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IST Layovers

Processed with VSCO with m5 presetIstanbul.

A town that hit me with so many emotions when I saw it for the first time. “Eastern charm with western mind”, “New Rome” and whatever else people call it, it deserves it all. One of the most unusual destinations, as I wrote in my early note. The city soul is so hard for me to understand, but the place itself is so easy to visit if you leave in Russia or in Europe that it is a shame not to do it. This summer I stopped there for a whole day twice. Long but comfortable daytime layovers must be a usual thing for the Ataturk Airport – a hub between Europe and Asia. I had one when I was flying from Tbilisi to Togliatti, and we also had time to go to the city with the parents when we were flying from Russia to Venice.

I don’t have many pictures to post, since I already have a complete gallery from my trip couple years ago. Neither do I have my usual food recommendations, since EVERYTHING there is worth a try. Must-eats for me are always iskender, original börek, rice pudding and künefe, but wherever I eat them, they are always a mouthorgasm. Therefore, this post is just a tribute to comfortable layovers, airports being close enough to city centers, cheap cabs of Istanbul and always-pretty city of cultural fusion.

First visit was hot and sunny. I walked so much and got so exhausted at some point, that I just fell asleep on the grass between the main mosques. I am not sure how acceptable that is, but there were other girls sitting there, so I didn’t hesitate a moment. I noticed, however, that every woman was wearing a long skirt. Not sure if it is my imagination after recent political changes and regime shifts in the country or locals’ appearance really had changed, but 2,5 years ago the crowd seemed to look a bit more “western” to me. Anyways, I always wear a long skirt when I know there is a chance I am gonna be sleeping on the ground between two main mosques, so I don’t have to feel uncomfortable.

I finally got up to the Galata tower. too! No queue at all, even though I was there during high season this time. Last time, we traveled in November, but the line was unbearable and we didn’t make it. Early morning is the answer, I arrived there 1 minute before the opening.

It was raining during my second day spent in Istanbul, but that visit was actually more unusual. Thanks to my dad, who persuaded us to take a ride to the center and walk under the rain. It was early in the morning, too, and we had extreme luck of being the only people inside the entire Sultan Ahmed Mosque. It was a fairy-tale coming to life, when I pushed the doors to get to the inner yard always full of tourists groups…and it was empty. No lines to enter, no sounds, just us and one of the most impressive constructions of this world. I would highly recommend to chose bad weather and the least popular times to visit the sight. Taking parents to one of my favorite places with sweets, Hafiz Mustafa, to warm p a bit while having künefe with turkish coffee felt great, too! I love coming to the city which I already know well with someone new there and showing them around, makes me feel special and pay more attention to details, not to disappoint my guided group.

After having visited Istanbul in any kind of weather, I can tell that it is definitely a place to be during any season and with any company or even alone. A beautiful palace-like city with smells of sweets and coffee, people friendly in a typical Turkish hospitality way, but also very educated and up-to-date, which makes everyone a good conversation partner, it is a great destination choice.


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Georgia

Processed with VSCO with p5 presetThrowback to hot sunny Georgia!

We made a trip with my best friend in September, which was my heaven since I love the heat, but a hell for pale Polina. So, if you choose to go during the hot season, be ready for it to be very hot, at least in Tbilisi.

I will spread this post in three parts, starting with the capital.

1. Tbilisi Processed with VSCO with m3 presetWant to mention from the very beginning, it will be more about looking at the pics than about my poor narrative, since it’s been a while and I just have a mixture of very bright, tasty and windy memories on my mind.

The city is a large mirror of the places that were really nice during the Soviet Union times. It still looks very Soviet, with the way people are dressed, “plombir” ice cream cones, plastic tables outside, flea markets with very strange things. I can’t really call Tbilisi beautiful. It’s different, it has something hidden beyond all those huge concrete walls. But it’s still very dusty, and when the weather is windy those dust storms actually hurt the skin. White shoes which I of course had on are no option either. And just in general, there is that slight feeling of still being in the Soviet 80s everywhere. But everything is quite cheap, even compared to rubles, not even mentioning EUR/USD. The time we went to a super expensive restaurant on top of Biltmore Hotel and had a proper dinner with wine, it was a price of a regular simple meal I am used to – that was, of course, an awesome surprise. Especially considering how delicious the food is! I have been a big admirer of Georgian cuisine since years, but no fancy Georgian restaurant compares to grandma’s khinkali freshly made in the middle of Caucus mountains away from civilization.

