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Kamyanets-Podilsky, Ukraine 
May 25
 

At the beginning of the day we thought this may be our last journal entry. It has been a good life. A full life. We love you family.

After a quiet morning we packed up and headed to the bus depot only a few blocks away. We had plenty of time; our bus didnít leave until 1:00. We purchased a big bottle of water (1.5 litres) Ė still, no gas Ė and ice cream cones (the kind already in packages). A little gypsy girl glommed on to Terry (he is always the one to attract animals and children). She clung to him until he gave her some coins. We found a seat on a bench for Sherrie between a man in his seventies and a mid-teen boy. Soon another lady joined the bench and we all scrunched over to make room. She settled in and peeled an orange. The little gypsy girl honed in like satellite GPS and the lady did not hesitate to break off a few sections and hand them over. Between bites and sucks, the little girl pestered Terry for more money. He indicated he would buy her an ice cream or food but no more money.

Time passed and the little girl joined two woman and some boys sitting in the shade of a tree across the bus depot parking lot. The little girl took money from her pocket and counted it before handing it over to one of the women (presumably her mother), then the lady shooed the children away. The girl came back to Terry and a little boy followed. He handed Terry a baseball-card-sized card. It was a natural instinct to take it. It had a religious picture on one side and Romanian writing on the other. Terry handed the card back to the boy who shook his head, "no". The boy wouldnít take it. He wanted money for it. This exchange went on for a couple of minutes until Sherrie said, "give it to me." The boy was surprised when Terry handed it over and watched Sherrie reach into her pocket, pull out one of the balloons she carries and place it on top of the card. When the boy put his hand out for the balloon, he got both the card and the balloon. The girl was watching and let out a loud exclamation. Two more children were immediately at our knees and the remaining four balloons in Sherrieís pocket were gone and with a wave of her hand to say "no more", so were the children.

Sherrie filled up two small empty bottles with water from the new big bottle and tucked them into the net pockets on either side of the day bag. She took a drink from what was left in the big bottle, then passed it to Terry. Terry took a drink and started to put the cap back on when the seventy-something fellow with the nice face at the end of the bench spoke in Romanian including the word "aqua" and held out his hand towards the bottle. He took a drink, said thank you in Romanian and passed the bottle back.

People came and went, including the teen boy and the lady, whose place on the bench was taken by a man who immediately struck up a conversation with the nice face. Terry took another long drink and passed it to the man again, he smiled, had a drink and passed it back. It was time to get on the bus so we said our good byes to nice face and before walking around the corner, dropped back and gave him the last of the big bottle.

As we had been watching people, giving away balloons and sharing water, we had also been watching buses come and go. Small buses about twice the size of a van and a few large modern touring buses but mainly older buses coming to the end of their transporting lives. As we turned the corner, we looked for the yellowish-white and red bus the ticket lady told us would be ours.

If one were to look at all the buses on the lot, all of them but two would be considered modern. The remaining (or is that Romanian) two had to be in their fifties ... derelicts ... one more so than the other ... it was yellowish-white and red. We looked at each other ... the girl inside the bus depot said, "over there ... bus ... yellow, red ... white, red." All itís gold coloured curtains were closed but both front and back doors were wide open.

Through the front window we could see some people. Terry walked around the bus to the back door and came back to Sherrie confirming it was the right bus for our trip from Suceava, Romania to Chernivtsi, Ukraine ... the first half of our dayís journey to Kamyanets-Podilsky.

The day was hot. Unseasonably hot we have been told since Bulgaria. The farmers are beginning to worry. The snowfall hadnít been as deep or as long as it had in years past and now hot dry summer days were pushing out spring rains. It was time to board the bus and be underway. The cargo doors below were open. The bottom was covered with gas and oil stained residue. A busman was taking empty gas containers from the forward compartment to the back one. We clutched our backpacks and made some motions with raised eyebrows asking if we could take our packs on board with us. He gave the nod.

