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August 5, 2013

POTD: Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine

One question that I often get from people who want to travel to Chernobyl is where to stay in Kiev. Well, like any destination, it depends on your budget and tastes. In Kiev, accommodation ranges widely from bunk bed filled hostels on the outskirts of town to five star hotels in the city center. When my friends and I visited Kiev, we opted for neither of those options and instead rented an apartment. Yes, you can rent an apartment for just a few days, often at rates far below that of a decent hotel (especially if there are several of you, and you can split the cost). Plus, the apartments have kitchens, so you can purchase groceries and cook your own meals instead of eating out all the time (of course, we opted to eat at restaurants because none of us really enjoy cooking that much). The property manager of the apartment also picked us op and dropped us off at the airport for an additional small fee, which definitely saved us the hassle of trying to explain the location to an airport cab driver.

Another perk of renting Kiev apartments is the location. The apartment we rented was located very close to Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti), the central square of Kiev. The above photo shows the monument to Berehynia in the middle of the square. In Slavic mythology, Berehynia is a female spirit who serves as the “hearth mother, protectoress of the home”. This square has also been the site of many political demonstrations throughout Ukrainian history, most notably when Orange Revolution protesters pitched their tents on this square.

In addition to Independence Square, Khreshchatyk Street was just a few minutes walk away; this is the main street of Kiev where you can find plenty of restaurants and shopping opportunities (and in our case, the TGI Friday’s where we celebrated American independence day with burgers and beer). If you have very limited time in Kiev, I would highly recommend renting an apartment in this area since so much is within walking distance, including the beautiful St. Sophia Cathedral.

Most apartments will also be equipped with wifi and TV, in case you’d like to catch up on Facebook or see what the Ukrainian version of MTV is like (actually much better than American MTV because they actually play, you know, music). I’ve rented apartments throughout Western and Eastern Europe without any issue and would definitely recommend it to any cost-conscious traveler.

December 6, 2011

POTD: Russian State Duma

Although the Soviet Union fell nearly 20 years ago, symbols of the regime still remain throughout the former USSR. This hammer and sickle adorns the Russian State Duma (the lower house of the federal legislature) building in Moscow. This building formerly housed Gosplan (State Planning Committee), the agency responsible for economic planning in the Soviet Union, which included the infamous five-year plans.

June 20, 2011

POTD: The onion domes of Catherine Palace

Apologies for the quality of this photo, but it was taken during my first trip to Russia, when I only had disposable cameras. This is Catherine Palace, the summer residence of the Russian Tsars, and is located 25km southeast of St. Petersburg. It was originally built at the request of Catherine I, the second wife of Peter the Great. The palace was later demolished, however, on the orders of her daughter, Empress Elizabeth, who desired that it be rebuilt to reflect a more modern style. The present palace, completed in 1756, is the result of this construction project. Much of the palace was destroyed during World War II, when the retreating German army set it ablaze. Fortunately, the Soviet and Russian governments have restored much of the palace, including, most recently, the famed Amber Room.

June 7, 2011

POTD: Noseless Stalin in Moscow

When the Soviet Union fell, the symbols of that regime – the innumerable statues of Marx, Engels, and Lenin – were brought down as well. Many were melted down, demolished, or sold to wealthy Westerners who installed them in American casinos. Some of these statues still survive throughout the former Soviet Union, however, either in the town squares of small towns or places like Fallen Monument Park in Moscow, which houses a large collection of old Soviet statues, including this one of Stalin. I don’t know how Stalin lost his nose here, but I’d like to imagine that it was the result of a large sledgehammer wielded by an average Soviet citizen.

April 28, 2011

POTD: Inside the Kremlin

Taken with a film camera (remember film?) back in July 2003, when I was studying in Moscow. In the Russian language, “Kreml” (Kremlin) means “fortress”. All ancient Russian cities had a kremlin at their center. The Moscow Kremlin served as the seat of government for the Tsars of Russia until Peter the Great transferred the capital to St. Petersburg. In March 1918, the Bolsheviks moved the capital back to Moscow, and since then the Kremlin has remained the center of power.

April 4, 2011

POTD: View of Yerevan from The Cascade

Another lovely example of a Soviet-era art project, The Cascade is a giant staircase built onto the side of a hill in Yerevan, Armenia. If you don’t want to walk up the stairs, there are escalators that will take you to the top. Seriously.

March 30, 2011

POTD: The Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg

The official residence of the Russian Tsars from 1732 to 1917, the Winter Palace now houses the State Hermitage Museum, one of the greatest art museums in the world. Even if you’re not a lover of art, you can’t visit Saint Petersburg and not visit this place. It really is that incredible.

March 1, 2011

POTD: Church near Oktyabrskaya ploshchad

Yes, located near the Lenin statue in Moscow, Russia.

January 25, 2011

POTD: Cliff houses along the Mtkvari (Kura) river in Tbilisi

The Kura river, which these cliffhouses are perched precariously over, starts in north-eastern Turkey, flows through Turkey to Georgia, and then to Azerbaijan, where it enters the Caspian Sea. The total length of the river is 1,515 kilometres (941 mi). As Tbilisi’s economy continues to grow following its independence from the USSR, flights to Istanbul and other major regional cities are increasingly available. We flew to Azerbaijan from Georgia since flights to Baku were unavailable in Armenia.

January 24, 2011

POTD: Chernobyl kittens

Ryan and Laura play with kittens after our tour of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Although they were incredibly cute, we did not take them home as souvenirs.