Summer’s Last Hurrah, Part 2

Becca and I had one day to chill out in Sokyriany before the next stop on our itinerary. We had originally planned on spending a few days in the Carpathian Mountains, but that would’ve made another long trip on a bus or train, so we decided to stay closer to home. I had told Becca about my fun day at the river with Tori and my Ukrainian friends, and she loved the idea. So I called Slavic and he told me who to call to arrange it. My friend Michelle has wanted to go camping or rent a log cabin for ages, so when I proposed the idea she agreed and brought her friend Sabby with her to Sokyriany. We also called my nearest Peace Corps neighbor, Erin, and insisted that she come too because it wouldn’t have been the same without her!

Our sketchy cabin!

We had booked a log cabin on the Dniester for one night, and we did lots of cooking before we left so we wouldn’t run out of food. Then my friend Olha called us a taxi, and he drove us through the backwoods to get to this private camping ground in the middle of nowhere. There were tons of little log cabins, and when we saw ours, it looked like nobody had been there in years. The beds were sketch and, there was no running water to the bathroom so we’d have to use the woods when nature called. It reminded me of CSI, when they spray the room with luminol and then turn on the UV light to see blood stains. We were betting it’d be disgusting to see this cabin under that kind of light!

Me, Erin, Becca, and Michelle.

Nevertheless, we had a group of friends assembled and I think we all genuinely enjoyed hanging out at the river. We swam all afternoon, had a huge picnic for dinner, and then swung on this huge rocking swing while the sunset, talking about our favorite movies, bands, quotes, everything. It was so relaxing! The man who ran the camping site was very helpful, and provided us with cups, plates, and even an electric kettle for making coffee or tea for breakfast! The only thing that would’ve made our trip to the river more fun would have been Slavic and Petunia coming.. but alas, they’re real adults with day jobs and can’t go hang out at the river on a work day 😉

Sabby, Becca, and Erin swimming in the river; Michelle photo-bombing!

Soaking up the sunshine: Sabby, Becca, and me.

 We returned to Sokyriany for a few hours, and I belatedly realized that it was August 24th, Independence Day in Ukraine! We went to the stadium and watched the tail-end of the parade, introduced my American friends to my Ukrainian friends, and enjoyed the festive atmosphere. We didn’t have much time in Sokyriany though, because Becca, Michelle, Sabby, and I were going to visit the town of Kamyanets Podilsky that day. Kamyanets is about 2 hours from Sokyriany, and its famous for its medieval castle, which happens to be one of the Seven Wonders of Ukraine. (I’m trying to see them all before I finish Peace Corps! 6 down, 1 to go!)

It says “Happy Independence Day Ukraine!”

We had booked an apartment in Kamyanets Podilsky, so when we got to the bus station we called the owner and he came to meet us. Unfortunately, his car was pretty full, so he told us to put the luggage in and one of us could ride with him while the others took a bus to the apartment. I was nominated for the task due to my superb translation skills (when reading this sentence, please inject an appropriate amount of sarcasm). So I leave with him, and he asks me if I’m Polish. I tell him no, which increased his curiosity, but I didn’t want to say I was American because then he’d probably raise the price of the apartment!

So we’re playing “guess which country the foreigner is from” while my friends are calling me, not able to find the bus stop. I ask him where the bus stop is, and he tries explaining it to me, but whatever I’m relating to my friends isn’t helping them find the bus stop. I keep asking him for more specific landmarks to give my friends, but he keeps yelling out random countries.

“What street is the bus stop on?” I ask, and he answers “two down from the station, up an alley. You’re German!” and I say, “No, I’m not German. Do you know that name of the street?” an he says “No clue. You’re Canadian!” and I’m getting frustrated, “No, I’m not Canadian. What is the bus stop close to? Is it near a cafe?” This frustrating conversation continued, and suddenly I notice we’re no longer in a very populated area. In fact, we’re driving through a pretty dodgy area, and he tells me its because all the main roads are closed for Independence Day. I’m praying “please don’t let this guy be a creeper,” starting to feel a bit freaked out. But two minutes later we arrived at the apartment, a beautiful two bedroom place near the Old City in Kamyanets. And soon enough my friends find the right bus and show up at the apartment too! I’ve never been so happy to see them 😉

That night we went for a walk, and we made it just in time to see the sunset on the castle. It was pretty spectacular.

