Enigma of Cricova

Moldova – a tiny country in Eastern Europe, tucked in between Ukraine and Romania. Once Moldova supplied wine to entire Soviet Union. Today it exports wine worldwide.Cricova, found in the 1950s, is only 15 kilometres away from the nation’s capital Chisinau. Local legend says that many years ago, there was a monastery on the grounds of Cricova that was destroyed in a brutal invasion.As I step into the underground kingdom of wine that holds these monks’ legacies I wonder what stories are hidden within these stone walls.Cricova is not your usual underground wine cellar, it is not a secret facility, it is an entire underground wine town with 120 kilometres of labyrinthine roads that lies 100 metres below the ground.Monks were told to stop producing wine as a dry law took place. Nowadays it is hard to imagine dry law as governments of different countries own their private wine collections here. Government leaders are often having meetings and dinners in beautifully decorated conference rooms with imitated windows.As our guide continues her storytelling, I found out that monks didn’t obey the dry law and hid in caves of Cricova to keep producing wine. They were found and killed, however according to the legend you can still hear a ghost of one monk screaming sometimes. Cric means scream after all.As our driver hits the gas pedal and our tourist cart is moving deeper and deeper underground, I feel how chilly it gets. I try not to think about the monastery ghost, instead focusing on the 1.3 million rare bottles that are held underneath the earth. My favourite sparkling spirit Cricova Rosé boast a rich, velvety texture.The heart of the wine collection is Israel`s “Jerusalem of Easter” vintage 1902. Other impressive exhibits are the 1902 liqueur “Jan Becher” of Czech Republic and the 1938 Burgundy dry wine. I wonder if anyone will ever open them and what would they taste like.Unique production of red and white wine based here allows for a constant 12 C temperature – wine likes it cold. Shift workers are manually turning bottles not to disturb the buzz but to create a special sparkling bubbles. Where else in the world would you see such gentle care?Wine – drink of gods and emperors. For some wine is a symbol of civilization, and for others – sign of love, friendship and hospitality.

Lago di Como

Flashing back to my Italian Summer of 2017, I would like to do something new.

I would like to offer you a photo-essay of Lake Como and its stunning views from different heights.

Located within one and a half hour drive North from Milan, Lake Como is tucked in between beautiful Italian Alps.

Let me guide you from the lake all the way up to the top of mountains.

I started off with a boat ride. When its 30 degrees outside, being on the water does make me happier.

Lake Como has attracted artists and celebrities for hundreds of years and its famous villas come as a result of that.

A lake of glacial origin is 425 m deep. Breath in the fresh air and enjoy views of architectural heritage of Lombardi region.

Next, lets hop on to a Funicolare that is made to be 45 degrees angle.

Hold your breath as views will get more dramatic soon.

As the journey continues, I suddenly realise how big the lake is.

The funicular railway connects the city of Como with the village of Brunate.

Many Italians own their summer houses up in the Brunate village.

Funicular railway itself is a glorious view.

Red roofs are traditional for Italian buildings.

Walk up a bit more along the charming cobblestone road.

Mesmerizing view from the top of the mountain will be worth your exercise.

And of course it wouldn’t be Italy without a church on the very top of the mountain.

From here, higher than us only birds can fly.

My journey of one of the most breathtaking lakes in the world is over and I hope that yours is just set to begin soon.

Republica Dominicana Inside Out

To me an all-inclusive trip down south wouldn’t be a real experience if I didn’t make a side trip to see how local people live in the village.

As we were approaching El Salado village on our jeep, countryside excursion guide was giving us a little insight on the Dominican life.

Many Dominicans left their native land and looking for better life in other countries. Believe it or not but Dominican Republic has its own immigrants coming mainly from Haiti, some from Venezuela and Colombia in search of jobs. Haitians speak French which is beneficial for Hospitality sector jobs. Hospitality and tourism is the main economy sector in this Caribbean destination.

Average salary in Haiti is 80 USD per month while in the D. R. it is 200 to 320 USD per month. Haiti and D.R. used to fight between each other and just like after any fight there is still some tension in the air between these two countries. Haiti was a French colony while Dominican Republic was a Spanish one. Haiti actually got their independence first. Also the first ever slaves revolution was taking place exactly in Haiti after which African slaves got free. Haitians are closer to African descent whereas Dominicans are a mix of Spanish and African descent.

Dominican Republic takes two thirds of an island while Haiti takes one third of it. Socialized health care in D. R. allows its people to have a free health care.

Hospitality workers live in the hotel type of accommodation that is close to the resort where they work. If you are let`s say Sales Manager of the resort – you live at the actual property. Typically they work 11 days straight and then off for 3 days. (So, yes stop complaining about your schedule right now). If you live in the city of Higüey which is 40 min drive from Punta Cana you can drive home every day after work. Alternatively, old school bus that was donated by state of Florida or resort shuttle will provide rides to hospitality workers.

Motorcycles remain the most officiant way for most people here. I saw as scary combinations as one adult and three kids on one bike or two adults and two kids on one bike.

Unusual type of Hibiscus was blooming everywhere.

Punta Cana was a beach area name before city was called Punta Cana. Highest mountains of the entire Caribbean region are concentrated in the D. R. with Pico Duarte Mountain being 3098 meters high.

Colorful houses are spread out on both sides of not paved road. This village is not far from touristic jam of Punta Cana and they didn’t have asphalt roads in the village. Now imagine village somewhere in the middle of the country side.

Electricity is new for this village of El Salado. Not everyone can afford to have fridge. Stove that runs on gas is often not in use to save gas that comes in expansive cylinders. Locals just cook outside on fire wood.

I saw multiple homemade showers where water naturally warms up by sitting all day in a huge plastic container above the roof. In Ukraine we call this kind of shower the Summer Shower because you can heat water like this only in a summer season. Luckily for Dominicans it is always summer.

Laundry is spread out everywhere from classic ropes across the back yard to comfortably sitting on yard bushes and piles of stones.

They built houses slowly as money are coming in slowly. You can see many houses with first floor being coat painted and second floor is on very early stages of being build. Some even have plastic windows and yes, grates on windows are unfortunately necessary in a high crime country.

Usually it is a wooden house with wooden blinds for windows. Brick house that can stand hurricanes costs 35 000 USD and that is a lot around here.

23 families created their cooperative in this village and they work together towards same goals. Producing chocolate and cigars, coffee and cacao, growing sugar cane, making delicious 8 % alcohol Pineapple wine, rum and Mama Juana – drink that is concocted by allowing rum, red wine, and honey to soak in a bottle with tree bark and herbs. The taste is similar to port wine and the color is burgundy. The legend behind this Dominican Drink says that once a female healer was treating everyone with herbs and was like a mother to everyone so her famous drink got called Mama Juana. It is also considered to be the Dominican Viagra.

By the way cigars contain 30 times less nicotine than cigarettes. So you will not only look cool but actually save your health for longer if you switch to cigars.

Do try one of my favourites: Coco Loco cocktail based on coconut milk, rum, vodka and a little bit of magic.

Loteka lottery can be seen on every corner. Just like Canadians, they dream to win lottery and have better life. Music is everywhere. I feel Latin passion in every note and move. There is a discotheque in the village too.

Most of the population is Catholic and that explains church in the village. Protestant are concentrated in Samana region of the Dominican Republic. For tropical hurricane safety reason Dominicans bury their dead in crypts above the ground. Cremation is not popular here.

Little girl was running behind our jeep and so we yelled “Stop!“ to our driver. We already gave our donation bags to school and to the family we visited. My coworkers and I literally had nothing. All of a sudden Heather took her sunglasses out and said:

‘’Here, give it to the kid, they are too big for me anyways’’…

Others were waiving to us and we were waiving back to them. Sometimes all you can give is a smile and some times that is all that is needed anyways.

I find purest souls in poorest countries because these people are not spoiled by wealth, they are very honest and real, they stay true to their roots and to their lives.

Not-So-Good Old Days (Toronto, Canada)

I was fed up of hearing about how great things used to be in the good old days. Luckily, Old Town Toronto History Tour, operated by Tour Guys opened my eyes on murder and disease, ghosts and chaos, catastrophe and struggles of the early days of Toronto.

Turns out Old Town Toronto has seen its share of calamity over the past 150 years. Thanks to our guide Jackie I heard the best stories of the past two centuries.

William Lyon Mackenzie, who served as the first Toronto mayor is known to still walk around his former house, now a museum located just steps away from Yonge-Dundas Square.

Down the road there is another hunted building – St. Michael’s hospital.

Originally this hospital was created by small group of nuns from St. Joseph’s hospital.

Ghost of Sister Vincenza is still taking care of her patients on the 7th floor of St. Michael`s Cardinal Carter wing. Room number 5 doesn’t exist anymore because patients were running out scared of there every single time.

Gorgeous inside and out St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica is right across the street from St. Michael’s hospital. Where else in the world do you have 2 hunted houses in a row and a church across the street from ghosts?

Believe it or not but the last public hanging in Canada happened on December 11, 1962 which was after World War II. This last public hanging took place in the Courthouse square next to Adelaide court.

A couple of men, convicted for separate murders, were hanged on that day. “You are the last 2 man to be hanged in Canada“ was announced to them. I doubt that this announcement made them feel any better. By the way, people used to wear their best clothing to public hangings.

Even though many countries still have the death penalty, I find it hard to believe that it happened this late in history as we do not kill people in Canada, we just don’t. Even if they are found to be guilty of awful things.

Around that time was also when the largest immigration of the Irish occurred. The Great Irish Potato Famine of 1847 was the cause of death, mainly from starvation. Since it was a very bad year for potatoes many Irish were arriving to Canada already sick and collapsing, and those who survived were not welcome to have certain jobs.

We continued to walk to one of the oldest neighbourhoods in central Toronto called Cabbagetown. Originally this nick name was given to insult Catholic European immigrants who were growing cabbage in their back yards. Local people found it disgusting. Isn’t it ironic that nowadays new European immigrants make fun of cabbage being planted in public flower beds in Canada? I guess Canadians learned to love cabbage too much. In Europe cabbage stayed right where it always was – in the back yard.

Almost every Torontonian knows Massey Hall – one of the most popular Toronto’s concert halls. But very few know the Massey murder story.

The Massey family came from the south and were a generous and wealthy family. They gave Toronto many of their buildings including Massey Hall. However the Massey family legacy was not all that perfect. Old Toronto saw a famous murder case: Made Carrie Davies killed her employer Charles A. Massey who was trying to get his way with her. It was clearly self-defence. She took the revolver and shot him dead, he died almost instantly. She was found innocent in 1915 which I find pretty shocking as women didn’t have too many rights back then.

I also learned more about Cholera than I probably wanted to know while we were making our way to St. James Park – a former cemetery that contains hundreds of Cholera victims left undisturbed to this very day.

A Cholera outbreak in 1832 killed at least 20,000 people in Canada. This disease was feared because it was deadly and no one understood how to treat it or how it spreads.

Eventually Cholera was killed by a beer! Specifically for this reason brewers started to make beer with lower percentage of alcohol so women and children also could consume it. That’s how Canada got its low buzz beer but we do owe the victory over Cholera to it.

Across the street from the cemetery is the St. Lawrence Hall. It was the first place of public gatherings because it was the first big hall that could fit all the people. Old legend claims that the Maple leaf became the Canadian symbol there.

As parliament was trying to decide what is going to be the Canadian symbol, a Maple Leaf flew into the room through an open window and an ‘AHA’ moment just happened naturally.

