including this old Turkish bridge in the Rhodopi Mountains. Explore Bulgaria!

  • Italy!

    Italy: Rome' historic buildings. Go Now!

    Italy
    Crumbling buildings in Rome (pictured) only add to the atmosphere in a country where old is redefined and western civilization begins. Explore Italy!

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    Denmark: Landscape. Go Now!

    Denmark
    From cities like Copenhagen to islands, beaches, and vast fields (pictured), Denmark offers incredible history, architecture, scenery, and more. Begin Your Journey!

  • Czech Republic!

    Czech Republic: Astronomical Clock in Prague. Go Now!

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    The Astronomical Clock in Prague (pictured) makes every tourist list, but the towns, including Cesky Krumlov, and the mountains offer a change of pace. Go Now!

  • Belarus!

    Belarus: Birch tree forest. Go Now!

    Belarus
    Tucked away and often forgotten in Eastern Europe, Belarus is home to low lands and Birch Forests (pictured) as well as hidden castles and a culture unlike any other. Begin Your Journey!

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    Spain: Guell Park and Gaudi architecture. Go Now!

    Spain
    Fusion foods, lively music, historic ruins, and cultural events like the Running of the Bulls and La Tomatina make Spain and Barcelona (pictured) a favorite tourist destination. Explore Spain!

Ukraine

Odesa, Ukraine

Odesa

February 14, 2004
Mafia & Prostitutes on Valentine's Day

The train ride to Odesa was one of the most inefficient experiences I've ever had: five hours by train, but only two by car through and around pot-holed filled streets. The train station, like most train stations in the old USSR was incredible and as I looked at it, my eyes were soon distracted by a steeple towering over the roof, which belonged to an enormous church.

My first stop in Odesa was to the catacombs, but they were closed, so instead I grabbed a Paroshki on the street for lunch, a large deep fried doughy pocket filled with mashed potatoes and seasoning, then I headed across town. The archeology museum was my next stop; it is very impressive, containing a mummy, old Greek statues, grave stones, and carved writings.

The city has great character, cobblestone roads, huge churches, the black sea, the old buildings/palaces and the museums. It seemed like a mix of Greek/Mediterranean influence, Turkey, Ukraine, and the USSR. The classical architectural styles (baroque particularly) are popular and the statues and art adorning the buildings is truly incredible. The streets are tree-lined, the city has great character leading up to the pinnacle: the Potemkin steps.

From these steps you see the city's other face: the port, the pollution, trains, trucks, and factories spread a long distance; the water and air is very polluted and straight in front of you, on the pier at the bottom of the steps is an incredibly tall, brand new, state of the art building, "Hotel Odessa." The sign of money and power, the sign of the mafia, who runs much of the city and is present everywhere.

People have called the city the "Wild West" for years and now I understand why. The city was swarmed with mafia, prostitutes, plus the normal crowd in a city such as couples, businessmen, etc. There's also a significant amount of visible poverty and although that's bad, what bothers me is that many of these women hold children or make their children sit there and beg. I saw one woman yell at her children as she left, only teaching the next generation to beg and pity themselves; most of these baggers are Roma (gypsies) and there seems to be a great deal of tension between them and many of the locals.

Bilhorod Dnistrovsky

February 15, 2004
Huge Castle on a Crisp Winter Day

The castle was phenomenal, so real, falling apart, easy to kill yourself with no safety or protection and riddled with bad stairs and safety hazards. But it was real and that's what I loved about it. So many castles are restored to look perfect, however this one hasn't had the financing to be restored and that's its appeal; well that and its size, which is amazing. It's perhaps falling apart since the entrance fee is only 1.50 grevna, about $.30.

The views of the castle are just as impressive as the views from the castle to the Black Sea. If ever in Odesa, it's not to be missed; a statement apparently only taken to heart by myself and four others, which was everyone in the giant castle.