 Sunset on the beautiful Kamyanets Podilsky Castle.

Me and Becca in front of the castle, it looks kind of fake but I promise its not photo-shopped 😉

Yet again, Becca is well-dressed for hiking around in a castle and I’m not.

The next day we went to the castle so we could explore inside. There was no tour, but Michelle happens to have a graduate degree in Medieval Studies, so she could explain everything to us, no tour guide needed because Michelle is just that awesome. Sabby tried his hand at archery (and turned out to be a great shot), and I sampled the castle’s kvas (an Eastern-European, bread-based, non-alcoholic drink similar to beer). The kvas was fine, but I’m pleased to report that Sokyriany has the best kvas in Ukraine, and this comes after many taste tests, in pretty much every place I’ve traveled to in Ukraine. I should write a Wikipedia page about Sokyriany, and include this little tidbit! 

A view from inside the castle.

A view of the castle in Kamyanets Podilsky by day.

We spent the rest of the day hanging out with Michelle and Sabby, because our train to Kyiv didn’t leave until 1am. At midnight Becca and I took a taxi to the train station, and soon enough our train pulls up. We get in, and instead of sleeping bunks, we find reclining seats (like the ones you’d see on an airplane). Every train I’ve ever been on in Ukraine has sleeping bunks, and I couldn’t believe this one didn’t! I almost cried, from sheer exhaustion and disappointment. The train wouldn’t arrive in Kyiv until 8:30am, so it was going to be a long night sitting up waiting to arrive in Kyiv.

After a long night on the train, we arrived in the city and first went to the hostel where I’d be staying to drop off our bags. My friend Janira was there already, so we had breakfast together and I drank lots of coffee in order to have energy to survive the day. It was Becca’s only day to sight-see in Kyiv, so I felt like we had to do something, whereas if it was just me, I would’ve stayed at the hostel to sleep. But it was Becca’s last day in Ukraine, and her last day with me, so I rallied and we went out to do some sight-seeing.

Hot but having fun! Becca trying my favorite Ukrainian ice-cream, with poppy seeds!

The Holodomor Monument; to remember the Great Famine in the 1930s when the USSR intentionally starved millions of Ukrainians to death.

Me in downtown Kiev, with a statue of Bogdan Khelmenitsky on the left, and Saint Michael’s Monastery behind me.

Becca found some life-size Easter Eggs! 

I took Becca to as many touristy places as our schedule allowed, and we even snuck into the Kyiv Pecherska Lavra (The Monastery of the Caves), where a church was founded in a cave in Kyiv in 1051. The Lavra has two entrances; one for tourists, where you pay 50 hyrvnia to get in, and one for locals, where you go in the back and pay nothing. I guess I’m a local now, I know all the back doors! 😉

Becca’s last goal was grocery shopping, so we found a nice supermarket where she could buy some salami and other Ukrainian goodies to take back to Cairo as souvenirs for her Egyptian friends. Then I took her to the bus and we said our goodbyes. 10 days with Becca went by so quickly, especially compared to the 6 weeks I had with Tori! But I’m glad Becca came to see my life in Ukraine, it meant a lot to me that she’d use her vacation days to come to Eastern Europe when she could be traveling to France or Italy or somewhere a bit more tourist-friendly. She must love me ; )

After Becca left, I wished I could go home too, but I had appointments at Peace Corps for my Close-of-Service (COS) medical examination. Peace Corps has to medically clear every volunteer before they finish service, so I scheduled my COS medical for when Becca was leaving because I knew I’d already be in the city. But that night I was sorely tempted to ditch Kyiv and go home! I don’t think I’ve ever been so burned out on traveling before. But I stuck it out, and the next day was spent with the doctors at Peace Corps headquarters. And the good news is that I’m medically cleared, which is the first step to finishing my Peace Corps service! I guess this means its really happening, my time in Ukraine is coming to a close. It also meant I could finally go home to Sokyriany, and this time for good, because school was starting in three days. Now that my summer is officially over, maybe I can stay in one place for a while ; )

Thanks for reading, I hope all is well where you are : )

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