Peace Corps

Eric and Sandy's Ukrainian Odyssey! This website expresses our own, individual opinions. It does not neccissarily reflect the opinions of the United States Government, Peace Corps, or the Ukrainian Government or people.

Name:
Location: Ukraine

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Signing Off

It is time to say goodbye. Eric finally broke down and used the dishwasher after 3 days in America. Sandy visited a salon for a much needed haircut and pedicure. We are both enjoying fresh seafood meals. But we've also used our "imported" cabbage grater to make a big Ukranian spring salad. And we are finding Russian a handy way to have private discussions in a crowd.

Ukraine seems so far away, but it is still in our hearts. After 4 days home, we know that it will take a long time to fully understand the adventure we embarked on 27 months ago. But this portion of life's journey is complete. Those who wish to contact us directly can find us at smfurlong@excite.com (Sandy) and ericrjacobs@excite.com (Eric). Thank you for sharing our memories, and a special thanks to all those who gave their support to us and any other Peace Corps Volunteers around the world.

Until the next adventure,
RPCVs Eric and Sandy Jacobs

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Again in Florida

After a long journey home, we arrived in Tampa at 12:00am this morning. We left Budapest and Europe yesterday for the foreseeable future. We did not do so with sadness, our experience was rather a good one.

Peace Corps and our service in Ukraine were extremely gratifying and tough experiences. We thank all of you who read this blog and kept up with us. We found a lot support in that. PC was worth every day and every moment.

Live Well

Eric and Sandra Jacobs

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Viniferous Fun

Our last few stops before the trip home this week are in Hungary. We returned to the town of Eger - last visited on Christmas 2005. It looks different in the springtime, and there were definitely more tourists this time around. Eger is famous for a few items of note - including a small group of Hungarians defending the town from invading Turks for 40 days in 1552. The Turks came back 40 years later and finished the task, but it is still an impressive feat that temporarily stopped the Turkish advance into Western Europe. Eger is most famous for Eger Bikaver wine (Bull's Blood). We went to The Valley of the Beautiful Woman (which was listed on directional signage as "Nice Woman Valley") 20 minutes outside of town to sample various vintages at caves dug into hillsides, but found ourselves more fascinated by the giant tour buses of Ukrainian tourists. While it's only been a little over a week, it was definitely refreshing to understand what was being said. We had no problems at all in Slovakia, and felt we could communicate effectively in English or a Slovak-Russian hybrid language. Here in Hungary, however, we've learned "thank you" and are working on "hello." The language is supposedly one of the world's most difficult, and it definitely does not have Slavic or Latin roots.

From Eger we took a day trip to the village of Szilvasvarad, the entrance to Bukk National Park. After the majesty of the Tatras Mountains, and with knowledge of the US National Parks, this one felt like a quaint state park. We went for a long walk in the woods, saw a prehistoric cave, and headed back. On the way out, we stopped at a horse stables that breeds and trains Lipinzaners. This was quite fitting, given that it was the day before the Kentucky Derby :-)



Yesterday we arrived in the tiny town of Tokaj, which is also famous for wine, but of a different sort. The small region is the only wine-growing region counted as a Unesco World Heritage site, partially because of their long history of making Tokaji wine. While there are many different types here, they are all white. The most famous - Aszu - was admired even by Louis XIV. We arrived at the tiny train station and became very nervous when there were no taxis, buses, or English info signs to be found. After attempting to speak to a few locals, Sandy approached the station master with our hotel info. He was gracious enough to call them on our behalf, and we were rescued from making the 20 minute walk into town with our bags. We wandered the town center for a bit, and contemplated the Tiszja River - which we could theoretically take right back to Ukraine. Instead, we took ourselves to dinner and enjoyed our first venison in a long while, along with other local specialties. The wine, which we tried for dessert with chestnut puree, was simply delicious.

Today we went for a hike along the vineyards, and at the end wandered into a wine cave to sample the wares. This stop is the perfect end to our journey. In two days we head to Budapest, then we are homeward bound. We are both thankful for the period of rest, as it's provided us time to reflect on our time in Ukraine, and look forward to life back in America.






See you soon!

The Jacobses








Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Mountains

In all our travels we never knew that Slovakia had a mountain range called The High Tatras. But after spending a few days here, we are glad we came. The range, which is located on the border of Poland and Slovakia, is a part of the larger Carpathian Mountains and a national park. However, it is much higher and more dramatic than anything in Ukraine - with peaks resembling the Tetons in Wyoming. We were able to do our first real hiking since September of 2004, and though it was tough going at times, we eventually found our trail legs and were rewarded with several beautiful vistas and waterfalls.


Yesterday, we tried something new and went to the top of one of the peaks via cable car. Starting from the town of Tat. Lomnica, we went up to the halfway point in a regular cable car. About half of those on the mountain were skiers, as the slope on the top was the last one open for the season in all of Slovakia. The temperature at that point was about freezing, so we warmed ourselves up with some hot tea, and went for a short walk around the area. At the appointed time, we came back to catch a ride on a 12 person-capacity cable car up to Lomnica Peak. Watching the cable car take the group before us proved a bit intimidating, as the angle of cable was definitely more than the usual 45 degree grade.


On the ride up, the group of twelve started off actively chatting and snapping photos. As we started up the face of the mountain, however, the car became silent. It was a combination of fear and awe, or at least that is what we felt. At the top (temp -11 C), we exited to an amazing vista on all sides. We started to go outside to the viewing platform, and heard an American voice. A group of American Evangelical Christians stood holding hands in a circle with their eyes closed. We arrived in time to hear "In Jesus' name we pray." Given the lack of Americans (we've only seen 1 other group since leaving Ukraine), it was a bit weird for sure. We retreated inside until they were done, then headed out to take in the scenery.
For a few seconds we thought of becoming mountain climbers, but when we chickened out of walking across a narrow bridge to an exposed, wind-swept, freezing viewing platform to get a better view, we decided that we

are definitely more suited for hiking below the clouds. For one day, however, we saw what it would be like to conquer a high peak, and we understood just a little the feeling of exhiliration felt by those who climb.

Until next time,
The Jacobses





Saturday, April 28, 2007

Out of Ukraine: Levoca

Well, we made it (yea RPCVs!). We crossed the border into Slovakia at 7:45pm on Wednesday evening after a last night in Mukachevo on the Hungarian border (Transcarpathia is a beautiful part of Ukraine and thus a great place to end). The train out was hot and crowded - I guess a fitting end to the Ukrainian experience.

We are now on the journey home, which includes a great deal of down time in small towns of Slovakia and Hungary. Right now we are in Levoca, Slovakia. It is a medival town of around 12,000 people. Our hotel is charming, the food is delicious, the streets are clean, the people are nice, and we are happy. This morning we walked 5 miles up to a church on a small mountain outside of town. It was surprisingly warm for us, especially given the snow two weeks ago in Ukraine. The view was spectacular of the town, despite an unfortunate haze. Afterwards we sat outside and enjoyed a taste of potato and sheep cheese dumplings that were oh-so-yummy with local beverages. Yesterday we wandered around the old town, checked out a huge wooden altar in the catholic basilica where Pope John Paul II once celebrated mass, stopped to photograph Sandy behind the bars of the city's medival "punishment cage" for scandalous women, and sat on the city wall talking and enjoying the fruit-tree blossoms. Other enjoyable delicacies so far included roasted pheasant, hare thigh in cardamon sauce, and potato pirogy with bacon.

Tomorrow we will head up to the mountains for a bit of hiking and fresh air.

