Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Kharkov's Independence Day

Sunday, the 23rd of August, marked Kharkov's Independence Day. This year marked the 66th anniversary of the day when they marched the Nazi fascists out of the city. Kharkov was the largest populated city in the Soviet Union that was taken captive by the Germans during WW2. About 70% of the city was destroyed during that time and tens of thousands Kharkovians were killed. To the left is a monument of this event in Kharkov's history, located on the street "23rd of August" here in the city. Below is a great link our teammate Mike found that takes you to a website that shows pictures of Kharkov while it was under German control:

Even though our team was on a retreat this last weekend, we scheduled a free day on Sunday to come into the city and enjoy the festivities. Tim and Rebecca Brinley as well as Tim's parents, Herb and Virginia Brinley, were with us for our retreat, so they were able to enjoy the festivities with us. The main square in the center of the city was filled with people and got even more crowded as the evening progressed. (The sign to the left says, "We love you, Kharkov!" and the picture on the right above is of people looking at various pictures of Kharkov while it was under the German rule.) There were many tents set up selling things, the popular item being plants of all sorts and sizes. In the weeks leading up to Sunday, the city was buzzing with construction projects working to make Kharkov look it's best on it's Independence Day. The hard work all paid off and it did look really beautiful. To the left is a picture of David and I in front of the Kharkov coat of arms in the park, just one of many large flower designs in the main park.

While we were in the park, we decided to take some time to play baseball with the younger boys. Thanks to Rebecca, who brought her Nerf ball bat and ball, we had a great time. The boys did pretty good and we had a great time. While we were playing, two other Ukrainian boys came over to watch and we invited them to join. They had a great time and when it was time to wrap up, they asked when we'd be playing next. Now we know to go play baseball in the park and we'll meet the local children! Here are some pictures of the boys from our game together (if you want, you can click on them to see a larger image):

Batter Up, Malachi!

And Canaan!

Silas wasn't so excited.
On the right is a photo of David and Tim playing with the boys we met in the park:

Monday, August 17, 2009

Our Holiday in Italy

About two weeks ago, we packed our bags and left behind Russian studies for a 12 day holiday in Italy. Earlier this year, some friends of ours from New Zealand asked us if we wanted to join them as they traveled around Italy. After looking at our schedules and flights there, we said yes within just a few days and we're so glad we did! We met Dan and Tarryn Pratt in Bologna, Italy and had a great twelve days together. David grew up in New Zealand with Dan, then I had gotten to know them both when I went there to work with the church. The Pratts are currently working at an international school in Saudi Arabia, so Italy was a great get-away from the norm for them as well. It was so good to see our friends again and tour Italy together! We went to 7 different cities in about 12 days, so we saw a LOT.

Our first stop was the beautiful city of Florence. We hopped on a tour bus that took us around to the main sites in the city (which was very convenient). We saw streets, Cathedrals, fountains, the Old Bridge, lookouts, etc. For the evenings, we were staying at a campground just outside the city. The place also had a pool, so we went for a swim later as well which was great! (Pictures are of us at Michelangelo's point, looking over Florence and of the Old Bridge in Florence.)

Our next stop was Lucca, a small, yet unique city. We were there on a Sunday, so most of the shops were closed down for the day, but it was still great to just walk around. There a huge walls around the city, built to fortify the city, which were very impressive to see and walk around. Another interesting fact we learned was that Lucca was ruled by Napolean's sister for a period of time. In the afternoon, we went out to the coast for a swim in the coastal town of Viareggio. It was so crowded, but the swim was certainly nice. (Pictures are of Olivia in the city of Lucca and David standing on a part of the wall surrounding the city.)

From the coast we headed back into the little town of Pisa to check out... the famous leaning tower. We are pleased to announce it is truly does lean and is still leaning even after we left it. Honestly, it was more impressive than I had imagined it to be. It was originally build to accent the church it is built next to (which is very nice), but now it seems the church accents the leaning tower. We stayed at a campground again in Pisa, so after seeing the leaning tower we just headed back to camp and played games together. It was great to have a day together to simply rest and not be too busy sightseeing! (Picture is of us at the leaning tower.)


We made the long drive down the western coast of Italy to our next stop, Pompeii. On our way down, we stopped at a little island on the way, Monte Argentario. We had lunch on the island, went for a swim in the Medditerranean, drove around the island a bit more, then headed back inland and headed to Pompeii. The second day we were in Pompeii, we headed even further down the coast to Sorrento. There we had dinner on the coast while the sun was setting. It was all very pretty! Pompeii was amazing as well. We woke up early and drove to Mt. Vesuvius, the volcano that erupted covering the ancient city of Pompeii. We hiked up to the top and enjoyed the view of the crater, then came back down and got ready to the see the ruins of Pompeii. The ruins themselves were really interesting, one of my highlights on the trip. You can actually walk down the streets, surrounded by the houses and shops that were 2000 years old. Paint on the walls, pottery, and fountains are still visible. The city was very large as well, we didn't get to see it all in one afternoon, but it was incredible! (Pictures are of the western coast, a view of streets in Pompeii, and us with Dan and Tarryn at the top of Mt. Vesuvius.)

From Pompeii, we drove up to Rome. The first day we spent visiting theVatican, seeing St. Peter's Basilica and visiting the Vatican Museum which housed the famous Sistine Chapel. The Basilica was very impressive, it's amazing how much work has gone into this famous building. The Vatican Museum had plenty of very interesting things as well including artwork, tapestries, Egyptian relics, famous statues, etc. We weren't able to take pictures inside the Sistine Chapel, which was sad, but it was just as good as we had thought it would be. It was neat being up close to the works of famous artists like Michelangelo and Raphael. After the Vatican we went to the Colloseum. Inside the Colloseum was very impressive, it is hard to imagine all the history that happened there. We were able go back and see the Colloseum at night later which was really neat to see it lit up. The next day we visited other famous fountains and historic sites, including the Pantheon. All the work and engineering it took to create the perfectly half circle ceiling in the Pantheon was impressive for sure! We could have spent another day in Rome easily, but our time was running out, so we headed to our final stop. (Pictures are of us at the the Vatican in front of St. Peter's and us inside the Pantheon.)

From Rome, we took a train to the famous city with streets of water. Our train ride went fast, especially because we played cards for about 4 hours of it! Venice was just beautiful and a perfect end for our adventures in Italy. It was a very clean city and so fun to casually walk around the streets, ride on the boats, and enjoying a little last minute shopping. Venice is famous for their colored glass items and masks. Everything was tempting! There wasn't too much site-seeing there we had to do, so we just took our time and enjoyed Venice. Even in the evenings, we ate like Italians and stayed late, enjoying our time together at the restaurants. (Pictures are Dan and David on a gondola in Venice and David and I on a bridge in Venice.)

Overall, our trip had very few things we could have made better. We had a great time with friends and saw a beautiful and historic country! Hope you enjoy the pictures. Thanks again for your prayers as we were traveling. The holiday was wonderful and we came back with lots of stories and photos, and are refreshed and renewed once again. If you're picture-happy, here is a slideshow of more pictures from our trip: