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Education, Europe, Experiences, Travel Blog

Kiev: A tale of two cities

January 29, 2014
Ukraine, Kiev - Independence Square

When I visited in Kiev last year, it was a different city than what is in the news today.

I went there in November, a couple of weeks before the current political turmoil started. I’ve been invited by my two former couchsurfer guests, Artem and Oleksandr, who had convinced me to visit them in Kiev.

Life in the city went on as normal. There were no barricades, no protesters, no riot police officers. Roads were full, not of protesters, but of cars and yellow marshrutkas hailing in passengers along the highway. People were preoccupied of their own daily lives and not of political discussions.

 

 

My first day in Kiev, I walked around Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti) with my friend Artem. The main avenue across Indepedence Square, Khreshchatyk, were closed on weekends for Kiev locals to enjoy a stroll on that autumn afternoon. There were segways, young Ukrainian girls selling sweets and people participating in local games of hanging on a tube for more than 90 seconds.

There were no riot police officers and protesters clashing on each other. Instead, I saw mascots of Puss in Boots, Despicable Me minions and giant pandas crowding  the square. The only tension I felt then was when a giant stuffed Tigger was bugging us to pay to have a photo with them.

The roads did not smell of teargas but of coffee coming from weird snail-shape pink coffee carts.

The city skyline had hardly any smoke on it but instead it’s the golden domes of the St.Andrew and St. Sophia churches that greeted my eyes as I looked upwards.

From the viewpoint overlooking the Dnipro river, the city was brown and red, not from smog and flames but from autumn leaves scattered on the roads.

I came to Kiev without much expectations yet left with a vow to visit again.

However my dream of coming back may not come anytime soon.

As I watch the news today and follow my friends’ Facebook posts, it’s obvious that it’s not the Kiev that I saw in November. I feel anxious and disheartened with the news I received. I feel helpless not having the power to act to curb the situation. It’s hard to see the once vibrant Maidan square is now tainted with blood from the ongoing violent protests fuelled by contrasting political ideologies. What I see is not the reflection of the vibrant and happy Kiev locals that I once met  but rather of people tired of oppression, corruption and political unrest.


 (Photo by Sasha Maksymenko)

 

It’s hard to imagine how fast the city transformed to what I currently see now. And the outlook looks like there will be no easy end out.

Unfortunately, the spotlight it continues to gain is not only the spotlight it deserves.  I hope that after this turmoil, whenever it will be, the Kiev of my memories will still be there.

And I hope that a lot of travelers will not be discourage to visit Kiev after this event. For sure I won’t be.

It’s a great city that flourishes with traditions, historical sights and of people that despite the language barrier are willing to help you. Not forgetting also that it’s a place that has one of the cheapest public transportation and bottles of vodka.

I hope that this underrated travel destination will rise back from the ashes and show the world it’s true side – the side that people deserve to see.


 (Photo by Sasha Maksymenko)

 

It’s a city that stood the test of time for thousand of years and I have high hopes that it will stand this test as well.

But now, from a mere spectator, all I can do is hope that the situation will be better.

Education

23 Best Travel Moments at 23 years old

July 2, 2011
Riding atop of a bus in Bohol

I’ve recently turned 24 this week. And with this upcoming new year, I’ve decided to take a look back at the past year and relive the 23 best travel moments I had last year. Looking back, I’m really thankful for the great year I had and travel memories I’ve spent with old and new friends alike. In a year, I felt that I’ve experienced a lot of new things – and this post is a testament to it. Lots of things happened this year, including moving back from Belgium back to the Philippines, that significantly affected my travel and personal life.

On any case, I’m looking forward to start this new chapter of my life. I will definitely aim on continuing and finishing my travel goal. I hope for more moments like this, and definitely I’ll make sure that I’ll have the same or even a better year ahead!

  • World Cup Finals in Amsterdam

Celebrating the World Cup Finals in Amsterdam

  • Shopping at the Sunday Market in Lille, France

Shopping at the Sunday Market in Lille, France

  • Volunteering for Serve the City Brussels

Volunteering for Serve the City Brussels

  • Paying for the cheapest (0,20 EUR) and most expensive (22 EUR) for a bottle of beer

