Archive for November 2009


Night train

IMG_2650If you want to travel to almost any other city in Ukraine, whether it’s Odessa, Lviv, or Donetsk, you get there on an overnight train. So it’s nothing special, I suppose, for Ukrainians. But when we took night trains recently from Kyiv to Lviv, and then from Kamyanets-Podilsky back to Kyiv, everything about it seemed like an adventure: Finding our train car in the dark and cold of the station; settling into our compartment; pulling out the white sheets and laying them over the narrow beds. Then the long ride through the night, the rhythmic clicking and banging of rail joints underneath us. Most of us weren’t very successful when it came to actually sleeping, so we were pretty tired when we got to our destination. But it was still fun!

Here’s a gallery of pictures from our second train trip. Clicking on them brings up a big version.

Even the mannequins are worried about swine flu!


Flu update

maskThe government of Ukraine is sticking with its over-the-top reaction to H1N1: Shutting down all schools for three weeks and banning big public gatherings (except, of course, for important ones like soccer games). Although from what we hear, the rates of illness and death pretty much reflect a normal flu season. Why? Brigid looked into this for The World. You can listen to it, download it, or read the transcript at this link.

Molly’s school trip to Turkey

This fall my class took a trip to Turkey. We took a 2-hour plane ride to a city called Antalya, which was next to the Mediterranean sea. It was really hot there and there were lots of mountains. We stayed in a hotel that was a five minute walk to the beach. We visited interesting places but we had to be in a big smelly bus a lot. We went on a boat, swam in the ocean, saw ancient Roman ruins, went up a mountain in a cable car, and saw a place where natural fires come out of the ground. We also saw camels and a turkey! Here are some pictures.

An old town like no other

During Molly and Nora’s fall break from school we decided to explore a bit of western Ukraine. Like most visitors, we visited the beautiful city of Lviv. Then we took a five-hour bus ride to the thousand-year-old city of Kamyanets-Podilsky.

The topography of the old city is singular and spectacular. It sits inside a river gorge at a point where the river (the Smotrich) makes almost a complete loop, and the walls of the gorge are like castle walls, protecting the city from intruders. And at the point where loop opens, where an old road crosses a stone bridge and enters the city, a huge fortress stands guard.

That probably worked pretty well a thousand years ago. It did not, however, protect the city from tanks and air raids during World War II. According to our Lonely Planet guidebook, occupying German forces used the old city as a prison camp, murdering tens of thousands of Jews and others. In the course of the war, large sections of the city were destroyed.

It’s still a patchwork of fixed-up and ruined buildings, and somehow that only makes the place more wild and striking. Here’s a gallery of images from our trip there. If you click on an image, you should get a larger version.

H1N1 Panic!

IMG_2643So maybe you were wondering why we suddenly are finding time to post things on our blog. (see items below.) Well! We have time on our hands! H1N1 (swine flu) reached Ukraine and government officials started competing with each other in the decisiveness department. They shut down all schools in the country for three weeks. (So Molly and Nora are staying home.) That includes universities. (So no teaching for me.) And public gatherings are banned, so we can’t even go to see a ballet performance or a musical concert.

For the first couple of days of the excitement we had no idea what was going on. We were traveling in western Ukraine, on a bus from Lviv to Kamyanets-Podilsky, and stopped in Ternopil, which happened to be ground zero of the flu outbreak. We saw people walking around wearing surgical masks and wondered what their problem was.

IMG_2639A day later, the receptionist in our hotel in Kamyanets-Podilsky was wearing a mask. So were all the workers at the pizza restaurant where we ate.

We really have no idea how serious this is. The numbers we see in the media are all over the map. Maybe Ukraine is more hard hit than other places, but maybe not. Maybe the prime minister would have done the same thing, even if she weren’t running for president of the country. Or maybe not. But we certainly see lots of people walking around with masks or scarves over their noses, hoping to keep that nasty virus out.

Meanwhile, we’re all healthy. For now. Hope it stays that way.

One country, two languages

One thing that strikes you immediately about Ukraine is the interplay of two languages, Ukrainian and Russian. Ukrainian is the country’s sole official state language. Yet about half of all Ukrainians, especially in cities and and in the more heavily populated eastern part, still prefer to speak Russian.

Everybody here — except for outsiders like us — speaks both languages with at least some fluency. They seem to treat it as a natural state of things, and switch back and forth with casual ease. But everything about the relationship between Russia and this young, still insecure country can turn controversial these days, and that includes the relationship of their two languages.

Brigid just did a radio story about this for The World. You can read and listen to it by clicking on this link.
If the link doesn’t work, go to this url:


Animals of Kamyanets-Podilsky

Last week we took a trip to a city in western Ukraine called Kamyanets-Podilsky. It was surrounded by a river and had a castle that was about a thousand years old, but the things I liked the most were the dogs and cats we saw there. They were a lot nicer than the animals in Kyiv and when we were taking pictures of them they came up to us and followed us around. One time there were five dogs following us at once. There was also a kitten in the grocery store that climbed up and sat on my head. Here are the pictures. (The last dog is sleeping, not dead!)

Nora’s Trip to Crimea

This fall my class flew to a village in Crimea called Koktebel. Koktebel is in South-Eastern Crimea. We swam in the Black Sea, and ran along the beach. We also visited a mosque, museums, a water park, a dolphin show, and toured the Sudak Fortress. My favorite thing that we did on the trip was have dinner at a Tatar house. There we danced, sang, and got a chance to play piano or sing for each other. We had a lot of fun in Koktebel. I recommend visiting there if you get a chance.