We are looking forward to seeing everyone soon, but enjoying the moment for the time being.




Hugs,
The Jacobses

Friday, April 27, 2007

What we will miss

After two years, we sat down and thought of what we would miss in Ukraine. Here is a sample:

Borshch and lots of smetana (sour cream)
Instant Jacobs coffee in the morning (just because it is a great name!)
Lunches with Sophia and Baby Pytor
The strange feeling of living in the former Soviet Union
Speaking Russian daily
Blinchiki (pancakes stuffed with all sorts of goodness)
BBC World and DW English News
Svetlana the vegetable lady at Urozhai Bazaar
The brinza lady
Walking a mile to check the mail (and walking in general)
The summer fruit and vegetable harvest - both picking and eating
The many cookies available bulk in all stores
The Vosnuk family in Bar
The ability to buy and individual egg when we need one
Sleeping 8 hours every night
Taking time for tea (the process)
Our PC friends (Volunteers and staff)
Collegues at work (Anton, Svetlana, Sasha...)
Quality time with each other every evening
Vareneky
Short weekend getaways via overnight train (especially L'viv)
Cherry Juice

And many others. There are of course items we'll not miss, such as overcrowded public transports, vodka shots, Russian and Ukrainian pop music, undrinkable tap water, pig fat as a main course, laundry in the bathtub, occasional bucket baths, the dust and mud in the streets. But by far, the positives outweighed the negatives. This was the hardest time of our lives, but also the most memorable and rewarding. If we had the choice to do it all over again, knowing what we know today, we would not hesitate to say yes.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Last Days

We have officially arrived at the end of our Peace Corps Ukraine service. Today, April 24, 2007 is our last day as United States Peace Corps Volunteers. We completed our service to America and Ukraine. We tried very hard and maybe did some good (how much is hard to judge), learned a new language and gained friends and relationships with both Americans and Ukrainians. It was indeed the toughest job we ever loved. It was also a fantastic experience.

In the last days we said many good byes, some over and over, but all with meaning and various levels of sadness and happiness for the relationships made. We will be leaving Kiev (as PCVs) and our home away from home away from home (the PC Office) for the last time. We will be leaving much of ourselves behind, but we have gained much more from this experience and we are going back to America fuller of spirit.

We will miss many things (a list to follow), and some things we will be very glad to see gone from our lives. Ukraine can be a beautiful place, but it also has an ugly side. It is a real place, not one preserved in Disney like tourist attractions or living on old and vague history. Ukraine’s history is now. It was extra rewarding to be here for two years while this fledgling democracy attempted to finds its way. We recommend a visit to Ukraine for the more intrepid travelers (L’viv or L’vov especially).

There is so much to reflect on and so much to look forward to in the next phase of our lives, the slow trip home will be helpful to put some of it into perspective. Thank you for you reading along with our lives.

Returned Peace Corps Volunteers: Eric and Sandra

Monday, April 23, 2007

Cool Again

In our last days in Vinnitsia we had some more chilly weather. April has been cooler than March. In fact on Saturday is snowed, not much but enough to tell you about. Two years ago to the day we had a small blizzard with over six inches of snow.

The past few weeks have seen highs in the 40s F and 50s F and lows in the lower 30s F. The rain made it feel cooler, but it was not too bad. Dust or mud, it one or the other here and rain is a little better as it gives us a day off from sweeping.

The radiators went of on April 11th and we already gave our portable heater to high school student who was without one. In order to keep her warm on our last few days in our apartment we hung around an open oven and drank a lot of tea. After two years, it was only a minor inconvenience and in a way one more little daily adventure of life in Ukraine.

This is the end and we have been deluged with good byes, good byes and good byes. It seems every person we say good bye to we end up doing it two more times. An honor we hope, but after two years it is hard to say good bye to people we are not likely to see again for a long time. Some have been harder than others yet in the final rush we were able to make time to say farewell and thank you. This included families, co-workers, fellow Volunteers and friends. There will more good byes to come.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Easter in Bar

This weekend we celebrated Easter, the same day this year for the Orthodox and Catholic (including derivative Protestant sects) churches. It was our third Easter in Ukraine, one of the most important holidays of the year, much more so than Christmas.

On Saturday we went to Bar to spend the holiday with the Ukrainian family we have to come to spend most of the big holidays with. Prior to heading out we stopped in a grocery store to buy some requisite goodies and edibles for the family. The stores were crowded as people prepared to break their fasts and celebrate the many religious rites associated with Easter. It was interesting to see dozens of people waiting in line to receive the next batch of paska, the traditional Easter sweet bread. This bread is traditionally made in the home by women (men must be outside during the process), but in a big city the speed of life has changed some traditions. People also bought a lot of meat and sweets, a busy and profitable day for stores and markets across Ukraine.

In Bar we had a large festive meal, after sunset, and talked around the kitchen table for hours. The meal prepared by the family was typically delicious! It included fish cutlets, small stuffed cabbage leaves, homemade sausages, the best salad Olivia (potatoes salad with pork, eggs and cucumbers) we had in months, mashed potatoes, fresh sour cream and much more. After this delicious meal and good conversation (our improving Russian has helped) we retired for an early sleep.

The awakening came early, 02:45am early! We agreed to participate in one of the most important of all Orthodox ceremonies and now it was time to do so. Mom, daughter and the two of us left the house at 3:00am. It was cold and lightly raining. We walked across town to the Orthodox Church with what appeared to be the rest of the city. Once at the church we got in line and set down our Easter basket. The traditional Easter basket is filled with sausages, eggs, salt, horseradish and the paska (Easter sweet bread). Then we began waiting to have this basket blessed by the priest. And we waited.

The rain stopped, but the wind picked up forcing everyone to huddle together to keep warm and await the priest. The sky cleared and the moon came out, but it only got colder. We did find some warm refuge inside the church where we spent a few minutes watching the Easter Divine Liturgy.

About 05:00am the priest began the procession out of the church, at which point everyone lights their beeswax candles and puts them into the paska. By tradition the priest has to circle the church three times. Normally not a problem for a small town church, but with several thousand people spiraled around it in long lines, the process was time consuming. The third time around the priest blessed the crowd and the baskets with holy water, but it was not a sprinkling. He used as small mop to bless everyone and their baskets. The shot of cold water to the face and body after nearly three hours of standing in the cold was shocking to say the least. After waiting until the line opposite our own received their blessing people began to move off towards home.

We arrived home a few minutes after 06:00am, three hours after we left. The sun was beginning to gain in the sky and we were cold and a bit blurry eyed, however we were allowed a few more hours of warm sleep.

Later in the morning the family (us included) packed up the GAZ jeep and headed out to the village (the same one Dixie went to last summer where she helped in the harvest) to see dad’s father and his wife. Here we had the traditional Easter morning breakfast. It is heavy with meats and sweets and we finely were able to eat the paska. Of course this was one of the better ones we had. While it looked a little burned on top, mom assured us this process made for more dense and moist bread. She was correct. After breakfast we went to the cemetery to pay respect to lost family members and lay flowers and tiny food morsels at the graves. This is an important part of the Easter tradition in Ukraine.

As the day wore on, we made our way back to Bar and had some tea, birch honey and cheese before catching our bus home. The cheese was homemade, by us! The family enjoyed it all as we sat around the table talking. It was quite an honor to have an edible gift consumed with lust and such enjoyment. It was sad to leave such a loving and welcoming family, yet it was not our finally goodbye. We will see them again soon to hand over some supplies of clothing and medicine for the poor of the Bar region. As doctors they have good connections with the local Red Cross.