Tbilisi opened up some awesome places for us, too. But I had to ask my Georgian friends for recommendations, there is not much you can find on the web. So, sharing the knowledge:

  • Biltmore Hotel rooftop restaurant: for the view. The food is typical European which you can eat anywhere, pasta is far not as good as the original. Some local meats were good, though, as well as the wine list. But the view!!! It’s very empty, I guess it’s just too expensive compared to everything else in the region. The first date there could be a bit awkward in that silence with irrationally high number of staff watching you. But the view!
  • Prospero’s Books: a very cute hidden garden in the city center. Not much of food choice and self service, but it’s very cozy and quiet.
  • Erekle II street in the Old town has a lot of cafes with local food as well as international, nice breakfast choices, cocktails, life music, wine tasting.
  • Linville, not far away from the pedestrian area mentioned above and also close to few cool boutiques with Georgian designer items, is also very hidden but offers super delicious food! The best khachapuri I had there! And you feel like you are sitting in your grandma’s living room, so authentic is the design.
  • Davit Aghmashenebeli street is very nice in the evening. Lights, music, dressed up people. It’s quite touristy and a bit overpriced, there were also tricky situations when we were told a restaurant doesn’t have a menu or that there are some homemade specialities offered tonight, but you can’t know all prices in advance. Nothing ever ended with a disaster and a check impossible to pay, but still be careful and don’t let charming hospitality of the Georgian people trick you, they are doing business, at the end of the day.
  • Funicular in the old town brings one to the top with a picturesque view, and a cafe there had awesome bakery! Try the donuts and black coffee 😉
  • Carpe diem and Lolita were also very nice cafes. We didn’t hit Moulin and Amodi, they were a bit tricky to find and we gave up, but I heard they are worth searching for! And we got more rooftops and hotel lounges recommendations: Radisson, Ghumeli inside Iota hotel, Rooms hotel, 142 steps cafe for another view. They love the views there! I have noticed that when the city is not necessarily beautiful, it always has a lot of rooftops accessible. Makes sense to me! Especially when it is surrounded by beautiful landscapes.

2. Fabrika Processed with VSCO with m3 presetThis place is so awesome, that it deserves its own chapter. When Polina told me that we are going to Tbilisi, my reaction immediately was that we MUST book our stay in Fabrika. I had heard about the place before from pretty much everyone who had been to Tbilisi. “Fabrika” stands for “factory” in Russian, because this is indeed an old factory that was rebuilt in hotel, creative area with shops, popups, cafes and bars. At night it turns into a party place which hosts many DJs and events like Boiler Room. Just everything about it is cool: expats and the coolest local people, the music, we were brought to an after party from there by some guys we started a conversation with when I was staring at their sandwich and they gave me a bite. And the sandwiches! Try the wine steak one! I can’t describe the atmosphere very well there since I am just bad at writing, bit it’s somewhat a mixture of meeting your friends at your secret place to sit on the corner couch and talk about things nobody besides you understands and coming to a fancy bar dressed up to take a whole bottle of wine there, for it to be followed by another bottle. The working spaces there seemed very cool, too. I wish we had something like that there, I’d host all ACUNS meetings, birthdays, first dates and drinking nights there!

In general, I liked the city; any city which has awesome food can’t be a disappointment to me. But I’d definitely advise to travel around the country and go to the mountains!

3. KazbegiIMG_7099When deciding how to get to the mountains, we went old-school and booked a bus-trip. You can drive there, too, but to get to the last destinations there is a jeep needed anyways, a proper hardcore jeep and such driving skills that made me fasten my seatbelt, but when the driver said I didn’t need to, I explained that otherwise I am gonna fall out of the window. A bus trip from Tbilisi shall be something around 50-60 lari with jeeps included, be careful when booking. They stop at many beautiful destinations that a regular driver might not know and pass by, so it’s actually one of few times when I don’t mind taking a guided tour. But with headphones on, not to listen to the guide and to properly read it all up myself, of course. I was also a bit surprised by how bad people speak Russian there. After Azerbaijan I was sure more people would address me in Russian, but the young generation speaks English only, with very few exceptions.

The mountains are just gorgeous. I have been to the Alps so many times that it’s hard to impress me, but seeing such nature in summer is also very impressive. Especially the mountain rivers and lakes took my breath away.

As Polina said, our life is currently a “wine tasting with 10 years experience”. Georgia WAs definitely a perfect destination for us!


