I have a theory, and it’s not about people who live in Lake Erie, although I have been listening to the cast recording of “Bandstand” a lot lately. (I have to throw some bones to the theatre readers when it’s not Thursday.) I think the most vegan-friendly cities are places that are extra-trying to show how progressive they’ve become since their not-so-great pasts, whether consciously or not. In Europe at least, the places that were hit hardest during World War II, whether literally by being destroyed or politically by falling prey to fascism, have been incredibly vegan-friendly in my experience. When I’ve been in Berlin, for example, with its endless vegan signs and tattooed yoots and overall sense of freethinking and tolerance, it seems like the people are on a particularly passionate mission to prove that they’re no longer Nazis, and with that sort of progressive thinking comes veganism! I got the same vibe when I was in Warsaw, Poland, which was decimated by the Nazis during the war as we learned last week. Warsaw’s rebuilding after the war came with sort of a rebirth similar to Berlin’s, and I was delighted to find that it is a bona fide vegan paradise.
Warsaw is one of the most surprising cities I've ever visited. Usually, I am a tough critic when traveling (especially if I don't have a bathroom or a nice bed). But I became a fan of Warsaw almost instantly and jumped right into exploration and appreciation of this important city. It's a city of contrasts: it feels hospitable and welcoming yet still retains an air of eastern European coolness. The desire to progress and rise above its history is palpable, amid seemingly innumerable monuments to the past. You feel almost overwhelmed by all the history surrounding you, yet every building is almost brand-new. There's a lot to understand when visiting Warsaw, and it's a rewarding undertaking. Even though I had zero expectations (or maybe because of that), Warsaw quickly became one of my favorite places.
Finally, oh dear god finally, we have reached the final overnight train of our 15 week Eurasian sabbatical. And it was a doozy. I guess you can't peter out with a whimper, you gotta go out with a big bada boom. Not only did we have to share the cabin with a crazy lady, but we also had dirty sheets, smoky air, a customs border stop, AND a bogie change! You know how much I love bogie changes! If you don't remember, that's when they replace the wheels to account for changing tracks and it takes forever and the bathrooms are locked during it and it's so loud so you can't sleep through it and it's all just a BIG OLD MESS OF FUN it's not fun. I was just hoping that our destination, Warsaw, Poland, would be worth it, and by (prince) George it really, truly, incredibly was. But still this journey BAH LEW. Let's check in with the little baby laptop.
Arriving in Kyiv (that's the proper way to say Kiev, Ukraine; remember?), I was nervous about the food since my travels as a vegan through other parts of Eastern Europe have been less than thrilling. Luckily, that's all in the past, it seems, because Kyiv's vegan game was off the chizzy! Okay no it isn't off the chizzy - wait till we get to Warsaw and Berlin! THOSE are off the chizzy - but Kyiv at least made a convincing argument that it knows the chizzy exists. It is fully aware of and in close proximity to the chizzy! (Chizzy means chain.) We had a good amount of time to explore the vegan options and traverse the whole range from delicious to disappointing and back again.
Taking a tour of a disaster zone seems like it maybe would be lower down on the list of must-dos for a tourist visiting a foreign country, but when you are in Ukraine, a visit to Chernobyl is essential. This nuclear disaster from 1986 (actually, from April 25, 1986 so happy(?) anniversary) is something all of us have heard of, but few know the details about how it affected everyday people (in large part because of all the government-imposed secrecy and/or lies (‘ALLEGEDLY’)). Understanding how devastating the catastrophe was to ordinary people is difficult without seeing the damage firsthand. We hear too often about this or that terrible event that occurred here or there but when you’re removed from it, it’s hard to really grasp what happened. Visiting Chernobyl, we learned so much more about not only the disaster but about Ukraine and international politics in general than we could have otherwise. Seeing and experiencing this in person is necessary. And there is so much information about this horrible event still coming to light after years of lies and cover-ups, so a visit now is super interesting, providing a fascinating look into this sad history.
I have to admit that I did not know about Kyiv. Not Kiev; I knew about Kiev. But that's all I knew. Let me splain. As we planned our trip from Russia through Eastern Europe and back home to London, my husband said "we should go to Kyiv"- pronounced Keev. And I said "where is this 'Keev' I never heard of it" and he was like "Kyiv is the capital of Ukraine??" and I was like "no that's Kiev and it is pronounced 'Kee-ev'"and he was like "wat" and I was like "what is happening" and I learned that Kiev ('Kee-ev') is the Russian word for the city, and since gaining their independence, Ukrainians have been very serious about reclaiming their own word for their capital city, 'Kyiv' (Keev), the one syllable version that was unknown to me. Can we blame the Russian bots for my ignorance? Now I'm all smarted up and ready to talk about this great city, Kyiv. Or Kiev, if you wanted to I guess. I like the sound of the two-syllable evil version better, but my preferences as a non-Ukrainian don't matter. Do as the people want us to. It's Kyiv.