Sicilians eat ice cream for breakfast. Okay, okay, not exactly. The quintessential Sicilian kick-starter is slushier than gelato, served in a glass and called “granita” but it’s still sweet and cold enough to cause early morning brain-freeze. Often topped with a solid layer of whipped cream, granita is served with a large, freshly baked brioche. In Sicily, the breakfast ritual involves dunking pieces of the dense breakfast bread in the granita, soaking up the icy sweetness.
We pull up to the gates of the “Zone of Alienation,” a 30-kilometer exclusion zone surrounding the site of the devastating nuclear disaster of Chernobyl power plant. Even though they opened the zone to tourists for the first time in 2011, they closed it again in the beginning of June. We are the only group of tourists who are allowed to access the site this month. This alone gives me an uneasy feeling. Before we are permitted to proceed into the zone, we are marched out of the bus and wait for the military guards to confirm our identity. They give us all a once-over. No bare skin allowed around the site’s continuously leaking radiation.
Perched on the edge of the Black Sea, Ukraine’s third largest city exudes a vibrant, resort-town atmosphere. Odessa is famous for its sandy beaches and European-style architecture. Summertime is clearly the best time to visit to soak up the holiday vibe. Often referred to as the “Pearl of the Black Sea,” the city’s boulevards and parks are filled with street-side vendors, brass bands and ribbon-clad pony rides. The heart of Odessa is the pedestrian-only stretch of Deribasovskaya Street, lined with shops, outdoor cafes and bars. Read more
Visiting Kiev, Ukraine is like being immersed in a real-life fairy tale. As I explore, I marvel at the city’s famous, towering gold-domed cathedrals. I stare at a sculpted menagerie of frogs, mermaids and other beasts decorating the bizarre “House with Chimeras.” I cover my head and descend by candlelight into the holy Orthodox crypts of the Lavra monastery. I lose myself in elaborate shopping mazes: the underground passages used by pedestrians to cross busy streets. Read more
Borscht is a Beautiful Thing
This brilliantly hued, hearty beetroot soup is the culinary staple of Ukraine. Every local establishment serves it and everyone eats it, at every meal. It’s the first food in Kiev I learned to properly pronounce, “Borscht Ukrainsky!” though smetana, or “sour cream” wasn’t far behind. In Ukraine, borscht is universal, though its preparation is deeply personal, reflecting upon individual chefs, their ingredients and the changing seasons. From my first taste of one chef’s distinctive red broth (which happened to be swimming with savory ham), I was hooked. Below, a brief photo essay in ruby red: a journey through the wonderful world of Ukrainian borscht. Read more