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Baku

Processed with VSCO with m5 presetI hate writing about summer travels. There is always just so sooo much I wanna share ad hoc, but since the next trip is always to come super shortly, I never manage to catch up. Ending up with a disaster of countless pictures and chaotic memories, I postpone again, usually finally trying to recover at least something already around Christmas holidays. So much gets lost and never shared that way 😦

Time to try my best. It’s easy to start with this post about Baku, because I spent only one day there. When I was planning my trip to Georgia, not even knowing where my starting point would be, but willing to visit Togliatti after, it was clear I’d have multiple connections throughout my route. Ahh I don’t even wanna recall how many troubles I as usual had with those, after one flight of my endless chain got cancelled. When I was checking for alternatives and saw a long layover in Baku, I didn’t hesitate a moment.
      As I was approaching the capital, I had a feeling that I had already been there, because I have so many acquaintances from Baku that all seem to love their city and often tell something about it. However, the desert around surprised me a bit; I didn’t realize how much south I already was.
     The airport is already gorgeous. I haven’t seen many of those «miracle rich oasis cities in the middle of a desert» in my life, so it was indeed wonderful. I was aware that taxi drivers are tricky and knew in advance the price to agree on. They started with 70 manat but I bargained down to 25, which was the absolute maximum, according to my local friends. On the way back from the city center I myself offered 15, which was obviously much more, than the driver parked in front of a luxury hotel expected. So, be creative. The ride itself was a lot of fun, too. If you are familiar with the culture and music a bit, you know what I mean. Driving across a desert suburb with extremely entertaining video clips and a fun driver was a good start to my cultural experience. The guy cared so much about me getting where I need to and being safe and finding my way around, that was adorable. I must be honest, being a blonde drags attention to you. But nothing extreme. Everyone is just interested, wants to be helpful and nice. I never felt uncomfortable, but you just have to understand local men’s way of approaching women and not get offended, but smile and accept compliments. I tried to dress appropriately, too, unlike the tame when I landed in Morocco alone in the middle of the might wearing shorts. I put on a long skirt and had a silk cloak, but tried to keep it pretty, since I knew the locals are always very nicely dressed when they leave houses. My expectations were correct, people were quite overdressed for a hot midday, but there were also women in more open clothes, so I’d say don’t freak out with your outfit, chill, but if you are a very European type and don’t wanna drag too much attention, avoid extreme minis.
     Drawing conclusions about the cultural side, I must not skip the main part of any culture for me – the food. Ah, that food! I knew very well that Azeri people have feasts 24/7 and looove food and large get-together dinners, I had also tried the original dolma and qutabs from my friend Jamila, so I was very excited to get a meal. Oh my god, even some flat breads they were baking on the street as a fast food smelled better than my whole luxury dinner in Moscow the night before! I didn’t have much time and wanted to see the city, so I didn’t devote time to going to a restaurant. Therefore, no special recommendations this time. But a 2-weeks gastro-trip to Baku and eating everything I can see at Jamila’s wedding are definitely on my bucket list! This was just the intro to Baku for me, so I stopped at a small cozy cafe in the old town area and ordered eggplants stuffed with cheese and chestnuts and some local but dry wine (it exists; for instance, in neighboring Georgia I was really missing dry wines). No doubt, Azerbaijan has the best eggplants in the world!
     My tour across the city was very rich in emotions, too. I loved the weather, it was very hot but windy. I can see it getting quite nasty in winter, though. But my day there was just perfect. I understand why the locals enjoy long walks along the promenade. It’s something I always miss in Russia – nobody really goes on a walk together. Everyone is always in a rush, running like dung-beetles, and well, it’s too dirty and dusty everywhere to enjoy walking. How a city in the middle of a desert is clean, but all Russian towns are covered in mud, is still a big question for me. Baku is really neat. Marble tiles, wrought iron gratings with roses, old light stone houses and hilly narrow streets building up a labyrinth of the old town are endless perfect settings for photo-shootings. The markets are interesting, too. It’s not just souvenirs or something like stone replicas of monuments like the ones they cell in Egypt or Mexico (well, everywhere), there is really cool beautiful stuff to be found there. I wish I could have brought a carpet or a lamp! People are very friendly and not really annoying, unlike all the markets I remember. But I must remind you, that I am a Russian-speaker, so are most of Azeris, in Baku at least. So I might have a totally different side of the story from tourists who don’t speak Russian. One man had a conversation with me in good English (probably the only one who couldn’t smell from 200m that a Russian is approaching), but I am not sure how well the rest of the population speaks English.
     Just about three hours of walking was quite enough for me to see everything I wanted. My route was quite random, but I knew that the Old City and the promenade are where I have to go. I started from the President Park with the view on skyscrapers, then entered the Old Town where I wandered for very long exploring every corner, then a beautiful walk along the promenade with astonishing sea views and just very nice atmosphere of by-passers holding hands and smiling at me brought me to Hilton Baku and the House of Government – two interesting pieces of architecture. I assume there is much more to see in the city, but I was very satisfied with what I managed to cover on such short time. The Old Town is tiny, about the size of the first district of Vienna, but it’s so beautiful that I could spend a week just there. Eating!
     Baku is definitely a must-see, so are their egg-plants a must-eat!


