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Greetings from another Wray! This time it is Kim, Tripp’s little sister, Kim.

Tripp asked if I would write a blog entry while we were here visiting him in Ukraine. I am a Kindergarten teacher and an aerobics instructor in the States. I typically teach or take 6-8 classes a week ranging from cycle to weight lifting to Pilates to interval training. I was a little bummed that there was no fitness center on the Viking River cruise ship, so I thought I would write an entry about working out while traveling in Ukraine.

First off, we brought an iPad with videos to watch like P90X and Insanity that I planned to do in the cabin on the ship, but alas, the cabins are barely able to fit one person between luggage and beds, so onto plan B!

By motivating my brother to work out with me is always a good way to keep accountable. We were up by 6 am many mornings to work out before the tours, so there was no excuse that we didn’t have time or were too tired. I will go through each city and good ways to work out!

ODESSA- Run 2-3 times up and down Potemkin Steps is sure to get your heart rate through the roof. Looking for more than just working legs, use the little park at the top of the steps. There are many trees that line the pedestrian street, which makes it shady and cool. There are many park benches and museum steps along the way too. Do Tabata intervals (20 seconds on with 10 seconds of rest and do 8 sets alternating mountain climbers and burpees… 4 minutes of work all together with high intensity intervals). We used the park bench for tricep dips and push ups too!

SEVASTOPAL- Beautiful parks with Ukrainian men playing chess, children playing around fountains, and a coast view make an ideal place to run! I felt safe running by myself and it is relatively flat. This was the highlight of my workouts in Ukraine! I then went to a memorial where there were 4 small steps that I timed myself running up and down to see if I could get faster each time. There were also grassy areas that were perfect for timed planks.

YALTA- Known for its health resorts and beautiful views made it ideal scenery for a run. What Tripp and I didn’t take into account were the extreme hills! It was an uphill battle from the start! As I told Tripp when we got to the top and turned around- just like life, you work your butt off to get to the top in order to coast and relax on the way down.

TOURS- The hot sun and walking tours also allowed for that daily sweat session if we were unable to dock in time for a work out before the tours began. A particularly strenuous tour was the Cossack museum in Zaporozhe where there is a big hill that Tripp and I went up. He took the smarter way of going down the gradual incline on the backside while I quickly slid down on my bottom because I had no traction on my flip flops and it was very steep!

VACATION- At the end of the day, we are here on vacation and it should be treated as such- a break. I took three days off working out and we have been enjoying ALL of the delicious foods that Viking is known for serving on their boats. If you are ever on the Lomonosov ship, try the chocolate ice cream with chocolate shavings! You will not be disappointed!

First and foremost, I came to Ukraine to visit my brother. I had no expectations of what I would do or see while visiting. All in all, this is a beautiful country. Nevertheless, I am excited to return to my gym family in Richmond, Virginia and to have my bubba back in the states with me! Love you Bubba!


Our cruising is coming to an end. Today we are only cruising on the Dnieper and tomorrow morning we’ll dock in Kyiv. But, yesterday in Zaporizhie had to be one of the best days so far.

One thing many of you are probably unaware of is that to move up and down rivers requires the use of locks. The easiest way to describe a lock is to imagine a bathtub that has doors at the front and the back. One door opens and the boat enters the bathtub. If you are moving downriver, the water slowly drains from the tub once the doors close. If you are moving up river, the water slowly rises. Well, at the Dnieper Hydroelectric Station near Zaporizhie sits one of the tallest lock in Europe at almost 40 meters!

After maneuvering through the lock, we immediately docked and began our city tour. The city is beautiful. It has one of the longest roads in Ukraine and along the sides they designed the buildings to be mirror images of each other. The hydroelectric station was destroyed during WW2 to prevent the Nazis from utilizing its invaluable energy. Unfortunately, the explosion was huge and the resulting wave of water destroyed almost all of the low lying communities.

The best event of the trip has to be the Cossacks. Of course, the Zaporozhian Cossacks were the specific group we saw perform. They did horse tricks, swordplay, used whips, and even played typical games with each other. It was absolutely the highlight of the trip and it is a must-see for anyone who comes to visit Ukraine.

