Jani invited us to take a trip with her and Thomas to one of their favorite stomping grounds, the village of Slavsko in the Carpathian mountains. We gladly agreed and made preparations for the train ride to the village on Friday. Friday's mode of transportation was the elektrichka, an electric-powered commuter train. This train travels from L'viv all the way to the city of Uzhgorod, to the southwest. Our stop was about three hours away from town. After a long, hot journey on a packed train (more about this later), we arrived in Slavsko. We were greeted at the side of the rails by one of the bed and breakfast's proprietors. As you may recall, we stayed in a family's modest home in another village a couple of weeks ago - the accommodations this time were quite different. Jani found a family that had built up their house to accommodate visitors. The house was large - with at least 7 rooms for visitors, a half-bathroom on the second floor and a full bath on the first floor, two kitchens (one for use by guests), a dining room and a large ski storage room. Maria, the other proprietor, was a downhill ski champion in Soviet days, so making a living around skiing was a great fit for her interests.
We began the ascent to the B&B in an old Soviet-era jeep. Everyone in town who owns a car seems to have a jeep because the roads are nearly impassible. Saying "nearly impassible" does not fully capture how these paths were just strips of dirt, large ruts, and large stones masquerading as roads. Water flowed down the mountain through the ruts, even on a dry days, revealing that the roads doubled as creek beds when there was rain or melting snow, causing further erosion. On top of this, the ride from the train station was mostly vertical. We were tossed up and down, to and fro, in the old, Soviet-made jeep. You can see a relatively flat and well-maintained piece of the road that we traversed on our hike to the left. We made it to the top, dropped off our things, and had a bite to eat (you can buy breakfast and dinner as part of the package. We decided to get both and then pack a lunch for our hike).
That evening, we met the neighbor down the hill, a tough old woman who farmed in that village forever. She told us a funny tale about Cossacks - akin to a Ukrainian Lysistrata - and about her feelings on politics. Not surprisingly, she preferred the old Soviet days when she could get credit and money for her milk and cheese from the government. Things are more difficult now because she also has to find buyers. It seems that she really just barters with her milk and cheese for needed services rather than selling it. She also talked with Erik about the elections. Even though she is disgusted with today's politics, she plans to vote. In fact, Erik's suggestion that she might not vote was summarily dismissed. But, she still doesn't know for whom since "none of them [politicians] care about simple Ukrainian people." Carter was thrilled to watch her cow and calf up close and hear them moo. He was also interested in her neighbor's chickens. The photo on the left shows Carter in hiking mode.
After a nice night of sleep, we awoke for a busy day. Erik got up around six and went for a walk into town. The fog was quite heavy in the mountains and the air was chilly. He climbed down the rough road, crossed the train tracks, then meandered through the sleepy town. A few municipal workers were up cleaning the streets and emptying trash bins, and a few men were huddled around trucks talking and drinking. The little town has many construction projects in process - Erik saw several partially finished buildings. It was unclear whether they were abandoned due to lack of funds, or the owners were taking a break from construction. It was clear that the town's focus is on tourism and skiing. Aside from grocery stores, the only other businesses in town seemed to sell or rent skis and snowboards. The picture on the left shows Lea near one of the residences on the mountainside.
The picture on the top of this post gives some sense of the idyllic setting we were in. It was beautiful, peaceful, and a wonderful time just exploring nature. After breakfast, we began our trek. The fog had not yet lifted - apparently it doesn't burn off until 10:30 or 11 am because the mountains block the sun. We took a leisurely pace, stopping frequently to gather and eat fresh blackberries hiding in the woods, marvel at the intricate webs of several orb weavers that were staking out moths and other delightful treats along the road, and poke at the mud (as you can see on the left). We stopped for lunch and a snack, as well as a game of dinosaurs - Thomas has taken to Carter's game of attacking Erik in the guise of a Tyrannosaurus Rex (on the right). Although one expected a bucolic celebration from a Bruegel painting to break out at any time, we saw very few people during the course of the day - a woman taking her cows to another field to eat, 3 women going to a field with hoes, and a couple of logging trucks slowly making their way up or down the road, mostly driving at an extreme angle with one set of tires on the side of the road and one in the road. After several hours of hiking, and a brief nap for Carter in the cool, fresh mountain air, we headed back to the B&B for dinner and to pack up for the trip back to L'viv.