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An Ukrainian Christmas Experience is Awesome!

An Ukrainian Christmas Experience is Awesome!

January 5/20

We started the day by enjoying a wonderful breakfast in our deluxe Lviv hotel. The buffet certainly pleases all tastes. There is the Ukrainian offerings – salad, sausage, pickles, dark rye bread etc plus everything North Americans are use to eating – cereals, bacon, eggs, yogurts. For everyone there were some special treats like melt-in-your-mouth freshly made cream puffs!

After breakfast we gathered in the hotel lobby where we met our wonderful local guide, Taras and we boarded our coach with driver “Uncle” Paul, and soon we were on our way.

Lunch was in a converted train station restaurant (community of Kolomiya). This is Taras’s favourite restaurant and I can understand why – the feast they prepared just for us was exceptional. The setting was so nice with a wood burning fireplace next to our long table.

The town markets, butcher shops and bakeries were packed with locals buying supplies for Christmas. There was a tiny building located across the road from the restaurant we dined in – they just sell freshly baked bread and there was a steady stream of people buying it.

We stopped at the Easter Egg Pysanka Museum. What a fun attraction. The Easter eggs on display are works of art – many are decades old.

We also stopped at the Hutsulshchyna Museum – it was interesting too – we saw a impressive embroidery work, traditional clothing and exceptional art work. So impressive for a small community.

Our home for 4 nights is at Bukovel, the largest ski resort in Eastern Europe. Rumor had it that the President of Ukraine might be staying at our hotel – its the highest rated one – Radisson Blu. There were 2 passenger helicopters stationed on the resort property – maybe for the President?

The hotel lobby is all decked out for Christmas.

Our rooms are beautiful. I enjoy the added touches like the heated floors in the bathroom. I booked the very deluxe rooms that overlook the adjacent ski hill.

Dinner was a casual affair. The hotel buffet included hot mulled wine – my passengers enjoyed that. Tonight we could come at our leisure but as I expected my passengers still ended up eating together – what a terrific family!

January 6/20

The breakfast buffet at the Radisson Blu, Bucaval is one of the finest hotel buffets I’ve experienced anywhere in the world. There is so much variety and everything is just delicious. Mushroom and Potato filled perogies are found right next to the fried eggs – there are so many hot items, omelette bar, fresh fruit, decadent pastries, salads, smoothies, varieties of coffee and teas, juices – you can order a la carte too and the sweet pancakes served with sour cream are a hit….

We started our Christmas Eve Day journey at 9am. What a beautiful day. The temperature was wintery crisp but the sun shone brightly. Luckily the road conditions were ideal.

“Uncle” Paul our coach driver made a few scenery stops along the way so we could snap some pictures. A small town proudly displayed a life size wooden carved nativity scene. The Carpathian Mountain vistas were spectacular – as my passengers said a picture could never do them justice.

As we drove through one rural village the driver pulled over as a traditional funeral procession passed by. It was quite something to see – my passengers said although a very sad occasion – its something they won’t forget.

In the Carpathian rural communities the deceased is laid in the family home. Friends and family come to pay respect. This is a country filled with superstitions so mirrors are covered in the family home while the body is on display. When the body is taken from the home, chairs etc are turned in an opposite direction.

The body is carried through the town with the casket open. The processional we saw consisted of family members holding banners, four young men carrying the casket and of course there was obvious grief in the faces of those that passed. The processional proceeded right past our coach.

It is believed if someone passes at Christmas or Easter that their bodies go directly to heaven.

Tradition is tradition and its nice that tradition is so important in this country,

Lunch was in a small town in their wedding banquet hall. Everything was extremely modern except for the washroom facilities. Although spotless clean with sink and hand dryer the “toilet” was the squat kind…. it was the major topic of discussion during lunch!

We were running ahead of time so our guide, Taras was able to arrange a stop for us in a very small mountain village (few homes) where they specialize in hand making wool rugs. A lady greeted us and explained the process. Let me tell you making them is very laborious. Two of us purchased one – now how will we get them home? It took 2 weeks for the local ladies to make the rug I purchased – the cost to buy only $80 Canadian…. the average wage in this country is $200 Canadian per month….

