WEDNESDAY JULY 16 (con't)
Olya is waiting for us when we return. At 1700 her brother Ivan, accompanied by his wife, drives us to Kalush. My cousin Stepan looks fit and healthy. I was concerned a couple of years ago when Olya wrote that he suffered a heart attack. As we walk about their neighbourhood sightseeing, his gait is lively and he demonstrates he is an extrovert as he greets everyone who passes by. Olya could be described as a gourmet cook, and so the food she prepares is superb. Noticing that they have not one, but two refrigerators, Bill and I pig out. Our contribution is a package of smoked BC salmon, which they seem to enjoy. Pauline's Roman lives and works in Kalush. He phones with greetings and tells us there has been a bomb threat at the railway station in Kyiv so it was evacuated and the trains are not running. We watch the news on TV hoping to get info on the evacuation and the search for the bomb. Nary a word on it. The newscast was primarily about politicians making comments. There was also a story about a home break-in and a stolen car. Statistics of crimes committed that week paled in comparison to North American standards, so I decide that despite warnings to the contrary, Ukraine is relatively safe to visit. We find much to chat about and Stepan and Bill create a converter to charge his razor. We have a perfectly good store bought converter, but the boys are having fun. Not only am I happy to be spending time with these cousins, but to my delight, I get to peacefully soak my old bones in a tubful of hot water.
THURSDAY JULY 17
Piped in music wakes me at 0600. Stepan likes to tinker as evidenced by things he has done in the apartment to make life more comfortable for them. This "alarm clock" was installed by him. The contraption was disconnected so I could sleep until a reasonable hour during the remainder of our stay.
In need of money, we head for a bank. We cannot exchange our funds as the bank has no hryvnias. Stepan recommends a hotel. Yes they can exchange money, but when I ask for documentation of the transaction, it cannot be provided. Concerned that I should have proof of money exchanged and spent to show customs officials on departure, I decide I best find a legitimate money changer. At the second bank, Stepan engages in conversation with a young adult who confirms that indeed there was a bomb threat in Kyiv yesterday, but that the threat of blowing the rail station to smithereens is a common occurrence and so few take the warnings seriously.
I have requested that we travel to Halych today so I can see the ruins of a castle once occupied by Prince Danylo Halytskiy, the founder of L'viv. The bus will not leave until 1400hr, so we pass the time visiting the sights and shops of Kalush filled with whatever your heart desires if only one has the bucks to purchase the merchandise. With the exception of the three churches, there is little to see. The streets are relatively clean compared to Ivano-Frankivsk and the people appear to look less sad. We examine the volume of clothing and other stuff sold at a flea market selling items sent from North America. The large market is filled with many buyers and sellers.
Pensioners ride the bus for free until 2000h. Bill and I are amused that we are considered old fogeys as we are not asked to pay 20 kopijok (1 kopijka = @ 1 cent) for the ride to the main bus depot. Halych is about thirteen kilometres away. The bus system is far more efficient, but there is no direct bus service so we purchase tickets at 2.12 hryvnias per person on a bus travelling through Ivano-Frankivsk on its way to Ternopil. During the wait to change buses, a man approaches to ask which part of Canada I hail from. My accent has apparently given me away.
Stepan and Olya are not pleased at the manner in which we are dropped off at the bus depot in New Halych. The driver pulls out without waiting until we are out of the way, resulting in us being covered in dust. We are far from our destination and so set off on foot, asking for directions along the way. Some locals near the depot are unable to assist us to find the correct road, as they have not travelled in that direction for years. We cross a bridge over the Dnister River in order to reach the centre of the old town. An elderly gent, pushing an old bicycle joins us and acts as an impromptu tour guide.
The gate to a church in the centre of town is locked. More directions lead us to the base of the hill on which the prince built his fortress in 1152. There are a few medieval ruins to examine and some restoration work is evident. One thing is certain, the prince had an excellent view of his domain. We stay only a short time, as the only bus returning to Ivano-Frankivsk leaves in an hour and Olya is anxious that we not miss it. The ancient chapels I had anticipated visiting will have to wait for another trip as I do not wish to cause her distress by insisting there is still time to visit at least one of these sights.
