To kick off 2014, Julia and I decided a trip to Ukraine for some snowboarding was a good idea.** She had never been before and I hadn’t been in years, but we were both gung-ho.
Despite the questionable quality of Russian/Ukrainian trains, especially in plaskart, the 30 hours (plus or minus) each way made the experience all the more adventurous. Or maybe I’m just sick of airports.
We went to Bukovel in the Carpathian Mountains. It’s a resort that pitches itself at a European-standard. I’ve only been through Andorra in the summer, so hard to compare, but at a stretch it could be dubbed some sort of ‘post-Soviet Andorra’. Sure.
The people were pretty friendly and helpful, which was refreshing. Service was ok, but to be expected in that area of that world as some sort of cultural idiosyncrasy. The roads were like some sort of moon-scape (we stayed in Yaremcha, one hour by bus to the north), but the houses were lovely old wooden things that gave a much more homey feeling than the concrete and stone of many post-Soviet cities. The food was homelier than a hedge fence. We immediately ate a bunch of fresh fruit back in Moscow.
A three-hour stop in Lviv was a welcome reprieve from beating down the tracks. Quite a colorful city with amazing architecture.
To keep it short, there were three things made this trip pretty unforgettable:
1. Moscow had no snow even at the end of December, so I was a bit dubious about going many miles south to find more. And to our surprise, there was none. But thank the high and mighty one for blown snow (and the apparent lack of environmental concern in Ukraine about the effect it might have). Most trails were open with lovely, cruisey, groomers. In the woods it was green and even the birds were sometimes heard chirping away. Quite the contrast.
2. I had never taught someone to snowboard and Julia didn’t have the slightest clue other than the few videos she watched on Youtube. By the end of the first day, she was doing the ‘falling leaf’ on both tow-side and heel-side. Day 2, she was cutting up the rug a bit, but still falling all over the place. By Day 3 and 4, bruised but determined, she was making it down the bunny slope without falling, enjoying herself immensely, and later making it down quite a few challenging intermediate trails.
3. Lastly, I lost George (my camera, yes, named after the monkey). However, you’ll notice that this post has photos. Interesting. Tell me more. Ok.
I left it on the bus after the second day, January 7th – Orthodox Christmas. I only noticed later in the evening when a few young boys came around our house dressed in these fantastic sparkly cardboard belts, hats and shoulder straps. They had swords and they sang songs or re-enacted something for sweets or money. I’m told it’s an old tradition that they only do in the countryside. Couldn’t find George for the life of me to take a photo of them, so raised the alarm with the host, and was dead certain he was gone for good.
They called the driver, but they said they didn’t find anything, and that after they dropped us off, they picked up a group of workers. They might have found it. I was dubious about someone turning it in.
I thought we could ask the bus driver if they said anything the next morning, but it was a different one – an ornery sort who wouldn’t give us the other driver’s number. He said he’d call him later. Pretty settled in the bitter fact that after banning myself from nice cameras for years (after losing/breaking two Canon AE-1’s in close succession), I had lost another one after having it for only eight months. I was so desperate that I was ready to offer a $200 reward.
We arrived and I was changing my boots on the bus before heading out for a salty day on the hill. The ornery driver came in. He had called the other one and they said they found it!
One of the workers turned it into the bus driver! Incredible. I had George back by the evening, bought the worker a bottle of Red Label the next morning, and took some sweet blue-bird pics on our last day.
What a treat to learn that some honest folk still roam the high plains of Earth, and especially in Ukraine. I’ll nary soon forget it.