Panorama of Potemkin Steps (click to enlarge)

The Potemkin Steps just got served.


And then there were 5…



…reunited with 10 more at none other than the famous Potemkin Steps.



At a first impression, Odessa combines a snapshot of former Soviet glory with the modernizing influences of the Western world: It’s a city of endless blockbusters of dreary Soviet-style apartments interspersing with countless gaudy boutique shops of brand name retailers.

On the day we arrived, we were hit with a fog that made the atmosphere particularly gloomy — especially it being on the day after Christmas. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop us from having a joyful reunion when we met up with the rest of the group.






Backtracking a little before the reunion; upon leaving the Odessa airport the 5 of us (Jan, Ryan, Cynthia, Kai and myself) caught Bus 117 (2.5 UAH fare, these are the yellow buses parked at a stand, on your right after you exit the airport) which took us on a 45 min bumpy ride towards the city center. We got off a little early to park our bags at the central train station’s Left Luggage facility (20 UAH, open 24/7).


Bus 117

The Odessa Train Station



Afterwards we headed up about a mile northwards(15-20min walk) to meet the rest of the group at Potemkin. Along the way we appreciated how easy it was to walk around central Odessa, as it’s a pretty small city.


City Hall

Pushkin Statue on the top of the Potemkin Steps

The Old Stock Exchange

The Odessa Opera House

vul Derybasivska


And now we’re all here, cozyin’ up to a nice dinner at an underground beer garden & restaurant the bigger group found earlier this morning. As for our missing single casualty, Carolyn Hou, she ran into some trouble when her flight unfortunately got diverted to Kiev due to some made-up “weather problems” by the airline. So we’ll be meeting her tomorrow at our hostel before the ICBM tours…can’t win ’em all.

Besides that, getting together 15 people from all around the world at Odessa? Doable (c’mon Carolyn, step your game up).



- At time of posting in Odessa, it was 4 °C - Humidity: 30% | Wind Speed: 2km/hr | Cloud Cover: foggy


Sorta Like Deja Vu

Sorta Like Deja Vu



It would appear that fate like to play games with my travels.

Two Julys ago I had been given a last-minute invitation to attend  (i.e. I crashed ) a wedding, which was hosted by a well-known Dar family in Srinagar. Last May I had been given a last-minute invitation to visit Hawaii, which again I was hosted by a well-known Dar family in Honolulu. Although both my hosts share the Dar family name, went above and beyond in taking care of me despite last-minute arrangements, and hail from the same northern region of South Asia, these two families really have no relation to each other (at least it doesn’t seem to me that they know of each other directly).

This weekend I’ve been invited to attend a wedding in Hawaii, hosted by the Dar family. And I’m doing all of it within a 3 day time frame. It already feels like a deja vu. Like it’s meant to be. I could be looking into this too much, but I guess it’s what allows the world to twinkle before my eyes.

Regardless, will anyone be around?



Meet the Trainspotters

Meet the Trainspotters


This is the true story… of 16 strangers…

picked to live on a backpack…travel together and have their lives blogged…

To find out what happens… when people stop being polite… and start getting monsoonal

The Monsoon Diaries



The last challenge was to see if I could take 8 American strangers — few with prior backpacking experience — into the Islamic Republic of Iran. No big deal.

This time we’re heading to politically friendlier regions of Eastern Europe and La Hispaniola, but with an otherwise unfriendly itinerary: of the 6 nights in Eastern Europe, only 1 of them will involve a real bed; the other 5 nights we’ll be getting by on overnight trains hopping from Odessa to Warsaw. And we will partake in a kind of alternative backpacking that which Lonely Planet has called the finest examples of “dark tourism”: the Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster, Pripyat, ICBM Nuclear Silos from the Cold War, the Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

Afterwards we return to NYC for less than 24 hours, celebrating New Year’s Eve in the New Year’s Eve capital of the world, before heading to sunnier Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

And within the span of a mere 12 days, we will have stepped foot in 3 continents, 4 countries, and 15 cities all the while enduring freezing temperatures of an Eastern European winter to the baking heat of La Hispaniola island. Time to know what we’re made of.