*    *    *

Kyiv

March 29, 2004
Independence Square, Podil, the Caves Monasteries, & More

After work Friday (in Chisinau, Moldova) I went to the train station for an overnight trip to Kyiv. I found myself on a fairly empty train so claimed a cabin for myself and went to bed only to be woken up by a Ukrainian on his way home. He was friendly and soon I was again sleeping. At the border, the Ukrainian border guard didn't try to get a bribe (something they are notorious for), but seemed sincerely intrigued about my presence in Ukraine as he asked me a lot of questions, unlike my last trip to Ukraine.

I woke early (8:00 or 8:30) so began reading "Moby Dick," a book I'm determined to finish even though I no longer have any interest in it. We arrived just after noon, which was earlier than expected so I rushed to the bus station (via the subway) to get a return ticket to Chisinau for $7 as opposed to the train ticket which cost $23. I then rushed downtown to meet Gruber (my American friend living in Ukraine as a member of the Peace Corps), at which point I realized my clock was off by an hour since I thought there was a time change, but was incorrect.

I walked around independence square, saw Shevchenko's house, Yaroslav's Golden Gate, and St. Sofia's. An hour later I returned and met Gruber. We headed to the Peace Corps office to drop stuff off then moved on to St. Sofia's. From the outside, the grounds and bell tower were, well nice, but nothing extraordinary and much more modern than I had anticipated, since the church is 1,000 years old. Then we entered and the disappointment of the exterior helped lower my expectations and magnify the building's interior. It was breathtaking, painted in the 900s, much still intact as the restored paintings were finished in the 1600s. With some extra supports and infrastructure work, the building remains much intact since the 900s and the interior more than made up for the exterior's supports to keep the building standing.

Our next stop was nearby Andrewska Street, where we talked to the vendors, all of whom know English since this is the main tourist street in the city. We continued down the hill to St. Andrew's, which looks almost too perfect, perhaps from restoration.

After dinner we headed to Gruber's town, about 25 minutes south of Kyiv. His family was very nice, a mother and son (28 years old) who made breakfast for us the next day. They had little money and were housed in an old apartment with a living room, bedroom, kitchen, toilet, and shower, all of them run down and old. Despite this, they were very kind and generous, willing to give anything and everything they had.

We got up the next morning to eat Varenki, potatoes, and apricot preserves, then took off to Kyiv. We went straight to the caves monasteries, which was well worth the trip. The bell tower just beyond the entrance welcomed us, but the grounds full of churches made me itch to find the caves. The grounds are littered with churches, similar to Moscow's Kremlin, however none as impressive. We grazed around somewhat in awe, but also seeking out the caves until we hit lookout point and just sat; I wasn't sure if I should take pictures or just let it all soak in. After doing both we went to the top of the bell tower and were again impressed with the view.

Next, we made it to the south caves, bought candles, lit them, and entered. There were monks' tombs everywhere, wooden bases and open tops, only a sheet of fiber glass separating us and them. Their bodies were covered, but if you look closely there were some exposed hands, necks, and ears. Their bodies were black and many claim it's a holy place, while others, mostly scientists, say it's just the humidity and climate that prevents the bodies from rotting. Also in the caves were a few chapels.

Our next stop in Kyiv was at the nearby "Motherland" statue/victory monument. The status is colossal and the open air military museum beside it was impressive with planes, helicopters, gunners and my personal favorite a train car with a huge gun on it.

As time was running out, we headed across town to see Babi Yar, a valley, in which thousands of Jews were murdered and buried during WWII, but to no avail; the area is modernized and they say there's a monument but we failed to find anything at all, well almost nothing. In this area we found a counterfeit street, on which are booth after booth of counterfeit CDs and DVDs.

Since we had some free time after failing to find Babi Yar, we went to Podil, which has cobblestone streets and a real old-town feel.

We grabbed dinner, then departed ways, me on a bus to Chisinau and Gruber to his home. The bus ride home was long and my dinner wanted out, but we had no toilet. I thanked the Moldovan border guard who failed to show up to work, and we flew through the border crossing without even being stopped on the Moldovan side. I arrive at the embassy at about 8:30 am just in time to shower, change and start work.