Day 8, Kherson

We had a quick stop in Kherson this afternoon. The real reason we stopped was because our ship is registered in Kherson and Ukrainian law states that whenever a registered ship passes by it’s place of registration they must stop to take care of routine paperwork and get inspected. So, instead of keeping us on the boat, they organized a city tour. We couldn’t dock at the normal location for ships like ours because a storm knocked over a couple cranes into the river, blocking a safe route. They will be there a while because they are waiting for even larger cranes to be moved from Odessa to remove the fallen cranes. There were a couple cool things in Kherson, we saw a lot of couples who were just married, we saw where Patemkin was buried, we saw a few beach area, and we saw a couple memorials. There will be more exciting stuff to read tomorrow after we dock in Cossack territory.

Day 7

We only had one excursion today in Yalta, the Aloupka Palace or Vorontsov Palace. It was about 40 minutes away and we were given a brief history lesson about the original owner, Mikhail Vorontsov and the palace itself. The palace was gorgeous and was preserved throughout its history. The links provided will give you more detail than I could explain here, but this was one of those “you had to be here” excursions.

We set sail right before lunch and had some champagne on the Sun Deck of the ship. It was a breathtaking view as we departed Yalta. We even saw the Swallow’s Nest again from a distance. I was hoping to see some dolphins swimming with us. Earlier, I spotted a couple dolphins all the way from the Vorontsov Palace. I finally captured some sunset photos over the water and I’m hoping tomorrow morning will provide me with some sunrise photos. Fingers crossed.

Day 6, Yalta

It has been a very long day! We arrived in Yalta this morning around 7am. It was so crazy to go to sleep in one city and wake up in another while feeling like you’re in a hotel. When we left the boat for our city tour it was a bit disorienting to see different shapes and colors outside. This city has to be my all time favorite so far. I can’t believe the landscape and just the general sense of the place. Yalta could rival any Greek or Italian coastal city at first glance. It’s still Ukraine though.

I have to hand it to these bus drivers. Their ability to safely navigate the narrow, winding and crowded roads of Yalta was astounding. We made our way up and then back down to a souvenir shopping area that has a great view of Swallow’s Nest and the “best toilets in Yalta.” The toilets were exceptionally nice, and cost UAH 5. I took some pictures. The highlight was the view. Swallow’s Nest was built by a wealthy German man who frequently traveled here. He wanted to build a replica of his home on the cliffs of Yalta. It was closed for renovations, but it’s supposed to allow visitors inside within the next couple of years. The souvenir shop was a state-run shop and the assortment and quality of items were great! I didn’t find everything I wanted, but I did find a Vinok for my sister and a small clown for my mom. She collects clowns.

Next we went to the Livadia Palace where the Yalta Conference was held. It was also the temporary housing for Franklin D Roosevelt. It was so incredible to be there and to imagine what it must have been like for the 3 most powerful people in the world deciding on its future. I was also unaware that the family who originally owned the palace were the Romanov’s. Has anyone reading this seen Anastasia? Yes, those Romanov’s. Nicholas II and his family were captured during the February Revolution of 1917 by the Bolsheviks.

After lunch, my sister and I went to a wine tasting at the Massandra Winery. It was a much shorter tour than the one I went to near Donetsk, the Artemovsk Winery (use google translator). However, I thought the wine was much better at Massandra. A couple cool history lessons. During WWI, they cemented the doors and removed any signs of storage areas to fool the Germans into thinking that there was no wine being stored there. The bottles of wine were able to be recovered after the war. In WWII, there wasn’t enough time to get all of the bottles out of the winery, so Moscow ordered that the rest of the bottles be destroyed. Over 2 million liters of wine were pouring from the building and legend says that the wine flowed down the hills and turned the Black Sea red.

We tasted 6 different wines and I thought they were all good, but chose two to buy for myself. They were extremely cheap, about $6/bottle. Tomorrow, we start a bit earlier and see the other palace where Churchill stayed during the Yalta Conference then we set sail during lunch for the Dnieper River.

Day 5

I apologize for any grammar mistakes or rambling in the following post…I just got back from my first ever vodka tasting. I’ll start with that. The food and beverage manager Frank (who is also a Sommelier) lead the vodka tasting. There were about 40 or 50 of us and I’d say the average age was 65. We were served a glass of water and a plate of salty foods like pickled egg, salted pork, raw onion, pickles, and some bread.

