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Fun Friday–My Virtual Summer Vacation: Ukraine

Friday, May 27, 2011

Last week, my virtual summer vacation started out in the land of my ancient heritage, Romania. So I figured for this week, I’d just slip over the border into one of Romania’s neighbors—and a country I’ve been somewhat fond of ever since I wrote my second completed manuscript way back in 2002 . . .


While I don’t personally have any familial roots in Ukraine (that I know of), as I mentioned, I became interested in the country when working on what would become my second complete manuscript, The Best Laid Plans. Because I chose an Eastern European actor (Goran Visnjic) for the template of the hero, I needed him to come from an Eastern European country—but because the country which the actor was from (Croatia) had just come out of a very violent time of war, I wanted him to be from a country that had a more peaceful transition from Eastern Bloc to free. Because so many famous figure skaters have come from there, it must have been top of mind for me—I chose Ukraine, a country which claims almost every different type of landscape possible in Europe.

Last week, in Romania, I stayed away from the bigger cities and stuck with the villages and mountains. And it’s through those mountains, the Carpathians, that we’ll get to Ukraine:

In Ukraine, I’ll be visiting several of the cities, starting with Odesa (a.k.a. Odessa)—yes, the city from which the place in Texas got its name. I will stay at the Hotel Odessa, right at the seaport. Odessa is a city of contrasts, from old medieval- and Renaissance-era buildings to Soviet-era block housing and buildings to new construction of a city on the move. (Click the image to see a slideshow, which will open in a new tab/window.)

From Odesa, it’s on to the capital city of Kyiv (a.k.a. Kiev). A city that’s been the crossroads of East and West for centuries, this metropolis is considered the center of education, culture, trade, and industry for Eastern Europe. It’s believed to be one of the oldest cities in Eastern Europe, founded in 482 A.D. Though Ukraine is a country with its own language (similar to Russian, but different enough to be considered a unique language and not a dialect), its past is a tapestry of occupations and annexations—it’s been part of the Khazar empire, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Crown Kingdom of Poland, and in 1667 became an autonomous part of the Tsardom of Russia. In the 19th Century, a secret society—the Brotherhood of St. Cyril of Methodius—pushed the idea that Ukrainians were Slavic, not Russian, and as such should be a separate and distinct country. They were quickly silenced, but ethnic Ukrainian aristocracy preserved the unique Ukrainian language and culture through private clubs and secret societies of their own, while the peasants living outside the cities retained their Ukrainian folk culture through being largely ignored by the Russians. From 1921 through 1991, Ukraine was part of the USSR, with Kiev serving as one of the Soviet Union’s key industrial centers. Because so much of the rural population migrated to the city, even though it was a Soviet controlled city, Kiev became a center for Ukrainian language and culture. Chernobyl is only a little more than 60 miles north of the city, but because the prevailing winds blow north, the city was largely unaffected by the meltdown.

Ukrainian independence was declared and instituted at parliament in Kiev on August 24, 1991. In this new modern era, Kiev has exploded—population, building, industry, commerce, culture—with a revitalization of the old parts of the city as well as new growth and expansion outward and upward. (Click image to open the Kyiv slideshow in a new tab/window.)

After the teeming metropolis of Kiev, it’s time to take things a little more slowly with a visit to L’viv (also Lviv and Lwow). The old city pretty much escaped major damage in World War II and as such gives a very good view of what cities in this part of the world would have looked like two to five hundred years ago. (Click image to see slideshow in a new tab/window.)

And though there’s still so much of the country left to see, my trip to Ukraine will end with a visit to the Crimea region, and Yalta, if for no other reason than to see the Swallow’s Nest castle. This decorative, Gothic-style “castle” was built between 1911 and 1912 on Aurora Cliff to replace a wooden cottage known as the “Love Castle,” owned by a court doctor to the Russian Tsar. In 1911, a German oil baron acquired the cottage, tore it down, and built this decorative castle overlooking the Black Sea. It’s been one of the most popular tourist attractions in Crimea since then, and currently houses an Italian restaurant. But though it may be one of the most popular sights to see, it’s not the only one, so click on the photo to see a slideshow of Crimea/Yalta.

Where in the world are you going for part two of your virtual vacation today?

  1. Audry permalink
    Friday, May 27, 2011 9:37 am

    Wow, that Swallow’s Nest is really something. I wouldn’t mind seeing that at all. Are those really palm trees in some of the Ukraine photos? I always think of Ukraine as being freezing cold – like the coldest part of Russia. I can’t believe they have palm trees! Guess I need to brush up on my geography.

    Are you planning any virtual trips to Italy this summer?


    • Friday, May 27, 2011 9:49 am

      I think a couple of my favorite images of Yalta, which took me by surprise when I saw them, are the ones with the palm trees in the foreground and the snowy Crimean Mountains in the background.

      As to Italy . . . you’ll just have to wait and see . . .


  2. Charmaine Gossett permalink
    Friday, May 27, 2011 3:55 pm

    I think I would like to take in Paris and the Louve then sample some rich French cooking.


  3. Friday, May 27, 2011 5:10 pm

    Next I want to visit just east of you, Kaye. The setting of my WIP, along the Watauga River, and Sycamore Shoals, and Jonesboro, and the Little Tennessee River. I’ve been near there several times (Boone, NC and the Great Smokey Mountains National Park), but not RIGHT there.


  4. Friday, May 27, 2011 8:07 pm

    The Crimea in the Ukraine is right on the Black Sea -and a very popular summer vacation spot for many in Russia and other former Soviet republics. It is a beautiful area with many pretty places. While visiting there, I saw a postcard of the Swallow’s Nest and HAD to go! I was very glad I was able to…it is just unbelievably picturesque. The water is so blue there. I absolutely loved it! Would attach a picture of it here….but don’t think I can…


  5. Friday, May 27, 2011 10:00 pm

    This will be my second stop, in Croatia. Plitvice Lakes National Park.

    The pictures on the above site do not do it justice. I found the official park site once and it has dozens of gorgeous photographs, but I can’t find it again.



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