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Lizhnyk Weaving Tour May 2017

Impressions and Memories

The weaving is what brought us to Ukraine, but our holiday brought far more adventure, steeped in another life, another time and place, than any of us had quite expected...

Before our arrival, the warm mid-May sun had already brought out the orchids in the lush carpet of grass and flowers which surrounded our wooden hideaway. The sound of the racing river water rushing under and through the felting house below met our ears as we gathered to eat on the shady verandah. The high mountainside, topped with pine forest and illuminated by the evening sun, was our backdrop as we enjoyed the delicious, organic, home-grown and home-cooked cuisine of our

generous host.

The milk, butter and cheese were creamy and full of taste – little wonder as we looked across the garden to see the pretty brown cow, feasting on nothing but the flowers and herbs of the surrounding pasture. The juice was home-made from plums or blackcurrants. The vodka was not the drink we knew, but a home-distilled spirit made from natural ingredients, including fruits, horse radish and honey, which fortunately produced no ill-effects next day, but added to the jollity of the company, our modest group of fellow adventurers.

The welcome we received from our tour guides, our driver and our weaving and craft hosts was second to none. Our tour leader had prepared everything meticulously and went out of her way to accommodate special requests from any one of us. We visited expert teachers in a school who gave us demonstrations.

We were shown into the basement of the amazing felting mill where the river

rushed in and felted the huge lizhnyk rugs and blankets, by tossing them round in great wooden buckets. We watched them being hauled out with a long wooden pole.

Once we had begun our own weaving projects with our dedicated artisans, the lack of common language and the reliance we placed on our able interpreters faded to insignificance as we shared the mishaps and successes of our new art, along with a few laughs and tasty refreshments. The massive wooden looms soon bore the evidence of our improving skills and the spectacular designs and contrasting colours began to emerge before our proud eyes.

Spinning of the wool from great rolls of carded fleece, spiked upon a wooden pole was not so easily mastered, though careful observation of our teachers and patient trial and error in swinging the long hand-held spindles eventually paid off, as we loosely wound the chunky yarn round our hands in such a way to create bundles which would not tangle during the weaving process.

The weaving is what brought us to Ukraine, but our holiday brought far more adventure, steeped in another life, another time and place, than any of us had quite expected. It was not a tour, not a holiday so much as an experience in every sense. Ukraine is a vast and beautiful country. It has had a political history which has been difficult over many ages, both historically and within current experience. It was fascinating to encounter the unfamiliar aspects of this post-Soviet, independent European country.

Our travels in the south west took us through countryside where farming is often a small, family endeavour, to subsist and produce food for the year. A patch of land would be planted with potatoes and beans, fruit trees would be tended, with a cow, some chickens and bee-hives at the edges of flower-filled pastures. Despite the sometimes hot weather, those responsible for producing the family’s food would be out on the fields, hoeing and weeding in the midday heat. The reward for such effort is of course food produced without any pesticides or man-made fertilisers, something which is of simple necessity in this country, but which for us is highly prized. We were able to participate in the preparation of a traditional meal, learning a couple of the secrets of the local cuisine.

A mountain hike to see the traditional shepherds’ huts, where the shepherds tend their sheep and cows by living up the mountain for four months every summer, was most rewarding. We were greeted by an ancient shepherd who was continuing this age-old tradition, even in the possible absence of future successors. He showed us into his tiny, wooden, smoke-filled hut which contained a fire in the centre with a large pot on it, a bed and a hotch-potch of other possessions. The rafters at one end bore level planks for the smoking of cheese. The smoke wafted about and found its way out of various chinks in the roof. The fresh sheep’s cheese he offered us, from a huge round piece wrapped in cloth, was unlike any other cheese we have ever tasted – mild, creamy, soft.

We ate it sprinkled with a pinch of salt as we sat on benches at his wooden outside table, gazing at the sun-drenched panorama of Carpathian mountains, laid out before us as far as the eye could see. The trip to the busy market in Kosiv was a contrast to our otherwise rural existence. We had not so much as taken out a wallet or purse since we arrived, so comprehensive was the planning and provision of all our needs, but here we let ourselves go, buying additional lizhnyks and mats, knitted socks and gloves in gorgeous colours, embroidered items in the local style, without any concern for the weight in our luggage, as all transportation is arranged for those who require it. We sampled the art of traditional egg-painting using a wax technique similar to batik. Thanks to the meticulous pre-preparation of the eggs by our hosts, our humble and blotchy efforts in applying hot wax amazingly produced the most beautiful results, which we were allowed to take home.

We visited some local beauty-spots, including the oldest wooden church in the region, set in an area of outstanding natural beauty, where we were privileged to witness an orthodox Sunday service and to learn more about religious traditions and history of Ukraine. This was further extended during our visits to Ivano-Frankivsk and Lviv, where we saw other examples of church architecture and a religious icon museum which represented a vast treasure-trove of its kind. The city of Lviv itself was a revelation. As a completely unspoilt UNESCO WorldHeritage Site, it was a jewel of history and beauty, where one could have spent many more hours and days.

The experience of a truly warm welcome in a variety of homes made a deep impression on all of us. The musicians of the village bands, invited in our honour, entertained us with their virtuosity, providing for dancing and singing, to accompany the vast spreads of home-prepared food and of course, vodka. We were made to feel like kings in a country where people do not always have a lot to give, materially, but which is more than made up for by a wealth of hospitality and affection, which comes straight from the heart and which remains in the memory long after the goodbyes have been said.

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