Our last holiday in Ukraine was a joy and we are glad we spent it with locals. We shared in some ancient traditions and old customs and also strengthened relationships.

We hope you all had a good holiday and that goodwill continues.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Happy Easter

Happy Easter to all those who will be celebrating this weekend. This year that includes both Catholic and Protestant Easters and Eastern Orthodox Easter. We prepared for the holiday for making a batch of homemade cheese for our favorite family in Bar (Eric was the master cheese artisan) and learning the traditional art of pysanka in a class at a local cultural museum (Sandy - here this activity is strictly for women). Pictured here are the results from class.
May your day be filled with love and happiness,
Eric and Sandy

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

A Bazaar Hour

As spring continues its march toward summer we are seeing more and more in the bazaar. This morning we wondered through the stalls of vegetables, fruits, meats, eggs and milk products. Spinach and radishes are now available as are a growing number of herbs and greens. The fruits are still from last year, so not as appealing and the cabbage is mostly white at this time and not nearly as tasty as it was in October.

This week there is a more than the usual number of flowers (real and plastic). Easter is this weekend and people bring flowers and other products out to the cemeteries to celebrate their lost loved ones. There are also more eggs for dying and eventually eating, after all Ukraine is the epicenter of the Easter egg “pysanka”. It is perhaps their greatest cultural craft. The baking and miscellaneous stands now offer a great number of dyes, egg sleeves, frosting packets and baking powders to help every family prepare the classic “Paska” or Easter bread and dyed eggs. The paska is a lot like the Italian panatone found during the Christmas season.

No trip to the bazaar during the cooler months is ever complete without a walk down the dairy aisle. Here the local farmers and villagers sell their fresh milk, home-cheese which is like a cross between cottage cheese and ricotta. There is a hard cheese similar to mozzarella and the rich and decadently creamy homemade sour cream. But the highlight is the salted, feta like cheese called “brinza”. It is a cow milk cheese. We have found a preferred vendor for this wonderfully squeaky cheese. She is a little younger than the other babushkas, has a clean stall and the requisite clean finger nails. She always greets us with a big smile and let us try each of her many cheese variations. Some are saltier and others are chewier and some are with a hint of honey sweetness. Of all the wonderful foods that we found here in Ukraine, brinza will one of those we miss the most.

It is also planting season, so the bazaar is filling up with planting supplies, starter soil, a variety of planting potatoes, onions, garlic and all the seeds of the Ukrainian bounty.

Our last days in Ukraine are busy and strange, but the bazaar is as always a wonderful cornucopia of products and people.

Monday, April 02, 2007

April Flowers

As a result of the unusually warm winter in Ukraine, the flowers are in bloom! Not just the snow drops and daffodils, but the fruit tree blossoms are beginning to burst and we expect tulip blooms in a week or so. We will not be here for this summer’s fruit bounty, but the early spring veggies are beginning to show in the markets. This includes fresh green onions and garlic, chervil (the lemony sour green that is fundamental for green borsch) and baby lettuces.

Time is winding down here, so we are savoring every moment. We have one more holiday and one of the biggest this weekend. It will be Orthodox Easter. We are planning a visit to Bar to see our adopted host family.

Point of interest: Fresh milk makes good cheese (after pasteurizing of course). We sweep every day, but there is still more and more dust, the result of a dry spell and the fine clay soil so common to this agricultural part of the country. We may get one last shot of cold weather in a few days.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Wild East

We returned this week from a trip to "The Wild East", a.k.a. Lugansk Oblast in far eastern Ukraine. After two years, we already paid visits to western Ukraine (L'viv, the Carpathian Mountains, the Hungarian-speaking Transcarpathian region), central Ukraine (Kyiv, Vinnytsia and many surrounding towns and villages), southern Ukraine (Crimea and Odessa) and even the large industrial cities of Dnipropetrov'sk and Zaporizhia on the Dniper River. But there was always the lure of the east. We've heard throughout our service from PCVs living out there...stories of slag heaps and coal mines, towns that kept their Soviet-era names and monuments of Lenin proudly in the town square. So off we went to the edge of Ukraine, so close we could have tossed an American flag over the border into Russia (we did not, for the record).

In the town of Krasnodon (population 60,000), our friend Gabe fought the good fight for two years as a Youth Development Volunteer. He endured coal dust-filled air and high unemployment, and pursued a variety of healthy lifestyles and environmental education programs with school-age kids. We visited his Creativity Center, now a permanent fixture in the school, with brightly painted walls and places for kids to do art projects, learn computer skills, and generally have a nice place to spend a few hours after school. Gabe's apartment, which was decorated with Soviet-era propaganda posters (picture cartoons of Lenin leaning over a map with the caption "Together we will build a new world!"), was almost identical in size and layout to ours in Vinnytsia. This is not uncommon throughout the former Soviet Union, and there are rumors that only 8-10 apartment floorplans existed for the entire USSR. The difference is in the details, however. Water pressure, which is typically better in Ukrainian apartments vs. houses, was almost non-existent. Hot water was out of the question, and 6 people had to find a way to share a single bathroom with only a trickle of water at a time. Water usage planning was definitely a requirement, including in the kitchen for washing dishes and the bathroom. Bathing for six was out of the question. Planning was also required for shopping, as the town has almost no working streetlights off of the main road and crime is not uncommon after dark. All of the eastern PCVs agreed that whenever possible, they came home before dark. This was especially hard in the summer, when it is dark at 3:30PM in Lugansk due to the single time zone in Ukraine (despite the huge distance covered by land-width).

Touring the town was interesting as well. There is a very open and clean town square, with a monument to the Young Guards ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young_Guard_%28Soviet_resistance%29), the requisite Lenin statue, a town hall, and a brand new full-sized supermarket. Mounted on one of the buildings was a giant sign which said in huge letters "Give thanks to coal workers." While shopping for dinner, we ran into our Russian language instructor Vitaly from training, who also lives in Krasnodon. He was shocked to see us in his hometown, where he is now trying to open a private English school. We were happy to have a chance to see him and say thank you before our departure.

The highlight of the tour of Krasnodon was climbing "Mount Krasnodon." Not really a mountain, it is the town's tallest slag heap. From the top we could see several working coal mines, several other slag heaps, and many large apartment-blocks and traditional homes. There was a great deal of dust, coal and smoke in the air, which made it even more dramatic.




At the base of the slag heap was another monument to the Young Guards, at the spot where the Nazi's buried many of them alive in a giant pit. This small group of resistance fighters were heralded throughout the Soviet Union, and are definitely the most famous part of Krasnodon's history.

The next day we went to see Molodohvardiysk (pop. 20,000), 15 minutes from Krasnodon. The name of this town translates to...are you ready???...Young Guards! Fellow PCV Tristan warned us that it was not so nice as Krasnodon, and we soon discovered he was right. His town is filled with abandoned buildings, rusting monuments and very high unemployment and drug usage.

Tristan's school, which is partially condemned, had many windows of regular classrooms boarded over, so that students do not even see sunlight during classes. There were no windows in most of the gym, resulting in no temperature control. Despite all of this, Tristan stuck it out for two years, started a basketball program and taught HIV/AIDS and drug awareness in the community. His apartment, which was quite spacious, had a nasty case of black mold. The hallways were filled with dozens of 5 liter water bottles, as he has no water most days due to living on the fifth floor and water pressure not reaching that high up the pipes. Walking through town, someone commented that it was the first time they had seen trash IN the trees, in addition to scattered throughout the ground below, in the abandoned buildings and burning in giant piles sporatically in the park. The coal mine, which is situated next to his school, is the only real source of employment in town, so kids have little motivation to study. It reminded us of towns in West Virginia, Kentucky or Pennsylvania, only with a definite Soviet twist.

