Sometimes, the greatest joys in life are free and simple. Today, we went to a snow-covered hill in a suburb in Ternopil and experienced how it feels to ride down the slope on just a large, tough piece of paper.
No one needs to go to skiing resorts when we could just play in the snow in a small Ukrainian city
The slope was neither too steep nor gentle. From there, we could see lots of old, high-rise residential buildings which are my absolute favourite. Instead of snowboards, sleighs or tobaggans, we simply had many pieces of really tough paper that could seat one person each. We sat on the top of the slope and gently moved ourselves down, leaving gravity to do the job.
In the beginning, I was hesitant to start. I sat on the paper cautiously and edged towards the starting point of the slope. And soon, I was halfway down the slope. My feet kicked the snow, which eventually landed all over my face and body. I thought that by stretching out my legs, I could maintain my forward direction, but I still did spin around. And with lots of snow, I found myself at the bottom of the slope, all ready to go for another round. The only dreadful part was having to climb the same distance uphill. And while it was only about 5 storeys high, trekking in soft snow makes that a few times more difficult.
We also experimented with other ‘vehicles’. Do you know the lids of the recycling bins or rubbish bins that are placed outdoors? There happened to be one of those lids/covers there, so three of us sat on it, and slid downhill.
Forget about your skiing expedition in the Alps. Do it the simple way in Ukraine.
Not on Lonely Planet, not on Discovery Channel, not on Wikitravel – locals’ recommendations
How did we manage to find such a location, that is definitely not on Lonely Planet or Wikitravel?
Of course it was with help from a local!
We experienced Ukrainian hospitality first hand. A few days ago, we had dinner at a restaurant in central Ternopil, and while paying for our food, I thought that it was time to exercise my limited Russian and Ukrainian and use sign language to speak to the cashier (from our experience, most cashiers speak limited English). However, this time we met a really enthusiastic staff, who spoke good English and Portuguese! We began talking about what we were doing here, and she invited us to look for her on a weekday so that she could bring us to a spot where we could ride down a snow-covered hill.
Hospitality – unrivalled
Therefore, we met her this evening, and she also invited us to her house. It was my first time visiting a high-rise Ukrainian apartment, and it was a really special experience. I’ve seen the exteriors of such buildings for numerous times in real life for the past week and in photos for many years, and I was really happy to be able to visit one. Her home was really comfortable and warm, but she and her family’s hospitality was even warmer.
She met us at a central location in the city, and took us onto the bus. And oh boy, taking the miniature buses in Ukrainian cities is another experience in itself. It redefines ‘packed like sardines’. Singapore’s MRTs are nowhere as packed as the buses here. They contain 19 seats and expect 40 standing passengers, but 40 really seems too many.
Riding the buses – another adventure itself
Very often we squeeze onto a bus, and can’t even reach for our wallets in our pockets. This is especially true during winter, when everyone is puffed up with thick jackets. And the bus fares are really low – UAH 2 for bus rides (less than USD 0.25 per trip), and UAH 1.50 for trolleybuses (they run on electricity, and only on some routes, but they feel like buses anyway). There is no such thing as a ‘tourist daily pass’ because the fares simply can’t go lower! (this reminds me of how expensive transport in Western Europe is… probably EUR 2 per trip without daily passes!)
Before riding down the slope, we had a first taste of warmth when we visited her house, and she hurriedly brought out some snacks and tea, and her brother lent one of us his snowboarding gears.
Ukraine, where the locals put in every single effort to make sure the guests feel at home
She and her brother brought us to the slope, which is just beside the residential neighbourhood. After the fun, we went back to her apartment, where the whole family was greatly involved in making us feel as warm as possible. It was about -8*C outside, and her mother was really concerned that we were cold even in the heated room, so she lent us some warm clothing. They made tea, fruits and literally filled the table with Ukrainian snacks and chocolates. Just when I thought that the table was full of food that even 20 people couldn’t finish, they put down even more food. The language barrier was also broken, because the lady and her brother spoke English, while the whole family could speak Portuguese. They communicated with the Brazilian interns fluently.
In addition, the mother really wanted to welcome us and did not want to stop her hospitality tonight. She invited us to a dinner next week, which we were at first hesitant to agree to. Therefore, we’ll be expecting lots of Ukrainian food, filling up an entire table, and like the Ukrainian tradition of making guests feel more at home than they are in their own homes, I think there will be so much food that we cannot finish :).
We must count ourselves lucky that we met such kind and friendly people randomly. It was unplanned and coincidental. I guess that’s the fun and joy of travelling – it’s difficult to plan ahead. Just leave it to luck to decide whom we shall meet and what we shall do.