I know, I know, so much blogging to catch up with. Since I’m working full time in news these days, I’ve decided to join the ever-growing newsletter crowd. My weekly newsletter is named End Notes, after those great little notes at the end of academic pieces that are often full of little gems. That and it comes at the end of the week. I’m planning to send it out every Saturday and it will feature a rundown of international and domestic news, food, gender, and cats.
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It’s only fitting to look back on the first week of summer during one of the last warm weekends. At the end of May I headed to Italy for a week with my parents. We started off in Rome and then headed to the five villages of Cinque Terre on the Ligurian coast. On the way back to Rome we stopped off for a day in Florence. It was a fantastic trip full of amazing food, gelato, and desserts. I had been to Rome in college while I was studying abroad in Paris and I had great memories of staying up all night the last night there to catch an early morning flight back to Paris. Since Italy has so much written about it, I’ll keep it at a minimum and let the photos do most of the talking.
Wandering the Trastevere neighborhood where we stayed in Rome was fantastic. Someday I will look this chic…
I know, I know, I broke my New Year’s resolution of blogging more regularly. So in an effort to catch up, I’m starting with my last trip and working backwards. I earned my Master’s degree at the end of May and then took a two-week trip to Italy and Ireland. Neither Victor nor I had ever been to Ireland and since we only had a week we decided in our typical fashion to see as much as possible. So we rented a car and Victor drove the route below (hello, driving on the left, I was not going to even try to wrap my mind around that, so a big thanks to Victor for taking the wheel and avoiding all of the sheep). After a week in Ireland, I was completely smitten and would love to go back to see areas we didn’t have time for. I also now preach the wonders of Ireland to anyone who will listen.
We started our trip in Dublin where we were introduced to the massive Irish breakfast (photo above) and the four seasons of weather that come in one day — pack a raincoat. Dublin was fun to wander, but the whole Temple Bar area isn’t really my scene, so after a long wander and an amazing dinner at the Winding Stair, we were ready to start our drive the next morning.
As we start driving, heading for the ancient burial mounds at Bru na Boinne, we suddenly found ourselves on a tight, one-lane back country road with stone walls on either side and fast-driving Irish people trying to pass us. Victor and I both grew silent. We were in a Citron mini SUV and I started having horrible thoughts about hospitals in Ireland. Luckily, we reached the ruins without a problem, but both of our nerves were shot. I started to play with the GPS and realized that whoever had it before us had checked fastest route. I remedied that quickly by checking the “always use highways” button. Although we later found out that some highways are still narrow one ways that sheep take over at night. Victor bought me a worry stone when we arrived at Bru na Boinne. Let’s just say I polished the rock for the rest of our trip.
The burial mounds at Bru na Boinne are older than the pyramids and no one really knows the whole story behind them, but it was interesting to see, especially the old carvings:
It happened so quickly it took me a minute to process. The vodka bottle was pulled into the car and the cash was grabbed by the person inside and then the car took off accelerating at high speed. Only moments earlier I had been asked by a Polish border guard to unzip my coat. He had been searching for vodka and cigarettes I might have taped to my body in a smuggling attempt. Welcome to the border between Poland and Ukraine.
As soon as you cross from western Ukraine into eastern Poland you start noticing the differences immediately — the roads are better and the standard of living is higher. Poland is a member of the European Union while Ukraine is not. Selling alcohol and cigarettes near the border is a job for some Ukrainians. In Ukraine, vodka and cigarettes are much cheaper than in Poland so people will cross the border daily and sell them in Poland and then buy food products and electronics (which are much more expensive in Ukraine) and cross back over. Of course all of this is illegal, hence the coat check. Approximately 300,000 Ukrainians are estimated to be working in Poland and Ukrainians are the largest group of non-European Union member migrants applying for residency in the EU. The border is a stark illustration of why Ukrainians want to see a dramatic change at home. It was also the first time in my life I had crossed a border between two countries by foot.
So why did I cross the border and have to deal with unzipping my coat to prove I wasn’t smuggling vodka? For a long time I had wanted to see the town my maternal grandmother grew up in which is today in eastern Poland. The border between eastern Poland and western Ukraine shifted many times over the past several hundred years. My mother knew that her mother was from the town of Medyka where the family owned vast farm lands. Apparently there was so much to harvest that Hutsuls from the mountains in Ukraine would come to work. My grandmother went to school in the town of Przemyśl (the majority of photos in this post).
So while on my reporting trip to Ukraine (read the other stories I wrote here, here, and here), I set out from the western Ukrainian city of Lviv to Przemyśl. My friend Areta came with me. She’s a pro — she knew which bus to get on, where to run to once the bus stopped (let’s just say everyone gets off the bus and tries to get first in line), and which line to get into at the border as American citizens. Plus as a fellow Ukrainian-American, Areta and I both share a lot of curiosities about the past and the lives of our families — check out her wonderful blog on the past and Ukraine here. Areta had visited Przemyśl several times before and knows a lot about her family’s life there. I on the other hand, don’t know very much and just wanted to wander and see the city:
Walking around was both foreign and familiar. Like Lviv, Przemyśl has that fantastic Austro-Hungarian architecture that many people will recognize from the movie The Grand Budapest Hotel. I understand very, very, very basic Polish and some words I grew up saying, sklep – store and trystavky – strawberries, are actually Polish and not Ukrainian. It just shows how people moved and intermingled between and before the two great wars.
I keep thinking, please, please stop. Please don’t buy me that coffee. Please don’t buy me lunch. Really, you don’t have to. When I first came to Ukraine in 2007 the currency was 1 USD to 8 Ukrainian hryvnia. This summer it was 1 to 14. And now it’s 1 to 25. At one point last month it went to over 30. I’ve been in Ukraine now for several days and the hospitality and generosity of people going through a truly difficult time, an economic crisis and a war, continues to amaze me. People have their pride and really care about how they treat guests. At the same time it makes me really sad to see this country going through another economic crisis as well as the war that began a year ago. I spent the first few days of my trip in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv where I reported on the volunteer war effort. I keep hearing the same phrase over and over that roughly translates as “we must defend our land.”
People are doing what they can here. Circumstances aren’t great: the army still doesn’t have the weapons it needs, reforms aren’t moving fast enough, and too many people are unnecessarily suffering. It has been nine months since my last trip here and things haven’t gotten better. Yet for many people in western Ukraine, there’s a sense that they will overcome, because freedom and territorial integrity come above everything else.
I’ve said it before here, Lviv is one of my favorite cities in the whole world. The history, the old buildings, the people, the food, I love this city. I’m lucky to have spent several days there reporting and walking.