*    *    *

L'viv

April 14, 2004
Diverse Group on an Overnight Train

At the Ukrainian border with Transnistria in Moldova the guards searched my bags twice, said I wasn't allowed to travel as a tourist on a diplomatic visa and demanded $20. But the best part is that all this happened after I told them I work for the embassy and they responded with the question "the Moldovan embassy or the American embassy in Chisinau?" Finally they left and another border guard came who asked about four questions, stamped my passport and left me alone.

Now I'm somewhere in Ukraine, afraid we're going to arrive in the middle of the night and am debating what to do: hotel, train station, or just start seeing the town.

*   *   *

We stopped from 9:00pm to 2:00am at a random train yard so arrived to L'viv at about 8:30 or 9:00am. On the train, during our stop, I met an outraged woman who was turned down a visa from the U.S. She lives in Tiraspol and she refuses to get a Moldovan passport (although I'm not entirely sure what passport she carries).

Soon after the sparks stopped flying, she got in a huge argument regarding Transnistria's "independence" with our Moldovan conductor, a half Russian, half Ukrainian girl and a Moldovan girl. The Moldovan girl stayed pretty quiet and neutral, but the other three argued. The conductor lived in Germany for five years and was very western thinking, especially since he was there when the wall came down, getting the impression Moldova could join the European Union (EU) someday. The girl claimed Transnistria's economy was better than Moldova's, "Sherriff Stadium" proves that, she said. The woman was outraged about everything from the visa to the USSR to Moldova. She said Transnistria should gain independence because Moldova is holding them down.

Then politics came into play; swearing about every Moldovan member of Parliament, democracies in general, then a couple of them starting praising communism, but said that the communists in charge of the Soviet Union failed, although communism is the right path. About a half hour after it began, the conductor realized these people had no sense and reasoning was impossible, but the angry woman continued to yell for an hour or an hour and a half; eventually I just went to bed, although I enjoyed the different perspectives.

L'viv is sort of how I picture a central European city: streets are cobble stoned, the buildings looked nothing like typical Soviet architecture, lots of churches, hills, etc. All signs were in both Ukrainian and English. The people were polite and seemed happy, something rarely seen in many of the former Soviet countries.

I was warned that the people here are fiercely Ukrainian and don't like speaking Russian, so I always approached people in English first; they would laugh and smile as they shook their heads, clearly conveying the fact that they didn't understand a word I said. I found the people great though and can't say anything bad about those I met, they were perhaps the most sincere and outgoing people I've met in the former USSR thus far.

Despite looking like a Central European city, L'viv has been neglected by the Soviets and the wires above every street to guide their trolleys ruins the beauty, while reminds you of reality. My favorite part of the city is the main street divided by a narrow park in the middle, which is lined with benches and old men playing chess. At one end of the park stands the Opera House and at the other a statue of Mickiewicz, Poland's national poet and a great reminder of the city's past as an integral part of Poland. After WWII, The Soviets took Lwow, changed the Ukrainian name of L'viv, and pushed the Poles west at the expense of German land. This city has been home to both Ukrainian and Poles for years, so the culture and architecture is a hybrid and emotions are unstable. This is best symbolized by another statue on the main street, that of Shevchenko, Ukraine's national poet.

There were a lot of churches throughout the city, primarily old Polish catholic churches. The highlight, other than the people was the hill with an old castle on it; the walk was long, but the views were beautiful and the vantage point seemed very peaceful.

In areas, the streets are very narrow with towering churches and historic buildings on every side. It was one of these streets that led me to the very un-Soviet town square. The square is Central European with the town hall in the middle and lion statues guarding the entrance, symbolizing the city's name. The buildings around the outside of the square are nice and each corner around the town hall held a statue of a Greek god or goddess.

To finish the day off, I oddly ran into a couple from Wisconsin who lives here. They were kind enough to show me how to get to the bus station and after finding my way, I took off.

