Monday, January 6, 2020

Fall 2019 Part II - Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria

I had a week before I needed to be in Romania for my volunteer assignment and after considering northern Romania and Serbia, I decided on Ukraine.  It was easy to get there from Lithuania and I thought it would be even easier to get from Ukraine to Romania.  I booked a cheap ticket from Vilnius to Kyiv* and found a bus from Kyiv to Odesa.*  Traveling from Odesa to Bucharest was not so easy.  I had a choice of a two day train/bus trip with an overnight stop in Chisinau, Moldova (being careful to take the bus that did not go through a disputed territory) or two flights.  Even though the flights were relatively expensive, it was worth it to have an extra day in Odesa.

The first three countries I visited had one currency, a familiar alphabet and English was widely spoken.  The next three countries had three different currencies, two different alphabets, five different languages** and a more challenging and entertaining travel infrastructure.


I am used to traveling in Romania and Bulgaria but Ukraine was new to me.  I had to get used to minibuses that were numbered but not listed on on bus stop signs and very confusing methods of payment.
  • How to pay on the minibus - estimate the price of the ride, throw money on the carpeted area behind the driver and eventually the driver or another passenger will hand you back your change.

Lots of things were labeled but most of the signage was in Cyrillic.  Luckily for me, this one was in English or I never would have known what it was.

  • I arrived during the week of Sukkot and got to celebrate the holiday three times -  in two different synagogues and in the middle of a pedestrian street in Kyiv.  
  • I took a tour of Odesa's underground and learned a lot about the catacombs and the country from my guide.
  • Lots of parks in both cities - great for walking and just hanging out.
  • Wonderful Jewish history museums in Odesa.
  • Food - I ate lots of cheese pancakes at "Soviet-style" cafeterias but I did manage to find a couple of other places to eat.
Brand new food hall in Kyiv

Kyiv Cake a'la Sophie

  • Kyivo-Pechers'ka Lavra Monastery - Kyiv

  • Potemkin Steps - Odesa  I visited multiple times.

  • Chrysanthemum Festival - Odesa

  • Memorial to the victims of the Holodomor Famine - Kyiv

  • More statues from Odesa - clockwise from top:  Isaak Babel,  a monument to the orange that saved Odesa and a statue dedicated to famous authors from Odesa in the Literature Museum sculpture garden.


I was excited to return to Romania and my volunteer teaching assignment in CsĂ­kszentsimon.  This time I stayed in the volunteer accommodation in CsĂ­kszereda, the closest town.  I had a great week.  I learned a little Hungarian, taught several classes at the school, achieved my goal of visiting the local beer factory, reconnected with the teachers and ate some of my favorite food.

 Me teaching:

Me at the beer factory:

Me (not pictured) enjoying my second autumn of 2019:

I spent two days in Bucharest before leaving for Bulgaria.  My hostel was wonderful and I got a chance to explore different neighborhoods, shop and eat some more of my favorite foods.  I was lucky enough to see a performance in Yiddish (with English subtitles) at the Romanian State Jewish Theater.

I had to take the overnight bus to Sofia but luckily a guy at my hostel was taking the same bus so I shared a midnight Uber ride to the bus station and the bus ride with someone I knew.  Once in Sofia I immediately took a bus to Plovdiv, one of the 2019 European Capitals of Culture.  It was a very quick trip but I got to stay at my all-time favorite hostel, revisit my favorite place for shawarma and do a little more shopping.

My room at Hostel Old Plovdiv - I had the whole room (complete with period furnishings) to myself

I completed my collection of photographs of the Old Testament frescoes at Sveta Marina Church

Sofia was the perfect place to end my trip.  I visited in 2015 and 2019 so this time I didn't have to run around sightseeing and taking pictures.  I did visit a great new museum, the Red Flat - Everyday Life in Communist Bulgaria, a re-creation of a 1980's apartment.  I went back to Rila Monastery for the third time, visited the Boyana Church and of course, ate at some of my favorite restaurants.

Rila Monastery, this time in the fall:

Monument of Stefan Stambolov, a Bulgarian politician who was assassinated (I am sure you can figure out how) in 1895:

My favorite neon sign:

Things I Learned:
  • Overnight buses haven't gotten any better.  The only advantage is that you can't see what is going on around you.
  • The showers at the Frankfort Airport are wonderful.
  • Six week trips are a little too long.


*   Preferred spellings
** Ukrainian and Russian in Ukraine, Hungarian and Romania in Romania and Bulgaria.

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Fall 2019 Part II - Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria

I had a week before I needed to be in Romania for my volunteer assignment and after considering northern Romania and Serbia, I decided o...