I'm home!

Jul. 30th, 2017 09:22 pm
sabotabby: (doom doom doom)
My Eastern European adventures have drawn to a close, and I am now safely back home in Toronto, jetlagged and of very little brain.

The excellent travel luck that made almost everything about this trip easy and magical ran out on the way back. When we got to the airport, albeit early, no gate information. Waited around. Gate information announced, mad rush ensues. Staff appear to not know what's going on. Flight delayed. I practically have a panic attack before realizing that the time change between Kiev and Warsaw is such that I'll still catch my flight. But just in case, I wanted to let people know I might be stranded in Poland overnight, but the airport wifi was out too.

It turned out to be fine because the flight to Toronto was also delayed. When I finally got on, it was the Flight From Hell. I had Demonchild McElbows on one side, wriggling and giggling and poking me every time I started to drift off. I leaned over into the aisle, but the many other children on the flight were using it to run up and down screaming and kicking my foot, and one woman who kept getting up and walking over to show her husband, in the seat in front of me, her swollen ankle. So no sleep was to be had. For awhile I amused myself by hatewatching Batman vs. Superman, but there's a limit to how many terrible movies even I can watch.

(It was so bad, though. SO BAD.)

We actually landed on time after all that, just in time for the child behind me to vomit. Most of it hit the bag, at least. But the plane couldn't park because there was a strike (which I knew about but it was a different airline), so between that and the resulting chaos, it took about another two hours before I could actually head home.

It is a mark of my character development that I was too tired to do laundry. Normally that wouldn't stop me.

I'm at the fatigue/discombobulation level where everything feels like work, even lying on the couch and watching TV. I have a bad case of the don't wannas. I should at some point post, locked, about some other things that happened but are less suitable for public posts, as I was an in interesting part of the world at interesting times. But now I'm back with my own bed and my own cats and I think I shall take advantage of that.
sabotabby: (anarcat)
Here, have a buttload of new pictures. As much as I want to fix my image hosting issues to be able to embed photos, I have to admit this is kind of easier while travelling.

We had a full last day. Went to the Pinchuk Art Centre, which has to be the strangest art gallery I've ever visited. As in you need to go through a metal detector to get in. There's a massive exhibition on right now featuring such luminaries as Marina Abramovich, Ai Weiwei, Damien Hirsch, and more. The Abramovich piece involved a blindfold, noise-cancelling headphones, and putting yourself at the mercy of other gallery-goers and guides. I noped right out of there after first a game of patty cake, then being patted on the head. I am not very badass or good with vulnerability, and I suspect I would not last long as a political prisoner, incidentally.

Actually, I thought the Ukrainian artists featured in the show were, on the whole, more impressive than the well-known international artists. There was quite a bit focusing on Chernobyl, economic restructuring during and after the Soviet era, and the trauma of war.

We passed the Mother Motherland monument on the way back from the airport, so we decided we had to get a closer look. Of course, the skies chose that precise time to open and pour forth and incredible thunderstorm, so we didn't get that close as we weren't out for that long. But I actually really like how my photos of it came out; you can see the massive scale, and it's all grey and mysterious.

It was impossible to leave Ukraine without a final round of sour cherry vareniki. We also had a flight of mysterious alcohols, ranging from "great enough that I bought some to take home" to "OH GOD OH GOD MY EYES THEY'RE ON FIRE." Or, as the Russians say, "gadost," which is my second new favourite word. I asked Anya for a translation and she said, "covfefe." But it means something gross and filthy. I am not sure what I drank but some involved horseradish?

I fly back home tomorrow. From what I glean from the news, it's about the right time to be GTFO of Eastern Europe.

Kaunas

Jul. 27th, 2017 09:15 pm
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (Default)
I meant for this to be two separate posts: one for the fun stuff, one for the Ninth Fort, which is the most harrowing, emotionally devastating place I have visited since Buchenwald. But of course image hosting isn't cooperating, so unfortunately at the moment, if you want to see the fun pictures, you will also have to see the depressing pictures (which I promise aren't actually that bad, as I only really took exterior shots that are only disturbing if you know the context). This said, here is the gallery, and content/trigger warning for some of the photos being of a place where 30,000-50,000 people were murdered.

(Of course, I have no idea if you can even view the photos. I really need to work out my image hosting issues. Flickr is an impossibility at the moment while I'm out of Canada.)

