TraToS actually started as a volunteer project by a couple – Anna from Ukraine and Grischa from Germany. They wanted to explore Ukraine, share their findings and love to travels, and particularly this part of the world, with other globetrotters, meanwhile contributing to the local communities with a good cause. Now, four years and two trips later, Anna is ready to work on making a dream come true – to see TraToS become a sustainable business that can arrange many trips per year. In this post you can see how the first trip looked like. The story is told by Anna herself.
This trip explores some parts of Western and Northern Ukraine. We start the week in Lviv. Our team for the coming week is: me and Grischa as guides, interpreters and tour leaders, Cedric from Brazil and Morten from Denmark. I’ll refer to them as The Guys in this post.
The trip start is relaxed – a dinner at one of Lviv famous cafés-restaurants. We try some Ukrainian dishes, get to know each other, discuss the coming week and then enjoy the sunset from the rooftop terrace with the view over the city centre.
Next day we take a train to Rivne – another region capital. I love traveling by train. Railroads usually go through more spectacular places than highways, you move at a reasonable speed – slow enough to look around and quick enough to get where you want to. And there’s life on the train itself – the carriage is full of people with their stories and experiences. What’s the better way to immerse in the culture and learn more about the locals?
We take a couple of hours to walk around the city. The Guys find a lot of contrasts fascinating – some modern-looking houses and Soviet memorials next to them. Shops with fancy names and funky fixtures of the rainwater pipes on the same building. Amazing food and its price close to nothing, by Western European standards. They also paid attention to lots of blue-and-yellow everywhere – fences, trash bins and even construction cranes would carry the colours of the national flag. This has become much more common since the Euromaydan revolution in 2013 and the events that followed.
From Rivne we take a marshrutka – a hybrid between route bus and taxi. Some shaky road brings us to Klevan – our home for the next night. We check in to then be picked up by a nephew of the school contact of ours. He is very willing to drive us around, show the village and surroundings, talk about life here and ask about our lives and countries. We go to the Tunnel of Love, castle ruins and a closed Polish church, talking about studies, travels and ways of living.
Next morning starts with our first school visit. We get to talk to a smaller class. Each of us tells them about our origins – talking about the country we come from, showing some pictures, introducing to famous people and well-known companies. We discuss some stereotypes about those countries, busting or confirming them. The atmosphere is very relaxed, kids open and eager to know more. So we get less nervous – meeting kids is not that scary, after all.
When we are done with the school visit, we have to get back to Rivne to take a train and go West again. But our driver provided by the school decides we have enough time for an extra excursion, so he brings us to a greenhouse his relatives are running. We get a tour, and The Guys love it cause both Cedric and Morten have interest in urban farming and growing own veggies. Happy about the tour, with a present – two huge bags of fresh cucumbers and tomatoes, and tight on time, we leave from there, barely making it to our train. But there we are, rolling on the rails again. On the way we watch a teenage girl painting on her arm, and we are amazed how she manages to create those patterns while being shaken by the train movements.
Our day ends in Drogobych where we stay in a cosy and kitchy hotel. The Guys again go crazy on food because everything is so tasty and cheap. I just hope they don’t explode! Next morning we are picked up by the headmaster of our second school, with his private driver. We go to Pidbuzh where a boarding school for talented kids is located. They specialise in arts and give an opportunity to study visual arts to kids from the neighbouring villages. Here we attend an English lesson and afterwards have a whole concert prepared specially for us. There we learn about Eastern traditions and Ukrainian customs. Then we get more time to talk to the kids. They surround us asking a million curious questions and wanting selfies with us. Their openness and eagerness are so cute!
Yet again, we eat A LOT at the school canteen. They have prepared so much food for us that it hurts to think of it even now. But The Guys get another chance to feel Ukrainian hospitality on their own skins (and in their stomachs). We roll out of the school, and we could just keep rolling to our next destination. But the roads are too bumpy, so we accept the offer of a ride and get to Truskavets.
Truskavets was an important spa town of Soviet times, and still is today. The water here has high mineral content, which is supposed to be healthy for you. The whole place has this feeling of a health resort – people are strolling slowly in the parks, thoughtfully sipping their mineral water, taking it easy. So do we. The water tastes terrible, though, but check for that experience!
Next day we take another marshrutka to get closer to the Carpathian mountains. Our destination is Skole – a village at the mountains feet. Here we get to have an English lesson with thirdgraders. Obviously, their level of English doesn’t allow us to cover same topics as in previous schools. But we all have lots of fun trying to communicate with each other! They are curious, for many The Guys are the first foreigners they have met in their lives. We can see how some get shocked by the fact that not everyone understands what they say if they speak Ukrainian. As our experience shows, this is a powerful occasion to motivate kids to learning languages, and we do our best to create positive memories that will fuel these kids long after our visit.
We then get to talk to the teens who are in their last year at school. They are also very open-minded, curious, and it’s hard to let go of each other when it’s time for them to move on with their class schedule. Of course, after the class we are invited for a lunch with the school personnel. It’s lovely to have time to discuss their lives here, realities of teaching in a village, and much more. We take it easy after the school visit, take a walk around the village and towards the mountains, followed by some of the kids. Their only wish is that we would stay longer so that they could show us their favourite places in the mountains. So sweet!
From Skole we move back to Lviv where it’s time to part. It has been an intense week full of adventures, beautiful encounters, delicious food, and so much more. I think of how much work it has been to pull this tour together but I know it was worth it. And I’m sure this is just a start of a longer journey.