Celebrating with the Hutsul Community
Time floats in the Carpathian Mountains.
This is the home of the Hutsul’s who are Ukrainian’s mountain people.
Experiences with the locals are always memorable ones so we were surrounded by local culture today.
In my 30 plus years taking groups around the world today’s planned event with the Hutsul’s turned out to be one of the very BEST ones.
At breakfast I noticed that Ukrainians prefer cold meats and cheese and the North Americans are attracted more to the eggs, bacon and potatoes. After we finished the excellent quality and boutiful breakfast our days adventure began.
Roads in many parts of the Ukraine are in bad condition. For locals are use to this – for us it was another experience. I can understand why a car of choice is an old Lada – you wouldn’t want to ruin an expensive vehicle by driving it down some of these roads. They are certainly not the worst roads I have been on during my travels but they have made my Worst Top 10 list.
The scenery was spectacular as we climbed elevation. We saw many picturesque mountain side homes. The only way to reach them is by walking on paths – there are no roads leading to them. The children therefore walk down the mountain to go to school and are housed during the week. When the weekend arrives they make the journey back up the mountain to get home.
We stopped to visit a very small rural community. We walked up a hill to their wooden Orthodox Church. Sunday service was going on – non-holiday services last 2-3 hours – Easter and Christmas services are many hours longer. The service is amplified so you can hear it throughout the village. We were fortunate to watch some of the pomp and circumstance – men enter through a man only door, ladies have their own door too – once inside they stand on opposite sides facing one another. It was explained that the segregated doors force the men to think of the Lord instead of their wives.
The congregational singing was beautiful and there was plenty of it. Easter hymns are sung for 50 days. We couldn’t follow what was going on during the very formal service but our guides certainly knew and sang along. Those attending service wore their Sunday best.
We also visited the adjacent cemetery. It is located on rolling land so its next to impossible to cut the grass. Picnic tables are found next to some gravestones as locals spend time with family who have passed – they enjoy meals and often traditional vodka shots in the cemetery. It was explained that if they drink a shot of vodka while visiting they pour a shot on the grave for the one that passed. If there are fruit trees or berries in a cemetery you are free to consume the fruit while in the cemetery but taking them out is disrespectful and bad luck.
We then strolled into the small village. A few home owners skipped church as they knew we were coming and this is an opportunity for them to sell their hand made items. Most of my passengers bought souvenirs from them. We were intrigued with the architecture – small mirrors are often used in exterior home design to ward off evil. We also toured a home that was used during the filming of a famous Ukrainian movie – “Shadows of Forgotten Ancensters”.
Finding bathrooms was a bit challenging. We eventually came across a very basic outhouse and those that were desperate decided to give it a try. A local lady saw our dilemma so graciously offered the bathroom in her home. I followed a group of my female passengers as I wanted to see her home interior but I had to laugh because she put the gate down when I tried to enter. No way was that buba going to let a man in. My passengers told me that she was busy making bread.
A travel break stop was made at a local variety-type store for an ice cream treat. The ice cream cones were in a cooler already packaged. Unfortunately they didn’t have the popular poppyseed ice cream. The store was small but carried the most important items like fresh rye bread but the main staple in the store was of course “vodka” – so many varieties.
We were excited to meet a wool weaver – her entire yard was filled with hanging raw wool. What a beautiful picture. Many of us bought smaller items from her. Her blankets unfortunately would be too difficult to get home.
Our driver ventured down a narrow country road to a tiny village. I noticed 2 children that were waiting for our arrival. We all exited the vehicle and were lead down a long driveway. Of course I knew what to expect but my passengers couldn’t believe their eyes – an orchestra was playing, traditional dressed town folk and children were singing and dancing.
This is the home of the village school principal and his family. Four family generation homes are located on his property. It was interesting to see the differences in the home interiors. All the homes were basically laid out the same. You enter into an open space that is often used for dancing as neighbours get together to enjoy their own entertainment. To the right and left of the entrance room are bedrooms. Every room has a large wood burning oven – used for cooking and heating. Of course the principal and his family live in the newest and most modern home – the same design but we noticed a television instead of the gramophone that was found in the original home. Decorating is very modest. There is a well for freshwater – you put the pail down in the well and bring it up filled with water.
