Veliko Tarnovo: Bulgaria’s Royally Remarkable Town

Veliko Tarnovo: Bulgaria’s Royally Remarkable Town

Bulgaria might not be a country you typically associate with empire, but that’s only if you don’t know your swashbuckling, bloody, battle-hardened Bulgarian history. It’s as packed with glory and tragedy as Game of Thrones, but without the dragons. And Veliko Tarnovo is its epicenter. Dig into the history of this picturesque town and find out why you should visit Veliko Tarnovo. Read More


Tuva: Explore Siberia’s Remote and Undiscovered Treasure

Tuva: Explore Siberia’s Remote and Undiscovered Treasure

Travelers find that Tuva has more to offer than simply its remoteness and its peoples’ mysterious musical traditions. Ancient Scythian burial mounds filled with golden treasure, the hospitality of nomads on the steppe, animistic shamans, and Buddhist lamas all contribute to Tuva’s peculiar appeal. Add to those a salt lake teeming with such diverse wildlife that it’s been designated a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site, and you have a worthy destination indeed. Read More



On Location at the Home of The Zookeeper’s Wife in Warsaw, Poland

On Location at the Home of The Zookeeper’s Wife in Warsaw, Poland

The Warsaw Zoo was opened in 1928, just 11 years before the Nazis invaded Poland. During the occupation, the Nazis closed the zoo, and sent the “best” animals to Germany, killing those they deemed less worthy. The zookeeper and his wife stayed on and risked their lives to help some 300 Jews escape the Warsaw ghetto, and continue to safety through the nearly 100-acre zoo grounds. This is the true story of The Zookeeper’s Wife, a film based on the book by Diane Ackerman, itself based on the memoirs of Antonina Zabinska, the zookeeper's wife. It’s a story about the hazardous choices that ordinary Poles had to make during the Nazi occupation. Read More


Undiscovered Siberia: A Riverboat Trip on the Yenesei

Undiscovered Siberia: A Riverboat Trip on the Yenesei

In the summer of 2001, my travel companions and I were on a one-time custom-made tour that MIR had put together, partnering with people from a USDA program affiliate called Project Aid Siberia (PAS), now defunct. We were to ride along as PAS workers motored down the Yenesei, delivering cartons of food aid to the remote Siberian villages along the shores – not an easy job. Read More


Ancient Autographs: Graffiti of Kiev’s St. Sophia Cathedral

Ancient Autographs: Graffiti of Kiev’s St. Sophia Cathedral

Built in the early 11th century by Kiev’s first Grand Princes, Volodymr the Great and Yaroslav the Wise, St. Sophia’s imposing asymmetrical green domes, rising over white plastered walls, are tipped with gold, and golden scales cover its 94-foot central dome. Apparently, though, some early Kievans weren’t as impressed as they should have been with this magnificence. Researchers with magnifying glasses have over time discovered some 300 graffiti scratched into the walls of the cathedral; most of them are at eye-level, but a few of the graffiti artists needed ladders or scaffolds to make their marks. Read More


6 Obscure – but Vital – Aspects of the Undiscovered Countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

6 Obscure – but Vital – Aspects of the Undiscovered Countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

But besides their complicated histories and red-roofed capitals, there are other reasons to travel to the Baltics. Here are two striking elements for each of these yet-to-be-discovered countries that make them so arresting. Read More


Good Manners and Good Food: A Home-Cooked Meal in Siberia

Good Manners and Good Food: A Home-Cooked Meal in Siberia

During my years of travel with MIR, I've been served a lavish birthday dinner in Uzbekistan, dined at Moscow's venerable Metropol Hotel, coped with the gooey football-shaped potato cepelinai (think Zeppelin) in Lithuania, and been seated at the damasked dining tables of the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express. But there's nothing like dining in a private Siberian home. I’ve eaten meals with Siberian families at homestays in Irkutsk and Ulan Ude, and enjoyed a feast with a family of Old Believers in the village of Tarbagatay. Each was thoughtfully prepared and graciously offered, and came replete with leisurely and engrossing conversations about our respective countries, families, kids, professions, and travels. These intimate repasts have been highlights of my travels in Siberia. Read More


The Puzzle of Plovdiv, Bulgaria: 6 Reasons to Discover This Ancient City

The Puzzle of Plovdiv, Bulgaria: 6 Reasons to Discover This Ancient City

Plovdiv, Bulgaria is one of the oldest cities in Europe – in existence since the 12th century BC, but populated since the early Neolithic age. People settled here on a site protected by three hills, and the many layers of its history begin far below the level of today’s city. Putting together the puzzle pieces of Plovdiv’s splintered history creates a portrait of an enduring and diverse civilization built on layer upon layer of local cultures and connections. Let’s dig down and discover some of the parts that make up Plovdiv. Read More