The tour ends at famous St. Lawrence Market, the longest running market in the world. Originally it was only operating on Saturdays and it was an outside farmers market. Now it is open Tuesday thru Saturday. You will find here fine delicious foods that you can’t find in a supermarket.

If you are a history buff you have to take this complimentary tour and learn about early history of Toronto, as it grew from the Town of York into the city it is today.

Hear the stories most would rather forget and may be you will even gain a better appreciation for being alive today.

When to go

Toronto is enjoyable all year round. Best weather to do a walking tour is April through September. Tour runs daily at 1:00 PM (90 minutes walking tour). October through March tour runs only on Saturdays and Sundays at 1:00 PM.

Where to stay

Really anywhere in downtown is good. I recommend to stay in Sheraton Centre Toronto Hotel that is located right next to Old City Hall and overlooking the Nathan Phillips square.

Where to eat

Do visit St. Lawrence Market. Enjoy meals and snacks from all over the world along with the best Canadian foods. You can also buy souvenirs here.

10 Must Visit Places In Ukraine

Eastern Europe has a lot to offer to its visitors, in some aspects even more than Western Europe.

Ukraine is the biggest country in Europe with unbelievable hospitality, more than a century old culture, not an easy history but one very positive spirit.

Some of you may think that it’s not safe in Ukraine because of annexation of Crimea and current war conflict with Russia in the Eastern territories. You will be surprised to find out that it didn’t really effect tourism.

If you are a history buff, love great food, stunning architecture, plenty of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, mountains and seas – Ukraine’s got it all!

1. Lviv

Lviv (city of Leo) is the unformal capital of Western Ukraine and is more than 750 years old. A city with poetic spirit, narrow medieval streets paved with stones, architectural decoration in different styles all preserved in its original form. In ancient times Lviv was the capital of a mighty Slavic state called the Galicia-Volyn Principality. Being a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and later Poland contributing to the formation of the city’s unique image. You have to see Lviv Opera House and High Castle which is an area from where you can see the entire city. Do not leave Lviv without visiting famous Lviv’s Brewery that is successfully brewing beer since 1715.

2. Chernivtsy

Chernivtsy is a city close to the Romanian and Moldavian border in Western Ukraine and is more than 600 years old. Most of the architectural contributions were made by the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and back in the day Chernivtsy was often called Little Vienna. Brick roads of the city center were swiped daily with rose bouquets and only the rich were allowed onto the Kobilianska street. Now this street is pedestrians only and has numerous cafes and restaurants with a very modern vibe. The highlight of this city is Chernivtsy National University which is the former Residence of the Metropolitans, and has a status of UNESCO World Heritage Site. And don’t forget to stop by the Drama Theater as it is one of a kind, there are only 3 equivalents to this building in entire Europe.

3. Kyiv

Kyiv is the nation’s capital and is the largest city of Ukraine, which is located on Dnipro River and filled with beautiful churches and cathedrals like St. Sophia’s Cathedral and Kiev Pechersk Lavra (Monastery of the Caves). The history of Kiev is going back for at least 1400 years. According to the legend, Kiev was founded by three brothers, Kyi, Shchek and Khoryv, and their sister Lybid. Kyiv’s prosperity was directly related to Kievan Rus – country that existed from late 9th to the mid 13th century and from which both Belarus and Russia later deriving their names. The highlight of Kievan Rus was introducing Christianity by King Vladimir the Great in 988. Kyiv is also home to a lot of monuments of World War II and the deepest subway station in the world – Arsenalna station. If you’re in town, be sure to visit Andriyivskyy Descent filled with artists and arts. Take a stroll on the beautiful Maidan square and Khreshchatyk Street, feel its rebel spirit as that’s where fatal fights between protesters and government took place in 2014. And if that didn’t give you goose bumps – visit ghost city of Chernobyl which is only a 2 hour drive north from Kyiv.