Kyiv

April 15, 2004
Round 2: Some of the More Minor Sights

Kyiv, round two was also great. I got there extremely early and so simply walked around for a while until things started to wake up. I walked to the top of the hill over-looking the river and ran into a guy who said good morning in perfect English. The views from the top were nice, however didn't compare to the rest of the city so I stared in awe at the stillness of the water and left to sit down and figure out where I was going.

I enjoyed the churches opposite St. Sophia's then walked in the park over to a nice bench which provided me with a perfect view of the Russian-Ukrainian Arc of Unification; a hideous reminder of the Soviet's lack of architectural taste.

After this I began to walk to Podil, but I first ran into a couple gentlemen trying to scam me, although I give them a lot of credit for their creativity. The first was walking very quickly behind me then passed me, cut in front of me and dropped something, at which point he reached down to pick it up. It was a bag of money and he said since he found it with me, we would split it 50/50. Suspecting it was a scam, I said no and kept walking, trying to figure out the gag. No sooner had I walked five feet away did another man come running after me yelling, "sir you took my money, sir you took my money!" I continued to walk and heard the first man say "he didn't take it" and they let me continue.

After my adventure, I made it to Podil to check out the Chernobyl Museum, but really just spent most of the time enjoying the Podil area with its windy, hilly, cobble-stoned streets and a great atmosphere that was nearly untouched by the war. The museum was also very informative and I'd recommend it, but the area still better.

I also checked out the blood-red university building on another side of town. I finished the day with a walk in the park and then on to the bus station for an overnight train to the Crimean Peninsula.

Yalta

April 16, 2004
Mafia Central Along the Black Sea

The bus ride to the Crimea from Kyiv was long, but I slept most of the way. I woke up at just the right time to watch the sunrise over the Sea of Azov which was indescribably beautiful.

After arriving in Simferopol I caught the world's longest trolley-bus ride to Yalta and soon realized it to be a mistake. I sat in awe at our slow speed as other cars and forms of public transportation zoomed past us at twice the speed. I arrived in Yalta and found my hotel, but soon realized exactly what the city is: a Muscovy mafia hang out and I was saddened, but not entirely surprised.

The main restaurant on the sea was a McDonald's and the city was engrossed with Russians, showing the true contrast of the people with that of L'viv or even Kyiv. It's hard to deny the city's beauty though, with the Black Sea on one side, mountains on the other and palm trees and beeches in between the two. The shops and the boardwalk were being renovated and seemed like it would be a truly western place in a couple years, as measured by looks and facilities.

I quickly left and headed out to Livadia, to see a palace and Sparrow's Nest castle. The parks and paths to the palace were incredibly lush as the palace sits on a steep hill over-looking the sea with palm trees and gardens all around it. The inside of the palace is less impressive than the grounds, however it was here that WWII's Yalta Conference took place and I saw the rooms in which Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin stayed and discussed events that determined the course of 20th century history and every day since.

I hiked through the forested path, seeing old Greek ruins and no trespassing signs around every turn to get to Sparrow's Nest. I finally gave up on the path and headed to the road where I bought some ice cream, juice and asked for directions to the castle. I quickly found it and headed over to the tourist crowds.

The castle is slightly disappointing in that it is very small; it's simply a little restaurant these days and was built in the late 1800s by a German. It's no bigger than a large bedroom, but was impressive none-the-less, especially from a distance as it's perched on a cliff.

It was still hard to leave the area and my eyes remained glued to the castle, cliffs, and water. I finished the day by taking public transportation back to the city then finding Chekov's house, but I was too late to get in so I headed back to town to relax on the rocky beach. By this time in the day, the sun bathers were gone and the beach was mine.

Bakhchasarai

April 17, 2004
Khan's Palace & Ancient Cities

On the way from Yalta to Bakhchasarai, I had a layover in Sevestopol. There's a harbor here for both the Russians and Ukrainians, only the color of their hats distinguishing the two.

Once in Bakhchasarai, the bus let me off in the middle of nowhere and I was told that was Bakhchasarai, so quickly turned to asking people where the city is. I eventually found my way and got to the train station, from which most local buses leave to all parts of the city.