After a long weekend and with big hugs all around, we said goodbye and boarded the long 18 hour train back to Kyiv. While we are impressed with the work of all of our collegues in Ukraine, these PCVs deserve special mention for their committment to improving life in this difficult part of the country.



(This is a kiosk in the center of Krasnodon. Note the man relaxing on his haunches behind the shed. We like to call it the "Ukr-squat" and it can be seen all over Ukraine.)

Transport and Teachers

From Sandy on a Friday afternoon in Vinnytsia...

Walking down the street today, I started thinking of all of the changes that will soon come to our lives. One of the most evident in every day activities will definitely be transportation. Currently, we have the option of taking public transport - in the form of trolley buses, trams and mini bus marshrutkas - or splurging on a taxi for $2 or so. With so many options, it never takes more than 15 minutes to get anywhere in this city of 350,000 people. And if we have the time and weather conditions cooperate, walking is always the best option. We both average about 5 miles of walking a day. I know this because I regularly wear a handy pedometer that encourages me to walk instead of taking public transport (not literally - it doesn't actually talk). With so much walking, the need for time at the gym and other exercise activities has faded from our lives. The best part about walking here is that you are always walking TO somewhere - to work, to the grocery store, to the library. So I am wondering if it will be possible to continue this trend in the USA. Our neighbors in Tampa always chuckled at us for walking around Hyde Park to do errands, but there are very few neighborhoods like that around. And even there, we certainly didn't get in 5 miles a day. Does this mean we are destined to end up back at the gym?

On a separate note, I taught my last teachers seminar to 30 english teachers today. They are such an enjoyable audience - although I can never decide whether I like the teachers from the city or the village better. They are all great. It was a sad moment for me, as it's been a very rewarding part of my Peace Corps service working with Valentina at the Recertification Institute and meeting so many dedicated teachers. I never thought I'd be teaching civics education and classroom methodologies as an Economic Development Volunteer, but I feel very fortunate that the opportunity presented itself.

Just sharing a few of my thoughts as we get ready for the big move in 3 weeks.

Paka,
Sandy

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Mystery Shoppers

This weekend we had an interesting adventure at Hotel Versal (http://hotel-versal.com/eng/index.html), which is Vinntysia's most elegant hotel. The Director of the hotel, who attended several of Sandy's tourism seminars on customer service in hotels and restaurants, requested we come for a night as mystery shoppers. None of the staff knew we were coming, and she promised that our stay would be reimbursed in exchange for giving our impressions and recommendations for the hotel.

The evening was quite delightful, and well above usual standards of Peace Corps Volunteers. We enjoyed a drink at the bar, a nice dinner and breakfast and what was the best bed we've slept on in Ukraine. Sandy might consider the single bed at the Radisson a tie, but this was a genuine double bed and thus wins for us together. Typically, hotels here have either single beds pushed together or on the opposite side of the room from each other. Status as a married couple does not entitle you to anything nicer.

Throughout the night, we took notes and jotted down ideas. In the morning after breakfast, we met with the Director, who is a very savvy businesswoman who spends her time thinking of ways to improve her hotel and increase business. She showed us the rest of the hotel (we should have used the sauna, as we didn't realize it came with a private swimming pool and solarium!). They even have recently built log cabin units, complete with flat screen TVs.

The moral of the weekend...Ukrainian tourism and businesses are showing a great deal of promise these days. It is a nice thought as we come closer to the end of our service.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

March in Vinny

In honor of the first chevril of the season, the first pot of zelony (green) borshch is simmering on the stovetop - yum. For anyone curious about Ukrainian food, try it yourself before it is too hot (for the Florida folks). The ingredients are easy to find in the US, it is good for your heart and cozy for your soul. Check out the recipe in our May 2006 blog posting if you are interested.

The temperatures are in the 50s today, so the streets are filled with mud. Could spring be early this year?

Hugs,
The Jacobses

Thursday, March 01, 2007

TWO Years in Ukraine

Today is the two year anniversary of our arrival to Ukraine. It is a bit warmer today than it was then but it is still white. So much has happened, and that first day seems so long ago, yet it also feels at times as if it was last month.

We still have a little more time remaining.

Some of you your might recall another event 4 years ago in the stormy south of Georgia.

Yesterday Sandra turned 7 ¾ years old and had fun watching the ice-fisherman.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Busy Times

Since our return from COS conference we've had little time to breathe. Between completing paperwork and logistics for our final PC administrative requirements, Russian classes (we want to do as many as we can before we leave), finishing up projects at our work sites, starting the packing process (what to ship, what to bring, what to give away?), English clubs, new PCVs in the oblast and other activities, it's been quite hectic.

On top of all of this usual mayhem, we served as judges this past weekend at the Vinnytsia Oblast-level English Olympiad for 9th - 11th grade students. The best English students in the oblast (state) gathered for 2 days of reading, writing, listening (Saturday) and speaking (Sunday). Each grade had 3 judges, including one "native speaker" (a.k.a. Peace Corps Volunteer). We were asked to judge the competition based on Sandy's connection to the Teacher Recertification Institute, as well as our objectivity and non-bias to any particular kids due to our non-teacher status. It is a big deal here, as the winning kids go to the national competition and there are university scholarships for winners (like the national science or history fair in America). The kids were troopers, especially given the close to freezing temperatures inside the school. However, no amount of hot tea could warm up the judges, so we sat in our coats and gloves for most of the day. Meanwhile, each student politely waited his turn to speak over the course of almost 10 hours of speaking on Sunday. It was good we had specific criteria to judge from, as they were all great kids...

In the middle of the competition, we excused ourselves to attend a small gathering over tea of Ukrainian NGOs, journalists, academics and PCVs with the US Ambassador to Ukraine and a few other people from the Embassy. He was in town for the opening night of a music festival sponsored by the US government, and asked to meet with the group to better understand localized issues in Ukraine. The festival and his visit generated quite a bit of press both in Vinnytsia and Kyiv, and we were honored to meet him during the visit. These are definitely not newsworthy events in the US, but go a long way to promote friendship and cooperation in Ukraine. On several occasions, he refered to the Peace Corps as 'the face of America' in countries around the world. It was a nice message to hear near the end of our service, and further validated what we already knew...that despite the many challenges, this experience was worthwhile on both a personal level, but also on the higher level of national service.

Stay warm out there,

The Jacobses

Friday, February 16, 2007

The BEET Off

Just Beet It!

As you recently read, we attended our Close Of Service Conference last week. While many interesting, helpful and pleasant actives occurred, the most anticipated event since our arrival in Ukraine occurred at the conference. It was none other than the 1st Annual Peace Corps Ukraine Beet Off - Cooking Challenge.

This was an “Iron Chef” like cooking challenge where every dish was required to have beets in them. The idea came about when I and another of the other cooking men our group were reminiscing about life in professional kitchens. Other volunteers from our respective training groups began to debate who was the better cook. Girlfriends and wives even got into it. So after some playful boasting and banter we decided to do the Beet Off, Beet Challenge. That was over a year ago.

