Posts Tagged With: Ukraine

A day in Odessa: hanging in my great-grandfather’s hometown

My great-grandfather, Hyman Manoff, was born in 1884 in Odessa, in what’s now the Ukraine. This past May, I got a glimpse into my heritage by spending a day in my great-grandpa’s hometown.

Hyman Manoff was my maternal grandfather’s father, and I was sort of named after him. (My parents bestowed on me the Hebrew name of Chayim, which derives directly from my great-granddad’s first name; they then chose the relatively similar moniker of Harvey for the English-language name on my birth certificate.) At some point, Hyman married a woman named Sadie who came from the small Ukrainian village of Shpola. In 1905 he left Odessa and emigrated to the United States; he settled in Philadelphia, where he worked as an upholsterer. (I’m not sure whether Hyman married Sadie before or after his crossing of the Atlantic.) Hyman and Sadie had three children including a son Joseph, whose daughter Arlene would become my mother. And I’ve now pretty much exhausted the extent of what I know about Hyman Manoff’s life. He died in 1959, more than a decade before I was born, and I don’t even know what he looked like.

In May 2013, during my visit to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, I took a day-trip to Odessa. (I flew there from Kiev; the flight was about an hour long.) For several hours, I was privileged to wander some of the very streets that my ancestor must once have trod, and to gaze upon buildings and monuments that would have been familiar to him more than a century ago.

Odessa is a metropolis of just over 1 million inhabitants, making it the third-largest city by population in the Ukraine. My self-guided walking tour of the city began at a really long stairway.

The Potemkin Stairs

The most celebrated symbol of Odessa isn’t a building, but a staircase: the Primorsky Stairs, popularly known as the Potemkin Stairs. Rising up from the harbour to the plateau on which Odessa’s historic downtown rests, this assemblage of 192 stairs and 10 landings measures 466 feet in length. It widens as you descend; the topmost step is 41 feet wide, while the bottom step is nearly 71 feet in width. These stairs were constructed between 1837 and 1841. Here’s the view looking down the Potemkin Stairs towards the Black Sea:

Looking down the Potemkin Steps from the top.

Looking down the Potemkin Stairs from the top.

And here’s the opposite perspective, gazing up the Potemkin Stairs from somewhere just above their base:

Looking up the Potemkin Stairs from the bottom.

Looking up the Potemkin Stairs from one of the lower steps.

These stairs appeared in a famous scene in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 silent film, The Battleship Potemkin. Continue reading

Categories: Europe, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Country no. 29 on my World Karaoke Tour: I was not a chicken in Kiev

Acccording to the ratings on TripAdvisor, the no. 11-ranking attraction out of 228 things to see in Kiev is a statue of a hedgehog. That’s right: in a city whose origins may trace back to a settlement in the 5th century A.D. — a metropolis that abounds with architecturally spectacular monasteries and churches — one of the most popular sights is a sculpture of a spiny mammal. That’s the kind of quirky and charming place that Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, is. And it was in such a setting that I tied the record for singing karaoke in the most countries.

The aforementioned monument (see photo at right) depicts the protagonist of an animated short film from what was then the Soviet Union, released in 1975, entitled “Hedgehog in the Fog.” While you may not have heard of that particular cartoon, in 2003 it was named the best animated movie of all time in a survey of animators and film critics from around the world. But you don’t have to take that survey’s word for it; you can view “Hedgehog in the Fog” right here, complete with English-language subtitles!

The statue that immortalizes the star of this cinematic masterpiece was erected in 2009 in a small public park. It was created by Ukrainian artist Constantine Skretutsky. Sadly, I learned today that just this month, the sculpture was destroyed or damaged by vandals, and the pedestal on which it had stood is now empty. I don’t know what kind of sick bastards would do such a thing. Anyway, Mr. Skretutsky will restore the beloved hedgehog, and it’s expected to be reinstalled in the same park in May 2014. I feel fortunate that I got the chance to see it in person.

