Hello world!

At long last, the old outdated site is dead and buried. Welcome to the new DerekLoewen.ca! It’s my hope to use this site to write about travel and photography, and to occasionally complain about northern Canadian weather. While you’re sitting there pondering the gravity of this auspicious moment (not much, really), I’m off scratching my head trying to import past blog entries. Hope to see you again soon!

Ukraine / Germany Trip, Day #13

Day #13: Dresden, Germany
Since today (for some of us) was our last full day in Europe, we slept in and had a nice long breakfast. We ended up spending most of the day re-packing suitcases, mailing a few large items back to Canada, and getting ready for tomorrow’s flight. A few of us are staying on a couple more days but my brothers and I have to head back to work on Wednesday. So in the early evening the three of us headed on a train to Berlin where we’ll spend the night and fly out of tomorrow.
One last ‘Kaffee und Kuchen’ before leaving Germany
Arriving in Calgary

Ukraine / Germany Trip, Day #12

Day #12: Annaberg-Buchholz, Germany
 
Today we headed by regional train to a small town about 10-15 km from the Czech border, in the heart of the beautiful Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) region. The main attractions here are hand crafts, wood work, and of course the Christmas market. For those who haven’t travelled to Germany, a Christmas market is far more than a market. It’s a place to eat, drink, socialize, and of course shop for locally-made Christmas wares. We spent most of the day at the market or browsing shops down the streets of the old town. I decided to explore a bit on my own so I climbed the church tower for a commanding view of the town and surrounding area. I explored a bit down the back streets and found some cool alleys. Later we met up for a traditional local dinner before heading back to Dresden.

Ukraine / Germany Trip, Day #11

Day #11: Chemnitz, Germany
Today we headed out by train on a daytrip to Chemnitz, an old East German city known for many years as Karl-Marx-Stadt. We wandered the downtown for a bit as we made our way to a large indoor Christmas craft and food market. The woodwork was outstanding (so was the food!)! The city is in a region (Sachsen / Saxony) which borders the Czech Republic and Poland, and which is known for mining. On the first Advent weekend of December they put on a huge “Miner’s Parade” with lots of Christmas pageantry and music. We took in the parade, followed by a huge brass band concert in front of the town hall. Afterwards we browsed the Christmas market for a few hours and enjoyed great regional food. There was a lot of great food and local craftsmanship, but for some reason it didn’t ‘feel’ as good as the Dresden market.

Ukraine / Germany Trip, Day #10

Day #10: Dresden, Germany
We took a long night train from Lviv through Poland and arrived in Dresden, Germany in the early afternoon. Border security between Ukraine and Poland was pretty intense. The train was stopped for at least an hour while official after official (first the Ukrainians, then the Polish) checked passports, checked rooms for drugs, checked passports again, asked questions, etc. I was glad when the train started moving so I could get some sleep! Unfortunately the train was a really old clunker and I didn’t sleep too well. Ah well. When we arrived in Dresden we checked in to our accommodations, did some grocery shopping, and then hit up the Christmas markets downtown. Man were they ever busy! I’d forgotten how good (albeit expensive!) the market food is. The markets shut down around 9:00pm so we headed back to our apartment.
Welcome to Polish 101! Repeat after me…
Arriving in Dresden’s huge train station
Even the train station is gearing up for Christmas
Dresden’s enormous Christmas market. It was the opening day and it felt like the entire city showed up! Crowds aside, it was still a lot of fun.
Not much can beat the ambience of a good German Christmas market.
Some go to the Christmas market for the music or for the hand crafts, but I especially enjoy the food. Pretty hard to beat a freshly grilled bratwurst on a bun with German mustard.
Oh the food. What can I say? It’s just better in Europe! These people sold nougat that they made back in southern France.
Yeah. More food. Probably one of the best burgers I’ve ever had, made of elk and wild pig meat.
Again, food. Dresdner stollen is a must-have at this time of year!
German Christmas markets will not leave your taste buds disappointed.
Did I mention the food here? It’s awesome!
German hand crafts are very cool. The area around Dresden (Saxony / Sachsen) is famous for its wood workers. There are stalls upon stalls full of intricate and beautifully-crafted wooden decorations and ornaments.
Lacework is another specialty out here (disclaimer: I took this photo for my mom!)
More local woodwork displays
To me, German Christmas music has a special quality about it…it just feels ‘right’
Manger scene carved out of wood

Ukraine / Germany Trip, Day #9

Day #9: Lviv, Ukraine
Another easy-going day of sight-seeing. We had a long breakfast and then tried to wrap up some loose ends that we’d wanted to see but still hadn’t gotten around to yet. Some of us climbed the tower of the city hall for a spectacular view of the city. Well…it would have been spectacular if not for the heavy, low-hanging cloud cover! At the recommendation of one of my friends, we also visited Lviv Handmade Chocolates. The chocolates there are superb – easily comparable to (if not better than) fine Belgian chocolate. On one of the store levels, it is possible to drink melted chocolate. Some of the others didn’t care for it (?!?) so bonus for me! After browsing around a bit, we had an early supper at Puzata Khata and then had a night at the Lviv Opera. A special Ukrainian comedy opera happened to be playing that night, called Запорожець за Дунаєм (“A Cossack Across The Danube”). As the entire thing was performed in Ukrainian we didn’t get much from the dialog, but the music and acting were great! Well worth the $10 for floor seats, and a really nice ending to our stay in Ukraine. Afterwards we headed over to the train station and took the night train through Poland to Dresden, Germany. It felt a bit sad to be leaving Ukraine; I’ve certainly enjoyed my stay here and I hope to make it back.
View of Rynok Square from the top of the town hall tower
View of the Latin Cathedral from the top of the town hall tower
View of St. George’s Cathedral and the Olga & Elizabeth Church from the top of the town hall tower
View of Rynok Square from the top of the town hall tower
Obligatory selfie from the top of the town hall tower
A local guy singing and playing his heart out
Lviv Handmade Chocolates
Lviv Handmade Chocolates – some of the best chocolate I’ve ever eaten
Lviv Coffee Manufacture (that’s not a typo) – these guys roast some seriously good coffee!
In Soviet Russia, coffee shop for you
Delicious supper at Puzata Khata – I’m gonna miss this place!
Inside the Lviv Opera House
Dressed up for the opera
“A Cossack Across The Danube”
Lviv train station – time to catch our night train to Dresden, Germany

Ukraine / Germany Trip, Day #8

Day #8: Lviv, Ukraine

Today we took it a little easier. We explored the old town some more and checked out some markets and back streets. We started with the aptly-named Souvenir Market, located near the Transfiguration Church. As the name implies, the place was full of USSR memorabilia, artwork, crafts, stamps and coins. I managed to find some USSR money for my collection. Next, we moved along to the Book Market, behind the Dominican Cathedral. Besides books, vendors sold music, more USSR memorabilia, and other miscellaneous items. We took our time with it, making some time to stop and have coffee every now and then. From there we headed over to a huge clothing market on Bazarna St (Вулиця Базарна). Once we’d poked around for a while, we decided to head back to the old town. On the way I tried a Ukrainian hot dog which came loaded with corn, cabbage, horseradish, garlic sauce, carrots, and pickles. For 17 UAH ($0.81) it was pretty awesome! Naturally we stopped for strudel again. We were a bit tired after that so we decided to relax back at the hotel.

 

Souvenir Market

 

Souvenir Market

 

Souvenir Market

 

Carmelite Church

 

Book Market

 

Book Market

 

Book Market

 

Coffee stand across the street from the Book Market. I think the lady inside may be in need of a coffee or two!

 

Heading back towards the old town

 

Transformation Church

 

Cool park bench

 

Theater / opera house

 

Paving crew

 

They’re loving it…clearly.

 

Back alley / passageway behind our apartment

 

Let’s see, how do I say this…

 

Getting further away from the Old Town, the buildings haven’t received the makeover treatment yet

 

Clothing Market

 

Clothing Market

 

Clothing Market

 

In Communist Russia, market shop for you

 

Down the street from the clothing market, vendors set up on the sidewalks

 

Need coffee? Wieners? Chocolate? I know a guy…

 

Local hot dog stand. This blows any North American hot dog stand out of the water…if you can read the Ukrainian!

 

Now that’s a hot dog!

 

Nearly back in the Old Town district

 

Setting up for the Christmas Market near the Opera House

 

Statue of Taras Shevchenko – a Ukrainian poet/artist from the early 1800’s

 

We just had to have another coffee and strudel at Lvivski Plyatsky

 

Lvivski Plyatsky

 

Latin Cathedral

 

Theater / opera house

 

Ukraine / Germany Trip, Day #7

Day #7: Lviv, Ukraine

Finally, the sun showed itself! What a difference it made for photo-taking. We headed out by foot into the old town today and packed as much sight-seeing as we could into the daylight hours. We saw a bunch of old cathedrals including an old Armenian cathedral that – from the street – looked almost like any other house/establishment. The interior was incredible with old paintings and very old architecture. We slowly made our way down to Rynok Square, the heart of the old town. The architecture here is very interesting. There is a big mix of different building styles which gives this district a classy but eclectic feel. In the afternoon we found a cool place called Львівські Пляцки (Lvivsky Plyatski), reputed to be one of the best strudel joints in town…and believe me, it was! The coffee was fantastic and the baking was out of this world. We spent some time there before carrying on with our sight-seeing. It felt good to just sit and enjoy the ambience. We saw more of the old town and raided a Ukrainian candy store (okay…we did pay). On a whim we decided to try dinner at a place that served ethnic Georgian food. It was just a tiny hole-in-the-wall place, but the food and service were awesome. Overall, a great day!