Before we even got on the bus a quick look made us shiver. The inner panel of the front door was bashed in. Someone had tried to cover it with brown plastic packing take Ė the kind thatís strong until it gets a tiny tear and then rips easily like the cellophane off a pack of cigarettes. It wasnít doing the job the applier had hoped for. Suppose thatís why there wasnít any attempt to cover the other holes below the dash board.

The once maroon seats were now a faded rose with holes and stains. The backs were, or once were, a pattern. They too were stained by years of use and threadbare, some upright, others at various angles from 90 degrees to 45 degrees. The high back head rests had covers to protect the seats from damage by peopleís hair products or were they to protect peopleís hair from the seat. Under the driverís seat were plastic bottles, some full, some empty, some half full. Under the seat immediately behind the driver was a plastic bag of "we-donít-want-to-know" and two pieces of carpet in brownish tones crumpled beyond the possibility of ever laying flat again. A piece of plywood had been screwed to two upright posts behind the driverís seat and the driverís blue nylon coat hung from the plywood. It would not be needed in todayís heat.

We stepped further into the bus ... a seat level glance down the narrow aisle. Our eyes hadnít adjusted from the bright outdoors to the gold coffin-draped interior, but we could see people fanning themselves with pieces of paper and in a couple of spots legs spanned from one side, across the aisle to the other side. Shoed feet were lifted off the seats and brought into the aisle only long enough to appraise the newcomers and then back they went.

Terry put his backpack and the day bag next to the window two seats behind the driver. There were things on the two front seats by the door and more on the seats behind them. Any further back and seats were either occupied by waving paper or extended legs, so Sherrie sat in the seat behind the plywood; putting her backpack next to the hot window and gold curtains, and her feet on the crumpled carpet. All our instincts were on full alert and Sherrieís nose, which doesnít work at the best of times was keenly aware of the gasoline smells emanating from the cargo hold.

The 50-something driver with a busmanís belly, dressed in jeans and a sweat soaked shirt took his place on the front side of the plywood, surrounded by religious icons, a dirty stuffed toy hanging from the ceiling and some left-over Christmas decorations.

The other busman wore black pants and gleaming white shirt over his busmanís belly. While he collected tickets and fares, he wore a beige vest with many pockets. He had a nice face. His wavy hair brushed back from his face and around the balding spot at the crown (and to his credit he was not attempting a comb-over). His eyes danced when he enjoyed the topic of conversation and his little pug nose, above a trimmed moustache, had no discernable bridge and plump cheeks gave him a Santa Claus look which seemed eager to smile.

Such a face gave us a little comfort until the driver started the engine with reluctant groans and protesting gears. Again we looked at each other over Sherrieís tattered seat back and said out loud, "Weíve had a good life ... a full life ...". The journey started. The driverís seat had been retrofitted with an under-seat spring. The rest of the seats had not. Many roads in Eastern Europe are uneven, patched and potholed. There was no air conditioning and even with the small upper windows open the bus didnít want to take any of the fresh stuff on and let it whip passed out of breathable reach. The driver had his large side window open but the plywood stopped it coming any further back than the nape of his neck. It didnít even reach our pug nosed fellow who was sitting in the jump seat suspended over the front stair well. "Pug" took off his multi-pocketed vest and laid it on the dash ... no worry in blocking vents, there werenít any.

A half hour into our journey a 20-something man in the first seat by the door offered to switch places with Pug who had been wiping his head with a pink piece of towel. Pug gladly changed places, tucked himself into the corner of the seat and caught a few drafts of cool air coming through the window. He crossed himself (in the religious sense) and promptly went to sleep. Some inner clock told him when to wake; he crossed himself three times (pleased, it seemed, to be still among the living) and changed places back with the 20-something who had spent the last hour wiping perspiration off his face during Pugís nap. Pug gathered up some paper work and put his vest back on. We had reached the border.

At the border between Romania and Ukraine, passengers were allowed to get off the bus and use the toilet facilities.