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UPD: Life Ball & PIONEERS Festival

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

Happy Summer, guys!

I am super excited for the upcoming season, despite currently struggling through finals and writing my thesis. It’s gonna be amazing, yes! As always, summers are always amazung, aren’t they?

I actually have been receiving a lot of positive surprises recently, and my life twisted around gradually 😉

But now – it’s just a short update to share that all is super cool, and I am just being too busy with uni stuff. Will soon write about our trip to Croatia; I got it as a present from my girls, it happened, and it was greater than great!

 

 

Another awesome event that recently took place and got us involved – Life Ball! Anyone who lives in Vienna knows its scale; it’s been getting more and more international attention, as well. More accurate info can be found on their web page, and I just want to share that it was absolutely great! It is so much more than just dressing up to go out and party all night long in one of the most beautiful sceneries ever. Spectacular way to raise aids awareness.

The coolest thing is not only the Ball itself, but the afterparty, which everyone in the city names the biggest party of the year. Yay!

 

And one more thing I wanna tell you about now – Pioneers Festival.

So, from the beginning, Pioneers is, as we were saying all the time, where tech startups meet investors. They do a lot of cool stuff in different cities, but as Vienna is trying to become a startup hub now, the huge event is held here annually. I feel honored that I got to work there, and my tasks were just a dream: I was part of backstage crew, helping out the main photographer and managing speakers before and after they go on stage to make sure that all media procedures are followed, and we get pictures and interviews with everyone we needed. One hell of stress it is, won’t deny! But the scale of the event was just breathtaking! And all of numerous afterparties that the organizers held were super cool, with a possibility to talk with the most creative and innovative people in a very chilled atmosphere. I even got to meet the president of Slovakia😱

Three days of excitement, responsibility pressure and fun fusion! Thank you, Pioneers, and I honestly hope to get a chance to join it again next year!

 


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Lisbon

1Hey folks!

My exams week is finally over and I can find some time in between love, food, running around for my new volunteering (info to be updated veeeery soon as it’s gonna be amazing) and attempts to write my thesis, or at least get properly started and write a bit about our last trip, to amazing Lisbon.

First of all, I was astonished by the city. Never even expected it to be so marvelous. Admit it, most of us have that stereotype in our heads that Portugal is a poor place with shabby facades and dusty streets with abandoned dogs on them. Hell, no! I mean, we have only seen the capital and the ocean coast a bit, so I might be totally wrong with my impression of the country being a very bright shiny friendly place. Yes, there might be animals on the streets and very old buildings in some parts, but it’s so charming! Those cracked tile-works got my heart immediately as we walked to our place the first night we arrived.

Now switching to some more concrete vital things, otherwise I will be sharing my impressions here for hours. We stayed at São Bento, to the west from Bairro Alto: it might not always be the location closest to all the main attractions, but it is for sure the prettiest district we have seen. All those facades you would see on the postcards of Lisbon will surround you wherever you turn. See my recent photopost to get a clue.

The must-see list in Lisboa was mostly restaurants and small shops for us, as for all the beautiful views aver the ocean we went on a roadtrip. For beautiful pics my advice would be just to walk around the city as much as you can, there will be a lot of random view decks on your way.

But I can tell you about a very cool place with outstanding view, cold cocktails and very good music! It is TOPO rooftop terrace on top of Martim Moniz mall. When I discovered it in the bowels of travel blogs, I was sure it would be some posh place, like any kind of rooftop in Vienna is, for instance. Don’t get confused, it;s absolutely not! The place is very chilled, the waiters are friendly and relaxed (aka serve yourself), anyone can come in and dance there and you don’t need to look fancy. Very good ambient, we went there during daytime and then came back at night – loved it!

Now coming to my favorite topic – tips about food. Portuguese cuisine is quite diverse and very appealing to me personally, because it is based on seafood and also offers a lot of sweets. The national one is pastel de nata – a must-try! You will see it everywhere, literally on every corner. The original recipe is said to be invented at the legendary bakery named Pasteis de Belem. It’s quite far away from the city center, so we went there on that day when we rented a car. But Lisbon seemed quite developed transportation-wise, so I’m sure it’s not a problem to get there. We honestly went for pastel de nata only and imagine our surprise when we saw a gorgeous monastery right next to the place – Jerónimos. Sitting on the loan in front of it’s tremendous walls enjoying a 6-pieces pack of pastel de nata was one of the most enjoyable moments of our trip.

