Uelen, Russia


Uelen coast

Uelen coast, image by Mário Gonçalves.

Uelen in 1934.

Constructing a yaranga, 1913.

Uelen is a selo (village) of about 720 people in the Russian Far East, at the crossroads of the Bering Sea and the Chukchi Sea. It’s also near Cape Dezhnev and on the Uelen Lagoon. Russia’s easternmost settlement, it’s not exactly renowned as a major tourist attraction.

Evidence exists for settlement in the area for at least 2,000 years. Previously, the city was called Ulyk, which means “land’s end.” Its old name in the Chukchi language was Pok’ytkyn, which means “flooded place.” The name Uelen first appeared in 1792.

Close-up of a yaranga, 1913.

Uelen appears in my first three Russian historicals, as the place where some of my characters are able to get on boats heading for Alaska Territory or America. After the Revolution, Uelen continued its tradition of a bustling American trading post. There would be Americans (including military) and ships going to America there. It might’ve been a little more challenging than leaving by a major port in a bigger city, but Uelen is more tucked out of the way. It would be relatively easier to leave, either legally or clandestinely, in this small trading village.

Uelen’s first school was established in 1916, and an early Arctic research station was created. During the Fifties, many native Siberians were relocated to Uelen when their villages were declared uneconomical and closed. The village’s population thus increased quite a bit, and also got a huge boost to its cultural reputation with the influx of native art carvers.

The village is well-known for its ivory carvings made from walrus tusks. Many masters of this genre of art lived and worked in Uelen. The Uelen Bone Carving Studio is unique as the world’s only art museum of this type. The village also has a choir who’ve long collaborated with Inuits in Alaska.

Uelen’s Orthodox church, image by Mário Gonçalves.

Yuriy Sergeyevich Rytkheu, widely considered the father of Chukchi literature and one of Russia’s most important native Siberian writers, hailed from Uelen. He wrote in both Russian and Chukchi—novels, poems, short stories, articles. His writing earned him the Maksim Gorkiy RSFSR State Prize, the Grinzane Cavour Prize, the Order of the Badge of Honour, the Order of the Red Banner of Labour, and the Order of Friendship of Peoples.

Archaeological excavations have unearthed a burial ground of early whale hunters, from 500 BCE-1000 CE, proving that Uelen was a very important settlement in antiquity. Excavations have also discovered more walrus carvings, many of which are now on display in St. Petersburg’s Pyotr the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography.

In spite of the village’s small size, they still have a beautiful Orthodox church made from wood, with a green roof and turrets, and a small golden onion dome.

More information:


http://www.arcticphoto.co.uk/gallery2/arctic/peoples/chukchi/rc0423-29.htm (a modern panorama)

http://ultima0thule.blogspot.com/2010/03/uelen-russian-eskimo-settlement-start.html (has some beautiful pictures)


Tartu, Estonia, and Tata, Hungary


Tata’s Öregvár (Old Castle), image by Barry Dinning.

Ruins of Tartu Cathedral, image by Ivar Leidus.

I couldn’t choose between Tata and Tartu, so I decided to do both. I’m an Estonophile, but I’m also a Magyarphile, and I love the pictures of Tata. Tartu doesn’t have as many old buildings or structures still standing, due to brutal destruction by the Wehrmacht during WWII, the Great Northern War in 1708, and a lot of 18th century fires, but it still has a long, proud history.

Tartu is Estonia’s next-largest city, at about 97,000 people, and the nation’s cultural and intellectual centre. One of its crown jewels is the University of Tartu, founded in 1632 by the occupying Swedes and Estonia’s oldest, most esteemed university. Due to the ongoing conflicts in the area, between various occupying and warring forces, the university was closed and moved several times, most notably from 1710-1802.

Archaeological evidence of settlement in Tartu has been found as far back as the 5th century CE. The city first appeared in official records in 1030, when it was invaded and taken over by Kyivan Rus, and subsequently renamed Yur’yev. After the Germans invaded and took over, it was renamed Dorpat. Baltic Germans thus became the ruling forces and cultural, intellectual élite of Estonia until the national reawakening of the 19th century.

Tata Synagogue, image by József Süveg.

