Posts Tagged ‘East Europe’

Exploring Ukraine: The Pearl of the Black Sea, Odessa

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Sunrise fishing 

Ukraine isn’t a particularly popular tourist destination, although it has a plenty of wonderful sights- like the Black Sea coast with sandy beaches and great local wineries, and the Carpathian Mountains with their striking natural scenery and beautiful small villages.

Odessa, a beautiful city in the south west part of Ukraine, is a longtime favorite spot for a getaway. It has very distinct culture and its inhabitants even have a region specific accent. It is very different from any other Ukrainian city, yet as welcoming as the others.

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Passing Vorontsov Lighthouse on a boat

Port

First and foremost, Odessa is a seaport. It started as a port and it still holds it’s privilege of a free port and free economic zone. During the 19th century, it was the fourth largest city in Imperial Russia, after Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Warsaw.

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Port of Odessa

It’s port (locally known as Morskoy Vokzal) is a great place to get oriented with the city. From impressive hotel buildings reaching towards the skies to fast and elegant motor boats in Yacht Club, it offers quite a few photo ops.

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Yacht Club

Once you are at the port, don’t miss a chance to go further – by a scheduled or private boat tour. The prices start as lows as $4 for a group option, and from $30 for a private hire. It is also the only way to see the 27 meter (88 foot) red-and-white Vorontsov Lighthouse, one of port’s famous landmarks.

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Selfie on Board

The Port is also a good point to start a nice city walk. Go climb (or use funicular!)  the recently renovated Potemkin Stairs considered a formal entrance into the city from the direction of the sea. This giant staircase 142 meters long is the best known symbol of Odessa. As a bonus you get the greatest view of the harbor.

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Viewing machine at the top of Potemkin Stairs

Architecture

Odessa’s historical architecture has a style more Mediterranean than Russian, having been heavily influenced by French and Italian styles. Some buildings are built in a mixture of different styles, including Art Nouveau, Renaissance and Classicist.

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Inside the museum of Western and Eastern Art

If you’re dreaming to get away from the crowd, try going to museum instead of a beach, try Museum of Western and Eastern Art (entry fee $2). Not only it is located in a beautiful 19th century building, it also has a magnificent collection of paintings, sculptures, porcelain, furniture and more. The exhibitions include ancient, western European and eastern arts, and western European collection of exhibits.

 

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Keep walking towards second most famous symbol of Odessa it’s Opera Theater. Its neo-baroque building was constructed in 1887 by two Viennese architects, Ferdinand Fellner and Hermann Helmer. It was also the first building in Odessa to use electric illumination.

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Fountains Near Opera Theater

Beach

Although Odessa has a few public beaches, they become overcrowded in the summer. For a more pleasant experience I would advise to pick one of the numerous beach clubs. The entry is usually free, but you have to pay for a beach chair ($5-10/a day), towels or umbrellas, if you’re using any.

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Early morning at Bright On Beach

My choice was Bright On Beach club, for bright girlish design, reasonable prices and perfect peach sangria at the bar!

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Peach Sangria at Bright On Beach

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Oh, and don’t forget flamingos!

Food

Summer is the season of open terraces and cold coffee in Odessa, my all time favourite it a White Whale, where you can find the best cappuccino in city and  a variety of alternative brews. For a fancy cup with vegan options try order Coconut Latte at Moloko Bar. Their specialty is actually a trifle yogurt with a broad list of add-ons, so it’s a perfect place to indulge yourself with healthy and yummy breakfast before heading off to the beach.

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Trifle yogurt with blueberries and coconut latte at Moloko Bar

Eating local is a must at Odessa. And here it means you should try the seafood. I woulds advise you skip Forshmak (a combination of pickled herring and apples is not for everyone, or at least not for me), but local mussels are a dish of choice. While you can find mussels at almost every cafe in the city, I advise visiting the place that specializes in bivalve molluscs, like Kotelok Mussels Bar.

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Grilled mussels with cheese and tomato sauce at Kotelok

For a good dinner with live music head to Odessa City Food Market. The newly established local food hall is the one and only in Ukraine. With an open floor plan; fresh food prepared in front of your eyes; a post-industrial space, and good-looking people sharing communal tables or sitting on stools around countertops this place is a perfect pick for a night out.

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Oysters and Wine

Welcome the Sun

There is something special about sunset and sunrises at the seaside. Odessa is facing the East, so sunsets are quite boring here, yet seeing the sun rising from the water is very special experience.

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Sunrise colors of Odessa Port

My favorite sunrise spot is Langeron beach. It is the closest beach to the city center, and has unobstructed views of the sun. On weekend mornings, you’ll always find here late party goers, fishermen, tourists, local park workers, all of them gathered with a single purpose: to witness the first light of the day. So why not join?:)

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Chasing the sun

Odessa International Airport (ODS) has daily direct connections from and to Kiev, Vienna, Istanbul, Ankara, Warsaw, Budapest, Minsk, Prague,Tel-Aviv. Several days a week there are also scheduled flights to Athens, Dubai, Milan, Sharm-El-Sheikh and Saloniki.

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Exploring Ukraine: The Ghost town of Chernobyl

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Walking along Chernobyl-2, a secret Soviet radar fed by infamous nuclear power plant

Editor’s Note: Anastasia Chernykh, the social media manager for My Life’s a Trip, recently took a trip to Chernobyl, the site of 1986 catastrophic nuclear accident. I found her images powerful and interesting and asked her to write up this guest post. I hope you find this photo essay as fascinating as I did. – Jen Pollack Bianco, Editor in Chief

We keep hearing the weird beeping from time to time. It’s dosimeter, a device in our guide’s hand showing the current amounts or radiation.

