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.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Lviv, Ukraine: June 14-17, 2013

The Ceiling of the Lviv Opera House Built in 1901

From Donetsk to Lviv, both in Ukraine a distance of 1025 km east to west, and such a difference in architecture and atmosphere. Ukrainians call Lviv the "Ukrainian Krakow." Lviv has so many beautifully restored Art Nouveau buildings, and it retains the patina of age that makes it so different.  The public gardens are less manicured, wilder than Donetsk. Nature has not been whipped into shape here.  We took the #2 tram to the Center from the apartment we were renting, and this mode of transportation felt so gentile and out of the past.

It was the Lviv Jazz Festival weekend.  We arranged our trip to Lviv much too late to get tickets to the headliner performances, but we did get to hear jazz performers from Ukraine, USA, and Belarus at the free concerts in Rynok (Market) Square.  

We wandered.  One day we went to the Lychakiv Cemetery which dates back to 1786 even though there is one gravestone that is from 1675.  The burials mirror the city's history first with Poles and a few Germans sprinkled in, then only Poles, and then after 1945 mostly Ukrainians as a result of the transitions, expulsions, and wars.  Many of the most beautiful tombstones are sculptures of weeping women.

On Sunday evening in Lviv, young and old were outside enjoying the squares and parks.  

The older men played chess, cards, or backgammon in the Shevchenko Park near the Opera House. 

Chess Fans

Some games attracted more of a crowd than others.  One large "mob" of men were just clustered together chatting.

Benches were packed shoulder to shoulder with senior citizens who seemed to be just out enjoying a pleasant late Spring evening.  Daylight hours are long now with it not getting dark until after 10 pm.

A group of men and women gathered in front of Shevchenko's monument and began to sing.  They sang and sang for about two hours for themselves not for an audience.

Ukrainian Artist and Poet Taras Shevchenko

Back in Rynok Square even with the commotion of the Jazz Festival, life continued as if it were any other weekend.

Lviv has an easy charm about it.  The city motto is "Just Lviv It!"

Friday, June 14, 2013

Donetsk, Ukraine: June 11-14, 2013

We are (actually Dan is) in Donetsk at the invitation of a group sponsoring a Cyber-crime conference. Donetsk, formerly Stalino, is a coal mining town located in southeastern Ukraine. Coal mining is so much a part of this city that the football (soccer) team name is Shakhtar (Miners) and their mascot is the mole.

Donetsk sits about 50 miles from the Russian border, and is 7 hours, by fast train, east of Kyiv.  The current president of Ukraine, Yanukovych, is from Donetsk as is Ukraine's richest man.

Donetsk was one of the Euro 2012 cities which prompted the richest man to sponsor the construction of the Donbass Arena.  I have never seen a stadium that is surrounded by such beautiful landscaping.  Music plays from loudspeakers through out the park-like landscape.

Donetsk is also the city of one million roses--one for every member of the city's population.

The city is beautifully landscaped as you would imagine a city of wealth should be.  The city boasts  manicured parks, beautiful flowers beds, and an army of gardeners. 

In Donetsk, I continued my pattern of looking for the statue of Comrade Lenin, the Central Market, and the museum.   Here is the requisite statue of Lenin,
 the memorial to the Great Patriotic War (WWII),
and the Central Market.  The first floor of Donetsk's Central Market appears to sell mostly second-hand clothing contradicting all other indicators that Donetsk's population is wealthy.

 The Central Market's fish/meat market is located under the first floor.

The museum is sad and poorly maintained, but the city has lots of outdoor public art in the lovely park of "Forged Sculptures" that commemorates another Donetsk specialty: metallurgy.

Besides the arena, the most visible feature of Donetsk is coal mines and slag heaps.

The hills on the far side of the Dnipro River are slag heaps. Neighborhoods are built around them and they are incorporated into the suburban landscape.

Rather than endure another 7-hour train trip back to Kyiv, Dan and I flew 1025 km (636 miles) to Lviv for the weekend.  Lviv is located in the far western part of Ukraine near the border with Poland.