The past year saw the rules modified, more contestants added, less competition introduced and a lot of talk and repartee. At one point the menu was nearly 15 dishes to be made only by the primary two contestants. Realizing the whole thing was becoming too big and losing its jovial aspect; we cut the number dishes, prepared recipes and asked for specific ingredients. The final count saw 12 dishes prepared primarily by 5 people with an additional 5 or 6 helping out. I myself only prepared three, one of the dishes I wanted to make, someone asked to do it and in the spirit of team work I handed it over.

The best part of the affair was the final weeks leading up to it. The Peace Corps staff got involved; they were very excited as nothing like it had ever been done before by a PC group. The double-entendre was a bit lost in translation, but that just made it cuter to hear. The staff even bought the ingredients to make the dishes. (Though we did supply a little pure Vinnitsia beet juice as well. Also, a can of artichokes was found for one dish giving it secret weapon status.) It was becoming a much anticipated occasion and no one every got tired of saying it or coming up with different marketing pitches.

The day of the Great Beet Off came and the primary cooks (Chef Povars) descended on stadium kitchen. Okay, we were given three hours to work in the hotel kitchen with the local Ukrainian staff looking on. Beets were grated, beet juice was dripped, poured and spattered, vegetables diced and the cheese was cut. Cakes went into the oven, while rice and pasta boiled. Some PCVs ran to the store for more butter while others stirred and grated some more vegetables. The kitchen staff was fascinated watching a bunch of Americans take over their kitchen and use some many beets in so many new ways. The fact that the room was filled mostly with men and the two lead cooks were men was also shocking to them as well. We even washed our own dishes!

As 18:00 (6:00pm) neared we set up the food in the hotel lobby. It was a colorfully rosy bounty, spread before our fellow PCVs and the PC Staff. Colors ranging from the soft pink of the deviled eggs, the marbled red, pink and white of the ice cream to the deep organ red of the beet cheese stacks. Everyone was given five votes (except the two lead cooks) and allowed to vote for their favorite dishes, one vote per dish or all five for one and other combinations.

After sampling, some went back for more of what they liked while others tried to save room for the real dinner soon to follow. The Ukrainians were fascinated and charmed that we came up with so many new ways to use the most ubiquitous food in Ukraine. The lowly beet was once only famous for borsch, yet on this night it rivaled the revered Ukrainian wild mushrooms.

In the end every dish was enjoyed and the voting was fairly even. The top four finishers were all within a few votes of each other. It was mentioned by several people that the ice cream would have gotten more votes if it had come out earlier. It might have finished first, but it probably tasted better after all the savory food anyway. Everyone had fun so the enjoyment and the food itself were the contest prizes.

The Menu and Top 6 Places:

1. Beet Stuffed Mushrooms with Cheese and Artichokes
2. Beet Chocolate Cake with Beet Butter Cream
3. Beet Ice Cream
4. Beet Risotto
5. Beet Gnocchi
6. Beet Brushetta
Beet and Cheese Stacks
Beet Deviled Eggs
Beet Humus
Beet Martini
Beet Bread
Beet Bagels


There were some leftovers; we gave them to the kitchen staff who had watched us with such fascination and giggles. They seemed very appreciative. This was food they could bring home along with the ingredients we did not completely use. Even in our hour of fun and games, we were doing our job as Volunteers by showing off a little of American culture and providing a little extra for some deserving people.

The 1st Annual Peace Corps Ukraine Beet Off Cooking Challenge was a roaring success and I think all of Group 28 would like to hear that this new tradition carries on. I know for sure the PC staff would like to participate again. My suggestion for the next one would be to use Ukrainian wild mushrooms!

Beet Regards,

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Photos from COS Conference
















Big city kids horseback riding in the Carpathians.















The three married couples in PC Ukraine group 28 - we all made it!!!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

All our bags are packed...

Okay, not quite. But we have made it to the final stage of our Peace Corps service! Last week, PC Ukraine Group 28 attended our Close of Service Conference in the Western Ukrainian village of Slavske. Of the 46 individuals who arrived in Chicago for “staging”, 33 were in attendance. The rest of our original group left Peace Corps for a variety of administrative, medical, employment or family-need reasons. Those of us who remain share a comfortable camaraderie after two years of service together. And, we were all aware that this was our last time together as a group.

Peace Corps rewarded our dedication by taking several steps up from the usual Soviet-era sanatoriums where we typically reside for PC conferences. Our venue – Perlnya Karpat - is in the heart of the Carpathian Mountains and one of the premier ski resorts in the country. During the conference we reviewed all of the many administrative forms necessary to complete our service and transition back to the real world, as well as post-PC medical and employment options. Based on the information provided, we should be arriving home mid-May.

Aside from the administrative sessions, there was ample time after the first day for exploring the region. We went horseback riding during a moderate snowfall, and the evergreen trees were so beautiful all covered in snow. Afterwards, Sandy hurried back for her massage appointment (only $8 for 40 minutes). The Russian-style sauna was put to use by a large group of us one night, including the freezing cold “dunking pool” where you are supposed to cool off before heading back into the sauna. After a bit of trepidation, we both took the plunge and found it refreshing. Perhaps we were just in shock! Other PCVs did quite a bit of skiing and sledding, but we decided against it based on the slushy/rainy conditions of the second half of the week.

In addition to the significantly better living conditions and fun outdoor options, the food was also above and beyond our typical PC conference diet. The restaurant served a variety of Ukrainian and Carpathian-specific specialties, and we enjoyed trying different dishes throughout the week. A favorite was Mamalyga (also called Banush), which is a cornmeal porridge not unlike creamy grits or polenta, served with wild mushroom sauce. In the local bazaar, dried wild mushrooms were definitely the popular item. Our group decided to purchase a large jar of them for each Peace Corps staff member; such delicacies are expensive and hard to find in Kyiv.

We all presented the mushrooms, along with certificates of appreciation to staff for all their hard work over the last two years, at our farewell banquet on the last evening of the conference. Other PCVs contributed songs written over the last two years, a wine tasting presentation, a piñata filled with Ukrainian proverbs, many toasts and other original ideas. The evening was memorable, and we stayed up late dancing to American and Ukrainian songs, talking about the last two years and discussing what the future holds for each of us. Plans range from graduate school to federal employment, first jobs to retirement. We are enjoying the process of determining where we fit into the picture, and it was good to hear the plans of our colleagues for ideas and inspiration.

Love to all at home,
The Jacobses

PS – Happy Valentines Day!

Monday, January 29, 2007

All Quiet on the Eastern Front

The snow has finally arrived! It's been coming down for two days, and everyone here has breathed a sigh of relief. The seemingly eternal mud pit his banished for the time being, and the landscape looks clean and new. And it's finally cold enough for Sandy's 'dublonka' - the crazy brown coat with fur hood that is too warm for any temperatures above freezing. We are safely in the 20s today.

We are gearing up for our Close of Service conference next week, where we'll gather with those left in our group who started with us in late Feb 2005 from Chicago. Peace Corps reserved a ski resort in the Carpathian mountains, and there are rumors it is really nice. Thus, the snow is doubly welcome as this is the first big snow in the Carpathians as well and we thought it would be the first January ever without snow in the mountains of Ukraine.

Hope all is well in your neck of the woods.

Paka,
The Jacobses

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Wolverines!

We just finished watching Red Dawn...again. It is without a doubt the cult classic of Peace Corps Ukraine.

Wolverines!

