The New York Mycological Society

There are strict rules about foraging anything in state parks and city parks. The laws aren’t clear at all, so it’s always best to ask someone more experienced. Whenever we go picking mushrooms, we bring a towel/picnic blanket to drape over the basket just in case.

We have finally gotten a taste of some good weather so I started researching one of my favorite topics: mushrooms! I grew up picking mushrooms in Europe which is completely different than doing it in New York. First of all, in Europe, Czech Republic in particular, mushroom picking is a popular sport! Second of all, the mushroom season is only 2-3 months long.

In New York it’s completely different! First of all, almost no one picks mushrooms. This is true for New York City as well as the state, most Americans in general seem too scared to pick mushrooms! Also, mushroom hunting season here is practically all year round. However, prime mushroom picking time is from April until October.

Coming from a country where you have to wake up at 5 AM after a rainy day to find a single mushroom that hasn’t already been picked by the hordes of hungry mushroom hunters. The first mushroom I ever found in New York was found in plain sight on a very busy path in a New York City park… that got me researching.

Even if you know something about picking mushrooms in Europe or Asia, you can’t just apply the same knowledge in a new place. There are lookalike mushrooms that can be edible in one country and poisonous in the other. That’s why it’s a good idea to join a mycological society. If you’re in New York, I recommend the New York Mycological Society!

They have a website and a Facebook Page where members (and non members) can learn about mushroom types and join on mushroom hunting expeditions for just $5, unless you become a member for $15 annually ($25 for a family). The group consists of experts, some experienced mushroom pickers and many newbies.

They also don’t focus on picking edible mushrooms, they like to explore and identify mushrooms of all sorts! I joined for a walk through a cemetery in the Bronx, where we split up, picked mushrooms and met at the end to examine all of our findings. It was a lot of fun and very educational!

A mycological society can also help explain the laws regarding mushroom picking in the area that you are in. I was surprised that there are so many rules in America about literally everything. Isaac got a fine once for being in a park when it has snowed, despite there being no signs about it.

There are strict rules about foraging anything in state parks and city parks. The laws aren’t clear at all, so it’s always best to ask someone more experienced. Whenever we go picking mushrooms, we bring a towel/picnic blanket to drape over the basket just in case.

Starting this weekend, I will start going on hikes hoping to find oyster mushrooms that grow all year round! But the moment it gets warm and rainy, everything else will sprout too. I just can’t wait!

Do you love mushroom picking? Share your favorite mushroom stories int he comments below!

Waiting for the Icelandic Geyser to Erupt

This geyser, situated right next to Geysir – the oldest geyser that all others are named after – erupts every 10-15 minutes. While we were there it erupted four times. Two were 15 minutes apart and the other three erupted within 10 minutes! It was freezing but we kept ourselves entertained.

Tourist in Pripyat – Visiting the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (Part 2)

You have to see it to believe it – Almost falling backwards in an attempt to get a good photo, my jaw dropped as the guide explained that for a while, conspiracy theorists thought that these Duga radar devices were used by the USSR as a means of weather and mind control.

This tour was organized by one of several companies who make trips to Chernobyl and Pripyat. Most of the them include a documentary on the bus on the way, entrance to the Exclusion Zone, and various stops at points of interest. You can also order lunch of a few bucks extra. Oh, and if you’re not Ukrainian, expect to pay nearly double the admission price – there’s a big discount for Ukrainian citizens.

The little souvenir shack right before the entrance to the Exclusion Zone was a little weird. It boasted T-Shirts declaring “I <3 Chernobyl” with a biohazard symbol instead of the heart, and postcards proudly proclaiming “I survived Chernobyl. They had everything you would expect from a Disnyeland gift shop, from Chernobyl pens to coffee mugs. I found it a bit in poor taste, but hey, whatever pays the bills.

The idea of visiting Chernobyl can be a bit scary at first. Half the population of the world or more is old enough to remember the disaster. My mother-in-law, who joined us on this journey, remembers being mocked in school as the “Radioactive girl” who lived in Kiev during the accident. It’s easy to think that it would be dangerous to visit the area.

In truth though, it’s perfectly safe. We were told that a routine X-ray exposes you to ten times more radiation than a visit to Chernobyl, and as long as you don’t take a piece of a building and literally eat it, you’re going to be fine. To be safe, the workers in the area work in short-term shifts of only a few months per year. There are apparently still residents who refused to leave the Exclusion Zone, and according to our guides hundreds of people still live in little villages throughout the 1,000 square mile zone. Since radioactivity really is an “invisible enemy,” it’s hard for many to believe that they are at risk.