Jaani Kirik (St. John’s Church) in Tartu, image by Jeroenm.

Tata is in Northwest Hungary, in a valley between the Gerecse Mountains and the Vértes Mountains, and has about 25,000 inhabitants. The town has been inhabited since at least 50,000 BCE, and later became a Roman settlement. It first appeared in official records in 1221. Like much of Eastern Europe, Tata too fell under Ottoman occupation in the 16th century.

The town started to come back to life in the 18th century, after Hungary was in Habsburg hands and the Austro-Hungarian Empire had been created. From this point on, the majority of residents were Hungarian. Most were Catholic, but there were also large Lutheran and Jewish communities in Tata.

In 1938, the nearby village of Tóváros was annexed to Tata, and the entire area was temporarily known as Tatatóváros. In 1939, it became just Tata again. Tata got town status in 1954.

Tóvárosi Beach in Tata, image by József Süveg.

Uspenskiy Church in Tartu, image by China Crisis.

Tartu became part of the Russian Empire in 1721, and was renamed Derpt, then changed back to Yur’yev in 1893. A number of fires in the 18th century, most notably the Great Fire of Tartu in 1775, destroyed many of the historic buildings in the city centre, as well as many other buildings in other neighbourhoods. The city had already been greatly destroyed by Pyotr the Great’s forces in 1708, to prevent the Swedes from using Tartu as a military base.

In spite of the cruel Russification policies and suppression of Estonian nationalism and language, the Estonian people began to throw off their chains. Estonia’s first song festival was held in Tartu in 1869, and their first national theatre, Vanemuine, was built in 1870. In 1872, the Society of Estonian Writers was formed in Tartu.

After Estonia won its independence in 1918, the city finally legally became Tartu. Sadly, they were invaded again in 1940, and under the Soviet occupation and subsequent fighting with the Nazis, much of Tartu was again destroyed. The city was in ruins by the liberation, and even many buildings which had escaped serious destruction were ordered torn down by the Soviet occupiers. A lot of public parks were built where once buildings had stood. Only since Estonia rewon its independence in 1991 has Tartu begun to rebuild significantly.

Peetri Kirik (St. Peter’s Church) in Tartu, image by Ivar Leidus.

Sunset over Tata, image by József Süveg.

Tata is the hometown of my Atlantic City character Pali (Pál) Weiss. His name was changed to Paul when he came to America via Switzerland in 1942, but everyone who knows him well calls him Pali. He never saw anyone in his family again after he said goodbye to them to be smuggled into Switzerland. The Tata Synagogue, built in 1861, is a museum today. Its original façade was restored in 2004.

Tartu briefly appears near the end of Part I of my first Russian historical, when my characters are put up in Tartu after escaping, in small groups, over the Russian border in February 1921. They soon move to Tallinn, where their boat to America will be. I think I might use Tartu as the setting of my Estonian chapters and sections in the second of the two prequels I’m eventually going to write. It would be the perfect place for Katrin and Viktoriya’s Estonian nationalism and Socialism to be nurtured.

Vecseri, a sluice gate in Tata’s Öreg-tó (Old Lake), image by József Süveg.

Though Tata isn’t very well-known in the tourist guidebooks, there are a number of interesting things to see and do. The town boasts the old castle by the Old Lake, the Esterházy Palace, Calvary Hill, public parks and old churches, a 1763 belfry, Fényes Beach and Tóvárosi Beach, Kossuth Square, the Town Hall, Heroes’ Square (which contains the synagogue and a WWI monument), and a lookout tower. They also have some museums, including one about the German community’s historic experience in Tata.

Tata’s Esterházy Palace, image by József Süveg.

Tata Castle and Fortress from the air, Copyright Civertan Grafikai Stúdió.

Every Summer, Tartu hosts the Hansapäevad (Hanseatic Days Festival) in celebration of its Hanseatic heritage. It’s a bit like a Renaissance fair, with jousting, swimming,  boating, handicrafts kiosks, and historic workshops. And though much of historic Tartu is just the stuff of memories, there are still some surviving old churches, the 18th century Town Hall, the University, and the ruins of the 13th century cathedral.

