Day 1 & 2 – Yaremche, Carpathian Mountains, Ukraine

Lorna elected for the €50 GPS extra on the car hire at Ivano-Frankivs’ka. She told me previously that the road to Yaremche was straight and that we couldn’t go wrong, but – at near midnight in country we had never been to before – she lost her nerve. Never mind that for €50, we could have bought a new one that covered Ukraine and its neighbour Kazakstan as well.

The car hire guy spent a suspiciously long time instructing us about how to change the wheel on the VW Polo and the best way to bribe a police officer. The children fell asleep quickly after two delayed flights, and the regular jolts along the pot-hole-pocked road in the pouring rain were never going to wake them.

It was the foundation day for Yaremche. All the residents were out in the streets in their raincoats under umbrellas at 1am. The streets were lined with stalls and food sellers. Everyone had a smile on their faces.

We met the owner of the house we were renting at the bus station. He led us out of the town south and climbed into the mountains. Elsewhere in the world, they would have been called road hazards. Here – in the National Park – they were called roads.

Somewhat relieved to have got there with no punctures and no interjection from Ukrainian law authorities, we had arrived at our home for the next few days. Tired with no food or water, we were very happy with our first night of accommodation.

There are no curtains on the window, so I woke up with the sun. The views (like those in first the picture) were terrific. The only sound I could hear (apart from Lorna’s snoring – she still has a cold) was that of a nearby waterfall.

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The others woke up late and hungry. We drove down those same treacherous roads, pleased that we were driving a rental car.

Yaramche is not a modern place. Ladas – a make of car I haven’t seen in the UK since my friend Ernie had one in the 1980s – are the vehicle of choice here. They were so poorly regarded in the 1980s that they spawned many jokes, viz:

1. A man goes into a service-station and asks “Can I have a windscreen-wiper for my Lada?”
“Okay” replied the man in the garage, “it seems a fair swap”.

2. How do you double the value of a Lada?
– Fill the petrol tank.

3. How do two Lada drivers recognise each other?
– They already met at the garage this morning.

4. What do you call a Lada at the top of a hill?
– A miracle.

5. What’s the difference between a Lada and a sheep?
– It’s less embarrassing being caught getting out the back of a sheep.

6. Why do Ladas have heated rear windows?
– To keep your hands warm whilst pushing them.

Anyway, I digress. We were hunting for breakfast. We weren’t looking for a hypermarket but we did want a shop that could accommodate the four of us simultaneously. This proved more difficult than you might imagine. Shopping was not very fruitful. We had bread, cheese, bananas, coke, juices, spaghetti, some local biscuit type things, and some sweets….[As my friend Bob Puglielli says “I have only one rule”*, we have one rule about purchase of sweets when we are travelling: you have to buy sweets that are not available in your home country.]

You may not believe me (but it is true), but we were bemused to see that the lady in one of the shops we went to used an abacus to tot up our groceries. We have no idea whether she correctly calculated the total cost, but it has to be said: Ukraine is very cheap.

After several shops, we returned home (for what was then, frankly, lunch).

In the afternoon, we went hiking in the mountains. I’ll write a separate blog on this; it was so entertaining!

In the evening, uninspired by the groceries at our disposal, we elected to go to a restaurant in town. Most appeared to be closed. Nancy yearned for a menu with pictures. An eating establishment called Restaurant Tourist would seem to give a better than average chance of providing this. No such luck. There 20 pages of menu (never a sign of a great restaurant), all in Ukrainian in Cyrillic script.

This place isn’t used to English tourists. We haven’t yet come across anyone who speaks English. Luckily, Lorna speaks (some) Russian. Indeed, she is intending to offer it as a voluntary option at the school in which she teaches next year. I would like to say that I had high hopes for our ability to communicate, but

a) I’ve travelled in other countries where she has “some of the language”. She has all the confidence of those people who don’t make it past the first episode of Britain’s/America’s Got Talent, and (typically) about the same ability

b) I’d been shopping with her this morning

Lorna ordered the children a simple chicken dish with chips. She ordered herself the best local specialty (something Lorna described as a meatball thing) and she ordered me something vegetarian, no tomato. Initially, I was happiest with my choice; they had forgotten to bring it. There was also a remarkable similarity between what she had ordered for herself and what the children had.

When the waitress enquired at the end of the meal in her one word of English “good?”, three polite english people said “yes, very good. Thank you”. Nancy then observed tersely that she didn’t know that it was Opposite Day.

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*You can read more about this in his book “7,638 rules about raising children”

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Anonymous on August 2, 2011 at 10:43 pm

    Do remember it was a long time ago that Lorna did her Russian and Ukraine’s own language is different; even the alphabet is a Cyrillic variant.

    You forget the “what do you call a Lada convertible with the roof down?” A skip!

    Grumpy

    Reply

    • You are absolutely right, Dad. I have been impressed how Lorna reads the language (even if she has low idea on what any of it means). This is important when reading roadsigns.

      It is her confidence that most impresses however. She believes that she can communicate in Russian, though there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.

      I find it very difficult to remember any Ukrainian phrases. I don’t have any tags to anchor them.

      Reply

  2. Posted by Sarah on August 2, 2011 at 11:52 pm

    Great to see a reference of Ernie – brings back memories. I think the sat nav was a good idea. I once told Chris that it was a straight road in and we could go wrong getting to the Dead Sea. We arrived 4 hours later (45 minute journey) after an eventful visit with the army.

    Reply

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