Monday, January 22, 2007

January happenings

We've just returned from our last Peace Corps-sponsored Russian language refresher. We spent four days in all-Russian classes reviewing grammar, speaking strategies, culture, political overviews and even watched an old Soviet film from the early 1980s called Train Station for Two. It was a very Russian theme - a concert pianist on his way to prison in Siberia for taking the blame in an accident that wasn't his fault gets stuck in a train station for a few days and falls in love. The woman who comes into his life is a surly waitress at the train station restaurant, and is the one responsible for his delay in the first place. Of course, in a "happy Soviet ending" she comes to see him in the prison camp and he gets a night to trudge 8 km in the snow in each direction to see her for a few hours. Quality cultural insights for sure, and we also discovered that their music and dress from the early 80s were as bad as those fashions and dance styles of the late 70s. Overall, it was a great few days, and we are thankful as always for the fabulous language staff for helping us to be more effective in our day-to-day lives here in Ukraine.

Major happenings in Vinnytsia:
Sandy's organization held their first annual 'Old New Year' party on Jan 12. It was a big moment for Youth Center Forum - a thank you reception for members and those who sponsored, assisted and volunteered their time on various initiatives throughout the year. This is not a common event here, and thus we were all the more pleased that the Director of the Oblast Department of Youth and Family Services not only came, but gave what is probably the longest toast we've EVER heard. Toasting is popular here at social occasions, but never have we seen a room quiet during a toast for what we think was 10 minutes. That's talent! And hopefully, the organization will find benefits from the network of people who came to show their support. Especially because one of our long-term PC goals is to help make the NGOs we work with more effective in their operations and fundraising efforts.

A new group of English-teaching PCVs arrived in the Oblast, including 1 in the city. So we are no longer on our own in Vinnytsia. We had everyone in for Christmas gumbo last Saturday to say hello. No okra or crab for our gumbo again this year...the corn almost seems normal now.

And it is still raining. We had 20 minutes of flurries in Kyiv, but that was it. Rain, rain go away. Don't come back until April please!

That's it for now.

Paka,
The Jacobses

Monday, January 15, 2007

Marathon

Just a quick note to give props to my old friend Shelby from Tallahassee. She just completed her first full marathon, which officially makes her a bad ass in my book. You go girl!!!

Hope everyone is doing well and more soon.

~Sandy

ps - It's still raining. All we are asking for is a bit of snow and less mud. It doesn't seem so much to ask, even from Mother Nature...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Sunny Reflections

We have had time for reflection on our week in Spain before recording our thoughts here. It is tough to know what to say. The week was, without a doubt, the best time away from Ukraine we’ve had. This was a function many things…Madrid’s amazing cultural and culinary offerings; Michelle and Mario’s fabulous hospitality; Christine’s lovely apartment; our raised physical and emotional exhaustion levels as we near the end of our 27 months of service; and recent stresses in both Ukraine and the United States that strongly warranted a week of relaxation combined with culinary and viniferous stimulation.

Do we feel guilty for our one week love-affair with sunshine and blue skies, Goya and Velasquez, Picasso and Dali, Jamon Iberico and Manchego cheese, Rioja and Ribera del Duero, suckling pig and lamb, Roman Aqueducts and Medieval castles, tapas and paella, Christmas celebrations and old friends? No way! We had an amazing time and wouldn’t have changed a thing. And most importantly, we returned renewed and ready to focus on our last four months of Peace Corps service.

A few highlights:
Michelle and Mario met us at the airport despite our late night arrival (a rare treat in our travels). A taxi-tour through Madrid brought us to Christine’s apartment, our home for the week. We knew we were in Spain when our hosts offered a delicious plate of cured hams and sheep’s milk cheeses and a glass of Rioja. Despite an 18 hour journey from Vinnytsia to Madrid, we stayed up talking for several hours.

On Christmas Eve, we walked through Madrid’s older neighborhoods to get a feel for the city (Sandy to get re-acquainted and Eric to get his bearings.) We stopped into a standing room only bar for a traditional snack of fried calamari and blood sausage sandwiches near the Plaza Mayor. Not a typical holiday snack for us, but oh-so-delicious! Booth vendors in the plaza sold manger scene pieces (historical) and colorful wigs (more recent addition). Both would follow us throughout our trip – manger scenes are the typical outdoor displays in Spain (rather than Christmas trees), and every once in awhile we’d round a corner and spot an older gentleman sitting on a park bench talking to a friend with a straight face and a long purple and silvery wig. Strange but interesting.

The big dinner in Spain is the evening of the 24th. Eric cooked a beautiful roast beef (compliments of Michelle and Mario) wrapped in fat and served with yummy gravy. Michelle made mashed potatoes, artichoke dip and green beans. And of course there were olives, ham, cheese and fish pate to start. Our holiday group was a perfect – size of 7 – when Mario’s aunt and two of Michelle’s friends joined us. We ate, drank, sang a few Christmas songs, and opened presents until well after midnight. And because several of our family and friends found a way to send presents home with Michelle at Thanksgiving, Eric and I had lots of fun presents under the tree – a real surprise!

Sandy felt jumpy on Christmas morning – something was missing. So she decided to make a breakfast quiche, and immediately felt better. Quiche on Christmas morning is a long-standing tradition started by Eric’s mom, and both of us felt a family connection as it came piping hot out of the oven. Afterwards, we headed to the sauna and swimming pool while Michelle, feeling the same need for family continuity, cooked up a delicious pot of chicken noodle soup (a Dallet family tradition). This was not our average Monday in Ukraine, and we felt our stress melt away.

The next two days were filled with art and culture. We visited The Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen Museums, with such treasures as Las Meninas, The Garden of Earthly Delights, Guernica, a room full of El Greco's haunting work, and a whole host of others that each deserve their own blog entry. It is tough to decide which museum has the better collection, as they each have their own strengths and masterpieces. Each of them was a welcome reminder of the art and culture that can be tough to find in Vinnytsia.

On Wednesday evening we stopped into visit Michelle’s favorite wine shop. She’s been going for years, and the owners have a small bar at the back where they serve homemade pates and cheeses. They were happy to see her, and we were sad when it was time to go. Luckily, we were headed to see Sara Baras – a modern flamenco performer with her own company of talented dancers (our Christmas present from Michelle and Mario). It was our first glimpse into the world of flamenco, and a memorable experience. Afterwards, we stopped in to see the end of a gospel group singing concert that has a few of Michelle’s friends as members. I was a total switch in musical styles, but also interesting.

We tried to go to Toledo for the day on the new super-bullet train, but other holiday travelers beat us to the ticket purchases. So we comforted ourselves with hot chocolate and churros – a fried pastry dipped into the rich, creamy chocolate. The café is open 24 hours, and this is apparently a popular hangout around 5am when the discos start to calm down. Afterwards, we had a blast wandering around El Corte Ingles supermarket. If there was one thing we could do in any new city, this would be it. It is so fun to check out all the local food products, and we made a few purchases to get us through the rest of the Ukrainian winter (if it ever arrives).

That night we went out for tapas with a few of Michelle’s friends. Starting at the ‘caves’ near Plaza Mayor (on the tourist route but a requirement for all first time visitors), we progressed to several other tapas bars – each with their own specialty and all delicious. We opted out of the “proceed to disco” portion of the evening, electing instead for a better night sleep before our big adventure the next day.