The road towards Pripyat was a but monotonous – Just forest on either side. Finally, we mae a turn and headed towards the Duga Radar system – a monolith steel structure stretching 150 meters in the air and 500 meters from one side to the other. Nicknamed “The Russian Woodpecker,” this radar system was used to intercept shortwave radio signals. The nickname came from the annoying sound that it made when it disrupted signals from nearby aviation and radio broadcasting companies.

You have to see it to believe it – Almost falling backwards in an attempt to get a good photo, my jaw dropped as the guide explained that for a while, conspiracy theorists thought that these Duga radar devices were used by the USSR as a means of weather and mind control. In the shadow of this colossal testament to its time, I found myself entertaining such a notion myself…

The next stop was at the border of the city of Pripyat, where everyone got their selfie on in front of the welcome sign. After this, the blue dot on my Google Maps inched every closer to the center of the city. We were now only a few kilometers from the Block 4 Reactor, still humming with deadly radiation under its steel sarcophagus…

One World Trade Observatory: New York City

The new One World Trade center is an amazing building, not one because of its architecture but because of its history. It is the tallest building in the USA and has one of the best views of New York City! The observatory has a unique view of the bay and even New Jersey. The best time to go here is right before sunrise to see it during the day and at night!

Tourist in Pripyat – Visiting the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant (Part 1)

I anxiously kept my eyes glued to Google Maps. What would it be like? What would the city be like, once a bustling Soviet metropolis of 50,000 people, now a wasteland – abandoned in a moment during the disaster in 1986?

Hopping on a bus in Kiev, Ukraine at 7 AM, I could hardly believe where we were headed. Would the bus have a bright, blaring marquee declaring “Chernobyl” on it? We really didn’t know what to expect.

After some trial and error, we finally located the little van that would take my wife, her mother, a dozen other tourists and me north about 100 km to the abandoned town of Pripyat. It was the heart of winter and the temperature wouldn’t get much above freezing that whole day.

Along the way, we were handed out little devices that would measure the radiation in the air around us. These were basically just a novelty to let us know that we were safe, and were a bit of fun when we saw the numbers start to rise. The levels never got high enough to do any harm, and in fact we were told the snow was an additional insulator against any radioactive particles.

Along the way, as the 2006 documentary “The Battle of Chernobyl” played on a small screen, I started googling statistics. Apparently, we were among 60,000 people to visit Chernobyl that year. I knew it was safe and that, of course, they wouldn’t let people come if it wasn’t, but I couldn’t help searching things like “Effects of visiting Chernobyl” and “Signs of radiation poisoning.”

Google Maps told me that we were getting close, and sure enough the van stopped and we entered what’s known as the “Exclusion Zone” or “Alienation Zone.” This is an area of 30km in radius from the reactor itself, and is to this day uninhabited, except for some stubborn villagers who refused to leave. We hopped off the bus, had our passports and special passes checked, and got back on.

The drive inside was fairly uneventful, mostly through forests that have had the chance to thrive in the absence of human intervention. I anxiously kept my eyes glued to Google Maps as the little blue dot got closer and closer to the town of Pripyat, and the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant just a few kilometers away. What would it be like? Would we need special suits to get close to the reactor? What would the city be like, once a bustling Soviet metropolis of 50,000 people, now a wasteland – abandoned in a moment during the disaster in 1986?

5 Things You Need to Know Before Visiting Chernobyl

There are lots of homeless dogs living around the check points in Chernobyl and the general vicinity. These dogs are no more radioactive than the ones you’ll see around Kyiv.

This past December I did something I have wanted to do for years! I got to visit Chernobyl. I considered it to be just another exciting day trip, but then my family membered began crossing themselves and praying under their breath whenever I mentioned it.

This made me a little nervous, so I started doing some research. The information I read on English-speaking tourist websites varied greatly from what local Ukrainian websites said. I ended up sitting in the van confused and slightly worried about my safety… I wish somehow had told me the following:

1. It is 100% safe to visit Chernobyl on a tour

Although thousands if not tens of thousands suffered from the negative side effects of radiation and even died, visiting Chernobyl today is completely safe. There are people living within the “danger” zone year round. Even in the frosty December temperatures, we saw a lady going about her day from a store in Chernobyl.

The city that no one lives in is Pripyat, where certain areas do have radiation hot spots. Although no one lives there, our tour guide told us that many people break in illegally and spend the night or several nights in the long-abandoned buildings telling ghost stories and sometimes creating beautifully haunting graffiti.

2. The dogs are not radioactive

There are lots of homeless dogs living around the check points in Chernobyl and the general vicinity. These dogs are no more radioactive than the ones you’ll see around Kyiv. These dogs are all spayed, vaccinated, and they are taken care of by the local residents and employees. These dogs are also super sweet and love a good scratch. Our guide was petting them and reassuring us that it was safe!

