Monday, June 11, 2012

Alustha: Crimea: Ukraine!

For the second part of our trip, my mom and I flew from Kiev down to Sinferopol (on the Crimean Pennisula) - where were picked up by Natasha and lovingly transported to Alushta. Alushta is a really sweet little city on the coast of the Black Sea, and Alushta is the Sister City of our city (Santa Cruz). The whole reason for our trip was the 25th anniversary of the relationship between Alushta and Santa Cruz. The Sister Cities group in Alushta made our trip so wonderful! We had their loving support, translation services, insights, and friendship with us every day. It was such a delight!

My mom and I stayed at a really great old resort hotel called Hotel Kiev - just a stone's throw from the seafront. With the help of the Sister Cities folks, the people at the hotel did such a great job of accommodating my vegan diet. Obviously, it wasn't what they were used to cooking! Our first night, they made us dinner, which included a cabbage-cucumber slaw, fresh tomatoes and some pan-fried summer squash with fresh herbs. That squash was really especially good!

This was a typical first course for breakfast - a little shredded carrots, some veggies and bread - and a cup of tea. The first time they brought this out, I was feeling a little sad, like this wasn't gonna last me more than 5 minutes, but I shouldn't have worried...

...Because they would always bring out a second course with warm food. This one had steamed cauliflower and some white rice (which I'm pretty sure had butter in it, unfortunately!). Some days it was oatmeal, and one day was some super yummy buckwheat.

Luckily I had my Clif Bars and hummus packs to get a little protein in, but I really don't want to complain. I was very touched by the gracious and loving effort that was made to accommodate my diet - in a place that is truly not used to having vegans waltz in and ask for a meal! A couple of days they gave me meat with my otherwise vegan breakfast, which was slightly confusing...

...but my mom had the genius idea of pocketing the meat in a plastic bag and giving it to one of the handful of beautiful and friendly street dogs in Alushta. A perfect solution! Honestly, if you are ever in Alushta, and looking for a new dog, the street dogs there are totally great. Friendly, adorable, and perfect-sized!! I really loved this sweet girl so much. After eating, she rolled over on her back for a belly rub. Awww.

One of the real highlights of traveling with the Sister Cities program was that we got to really meet people and get to know them. Here I am with my wonderful new pal, Olga. We really hit it off. She is only 25, but her English is So Great. I was totally impressed, and also so grateful for her excellent translation services! Plus, she is just awesome and I am so happy to have a new friend in the world!

Olga was especially sweet about bringing me little goodies. One day she brought me a wonderful little loaf of bread with prunes and apricots in it, which was so delicious (and completely eaten before I could photograph it!) - and another day she brought me these gorgeous and delightful cherries FROM HER OWN TREE. Oh, to have a cherry tree! These cherries were so delicious, and I was so very touched that she would share them with me. If I had a cherry tree, I would be hoarding all the cherries to myself like a greedy little pig... but not Olga. :)

Olga also brought me a bunch of these nice whole grain snack bars. They are very light, and just barely sweet. Half way between a cracker and a cookie, and very nice. I was really grateful, and I enjoyed them on a couple of occasions, when I just needed a little more food to fill my belly!

The Sister Cities folks had arranged a wonderful schedule of non-stop activities for us, which was so fun. One of the activities was the opening of a brand new super market! My mom and I were so super stoked, because everyone knows that pretty much the most fun thing in the world is a super market in a foreign country. We needed some water, so we picked that up... and started scouring the aisles for other interesting goodies. Having all the packaging and ingredients in Cyrillic made shopping pretty impossible, but we were having a great time nonetheless.

Then, all of a sudden, the doors were opened to the general public - and apparently there were great sales for the first 30 minutes or something - because suddenly the store was filled with Ukrainian ladies sprinting through the store like mad and grabbing stuff willy-nilly. It was awesome! By the time we got in line, these gals were in front of us, reviewing their loot. Then, their friends would come and shove things past us - over everyone's head - and run off to find more deals. It was awesome and crazed.