If we had to pick, Friday’s visit to Segovia was the highlight of the week. We drove up to the small, medieval town in a rented VW (not a Lada – yea!). Upon arrival, the first thing you see is a giant, fully intact Roman Aqueduct. Although it was built in the 1st century AD, it was the main water source for the city until a few years ago. T’was pretty cool! After visiting the city’s cathedral (the last gothic one built in Spain and quite striking rising up over the rooftops of town), we headed for our main destination of the day: Jose Maria’s restaurant. Yes, we went to Segovia not to enjoy the medieval history, see the fairy-tale like castle where Queen Isabel was crowned or wander the narrow streets (although all of that was great), but rather to eat a poor baby pig and lamb cooked to perfection. It was our first experience with suckling pig and lamb, but they were truly incredible. There are pictures of the pigs in the restaurant bar, both alive being cuddly with the chef, and roasted to perfection in the oven. It is definitely a different relationship to meat than we are used to in America. Luckily, our recent relationship with Indy the Turkey helped us accept the fate of the cute little animals for our culinary enjoyment. “The man” himself brought our pig – Jose Maria. He portioned them tableside using the side of a plate rather than a knife. This demonstrates how golden brown crusty the exterior of the pig is and how tender the interior meat is. Sandy was lucky enough to get a hoof, although she shared with Eric. Everything that day was amazing, right down to the Segovia-style desserts (all three of them!).

Our hosts heeded our pleas for a quiet last morning, and we enjoyed a few lazy hours at the apartment. In the afternoon we met up with a large group at a local Valencia-style restaurant for our ‘last supper’. Because there were 9 of us, Michelle ordered three different kinds of paella, including a unique ‘fiduau’ which used small pasta noodles instead of rice. All three were bright yellow from generous usage of saffron, as well as moist and oh-so-tasty. The seafood in the paellas was a welcome treat, as was a unique dessert made from Cava and lemon sorbet.

Finally, it was time to pack. We squeezed our American and Spanish delicacies into overstuffed bags and set our alarms for 4am. The ETA bombing of Terminal 4 at Madrid’s airport on Saturday made us a bit nervous at first, but everyone said not to worry so we didn’t. Driving through the city in the pre-dawn hours in our taxi to the airport, people were out walking, talking, and lining up at ATMs to refresh their cash supplies. The volume was humorous to us, as there were more people out in Madrid at 4am than in most parts of Ukraine at 6pm. And there were more streetlights on. No wonder the Spaniards sleep with special daylight-blocking shutters.

As the plane took off, Eric said “Once more, into the breach!” But we laughed, and looked forward towards Ukraine. It is tough being away from family so much, and thus we will always remember Christmas 2006 with Michelle. Our families have celebrated the holidays together as long as we’ve been alive, and thus we found our family again in Madrid. And of course, had a much needed rest.

Paka for now,
The Jacobses

Second Christmases

Second Christmas

January 07 was Orthodox Christmas and the second most important winter holiday in Ukraine, after New Years. It is a day for family and close friends.

We spent the holiday in Bar (not a bar, but the town of Bar) with a Ukrainian family. They were the host family of Volunteer who recently completed her service. We have been spending various holidays and events with them for over a year and it always a comfortable place to visit. Host mom is also one of the better Ukrainian cooks we know.

The holiday is about being together and eating and begins on the evening of the 6th. A large meal is prepared, twelve dishes are required and the first one must be kutya; a dish of whole wheat, crushed poppy seeds, honey, raisins and walnuts. It is delicious and healthy, sort of a breakfast or dessert for wood elves, squirrels or those on whole food diets. This is followed by a number of other dishes many including fish, the high-light being stuffed fish, a kind of fish-loaf. A bit ironic as the dish has Jewish origins. This a complicated course where the meat of the fish is removed and mashed together with bread crumbs, vegetables and herbs. Then it is put back inside the fish carcass and baked or steamed. When it is done well (we had the best yet on 2nd Christmas) it is treat. This is followed by any number of other fish dishes, meats (turkey and homemade sausages), root salads, dried or preserved fruits and more. After all this is finished dessert of tort (cake) and tea is consumed. This year there was even the bonus of Christmas plum pudding. Yes, I am still making it and it seems to be getting better each year. Ukrainians like it; it has meat fat, old bread, brandy and dried fruit in it, all popular in Ukraine.

The next morning brings another big meal, though less formal and had in the kitchen. We were served two different kinds of traditional vareniky (Ukrainian raviolis), one stuffed with sour cabbage and the other with preserved plums. There was more kutya, turkey, sausage and the rest of the tort and pudding and toasts to love, health, happiness, luck, success and more. After this second enormous meal in twelve hours, everyone rested a bit before we headed back to Vinnitsia and the family moved on to the village where host mom’s family is from.

We enjoyed ourselves a second time for Christmas in the pleasant home of a family that adopted us as easily as we adopted them. Now we only have Old New years left in this long holiday season.

On another note about food, does anyone have any interesting ideas of how to prepare beets? Yes the deep red to purple tuber of canned fame in the USA. I will be competing in a cooking contest next month where every dish must include beets. We have been running a number of experiments and with some success, but we are still looking for other ideas.

Beet ice cream…you beet it’s good.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Winter? Where?

There is no winter this year in Ukraine, or most of Europe for that matter. As January goes on day-time temperatures will climb back into the high 40s F (with rain) from the high 30s F now (rain). A purgatory of seasons, normally this part of Ukraine should be in the low to mid 20s F during the day and there has been no snow for two months. Unfortunate as late autumn and early spring are the least aesthetically pleasing months here and that is what we have had since mid October.

At least the streets and sidewalks are not covered in ice; there are benefits to this odd and dull weather.

Janurary 10: High 50F - 25F above normal.


Roman Aquaduct in Segovia (1st century A.D.) Posted by Picasa


Eric and Mario satisfied after a delicious meal of suckling pig and lamb in Segovia. Posted by Picasa


Suckling Pig served by Chef Jose Maria Posted by Picasa


Blissful Relaxation at the Spanish Royal Palace Posted by Picasa


Old friends Sandy and Michelle enjoying the streets of Madrid Posted by Picasa


Sandy was really happy to be back among Spanish-style pork! Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Smile: You're in Spain!

We've just returned from a week in Spain for Christmas - it was bliss to say the least. Lifelong friend Michelle and her wonderful beau Mario were fabulous hosts, so much so that they offered to be guest bloggers! So, here is an account of our week through their eyes:

Michelle:

"While my parents, sister and brother spent this Christmas together in Tallahassee, I had a sort of “Ukrainian Navidad” in Madrid with Sandy and Eric - who were fortunately able to take some time off from the PC service in the Ukraine and visit Spain.

Not only was it great to spend some time with Sandy and Eric, but it was also a luxury to be able to turn the roast beef and side dishes over to Chez Eric in preparation for the Christmas Eve Dinner! Eric and Sandy dazzled the Madrid contingent by adding their gourmet touch to our Spanish “Nochebuena”! Nevertheless, when opening gifts later on, it was clear that macaroni & cheese and grits remain a favourite for the two globetrotters.

As so many have been able to witness over the past two years, Sandy and Eric have put in a lot of hard work and full dedication to the Peace Corps in Ukraine; thus, relaxation was essential for them on this trip - understandably so! I think we pulled it off…since Spain does relaxation especially well! A modern flamenco show, a trip to Segovia for cochinillo and cordero (suckling pig and lamb), wine, tapas and the pool/sauna at my sister’s apartment were all contributing factors. We also got in some nice, long walks around Madrid, as Sandy’s fancy, new pedometer will show!

Unfortunately, a trip to Kyiv and Vinnitsia before Sandy and Eric move on to their next adventure is looking pretty impossible. That said, during their visit to Madrid, I was able to get a good idea of life in the Ukraine through the wonderful pictures, stories, Ukrainian chocolate, vodka and decorative eggs that they shared with us in Madrid. There is no doubt that the Peace Corps Service has been an enriching experience for them and a time they will never forget!

