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Eastern travels

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hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

Eastern travels

I've just returned home from a highly memorable and breathtaking three weeks in Ukraine. I love travelling, and whenever possible, I try to take my time and move along at a relatively slow pace. Instead of rushing through cities and catching the main tourist attractions, I find it frequently much more interesting and memorable to move slowly through a country, taking the time to see how they go about their daily lives, take the same buses and trains that they do, and get a grip of the atmosphere and the day to day life in the place I visit. I've long had a fascination with European history, culture and society, and particularly that of Eastern Europe and what was the East bloc. Inspired by previous journeys through Romania, Hungary, the Czech republic and Slovakia, I had mapped out a similar trek through Ukraine for 2012.

I spent three weeks travelling from Kiev to Lviv and on to Odessa, the Crimea and Kharkiv before returning to Kiev. I arrived in Kiev on Friday April 13, the start of the orthodox Easter weekend. This was a lovely time to spend in the city, and there were large crowds attending services and visiting the many cathedrals in the capitol. Particularly moving was seeing the large crowds of people - children, elderly, young couples, friends; people from all age groups and all layers of society - flocking to the cathedrals on the first day of Easter. All carrying their own basket with traditional bread and bottles of wine. Below is a photo from just outside the Church of the Assumption in the Kievo-Pecherska lavra complex of Kiev.


On my return to the city centre from the Lavra, I bought a paneton from a small bakery. The crumb was a lovely light golden yellow and feathery light. Some dried fruit and a sprinkling of crystal sugar on top made for a delicious afternoon snack.


Coming from a largely secular society where religion and the respect for religious celebrations is dwindling, I was fascinated by the spirituality and the fact that both young and old came together to mark the Easter celebration.


While staying in Kiev, I also participated in a day trip out the Chernobyl and the ghost town of Pripyat. Below is a photo of the ferris wheel in Pripyat.

Walking around in Pripyat, surrounded by apartment blocks, trees and rusted billboards and only hearing the sound of wind in the trees and the song of birds was haunting and unreal, and reminded me somewhat of the post-apocalyptic scenes told by Cormac McCarthy in "The Road". I understand that the Ukrainians themselves in general have mixed feelings about Chernobyl turning into a weird tourist attraction (something I perfectly understand), but I still found it enlightening to participate in the trip north to the scene of the accident and learning more about what happened during that decisive period back in 1986.


From Kiev, I caught a plane to Lviv - a wonderful and elegant city close to the Polish border.

A wonderful city full of art, grand architecture, open squares and cobblestone streets. Definitely a bit rough around the edges, but if anything, that simply added to a slightly romantic sense of decay and authenticity. A great city to walk around in, enjoy a central European cafe and pastry tradition (some of the cake slices to be had in this town rivals the best of Budapest IMO), and a wonderful countryside.


An overnight train ride brought me to sunny Odessa.

I spent three nights here, enjoying the beaches of the Black Sea, some great parks and a bustling and energetic city that never really sleeps or slows down.

Mark Twain said about Odessa that "there were no sights to see and that the best thing to do is idle about and enjoy oneself." I do think there are some lovely sights not to be missed, including the famous Potemkin stairs, the peaceful, well-kept Primorsky boulevard and the busy seaport itself, but the city is great for idling about and general enjoyment. Oh, and they sell terrific ice cream here, no doubt about that.


Another overnight train ride brought me to Crimea, where I spent four days based in Sevastopol under a scorching sun, close to eclectic Soviet beach resorts and fascinating landscapes that in places reminded me of the Calanques outside Marseille. Sevastopol made for a very convenient base from where I took old marshrutka buses to neighbouring areas, including Yalta

(above is the Livadia palace in the western suburbs of Yalta, the site of the famous 1945 Yalta conference, and the seaside Lenin statue in Yalta. Lenin is now facing a McDonald's; I wonder if he ever thought that McDonald's could be the ultimate consequence of the NEP...), the old Crimean Tatar capitol of Bakhchisarai (here a shot of some cliffs on the outskirts of the city):

and Balaclava.

An overnighter from Sevastopol brought me to the sprawling city of Kharkiv, in the north-east of the country. The city suffered particularly hard during the famine in 1932-1933 and again during WWII; Kharkiv was occupied twice by the Germans, and few original buildings remain. However, the city has managed to fuse the new with the old, and a sizeable student population means that there's always something interesting happening.

As in most Ukrainian markets, the Kharkiv central market had a glorious display of pork cuts to be had for a very reasonable price.

