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An American artist in Ukraine visits a gorgeous park
I’ll go just about anywhere for an adventure, big or small. That’s one reason I’m here, in Ukraine.
A friend of mine, Lena, suggested an outing to a special spot, a great park, assuring me it was worth the long ride to a place called “Óìàíü” — oo-muhn, accent on the oo. It’s because you go “OOOOOOOOHHH MAN” is this ever beautiful!
We boarded a very new, very clean and comfortable tour bus leaving from a bus terminal in Khmelnytsky, the town I live in, before dawn for a four-hour trip, one way.
The name of the park is “Sofiyivka”. It celebrated its 200th birthday anniversary in 2002. It is a park that came into being thanks to a man’s (a very, very wealthy nobleman man, Count Potocki) devotion and love for his wife Sophia. He had the park laid out just for her, hence the name. At the park you can purchase books for all the historical facts. This Count hired some fantastic designers and they did their job perfectly. The theme of the park is Greek and Roman mythology and the sculptures of various sizes in marble and bronze reflecting that. (Don’t completely believe the little map they hand you, a number of gods were elsewhere other than depicted on it. Mercury, where are you?)
The entire park is constructed on a mountain slope utilizing gravitational water flow. The designer was brilliant. Every time I thought we were coming to a dead end on the pathway it turned out to be a sort of doorway to another part of the park with different sub-theme. Huge granite boulders in very natural poses are placed next to lakes and waterfalls — all man made. The trees were selected for their seasonal blooms and contrasting greens, as well as structure and height. If you have any appreciation of gardens you will see what I am talking about. The park was designed to be “perfect” in every season, something in bloom, something at rest, and in winter the ice is the attraction with frozen waterfalls, icicles and snow. I’ve only seen photos of the winter scenes, but they, too are dazzling.
This will sound terrible, but I didn’t think anything this lovely could exist in this country. This is a manicured, loved, cherished, piece of living art work that must be maintained in a very specific way. And it is 200 years old. Keep in mind what Ukraine has gone through in the past 200 years, and somehow there was enough love and energy to keep this living gem intact. Impressive. The only thing in disrepair was the English Garden green house at the top of the park. It must have been spectacular when it was functioning because it was about three-fourth the size of an American football field.
Lena’s five-year-old son was with us. He was in heaven! Part of the place is definitely hands and feet off, but many areas were designed to beckon a body to climb, jump, touch and enjoy nature. And he did just that. I confess I joined him. A tree hit by lightening was trimmed and left for folks to climb on. Gigantic granite boulders are smooth and slick from years of people clambering upon their surfaces. Like ants seeking sugar, people were everywhere, climbing on every allowable surface, poking their noses in every crevice, collecting fallen leaves and seeds, enjoying the beauty with sheer child-like pleasure.
If one makes the entire circuit, the upper viewpoints are visual delights. Some spots are quite steep so you get the waterfall’s perspective of the place. The top-most lake of the Park offers a ride on a tiny steamboat that makes a simple, short trip out and back on the top lake showing off a few more structures, one of them being the Island of Anti-Circe. It’s a popular wedding spot. We all know the story of Circe, the seductive Enchantress that cast her spell turning sailors into swine. Perhaps having the ceremony there guarantees your husband won’t turn into a pig? No one could give us an answer.
The ducks were flying overhead and diving for fish. Swans are in every body of water, very leery of people. There are peddle-boats to rent, and a rowboat ride that leaves out of a functioning miniature lock. There are vendors of tourist and quality items and art on the upper slopes.
Even the ladies room (I didn’t check out the men’s room) was special. It is a log cabin, covered with wild grape vines that are deep red in autumn. It was actually lovely. Take into consideration the usual conditions of the “amenities” of this country (carry your own toilet paper and hand cleaner), I was thrilled that the basin had running water, and there WAS a basin! (note: since I arrived in this country, amenities in parts of Ukraine have improved, but still, take your own TP, hand wipes and drinking water.)
We did quite a bit, but we didn’t see everything, we simply ran out of time but I didn’t mind it too much. Part of me wants to save a little something for the next trip. I have no idea when I’ll get back there, but there is a hotel that is part of the estate, just outside the Garden’s gate. It was a disappointment to see the carelessness of tourists. There is definitely a litter problem but the Park itself is immaculate and I couldn’t see who was keeping it so. Two Park attendants looked rather bum-like, wearing discrete armbands over dirty old track/sport/jogging outfits, making sure no one sat on the grass. I figure they are the good-fairies that clean up after everyone, although they didn’t pick up rubbish or have any garbage bag in tow. I am big on remembering I am a guest in this country and do care about hints.
I have been to a number of parks in Ukraine now and this was by far an enormously delightful surprise. It pales in comparison with Buchart Gardens in BC, Canada, and with many other private gardens in the world, but there is a charm in this place. I could feel the affection and respect of the original owner for his lovely Sophia. I could imagine her walking with him, arm in arm, their servants trailing behind, holding parasols over their heads. I imagined their afternoon boat ride with at least 5 servants to row, pour champagne, provide shade and lay out the repast, complete with golden forks and linen napkins.
We had bag lunches and cleaned up after ourselves, but nothing diminished the beauty of our surroundings.
You can take money and build bombs or you can use the same money and create calm.
It was a wonderful day.