Where to even begin?! We are only a few days into tour and already it seems there is so much to tell! After many much needed showers and a good night's sleep, we began our first day in Ivano-Fankivsk with breakfast at the hotel (absolutely delicious; meats, cheeses, fruits, oatmeal, eggs..you name it) and set off shortly thereafter for a walking tour of the city. We saw beautiful churches and scoped out some great restaurants and pubs to hit up later on. Once the tour was over, we walked to the Muliarovyis' Family Resaurant where we enjoyed a wonderful three course lunch (salad, borscht and stuffed chicken with a kind of potato gnocchi) and officially reunited and welcomed our friends Darmohrai to our tour. Some of the guys even tried their hand at the trembita...Phil Sembaliuk, you may have missed your calling! After lunch we walked back to Nadiya Hotel and changed for our first FULL group rehearsal - we had our first show coming up the next day and wanted to take any chance we could to get in some extra practice. Dinner was on our own, some enjoyed pizza or pasta, while others chowed on more traditional fair. It was an early evening for most, as some were still catching up on sleep from the flights, and others wanted to ensure they were fully rested for our performance.
The next morning we again enjoyed breakfast at the hotel, and then walked across the street to the theatre where we had the honour of viewing some selections of choreography by the Hutstulia Ensemble. What a treat for us to watch, to ask questions and learn from this group - especially since they are on summer holidays right now! When asked to perform for us, they simply couldn't resist and managed to scrape together 8 dancers and the artistic director to show us a little more about their ensemble. What an inspiration for our show that evening, especially when they announced that they would all be in the audience cheering "Bravo" for us (and we definitely heard them!).
After lunch the reality of our looming show really set in. Everyone had their game faces on as we headed into technical rehearsal - there was only one problem: one of our props, the Bereznianka stick, was confiscated in Canada at security and had to be shipped to Ukraine separately. Luckily, our new friends from Hutsulia provided us with a plain wooden stick, and our costume lady extraordinaire got to work attaching ribbons and flowers to spruce it up - no rest for Jackie...even now I am sure she is somewhere hand sewing the 3 or 4 pairs of boys pants that had the crotches completely ripped out of them during the show. And wouldn't you know, during the dance immediately prior to Bereznianka, THE STICK ARRIVED FROM CANADA - our tour guide, Vince Rees with Cobblestone Freeway Tours, picked it up at the airport and ran it directly backstage. So at least now we have a backup.
I don't think any of us were prepared for the reception that was given to us at the end of the show. A full theatre, all on their feet, cheering, whistling, shouting "Bravo!" and "Molodtsi!" for what felt like an hour after the show was over. There was not a dry eye in the theatre, neither on stage or in the audience. It was truly an amazing and heartwarming way to begin our tour. Once we were packed up and loaded out of the theatre, we attended a reception dinner in our hotel. There were many toasts, many "bydmos", and many people who were reeling on adrenaline and couldn't stop replaying the evenings events. A memory that surely won't be soon forgotten.
BUT, we sing/dance hard AND we play hard, so after dinner (around 11 pm) we shared some drinks and most people got ready to depart for the night market in Kolomeya. We were told this is where many merchants from across Ukraine come to purchase embroidered goods to sell in their hometown markets and stores. The bus left at 1 am and after our 1.5 hour bus ride, arrived in Kolomeya with many excited shoppers. How surreal to be out in the middle of the night surrounded by so many beautiful blouses, dresses, scarves...how to choose which ones you wanted?! We spent two hours shopping, and boarded the busses to return home at 4:30 am. Many tired, but satisfied people arrived at the hotel around 6 am, the sun already risen, and went straight to bed. The next day had some optional activities for members; some slept in and enjoyed a day spent in the city at their leisure, others travelled back to Kolomeya where they toured the Hutsul museum and saw the worlds largest pysanka (that's right, bigger than Vegreville), and another group travelled to Maniavsky Skyt where they saw a beautiful waterfall and toured the monastery. Dinner took us all back to the Muliarovyis' Family Restarurant for our farewell dinner in Ivano-Frankivsk where we also celebrated Fr. Semotiuk's 47th year of priesthood - what a special blessing to have him along on tour with us and to be able to recognize such a momentous occasion. There was some socializing afterwards and slowly everyone made their way back to the hotel to pack up and prepare for our trip to Lviv in the morning. Along the way, several dancers had such a wonderful experience, their story is below: "Today we bought flowers from a baba who was falling asleep in her chair at midnight in Ivano Frankivsk. When we woke her up and informed her we wanted to give her 100 Hryvnias ($5 CAD) for her flowers she was taken aback and offered us her whole collection of flowers, to which we refused and only accepted one bouquet. We have never felt so special in our lives. $5 Canadian has made such a difference in her life that she began crying and thanking God that he has brought us to Ukraine to help her tonight. We also began to cry and at this moment we realized how lucky we are to live in Canada, and how good it feels to give back. Only after we purchased the flowers did we learn that this baba was at one time a doctor in Ukraine, whose pension did not nearly cover her cost of living. We will never forget this moment and will continue to support the locals living in these cities."
What a special time this city has given us over the last few days. We have gotten over the hurdles that come with travelling such a far distance, we have began to bond closer as a group and as we look forward to the next adventures to be had in Lviv we will not forget the many memories that were made in Ivano-Frankivsk.