Saturday, June 22, 2013

Kherson, June 18-21, 2013


With my iPod fully charged and loaded with podcasts, we made the 8-hour drive south to Kherson and then back again. The car belonging to ABA's driver has no shocks, the seats are thin, and long stretches of the road are pot-holed or badly patched.  The drive was uncomfortable, but the scenery was lovely.  We passed fields of corn, wheat, and sunflowers just beginning to open.  For sale along the roadside are crawfish (raki), tea (chai), fruits, vegetables, plastic wear, baskets and straw wear, and lots of signs for coffee (kava).


Kherson is located on the Dnipro River just 5 kilometers from the delta.  It was a ship building city in the time of Catherine the Great.  The first ship, built in 1783 and called "Glory of Catherine," is commemorated with a monument to those shipbuilders.




Our Lonely Planet guidebook devotes one column to Kherson to say that Kherson is a pleasant, if inconvenient, jumping off point for the surrounding sites.  According to Lonely Planet, everything  worth seeing is several hours out of Kherson.

Tiring of just wandering alone through these towns while Dan works, in Kherson, I hired a guide for a walking tour.  The guide, Dimitri, was excellent.  We walked all over Kherson and he explained churches and monuments and life in the USSR. 

We visited the church called St. Catherine (for Catherine the Great) which is the final resting spot for Prince Grigory Potemkin.  



Potemkin's tomb is inside the church.  The seven wreaths on the gravestone signify the dates and cities that he founded in Ukraine.  Kherson is one of those cities.  


Potemkin is dressed in armor and tights.  I can see why he was one of Catherine's favorites.  Dimitri also showed me a crumbling house said to have been where Potemkin's Kherson mistress lived.  She was the daughter of an admiral.

We strolled through the very clean Central Market and Dimitri explained what we were seeing.  


Until this day, I didn't know that immature eggs within the chicken are just yolks without the shell.  It makes sense, but I've never seen this before.  Chickens are sold here with all parts, the feet, heads, and the eggs packed in the cavity of the well-plucked chicken.  These were beautiful, clean, plump chickens.  She also had ducks.  Another woman sold rabbits and nutria identifiable because their feet still had the fur/skin on them.



Ukraine has many types of soft cheeses and a dry cottage cheeses.  This smart merchant offered us a taste of brynza which is a cheese with a texture and mild flavor like mozzarella.  I liked it so much that our last morning Dan and I went back and bought some to take back to Kyiv.

Brynza and cottage cheeses

Pork for Sale


Most of the meat sellers in the Central Market are selling pork.  Only about one third sell veal. As a visual aid, the animal's head is usually displayed somewhere nearby.  All the meat sold here is stamped with a government inspection stamp.  Dimitri wanted to know if in the USA the animal heads are displayed. I told him we pretend that our plastic-wrapped meat does not come from an animal. 

A veal seller




Fruits, vegetables, and non-food items are found outside the Central Market building.



Azeri sellers are a recent addition to the Central Market.  It is like walking through a small Turkish market.  Two or three Azeri merchants sell mutton and lamb within the Central Market near the veal sellers.  



We went to the 11th floor of the Frigat Hotel for an aerial view of Kherson and the Dnipro River.  The Frigat was built in the 70s as an Intourist Hotel and its gloss is long gone.  Now it is poorly maintained and dreary.  Fortunately, the small hotel we stayed in, Hotel Diligence, was the complete opposite.


Many of Kherson's buildings are crumbling and vacant.  Most of these derelict structures are government owned.  Our hotel was across the street from a very large and vacant factory that during the Soviet years made farm equipment.

Looking at the architecture, even crumbling, it is easy to see that pre revolution this city was very prosperous.  Decades later, in the 70s, Kherson was considered a wealthy town even though people had to stand in line hours for everything. Then, corn (maize) was king here.  After Khrushchev visited Iowa in 1959, he returned to the Soviet Union to begin a one-sided competition to grow more corn than the USA.  And, that is what the Ukraine region of the USSR produced--corn and not much else.


One of our best meals was at a restaurant named Bourgeois; the waitress spoke excellent English.  Things are changing in Kherson despite the presence of this nearby Lenin statue.


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