While there, I sampled some varieties of the (in)famous salo; pure pork fat cured with salt and spices, not unlike bacon, and sliced thinly, typically served with cloves of raw garlic, slices of toasted Borodinsky rye and a sprig of parsley. Absolutely delicious and a true celebration of everything great about pork.


From Kharkiv, I rumbled on back to Kiev - below a night time photo of the Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in Kiev.

The opera and ballet in Kiev is certainly world class; I was fortunate enough to catch performances of both Carmen and Swan Lake, and though I'm not that familiar with ballet, I was gripped and utterly fascinated by both performances. An Easter oratorium in the Kiev philarmonic was also stunning.

The memories and impressions from the trip are still very fresh, unsorted and raw, and I'll need some time to sort through my thoughts, feelings and photos. Old, vibrant cities, natural beauty, spirituality, breathtaking landscapes and a fantastic cultural tradition are some of the impressions I take home with me, but also disturbing pictures of poverty, injustice, social and economical differences and a people that has suffered hard for so long in modern times. Although the language barrier is not to be underestimated, I still felt a connection with the people while I was there; people that are deeply spiritual, emotional, humble and sincere. I hope to go back later this year, to explore some more inaccessible areas to also get a glimpse into what life is like in the rural heart of Ukraine and old-time Europe.


I brought some souvenirs back home to friends and family, and for myself I bought some bread pans from a seller on the central market in Kharkiv:

For ages, I've been looking for tall pans like these, so I was thrilled when I saw these as I was making my way out of the pork section of the market! When I got back home, first thing I did was to unload my backpack and then get my starter out of its three week hibernation so that it could make me some bread again:

The two loaves turned out very well I think (at least for an improvised dough), simply made with rye flour, toasted sunflower seeds, boiled whole rye berries and flaxseeds.

Perfect for the Ukrainian cheese and canned fish that found its way back to my place.

Comments

Syd's picture
Syd

Beautiful pictures Hansjoakim!  The pork market looks very similar to how they sell pork here in Taiwan. Salo sounds delicious and I would love to try some.  You loaves are simply stunning!  Are they naturally leavened?  100% rye?  They look moist and  would make the perfect sandwich bread.

Best,

Syd

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

For the lovely travelogue and the beautiful breads.  Your trip must have felt quite different than one, say, through the tourist highlights of western Europe.

When I first saw the rye paste in the pans, I feared that you had pushed the fermentation too far because it looked as though bubbles were beginning to burst at the surface.  On closer inspection, I think that what I first took for holes are actually flax seeds.  The finished bread shows no sign of being over proofed, whatsoever.  Cheese and fish aren' the only things that would taste good on that rye!

Paul

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

for your fine rye, sunflower and flax seed bread.   Like your travel scope too. 

SylviaH's picture
SylviaH

What lovely photos and write up of your enjoyable holiday.  I especially like the charming and functional bread pans.  What beautifully baked loaves!

 I'll also be leaving tomorrow for a week holiday to Aspen, CO..I've missed my  regular baking but enjoy the little holiday breaks..so I know how you felt about returning home to your starter :)

Thanks for sharing!

Sylvia

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

I'm waiting for more details on those lovely seedy rye breads, too!

David

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

That's the second time I see those bread pans in so many days.

Here it is again: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/28558/100-rye-bread-third-time-charm

Wonderful post and photos, as usual.

Thanks, hansjoakim.

(Oh, if you want Russian opera, I'm your guy. I own just about every recording that made it out of the USSR over the decades, even the 1947 Bolshoi Rigoletto with Ivan Kozlovsky, Alex Ivanov, and Irina Maslennikova.)

kozulich's picture
kozulich

Great travelog Hansjoakim!  I am a fellow "slow traveller" and I took a very similar itinerary through Ukraine in the autumn of 2010, except I didn't go to Kharkiv, choosing instead to spend time in the rural Carpathian Mountains of western Ukraine, which for me, was the highlight of the trip.  In all of Ukraine, slow travel is the norm, but in the Carpathians, I think it is mandatory.  There is no other way to soak in the feeling of being in the 18th century, than to spend a week in a small village in some remote part of the Carpathians. 

Ukraine, as you say, is quite rough around the edges, but fascinating in so many ways.  Ukrainians have managed to preserve unbroken the old European traditions probably better than any other culture in Europe - mainly due to having a history of misfortune and economic turmoil.  On one hand, I wish everyone could experience it, but on the other hand, I fear that would spoil it.