We were only a half mile into Ukraine when the bus pulled over and Pug opened the front door beside a car parked on the side of the road and greeted the driver with some friendly chatter, a hearty handshake and some laughter. A lady, who must have been the car driverís wife, worked her way up the isle to the front door where Pug took her plastic shopping bags and passed them to the car driver. Within two minutes we were on our way again. Next stop was a gas station. Pug got off and opened the storage compartments, holding all the empty plastic gas containers. Ukraine gas prices are much cheaper than Romanian.

As we were pulling out, Pug told the driver to stop and then called out something else towards the back of the bus. Laughter ensued. Pug had recognized yet another (presumed) husband in a car and another lady with bags in hand got off the bus with thanks voiced to Pug. We pulled over again just after spotting a police car. We wondered about the gas below. A younger woman smiling and giggling ran to the front door which Pug had already opened.

    

 To our surprise the police didnít show up at the door. Instead Pug took the time to pick four small flowering branches off a tree. He brought them into the bus, placed all but one on the dash board and gave the other to Sherrie. She grinned and he seemed pleased he had caused such a reaction.

When we reached the bus station at Chernivtsi, we showed Pug a map pointing to the town we wanted to get to. He called out to the driver and then motioned us to follow him. We did. He went around the bus depot checking signs until he got to dock 6. He indicated that this was where we would catch our next bus. But we needed tickets.

Pug once again indicated to follow him and we hurried inside where he spoke to the ticket agent on our behalf. But we couldnít buy the ticket because we didnít have any Ukraine money. What we needed was an ATM. Pug indicated that he needed to hurry. We ran after him back to the red and yellow bus and thanked him and said goodbye. Terry took from his wallet the balance of our Romanian money and gave it to Pug. Pug indicated for us to wait, went into the bus and returned with some Ukraine cash. Terry said "no" and indicated that he meant for Pug to keep it. Pug refused. He then told Sherrie to stay where she was and for Terry to get on the bus.

Pug, the driver and Terry ... just the three of them ... fled the bus depot in the red and yellow bus and rumbled off down the road looking for an ATM.

Terry called out when he spotted one at a bank a few blocks away. The tomb of terror pulled over, opened its door and disgorged Terry with a hearty handshake from Pug and then careened around the corner depending on its one good tire to hold the grip and disappeared.

Terry went to the bank machine only to have it not work. With a display of charades which would make games night people proud, he convinced a middle-aged banking lady to lend her help. She locked her office and came out on the street, explaining, "Ukraine, yes; English, no." She then followed the Ukraine prompts and Terryís money appeared - apparently some Ukrainian ATMs donít speak English. Terry and our Ukraine money hoofed it back to the bus station in time to make the 6:00 bus to Kamyanets-Podilsky.

With tickets in hand we presented them to the bus driver. He shook his head "no". No! We didnít have Pug to help us and the signage was all in Cyrillac - which doesnít leave much room for guessing by those with Latin-Germanic language skills only. A young Robert DiNero looking fellow asked to see our tickets. We are always concerned passing over paid-for-tickets to people we donít know. He said something in Ukraine to a young blonde university girl. She took us over to a sign (the same one Pug had showed us at dock 6) and pointed to the time of 18:20 on the sign and then the same time on our tickets. Although a bit shy to use it, we found she spoke English well.

When the 18:20 bus arrived she told us to get on. DiNero got on first and pointed to two seats together and motioned us to take them. The bus seats filled up quickly and then the aisle filled to capacity. The young university girl, Kate, who said she was going to the same place we were was still on the platform. DiNero got into the driverís seat and told the people in the aisle to move to the back. Each person shuffled a bit. The day was still hot and the crowding made the heat worse Ė even with the ceiling vents open. Just before we pulled out, Kate pulled the jump seat down and closed the door. The bus pulled out and with the first gust of wind coming through the ceiling openings everyone on the bus in unison went, "Ahhhh!"

Those in the know had taken their place on the small bus with purpose. There was only a front door and those who got on last, except for Kate, got off first and with each stop Kate opened the door, put up the jump seat, people got off, down came the jumps seat, Kate got back in and away we went.