“No worries” says the guide, “our route is mostly safe, on usual tour you’ll get about the same radiation you’ll have on an hour flight at 20000 meters altitude. But you’d better not go anywhere off the road or step on the moss growing on side streets.”

Thirty one years after the explosion, and ten years after authorities allowed tourists in Exclusion zone, Chernobyl became a widely advertised attraction. Every day at least couple of buses bring in crowds of tourists to visit the ghost city of Pripyat, newly established safe confinement for Reactor #4, and, if lucky, see giant species of catfish.

The explosion that happened in Ukraine on April 26, 1986, remains the worst nuclear power plant accident in human history. It was more radioactive than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. Thirty one people died during (or immediately following) the disaster.

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Reactor No 4 under New Safe Confinement

Geiger counter at 1.27 μSv/h in Chernobyl (for comparison natural background radiation at airline cruise altitude is 2.7 μSv/h) 

The first check point is 30 kilometres (19 mi) from the reactor, the beginning of the “zone of alienation”.  To get through the cordon prior registration and ID is required. This area is mostly uninhabited, except for a few residents who came back after evacuation, despite Ukrainian officials estimated the area would not be safe for human life again for another 20,000 years.

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An alley in Chernobyl with plates naming every city in Exclusion Zone

But even after evacuation had begun, the world didn’t know anything about the accident. Only on 28 April, after radiation levels set off alarms at the nuclear power plant in Sweden, the Soviet Union made a public announcement about the accident.

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Abandoned buildings in Chernobyl

The residents who fled were told to take only enough belongings for 3-5 days, as the evacuation was temporary. So most people left everything behind, unaware that they would never return. Now tourists can visit the frozen Soviet reality. It’s a real life time capsule.

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People were told to leave everything behind

More than 100,000 people were forced to leave, but the evacuation has another side-effect. Without competing with humans for space and resources, local wildlife population started to grow rapidly. Wild horse crossed our path once, and the cutest highlight of this trip was fox feeding!

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Wild Horse X-ing

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Feeding the fox near Chernobyl Power Plant

In 2011 another part of Chernobyl’s mystery past was opened for visitors: Chernobyl-2, Soviet radar installation, powerful enough to detect an incoming intercontinental ballistic missile. 150 meters tall and 500 meters wide, radar is incredibly impressive structure, some say even more impressive than the rest of the tour attractions. It’s now a silent reminder that Chernobyl nuclear plant wasn’t built only for civilian purposes. A huge amount of it’s power was meant to feed the giant radar.

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Chernobyl 2 radar installation

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Nature taking it’s course over the main square in Pripyat

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Amusement park in Pripyat

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In Ukraine, we used to hear about Chernobyl disaster a lot. Mostly at school, but also on television and radio, you’d read about it in the newspapers.  To the rest of the world Chernobyl itself started to be a synonymous of something wicked and scary. But after this visit to the Exclusion zone my I feel like I changed my mind. Chernobyl is not scary anymore. It is most of all very sad.

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Chernobyl tours depart from Kyiv, Ukraine, prices start at $78 per person. Private tours available on request.

 

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Christmas Market Destination: Wroclaw, Poland

Editor’s Note: Anastasia Chernykh, the social media manager of this blog, recently visited the Christmas Market in Wroclaw, Poland. I asked her to write a guest post about it. Enjoy! – Jen 

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Festive Lights at Wrocław Christmas Market

It’s that time of year again! The Christmas Markets have started to pop up all over the Europe (a few of them can be found in US and Canada, and- believe it or not- in Asia!). What started as a good German holiday tradition is now a well-known global phenomenon, and widely celebrated event across the globe.

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Christmas ornaments and bells for sale

According to European lore, the Christmas Markets started long before Germany became a nation. You are likely to find a Christmas Market located everywhere where German is spoken, including Austria, Switzerland, and some areas of France and Poland. German immigrants brought the tradition across the ocean. The festive atmosphere, wooden huts lit up with fairy lights, tasty foods, warming mulled wine, and lovely communal vibe made it a favorite holiday attraction.

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Reindeer at Rynok Square

The biggest markets draw millions of visitors every year, and those in the largest Polish cities became also popular with tourist coming to country in December from all over the world. Wroclaw (Breslau in German) is the fourth largest city in Poland, and the historical capital of Silesia Region in Western Poland. So it’s easy to see why German ancestry found its way to the hearts of locals. In 2016, the city is a European Capital of Culture and the World Book Capital.

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Salesman sporting moose-like expression

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Hand made goods make great heart-warming gifts! 

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Fairy Wood comes with real fairies!

The major entertainment area is called “Bajkowy Lasek”(Fairy Wood), a place where you can see some Christmas plays for kids, adults can grab a cup of mulled wine, and just embrace the good mood!

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Cup of mulled wine to warm up

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Christmas Lights in Wroclaw

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Classic guests at Christmas Market: Snowmen and Reindeer

It is also a fun and unique way to enjoy your Christmas shopping, and a great alternative to the overcrowded shopping malls!

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Hand crafted ceramics and Christmas Bells

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Mugs and decoupage

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Sweet Gingerbread gifts
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Grilled ‘oscypek’ sheep cheese from the Polish mountains and Lithuanian smoked meats

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Christmas Tree and Bokeh

The Christmas market in Wroclaw is open from November 18 to December 22 in the heart of Wroclaw. Daily hours 10am-9pm

The easiest way to get to Wroclaw is by plane. You can easily fly to Wroclaw’s Copernicus Airport from UK, Ireland, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands and Ukraine.

You can also take a train from Dresden (3.5 hours), Kraków (about 5.5 hours), or Warsaw (6-8 hours) to Wrocław.

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