Overloaded and Overwhelmed
When Saturday comes Colin and Oksana turn up outside our apartment bang on schedule, and they appear to have put a little more thought into it than Zhenya and I. We’ve only brought a change of underwear and our toothbrushes with us, and so we’re very happy to see the boot of Oksana’s car full of useful things like blankets for sitting on, frisbees for throwing, and some games to keep us occupied.
We’ve decided we’re going to picnic in the park, so as we pass the ring road to enter the Odesa road, we stop in at Magellan to stock up. We’re only getting enough for one lunch, but you wouldn’t think it as we get to the till because with everyone throwing in their only little wants and needs we have enough food to feed a family for a week.
After that, we’re off down the road to Uman. It’s about 220km south of Kyiv, so we reckon it’s going to take us just over a couple of hours. It’s a bright sunny day, warm but not yet scorching, and there’s a lot of fun banter being batted back and forth, so, as is often the case, the journey is as much fun as the getting there.
After about an hour it is announced by Oksana that we need to participate in the Ukrainian tradition of stopping to eat boiled eggs. I’ve never heard of this tradition, but I am assured it is one. Either way, a couple of boiled eggs at this juncture sounds like a very good idea, so I’m not complaining.
After pointing out numerous places off the road to stop which apparently we can’t stop at because we’re not giving enough notice, Oksana, who’s our nominated driver this weekend, pulls into the side of the road and we eat hardboiled eggs and drink coffee (told you they were organised) while juggernauts and madmen in fancy cars thunder past.
An hour or so later we enter Uman and a few minutes later we find a space in a car park at the entrance to Sofiiskiy Park. With each of us laden with bags filled with food and games we enter the park, picking up a map as we go, and wander down through the trees.
After a while we come out at the top of a gentle slope giving way to beautiful landscaped gardens of little lakes with islands, statues, green grass, beautifully coloured flowers and ornate decorative little buildings. And this is apparently not the main show, only a teaser.
To get to the main show we have to cut over a small hill, which is further than it looks on the map. But once there we’re greeted with larger lakes, larger decorative buildings mostly in a Greek style, larger statues and more of them, and many more flower gardens. It is all rather overwhelming, and makes us all pause a moment to think how much Count Stanislaw Szczesny Potocki must have loved Sofia.
Picnics and Frisbees
After a short time of wandering, we realise that we are simply overloaded. We also realise that despite the boiled eggs, we’re pretty hungry, so we wander off up through some trees, on the other side of which we find an open field where we lay down some blankets to picnic.
The word multitasking fits aptly to what goes on over the next hour or so as sandwiches are made and eaten, beer bottles are opened and drunk, frisbees are tossed back and forth, and quiz questions are read and occasionally answered.
Our load lightened we set about discovering all the park has to offer, and it is a lot.
There are more lakes (some with fountains in the middle, some with statues, and yet others with more of these decorative little buildings); a plethora of classic statues; a fountain which makes you more beautiful if you drink from it; gardens full of flowers; pedalos (peddle boats for our American friends) and a pirate ship; and you can even take a boat ride through a long dark tunnel.
This park truly is an amazing place – the landscaping is quite beautiful, and there are plenty of things to see and do. And there are lots of things to keep kids occupied including zorbing.
We spend the next few hours wandering around this massive homage to love. Everywhere you turn there’s something new to see. I could go into detail on everything, but really, it’s something you need to see for yourself. Even the photos don’t do it justice.
Evenings Uman Style
After a long day in the park we’re hungry and thirsty despite our picnic, so we pile back in the car and head off in search of our hotel. Thankfully, the Hotel Gontiv is easy enough to find as it sits just off the Odesa road to the east of Uman.
We enter the building and our initial impression is one of concern – there is no reception, just a bell, and the entrance smells funny. Our concern deepens when we realise the bell isn’t actually attached to anything, but some young folk appear and we ask them where we register.
Strangely, they direct us up the stairs to a small room right at the far end of the corridor. Sure enough, that’s where we find the receptionist, but it seems, when they’ve stuck her away back here, as if they’re not actually very keen on guests.
However, we’re greeted pleasantly and given our keys. The rooms are basic, both with twin beds and en-suite shower rooms. Each also has a TV, but that’s it. But with room prices starting at only 120hrv a night, you can’t ask for much.
Once we’ve dumped our stuff and showered, we return to reception and ask what there is to do in Uman on a Saturday evening. The lady thinks for a moment, and then says: “Well, there is a disco sort of thing.”
We don’t really like the sound of that, but decide to give it a go. When we leave the hotel, however, we spot a covered dance floor with little huts around it. It appears to be part of the restaurant-bar attached to the hotel. A man in his sixties is setting up some sound equipment. Looks like there’s going to be a party right here.
We seat ourselves in a little hut, order beer and take a look at the menus. While we’re sipping our cold ones waiting for our food, the music starts and a crowd of folk in their thirties appear from the restaurant and start to trip the light fantastic.
Like the rooms, the food is basic, but it’s not half bad for that. And cheap. We eat some tasty grilled pork steaks and fries, and drink more beer. Then the inevitable happens in such surroundings and we order a bottle of vodka. The locals seem a little perturbed by this small group of foreign men and Ukrainian women drinking vodka and beer with pieces of paper stuck to their foreheads asking each other silly questions, but they tolerate us with pleasant smiles and reasonable service. And we have a great time enjoying the company and the alcohol.
Uman and its beautiful Sofiisvkiy Park is a must see if you’ve not already been. Get a few folk together and go there. And it would be my suggestion when you do, to book yourself in the Gontiv Hotel (if you can tolerate basics for one night), and experience nightlife Uman style. We had a blast, so will you.
Kyiv-Odesa Highway at Uman
(take exit for Pikivets/Uman)
(04 744) 33102, 33389
Rooms start from 120hrv per night