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

Hans,

Thanks so much for all you have posted here.  Your comments on all you witnessed are very thought provoking and speak well of the contrasts we face during our lives on this planet.  A lot for you to digest as you so aptly put it above.

I so appreciate all of the pictures you posted too.  Showing aspects of each place you visited that I would never see anywhere else.  There appears to be a rainbow in the photo of the Ferris wheel you have here.  Was that there or was it a 'trick' of your lens caused by the angle at which you took the shot?

How appropriate that you set yourself to baking on your return.  An activity that I always feel is very grounding.

A question about your bread pans.  How are they different than the pullman pans that are used for pan loaves?  They look very similar and am wondering if yours are even taller than a pullman?

Again, thanks for taking the time to post here about your journey.

Take Care,

Janet

 

chouette22's picture
chouette22

reading the account of your slow travels through Ukraine, how you soaked up the spirit and day-to-day life of the people. Wonderful and thank you so much for sharing.

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Thank you for sharing your travels, photos, and thoughts, Hans. 

PiPs's picture
PiPs

Welcome home,

Thank you Hans for the fascinating peek into other cultures. You captured your holiday beautifully.

Cheers,
Phil

breadsong's picture
breadsong

Hello Hans,
Thank you for your well-written account of your trip.
It is very interesting read about the places you visited, and see these photos.
:^) breadsong

hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

Thanks so much for your comments, everyone!

I'm very happy with how many of the photos turned out, so I'm in the middle of sorting through them, and having the best ones printed and collected in an album.

Syd: Thanks, my friend! Is it very much a nose-to-tail culture in Taiwan as well? One of the fascinating aspects of it, is that virtually everything can be put to good use and turned into something utterly delicious. Apart from the cured fatback, some smoked pig's ear from a sidewalk café in Odessa is something that immediately comes to mind... :-) Yes, the loaves are sourdough only, and to tell you the truth, I was a bit sceptical myself before baking them - my starter had spent more than 3 weeks in the back of the fridge, and were only refreshed once before the sourdough build. After shaping, the loaves proofed for just over 2 hours, which is rather long for an all-rye formula, but I think that has to do with me mixing the dough to a slightly low dough temperature. I should've aimed for something in the vicinity of 26 - 28 dC, but the dough ended up at around 23 dC instead.

Sylvia: Have a nice trip and enjoy your time in Aspen! Looking forward to seeing your freshly baked goods on your return in a week's time :-)

thomaschacon: Yes, I spotted codruta's pan as well! She got hers from a friend in Russia, if I'm not mistaken. They are lightweight, probably aluminium pans, easy to clean out and provided they're buttered and floured prior to using, the bread doesn't stick one bit. I felt bad only paying $1 per pan... Wow, you're a Russian opera junkie, thomaschacon? Is it a special fascination with Russian/Soviet opera of yours? Are we talking vinyl pressings here? Thanks again!

kozulich: Thank you! I completely sympathise with what you're saying; one wishes such beautiful and unspoilt places would be more available to everyone, but as you say, that would on the other hand "taint" it, and take away some of the uniqueness of the place. You know, I regret I didn't make it into the Carpathians and Transcarpathia on my trip, but alas, time didn't really allow for it. As you say, slow is the way to go in general, and even more so in the far western regions; thus, if I would've included that part of the country, I would've wanted at least another week in the country, in order to let impressions fully soak in... I take it you went mostly by bus, marshrutka and/or taxi in the Carpathians? I've heard stories about long, gruelling train journeys, so road transport is probably preferrable between cities and villages. If you don't mind me asking, where did you go to in the Carpathians? Perhaps you can recommend some off-the beaten track destinations or hikes in the region? Thanks again, and I hope to hear from you soon, kozulich :-)

Janet: Thanks so much! It wasn't raining while I was in Pripyat, so I think it must either be a peculiar colour on the sky itself, or perhaps it's simply an artifact (the sun was behind one the carriages of the ferris wheel, so it could be sunlight bouncing off some surfaces and creating that effect - it was certainly not something I was going for when taking the picture). I don't own a regular pullman pan myself, so I can't compare the sizes directly, but here are the measurements of the pans in the photos above: The small pans are approximately 6.5" x 4.5" x 3.5" (L x W x H), while the large ones are 8.5" x 4" x 4.5".

Thanks again, everyone, and happy baking!

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

I make it sound like I've been collecting for a century, huh? I was 16 when the USSR dissolved. :)

It's Western opera sung in Russian I like, although I like some Russia opera too.

