I’m quite used to travelling and being on the road, but the summer of 2016 will be one to remember. I left Edmonton Headquarters in late May and headed for our prime destination of Ukraine, where we have our other office and finally returned to Edmonton on Sept. 20th. Where have I been and what have I seen? Oh let me tell you the tale!
First of all let me say that I feel really lucky and privlidged to live this life and have these opportunities to travel. Cobblestone Freeway Tours has been going strong now for several years and it has taken me to all kinds of normal and crazy places. Each and every time I take a trip, I try to let curiosity in and allow the experiences to wash over me. We are, of course, nothing more that a collection of our experiences. And experiences will never happen, unless at first, you are curious!
My wife and I flew to Kyiv, the city of golden domes and old cobblestones, which, although a bit too busy for me, always changes and evolves and lives and always has something new to share. We spent some time with old friends and new before Myrosia headed off to Estonia to perform with Rozhanytisa. I headed off to Lviv where Cobblestone has it’s… I like to call it, “European Headquarters”. Sounds fancier!
Lviv is a magical and enchanting city no matter how you look at it. Despite the probles in the East of Ukraine, tourism and business in Lviv is up over 30% and poised to be the next biggest destination in Europe after Prague. I’ve been here hundreds of times and I still get excited to walk the streets!
Aften spending some time in Lviv with the team, Dania and I took the night train to Krakow from Lviv to meet the group for the 5th annual Ukrainian Dance Workshop Tour, which for the first time combined workshops and tours Ukraine and Poland. It was cool to see the similarities and differences between Ukraine and Poland, their languages and cultures while exploring the secrets of Lemko dances in the Krynica Zdrój region.
We entered Ukraine and travelled from Lviv to Lutsk, then to Zhytomyr and Kyiv studying dance and enjoying the spirit of each unique sub region of this diverse culture.
In Kyiv we met with Brian Cherewick and the begining of our sweet Ukrainian Musical Mystery Tour and I even spent an afternoon on the banks of the Dnipro River catching some rays!
A bit later we had our Festival Bus tour begin with a workshop at the Virsky Studio, while at the same time Orysia Tracz arrived with a nice group from Canada and Australia. That was a night to remember at the Taras Bulba restaurant in Kyiv.
Finally, at long last, the Ukrainian – Canadian band Tyt i Tam arrived to perform at the Kraina Mrii Music Festival in Kyiv and tour the country. This music festival was combined within another larger musical festival, Atlas Weekend, which had acts like Jamala, Onuka and Bymbox, with attendance of hundreds of thousands of people. When Ukraine does things – they do them big!
Before you knew it I was back in Lviv and honoured to become God Father to the son of some good friends in one of Lviv’s oldest churches. There was a moment when I was in the church all by myself, while everyone was still arriving, and imagined what things have occurred here over the centuries.
Now this is when real the crazy began. Many groups began to arrive in Lviv for the International Ukrainian Dance & Culture Festival from around the world. I was riding along with the Viter Ukrainian Dancers & Folk Choir but there also were participants from Manchester, Buenos Airies, Melbourne, Lviv and Athabasca! The festival was more amazing than I could have imagined with parties and performances, workshops and the ultimate international Zabava with guest performances by Ruslana, Nazar Savko, Burdon, Darmohrai and Tyt i Tam!
Then I hit the road with Viter to party with the Hutsuls in the Carpathian Mountains (always one of my favourite places in Ukraine), followed by performances in Chernivtsi, Vinnytsia and Kyiv. Travelling Ukraine with Canadians is always such a fun and unique intercultural exchange. My favourite moment is to often to see travellers get excited about what they see and learn along the way. There are so many laughs but often tears as well when people think about the grandparents and the struggles they’ve had.
I must say that it’s a special treat to be able to have made such great friends in Ukraine and no longer feel as thought I am a tourist. I have watched Ukraine change and evolve and grow. As well as struggle and learn. But I am no longer just an observer to this history in the making – I’m a part of it!
To Be Continued
Pt. II in the next newsletter!