Todays event was planned so we could experience the typical Hutsul wedding – one of my passengers commented she could not believe that we are visiting the Ukraine, in the mountains at a wedding! We needed a bride and groom – I was nominated as the groom – my wonderful passenger, Merl as the bride.
When we arrived and met the family we were presented with a welcome shot of vodka. This is also customary at many Canadian Ukrainian weddings. In the Ukraine, vodka is used to welcome guests. Many make their own and this home-made brew is also sold at roadside stands or in restaurants. Our welcome vodka was infused with ginseng – there are so many flavours. Platters were also brought around with the same sugar coated donuts that my Grandmother use to make (they are served as appetizers not dessert – can also be coated with salt and garlic) and heavy European type bread topped with a smooth pork fat. Butter is not typically used to top bread.
As bride and groom we had to dress in traditional wedding clothing. The parents of the bride (my passengers – Tony and Pat) were also dressed in Ukrainian fashions.
All guests decorated an artificial tree. After a real wedding the couple would take this home with them to symbolize their marriage. Merl and I broke the wedding bread – our bread pieces split evenly meaning we were both are equal as the boss. We then shared the bread with our guests – it was delicious.
Wheat and candies were thrown instead of confetti. Afterwards children get to collect the candies.
After all the formal wedding formalities finished we sat down for the wedding feast. The head table was already filled with so much food. We thought this was the entire meal but we learned this was just the appetizers. More food soon arrived including the traditional borsh, tiny rolled cabbage rolls (almost like a thin cigar – never seen this version before), and a variety of meats (beef is typically not served – chicken and pork are the main staples). Dessert was corn meal that was bowled with sour cream and topped with cheese – delicious!
The orchestra kept us entertained and there was lots of dancing. The tradition of toasting guests is just as common today as it was years ago – especially at a wedding/special event – even at home when company arrives. The sayings during the toasts are always meaningful and heartfelt. There plenty of toasts during the wedding reception and then a vodka shot is poured. The most meaningful toast was made by our hosts Father and then everyone sang for us – some of my passengers were dabbing their tears afterwards.
We truly felt like we were at a wedding. Most of the community members that were involved with today festivities are school teachers wanting to promote their tiny mountain area to tourists.
We couldn’t have asked for more wonderful experience.
Of course as we boarded the coach to head back to our hotel the band reappeared and the entire family was there offering hugs, kisses and a final vodka for anyone that was interested.
Email addresses were exchanged – new friends in the making!
Our tour hosts decided to return on better roads but SURPRISE those roads were just as bad as our earlier journey. Itwas wonderful traveling through the local towns. Groups of men often congregated outside – while the ladies were busy chatting inside homes. Sunday weddings are popular too – their were celebrations in every town – a flower covered arch entrance announces the location of the wedding reception. As we passed these celebrations we always saw a band waiting to play music to welcome the well dressed town people and family that were walking to the special event.
Dinner was held in an excellent Italian restaurant close to our mountain top hotel – everyone was free tonight to order off the menu – after our wedding feast we didn’t need a big meal so most of our ordered and shared pizzas.
This morning after breakfast we were met by Hutsul craftspeople who taught us a Master Class in Easter Egg decorating and pottery. We decorated our very own painted Easter Eggs and created pottery vases and plates. We also bought their supply of for sale painted eggs. To be honest I wasn’t sure how this class would go over but it was a huge success. We all had a fantastic time.
Lunch was in an very eclectic restaurant – wonderfully decorated. The meal was exceptional. The potato filled perogies melted in our mouth. The salad and soup were excellent and beautifully presented. The layered honey cake was a perfect ending.
How exciting it was to ride on a chair lift to the top of a mountain for picture taking.
Tonight’s we enjoyed a private bbq banquet on the outdoor terrace of the hotel which overlooks the mountains. As soon as we arrived a special Hutsul orchestra performed just for us. The chef grilled meats on the bbq and there was enough food for an army, Afterwards we danced and got to try playing some of their orchestras musical instruments.
It was a wonderful farewell evening to the Carpathian Mountains and its people.
Tomorrow we are off to our next Mystery Destination…..
The weather remains beautiful – shorts and t-shirt temps.