I don't know why exactly. I think it's because:

  1. They didn't record very often. When they did, the very best singers, musicians, and conductors were brought to bare. The "We'll do it once, but we'll do it better than it's every been done!" mentality.
  2. Russian recording technology was/is superior–some recordings from the 1940s sound like they were recorded in 2012.
  3. The singing is less inhibited. (A friend said, "They seem less inhibited because they are! You drink that much vodka and see what happens to your personality!")

Here's (a poor quality version of) Rigoletto with Andrei Ivanov, Ivan Kozlovsky, Irina Maslennikova, 1947, Samuel Samosud (c), USSR State Symphony Orchestra

  1. Act I
  2. Act II
  3. Act III
  4. Recording Information

I have a much better recording, but it's 370 MB. If you want it, just ask.

kozulich's picture
kozulich

There were many things the Soviets did not do well, however, their music conservatory system was excellent.  Soviet schools produced musicians with phenomenal technique, and the fine arts were much more patronized than here, thus offering plenty of opportunities for talented musicians to be showcased.  I also feel that there was a certain passion for the music.  Somehow the emotions of the artists always came through. 

hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

Hi Thomas, thanks for your reply and for the mp3s! Very much appreciated - I'll certainly have a listen later this week. The quality and repertoire of the opera, ballet and classical music still on offer throughout Eastern Europe is amazing - their appreciation and respect for the works and composers are really inspiring. Remarkable how they managed and still manage to keep this level of quality, in the midst of the other challenges they have faced over the decades. Thanks again, Thomas!

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

Hans,

Thanks for the measurments.  Your larger pan is similar to my Pullman pan but your smaller one isn't.  Only one that I have that comes somewhat close is my cast iron loaf pan. (The dark pan inbetween the 2 other pans.) It's sides are only 2  3/4" tall.  I like the tall sides too but have never been able to find pans of that dimension here....

Again, thanks for the response.

Janet

kozulich's picture
kozulich

Yes, at least an additional week would have been necessary.  We went mainly by bus and marshrutka this time.  In the past I have gone by train.  Its not so bad, but the speed is not fast and some of the cars on the local trains have only wooden benches.  A highlight of the region is the area around Kolomiya, inhabited by the ancient Hutsul tribe, who have maintained the old traditions in every aspect of life.  The town of Kosiv has a fantastic bazaar every week with locally produced items.  The picturesque area is used to tourists in the summer and skiers in the winter, so accomodations are easy (relatively speaking).  We spent most of our time in the area inhabited by the Boyko tribe.  Tucked in the corner near Poland and Slovakia, between the towns of Turka and Sambir, it is very remote, and due to depressed economic conditions, life has remained very traditional.  Roads in this area are very poor, meaning even in a marshrutka, you will be lucky to progress at more than 4o km/hour once you get off the main highway.  This area is in the Beskid range of mountains, ideal for hiking.  The natural beauty is pastoral and idyllic, the pace of life is slow, and the people are generous.  There are no tourist facilities, but people are willing to rent rooms, and this is the best way to experience the food and culture (but expect to be fed until you burst).

hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

Thanks so much for your thoughts and suggestions! It all sounds so intruiging... I have been thinking about starting from Ivano-Frankivsk and Yaremche, and heading south through the Chornohora and ending up in Chernivtsi, but heading even further west would probably be equally interesting.

I'll go haul out my guidebook and maps. Thanks again!

Thaichef's picture
Thaichef

Good Morning Hans:

What a wonderful travelogue and beautiful baking! It is dark, dreary and damp in my little village but your pictures and the data of your traveling bring me a ray of sunshine. I too love to travel alone and sit in and watch the towns/villages wake up and people go about their morning routine. I feel somewhat part of the people even-though I don't understand the languages. I have never been to the countries you are traveling through but I love to read about it.

  I am envious of your beautiful pans!   

mantana

 

ddarathorn's picture
ddarathorn

Any chance of a photographic post of breads and pastries from your trip?

Candango's picture
Candango

Hansjoakim, I am envious. What a great trip you had. I have been to some of the cities but not all, and it was interesting to read your account of the "slow trip". It looks like you got a great deal on the tall sided bread pans, and your finished product looks super. Well done.

Bob

Mebake's picture
Mebake

A really enchanting journey, Hans! Welcome back!!

Nice pans! and you've brought them from the lands where Rye is highly prized.

I really appreciate you taking the time to blog about a journey so soon. Funny how typical of most TFL members to head first thing to the refrigerator, upon arrival! We all share the same universal bug!

And your Rye! Wow.... ! Beautiful for an improvisation.