Posts Tagged ‘ukraine’


August 18, 2010

Itinerary of The Viking Lomonosov (2010 sailings)

Soviet Sub base. PHOTOS under DESIGN on right >>>


Istanbul / Odessa / Sevastopol / Yalta
(SCROLL down)

Kiev / Kremenchuk / Dnepropetrovsk / Zaporozhye / Kherson (SCROLL down)


August 12, 2010

Additional GALLERY of Kremenchuk Photos on RIGHT >>>>

War memorial in Kremenchuk, Ukraine

This is it for Kremenchuk and Viking. Next year Viking will sail right on by – no more packed buses driving past that Hydroelectric plant or tourists wheezing as they climb flight after flight of steps in the sweltering, poorly lit Museum of Local History while squinting to see the exhibits and wondering what the explanations written in Russian might mean.

Kremenchuk was founded in the 16 century on land that once was Polish and later was grabbed by the Russian Czars. A fortress was built here in 1590 in an attempt to keep the Tartars out whom, obviously, were also prowling the area. In other words, this area has been defined and re-defined by the strength of adjacent powers in the area that have licked their chops for centuries. The word “kremen” means stone bank, which is what the city is built on. Strategically, it matters.

Today the city is an industrial center with oil refineries, although we saw little of either.

There is a little traffic on the river, and with narrow locks that can accommodate only small ships; the opportunities for great development in the area appear limited. During the entire trip up the Dnieper we saw only two ships being loaded – and in one case the loading was being done by ropes, not cranes. The Dnieper does benefit from dams at strategic points that impound water creating large lakes that are pleasant to cruise. The dams also allowed the hydroelectric power plants to be built in the area so the potential appears to be there. Without more industrial development, and without more commerce, the area and its people aren’t likely to prosper.

Kremenchuk did have the requisite Lenin Memorial that by this time drew hoots from our fellow travelers.

With little else to see, and with little time (four hours), we roamed the downtown area and found a department store straight out of the 1940s. Interesting, crowed and busy, it was a period piece. Even the escalator with wooden floor slats was early 20th century.

We noted that as the days have worn on, manners among some passengers have frayed and grousing about the lack of much to see has escalated.

Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine

August 12, 2010

Additional GALLERY of Dnepropetrovsk photographs on RIGHT >>>

Abandoned hotel on Dnieper River in Dnepropetrovsk

Industrial, military but lots of parks, trees and grass

Arriving early and leaving late in order to navigate through the city’s draw bridges, the Lomonosov docked in a dreary, but industrially intriguing area not far from downtown. It wasn’t quite walkable and even on the bus there was not much to see, except for the obligatory statute of Lenin, but what little Dnepropetovsk had to offer made a pleasant and surprisingly full day.

The first stop after driving past the statute if Lenin (to hoots and hisses from my fellow passengers) was a stop at the Transformation Cathedral that was designed to honor (who else) Catherine the Great. Begun in 1787, it was finished fully 98 years later. After Catherine died in 1796, work on the cathedral immediately halted (her sons hated her and weren’t about the finish another tribute to her memory). Eventually the size of the cathedral was reduced to one-sixth the original planned size and completed in 1885. It’s worth a look.

During the Soviet era it was renamed “The Museum of Atheism” but the Soviets are gone (sort of) and it’s a church again. Stay tuned. Many, including us, after a week or two drifting this area, are convinced that the peace here now is transitory. No one seems to like anyone all that much unless you belong to their tribe. Fully 12,000 Jews were rounded up and slaughtered in a single morning not far from downtown and that was only 70 years ago.

From the cathedral we then went to the Cossack museum which is well done, but with little air conditioning the question is how well, over time, the remarkable artifacts in this museum will fare. In the adjacent courtyard stone statutes carved 5,000 years ago are grouped together. These statues delight and show the whimsy of a people long gone and whose name, at least according to our tour guide, have been lost to history.

What happens next in this part of the world?

In Moscow, which we visited last year, Lenin may soon be thrown out of his tomb and hauled off. If we saw statutes to him or to Marx or to others – and they may well be there – we missed them.

But here Lenin seems alive. Daily we see at least a statute or two of him. Our tour guide says she speaks Ukrainian, but refuses to do so unless she is forced (she prefers to speak Russian). And she is only a resident of the Ukraine, she explained to us, because that is where she happened to be living when the Cold War ended and the Russian Republics splintered off into separate countries. In other words, there is not a strong national identity and twenty years down the road there doesn’t seem to be a softening and coming together here. In an area where war, not peace, has been more the norm over the centuries, is this just an interim between when old tribal rivalries will reassert themselves? This place feels more Russian than Russia.

We’ll see what Kiev is like – or will we? We’ll spend less than a day there.

(more to come)

Photograph: Port area with unfinished hotel on left.