I had problems at first trying to get a ride to the cave city and the Khan's Palace, heading in the wrong direction, but the people helped me get off immediately and soon I was in the right direction. I got off at the bus's last stop and headed up a hill before walking a couple kilometers to a rocky hill, like a spine in the earth with windows and doors carved out called Chufut-Kale.

My first stop in this complex was for a tour down a tunnel, which lasted about 15 minutes; the tour guide, who spoke English and was very eager to, both help me and use his English.

After this I headed up to the actual city and walked around for awhile, seeing much, but little survived from its time as a thriving city. The most fascinating building was the synagogue, a later addition to the Jewish sect's home, which sat on the cliff's edge and made for a nice scene. The streets here seemed to be either excavated or perfectly worn, nowhere raising to ground level, but sunk like little valleys for your tires leading to the entrance gate.

On the way out, I stopped by the church built into the side of the rock cliff, however was more anxious to see the Khan's Palace so quickly moved on.

The walled-in complex of the Khan's Palace had a mosque on my left and the palace opposite it, to my right, while in front of me was a sprawling garden. The mosque had two mausoleums for each of their Khans. Behind the calligraphy-filled exterior of the mosque hid a cemetery, almost like a stage frozen in time, like a living museum from another world and lost culture.

The palace art was more detailed than just about anything I've ever seen. The art and decorations were extremely eastern in origin, but the complex is relatively small and after touring the complex and relaxing on the grounds for a couple hours I decided to head back to the train station.

At the train station, as I was reading along the train tracks I met the most interesting person, a Tartar, who had been exiled in his youth. Sadly I didn't record, nor did I understand many of the details of his journey, so there may be some gaps.

He started the conversation when he saw me reading a book in English and asked me if I spoke English. I said yes and then he asked me when and why I learned English. I told him I was American and that I learned Russian; he seemed surprised at this, but told me of his daughter who studies English at the university in Kyiv. I asked him where he was from and so the story began...

He lived in the Crimea with his parents at a very young age when they were deported to Kazakhstan simply for being Tartars. The whole region was deported and replaced with Russians, one of Stalin's grand plans to subdue potential rebellion while taking beautiful lands and placing it in the hands of "loyal" people, primarily the Russians. Many of the Tartars died on this journey, which became etched into his memory as a young child. The journey, or I should say exile consisted of transferring between trains, buses, and on foot, primarily by train though. So far as he could remember the journey took months as they were settled, uprooted, moved, settled, then again uprooted until they finally had a new place their government forced them to call home. Most of those who died were the old, while he, and other youth were protected by their parents.

He lived in Central Asia his whole life and grew up like any Russian boy would have, going to school learning in the Russian language, but revolting at home, speaking only his native tongue. Many people cared little to learn Russian, but were forced to, so did so in school and in public places where there were Russians.

It was a community of exiles who lived every day of their lives in a Tartar town, but in a foreign country; forced to learn a foreign set of ideals and beliefs. His Russian was obviously good, but I get the impression he didn't remain in school long and has lost much of it.

At first, he seemed hesitant to speak of life in Kazakhstan, but did say that it was there that his daughter was born and raised until she reached her teens. He talked of the fall of communism and how even then his desire to return to the Crimea was delayed because of money. Only in the late 1990s did he have enough to bring himself, his wife, also a Tartar, and their daughter to the Crimea. The journey back was much easier, only a train ride this direction.

He talked of his community moving back to Crimea and the Tartars all over the former Soviet Union returning to the Crimea and re-claiming their homeland. Surprisingly he didn't seem bitter, but his dislike of Stalin was very present.

The train later approached and I got on with many others on the platform as our Tartar friend was left behind in his home.

*    *    *

Uzhgorod

August 27, 2005
An Insider's Look into Carpathia

The bus from Kosice, Slovakia to Uzhgorod was not surprisingly late so we waited and upon arrival, the bus driver went around and told everyone not to open the windows because that causes a draft and naturally drafts cause illness and death; before even leaving the bus station, we were already in Ukraine. The bus was the most decrepit of the buses at the lot and in the back there was an old beat-up and rusty washing machine and some other large machines that clearly no longer worked. This only made me feel more like I was in Ukraine.