Frank wanted to lead the tasting like he would lead a wine tasting. We had six different vodkas all made here in Ukraine. We started with some lower quality vodkas and moved our way up the quality scale. The cheapest vodka certainly had the strongest smell and burned the most going down. Moving on, the smell would become less offensive and the vodka would go down smooth. The Getman vodka from Lviv was my favorite. It is difficult to find and I should have had Frank write it down for me in cyrillic rather than latin because I can’t find it anywhere online. It took him a while to find it through a friend of a friend in Kyiv. It had a mild smell and went down smooth, almost with a viscous feel in my mouth. For a great flavorful shot, I’d recommend the Nemiroff Honey and Pepper. It’s a gold vodka from Vinitza and it smells as sweet as honey but will have a good spicy kick at the end.

Back to the beginning of the day. My sister and I were able to get up for a morning run and this place is beautiful. After breakfast she stayed in because she hasn’t been sleeping well, and the rest of us went with the tour. We headed off to the Bakhchisaray Palace or Khan’s Palace in beautiful Bakhchysarai. The drive there was not what someone would expect after living in Ukraine. But, for those with experience living in Crimea, the landscape would seem natural with its rocky cliffs and rolling hills with the occasional vineyard.

After lunch we all went on the optional tour to see the Siege of Sevastopol Panorama. It was incredible, absolutely amazing detail. I sometimes forgot I was looking at a canvas with a paper mache foreground. There is a picture in the link but it just could never do it justice. You just have to see it for yourself. It is lit with natural lighting that comes from skylights in the dome above and reflected onto the canvas. It depicts the first day of the Siege of Sevastopol. The details are just incredible and historically correct. It’s like that moment of time was snatched from history and brought to the future to surround our senses.

Next stop, Yalta.

We were still cruising to our next destination, Sevastopol, this morning. I slept in, grabbed some breakfast with the family and took care of a little business until lunch. My mom went to one of the onboard activities to learn more about typical souvenirs along the Ukrainian waterways. She also learned some cool stuff about Ukrainian traditions.

After lunch, we disembarked for our city tour of Sevastopol. We were lucky enough to have a tour guide who is from Sevastopol. We rode around in the bus as she spoke about the history of the city and famous landmarks that we passed. We stopped and walked around a few different places. Sevastopol is another Hero City because of their courage in defense against Nazi forces in WW2. It is also the site of most of the Ukrainian navy and Russian navy. The Russian navy leases the land and gives Kyiv about $120 million each year. Sevastopol receives a minimum of 10% of that money, but can request as much as they want. This is another beautiful Ukrainian city and it makes me wonder why I haven’t heard of its beauty before.

Next, we went to the former Greek settlement Chersonesos. It was cool to see all the ruins left behind from 2,500 years ago. It also had a great location to see the harbor and imagine what it must have been like way back then. I am a huge fan of this crew and would recommend it to anyone who wants to experience the best of what Ukraine has to offer. The Ukrainian staff is excellent and are also learning valuable Western business skills to help them in the future.

Day 3

We skipped out on the optional tour this morning heading to Akkermann Fortress in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi. Instead, my sister and I continued our Potemkin Stairs workout, had breakfast, and then walked around the city with our parents. My mom grabbed a map and the 4 of us made our way to the Mother-in-Law Bridge. The mother-in-law bridge is one of the longest bridges of Odessa…There is one version about its creation which says this bridge was built by one of the party members for visiting his mother-in-law for pancakes who lived on the other hill. Another version says that he did not want his mother-in-law to have an excuse to stay the night because of the danger of traveling down and up a hill in darkness. The mother-in-law bridge connects Primorskiy and Jvanetskiy boulevards.

We also made our way to a very particular building with an optical illusion. The One-Wall House only has 3 sides and its design makes it look like a single wall with decorative windows and balconies depending on which angle you are viewing the building.

After lunch we went on the Jewish History tour of Odessa. 30% of the population of Odessa used to be Jewish about 100 years ago. Now, only 15,000 to 45,000 Jews remain along with only 2 official synagogues compared to hundreds before today. Jewish people were in Odessa even before Odessa was founded. We know this from gravestones that identified Jewish people with the dates dating before the city’s founding.

