I spent a long weekend (Friday evening- Wednesday morning) traveling with a couple of the teen small groups from our church (most of the youth group, actually) on a camping trip.
We first traveled from Uzhgorod to Khmelnitsky, an overnight trip. We arrived at 5 am or something and napped in the train station until about 8 when a hired mini-bus (Marshrootka) picked us up. We met Doug (My team leader and husband of Marina, the youth director) and spent the day Castle hopping.
Our first stop was Medzhybych Fortress, built in the 1500's. The founder of Hasidism (Judaic sect) is buried in the same village. Incidentally, there's a long history of Jewish occupation and persecution here. During WW2 Nazi's first incarcerated over 2000 Jews in the Castle...and then murdered all of them.
The Castle is also home to Ukraine's Holodomor Museum. The Holodomor was a forced, man-made famine created by Bolshevik Russians to starve and eliminate middle-class Ukrainians in 1932-33. Something in the neighborhood of 8 million Ukrainians starved to death.
Our next stop was Sutkivtsy Church Fortress, also built in the 1500's. This Church was part of a much larger complex of walls and towers but yet still a church. It struck me that this is a church built to keep people out. I wonder how many churches we inadvertently build today the same way?
Our next stop was the town of Dunaivtsy. Doug had previously coached the Baptist Church there in our Youth Ministry Strategy so they arranged "home-stay's" for us all and provided meals and a joint fellowship time with some of their teenagers. I have to admit that in my "introvertness" I wasn't looking forward to staying 2 nights with strangers. One of our kids, Vitalik, who speaks pretty good English was with me and after it was all said and done I must say I really enjoyed my time with Andrey and Valya and their sons Fenya and Tim.
The next day was huge. First we visited Khotyn Castle. You can't see it from the road. It's gloriously revealed only after you walk through the earthen gate and then, "BAM!" there it is. I said aloud when I saw it that if it had been sitting on a hill in Vicksburg back in the day then the South might have won the Civil War. Doug followed by saying that if it wasn't for this Castle, there might have never been a Vicksburg!!
In 1621 as many as 250000 Turks left Constantinople with the intention of invading Vienna and establishing a foothold in Europe. Had they succeeded, Europe may have become a Muslim entity more than a hundred years before the US gained her independence. But in what is probably a case of Divine Intervention a greatly outnumbered force of 75000 Poles and Cossacks defeated the Turks on this site long before they reached Vienna in a battle where it was said that Cannon thundered for 3 days without a break.
The next stop was pretty awesome too. We went to the touristy town of Kamyanets-Podilsky and the Kamyanets-Podilsky Castle. It's the most Disneyesque/fairytale-looking castle in Ukraine and probably the most famous. The river makes a huge u-turn creating a mushroom shaped peninsula in which sits the old town. The Castle sit's on the "stem" of the mushroom protecting the town.
We then returned to our families in Dunaivtsy where we enjoyed "Family Day" at the "Fan Zone"...a big screen viewing of a Eurocup Soccer Match at the local Futbol Stadium. The highlight was a Ukrainian "strongman" who lifted kids, tore phone books in half, busted bricks with is head, drove nails with his bare hands and twisted rebar all while very effectively sharing his testimony and the gospel. He was sponsored by the Baptist Church.
The next day we hit up a couple more historic sites before arriving at a "Dacha"- a farm house owned by Marina (Youth Director)'s Aunt and Cousin, in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere. They called it "camping" but I teased the kids that for them it was another "homestay" because they slept on pallets inside the house. Doug slept in his tent and I slept out under the stars. It was in the 60's at night so the bugs weren't bad. I saw a dozen satellites and at least 4 shooting stars, It was an awesome night. Ukrainians are funny...they endure ridiculously harsh winter's but last week when it cooled down to the 50's they were cold...and they thought I was crazy for sleeping outside in that cold, night air.
Our main purpose for "camping" was that Marina's cousin Vitalik is an Adventure Guide. So that first night we took a 5 hour spelunking tour of a local cave...the Atlantis Cave. He claimed it was the largest cave system in the world but there's no way. It is, however, really cool. It's a lot like the Lost Sea Cavern in Tennessee and we had a blast crawling around in the clay and rocks. There were some pretty tight spots!!
The next day, our last, we mountain biked 40 km through villages, wheat fields, and forest, over pavement, gravel, cobblestone, dirt paths and no paths past horses, cattle, geese, rivers and ruins. I'm way to old for that stuff!
We also enjoyed some swimming and Bible Study while at the Dacha. We finished the trip by going back to Khmelnitsky that night in time to catch the midnight train back to Uzhgorod. I got home about 10 am the next day and slept till 7 pm!