But if you are short on time when visiting Lisbon and want to quickly grab a traditional desert anywhere – I would say all of those that we tasted there were very good! So, just go for it, wherever! I bought some packs home from Fabrica de Nata.

There is even such cool thing as a cocktail with the taste of pastel de nata 🙂 Processed with VSCO with a6 presetI tried it at Dom Afonso o Gordo – a restaurant in a very vivacious neighborhood near the main Cathedral – another place to visit. From there take a bicitaxi to wherever you wanna go – it starts from 15 euros, but your trip will include several circles around the district and quite an interesting excursion. Our driver was super nice, charged us nothing extra for driving further than his route would normally be, and he told us really cool things about the history, stopped at the Roman Empire ruins so that we could have a sneak peek. I usually don’t go for such typical for tourists leisure, but it was so much fun! Watch out though – the town is very hilly, sometimes roads feel like real roller-coasters, so it’s easier than it seems to simply fall out of bicitaxi 😀

Away from sightseeing, back to food: the best seafood, according to bloggers, is at the restaurant called SeaMe. I tried to reserve a table there almost a week in advance and it was fully booked. Maybe too popular. I still managed to try their food though! Scroll down to find out where 😉

Not having got a booking at SeaMe, we went to another place that everyone was crazy about – Eatfish. Amazing! All just the way I love it: stone tables, no tablecloth, dimmed lights, pretty bar setting. And extremely fresh seafood! But not only the fish quality wins there, also all of the sauces in each dish were so perfectly correlating to the base taste, it was a pure enjoyment! A fun barkeeper who would satisfy any wish we possibly had made our evening as well. The place is a bit overpriced for Lisbon, but it’s absolutely worth it!

Right next to Eatfish there is another spot that I would recommend visiting – and that would be Mez Cais, a small cafe with tacos and different tapas. Aaaaand right next to that one there is Taberna Tosca, where I ate one of the most interesting dishes ever – prawns pancakes. That area around Praça de São Paulo is also full of little boutiques and galleries, where you can find a lot of handmade jewelry, interior design and fashion. I am pretty sure there are another nice cafes there, and that bar in front of Eatfish looked like a lot of fun at night, too.

A district where we lived, away from the loudest streets, was full of very appealing places as well. I didn’t write down all of the names, unfortunately, but for breakfast everyone highly recommends Heim Cafe, that was just round the corner from us. Round another corner there was that place we accidentally found on our first night and fell in love with – Petiscaria Ideal. It is very loud, cozy, with long shared tables and very delicious plates to share. Right away gives the feeling of a truly traditional for Lisbon meal. The wines were very good, too! And don’t hesitate to ask a waiter for some local ones, I wasn’t unsatisfied a single time. Watch out during public holidays, though – a lot of places I wanted to try were closed due to Easter.

We wanted to get even further away from tourists’ popular places and try eating somewhere where only locals go. For that I would recommend Marisqueira Uma and O arco. It is amazing how they are just 20m away from that weird street where there are a lot of restaurants with menus in 20 languages containing pictures of the dishes. And you know this hateful thing, when some guy is standing outside attempting to drag you in there? Please, never get involved in that kind of eating experience! Just turn round the smallest darkest corner – and you will find that small street with the best food in your life.

One of the most famous Portuguese national dishes is Cataplana. It is basically anything cooked in a big metal bowl – the way I understand it. Most of variations are seafood-based, with rice or thin noodles. At O arco we took one octopus and prawns cataplana for the two of us. Guys, there was a WHOLE octopus in there! I am a very good eater, I can take a lot, like a 50cm pizza for just myself is no challenge for me. That was like the second time in my life I couldn’t breathe from how full I was. And I couldn’t stop neither could my friend – that’s how delicious it is! Incredible, you would get maybe 10% of that amount of seafood in one dish in a typical fish restaurant, and do I even need to say that the whole cataplana was cheaper than one tentacle of an octopus usually is?

Last but definitely not least in my food-story will be probably the only place where everyone MUST go no matter what you like to eat: Time Out Market. It is a shared between many rivals pavilion, like one of those you would expect to be at when visiting some food festival. The difference is – the festival is always here. The most well-known restaurants and food (alongside with souvenirs and flowers) shops of Lisbon are represented here in a form of small tent-like cooking spaces. You order whatever you like from as many places as you can manage to try, sit at one of long shared tables, not forgetting to grab a glass of wine or a cocktail from the bar in the middle, – and simply enjoy it rolling your eyes up.