3. Tour prices vary greatly, shop around

When Isaac and I were searching for tickets, we found tours for as much as $300 per person. Keep in mind that there are different tours, including overnight that let you sleep in a hotel in Chernobyl! But even the same day trip can vary in price, which is why I let my mom search Ukrainian websites for the best one.

The tour she chose had tickets for about $150 for foreigners and only $100 for Ukrainian-passport holders. Apparently it was the European Union, who have sponsored the protection of Chernobyl, who made the law that locals should be able to visit and learn about their history at a discount.

4. There are lots of rules on the tour

According to my mom, all these rules are just for show as part of the thrilling experience. I can see why she would think that, but I didn’t mess with any of them. One guy on our tour, however, broke every single one without consequence. He walked inside of buildings that he was told to stay out of and he took photos of things he was told not to.  Finally, I would bet anything that he snuck out souvenir that he collected along the way.

5. It is a unique and exciting experience

Even if it’s no longer unsafe and if all the precautions are overdone, what happened in Chernobyl is an important part of history. I hope that all tours play the Chernobyl documentary on the way there. You should watch it even if you never go on the tour.

The facts are that even today, there is no safe way to completely secure the reactor. Every few years, new precautions need to be made. While all of this is happening, there are still nuclear generators around the world and their dangers are 100% real. The accident at Chernobyl was unexpected and it was a miracle that it didn’t wipe out all of Europe. If it hadn’t been for the quick thinking of a handful of brave heroes, most of Europe would be unlivable today.

If you get the chance to visit Chernobyl, don’t forget where you are and what happened there. So many people suffered painfully and died in the most horrible way due to the accident. It was a terrible accident that could have been worse, but was absolutely devastating to so many already. Think about that when you walk through the abandoned kindergarten and past the homes of what was once the most prosperous city in the Soviet Union.

Bezzikapa Illustrations by Kate

I think I always wanted to be an artist. I even went to art school, but for a long time I wasn’t considering it as a serious carrier, somehow. Couple of years ago, I realized that I’m not happy with what I’m doing…

Bezzikapa illustrations are designed by Kate, who lives in Prague. You can find her artist store here. You can find more of her links, including Instagram at the end of this post. 

How did you start doing this?

I think I always wanted to be an artist. I even went to art school, but for a long time I wasn’t considering it as a serious carrier, somehow. Couple of years ago, I realized that I’m not happy with what I’m doing (it was marketing) and that I have time to work on what I would really enjoy.

I started with participating in different illustration contests, and I’m slowly working on my artist shops. For now, I’m choosing the platforms that will print and deliver products with my designs themselves, so that I have more time to create. I believe, I’m still in the beginning of my long path!

This is the first Illustration I made (during the past few years) that I’m proud of 🙂

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 6.07.56 AM

What is the process of creating the design? Which part is your favorite?

I have a video 🙂

The first step, is the most difficult – the blank slate. I’m more a rational person, than creative, thinking of ideas can be a painful process for me. Sometimes when I have a good idea, I’m terrified that it can already exist, that it was on a surface, not clever or interesting enough.

It can take me a day or two to come up with something. I hope it will get easier in time.

There’s also a research part – that’s mostly googling. Styles, technics, references, poses, features, – anything that can help with the idea, and creation process.

And then, well, I just draw. I mostly use the Procreate application on iPad. And then make finishing touches in Photoshop.

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 6.08.30 AM

Drawing “fluffy” characters can take me 5-12 hours:

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 6.08.43 AMScreen Shot 2019-03-05 at 6.08.55 AMScreen Shot 2019-03-05 at 6.09.13 AM

Something simpler takes less time, of course:

Do you hope to do anything different/new in the future?

I want to design cool book covers, magazine covers and create book illustrations!

What has been your favorite design so far?

Recently I started working on dogs breeds illustrations. I love this one:

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 6.02.56 AM

What are your other hobbies?

I mostly collect stuff: beer caps, beer coasters, coins, books and stuffed toys. I like linguistics, documentaries and reading!

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 6.11.20 AM

You have a cat, does the cat help you or distract you from work?

She do both. She is my little helper, but also sometimes she sits on me, so I can’t work!

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 6.10.24 AM

Screen-Shot-2019-03-05-at-6.11.11-AM.png

You can see more of Kate’s work here: https://bezzikapa.threadless.com/

You can follow her on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bezzikapa/

Redbubble: https://www.redbubble.com/people/Bezzikapa

You can even find buy her designs on Society6: https://society6.com/bezzikapa

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 6.11.03 AM