Telleri Kabel (Teller Chapel) in Tartu, image by Amadvr.

More information:







Surabaya, Indonesia


Entrance to Chinatown, image by Gunkarta Gunawan Kartapranata.

Surabaya’s oldest Catholic church, image by Gunkarta.

Surabaya is Indonesia’s next-largest city, with a total population of over 5,000,000. The city is nestled among the Mas River and the Madura Strait. It first appears in the records in 1225, under its ancient name Jung-ya-lu.  It became a sultanate and major power in Java during the 15th and 16th centuries, until being defeated in 1625 by the Sultanate of Mataram.

The city’s foreign occupation continued after Mataram lost its former power and glory. In November 1743, the Dutch took over and made Surabaya, along with the entirety of what was to become Indonesia, into a colony. During its centuries as part of the Dutch East Indies, Surabaya saw many Dutch people moving in and establishing schools, churches, houses, businesses, trading companies, stores, and railroads.

In 1942, Japanese forces occupied Surabaya. This was a nightmare for the Dutch colonists, many of whom were killed or put in horrid prison camps, but the native Indonesians used this opportunity to develop their long-repressed nationalism. The Japanese encouraged them with weapons and military training, under the old “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” logic.

The brutal Battle of Surabaya in November 1945 was a turning-point in the Indonesian National Revolution, and is still viewed as a huge symbol of national pride. Heroes’ Day (Hari Pahlawan) is celebrated on 10 November.

Guan She Yin statue of Sanggar Agung Temple, image by Okkisafire.

Dragon statues of the Sanggar Agung Temple, image by Okkisafire.

Chapter 22, “Dancing Back into the Fire,” of my WWII Bildungsroman And Jakob Flew the Fiend Away is set in Indonesia, as young Dutch soldier Jakob is sent to fight in the Indonesian National Revolution after the war in Europe ends. After what he’s lived through, he supports the Indonesian people in their fight against colonialism, and doesn’t want to kill them, but he can’t just up and disobey military orders.

Jaap takes part in the Battle of Surabaya at nineteen years old, alongside the British and Indian troops. It’s as frightening and horrific as when he fought in Hedel at the River Maas in April 1945. After the battle is over, he’s able to go into the city and buys some Chanukah presents for his wife and mother from a woman selling fabric arts, jewelry, and other crafts. He tells her he sympathises with her people and wishes them luck in winning their independence.

Public fountain, image by Denny Yuniarta from Manado, Indonesia; source Surabaya Merlion.

Suramadu Bridge, image by Sakurai Midori, Multi-license with GFDL and Creative Commons CC-BY 3.0.

Among the many things to see and do in Surabaya are a zoo, lots of shopping malls, the Submarine Monument (an old Russian submarine converted into a museum ship), several mosques, the Mpu Tantular Museum (which contains many Javanese artifacts), St. Nikolaos Orthodox Church, a Roman Catholic church, and the Pantai Ria amusement park, which contains the gorgeous Chinese Sanggar Agung Temple. Very interestingly, they have a cigarette museum which also contains an art gallery and exhibits non-cigarette artifacts.

Surabaya used to have a fairly large Jewish community, created in large part by all the Dutch colonists and escapees from Nazi-occupied Europe, but the cemetery is no longer used, and the synagogue was destroyed in 2013. The City Council of Surabaya had been in process of registering the shul as a heritage site, which would’ve prevented its destruction by anti-Israel zealots.

Market scene, image by Sakurai Midori, Multi-license with GFDL and Creative Commons CC-BY 3.0.

Submarine Monument, image by Midori, Multi-license with GFDL and Creative Commons CC-BY 3.0.

More information:





Rosh HaNikra, Israel



Rosh HaNikra is both the name of a kibbutz in Northern Israel and the name of some beautiful grottoes. The kibbutz grows bananas and avocados, raises turkeys, and has a biotechnology company called Rahan Meristem, which does a lot with tissue culture and plant IVF. This is one of the furthest Northern points in Israel, right on the border with Lebanon.

