October 29th, 2005


leaving Yaremche

This is the third entry in my Ukrainian Vacation Series.

It’s almost 5am and Shelley and I are on a sketchy-looking Rakiv-Lviv train. It’s like the train we were on before, just sticky and smelly. Our ultimate destination is Odessa, the famed Black Sea seaport (I think I miss open water), but we need to backtrack quite a bit because an Odessa-bound train leaving Ivano-Frankivsk would go through the Republic of Moldova, for which we’d need visas.

Shelley was keen on the direct route and so inquired at the Canadian consulate in Lviv. The very kind Oxana got back to us quickly and told us that a) she didn’t know how to get us visas and b) the train would be REALLY sketchy and c) we’d be going through Transnistria, which was really not recommended. Eduard, when asked about this after the fact, said, “No! Don’t go through Moldova!” and needed a few reassurances that we weren’t intending to. (Techincally, leaving the country at all wouldn’t be allowed in the rules of the program, but all other things being equal we probably could have gotten away with it.)

For Ukrainians, of course, getting in and out of Moldova (and Russia, and Belarus, and Georgia, and Kazakhstan, etc..) is a piece of cake. Westerners, however, need separate visas in much the same way that a Ukrainian visiting Canada would need another visa if they wanted to cross into the United States.

I think the Sun will be rising soon. Too bad the “mountains” are behind us now.

* * *

I woke up in Oles’ living room in Ivano-Frankivsk on Monday morning, at which time we had a delicious breakfast. Oles’ dad was hospitable to an extreme, and he even gave us breakfast beers, so I was honour-bound to drink mine. But in general I’m not a morning drinker (wow, that sounds rather pathetic – am I an evening drinker, then?) – in fact, that was the first time.

Oles’ dad also decided to drive us to the
Carpathians himself. This was incredibly generous (especially given petrol prices these days), and so we were able to have a very interesting automobile tour.

(We’re going through a HUGE refinery now; its lights could have been the sunrise I thought I saw. I knew it was too early. Oh, there’s a snorer here who would give Przemek a run for his money. Shelley’s sleeping through all this well enough, though.)

We drove out of the steppe and into rolling hills, beautiful gorges, and Winter. Wet snow was everywhere, and the road was what I would call “snow-covered, passable with caution.” There were lots of Ladas as before, but now there were many Lada 4x4s (hint: these weren’t exactly Subaru Outbacks). And they looked necessary – sure, we were doing fine in a Ford sedan, but what if it were January? Also, many of the houses were only accessible by snow-covered wooden bridge in places where the road was on the other side of the river. It all looked beautifully nightmarish.

We drove as far as it was prudent; here we found an aging ski-jump resortlet (currently closed) and waded through the snow to take pictures of it and the adjacent river. It was really quite something – I felt like I was in Sherbrooke (NS) in the winter, except for the ski jump.

All in all, there were lots of things to see, including wooden buildings built without nails, colourful homes, stone retaining walls, railway tunnels (which we could have seen the inside of if we travelled through to Rakiv and came back on the train – Rakiv is the other major “resort” area in the Carpathians – the two form a sort of poor man’s Jasper / Banff) precariously-placed telegraph lines, and all the colours of mid-fall rudely yet elegantly interrupted by the brilliant white snow.

So we turned ourselves around and headed back to Yaremche, where we had reservations at the lovely “Krasna Sadyba.” This was a little more expensive at 140 UAH single-room / single-occupancy / shared-bath, but it was worth every kopek (plus you got breakfast in a great stone dining room in the basement – though I’m not sure if the cognac was included in ours!). I had a cozy, pristine room with cork walls, a little balcony, and a stunning view.

Not only that, but the staff, from top to bottom, were kindly, generous, and patient. The administrator in particular was really helpful. She advised us about the train schedule, was flexible about check-in/out and switching rooms (one of the perks of a smaller hotel, I think), and she even got up at 4 this morning to show us off.

The food was elegant, but thankfully not so much the prices. We ate a breakfast and supper in the downstairs restaurant, and Shelley ordered pancakes and caviar, which I sampled – it tastes like seafood, only more so. So now I’ve “had” caviar, and the entire dish only cost $3.25, and I wasn’t paying since I had my own stew-meat-tankard-thing to dine on.