As we approached Kamyanets-Podilsky and the seats emptied out, Kate moved to the seat behind us which gave us a chance to visit with this pleasant young lady. She is in her first year of a four year program to become a lawyer. She stays in dorms at university and comes home most weekends. We asked her about getting from the bus depot to Old Town. She said she would be pleased to help us. A few minutes later she informed us that her father was picking her up from the bus depot and would drive us to the hotel in Old Town. Her father and another gentleman, who was driving, gave us a friendly welcome and drove us across the bridge to Old Town, which is on an island in the river. We did not have confirmed reservations. The Hetman Hotel had not responded to our emails.

Kate said she would come with us to help if needed. The hotel said they only had a deluxe suite available and quoted the price ... too high. We indicated we would look elsewhere and wondered how we might extract Kate from feeling like she had to help us any further. The hotel then came up with a double room at a price which was still high for the area, but one we could live with. With that settled, we turned to Kate and asked if we might take her and her mother and father out for dinner the next night as a thank you for their hospitality. She said she didnít think her parents would but that she might like to. We arranged that she would call the hotel.

One of the hotelís young staff (all female for the time we were there) showed us to our room. Well, it wasnít a room, it was a suite. The fully tiled, high ceiling bathroom was large enough to dance in. The livingroom held along with other furniture a leather sofa, two easy chairs and a large round coffee table. On the way to the bedroom was a wardrobe plus a china cabinet with fridge below. The bedroom was big and blue. There were high ceilings throughout and lighting for every kind of mood. Our backpacks looked rather meagre in such surroundings.

We went out for dinner with a view of the fortress. The restaurant was busy and they put us in a cabana at the courtyard entrance. A bride arrived with a group of girls in tow.

She was stunning in her white dress and veil. But there was no groom to be seen. They opened three bottles of champagne and posed for pictures. Sherrie joined in with her camera, then returned to the cabana.

We were surprised and delighted when the bride herself showed up at our table and poured us each champagne. She accepted our congratulations and posed with Terry for a picture.

When we asked about a groom, she showed us the rings on her hand. Groom or no groom, she was married. We will have to ask Kate about that.

We couldnít help but reflect upon our day, to be reminded once again that the world and its peoples should not be judged by the materialistic measuring stick of most westerners; that we westerners can learn a great deal from people, who despite their lack of material wealth, have a dignity and a sense and desire to share on a scale we should all be striving to achieve.

     

May 26    

We are staying in Kamyanets-Podilskyís Old Town ... an island formed by the river splitting and moving around it. With time, this town, devastated by World War II and abandoned, will become a popular tourist destination. The beginnings are showing with repairs and rebuilding but there are still lots of holes in the ground and empty shells of buildings. Peopleís attitudes, too, will need some sprucing up if they are going to foster a tourist industry. Service is not high on the priority list. In the past with government owning everything and taking care of everyoneís basic needs, there was no need to work hard and certainly no need to work harder than the next fellow. Time, competition for jobs and profits will be the catalysts for change. In the meantime, Kamyanets-Podilsky holds little for the tourist other than a half day walk about.

We walked over the bridge into new town, through a park where we stumbled upon a little play-land with rides for children amid abandoned pieces of rides which once were. We walked back along one of the parkís paths being careful of broken glass and litter.

 

A walk through Old Town to an old arched gateway and an old section of fortification wall and then over another bridge to the Fortress.

   

It was a hot day, and looking over the bridge to the river, we could see families gathered for picnics and some cooling themselves with a dip in the water.

The Fortress is a favourite background for wedding pictures and the bridge seems to be a perfect place to take them ... barring the vehicle traffic trying to move back and forth. One photographer had a new husband pick up his wife and spin her around and around and around as they filmed. They had to stop to let a line up of traffic go through and then went back to the middle of bridge for stills. Ainít love grand.

 
 

We returned to the same place for dinner (there is not much choice right now in Old Town), had borscht and salad before returning to our room and preparing for our morning departure.

 
 

click here to continue May 27 and trip to Lviv, Ukraine ... 


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