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a tale of two Ukraines

Even in the short time we spent in Ukraine, splitting five nights between Kiev and Lviv, we were struck by how different the two cities — and the regions they represent — are from one another.

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monastery of the mummified saints

We had visited a few of Kiev’s many churches before flying to Lviv, but saved the best for last. If there is one spot in Kiev that cannot be missed, it is the Lavra — a cavern monastery built nearly a millennium ago, which today attracts almost as many worshippers and pilgrims as ordinary tourists. The complex is so massive that it is actually divided into two sections: the upper Lavra has paid admission and is administered by the government while the lower Lavra continues to be used by monks and can be visited free of charge.

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beer and chocolate

Walking down a narrow cobblestone street that led to Lviv’s central square, we noticed the lit-up facade of a building that seemed to draw an unusual number of passersby. There were various decorated tanks and tubs that were connected Willy Wonka-style by pipes that reached from the fourth floor all the way to the seating area outside. The building housed Lviv’s famed chocolate factory and for the better part of the next hour we lost ourselves inside.

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mixing it up

Even if Lviv were not hosting a frisbee tournament, we still would have found our way there sooner rather later. Sometimes dubbed the “Little Paris of Ukraine” and at other times called the “Florence of the East,” Lviv is a cultural center that is well worth more than one visit. In fact, there is so much to see and do that we had a hard time balancing D’s desire to play ultimate with our itch to explore the city.

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unplanned vacation

It was going to be perfect. D had scheduled a work trip to Ukraine that coincided with another ultimate frisbee tournament. And this time S would get to come also. The idea was to fly to Kiev on a Friday afternoon, spend the weekend in Lviv in Western Ukraine, and return to the capital city for a couple of days of work for D and sightseeing for S. Then the government shut down. As the saying goes, man makes plans and God laughs.

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through the centuries

From the Netherlands, S and her family flew to Berlin for a four-day visit with another foreign exchange student, Laura. S had been to Berlin once before, but the visit lasted a mere 24 hours, which was not enough to even scratch the surface of one of Europe’s biggest and most iconic cities. Coming from Amsterdam, Berlin offered a stark contrast of urban chic. A pillar of the fashion, art, design, and music avant-garde, it exudes a spirit of innovation and experimentation while also offering reminders of Germany’s turbulent history at nearly every turn.

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the art of consumption

After more than two months at sea, our HHE shipment from DC is due to be delivered next week. More than anything, S is excited to have her maternity clothes. Her estimates — both regarding how soon the shipment would arrive and also how soon she would start showing — appear to have been a bit on the optimistic side. We’re also looking forward to unpacking our consumables.

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halfway home

When we decided to get married, the first people we told worked in a government office far away from our Chicago home. Serving abroad as an out-of-wedlock couple would have posed numerous difficulties, so we had a quick civil ceremony and got the paperwork moving while we planned our actual wedding. Similarly, the first people to find out about the forthcoming addition to our family were bureaucrats we had never met. Our only mistake was not telling them soon enough.

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a voyage to Brobdingnag

Although Amsterdam is unforgettable, the highlight of S’s trip was the two-day sojourn to Leeuwarden, the capital of the northern province of Friesland. Of the twelve provinces that comprise the Netherlands, Friesland is the only one that has its own language — West Frisian, which oddly is the closest living language to English. Having its own language serves as a vivid reminder of Friesland’s isolationist history. A large inlet of sea water separates the northern province from Amsterdam, making it difficult to reach in the olden days. In 1932, the government completed construction of a 30-kilometer seawall, and nowadays it only takes a few hours to drive to Leeuwarden from Amsterdam, passing along the seawall highway.

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Venice of the North

Long before we arrived in Moldova, S’s parents began planning how and when to visit us. S’s dad was traveling to a conference in Amsterdam at the beginning of September, which provided the perfect impetus for a family vacation, but S was at first reluctant to commit. She wanted to get a feel for Chisinau and see if she could find a job, but after realizing that her employment prospects were slim she made last-minute arrangements and flew to Amsterdam just two weeks after arriving in Moldova.

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