Unbeknownst to us, our whole group had lost track of us and had grown a bit worried. Sorry, Olga! My mom and I were happily standing in line with our big bottle of water, enjoying the cultural moment, when Olga came running up and said "THERE you are!!" Oops! So, we abandoned our water and headed upstairs to a private luncheon...

There was a vast selection of non-vegan items at the lunch party, but I was happy to find a couple of great vegan options. These were little lavosh pockets stuffed with a very nice roasted pepper/onion/tomato spread and then toasted in a sandwich press. I probably ate four or five of these, they were really good!

They also had some veggie kabobs with nice herb-vinegar season, and I ate a few of those too. Yum.

Right after than we went to *another* foodie event - featuring traditional Ukrainian food. There weren't a ton of options for me, but I didn't mind because there were three varieties of vareniki (dumplings) that were vegan. My Ukrainian pals checked for me that the dough was vegan, and it was! There were two savory varieties - stuffed with cabbage or potato - and then topped with caramelized onions, and then a sweet variety stuffed with sour cherries. YUMMY Town! I can't wait to give it a go at making these for myself at home. (sorry the pictures are so lame, but rest assured that the vareniki are NOT lame!

One day they took us up into the mountains for some horseback riding (fun and beautiful and horses looked so well cared-for!). After the ride, we were served lunch, which included this lovely tea full of mountain herbs and leaves.

I love this picture of Cucumber-Cabbage and Dill salad. I ate things like this a lot on the trip, and although it's not super filling, it IS super good. I should definitely make salads like this at home. Simple, fresh and tasty.

A lot of grapes are grown in the Crimea region, and also a lot of wine is produced. So, one of our activities was to go to a really neat wine tasting place a little ways outside of Alushta city limits. Each spot at the table had about 8-9 differently shaped glasses and then there were giant piles of cherries (YES!!!!), strawberries, and homemade olives. I was very delighted!

I'm not usually much of an alcohol drinker, but I had a great time tasting all the different wines - red, white, sparkling, sherry, dessert wines... it was fun. I just had little sips of each, and gorged myself on cherries. Ha! :) It was really a neat thing to do, and not something I have ever done before.

It's not food-related, but one of the real highlights for me was having the opportunity to teach yoga to a group of Ukrainian gals - and especially meeting their fitness instructor Vlada (in the yellow tank top). With some sign language, and with Olga's help translating, we had a great time!

Finally a few travel pics, for those who are interested:
Me, with my feet in the Black Sea - which was pretty darned cold when we were there!
Sunset over the Black Sea (complete with jumping dolphins, which I'm sure you can't see)
Sweet little feral kitty at our hotel
The mountains where we went on our horseback ride
A beautiful wildflower
Children's choir in traditional dress (one of MANY amazing performances we experienced!)

Big love and gratitude to Natasha, Olga and Larissa for all the love they gave us, and for the amazing visit they organized for us!! 


  1. Anonymous8:21 AM

    that sounds like such a fabulous trip! i love meeting new people when I travel. thanks for sharing!

  2. Lovely post, Amey! I want to know more about the vareniki, because it looks amazing. As does the beautiful tea. As does the slaw. As do the stuffed lavash.

  3. Thank you for sharing your beautiful adventure it was so much fun to read. xo

  4. Anonymous12:48 PM

    Dear Amey,THANK YOU Sooooo much!
    It was so interesting to read about Alushta's adventures! I am grateful for all kind and sweet words about me and Alushta!
    Pics are great and foreshortening makes them so true-to-life!( now I would love to eat a cabbage/cucumber/dill salad and some cherries)

    Thank you from all your Alushta's fans!

  5. What an amazing trip, gorgeous photos! This just solidifies my desire to go to the Ukraine!

  6. What an incredible looking trip this is! Please keep sharing!

  7. Wow, I have a whole lotta blog catching up to do! Your trip looks wonderful & it looks like you managed to find good vegan eats. I'd love to go to the Ukraine one day.


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