Our Christmas Eve itinerary is one that we will remember for years to come.

First we so enjoyed a horse drawn sleigh ride with bells a ringing through the Carpathian Mountains to our hosts home.

We were welcomed with a mug of hot fresh Mint Tea. We toured the great Grandparents home, the Parents home, the cattle and chicken barn, visited the family outdoor chapel and then retired to the children’s home where the festive activities took place.

We were able to help with perogie making in the modern kitchen before we took our seats for a traditional Ukrainian Christmas Eve Dinner where a minimum of 12 non-meat dishes are always served.

It was emotional when the family took their seats with us – parents, children and grandchildren. The food was blessed and the Grandmother welcomed us.

We tried to count how many plates of food there were on the table but lost track well after 12 – its tradition to start with the Kutia, a sweet buckwheat type of a stew which is often prepared a few days in advance. Eating fish on Christmas Eve is allowed so herring was prepared 3 different ways. Of course there were the many traditional homemade moonshine shots. Before long we were so pleasantly full.

Entertainment followed the meal – the grandchildren sang, two local children (one being an orphan) told stories in Ukrainian and sang, and finally it was the adults turn – traditional instruments appeared and Ukrainian carols were sung. I was given a guitar to play so my passengers and I entertained by singing our traditional Christmas songs.

What an incredible evening! We are blessed to be welcomed into a family home during the most religious holiday of the year.

The eventing reminded us of the importance of family at Christmas.

As Paul drove us back to our hotel we passed through many Carpathian Mountain towns where we saw young children dressed in traditional Christmas outfits as they walk from home to home singing carols or they perform a play. The home owner in return presents them them cash or fresh fruit.

The cemeteries were lit with hundreds of candles – before Christmas Eve dinner many families visit the graves of departed love ones and they light candles.

We arrived back at our resort just after 10pm and the lobby area was filled with families celebrating the evening. Many children were around the Christmas Tree.

January 7, 2020

It’s Christmas Day in Ukraine – how wonderful for us!

Today we experienced another true cultural experience.

We traveled back into the Carpathian Mountains to the community of Kryvorivnia.

On Christmas Day children dress in theatre costumes and in rural towns they stop vehicles and put on a skit or sing Christmas Carols. I was pleased we had the opportunity to experience it when our driver stopped and the children boarded our coach.

We visited the famous “Christmas” Hutsul Ukrainian Church. We were some of the hundreds that had showed up. The church was unable to accommodate a fraction of those in attendance but that didn’t stop the droves from entering. The service lasted for hours so it wasn’t hard for church goers to spend a bit of time inside the church and then congregate outside with their friends, locals and tourists. We met other Canadians, Americans and Belgium’s who were watching the festivities as closely as we were. The locals were anxious to speak with us – they are so proud of their country, their customs and they thanked us many times for coming.

Lunch was at the social hub of the town – an interesting restaurant that was built in the round. White borsch, potatoe pancakes and homemade donuts were the highlights of this meal.

We stopped at a cemetery. I grabbed a few pictures. Most of the graves have benches or picnic tables adjacent as locals spend time in the cemeteries – family members will stop by with a picnic lunch or maybe to play cards as they wish to be close to those that have passed. Being Christmas candles were lit before mass at the graves and some people left little plates of food too.

Dinner was in Bukovel at a really cool restaurant thats themed after a mushroom. Ukrainians love their mushrooms! The Christmas Dinner they served was exceptional. There were so many courses. Everything was so delicious. I was sad to pass on the many layers of cream honey cake – everyone told me it was awesome. The horseradish vodka was a hit too!

When we arrived back to the hotel a Hutsul band was waiting to entertain us. They were terrific.

Christmas – its the most wonderful time of the year!

Our Ukraine Guide, Taras and our coach driver, “Uncle” Dave.

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