By: Jillian McCarthy, FFE, 2016-17
Over the course of an eight week winter break I had the amazing opportunity to travel to former Soviet satellite countries – Ukraine, Czech Republic, and Hungary.
First stop: to Kiev, Ukraine! Fortunately, I was able to stay with my friend (and fellow Marist student) Sasha and her family. I gained a true understanding of Ukrainian and Russian culture. Both of these cultures have become intertwined.
Although the older generations of Ukrainians speak Russian, signs and menus are commonly listed in Ukrainian. Sasha and her family speak Russian; but they do not have difficulty understanding Ukrainian. English was uncommon unless we were at trendy cafes, so it was lovely to have a friend to translate. I found it amusing that the locals handed me the Ukrainian menus and spoke to me in their language at the markets, probably because of my blonde hair, blue eyes, and fur hat.
Sasha and I quickly navigated the city following the trail of urban salons, new cafes, and a grand department store that recently opened on the Khreschatyk (Kiev’s main shopping street). I was impressed with the modern interiors and lovely service received in these boutiques. I could not help but be impressed by the modern amenities that reminded me of my favorite stores in the United States.
My next stop was Prague, Czech Republic in late January. The Gothic architecture is seen throughout the entire city in the arches, churches, and the indelible Prague Castle. A unique find in Prague was the Grand Café Orient, which was reminiscent of my favorite spot in New Orleans. One of the most interesting activities of my Prague visit was a walking tour through the old Jewish Quarter. The area was formerly closed off by a gate to its Jewish inhabitants and was frequently flooded by the nearby Vltava River. The synagogue has not changed since it was constructed in the second half of the 13th century. In the evening, I took a river cruise along the magnificent banks of the Vltava watching the swans, the Charles Bridge, and oldest run hospital in Prague pass by.
The last stop on my tour was Budapest, Hungary. This was a truly stunning city, from the intricate design of the Parliament building to the majestic Budapest Castle. The architecture is a blend of Gothic cathedrals, Roman influence, Baroque, Renaissance, and Ottoman Turkish style. The views from the Fisherman’s Bastion should not be missed. If visiting in the winter, cafes offer refuge from the chilly weather. Do not miss out on the delicious soups Hungary has to offer. Goulash is the most famous, but I also tried steaming bowls of carrot soup. I probably averaged one soup a day on this post-Soviet tour. It was much needed after sightseeing in the cold! Another way to rejuvenate from the winter cold is with the traditional Turkish thermal baths.
One of the best aspects of traveling, is that one place can remind you of another even if they are nothing alike. Comparing different cities and countries allows you to understand the culture, architecture, and history through different lenses. These Eastern European cities are evolving, and it is truly worthwhile to see these cities in their transition.