The grottoes, which are near the border with Lebanon, have historically been used as trade routes and secret passageways for the military. Until the modern era, they were only accessible from the sea. During WWII, the occupying British made railway tunnels in the cliffs, to be used for the Cairo-Istanbul route. The Rosh HaNikra railway bridge was temporarily spared by the Haganah in June 1946, as part of Operation Markolet (a.k.a. Night of the Bridges). They were determined to diminish Britain’s military prestige, and to stop the flow of weapons to their Arab enemies in the midst.

However, during the War of Independence in 1948, the railway bridge was destroyed, in order to prevent enemy weapons and military from flowing in from Lebanon.



Rosh HaNikra first appears in Saga VI (the Nineties) of my handwritten magnum opus Cinnimin. On the first night of Rosh Hashanah 1994, Cinni’s 18-year-old granddaughter Agnieszka Laurel is prevailed upon to go for a walk with Ezra Skoloda, the 22-year-old kibbutz director she has a huge crush on. She was planning to transfer to another kibbutz after the holiday to avoid being around her unrequited love, and was deliberately avoiding Ezra that evening, but he insisted she shouldn’t walk home alone.

During their walk around Haifa, when Rosh HaNikra’s white cliffs are visible, Agnieszka gets a huge surprise when Ezra reveals his feelings for her and kisses her for the first time. You know, like a normal couple does at the start of their relationship, not two years and seven months into it, after they’ve already done everything else. I’m pissed at myself for staying so long with someone who refused to kiss me, and then only rarely did after he finally cracked. He wasn’t very good either, after all that wait. Certainly not as good as Ezra. In Sergey World, it’s completely normal to not kiss someone you’re in a relationship with and supposedly love.

Honestly, sometimes I wish I lived in a Magickal world where my giant stuffed frog Simon would turn into a prince as handsome as his namesake when I kiss him. But hey, better to share your bed with a stuffed frog than a walking DSM with poor libido and bad kissing skills.


At the top of the cliffs, there’s a military checkpoint which civilians aren’t allowed to go beyond. You’re not allowed to take pictures of it either, an edict which I obeyed. Military security, no matter what country you’re in, isn’t something to be taken lightly. Even if you just want a picture for yourself, the military doesn’t know that, and you can’t guarantee whose hands that picture might fall into.




The Mediterranean Sea is so beautiful, particularly set off against the pure white of the cliffs.




I think this was one of my Israel pictures which iStock approved for my ex-”fiancé.” I did so much thankless gruntwork of uploading pictures and describing them, hoping they wouldn’t all be rejected.



Israeli men, particularly soldiers and sailors, are notoriously HOT. But they’re just like American men in that they’ve never hit on me or asked me out.


I finally got my picture with an Israeli soldier!

More information:


WeWriWa—Jungle Surprise


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors, a weekly Sunday hop where writers share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. I’ve been sharing from the book I’m releasing on May ninth, And Jakob Flew the Fiend Away.

Jakob was made a real soldier in February 1945, as part of the Princess Irene Brigade of the Dutch Free Forces. After the war in Europe ended and the immediate aftermath was cleaned up, he was sent to the Dutch East Indies to help with putting down the natives’ rebellion against their Dutch occupiers. He’s very much in disagreement with his country’s continued presence there, but has to obey military orders.

While out in the jungle, under the guise of scouting, he encountered a tiger and began running for his life, right into a machine gun nest. Trying to save himself, he threw a grenade at them. Now he’s going to take advantage of his natural ambidexterity.


By the time he saw the first Indonesian guerillas coming out of the woodwork in the wake of the explosion, he was as hopped up on adrenalin as he’d been while crossing the River Maas.  He couldn’t go back and risk the tiger, so the only way out was forward.  No matter how he felt about his country’s colonization of these islands, the people pointing guns at him were enemies.  There was no time to tell them he was more or less on their side.

He dropped to the ground, pulled his rifle off of his back and held it in his left arm, and took his pistol in his right hand.  He was barely even looking as he fired on both sides and propelled himself along on his stomach.  When he ran out of bullets in his right-hand pistol, he switched his rifle to his right arm and pulled out his left-hand pistol.  These people had probably never encountered a soldier who knew how to shoot with both hands, and if they were the superstitious type, as he hoped, they might think they were being attacked by an evil spirit, not a mortal man.