Anyway! I'm sure somewhere in your mind, you were wondering about the fact that I keep posting pictures of pretty buildings and lovely, walkable cities. Admit it--you expected a bit more Soviet brutalist and you were wondering where it was. The answer is that it's all in Kaunas. Kaunas does have a cute Old Town but the stuff we wanted to see wasn't there, and where we're staying is pure 1960s poured cement. I will admit a slight fondness for it, though I wouldn't want to live there.

Our first stop was the Devil's Museum, which is exactly what it says on the tin. It's an excellent collection of devils of all sorts. Our one criticism is that the gift shop was missing some obvious opportunities as it practically didn't exist.

Then we went across the street to the museum of M. K. Ciurlionis, a Symbolist artist and composer. Cool, not the most exciting, but some lovely work.

We also rode a funicular, which is kind of like an amusement ride except not very good. But it's one of my favourite words now.

The main event was going about a half-hour outside town to the Ninth Fort. It's an early 20th century fort that became a hard labour camp, then a transfer point for deportations to Siberia during the first Soviet occupation of Lithuania, then basically a killing field under the Nazis. The second time the Soviets occupied the country, they turned it into a vast and ghastly monument to the victims of fascism, which subsequently was expanded to include evidence of their own crimes after Lithuania's independence.

I can't really describe it to you properly. Unless you've been in the remnants of a concentration camp or similar, you won't be able to get what it's like to stand in a place that is well and truly haunted by the unquiet dead. The museum consists of one building that's an overview of the atrocities committed on the premises, but focusing mainly on the Soviet occupation, several vast, giant sculptures and plaques describing the Nazi massacres, and the fort itself, which shows prison cells, interrogation rooms, a recreation of a Kaunas Ghetto house, and informational rooms with the requisite belongings of the victims. It's cold, and damp, and good luck ever not feeling that bone-deep chill again. Also, this is why we don't fucking compromise with fascists, okay?

Anyway we coped really well after, which is to say I had 1/3 of a bottle of wine and I'm just about shaking history from my head. Tomorrow it's back to Kiev, and then home.
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (Default)
We rolled into Vilnius, Lithuania just before 10 pm last night after a four-hour long bus ride. It was pouring rain, which is typical for here (apparently the weather is awful in one way or another at least 60% of the time), and late, so we grabbed dinner at a vegetarian bar and crashed out at the hotel. Today, it was supposed to pour--our cab driver assured us that this time, the entire city would be flooded--but our luck held and we were able to do a walking tour of the Old Town and the Republic of Užupis.

Vilnius has a messy, dilapidated charm. I think, perhaps, my lack of bonding with Riga was due to the fact that it's kept in such good repair; letting a city crumble a bit is much more aesthetically pleasing. It's slightly less Westernized--people here speak Russian as much as they do English, though mainly Lithuanian--and just, well, weirder.

photos )
sabotabby: (doom doom doom)
Here are a few last glimpses of Riga before we hop a bus to Vilnius. We went to the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, the Art Nouveau district, and I shot a few more pictures of the hotel.

under here )
sabotabby: (sabokitty)
I don't have a ton of spoons left over tonight for a long post, so have some photos around and about Riga.

After the aesthetic exuberance of Odessa, Riga seems much more restrained, even dour. It's impressively old (founded in 1201, and there were settlements well before that) and lovely, but also more orderly, less lively, less organic. And, of course, much more expensive: welcome back to Western Europe.

This said, it's gorgeous and fun. Everyone speaks English here, which is relaxing. I don't mean this in a chauvinist way; mainly that I don't need to bother Anya to translate everything. Actually, where we're staying in the old town, it doesn't seem like anyone other than people working here are from here; it's pretty heavily touristy.

Which also means that it's incredibly easy to find vegan food. Including an entire vegan restaurant. I was like, "GIVE ME ALL THE PROTEIN."

The most important story I learned today was this: There were two powerful guilds in Riga. One was for skilled craftsmen, and admitted every eligible craftsman who applied to join. The other was for merchants, and only admitted Germans. A wealthy merchant from Riga applied to join and was rejected on the basis of his nationality. Accordingly, he built himself a giant fuck-off house across the street from the guild building and put black cats on the roof with their asses facing the building, as if shitting. The guild immediately sued to have the cats removed, but because lawsuits take time, WWI broke out, and no one gave a shit about cats' asses. The cats were mysteriously removed anyway in the 1920s, and replaced just as mysteriously in the 1950s, this time facing towards the guild, as it is now the home of the Riga Philharmonic, and no one has any quarrel with them.



photodump )
sabotabby: (lolmarx)
Just arrived in Riga, Latvia. Thought, hey, this hotel is teh cute!