(We’re stopped in Ivano-Frankivsk now – Shelley awoke and was desperate for a coffee; seconds later, a lady came into our car hawking coffee and presumably snacks. (“Kava!”) Shelley made fast friends with her and as much as said, as she held her coffee, that she felt like she’d won a million dollars.)

To return to a more organized narrative, we found Amy relaxed and comfortable at Krasna Sadyba – in fact, it was she who alerted us to this place. I asked her how she found it, since it was at the end of a dingy, dirty, meteor-impacted street. “It just called me,” she answered. “Good call!” I appraised.

Still on the first day, we set off in the rain to explore Yaremcha. We crossed the river Prut twice – once on a road bridge and then on a foot bridge. The view from the foot bridge was almost indescribable, except to say that I took what I feel are the best pictures I’ve yet taken in Ukraine.

On the other side of the bridge was a large market, with many beautiful handmade items on sale such as the embroidered clothing particular to this area of Ukraine. We also found a rustic restaurant which specialized in traditional food. We wanted to try shaslik, but the weather wasn’t nice enough for it (it needed to be cooked by an outside fire). Oles had some delicious chanahy, a kind of soup. I had some well-garnished potatoes and some breaded chicken.

We made it back to the hotel (perhaps I should call it a very tall cabin?) and I guess I was tired because I meant to nap between 7 and 8:30 but I actually slept (very nicely) until 4:30. I was foiled by the 24-hour clock, and in my stupor I keyed in 830 instead of 2030. But all I was going to do was make some phone calls and write in my blog (which I’m doing now anyway), so it was no loss at all. I woke up at nearly nine, and then Amy called me for breakfast, where we enjoyed the food and soaked up the atmosphere.

Then we went to take Amy and Oles to the bus stop and soaked up a lifetimes’ worth of rain. The town was well worth stepping out into, though. The fall colours made Yaremche sparkle. I got a lot of pictures, and I’m lucky my camera didn’t get waterlogged (my shoes and camera bag certainly did). I also got to really appreciate the nice warm radiator in my room – by this morning, my shoes were fine. (I love that room! I’d travel a day just to stay in it again. It also <cough> seems like a good place to bring a girlfriend. </cough>)

(Another train just passed us going the opposite direction – the lights were on more brightly, and it was jam-packed, with many people standing. As Shelley says, “We’re always lucky!”)

I had a nice, hot, non-seated shower in the pristine bathroom and later Shelley and I made plans, first deciding where to go, and then figuring out how to get there. We had popped into the train station on the way back from the bus station, so I was able to take a picture of the train schedule and then refer to it. (This reminds me of the time John and I went to an after-party for a prom aided by directions I photographed and then printed out at the B’s. Handy things, cameras.)

We had our supper (the menus feature excellent Engrish: “For the living in the Krasna Sadula – discount 10%” – sadly, this never materialized), retired early, and then got up and ran to the train – and now we’re on our way back to Lviv – I sincerely hope for a short stay this time, but we have no idea when the first train to Odesa will depart. We’re also going to try and get a private compartment for such a long journey. It’s Wednesday morning now, and if we’re unlucky (or extremely lucky, from a writer’s perspective), it could be well into Thursday by the time we get there. These trains are probably capable of decent speeds – unfortunately, as soon as you’ve accelerated to a good clip (which takes many minutes) it’s necessary to slow down and stop for one reason or another. Sometimes we have to stop for other trains to pass, but fortunately this isn’t too frequent.

And, the Sun’s coming up, but with these clouds a picturesque sunrise is out of the question. At least it’s not still raining – that would have been a real drag this morning on our runs to the station! (Also, wheels on luggage are a grand innovation…)

Holy cow, it’s 7:30 already.

Incidental: Shelley had a more-or-less peaceful sleep the whole way, despite the sketchy and somewhat disturbing conditions. Why? The first impressions for her were so appalling that she had to sleep through everything on the ignorance-is-bliss principle. I’d like to sleep too, but I’m starting to find that the train is the only socially-responsible time and place where one can blog.