We board what appears to be a private coach as I pay the fare of one hryvnia pp for the four of us. The fellow is not getting rich as we are the only passengers for the trip to Ivano-Frankivsk. There is a long line-up of people waiting at the depot for the bus to Kalush. Stepan wanders over to where the bus is parked and I see him speaking to the driver. Stepan returns and instructs us to get out of line and stand in the parking lot. When the bus pulls into the stall, not only is the front door opened, but the rear door as well. Stepan ushers us in the back door so of course we have no difficulty obtaining a seat. Needless to say, those who had stood in the line are furious and I am certain the roar of protest could be heard to the centre of town. I am terribly embarrassed, but the finger wagging and derogatory remarks do not faze my relatives. Even worse as the seats are filled, I and Bill stand to give up our seats and are promptly pulled back down by the cousins and told to stay put. They are determined that we sit and I feel like hell. The bus is very hot and crowded as we grind our way to Kalush. Bill remarks that this bus is in sad shape and will probably break down by tomorrow. Well the powers that be have a way of getting even when one does bad deeds (sneaking in the back door) and the bus breaks down before we reach Kalush. Fortunately it was a short walk to another bus route. If we had stopped along the highway, we could have been there forever, as the driver had no way of calling for back-up transportation. We wait for what seems like hours until yet another very crowded city bus comes along. It is dark when we board a free enterprise bus home. The city folk are apparently upset with the onslaught of such bus service brought on by the lack of adequate public transportation. The distress is probably due to the high fare which is double at 40k pp.
We return home at 1900. Olya's brother and his wife join us for dinner. Incredibly, Olya produces a banquet. Roman arrives later. He has lost a little hair, but I would have recognized him easily in a crowd. The conversation is lively about life in Canada and in Ukraine.
FRIDAY JULY 18
We are up at 0800, dress and eat quickly as we are off for a ride on the electric train. The cost for Bill and I is a little over three hryvnia. This is a bargain despite that we had to pay a premium as we did not allow enough time to purchase tickets at the station, but paid the attendant on the train. The route we are travelling leads to L'viv which may account for the large number of passengers. The wooden seats are not all that uncomfortable, but do not accommodate three persons easily. Entrepreneurs are selling food, drink and newspapers. Stepan considers their prices outrageous.
One and a half hours later, we arrive at Korort Morchin in Halitskiy district in the L'viv Oblast. The town revolves around what the locals consider to be health restoring springs. There is a large massage centre and a number of sanatoriums, one used exclusively for the "Muscovites" (Russians). We had an opportunity to see inside the massage centre when Stepan arranged for us to use their bathrooms. It appears that different areas of Ukraine are specific for dealing with assorted ailments. This part of the country places emphasis on G.I. problems. After his heart attack, Stepan spent time at a different spa and recently he spent a month at a sanatorium near Kyiv for treatment of his gallbladder. There he was treated with massage and was required to drink their special water twice a day. We enter the enormous circular, cement structure which has been constructed over the springs. Hundreds of people are collecting water from taps labelled with the mineral content released from each spout. We, of course, are not prepared and although we can purchase a special drinking apparatus designed for sipping this water, Stepan requests to borrow a cup from the "medsistra" (nurse). After sampling a number of these waters, I cannot find one I prefer over what comes out of the tap in my kitchen. Outdoors a choir is singing as we browse at crafts for sale and a loudspeaker is advertising a trip to the monastery we wish to visit. I see no problem with the twelve hryvnia pp cost, but our hosts will have no part of that. Their arguments in order of importance are: (a) it is too expensive, so we will go by public transit and (b) the tour will leave only when full and who knows what time that will be. On the lower level is a fountain spouting the medicinal waters. People are lined up by the dozens with plastic pop bottles and pails. A couple of benches nearby, provide us with a picnic area. Olya spreads her bagful of food and we enjoy basking in the rays of sunshine as we consume the fare.
A visit to a scantily stocked pharmacy leaves me grateful for the health care I have access to at home. Leaving the pharmacy, I find one kopijok. Shortly, Bill finds a five and I find one more. This good fortune came in part as we watch where we step as the streets are in poor condition, but we soon turned it into a game. At the end of the day, Stepan is the winner, having found a grand total of eighteen kopijok in assorted coins.