Kachok Lock

August 11, 2010

The first lock on the Dnieper River after leaving the Black Sea heading toward Kiev is the Kachok Lock, the second largest in the Dnieper. We passed through this lock shortly after midnight on August 10, 2010.







August 9, 2010

Let’s face it. Kherson has almost nothing to offer and our cruise line, Viking, knew it. An intriguing sounding trip to outlying villages in the Dniepr delta was scrubbed because previous tours so badly panned it, Viking decided to find something worse.

They succeeded.

Arriving at 2 paddling through breathtakingly beautiful delta, the ship eventually came to the container ports (nothing moving) and docked. We didn’t tarry: the ship was gone …before five. In the scant three hours ashore, packed onto buses that have little air conditioning which are shadowing us all the way from Odessa to Kiev, we sweltered through walks around a war memorial, statutes of Lenin (Lenin?), a church built by Catherine the Great to honor one of her dead lovers and 45 minutes in a shopworn shopping area.

We had been warned that although the Dniepr is navigable, there is little traffic here and less commerce. A ship or two trailed and led us at distances as we left the Black Sea, but this was no Shanghai where ships entering the port have to line up at midnight and convoy in.

Nonetheless, the lower Dnieper after we left the Black Sea was gorgeous. The land is marshland and unspoiled. During the day he shores were low and green; the skies were filled with birds. At night the sky was black. There is little development along the river and few lights. The stars shown brightly. Occasionally we passed fishermen and others along the shore with small lamps lighting their boats.

Photographs: St Catherine Church; lover’s bench with locks signifying devotion

Header photograph today was:
Crowded early morning beach at Yalta on Monday, August 9, 2010.


August 8, 2010

Where the world was carved up at the end of World War II

We sailed overnight a short distance from one of the coldest of the Cold War sights, Sevastopol, to where the Cold War arguably began.

Yalta is a stunning seaside resort of the Black Sea, sweltering hot and enormously popular in the summer, including the days we visited. Surrounded by mountains and cliffs and gorgeous beaches, Yalta attracted the attention of the Czars and their families in the 19th century. Eventually, as the Czar’s regime was crumbling, Nicholas II, perhaps the most hapless ruler of all time, decided a new palace on the Crimean peninsula would be just the thing and in 1911 commissioned Livadia Palace, a masterpiece. The Czar and his family would be out of power in six years and dead soon after. They would visit here only four times, but had they come and stayed, likely they would have survived. The British hauled lots of noblemen out of here as the Bolsheviks took power, and the Romanovs were, after all, relatives of the British monarchs. It’s unlikely they would have been left stranded.

By the end of World War I Livadia was a sanatorium for peasants, but in the fall of 1944 as the western powers, Britain’s Winston Churchill, the U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and the Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin were looking for a place to make decisions regarding the post-war world, they decided to meet in Yalta at Livadia Palace. When the three powers met again a few months later (July) in Potsdam in the outskirts of Berlin the war against Germany had been won (in May); Roosevelt was dead, and Churchill had been voted out of office.

Today Yalta is not an easy place to get to, but that deters no one. Buses from Sevastopol run frequently and there are good roads. Yalta has no railroad connections or airport.

The guide program included a ride to Sparrows Nest, a touristy narrow spot on a highway above the ocean with a view of a castle that a German built in the 1910s. Much of the castle, after an earthquake, rumbled down into the ocean only to be rebuilt later as a restaurant. The author Anton Chekhov’s house is nearby and an easy reach on your own.

Photo: An entrance door, Livadia Palace. Photos will be regularly added to each post as time permits. Design element photos of many sites such as carpet, wallpaper, doors et cetera will also be processed and added sometime in late August and September.


August 6, 2010

Odessa /

Odessa is a charming 19th century city that was largely untouched by World War II. Established and built by Catherine the Great after she grabbed the land at the end of the 18th century, it is a feast of 19th century masterpieces, including its crown jewel – the Opera House – built in the 1880s.

We flew on Turkish Airlines from Istanbul, a brief snap of a trip directly northeast across the Black Sea. In the hour flight Turkish Airlines managed to serve us an entire meal, including chocolate mousse, plus drinks. On a flight last week in the United States on Southwest Airlines, the flight crew declared there was insufficient time to serve anything (on a longer flight) and then set about congratulating the crew for flying us into New York fully ten hours late.

There’s a reason why we chose non-American flagged airlines.

The Odessa airport is 1950s functional. Think Greyhound bus terminal in the United States, the kind torn down ten or fifteen years ago. But it was fast, and it was efficient. We were through customs quickly, and a clerk lurked whom actually demanded and then checks out luggage check tickets to insure no on stole our luggage. We liked the Ukrainians immediately.

