I’m from Norway and used to mountains, that’s kind of one of the things my country is well off with. Still I was excited to visit “the mountains” in Ukraine, namely the Carpathians.
The journey from Lviv by train was less than four hours, and I immediately fall asleep, with my back towards the two young girls who were travelling in the same compartment. I thought they maybe were photography students because of all the equipment they were carrying. I couldn’t be more wrong. They were clowns. As well as students in bio engineer. They were going to perform in a birthday party in Ivano-Frankivsk, my first stop.
On arrival I was met by Ivan. He took me all the way to his home village, Kosmach, known for keeping their proud Hutsuls traditions alive. The Christmas celebration there is supposed to be an experience of the few. My small talk with Ivan started off with my giving compliments to the quality of the road. He looked at me with surprise, and I was soon to realize my mistake, and from there on, we were “off the beaten track”. Suddenly it felt like a different world.
We passed the most amazing churches I have ever seen, in places that seems like in the middle of nowhere. Then we were passing by a horse and a chart, and then a brand new, never finished, castle-like housing complex, modernity and traditions side by side.
The guesthouse in Kosmach felt like a homestay and was the business of Ivan’s family in law. I got a pretty newly renovated room at the second floor. After a nice and warming soup it was soon off to a workshop I never have seen something like before; Horse cheese making!
A women with colorful shawl covering her head, long shirt and wooden sweater, took us into the part of the house, reserved for special occasions. The room was painted in intense green, and impressing decorated with traditional handicrafts, wall hangings and pillows.
Here she started her “masterclass” with melting cheese in natural salted water from a local source, to the right temperature. Then she took the small piece in her hands and in few seconds it turned out to be a small, beautiful horse-figure. It seemed to be so easy, and again I couldn’t be more wrong. My try ended up best to look like a duck. This was something they did for fun, and for special occasions like weddings or Christmas, and you would only find this tradition in this area of Kosmach.
To stay in Kosmach was very interesting and special. Even how simple it was, it felt so exclusive. The only tourists I met were two women from Germany. Everything else was purely authentic. The food was homemade and the farm mainly self-sufficient, including some pigs, cows and rabbits. They had a few beehives, and the lunch was made mainly with the mushrooms picked during the hike the day before. Our guide Bogdan took me for an evening walk, up the small hill behind us. We passed the neighbors and their animals on the way. There were no fences and some children were still playing outside, in the last traces of daylight.
Before I went to bed that night I also invested in a beautiful piece of a dress and learned how to make a traditional dish for supper, great after a day of hiking.
I was delighted to also be introduced to professional artists during my stay in The Carpathians. Folk art is kind of the new big thing since 2000, and more than one person told me about great music festivals in the summer, packed with workshops also referred to as “master classes” in traditional art.
The next piece of tradition I was introduced to, was hand-loom weaved wool carpets. These were made at a beautiful small farm in the hillside. She was fast, professional and well-known. And I was invited to try. As an artist, she was even coloring the yarn by herself. This was done at the wooden stove where she was drying her mushrooms too. Then she would bring the carpets down to the neighbor, who very impressive had directed the small river and made a washing machine house. Here the carpets where being processed for 4-6 hours before they were ready for the market to the same price as a better dinner in Norway.
I love stories, especially those who have been changing someone’s life. The last artist I met used to work in the army.
One day he got to know an artist doing traditional ceramic from the Carpathians. He started to spend some time with him, to learn his skills, his work and his art. He quit his job in the army. Today, about ten years later, his family is the youngest one doing traditional ceramics, namely Kosiv Ceramics of Trots Family.
They are doing great, with a local store and exporting abroad. If you are lucky, you can join us for a workshop with this friendly family and pick up you own piece of art in your mailbox a month later.
The Carpathians will make you experience the natural rhythm again without accessibility 24/7. There is no internet connection at the guesthouse, but a lot of room for thinking and good conversations. And if you are in need of an adrenaline kick, I’m sure our friendly, local biking-guide Taras will take care of it!
Let us know if you want to visit a place where traditions are still alive. Maybe you will be as lucky as me to pass by a beautifully dressed local girl, ready for her wedding, as your last memory from the Carpathians!
Miriam Jøms, Ethical Travel Portal