Whether you decide to enjoy the (at times) horilka-infused hospitality Ukrainians are known and loved for alone or with friends, you can be sure of a good time. Better yet, take all of the planning and preparation out of the equation, and hop aboard the Cobblestone Freeway for a few days or a couple of weeks. What’s On talks to Vincent Reese, the man behind this fresh, new way to travel through Europe’s best kept secret.
What’s behind the name, Cobblestone Freeway?
A freeway is something fast, propelling you further down the road. This reminds me of Ukraine, a new country that wants to modernise quickly. However, this road is paved with history and all the character one associates with a cobblestone street in Lviv or some other European old town centre. I like the juxtaposition of the two words. I think it suits travel in this part of the world. You can desire to fly down that road into the future – towards progress but it can be a bumpy ride because it’s paved with the unique and cultural nuances of history.
You take people to all corners of Ukraine. What are some of your favourite tours?
We have two types of tours: the general cultural tours including Easter in Ukraine (which starts at the end of this month), Christmas in the Carpathians and our very popular Fall Fantasy Tour, which offer our clients an opportunity to experience unique cultural traditions, still very much alive in Ukraine. But we also offer active vacations! The Ukrainian Adventure Tour takes us white water rafting on the river Cheremosh, hiking in the Carpathians, caving in Ternopil and other fun activities. In June, we have a Ukrainian Dance Workshop trip for those who want to study dance with master choreographers from the different regions of Ukraine. In September, we’ll go on a Photography Journey around Western Ukraine for those that like to spend time in interesting locations capturing what they can.
What should people booking your tours expect?
With our company, you can expect an approach to exploring Ukraine that is enthusiastic, educational and fun. My background is folklore and cultural studies and that’s what I’ve tried to weave into all of my tours. Beyond that, I simply tried to create tours that I would want to go on. We try to get off the beaten path and engage with the people and the culture of Ukraine. The history, the buildings and the monuments are all part of the journey, but it’s people that make the experience.
Some people might think the cost of your tours is a little pricey, how would you address that?
I’ve also been told they are exceptionally reasonable once people understand what’s included – which is almost everything! I don’t like pulling out my wallet every five minutes when I’m on vacation and our clients won’t have to either. We include your accommodation, transportation, food, admissions, special events and gratuities all in the package. You really only need extra money for souvenirs and drinks. And let me also add that some of the meals are Ukrainian feasts, which seem to last for days. You can’t put a price on Ukrainian hospitality!
What about the language issue?
Language isn’t a problem at all. I translate everything that needs to be translated and, depending on the tour, we have local guides and assistants who speak English to make sure our tour is entirely enjoyable.
What tours do you have planned for the future?
The possibilities are endless. Next year will be the 200th anniversary of the birth of Taras Shevchenko and we will definitely be planning a large trip to celebrate the occasion. In addition, we hope to add a yoga vacation to our schedule, which includes practicing yoga in a variety of scenic and memorable locations. There is also an idea to put together a Cossack Glory Tour, where we would travel around some of the historically significant Cossack sites, including Zaporizhia. One of my other passions is cycling so definitely somewhere down the road there will be a cycle tour of Ukraine.
You must have a lot of interesting stories travelling around this country...
Yes, I do! Last Easter, for example, we were in the Carpathians. We pulled over to take some pictures and stretch our legs by this scenic little river. There was a beautifully decorated well in one of the yards and people were taking pictures over the fence. A man started hollering at us wondering what we were doing. We thought we were in trouble, but explained that we were Canadians admiring his well. He invited us in to get a better look. An hour later we had drunk a bottle of his homebrew! His wife brought out snacks too and a pysanka for each of us to take home. I think they even tried to marry me off to his daughter.
Other than the essentials, what is one thing you would tell people to bring that they might not think about?
Your sense of curiosity and love of culture.