Archive for January, 2010

The Electrifying Carpathians

Our first Ukrainian vacation during the New Years and Christmas holidays was to the Carpathian Mountains to the west via a 12 hour train ride – the train outbound was cold as a meat locker – our coach was a “summer coach” with light heating equipment. The return coach was hot as a banya – just miserable with no sleep. This Carpathian Regional Map shows the area we stayed. Voroahta  (ворохта) was our base of operations from a B&B wanna-be, run by a woman named Anna Pavelelena.  This was the most “unique” vacation retreat that I’ve encountered in my life.

Let’s start with our room. Bear in mind Sophie and I were testing the limits traveling with our slightly manic 7 year old Nadia and an almost one year old Thomas; all of us being cozied up in a one room accommodation. We had booked late but won’t make that mistake again. So the four of us are stuffed into a 10X20 room with one bed and a couch. Nadia got the couch and Thomas, Sophie and I shared the big bed. Thomas is getting to be a big boy and is unrelenting with his kicking, squirming and tossing during his night’s sleep. The room was a rustic redux with knotty pine tongue and groove panels, unpainted…maybe a Ukrainian bunk house style – I’ll have to find a Ukrainian cowboy to verify that…. Just outside our door was a coal fired stove which we had shared responsibility for stoking during our time in the room.  The B&B was right across the tracks from the train station, noise was minimal.

The town: Voroahta is kind of the step child town around this scenic mountain region. On the back side of the mountain are A-Class skiing resorts with German lift equipment, great restaurants and plush hotels. Voroahta shows all the signs of a typical western Ukrainian small town on life support. It’s only hope will be to stress its close proximity to winter and summer recreation areas and perhaps start a little real estate boom to encourage building of vacation cabins. The town square had a statue with no name. Like Lenin in Russia, Tares Shevchenko needs no introduction, but for tourists it would have been nice to know who this fellow was and his importance to the community. All the streets and sidewalks were an ice field. I’ve never been sure-footed on ice and having to navigate the iced over streets made this town experience more difficult. Voroahta imparts a sense of collective depression. There is the usual rural dilapidation, and consumption of vodka seems to be brisk and done openly on the streets as circumstances dictate.

The great part of our accommodation was how the family took us in over the New Year-Christmas holidays. They included us in their celebration and offered festive and tasty food. Papa Igor, Mama Anna and their daughter Irina and her family from Lvov gave a peak at life for western Ukrainians. They were really very nice people.

Pluses and Minuses of our Stay:

On the plus side this was authentic! No star rating system here just people to people with the hosts willing to share their home. Anna’s cooking was regional in flavor. Heavy in soups, meats, potato dishes and cabbage. Vodka was on the table for all meals including breakfast. We are used to a bit lighter fare (grains, fresh veggies, etc. and no vodka) but nevertheless enjoyed all the meals she prepared.

We had the use of the kitchen when we wanted it (not often excepting to fix Thomas’ lunches each day.

In traveling the area, we found Yaremsha (Яремча) to be the most the most authentic culturally and socially. Even the music to your ear is true Ukrainian folk music. Yaremsha has a variety of sites including a spectacular waterfall and a monastery nearby.

Minuses: The kitchen at the B&B was in a detached building about 30 feet from our room. Not a problem but Anna and company seemed oblivious to the icy sidewalks and wouldn’t salt them or chip away the ice unless we asked. We did not receive a fresh change of towels in our room during our stay. In fact our”towels” resembled old, heavily used dish towels and added no comfort to our bath time. There was no mirror or medicine cabinet in the bathroom, only an old piece of mirror glass rimmed in red tape that was leaning in the window sill. I picked this up to use as my shaving mirror each day. Also, no sink had been installed. Bathing, shaving and tooth brushing was all accomplished by using the shower wand. The entry/exit door lock presented a challenge. You had to lift up severely on the handle in order to engage the key. Finally the electrifying part of our stay….an electrical grounding problem caused by the installation of a water circulation pump for the hot water heating system. Nadia, Sophie and I each got “bit” by electricity in/around the metal shower pan and the heating radiators. We were told to unplug the circulation pump and hot water heater while using the shower. Anna offered a very lame excuse saying that other guests had no problem…like we were space aliens that attracted spurious electricity from poorly grounded hot water pumps. Apparently her other guests like to zip up their day with a little blast of 230V 50 cycle, to give themselves extra lift and energy! This was just scary as hell. There is no quicker way to go your heavenly reward than to be standing in water with electric current passing through it. Anna’s son-in-law matter of factly, said to be careful that the situation could cause “life impairments” – hell yes! The man is brilliant!!! I’ve always wanted to go on vacation and come home paralyzed from strong electric shock. They really need to get a master electrician to trouble shoot their entire electrical system and get it fixed QUICKLY. Ukrainians are not litigious like Americans but this situation is so dangerous I smell law suits everywhere (not from us by the way).

Maybe Anna is secretly a member of a Neo-Lysenko cult operating her B&B to further development of electro-shock therapy!  Gosh not in Ukraine!

 

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