Yesterday was Teachers’ Day here in Ukraine…who came up with that idea, and why hasn’t the U.S. gotten on board? My university arranged for a special excursion for its teachers, and I hopped on the bandwagon — or the bus, as it were. I was surprised to find that there were only two other teachers besides me from my department: Olga, my counterpart, and Inna, who took me to the Outdoor Market a few weeks ago and showed me where to buy the best cabbage salad. 🙂 Olga’s husband, Pasha (who helped me get a SIM card for my phone, and a printer/copier/scanner), Inna’s husband, Yaroslav, their son, Bohdan, and the Vice-Director of the Foreign Languages Department, Ludmila, were also along on the trip, and we were a very jolly group. Actually, I feel extremely fortunate to have had such a group to be with for the day, as they were happy to speak English with me and made sure I had a good time.
So, where did we go? Well, it turns out that we went to one of the seven wonders of Ukraine, Sofiyivsky Park in Uman. Cherkasy is located on the eastern edge of Cherkas’ka Oblast (region), and Uman is close to the western edge, so we basically crossed the whole “state”. The distance is about 185 km, but it took an entire four hours to get there. That’s right…four hours there, and four hours back. Our driver was a young guy who was negotiating potholes the whole way, often crossing into the opposing lane to avoid them, and when we got to any speed bumps I believe he slowed down to about 2 miles an hour. So, that accounts for the four hours! We had a stop along the way in both directions at a gas station so that we could all stand in line for the one restroom and buy junk food. (I was delighted on the way back from Kyiv to buy a Kit Kat that had a surprising layer of peanut butter, but my Kit Kat this time had no such creamy goodness in store for me. Just a thick Kit Kat.)
We had to be on the bus at 7:00 am at the university…yes, those of you who know me are groaning for me right now! We got to Sofiyivska at around 11:00 and walked around a good bit of the park. It was a gorgeous day and a Saturday to boot so the crowds were out. Olga, Pasha, and Ludmila had been to the park before and guided us around. This park was built in 1796 as a gift from a Polish count for his Greek wife, Sofia.
We decided to take a boat ride through a cave — basically, a long tunnel joining two lakes — but the long lines meant a wait of over an hour. I got off the easiest, because first Olga accompanied me to find the port-o-potties (a place you only visit if you REALLY need to) and then to look at souvenirs; then the men took me to see the “pink rose house” (as Yaroslav called it) on a little island — see the upper right corner of the map; and then Inna’s family took me to get some tea and eat the pork cutlet sandwiches and cheese fritters she had made. You can see what I mean about them treating me nicely! I probably ended up waiting only about 15 or 20 minutes in the line before we all carefully boarded a large canoe.
There was a punter at the front and one at the back who used their sticks to push off the tunnel walls as we went through. It was entirely dark in there, save for a shaft of light coming from airshafts built in every so often. Ludmila led the boat in singing a Ukrainian folk song in the pitch dark. At 3:00, it was time to get back on the bus for our ride home. This felt to me like a very special Ukrainian experience, and one I will not soon forget.