UPDATE (July 1, 2016): I’m pleased to report that at some point, the hedgehog monument was fully rebuilt!

A historic night for my global tour

Paying homage to the most legendary hedgehog in cinema, by visiting its statue, was one of the top items on my itinerary for Kiev; but of course, it wasn’t my highest priority. What I was most looking forward to was achieving a special milestone in my karaoke travels. Continue reading

Categories: World Karaoke Tour | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

H-Bomb’s Friday Photo, week 28: an abandoned amusement park near Chernobyl

Happy Friday, people! This week I decided that in the spring of 2014, I will finally make it to India. A visit to the Taj Mahal, is, of course, an entry on many bucket lists; and I know that the mausoleum that Shah Jahan built for his wife is just one of many unforgettable sights that await me in that exotic land. Naturally, I’m also looking forward to checking out the Indian karaoke scene! 🙂

Now that this blog is up and running again, the end of the work week means it’s time for another weekly photo from the travels that I’ve already completed. Today’s featured image comes from Pripyat, a ghost town near Chernobyl in the Ukraine. In Pripyat there’s a small amusement park that was supposed to open on May Day (May 1), 1986. Due to the catastrophic accident at Chernobyl’s nuclear plant on April 26, 1986, Pripyat was permanently evacuated and the amusement park never opened.

One of the attractions at the park was to have been a bumper car ride. Those bumper cars never carried a single paying passenger, and have been decaying for over 27 years:

decaying bumper cars

This scene is a reminder that in the end, nature always reclaims her own. This photo was taken during my visit to the Russian Federation, the Ukraine, and Moldova in May 2013; and it’s easily my favorite photo from that trip.

Oh, and one other thing: Ben Affleck??? I mean, really?

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Categories: Europe, H-Bomb's Friday Photo, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

8 things I’m looking forward to in the next 12 months

One year ago today, I launched this blog by sending my first post into cyberspace. Having never operated a website before, I really had no idea of what I was getting into. But it’s been an incredible year. Portugal, Egypt, and Germany became countries no. 24, 25, and 26 on my World Karaoke Tour; I enjoyed writing about my international karaoke experiences and other travel adventures; and I discovered an amazing and inspiring community of travel bloggers. Along the way, I’ve connected with some very cool people. Learning from them has already helped to make my travels more fulfilling.

There was a rough patch during the early part of 2012 when I got sick and suspended my blogging for over three months. Let us never speak of that dark period again, except to say that getting through it provided me with a renewed sense of purpose, and even a sense of urgency. The realisation that I can’t take my health for granted now motivates me to enjoy life to the best of my ability, and to prioritise seeing as much as I can of the beauty and wonder in this world — while getting to know the people who live in it.

As I commemorate the first anniversary of this website (an occasion that’s also known in the vernacular as my “blogoversary”), I’m eager to embark on the next 12 months! I’ve got some exciting plans lined up for the second year of H-Bomb’s Worldwide Karaoke. I’m especially anticipating the following events:

1. Santacon in New York City

One of the annual highlights of the holiday season for me is Santacon: a celebration held on the same day in various cities around the world, during which large numbers of people dressed as Santas and other seasonally appropriate characters cavort around town, make merriment, and (of course) consume generous quantities of alcoholic beverages. New York City’s Santacon is usually the biggest, featuring thousands of participants; and it’s just generally a really fun time. Here you can read my blog post about last year’s edition of Santacon. Santacon 2012 will be held on December 15 in at least 37 countries! It’ll be my fifth consecutive year of hanging with the Santas. (In case you’re wondering, I do not, myself, don a Santa outfit, beyond wearing the red hat with white trim. But hey, someone has to document the proceedings on the internet. So I still make a vital contribution. :))

2. Istanbul for New Year’s

I typically spend my New Year’s Eves overseas, and the dawn of 2013 will be no exception. On December 27 I’m heading to Istanbul, the only city in the world that straddles two continents; that’s where I’ll be as the world rings in yet another year! Continue reading

Categories: Europe, South America, travel, World Karaoke Tour | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

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