That is where I managed to try SeaMe food – the best crab meat, I admit! But it is really hard to chose what to go for if you can’t eat until you explode (like we can), as all of the places look extremely attractive. If I lived in Lisbon – I would not ever have traditional weekly brunch with friends anywhere else. Check out for the opening hours before checking it out – they are quite short, unfortunately.

There is more and more I could find out to share with you, but I am so sure I will be back to Portugal soon, that I want to leave something for the next times – hopefully I will have multiple visits to this magic country in my life!

I can conclude with a big thank-you to the locals, I think. Not only are they maintaining some real magical spirit in the air of their beloved country, but also they are simply very nice people. Very good English as well! Everyone would greet us, talk so friendly to us; a lady in the shop gave us advice about boys; the guy at the car rental dropped down the deposit to just couple hundreds for us; our elderly neighbor always smoking on the balcony facing ours is just the sweetest thing on earth; every team member of any place we visited was very helpful. It seems like people are just happy there. And they want to make every visitor happy.

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ACUNS Annual Conference 2017

Implementing the 2030 Agenda

The 2017 ACUNS-UN Vienna Conference—hosted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)—is a major multi-stakeholder forum for Vienna-based organizations, civil society, the diplomatic community, and academics to discuss actions, potentials and challenges linked to the realization of the Agenda. The conference is an occasion to share best practices, explore potential future collaborations, and engage in inter-sectoral and inter-agency dialogues. (source: acuns.org/2017-vienna-un-conference/)

This main theme is sustainable human development. Participants learn about the contribution of UN-based organizations as well as about their future projects. Great ideas shared, outstanding people presenting.”No-one is left behind” was the motto of this annual meeting. 1

I was lucky to be a part of this major event being held at the United Nations Office in Vienna. Being a volunteer from ACUNS was a great experience which gave me not only the understanding of how such occasions are organized and the chance to listen to the greatest people from the UN-based organizations, but also realize myself as a part of hardworking team with its responsibilities, choices to be made rapidly and any stressful situation to be dealt with together.  0I was a member of ACUNS social media team doing mostly all the photography (the toughest part is not the technical one, actually, but knowing what and where to upload asap so that all the social media channels can operate their life broadcasting properly) but also helping out with posts whenever someone wasn’t there to do it right away – which is what matters the most for SMM.

I had “my” speakers as well which means that while running the social media channels each of us had to write transcripts of their presentations to later summarize it in one press release ACUNS coordinators will prepare. I consider myself lucky to have had one of the most interesting speakers: Ana Raffo-Caiado, director of technical cooperation department at IAEA and Alois Mhlanga, the UNIDO representative. Nuclear energy being one of the main cornerstones (and probably the most problematic and controversial one) of sustainable development is a very interesting topic to finally get deeper into. But I honestly found all five panels as well as scholar’s sessions (especially the one devoted to child marriage in Syria!) very informational and extremely exciting. Cuban representative in the UN, Juan Antonio Fernández Palacios, was the most appealing speaker to me, who also managed to run his session at the conference perfectly well organized.

Very surprisingly to myself, I found the “Cleaner Industrial Production and Energy for Sustainable and Inclusive Economic Growth” panel the most exciting one. Not having been aware of the topics much, I was so caught by the discussion that at some point even realized I was forgetting to do my job. Well-done! Such a pleasure indeed.

And the main reason why I am writing about this event is, of course, to thank my team. I find it quite hard to work in trams in general. It’s usually associated with stress for me, and I’d rather do everything myself or have some separate tasks. But this time we all were one mechanism that had to function properly without any breaks. And I believe we managed that quite successfully despite any technical problem we faced. Thank you guys for this first working experience that has become such a positive one for me. Thank you for sharing all stress, time-pressure, gallons of coffee, GBs of information, jokes and after-party cakes. You are the best ❤

I am really looking forward to staying a part of such great team and participating in the future events held by ACUNS. And don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter 😉


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Mexico

Processed with VSCO with g3 presetHaving known in advance that i would be spending quite long time in Cuba, I thought why not fly somewhere else around for a weekend? First I wanted to go to Colombia, but the flights were only to Bogota and my Colombian friends told me it’s not fun at all by itself, but I wouldn’t have enough time to get to the icean coast. And, well, honestly, once you have Cuban beaches around – you don’t really crave for more. So, I gave it another thought and booked a flight to Cancun, Mexico.

