Riding the rails to see old friends

Arriving at the hundred-year-old “Voksal” train station in L’viv. It has been given a facelift for next year’s international football tournament. Photo: Bill Pupchek

The whole family was able to make our first visit to Adam’s hometown last week.

Armed with drinks, snacks and a deck of cards, we took our first L’viv tram ride from the station across the street to the train station, then settled into our four-person compartment. The trip to Svalyava in the Transcarpathian Region took four hours, mostly up, up, up into the Carpathian Mountains. If we had stayed on the train, we would have been in either Slovakia or Hungary in another hour or two.

The compartment is quite roomy. The seats lift up to store luggage.  Photo: Bill Pupchek

The train climbs up, up, up the mountains.  Photo: Bill Pupchek

Our friend, guide, and the local English teacher, Volodomyra, met us at the train station with her sister Victoria. The six of us walked to Volodomyra’s house, about 15 minutes from the train station. We passed her school and took a picture with the statue of its benefactor. The last time we were there, 13 years ago, we had six huge duffel bags for the two of us that we had to transport on the top of a little Lada. This time, we traveled light with just one knapsack each.

Zachary, Volodomyra and Adam at the Svalyava train station. This is Zachary’s first trip to Svalyava and Adam’s first since he was five.  Photo: Bill Pupchek

We were met with three surprises. First, Volodomyra is married. She and Mischa were dating when we saw them last, but they took the plunge July 7, 2007, and we’re very happy for them. Mischa raises rabbits out back—the yard is a small farm, as it was when we first saw it. The rabbits are huge, which is a fine attribute for animals that will be dinner, sooner or later.

From left, Volodomyra, Victoria, Leanne, Adam, Mischa and Zachary. Adam remembers Volodomyra’s green gate vividly.  It matches her green house, to the left. Photo: Bill Pupchek

Second, Volodomyra has a computer! We didn’t see any computers anywhere in Ukraine on our last trips. But now even Volodomyra has one in the back room where the boys slept – although she refuses to connect it to the internet. I think if I had grown up in the Soviet Union and had personal evidence of KGB activities that we in the West could only imagine according to their reputation, I might be reluctant to connect, too.

Third, there’s a cat on this farm. Someone threw a newborn kitten over their fence on Independence Day, August 24, and Mischa has grown attached to her. She is a teeny, tiny thing. The boys spent joyful time carrying her around in their jackets as they visited the rabbits and the chickens peering through the fence from next door. [Here is the YouTube address of video of the boys with the kitten and the giant bunnies. I will try to correct the audio transfer and repost, but for now enjoy the silent movie … http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ckkNru1dXHs or just click on the last link under Blog Roll, which appears up there at the top of the right-hand margin.]

Mischa is my age. He is very fond of Bill and was thrilled to hear that he was joining the wife and kids on our trip to the mountains. He broke out the vodka as soon as we arrived and proceeded to perform the old stereotypical Soviet ritual of toasting everything with vodka for the rest of the evening. Well, for the rest of the trip, actually. The kids toasted with home-made cherry juice. The ladies did justice to Mischa’s home-made wine. We tucked the kids in under a big huge perena (duvet) together, Victoria took a cab home, and we four visited long into the evening. The celebration offset the lack of heat in the house. We wore cozy slippers and warm sweaters.

Volodomyra, Victoria, Mischa, Leanne, Bill and Zachary.  There is no untoward reason this photo is out of focus. The photographer was drinking cherry juice!  Photo: Adam Pupchek.

Being the better man than I, Bill was able to continue his cultural competence well into the next day. On the other hand, I proved myself unequal to the task of polite guest as soon as I smelled breakfast, and consequently taught the kids an inadvertent lesson. Fresh air, in fact, freezing rain, cleared my head for the adventure to come.  In our next post, Adam will share his feelings about visiting his orphanage the next day.

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