The scenery along the trip was nice and there were no problems along the way, although when I received my immigration card I remembered the hassle I've experienced at Ukrainian border crossings. As we approached the Slovakian border we waited for about a half hour, I suppose the process is quite drawn out now that Slovakia is in the EU and Ukrainians need visas. After the wait, we made it to the Ukrainian border and stopped. Naturally no one questioned why we weren't in the process of going through immigration and simply sat silent. Yanna needed to ask the driver to drop us off at a different spot once in Uzhgorod so also asked what we were waiting for. The response made Gruber quite upset: the customs officer was on lunch break so we had to wait. After a half hour of waiting and a half hour of passport control we entered Ukraine only about one or two kilometers from our drop off location in the city.

We got dropped off near Gruber's and walked to his apartment. The place was ordinary for Soviet-era apartments and quite spacious. I learned of the water cycle and when there is and isn't water. It's not too complicated, unless you really have to go to the bathroom. Gruber however keeps extra water in jugs that you can dump into the toilet's top so it can flush at any time.

I started my city tour at a place to get some food and drinks, where we met a couple other Peace Corps volunteers. The menu was in Ukrainian and English, which I found odd. The food, I had goulash, was good, but nothing out of the ordinary. The girls here were dressed very provocatively and very few were over the age of about 18. The restaurant seemed to be very sketchy. After dinner we watched some Seinfeld re-runs at another Peace Corps Volunteer's house, then grabbed a taxi home.

August 28, 2005

After waking up, Gruber and I headed into town to meet "British Carl" and Yanna. British Carl is English and found his way to Ukraine because he wanted a Ukrainian wife. He found one and now is divorcing her in order to marry another Ukrainian girl. Considering he is about 60 and he only dates women under about 35 that's pretty impressive, but in Ukraine it isn't too difficult to find a wife. Over the years he's been a spy in Northern Ireland, worked on oil rigs, and was a mercenary in Africa. At one point he claims he killed a woman with a blow torch because she broke into the British Embassy. He's interesting and the Peace Corps volunteers love him because of his stories. I suppose this is one of the few places a guy could disappear to.

At one point in our brief conversation a couple Roma came up and asked for some money. Carl then told me about how he is from a gypsy family from Ireland. He said that he wanted to get educated and upon his departure his mom disowned him. Over the years everyone disowned him except his uncle and to a degree his father. Upon his departure his father said that he supported him and wished him well, however couldn't communicate with him or he would also be exiled from the group. His uncle was exiled along with him and is the only family he has left. He has not seen either of his two siblings or parents since he left, but has heard of his parents' deaths. He disliked this lifestyle and his comments towards the Roma made his opinion clear. The group he was from taught crime as a way of life and he said that he has regretted his decision to leave, even though it meant losing his entire family, his friends, and his life as he knew it.

After we left British Carl, I spent most of the day with Yanna. We went to the open air museum, which was interesting because Yanna helped explain everything to me. The region has changed hands many times so the language, culture, and people are somewhat confused on who they are. Over time this area of Transcarpathia has been under Soviet, Ukrainian, Czechoslovak, and Hungarian rule; the people are a mixture of all this. The Slovaks and many of the Hungarians are Catholic, the Ukrainians Orthodox; the language is a combination of Hungarian, Slovak, Russian, and Ukrainian. There are nine ways to say yes, including "Da," "Tak," "Nine," "No," and it goes on.

People tell time according to Kyiv, Slovakia, or Budapest. Whenever a time is mentioned the person must specify if they are referring to "Kyiv time," which is the same time zone Uzhgorod is in or if they are referring to a different time. Many ethnic Hungarians have their clocks set to "Budapest time" and either assumes everyone knows that they are Hungarian and will understand the time, or they specify. This leads to the Ukrainians and Russians specifying that when they say a time it is "Kyiv time."

