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We're almost done at the guesthouse, raring to go, when the ceramics artist's son offers to show us around the workshop. He's apprenticing for his father. And by gods the artist is skilled! Both the little and large figurines and statues and the vases, pitchers and oil lamps are impeccably crafted. There's even a self-portrait there. We indulge ourselves on his very affordable wares, then hit the road.

Up the hill we go, towards Sighetu Marmației and the Ukrainian border. The serpentine road is shaped like a cooked wheat noodle at the bottom of a soup bowl. By the road runs a lively stream, in which father decides to dive. We drive through some very pretty villages, and every now and then we spot a huge stork's nest on top of a pole, usually with one adult stork and at least two young 'uns. I've now seen more storks on this journey than I can count.

At Sighetu Marmației we visit the Memorialul Victimelor Comunismului și al Rezistenței, a communist-era prison turned into a large museum and a memorial for the victims of communist oppression. Small booklets are available in English, and we dash through the chilling hallways, and peek into the cells now displaying parts of the exhibition—apart from the two solitary confinement cells which are pitch-dark, in the middle lies a set of shackles, and there's nothing else.

We're in a bit of a hurry, because you never know how long it's gonna take at the border, and this time it does take quite a while. In the end, we get through. Immediately the road is full of holes and bumpy all over. It's just like in Carelia. Seeing a small bunhc of road repairspeople inspires a spontaneous cheer in both cars and we wonder if there's some kind of fund we might donate to. Feeling quite shaken, possibly a bit stirred. Wel-sodding-come to Ukraine.

The rough roads go on for what seems like forever. Hours upon hours of wobbling here and there is seriously getting on my nerves, and I can only imagine what it's like in the Toyota (father's, sister's and brother's vehicle), what with it being old, low-set and clunky. I must say I'll be surprised if all our precious ceramics survive this party. Finally joining the smoother M-06 feels like flying.

Western Ukraine gives off a slightly different vibe compared to the east side. Once the mountains are behind us, factories and other industrial buildings constantly dominate the skyline, but the landscape mostly consist of fields and petrol stations, just as before. There's more churches either newly finished or under construction. Lviv is supposedly more Central Europe than Kyiv, and the unofficial culture capital of Ukraine.

Arriving at Lviv at dusk, we're first greeted by very large and very ugly Soviet-inspired concrete apartment blocks. A bit further and closer to the centre the view slowly changes to include some more variety in architecture. Unmistakably a Central European city. The hostel is much crappier than expected, but it is of little consequence.

Once again, we sit at a restaurant at the end of the day, and have to wait for the food quite a while this time. When the dude at the next table lights up his third cigar, I call it a night and go to bed.


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A Journey in the Dark

March 2016

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