Anya is like, "This hotel is familiar."

I realize that this is of interest to probably no one else reading this (sadly it would be if I were cross posting to LJ, where there is a teeny community for such things), but I'm staying in the hotel where they shot Seventeen Moments of Spring (as well as parts of the Soviet Sherlock Holmes.) And if you think I'm not geeking out like mad over this, you don't know me at all.

Fortunately, Anya is the person who introduced me to the series so she is also geeking out and is equally pleased that Stirlitz is watching over the beds in our room, judging whether or not we have adequately sacrificed and fought for the cause of anti-fascism:


Here's the view out the window:



(If you have no idea what I'm talking about, here is my screenshot recap of Seventeen Moments after I watched it and decided that everyone needed to see it. Minus the image hosting, unfortunately; I'll need to fix that at some point.)
sabotabby: (gaudeamus)
So the performance sucked so hard we walked out. Like, possibly the worst thing either of us have ever seen, which is saying an awful lot. The tickets were suspiciously cheap, but tbh most things in the Ukraine are suspiciously cheap. But in this case I think it was because they knew it was terrible. We'd actually gone in to see if we could get a tour or just wander around the opera house, but the lady said that there was a show that night, so we decided to give it a shot.

She described the show as a sequel to The Nutcracker but also a crossover with War and Peace, and a musical. A "wonderful spectacle," in fact. I have to admit that we were basically morbidly curious, and it would get us inside those gorgeously ornate doors.

Anyway, we made it two songs in. The thing was in Ukrainian so we don't know what it was about but I don't think it would have made a lot of sense even if we did understand the language. It was kind of embarrassing to listen to.

But! It meant that we got to sneak out and take unobstructed photos of the glory that is the Odessa Opera House, and that was worth the ticket price alone. I hope you appreciate how hard it was to narrow these down. They don't half capture the actual, real spectacle that is this building, but I've given it my best.

pretty! )
sabotabby: (gaudeamus)
We went to the Odessa Opera House, one of the most famous and beautiful opera houses in the world.

behold! )
sabotabby: (magicians)
Sorry-not-sorry, but you will be getting a load of pictures of Odessa because it is fucking magical. My intention at the moment is to retire, sell my house, buy one of the dilapidated old buildings and restore it to its former glory, learn Russian (it's another city where most people speak Russian, not Ukrainian, much to our joy), and wander around the glorious streets at night in a fashionable dress, drinking an open bottle of champagne.

Life goals, amirite?

In all seriousness, though, not for nothing is Odessa called Paris on the Black Sea. It has all the architectural splendour and literary tradition you could hope for, it is cosmopolitan and fashionable, and it is lit. I have never been to Paris, granted, but from what I understand Odessa is much cheaper and not as crowded. In Kiev and Lviv, people are pretty much the same as anywhere else, except with a penchant for wearing poorly translated English t-shirts bearing inspirational but nonsensical slogans, expressions of general hatred towards anyone viewing the shirt, or just vague weirdness (my favourite so far was a picture of a cat made out of ramen noodles sitting in a bowl with the caption "Pet Food").

Here, though, everyone looks like a model. The women are all tall and thin and wear flowing striped dresses, and the children prance around in tutus at all hours of the night. The streets are alive with music and performers and what I'm pretty sure is a unicorn (i.e., incentive to look at the pictures under the cut).

plz appreciate how much I had to narrow these down )
sabotabby: (lolmarx)
We're in Odessa, about a 10 min walk from the !!!!!!!! Potemkin Steps.

Expect incoming photos for every day I'm here.

Srsly, I didn't even like Battleship Potemkin but I don't think a movie needs to be enjoyable to be arguably the most important movie ever made, with which we would not have our current cinematic vocabulary. I mean. I teach film. So naturally the first thing I had to do (well, after we had lunch and coffee because we were up at 4 am to catch the flight from Lviv) was brave the 30°C weather to bring you the following:





Don't mind me, I'll be over here geeking out hard/memorizing the angles in the scene so that I can do horrible imitations of them amongst all the tourists.