After my third week in Havana I got to the familiar José Martí airport expecting hell on customs again. Well, it wasn’t worse than any control in Russia. Next I was surprised by how comfortable the low-coaster flight around Latin America is! In Europe low-coasters mean the shittiest ever possibility to travel, sometimes I’d honestly chose a donkey. But my cheap flight Havana – Cancun was so nice! Very comfortable seats and alcohol offered! Bravo, Interjet!

Entering Mexico is one hell of a challenge, too. I needed a visa that I had to order in advance. I was so happy I had done all the bookings before arriving to Cuba. Those going there, keep in mind that it’s impossible to purchase any tickets and book any hotels from Cuba, only with tourist agencies (a friend of mine who I met in Havana wanted to join and tried to book something) that have very limited and very expensive range of routes available.

Apart from the visa thing, they give you two papers as you arrive. Both are only in Spanish. Ok, I know enough basics to fill in the migration card. But the customs one was really tricky for me as there are things like «how many dead animals samples and guns are you carrying across the boarder» in Spanish. Leaving the aircraft and getting inside the airport was tricky, too, as the doors were simply locked and we were all standing there until some smart guy just pressed the emergency door and we all calmly walked away as the sirens were going off. Lovely! Welcome to Mexico!

After having passed passport control being asked tons of questions (who the f*ck would want to escape to your country that you are that strict at the boarder?!) the next thing I noticed was how kind and helpful the taxi drivers were. Even after I had already told them I don’t need one (love saving two bucks), they still helped me to find a bus, and when I realized there was no money exchange outside the airport, they kindly walked me back in through the back door using their passes. Awww! After a bit pushy and sometimes annoying cuban guys I didn’t expect somebody to be so nice to me.
Another advice for those who want to save 2$ – there IS a bus to the Cancun center! Nobody knows how to find it and would tell you it doesn’t exist – it DOES. Fight the system, climb the fence as you go right leaving the terminal – it IS somewhere there! I promise! The company is called ADO and there would be a small window in front of the bus stop where you can purchase a ticket. They are extremely cheap and the buses are comfortable and fast. Taxi would cost approx. 250 pesos which is cheap, too.
The way itself was very emotional for me. We were passing by some stadiums which looked exactly like the one my American high school had. I got so sentimental! It was the first time in South America for me since I left the US after high school. I knew Mexico must look something like the US suburbs, but never expected it would give me so many feelings. I miss the US school times. Miss out stadium where I was throwing shit at P.E. teacher because didn’t want to run; miss playing in a tennis tram, leaving classes to go to the tournament with the mates; singing and eating donuts on the way back from another match we had won. Being in that kind of high school made me feel like being a part of something great, being in a team which always had my back. I am very happy for the Mexican kids because they seemed to have the same as I was observing them on that stadium.
Anyways, back from the nostalgic vibes. It took me about half an hour to get to the city. Then I struggled for 2 more hours to find my hotel, watch out with addresses in Cancun. Finally, some american guy came up to me and spent half an hour of his evening to search with me. How lovely is that! The people in Mexico are really nice from what I have seen.
The receptionist spoke no English; I guess even the visiting Americans speak Spanish here. Luckily, after 3 weeks in Cuba, mine was just enough to manage checking in and asking simple stuff.
I went for a walk down to the ocean. As I was staying in the center, not on the beach, everything looked quite industrial. But the streets are still very bright and colorful; there is music playing from every other door; people are dressed up enjoying summer night heat. It was quite crowded outside, and even when I walk away somewhere in the middle of nowhere to see the lighthouse, I didn’t feel unsafe. I guess the tourist zones of Mexico are perfectly fine with that. img_8148
My next pleasant discovery was a shop at the gas station. Seriously. I was thirsty as the heat was tremendous so I stopped to buy some water. And omg! There were yogurts there! Cheese!!! American chocolates! Beer! I swear, I started crying as I was holding some sweets, pack of cheese and wine at the cashier. It excited me so much that I decided my night was already complete, went back to the hotel, observed a horrible car crash on the way, turned on the TV – and OMG! There were Avengers! That was really a moment of appreciating the American culture. I felt so complete just watching TV, eating my chocolates and falling asleep with no lizards in bed. Cuban experience really teaches to appreciate simple things in life so much more. We must be thankful to live in the first world. img_8152
Good morning! It’s 5.15 a.m. and I am already on track! I was so excited to see as much as possible during my short stay in Mexico that the sleep wasn’t in my schedule.
I walked out of the hotel as it was still dark and started walking to the giant chain hotels area being sure that this is where the best view must be. I even managed to understand how the public transportation system can help me in getting there. Taxis are extremely cheap in Mexico, but sitting next to the locals on their way to start a working day is just very interesting for me. They didn’t have unhappy faces on the way to work at 6 a.m. which surprised me a lot. But as the bus made a turn – I realized why. With THAT view I would wake up before sunrise every day.

