The first stop in my trip was in Longyearbyen, Svalbard - probably as far north as I'll ever get to go:
I embarked on a cruise from here, which took me to several spots in Svalbard and then down to the Norwegian mainland. I greatly wanted to see a polar bear, but unfortunately the closest I got was to see this display at the Svalbard airport:
One of the most unique landmarks here is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, containing backup seed samples of numerous crops, to be kept safe in case of some kind of catastrophe.
Of course, there's plenty of natural wonders in Svalbard, and I'm particularly fond of the following glacier. If the movie "Frozen II" takes place in fantasy Norway, then Svalbard would be the location of Ahtohallan. "Glaciers are rivers of ice", and I never understood that as much as I did when I took this picture:
There was also some wildlife. Here is a bird, apparently agitated about something:
And a puffin caught in mid-flight:
Eventually the cruise made its way to mainland Norway. The first stop was the city of Honningsvåg:
I took a picture with some "authentic" Norwegian trolls!
And although I didn't get to see a polar bear, seeing some reindeer made up for it to a large extent:
A summer midnight at Honningsvåg:
This wasn't quite the phenomena of the "midnight sun" - more like a "midnight twilight", as the sun had already set in this picture. Honningsvåg does get the "midnight sun" on certain dates, but the cruise schedule unfortunately didn't overlap with that narrow window. Still, as you can see it's still quite bright out. Up in Svalbard we did actually get the midnight sun, but the times, the scenery, and my sleep schedule never lined up.
The cruise then traveled through some Norwegian fjords, which are justifiably known for their beauty:
This brought the cruise to Tromsø, where I disembarked. Again, the city and its setting is beautiful:
At the restaurant in Tromsø where I had my lunch, I asked for the most Norwegian food they had. They gave me this whale burger, which was quite satisfactory:
My next stop was Lublin, Poland, which was again beautiful, but in a different way from the Norwegian cities:
Why don't American cities have water fountains? They seem to be common in this part of the world.
In fact, why don't we have public spaces, where people can just come together and enjoy life? Look at the edges of the fountain - all kinds of people, enjoying their evening just watching something pretty. Lublin was the first city that finally made me realize how much better American cities could be. It had excellent walkability, beautiful public spaces, and the integration of the different zones of a city into a well-knitted whole - many of which are lacking in American cities.
The church I chose to attend in Lubin just happened to be Ukrainian. This really was purely by chance: I simply chose the nearest church I could find, and I didn't even realize it was Ukrainian until I got there for Sunday service and saw their signs in a different alphabet. But this turned out to be one of the best accidents of my trip, as I met some great people there:
They were very friendly and welcoming, and incredibly helpful to me in exploring the city surroundings, and understanding both Poland and Ukraine.
One of them even went back into Ukraine to visit her family in Kharkiv, just some 20 miles from the Russian border. The picture above is when we gathered to send her off. And soon afterwards, I too would head into Ukraine.
But I only went to Lviv, in the relatively safer western side Ukraine:
Here is my translator for the church I attended in Ukraine:
I tried salo:
An old Ukrainian grandmother told me that, since I tried salo, I was now a Ukrainian. She then asked me if I had it with garlic - which I don't think I did. So she took back some of my Ukrainian-ness, and said that I was only half-Ukrainian. Now, I am only a tourist; who am I to dispute an old Ukrainian grandmother on how Ukrainian I am? If she says I'm half-Ukrainian, so it must be. I look forward to returning someday to satisfy her conditions to be a full Ukrainian.
Here I am on a tour of Lviv, with my tour guide - find her at your_lviv_guide on Instagram!
The field of mars, where the soldiers who died in the current conflict are laid to rest:
The women of Save-A-Life international Lviv:
The Armenian Cathedral of Lviv, which belongs to one of the oldest branches of Christianity.
The Lviv National Opera, and the water fountain in front of it:
The men of Hebron Academy, an IT boot camp for orphans:
Some refugee housing in Lviv. While I first imagined something like a tent city when I heard "refugees", this was a good deal nicer. Not luxurious, of course - the insides are spartan with shared facilities for things like bathrooms, kitchen, and common spaces - but I thought this was a good compromise between cost, comfort, and functionality.
Another beautiful church in Lviv - this one was quite pleasantly bright inside, especially for one with this kind of architecture.
The Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ's Nativity, in Chișinău, Moldova.
And lastly, Trinity College in Dublin:
That was it for this trip! I learned a lot from all this - especially from the Ukrainians I met in both Lubin and Lviv. I've written that up in a separate post here, where I go more in depth into my thoughts. Go check it out!