In Lviv

Jul. 18th, 2017 07:13 pm
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (Default)
This is a gorgeous city, maybe even more than Kiev. It's also very much a City Of Coffee, and I highly approve. There's a café where, if you go into the basement, you can "mine" for coffee in the walls, but besides that, when we asked the hotel guy where to get good coffee, he looked at us weirdly and said, "it's ALL good coffee." A random selection would suggest he's right.

We did a walking tour, saw various churches, the Catholic Quarter, the Jewish Quarter, the Armenian Quarter, all of which seem very close together by contemporary standards. Lviv has changed hands over its history, and the references to Galicia made me do a Google and feel like an idiot because Lviv was in the heart of what had been Galicia, and that's where my grandfather was from.

Anyway, here is the new friend we made:



more pictures )
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (Default)
We took the overnight train and got in at 6 am. Our hotel booking isn't until 2 pm, so we've just been wandering around and taking pictures of all the pretty architecture.

click to embiggen )
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (Default)
Our last day in Kiev until the end of our trip. Here's a few quick glimpses of things we've seen, as we walked and walked. This is going to be a bunch of tiny pictures 'cause I'm writing from a café before we get on a night train for Lviv.

click for larger versions )

Mezhyhirya

Jul. 16th, 2017 04:37 pm
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (Default)
Viktor Yanyukovitch was president of the Ukraine from 2010-2014, until he was fairly dramatically deposed and fled to Russia as he is currently wanted for treason here. By all accounts, he was incredibly corrupt, and acquired the massive Mezhyhirya estate with public funds. As wealth and corruption is no guarantee of taste, when asked which architectural style he wanted to build his massive palaces in, he must have replied, "fuckin' all of them," because when protestors walked in and took over the place in 2014, they were appalled not just at the excesses (which included a car museum, a zoo, a golf course, several tennis courts, and orchards), but at his alarming taste in decor.

It now belongs to the people and is a destination for Ukrainians to have weddings, bike around, and generally point and laugh. Also there are gigantic thrones and Greco-Roman ruins for no apparent reason.

pictures! )
sabotabby: (gaudeamus)
I admittedly did little but eating and sleeping, as everyone is exhausted. We're staying right behind Maidan Nezalezhnosti, though, and even the laziest traveller could not fail to be moved by its beauty.



Post-2014 demonstrations, it is plastered with photos and memorials to the dead. No one goes out in Kiev this time of year except at night, when the fountains explode like fireworks and street musicians busk and young couples laugh and dance in the streets.











We grabbed dinner at an adorable café that, shock of all shocks, had food I could eat: mushroom kasha and vareniki stuffed with sour cherry, and sour cherry infused vodka.







Then exhaustion got the better of us and I probably slept more than I have in months. Awake bright and early now to do proper exploring.

P.S. Sorry for the size and quality of the images; DW's image hosting + being on my iPad makes for an unfortunate combination.







sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (commiebot)
For tomorrow I return to Canadaland.

Drowned sailors, a maypole, labour monuments, and country idylls )

Home tomorrow. Though Heathrow. Wish me luck.
sabotabby: (molotov)
Testing out the new LJ app. More wanderings, a canal tour, and ridiculous selfies.

Read more... )
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (joe hill)
Yikes what did LJ do? They changed it now it sucks.

Anyway, I had a few more adventures and took pictures with my decent camera instead of just my iPhone.

We have been wandering around Stockholm. Today we took the train to Gävle, known to normal people as "the place where they burn the Yule goat every year" and to Wobblies as "the place Joe Hill was born."

photos! )

Also! We went to see Jimmy's Hall, the new Ken Loach film. Highly recommended. It's basically like Footloose but with Irish communists instead of Kevin Bacon.
sabotabby: raccoon anarchy symbol (bat country)
I have arrived in Stockholm, Sweden, and am groggily updating this from [livejournal.com profile] smhwpf's flat! Not tons to report so far because apparently 12 hours of flight and different time zones does strange things to my head, but a few things:

1. I highly recommend flying to Paris. They give you little bottles of wine on the flight. Also I could recline my seat back and there were no crying children.

2. Stockholm is incredibly pretty, or at least what I've seen of it so far is.

IMG_3495
3. There is not a single Swedish word I can pronounce properly.

4. We had a stroll around the neighbourhood. There was a glorious beer garden on a hill and some sort of mansion filled with vegetarian food, both of which had a spectacular view, comme ça:

IMG_3494

5. Here is an awesome monument to Swedish fighters in the International Brigades in Spain:

IMG_3497

Okay time to get up and do things.

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