On the outskirts of town, we are waiting for our bus, when the above advertised tour bus pulls up. No more waiting for the regular bus as Bill and I are ushered aboard the tour bus. When the driver comes to collect our tickets, Olya informs him that they are hosting guests from Canada and how important it is that we be shown a good time. In the meantime, Stepan is holding two hryvnias (not nearly enough money) to show that he is prepared to pay our fare. The fellow returns to the front of the bus and away we go. For the next two days, we frequently recounted how we enjoyed this tour for free. Fumes from the bus are slowly poisoning me with carbon monoxide, so we commandeer a couple of empty seats a few rows away. Even though I do not understand everything that is said, the tour guide is very interesting, pointing out places of note. Included in this tour is a stop in what I am told is Sedabo village. There we tour a memorial museum dedicated to the honour of Stepan Bandera, a leader of Ukrainian nationalists. A few personal items and photos are on display. An explanation is given of why yellow and blue were chosen for the national flag: blue for the sky and yellow for the grain.
We back-track to Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast. Atop a mount at Hoshiv village, a secluded monastery was founded in 1932. The guide shares a story as to the miracle that occurred here that led to this site being chosen. The whole story escapes me, but has to do with a fellow with no legs regaining the ability to walk. We follow a steep wide stone path through the thick woods. Above the path to our right, every few metres pictures of the story of Christ are posted. Years ago, the worshippers, in order to do penance travelled this long climb on their knees, carrying a candle. If the candle went out as they journeyed, it was required that they return to the bottom and then start again. Those with immense burdens would, also carry rocks on their backs. The larger the guilt, the heavier the load. Later, Pauline told me that as a child, accompanied by her parents, she too made the pilgrimage on her knees. On the monastery grounds, the picture story of the life of Christ is concluded. Nearby is another shrine with a well said to contain holy water. Many of our fellow passengers partake, but as there is a communal cup, I figure I best not. The complex is fairly large. Among the many buildings and barns, there are quarters for the monks and guests. Across from the monastery is either a school or daycare centre. I am surprised to see kids here as it is a fair distance from town. During the Soviet era, the Hoshivsky Monastery was used as a storage area for fertilizer. Restoration by L'viv artists has been underway for seven years. The interior is spacious and boasts exceptional paintings of Mary, Jesus and biblical themes. Germany is financing the restoration of the exterior. The free standing bell tower has an unusual three tiered roof. At the rear, in what appears to be an added chapel, is a lovely stained glass window of Madonna. It is said that it was here the mother of Christ was sighted therefore only monks of the highest order are permitted inside. Across from here is a large outdoor chapel. We are led by our guide to the fields. I find the surrounding hills and valley serene. The spot is perfect for contemplation. Here the tour ends and we are instructed to return to the waiting bus via a different route. Fortunately the rain starts pelting down only after we are secure in the bus. After driving a short distance, we return as a count of heads reveals that we are missing bodies. Those people probably returned via the original path we took to the monastery. The guide goes looking for them, but when we leave it seems we have far too many empty seats. I am given a jolt when the spring on my seat gives way. No problem. Rather than sit in a busted seat, I take one left by the folks left behind.
It has stopped raining when we pull into the bus depot at Koret Morchin. We have missed the 1630 train. A decision is made that we will wait two and a half hours for a train rather than take an earlier bus. This is because we are back in L'viv Oblast and the cousins will have to pay two hryvnias to travel by bus, but the train is free. No never mind that I am willing to pay. I thought my mother was frugal because of lack of good wages, but I have decided this must be in our genes. The choir at the building housing the water springs is still singing and I suggest we wait for our train there, but the suggestion is not approved. Instead we go to the general store to buy food to eat while we wait. There is a good variety of food available as well as a large section devoted to alcohol. It is again pouring rain as we walk to the train station. Stepan finds a platform that provides some shelter from the elements and there we settle to eat our food. It is quite cold so we decide to return to the building housing the spring water as it will be warmer than here. By the time we arrive, the complex is empty but as mopping of the floors is still in progress we are permitted access to the entrance area. We keep warm by leaning against pipes that deliver water from the springs.
The return trip is uneventful except for conversation with other commuters. In Kalush we board a private bus that stops a fair distance from their apartment building. It is dark and there are few street lights. My shoes are squishing and my socks are wet from stepping in mud puddles. My little flashlight does not light up a large enough area for me to avoid them. It is 2300 hours when we return. At this late hour we choose to eat and drink more than is sensible. Much to Olya's dismay, Bill and I insist on doing the dishes. Not a good idea to have us both in such small quarters. We are both suffering explosions of gas!
All materials herein are copyrighted by the author. Permission must be granted by the author for any use of the material (text or images) contained in this diary. E-mail: email@example.com.