We were shipping out on a Viking River cruise ship named the Lomonosov which was docked just across a busy street from the famous Potemkin Steps (once two-hundred steps, but now a mere 192 after the adjacent road was widened and heightened (good-bye eight steps). Here the famous “Battleship Potemkin”(1926) movie was shot, and here also was the beginning of the 1905 Russian uprising. Supposedly Russian troops fired on and killed a number of unarmed innocent citizens here, but these days it is said that didn’t happen.

We had low hopes for the Lomonosov, named for a Russian poet. The rooms, at 90-square feet, are smaller than a gulag cell. The ship was built for the recreation of Communist party officials in the 1970s and, we rightly anticipated, would have a cold war feel. Still, we wanted to get to the Black Sea before the heavy crush of westerners find the place (as they will when the Olympics arrive in Sochi in 2014) so it was either sail on this ship (where they would speak English and serve food that might be edible) or book ourselves across the Black Sea on ferries. Our search for cruise ships sailing from Istanbul turned up nothing, but it develops we did not search deeply enough. There are, we were assured, a number of western ships putting around the Black Sea. That just means we’ll probably be back.

Viking has been chopping back on amenities at a rapid pace. So, while a couple of years ago, all of the land tours were included, they have now begun selling the best tours while motoring around everyone on a single tour. There’s little choice but to pay them the extra money unless – as some of our co-passengers were – you are exceptionally adventurous and willing.

A surprise was how many were on board from the United States who have ties to the Ukraine, Odessa and Kiev. There’s a reason why Brighton Beach in New York City is known as “Little Odessa”. Once having a large Jewish settlement, Odessa was the site of not one but two pogroms in the 20th century that largely wiped out the entire Jewish community in Odessa.

My efforts to find the train station failed. On my own in the sweltering weather I set out using the Opera House but took the wrong street. I intended to walk until I found a McDonald’s, but, of course, I never found it. Parched and fearing my energy was lagging too low, I turned back and returned to the ship.

I was determined to climb up and down the Potemkin Steps, and it was surprisingly easy. I cruised up them two-at-a-time that was good for my morale. The following morning it did not seem as great an idea as it had at the time. I also rode up and down on the tram that runs along side the steps for the less venturesome. The lines for the tram, which carries no more than 15 and in reality quite a few less is that it best carries only about 10 people. A man, straight out of central casting, drives the tram – and when I greeted him saying hello, he simply stared at me. He would do well in Moscow where a few times I got the same reaction. The tram moves slowly, but those attempting to get on the tram do not. Expect pushing and shoving, and line cutting, especially by large older women with large shopping bags. I was amused.

The Lomonosov set out on the Black Sea about 9:30pm and ran for a time along the coast where lights could be seen. By midnight the ship was alone on the Black Sea and, except for an occasional ship, in the distance, we were alone. The sea was so smooth that it was unclear we were moving (but we were).

The ship has two dreary dining rooms, and the service – slow – is equally bad in either. After I got sick – and remained sick for weeks – on the St Petersburg-Moscow trip with these guys last November, I decided to eat carefully and study the food before I eat it. I advise you to do the same.

But the crew is nice and our tour guide, a woman, age 30, from Sevastopol, is downright lovable. Sevastopol was a closed military cit until 1996. It was a Soviet military base, and he father was a naval engineer. He grandfather also was in the Soviet navy. When the Cold War ended in 1990, her father immediately lost his job and she said they became very poor. Finding food was a problem and she wore the same jeans for 5 years – from age 10 to 15. Because she gained very little weight during that time she said it worked out, more or less.

I asked her if she preferred Soviet or current times. She dithered, finally saying there was much that was better under the Soviets. Sevastopol was sparkling clean and fresh, and is now dirty. Still there were many things from each era she likes – she would like to take the best from each of these eras. This is an attitude we found in Russia as well. The people are conflicted, and with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990 they have suffered.
I commonly ask my fellow travelers if they have visited the place where we are before. We have a fair number of travelers who are “place collectors” regaling you with all of the places they have been in an attempted one-up-mans-ship game. I find the game tedious since usually they know nothing about the people or the places they have visited – they are merely coloring in the map and, generally being people on toward the end of their lives, seem to be making their lives travel, having few if any meaningful relationships in their real lives.

But there are also some really interesting people. A banker from Canada is very smart and we have chatted about what the economy likely will look like in the next 5 to 10 years. His view confirms mine – invest in large caps and think in terms of 2015 or 2020 and you will make a fortune. The 21st century economically will be stupendous since we’ve become a world economy instead of a North American centered economy. Once we learn how to run this new world economy, and smooth things, out, we’re all going to get a lot richer, especially the Americans.

One other passenger, when we asked him if he had been to Istanbul, replied that he had been on his way here but had been diverted a few years ago to Rhodes instead. Why? We asked. “Someone blew up a mosque in Istanbul.” They did what?