Odessa was in an area that Romania claimed as its own and wanted to annex it during WW2. This is one of the main reasons Romania joined with the Nazis. Odessa became surrounded by 18 regiments of Nazi troops. With 5 times less troops than the enemy, Odessa was able to defend themselves for over 70 days. This earned Odessa the honor of Hero City after the war. On the final day, they chose to leave the city and evacuate as many people as possible. This strategy was to help protect Sevastopol which held the majority of the Ukrainian and Russian fleets. They snuck out at night while giving the appearance of having a heavy military presence still in the city. This was a ruse of course, and for almost 24 hours the city of Odessa remained without Soviet control or Nazi control. Finally, a Romanian soldier inspected the city’s remaining fortifications to discover the city was empty of military troops. This was the beginning of a terrible time for the people of Odessa and especially for the Jewish population.

Please click here for more details about the 1941 Odessa Massacre. No Jewish history tour is complete without talking about the Holocaust. One memorial we visited had an incredible story. It was located in a spot where Jews were collected and forced to march to their deaths in concentration camps surrounding the city. One of them being the 2nd largest in Ukraine called Bogdanovka. The memorial was elevated and on the surface were the original cobblestones that were on the street where the death march took place. Another placard read the names of many courageous people of Odessa who hid and protected Jews during the occupation. Behind this memorial were trees representing each name from the placard. The names were on plaques at the base of each tree.

Odessa has to be one of the most beautiful cities in Ukraine and has quickly risen to the top of my list. A must see.

Day 2

My sister and I got up early and did some morning exercises. It was perfect. We ran up the famous Potemkin Stairs (Ukrainian: Потьомкінські сходи, Pot’omkins’ki Skhоdy, Russian: Потёмкинская лестница, Potyomkinskaya lestnitsa). It has 192 steps and the local custom is to count the stairs to represent atoning for your sins. Most people are all good by the time they reach the top.

After breakfast we hopped on the bus for the city tour. Our guide spoke as we drove to the top of the Patemkin Stairs where we got out. We saw a statue dedicated to Katherine the Great and how Odessa was basically built for her. It is one of the few cities in Ukraine with a feminine name because of this fact. We saw the outside of the Odessa Opera House which is one of the most beautiful in the world. After lunch on the ship, we left for the catacombs that became noteworthy during World War 2. The Odessa Catacombs were originally formed from mining limestone. During WW2, the locals chose to hide in these catacombs that were formed from the mining days and resist Nazi occupation. They were an integral part of helping Moscow. It was a great day for exploring Odessa. The rain held off until the very end as we were exiting the catacombs. I think Dad enjoyed his Father’s Day in Ukraine, love you dad!

My plan is to give daily updates about my family’s Ukrainian river cruise trip. Get ready for some interesting blog posts. Like the fool I am, I chose to just stay awake while waiting for my taxi to pick me up at 3am. But, instead of taking a “quick nap” and oversleeping, it ended up working out quite well this time. I had everything packed and prepared my apartment for a long absence. Cute side note: my neighborhood kids who have been slowly working up the courage to say hello to me in English decided that I was friendly enough to just run up to and hug while asking a million questions in Russian. They chatted me up for like 30 minutes outside. I hope I made their day. They wanted to hear me speak English (which they don’t understand). I’m sure they’ll ask for autographs next time.

Back to the taxi. The guy was a bit early and was cool. We made our acquaintances and set off to the airport. The lack of sleep made it easy to just konk out right there in the back seat. I got to the airport 3 hours early (whoops). Something that I noticed while checking in: Ukrainians love to wrap their luggage in that industrial cellophane companies use in warehouses. I was the only one who didn’t put a jimmy hat on my luggage. This of course had me worried that I was missing a key piece of information that would put me into an awkward language/cultural moment. But, everything was cool.

Got on the plane, bam! Fast asleep. Got to Kyiv and was worried again because we were taken to the baggage claim and the only way out was the exit. I had to ask someone if my luggage really was being transferred to the new plane, and they assured me it would be. So, I had to exit like I was leaving the airport, then go back like I was checking in and headed for departures. I went through security again, and then waited 30 minutes for my flight to board. I got on, and bam!! Out like a light. Thank sweet baby jesus because on both flights I think a nursery of teething babies were traveling to Odessa as well.

I met my parents at the airport in Odessa, but had to take a separate taxi while they went with the group headed for the cruise ship. We didn’t do much on the ship. We just caught up and did family stuff, we did some of the introductory events the crew had planned, ate some good food on board, and we made plans for which optional excursions we want to do over the next few days. It’s so great to be with my family again, especially in Ukraine where I can do more than just talk about my experience. I get to share it with them. It’s only been a few hours and they’ve asked me a few times, “how have you managed to stay here this long?” 🙂