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Carpathian Excursion, part 1

June 27, 2011

Twice now in two years I have had the opportunity to see a bit of the Carpathians. This time was even better than last because there were only four of us, and we stayed at a house which was owned by friends of A, who was our host of sorts – certainly he knows many people in the area where we visited, and was an excellent guide.

We set out on Thursday morning – later than we thought, but we did not complain. After riding for a few hours through the Khmelnitsky and Ternopil oblasts, we came into the Ivano-Frankivsk oblast. It is my understanding that we passed through many towns where there are Peace Corps Volunteers! On the way, we saw countless roadside chapels – we don’t have these in central Ukraine (I cannot say for eastern, as I have not been there), but each was unique and it was interesting to see them.

With Theo in front of the Pysanky museum

Our first stop was at the Pysanky Museum, in Kolomya. The coolest part is that the museum is shaped like a giant pysanky! Inside were photos of women who were in the process of creating this work of art (truly, they are works of art, especially when you learn how they are made). There is a large collection of eggs (more than 10,000, not all of which are on display at the same time) that dates back nearly 100 years. However, it does not only display pysanky from Ukraine, but also from other countries – we even saw some from the U.S. and Canada.

Downstairs in the museum was a temporary exhibit of local art by children as young as 9 years old. When I see the things they create, I feel as if I have no talent at all!

After the Pysanky Museum, we went to the local Ethnography Museum, where we saw not only an art exhibit, but exhibits of locally made crafts, clothing, metal works, wood works, porcelain, and more that was used in historical times (I did not take photos at either place because they want 50 uah to do so, which I don’t agree with).

After that, it was continuing on our journey to our destination, where before getting to the house where we stayed, we stopped at a special well, where we were invited to taste the water. It was salty, to say the least. Theo tasted it and immediately spit it back out. Not wanting to give anyone the satisfaction of seeing me do that, I tasted it and swallowed (this was hard to do – the water was THAT salty). Then we at last arrived at our destination, put our things up in our room, and were invited to take a dip in the river.

During our hike

After being in the warm vehicle all day, a dip in the river sounded mighty fine, and it was, once I got used to the water! A went in, dove under, came up and said it was “warm”. His definition of warm and mine must differ because it was not warm. It was not terrible, but I would not say warm…anyway, someone had formed a little “pool” by putting some of the rocks together, so I relaxed there with R for a while. Then it was up for dinner (traditional local foods), off on a loooong walk, then to bed.

The next morning, we were informed, we were going to go on a hike up in the mountains. After trying our hand at cutting grass. With a scythe. Amazingly enough, we both did it, and were both successful…and then gave the scythe back to the expert. No wonder they are in good shape!

And the hike – what a hike it turned out to be! First we did a mini-spelunk – there is a famous cave we had to see. Then it was up, up, up the hills we went, crossing through woods and over fields. But we were rewarded with lovely views, and then when we arrived to a farm up in the mountains – yep, a farm – we were rewarded with cheese that is made there on the premises. We were also able to try our hands at milking a cow. This is something that looks far easier than it actually is.

Made in small batches!

During our journey to this artisan house, we picked blueberries, climbed a tree, and avoided numerous cow pies. We also traded mini-lessons in language skills the whole time, and before now, I never realized just how many idioms we say in English until I had to explain what they meant!

So it was that at the “cheese house” we saw other people who had made the same hike (this is some good cheese), and we were also given samahon to try, only this time, unlike others I have had, it was green. This samohon (aka moonshine) had mint in it, and I would have been glad to have more of it! It had the same warmth that the others I have tried had, but this left a minty aftertaste, which they did not.

After noodling around, taking photos, and trying (with little success) to milk a cow, Theo and I decided to head up to the little hillside chapel they have, because of course,

Posing with my new "friends"

I wanted to take photos of it. On the way up, we spotted a couple of geckos/chameleons/lizards – I am not sure exactly what they were, so I’ll just say geckos. Theo was fast enough to catch one, and we took turns getting our photos taken with them. Then after we took photos of the chapel, R and A brought us two more friends to pose with.

Then it was back down we went, which was almost more difficult than the climb up. We did not see as much because we were focused on watching where we were going, but we did see a “magic” mushroom on the way…and no, we did not eat it…

But the story is not over yet! When we got down to the foot of the mountain, we were shown hospitality the way only Ukrainians can do. First we were shown a workshop, where a young man makes items out of wood – AND we were each given a cutting board! Then the young man brought us to the house he recently built, where his mother offered us tea. Now, we have found out that “tea” here is never just tea. “Tea” turned out to be tea, vodka (this pepper and honey vodka is starting to grow on me), varenyky (homemade, of course), cucumbers, tomatoes, salo, breaded and fried zucchini, and bread. After this, and with full stomachs, we went back to our host’s home and rested for a while.

Seeing as we were in a somewhat remote village in the Carpathians, which was located on a river, where do you think we bathed that evening? In the river, of course! After the exertion of the day, the river was sounding mighty fine, so we donned our suits and even though the sun had gone down, we braved the clouds to go to the river. This was a new experience for both Theo and I – I had bathed in lakes before, as a child, when I went camping, but never in a river…

Conquering the fire!

And our day STILL was not done! Dinner that night was shashlik, and we decided that wine would be a good accompaniment to it, so we went and got some. Before even having any wine, Theo decided to brave one of her fears and conquer fire! Her first few passes through the fire were not in the fire at all, but then she successfully passed her hand through the flames! I wish I would see her on Ivan Kupala day (which is coming up soon) to see if she jumps the fire…

Dinner that night was even more traditional foods, and more than could actually fit on the table and still have people sitting around it! Man, we ate like crazy those few days! More of the cheese from the mountains, fresh strawberries, shashlik, potatoes, corn mush stuff (I cannot remember the name), salad, tomatoes, kotleta-like things (another specialty – not actually kotleta but similar), and mushrooms. Even after I (lied and) said I was allergic to mushrooms, I got a hard time for not eating them!

I believe I am remembering everything from day one – it was a full day! Photos can be found on Picasa and I will soon recount day two!




One Comment leave one →
  1. July 5, 2011 2:57 am

    “corn mush stuff” named бануш (banush) or кулеша (kulesha). It depend from some details of cooking.
    Glad to see you again )

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