4. Crimea

Crimea Peninsula is located in Southern Ukraine and is surrounded by the Black Sea. It is known for the Crimean Mountains filled with artifacts and lost treasures of previous civilization – Skif’s tribes. Subtropical climate of Yalta city attracts thousands of tourists to visit every year. My favourite spot in Crimea is Swallows Nest which is a stunning castle on top of a giant cliff and is now converted into a high end restaurant. Just imagine sipping your cocktail here and watch the sun setting into the sea on a summer afternoon.

5. Odesa

Odesa is a southern city of Ukraine located on the Black Sea and is a marine port for navy, cruises and cargo ships. It is famous for its Festival of Fun of the 1st of April – April Fool’s Day. Odesa history starts as early as in 1440. A Unique opera house and maritime station, the famous Privoz outdoor market, Potiomkin’s Steps with funicular ride and most importantly its humorous people will not leave you indifferent.

6. Carpathian Mountains

Carpathian Mountains are in Western Ukraine, with the highest mountain of Hoverla being 2061 metres high. Enjoy Carpathian Mountains all year round and go hiking, biking, hunting, discovering remote villages and feeling the shade of ancient trees. There is something particularly special about the mountain nation of Hutsuly. They know all the herbs and all the secrets of these mountains. I would suggest you visit Bukovel ski resort, National Park Hutsulshina and wooden arts and crafts outdoor bazar in the town of Yaremche where you can find beautiful national clothing, wooden toys and sheep wool carpets.

7. Sofiyivka Park

Sofiyivka Park in Uman is the real world landscape architecture masterpiece of the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th. The park was established in 1796 by a rich polish magnate, Stanislav Schensny Pototsky, in honour of his beautiful Greek wife Sophia and was presented to her on her birthday in May of 1802. The park is spread out over the territory of 155 hectares and is situated at the outskirts of the ancient town Uman, Vinnytska oblast. It is considered to be the standard of the landscape combination of water, land, architecture and sculptures. This masterpiece was created in the shortest period of time, it still astounds the imagination of visitors. Walk its exotic gardens, discover unique scenery and cozy spots. Feel the love that is still in the air.

8. Khotyn Fortress

Khotyn Fortress is located on the bank of the Dnister River in Khotyn, Bukovina region. The fortress was built in 1325. Hotyn Fortrees was the center of numerous wars and fights. In 2007, the fortress was named one of the Seven Wonders of Ukraine. It is also a National Ukrainian Architectural Preserve as of 2000. Swim in the Dnister River with the fortress view, visit the church on the hill next to the fortress, pretend to shoot from a very old cannon and breathe the history of these thick walls.

9. Kamianets-Podilskyi Fortress

Kamianets-Podilskyi Fortress was first built to watch over the River Smotrych. There’s even evidence to suggest that a settlement has existed on this rock outcropping for close to 2,000 years. Kamyanets-Podilskyi, one of the oldest cities in Ukraine, is considered a phenomenon of great cultural importance. Kamyanets-Podilskyi town has the fortification system that is unique all over the Europe. Kamianets-Podilskyi fortress and Khotyn fortress are within 45 minute drive from each other. Brilliantly convenient, isn’t it?

10. Pysanka museum

Pysanka museum (Ukrainian Easter egg museum) is a one of a kind museum in the world and it is located in the town of Kolomiya, Ivano-Frankivska Oblast. The Museum, built in 2000 is famous for the fact that you can spend all day wondering about different traditional styles of Easter eggs paintings. The museum is not only shaped like an egg (14 m in height and 10 m in diameter), but parts of the exterior and interior of the dome are painted to resemble a pysanka. Embrace yourself in a friendly atmosphere and local vibe, very hospitable people and tons of souvenirs. Do eat the pierogis, kebabs, bacon potatoes and cabbage rolls in Korchma which is a traditional Ukrainian café with a real wooden stove in the middle of the restaurant.