I would like to introduce:


 Ukraine & Poland (12/25-12/31)

Calvin "O Captain! My Captain!" Sun: New York, NY; Columbia University '08, SUNY Downstate College of Medicine '14

Maria "DREAMer" Villa: New York, NY; CUNY Baruch '13

Olgi "The Journalist" Qendro: New York, NY; CUNY Baruch '13

Andrew "The Gator" Chang: Washington, DC; Georgia Tech '08, University of Florida '11

Anonymous "The Shire" Anonymouos: Oxford, United Kingdom; Smith College '12, University of Oxford '13

Ruchika "Sangria" Sangani: Syracuse, NY; Columbia University '12

Cynthia "The Dreamer" Koo: New York, NY; Columbia University ’10

Krystle Jiang: Boston, MA; Boston College '13

Ying "Boiling Blood" Zhu: New York, NY; CUNY Baruch '11

Gareth "The Guvnor" Johnson: Xi'an, China

Mandy "Wingwoman" Cheuk: New York, NY; Columbia University '10

Jennifer "Starshine" Le: Richmond, VA; Old Dominion University '11, Eastern VA Medical School '15

Charmant "Steampunk" Tan: Atlanta, GA; Georgia Institute of Technology ’11, '13

Simon "The Engineer" Lu: Long Island City, NY; Polytechnic University '07

Alana "The Financier" Tung: New York, NY; Columbia University '12

Jan Elma Ferrer: Park City, Utah; UC Santa Barbara '10

Ry Williams: Park City, UT; Sonoma State University '06


Haiti & Dominican Republic (1/1/13-1/6/13):

Calvin "O Captain! My Captain!" Sun

Ben Tso: New York, NY

Jackie "The Artist" Ho: New York, NY; Columbia University '14

Sam Wong: New York, NY; CUNY Baruch '13



Where we’re going: 3 continents, 4 countries and 15 cities in 12 days.


Odessa, Ukraine


Kiev, Ukraine


Sorta Like Deja Vu

Winter 2012: History Comes Alive

“We cannot bear to regard ourselves simply as playthings of blind chance, we cannot admit to feeling ourselves abandoned.”

 Ugo Betti.

History comes alive this winter.

How many of us dare to consider ourselves as part of some greater context, placing our everyday joys and ordeals into perspective? Easier said than done. Many of us inhabit our daily worlds undergoing the same routine: get up, head to work/school, run some errands, go to sleep, repeat. And we see only what we see, barely acknowledging what exists beyond these bubbles of our everyday lives. The internet and the media may make that bubble bigger, but it’s not like the real thing — if it’s not immediately smack dab in front of us, then it doesn’t register.




So some of us dare to pop that bubble: Some of us dare to travel off the beaten path. But some of us forget that that our far-flung destinations are more than just places — many of them shoulder painful stories from the past most of us only read about in high school textbooks. But their existences remind us that the world and our history have always been bigger than we know, they implore us to understand why the world is the way it is now, and they imbue us with a quiet responsibility of owing something to the future. But for us to bear witness to some of humankind’s recent imperfections may require a bit of emotional fortitude.

This will not be your average cookie-cutter experience. (That being said, the Monsoon Diaries was never about following convention).



Whereas last year we celebrated Europe via well-traveled paths in Spain, Gibraltar, Morocco, and Portugal, this year we’re undertaking a more alternative, more emotionally demanding itinerary: World War II. The Holocaust. The Chernobyl Disaster. The Cold War. Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Panama Canal. The Dominican War of Independence. The 2010 Haiti Earthquake. Sure there’s still plenty of room in the itinerary to party and relax on a beach, but we’ll also stretch the limits of travel. And we’re going to come out of it perhaps having learned something, something about the world, something about human history, or something about ourselves.



The dates are from December 26th, 2012 – January 6th, 2013.

The trip will be split into 2 parts; the first one from December 26th to December 31st will be in Eastern Europe. We’ll then return to NYC to celebrate New Year’s Eve (12/31), and then from January 1st to January 6th we’re in Central America. As always, you can join us for one trip, both trips, part of a trip, or all of it.

The first part of the trip to Ukraine and Poland is projected to be around $452 USD per person including all lodging, tour fees and transportation. The second part of the trip should be no more than $300 USD per person. If you include flights, the whole 2 week trip is projected to be less than $2000, including  flights, lodging, transportation, and food (I can even probably get it to be lower than $1500 if flight prices drop as much as they should over the next few weeks).


FYI, this itinerary remains flexible; nothing is set in stone until the day we purchase our plane tickets, so suggestions or changes are more than welcome!


It’ll be 6 countries and 3 continents in 12 days…



Odessa, Ukraine


The world famous Potemkin Stairs...look it up


Kiev, Ukraine