Welcome back to travelingwithtom.com and my last post from Ukraine! This week we travel a few hours south of Kyiv to Uman where we meet up with Oleg and his family. Oleg stayed with us in February 2013 when he traveled to the US with an Open World delegation that learned about local government partnerships with non-profits and private companies to improve communities. From what we understand, Oleg is a member of the District Council in his region so is involved in local government as well as being a farmer. Oleg and his family live near Vinnytsya in Central Ukraine. Google Maps suggested that it would take over 5 hours one way to travel the 160 miles from Kyiv to Vinnytsya so we decided to meet in Uman where it would only take us about three hours to travel 130 miles. And Oleg and his family would only have to travel about 100 miles.
We met Yuri, our driver and translator, at 7 AM to again beat the frequent traffic jams that plague the city of Kyiv. You remember Yuri, don’t you? He was featured in last week’s post. If you missed it, click here.
We planned to stop at a restaurant but missed our opportunity when we got too far into the countryside. So we did what a lot of travelers do, stopped at a fueling station with a corresponding convenience store. This one was called the Wog Cafe, could be anywhere in the world! They all look pretty much the same!
After some nourishment and a coffee, we were ready to complete our journey to Uman and meet Oleg at the Sofiyivka Park. Uman is a small city of about 85,000 people half way between Kyiv and Odessa. It is well known as a pilgrimage site for Hasidic Jews around Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) to the grave of Rebbe Nachman. It is said that all who visited his grave during this holiday would be freed from stress and have a good year.
Sofiyivka Park is a botanical garden of national significance as it serves as a research institute of the National Academy of Sciences in Ukraine. In 2007, it was designated one of the Seven Wonders of Ukraine and is a landmark of world gardening design. A few Ukrainians that we met during our stay in Lviv and Kyiv asked if we were going to visit this park, rightfully so, they are quite proud of this gem. It receives over 500,000 visitors a year, a lot for a place off the beaten tourist path. To be honest, we were there to meet Oleg but the park itself became the setting for a wonderful visit.
We arrived a little ahead of Oleg and family so we had a chance to look around at a few of the souvenirs and snacks being sold in tents along the central pathway.
Soon they showed up and we happily greeted each other and made introductions all around. Here’s a photo of the family, Oleg in the back middle, his wife Natalya on his left, his 16 year old daughter Olya on his right, and in front with the Wisconsin Badger t-shirt is his 11 year old son, Svyatoslav, Slav for short. Oleg hasn’t changed much, he’s as serious and intense as he was when he stayed with us a few years ago. Natalya is a lovely person and at the time of our meeting was about 8 1/2 months pregnant, I’m happy to report that she had a baby girl in mid June a few weeks after our visit. Olya is quite a character with a great sense of humor. Her English is quite good as she traveled to Vancouver, Canada for about six weeks a couple of years ago to improve her English speaking ability. At one point, she told us that she could say anything she wanted because her parents wouldn’t understand a word she said! Slav, at first was a little on the shy side but opened up after a bit, he can understand some English but is hesitant to speak.
Oleg engaged an English speaking guide to give us a tour of the park that included transportation on this electric conveyance.
The tour guide whose name I don’t recall was most excellent and very good at explaining the sights.
The Park was created in 1796 by the Polish nobleman Stanislaw Potocki in honor of his wife Sofia. The gardens combine natural landscape with the added elements of pools, grottos, waterfalls, gazebos and sculptures. Over 179 hectares (about 440 acres) in size, this park contains more that 2000 species of trees, shrubs, and bushes. Here are a few scenes from our tour.
One of our stops includes this place where people sought refuge from the summer heat with it’s natural air conditioning!
The designers and builders of this garden relied on a lot of Greek and Roman mythology to the give the garden it’s charm and importance. Here we are at the statue of Venus with the water fountain at her feet. It is said that if a person splashes some of the water on their face they’ll look younger.
Here Slav gives it a try,
I think it worked!
Now I give it a try.
It didn’t work!
We stopped at the Rose Garden where the roses were just beginning to bloom. Oleg was proud to show us the beautiful park his country has maintained through thick and thin.
After about an hour tour, we were ready for some lunch. The guide dropped us off at a food stand in the Park where we had this deep fried dish, I believe they are called piroshki, a kind of a meat pie. Where I grew up we have a very similar dish, we call it fleischkuechla. Lots of cultures have a variation of this dish in their diet.
We had a great time eating and visiting. The Eldest and the Son-in-law had a long conversation with Oleg, with Yuri interpreting, about farming and agriculture.
After a lot of talking, it was time for us to start heading to the car and make our way back to Kyiv for our last night in Ukraine. The Park is quite large with winding paths and we weren’t sure of the way. Here’s six people try to figure out the route to the exit! Finally, Slav took the map and lead the way, a future leader in the making!
We stopped along the way to take a few photos to remember our visit.
We’ll always cherish the time we spent with Oleg, Natalya, Svyatoslav and Olya. It was a great day and fitting finish to our stay in Ukraine. Next time, we promised Oleg that we would visit him in Vinnytsia where he is anxious for us to see his farm and meet the rest of his family.
That does it for this week.
Until then, happy travels!