There are also a lot of Russians in the city because it is the industrial center and hence, during the Soviet times many workers moved to the city to work. This combination leads to a strange language as each village has a different dialect depending on the people. A town with a majority of Hungarians may speak Ukrainian with a lot of Hungarian vocabulary, whereas a Slovak village may speak Ukrainian with a lot of Slovakian vocabulary and the Ukrainian villages simple have a strange dialect seeing as how they have developed their language in the isolated mountains for so long. The catholic masses switch from Ukrainian to Slovakian to this strange Carpathian hybrid language.

The city has a large castle, which is unusual in Ukraine. For the most part, only this region and the rest of the western border have castles. This is because the Ukrainian people have never been castle builders and they have never truly been influenced by Medieval Europe. This region, however has a history of central European rulers under Polish rule and therefore castles.

At the open air museum the architecture of all the buildings was quite unique, even to each other. The wooden church was the most impressive, along with another very colorful building. Considering nearly all of these buildings were built in the 1800s, they have few similarities. This museum truly exemplifies the region and their diversity.

After the museum we saw salt, pepper, and paprika shakers in the shape of owls and other animals. This is a very typical remnant from the Polish Carpathian mountains, and I found out is quite typical throughout the mountain chain as a whole. I wanted pigs, however none were to be found.

Yanna and I then met up with Gruber and as the three of us walked the streets, we saw the old European-influenced cobble-stoned streets, buildings and signs in both Cyrillic and Latin script. The architecture was a combination of Soviet, Slovakian, and other influences. As we made it to the town square the rain started pouring so we hid undercover. As we waited, Gruber and Yanna told me about the Slovakian layout of the city and the Catholic Church dominating the town's center.

With little to do in the rain, we grabbed a bite to eat then headed over to Yanna's house. Yanna's house was great, over the driveway there are metal grates holding grapevines. It provides shade for the area and gives them grapes for winemaking, a tradition in the region. Nearly every house had some grapes and everyone makes their own wine when it's the right season. The house is under construction, but they welcomed us into their bedroom and fed us everything they could find.

The family moved to this region during the Soviet times, since it was better to be closer to Moscow, at least economically speaking. The family is a strange mixture of ethnicities, Yanna's mother is half Slovakian and half Polish, whereas her father is half Slovakian and half Ukrainian. Her mom speaks Slovakian, Ukrainian, and Russian and her father speaks Ukrainian, a little Russian, and both of course speak Carpathian, which is their native tongue. Although they have Slovakian blood and both families are from Slovakia, they now need visas to go there and are forbidden to immigrate there. I guess their parents' gains in the move east is now the family's curse forbidding them to move west. Although having said that, Yanna loves the Carpathian region and seems to have very little motivation to leave, other than the occasional weekend trip to Košice.

With the influence from the west, the food has a strange flair and, although much of the food is cabbage based and normal for this part of the world, there was one dip that was spectacular. It consisted of tomatoes, red peppers, and hot peppers along with some garlic and olive oil. It was incredible and I ate nearly the entire jar. We were fed well as the family talked to us and asked me about my past experiences and what I was doing in Poland. They all seemed very welcoming and when a problem arose they seemed to see it as more of a challenge than as a problem.

I made the mistake of asking what the best way back to Košice is and they argued and talked on the phone for too long trying to give me as many options as they could find. Of course the first option was by far the simplest and quickest, however that didn't change the fact that they were going to give me eight other options. After eating a lot and seeing the renovations on their house, we grabbed a couple grapes from the vines and made our way out.

Back at Gruber's apartment, we headed downstairs for a going away party for a friend of his. The dinner was nice and I'm glad I was there, but by the end of the day I was ready for it to end, especially considering my Russian is out of practice and I had an overdose already.

August 29, 2005

Today was a lazy day, during which we found our way to Nevitski Castle. The castle is only ruins now, but the views are great. It sits on a hill over the Uzh River and looks out over the hills and valley below. The walls and part of the moat remain, but little else. Yanna again told me all about the castle and its historical roots. After enjoying the view for awhile, we went back to Uzhgorod for pastries and my trip back to Poland.

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