 

The things you see in the back streets of Lviv…

 

Проспект Свободи / Svobody Avenue

 

Lviv National Academic Opera and Ballet

 

Храм Преображення Господа Ісуса Христа / Transfiguration Church

 

Булиця Краківська / Krakivska Street

 

Вірменський собор / Armenian Cathedral
Вірменський собор / Armenian Cathedral – I’m not really sure what this painting is trying to portray, but that’s some next-level creepy stuff!
Armenian Cathedral view from Virmenska St (Булиця Вірменська)

 

Armenian Cathedral

 

Back alley behind the Armenian Cathedral

 

Courtyard of the Armenian Cathedral
Булиця Лесі Українки / Leci Ukrainky Street
A very popular coffee chain out here…and with good reason. I really enjoyed the cappuccinos.

 

Булиця Вірменська / Virmenska Street

 

Булиця Вірменська / Virmenska Street

 

Булиця Вірменська / Virmenska Street – spire of the Armenian Cathedral visible

 

Домініканський собор / Dominican Cathedral

 

Домініканський собор / Dominican Cathedral

 

Площа Ринок / Rynok Square

 

Площа Ринок / Rynok Square

 

Площа Ринок / Rynok Square – Diana statue

 

Coffee and strudel / cake at Lvivski Plyatsky (Львівські Пляцки)

 

Львівські Пляцки / Lvivski Plyatsky

 

Львівські Пляцки / Lvivski Plyatsky

 

Площа Ринок / Rynok Square

 

Площа Ринок / Rynok Square – Neptune statue

 

Площа Ринок / Rynok Square

 

Площа Ринок / Rynok Square

 

Площа Ринок / Rynok Square
Архикатедральна Базиліка Успіння Пресвятої Діви Марії / Lviv Latin Cathedral

 

Georgian dinner at Khinkalʹnya Na Fedorova (Хінкальня на Федорова)

 

Georgian dinner at Khinkalʹnya Na Fedorova (Хінкальня на Федорова)

Ukraine / Germany Trip, Day #6

Day #6: Lviv, Ukraine

Our train rolled into Lviv around 6am. The first thing we saw was heavy, wet snow on the ground and more snow falling quickly. Most of us hadn’t slept particularly well, and we really didn’t feel like dealing with snow first thing in the morning. We took a bus to our hotel in the old part of town, but for some reason the night manager didn’t seem very pleased to see us. Check-in wasn’t until 2pm, but thankfully he let us store our luggage on the premises until then. We were all hungry and tired, so we walked downtown and found a place to have breakfast, and then spent several hours exploring the town. Lviv has a completely different feel than Kiev – it has a more lively, western European feel. It actually feels a bit like Germany or Austria, except all the signs are in Cyrillic! We took a few trams to explore other parts of the city, and we found quickly that the outlying areas of the city are not so pretty. Decades of communism have left heavy scars in this country, and 25 years later it still feels in some ways like it’s only beginning to recover. People however are optimistic, upbeat, and very friendly. Late this afternoon we all were feeling tired. I decided to hit the sack early while the others did some more exploring. More from Lviv tomorrow!

The weather may have been damp and cold, but first impressions of Lviv were very favourable

 

Weird…

 

It quickly became apparent that restoration has a long way to go here

 

Communist-era brutalist architecture

 

Ukraine / Germany Trip, Day #5

Day #5: Kiev, Ukraine

Today was a much more laid back day. We spent several hours checking out Andriivs’kyi Uzviz (St. Andrew’s Descent), an old, steep, eclectic street that historically connected the upper (nobility) part of the city with the lower (working class) part. According to legend, St. Andrew himself ascended the street and prophesied the rise of the city. Now the street is lined with artists, craft-makers, and souvenir-hawkers. After a few hours everything began to look the same, so we headed out to the Bessarabska Market. Over the centuries Kiev has grown up around a market culture, and many of these centuries-old markets are still alive and well today. Bessarabska is probably one of the better known markets. At first glance everything seems fairly pricey, but we soon realized that we were expected to haggle on prices. Some vendors were really cool and super friendly, and others were really grumpy. One older lady saw our phones and yelled angrily at us, “No photo! No photo!” Later after dinner we spent a bit of time exploring on Kiev’s metro system. Many of the stations themselves are grand works of art, and worth taking the time to see. We didn’t have as much time as we would have liked, since we had to catch our night train to Lviv.

I think that’s Ukrainian for “awesome breakfast”

 

Apparently you’re allowed to park in the middle of the street…?
St. Andrew’s Church
Market
Around here they don’t think much of Vladimir Putin
One of the market vendors

 

 

St. Andrew’s Descent

 

St. Andrew’s Descent

 

St. Andrew’s Descent

 

St. Andrew’s Descent

 

St. Andrew’s Descent

 

St. Andrew’s Descent

 

On our way back to the apartment, stopped for a quick selfie

 

Many of the subway stations are beautifully decorated

 

Waiting room in the Kiev train station

 

Our night train to Lviv