Belgian Beers

  • Seeing the Grand Place Lights in Brussels for the Belgian National Day

Grand Place Lights for Belgian National Day

  • Going home to the Philippines

Going home to the Philippines

  • Taking a Canoe Trip to Pagsanjan Falls

Taking a Canoe Trip to Pagsanjan Falls

  • Swimming on El Nido bay lagoons

Swimming on El Nido bay lagoons

  • Visiting the Puerto Princesa Underground River

Visiting the Puerto Princesa Underground River

  • Surfing for the first time in San Juan, La Union

Surfing in La Union

  • Accepting Edge Coaster & Skywalk challenge in Cebu City

Accepting the Edge Coaster & Skywalk challenge in Cebu City

  • Riding on top of the bus in Bohol

Riding on top of the bus in Bohol

  • Seeing the Chocolate Hills

Seeing the Chocolate Hills

  • ZipLine in Loboc, Bohol

  • Christmas in Manila

Christmas in Manila with my fami

  • Starting 25travels.com 🙂

Starting 25travels.com

  • Watching a friend take on the Burger Challenge in Singapore

Watching a friend take on the Burger Challenge in Singapore

  • Day drinking in Tanjong Beach in Singapore

Day drinking in Tanjong Beach in Singapore

  • Reaching the 86th floor of the Petronas Towers in Malaysia

Reaching the 86th floor of the Petronas Towers in Malaysia

  • Seeing & climbing the temples of Angkor

Seeing & climbing the temples of Angkor

  • Drinking buckets of redbull vodka and partying in Siem Reap

Drinking buckets of redbull vodka and partying in Siem Reap

  • Shooting a rifle in Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam

Shooting a rifle in Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam

  • Meeting old & new friends alike during my travels

23.Meeting old & new friends alike during my travels

Education

Learning about the Vietnam War

June 15, 2011
War Remnants Museum - HCMC

I grew up knowing only a silhouette of the Vietnam War.

Despite the close proximity of the Philippines, there was hardly any mention of the war on our history school books. It ended a decade before I was born but it seemed like a forgotten episode at least when I was in school.

Growing older, I started learning about the war from its “Hollywood” representation – Apocalypse Now, Miss Saigon and various TV documentaries.

I”ve read up a bit a few weeks before I left for Vietnam. It’s always good to know the history of a country and understand where the place you are visiting today had come from.

The war was between the Communist DRV (North Vietnam) and the US-backed anti-communist South-Vietnam government. Eventually after a few decades of fighting, the Communist north defeated the south reuniting the whole of Vietnam under communist rule.

In Ho Chi Minh, the main tourist sites have a connection with the events surrounding the two-decade struggle. Amidst the bustling streets and crowded markets, it’s hard to think that a few decades ago, so much history had happened on where we were standing. There are two main sites in HCMC that I found interesting.

The Reunification Palace (then Independence Palace), where a tank crashed its gate signalling the surrender of South Vietnam. It”s now a museum with the interior remaining similar from how it looked 30 years ago.

Another place is the War Remnants Museum – a few blocks away from the Reunification Palace.

War Remnants Museum, Ho Chi Minh City

It displayed old helicopters, planes, tanks and Chinook choppers used at the war. While inside, the museum showcased photographs and various artefacts all aimed on showing the aftermath of a war that forever changed the lives of the people affected.

There were foetuses of Agent Orange victims, shrapnel from downed B52 planes, different ammunitions and a collection of hundreds of photos usually of victims and the areas devastated.

It’s interesting to note that the Vietnam War was the first war placed under constant viewing (and scrutiny) from the global media. Amidst the hundreds of photos, I particularly like this one – a precise photo of a falling B52 bomber plane taken when the plane was crashing mid-air. Kudos to the photographer!

Down B52 museum

The War Remnants museum may not be the best venue to get your facts straight as information had been skewed towards their communist government and an anti-American sentiment. But we can’t deny that these events happened – towns got bombed, families lost love ones, and futures forever shaped.

The outcome of a war is often written by the victorious side, but the aftermath, nevertheless, had disastrous consequences on both sides. The horrors of war existed on both sides and this is what was missing at the museum. Indeed, the US and its allies (including the Philippines) have brought destruction to Vietnam, but there have been attacks by the DRV particularly to their fellow Vietnamese, that were not shown. I understand that this is a government-run museum aiming to position themselves better in the society. But what I felt was that there is a reactive often aggressive response rather than a peaceful intention to move forward.

But if you ask any common Vietnamese, there’s no sense of retaliation against Americans or to anyone else, but rather the spirit and attitude that it’s time to move forward and look forward into the future.

What I enjoy about travelling is that it gives you an opportunity to learn outside a book, classroom or the press. There are far much lessons and experiences to gain from seeing the old structures from time past, looking on how a community thrives with their present lives and how people you meet are continuing to shape up their futures.

Truly, travel is part of the university of life.

PS: I’ve found out that even the Philippines sent 10,000 troops to support the war in Vietnam of course backing up the Americans – and this struck me the most. We grew learning barely nothing about the war even though 10,000 of our own troops went.

Have you trave

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