I got off near Playa Tortugas and took couple hours to walk along beaches in both directions. That was incredibly beautiful. The sunrise, bright purple sky reflected in warm water, white sand and the first surfers already on the horizon. Dreamlife.

I got back to the hotel right on time for breakfast. They made me take off my shoes as I was entering the restaurant zone and sprayed me with mosquito repellent. The food was good (and very diverse after Cuban rice and platanos), too.
The sun was up, temperature was rising – the time for me to board an air-conditioned bus on my way to Chichen-Itza! One can get there from the ADO bus terminal (intersection of Tulum and Uxmal). Take the 1st class – almost same price, but takes much less time.
On the way to Chichen-Itza I was not smart enough to just make it so I got off at the wrong station and this is how I visited Valladolid – a small village in the middle of Yucatan. A very bright and positive place. The locals were just selling fruits and dreamcatchers literally everywhere. Even though there were no tourists and I was the only blond non-Spanish speaking person, no one stared or pointed at me. So I guess they are either very polite or they still manage to see a lot of foreigners around. I walked around for couple hours to find out how I can now get to the pyramids, take pictures and grab some local food. Everyone I ran across seemed to enjoy posing for me shooting.
I finally made it! The archeological site of Chichen-Itza!Processed with VSCO with a6 preset
There wasn’t a long queue to get in; i’d recommend arriving there either very early in the morning or couple hours before closing. I’d say 1,5hrs is enough to see the whole territory. But save some time for lunch and souvenirs there, too! I never buy souvenirs since trip to Cairo in 2005 I think. But there I couldn’t resist. They really ARE beautiful. From stone plates and skulls with maya or inca ornaments to handmade silver and gold jewelry unlike any you can see in stores. Bargain! It works very well there. For me it was even more exciting as the first Spanish speaking experience outside classroom. I spent quite a lot of time looking at all the stuff, and there is a lot, and eventually got a very good deal on a scull, plate with maya calendar for my parents and a silver ring. Another thing that surprised me that the sellers were not annoying at all unlike any souvenir market you can imagine. They are very friendly, even gave me some presents, but they don’t yell at you or try to persuade you to buy something from them. So, you can smile at them not being afraid to spend too much time in front of one tent.
Back to the maya ruins. The place is very relaxing and surprisingly quiet. It’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere, so the nature around is indeed beautiful. There are tourists, yes, but the territory is so huge that you don’t even hear any voices. I enjoyed just sitting on the grass there and watching the main pyramid for some time. Until I realized I was sitting on an ant hill. Try walking deeper in the forest behind the ruins of columns, too. It’s an incredible feeling of uniting with the nature that had stayed untouched for thousands of years, only the Mayas managed to get there. I actually have no idea how they walked through the jungles there. They don’t seem to be passable at all. I had noticed from the plane already that there are just few roads across Yucatan. But from the bus it became even more clear that forests around are simply impossible to even walk through. Scary stuff for somebody like me who had barely seen jungle only on the way to volcanos in Hawaii.

Even though getting to Chichen-Itza takes some time and effort, I still highly recommend saving a day for that once you are in Yucatan. It’s worth it! Absolutely astonishing place. And you get to see some real Mexico around, too, unlike bays where only tourists stay. I remember that I called the Chichen-Itza site a very kind place when was still under impression.

Back to Cancun. I was so satisfied with my long productive day once I got back that wanted to just relax, have good dinner and walk around a bit more. So, the last night and the day after I spent just trying different tacos, walking around the town and going down to beaches. Playa del Carmen is an amazing place. It’s a bit further away but definitely worth going. The main hotels have beautiful terraces and rooftop bars, simply explore! If you want to get away from the hotels area and try the downtown – I liked a lot the area around Avenue Yaxchilán. Nice restaurants and bars, cool music from every door, life performances and people dancing. I even ran into a huge bikers’ party there, that was very impressive as well! My US experience memories striking again. img_8150
A weekend in Mexico was very informative and on the other hand relaxing after all the Cuban energy and bustle. Definitely a place to come back to!

But even after such nice and civilized time I was very excited to go back to Cuba, that much it got my heart. More stories from there are coming.