Thursday, February 27, 2014


Last summer we took a big trip to the Balkans, and during our journey we were constantly reminded of the war-torn history of the former Yugoslavia. Our cameras were often turned on bombed-out buildings, and we marveled at the history, resilience, and beauty of the countries we visited that had been so recently destroying each other.
Belgrade, Serbia
Prizren, Kosovo
Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina
Traveling in this former war zone made the reports of the conflict we read so casually in the 1990s suddenly engage our interest and touch our hearts.

In 2010 we were on a Black Sea cruise. We visited several places that have been in the news this month, including the host city of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sochi, Russia:
We thought it was a beautiful place, but we had a hard time imagining the world descending on it in less than four years. Watching the Olympics come together in a place we had visited made us view the reports with different eyes. Quite frankly, we give major kudos to Russia for pulling it off!

On that same trip we visited two cities in the Crimean peninsula of Ukraine that are also in the news this week. Ukraine is currently in the middle of a political revolution. My nephew, who lives in the Russian republic of Georgia and has lived and worked in Ukraine and has friends in Kiev, has been keeping us updated on the situation through his blog. It sounds really, really intense. Kiev is over 500 miles north of where we were vacationing on the Black Sea in 2010, but now new problems are exploding in Crimea, Ukraine's southern region, which used to belong to Russia.

On our trip we spent a day in and around the Crimean city of Sevastopol:

 and another day in Yalta (see also this post):

Both places were serenely picturesque and bursting at the seams with tourists. These cities are famous not just because they are eye candy, but also for the important roles they played in World War II, due in large part to their strategic locations. Tourists from all over the world come to see the sea, the palaces, the monuments, and the natural beauty, but also to visit the places they have seen in pictures like this one:
These pictures mean much more to me now than they did before our Black Sea trip.

Suddenly, today there is talk that Crimea may secede from Ukraine and rejoin Russia. Sevastopol is the home of part of Russia's Black Sea fleet, and with the escalating tension in the region, there are worries Russia will mobilize that fleet. The Crimean uprising is so much more interesting and important to us because we have walked some of the streets being shown in TV, newspaper, and internet reports.  Four years ago we even saw part of the impressive Russian fleet in Sevastopol's port for ourselves:

American author Henry Miller said, "One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things." That is so true. One of the benefits of travel is that places in the news are not just dots on a map once we have been there, eaten the food, ooh-ed and aah-ed at the scenery, purchased a souvenir or two, and taken pictures of the sights that were previously just a paragraph in our history books. Those places are real, and their struggles have meaning to us. Perhaps that is some of what it means to be "a citizen of the world."


  1. I have very fond memories of Ukraine. I loved the people and the places we saw, not only Sevastopol and Yalta, but Odessa. It is horrible to think of that country being broken into pieces and of tensions and violence destroying cities. As you say, once you have been there, it has a face and it has meaning.

  2. Having just passed the anniversary of the bombing of Pforzheim, it's hard to view the pictures of the Balkans without thinking about the human cost.
    I love your concluding paragraph. So true.

  3. I've thought more than once about Crimea and Sochi, largely because of your travels there and from reading your blog. So, you have been the portal for many of us--thoughtful words at this time.