For me, Sandy and Eric’s visit this Christmas 2006 served as a reminder of how privileged I am to be able to share and learn from such amazing experiences with friends and family! So, as this entry comes to an end, I can only look forward in anticipation to the next time and place we meet again.

- Signing off with a Ukrainian toast: To love, family, happiness, health, friends, prosperity, kindred hearts, cultural sharing, good food and wine, and to our time together in Spain and in the future! Happy 2007! Michelle"

Mario (http://babelfish.altavista.com/ for those who do not remember their Spanish):

"Buenas tardes,
Escribo esta nota para el blog de mis amigos Eric y Sandy. Han estado recientemente en Madrid, pasando las navidades invitada por mi novia que es de su mismo pueblo en estados unidos. La cuestión es que a través de ellos, he podido conocer un poquito más de la cultura de Ucrania y concretamente de la existencia de Vinnitsia, que por cierto parece que tiene la misma raíz etimológica que Venecia, a ver si alguien me puede aclarar esto.

Yo supongo y espero que lo hayan pasado estos dos muy bien por aquí por Madrid. Han podido disfrutar el ambiente navideño en las calle, de las ricas viandas que se pueden comer por estas tierras y de los deliciosos caldos de calidad y fama universal como son los vinos de ribera del duero y Riojas. Especial mención a un viaje que hicimos a Segovia donde pudieron deleitarse con un delicioso corderito y un jugoso cochinillo al típico estilo castellano el cual hay que trocearlo con el plato para comprobar su ternura. Destacar por otro lado que fuimos a ver a Sara Baras, gran bailadora flamenca con un espectáculo que mezclaba tradición y modernidad del cual salieron muy impresionados nuestros amigos.

También me gustaría comentar la similitud entre la lengua cirílica y el castellano o lenguas románicas como pude comprobar por las pocas palabras que me enseño Eric. A pesar de utilizar diferente vocabulario, la raíz de muchas de ellas era muy semejante a las nuestras. Mucho más que al ingles o al alemán. O a lo mejor es por influencia Otomana y de ahí la similitud con nuestra lengua ya que el castellano tiene mucha influencia árabe como bien saben ustedes. Otra pregunta que les lanzo para despedirme, a ver si alguien me puede contestar.

Un saludo a todos los ucranianos y ucranianas,
Mario"

Monday, December 18, 2006

Holiday Cheer

After a rough start, it is beginning to feel a bit like Christmas. To give ourselves some holiday cheer we made Snickerdoodles (Sandy) and Christmas Pudding (Eric) yesterday. Our handy iPod is playing the holiday set (don't forget Adam Sandler's Hanukah songs!) and we've wrapped the few presents we are giving locally. New Year's Eve is the bigger holiday here, so presents take a back seat on Dec 25. Our weekly adult English Club is watching Christmas movies this month - Miracle on 34th Street, It's a Wonderful Life, Rudolf and Elf. They are new films for the participants and they love 'em.

The biggest challenge to finding the holiday spirit is that IT IS RAINING! What gives? It's almost January and it hasn't really snowed since early November. It isn't even below freezing. At this rate, the ice fishermen have lost a good month of fishing! One thing though...it can't be blamed on global warming this year. It was apparently like this two winters ago, and when we arrived in March that winter it was a frozen tundra-like landscape (despite being a similarly slow-starting winter). Last year it was very cold early in the winter, but it did not linger long. So, it seems like seasonal variations in weather are the culprit. No matter what, we'll be happy when the mud turns to a nice, white blanket of snow.

Both of us have made the rounds of local educational institutions lately. Last week Sandy spoke to students at the Vinnytsia Economics and Trade College and taught 50 secondary teachers about Civics education. This week she ended up at a concert at School #4, after stopping by to drop off cookies for student Olya's birthday and finding a front row seat reserved for her. Eric talked to high school kids at School #6 about Leave No Trace principles (keepin' it clean in the neighborhood) and how to be active citizens in Ukraine. This week he taught secondary school teachers how to use the internet and find resources online. Life is always changing here, and education seems to be the key right now.

We hope each of you are finding your own form of holiday spirit. Know we are missing you this season and looking forward to seeing you.

Happy Holidays,
The Jacobses

ps, There are a lot more cars here than even a year ago. We have witnessed four car accidents (including the one Porsche Caynne in town) in just over a week. That is more than all the previous time we have been here.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Eric and Tom at St. Michaels in Kiev. There was a thick fog for most of the trip, but the weather was unseasonably warm. He did get to see a short snowfall in Kyiv, as well as hoar frost in Vinnytsia one morning (fog that crystalizes on bushes and tree branches). And of course, Eric made a big pot of borshch!!! Dad enjoyed the Ukrainian food, while Sandy enjoyed breakfast at the Kyiv SAS Radisson (real crispy bacon - yahoo!!!). Posted by Picasa


The most memorable moment from my dad's recent trip: father and daughter walking through the dusk in fog to the WWII memorial museum. We came around the corner and saw this statue through the thick fog. All of a sudden, an old Soviet military march came blaring out of loud speakers. It really "took us back" to another time. Notice the scale of the statue by looking at the couple standing on the other side of the fountain... Posted by Picasa

Winter? Where?

It is another foggy day in Central Ukraine. As we near the middle of December, we are asking ourselves, (as are the locals) “where is winter?” The first two weekends of November brought snow and the second half of October was colder than December. In fact, this month there have been only two or three nights with temperatures below freezing. Not normal!

We are not upset by the warm weather, highs in the low 40sF are not exactly balmy, but it is warm compared to the more normal 20sF and 30sF this time of year. It was colder in Florida last week. The constant fog and dampness is getting, well, boring. We do not expect much change in the coming weeks, perhaps a bit cooler but no snow, no frozen river and no icy streets. The warm weather is probably a good thing, but it is still odd. Another odd thing in a very odd existence.

Happy Holidays

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Guest Blogger #4

It's time again for our guest blogger series! This time, let's hear from Sandy's dad Tom... Greetings from the newest tourist mecca in the Ukraine (or at least it will be when Sandy finishes her latest PC project which is to make it so ASAP. Check the website, tourist calendar, restaurant revues done by a wandering Sandy as food reviewer etc). I have really enjoyed the visit to Kiev and Vinnitsia after a long week or so of work with colleges in Sweden, Finland, and Estonia. Sandy was kind enough to be my interpreter at my meeting here with Kiev Polytec University--well known for rocket scientists and other leading scientists over the years. Had some nice meals in Kiev and visited the WW II Museum which was an amazing reminder of the cold war weaponry and also of the sacrifices made by Ukrainians in that war. Sandy and Eric were great in Kiev and it was great to see them and catch up. On Monday, Sandy and i caught up with Eric in Vinnitsia and Eric did a great home meal with Borsch as the centerpiece. It was great on a cold night and i had seen my first snow that day. Today i got to both of their PC offices and also the central office yesterday. Eric has cleaned up the city as noted earlier and his yellow bins are everywhere. Great shashlik meal at their favorite restaurant tonight and for my other son in law Ken we visited the museum of the creator of anesthesia--actually his mummified body--yikes--reminded me of the Lenin tomb visit in Moscow. We can all be proud of these 2 volunteers as they prepare for the holidays so far from all of you in the US. I have enjoyed their home here and off tomorrow for my return to sunny Florida .Will miss them but good to know they are together and living out their desire to serve others. All the best. Sandy’s dad--Tom