Enigma of Cricova

Moldova – a tiny country in Eastern Europe, tucked in between Ukraine and Romania. Once Moldova supplied wine to entire Soviet Union. Today it exports wine worldwide.Cricova, found in the 1950s, is only 15 kilometres away from the nation’s capital Chisinau. Local legend says that many years ago, there was a monastery on the grounds of Cricova that was destroyed in a brutal invasion.As I step into the underground kingdom of wine that holds these monks’ legacies I wonder what stories are hidden within these stone walls.Cricova is not your usual underground wine cellar, it is not a secret facility, it is an entire underground wine town with 120 kilometres of labyrinthine roads that lies 100 metres below the ground.Monks were told to stop producing wine as a dry law took place. Nowadays it is hard to imagine dry law as governments of different countries own their private wine collections here. Government leaders are often having meetings and dinners in beautifully decorated conference rooms with imitated windows.As our guide continues her storytelling, I found out that monks didn’t obey the dry law and hid in caves of Cricova to keep producing wine. They were found and killed, however according to the legend you can still hear a ghost of one monk screaming sometimes. Cric means scream after all.As our driver hits the gas pedal and our tourist cart is moving deeper and deeper underground, I feel how chilly it gets. I try not to think about the monastery ghost, instead focusing on the 1.3 million rare bottles that are held underneath the earth. My favourite sparkling spirit Cricova Rosé boast a rich, velvety texture.The heart of the wine collection is Israel`s “Jerusalem of Easter” vintage 1902. Other impressive exhibits are the 1902 liqueur “Jan Becher” of Czech Republic and the 1938 Burgundy dry wine. I wonder if anyone will ever open them and what would they taste like.Unique production of red and white wine based here allows for a constant 12 C temperature – wine likes it cold. Shift workers are manually turning bottles not to disturb the buzz but to create a special sparkling bubbles. Where else in the world would you see such gentle care?Wine – drink of gods and emperors. For some wine is a symbol of civilization, and for others – sign of love, friendship and hospitality.

Corona Diaries: Toronto Chapter

Let me start from me being an extrovert and sitting at home wasn’t really my thing… Now, it is a full month that I am in isolation and every day starts to look exactly the same as the day before.

According to Facebook this year is brought to us by Steven King. With all my love and respect to Steven King, all of this feels super surreal to me.  I often think of myself as a character of Ray Bradbury’s stories, or a hero from Walking Dead.I am working from home these days. The airline industry suffered the most and my job is threatening to lay me off any day. My school moved online even though I specifically selected the in-class option mainly because I am a people person. Now we all know how animals in a zoo must feel and why their eyes are always sad.

I do have to go grocery shopping, I wear a mask and gloves when I do that. Delivery and pick up of groceries from Walmart is becoming simply impossible as it is booked up 8 days in advance and 8 days is the max amount of days to be ordering groceries online.I walk through an empty zombie field as R.E.M. blasting It’s The End Of The World As We Know It in my head phones.

A few days ago I put a ring on to see how it feels. Am I gaining weight or does ring just feel uncomfortable because my finger is not used to it anymore? What`s next? Will I start putting make up and heels to work from home?

On a Boulevard Of Broken Dreams I saw some folks yelling from inside their car parked in the driveway to the front door people, this is how you visit each other now. Someone is picking up mail in gloves and mask, quite an outfit for a simple chore! Kid’s playgrounds are taped with yellow tape. When I see homo sapience – I cross the street.High Park and Lakeshore parking lots are closed. And if you dare to still show up there – police is patrolling around and issues tickets for not practicing social distancing.

Apparently meat factories are still killing animals because it still smells like death in the air within seven minute walk from my place where two meat factories are located in St. Clair West village.

I agreed with Joe Rogan’s podcast that it is very hard to digest all of this when it is something that just happened to you and is not your fault, it just happened…It is also hard because it’s finally spring time after a very long Canadian winter and we can`t really enjoy it. Last hope is for you, summer.I start to think that five trips last year were not even enough to cover for this year’s lack of travel. Don’t anyone dare telling me ever again that I travel a lot. I am 33 and I have only been in 19 countries, I am clearly behind the schedule. Number 19 associates now with Covid19…

Is that how people felt after Chernobyl nuclear explosion? Perhaps not, with high degree of radiation you are not safe even indoors.

Have you ever been homesick?

As I put my Vyshyvanka on and attend another Ukrainian Festival in Canada, I get both happy and bitter at the same time.

I wish I knew how to unconditionally love Ukraine just like Ukrainian Canadians in second, third and fourth generation do.

I wish I knew how to dance Ukrainian national dances.

I wish I knew how to make pierogies from scratch (In my defense – I cook awesome cabbage rolls and borzh soup).

I wish I knew how to paint Pysanky Easter eggs with hot wax.

Vyshyvanka - Ukrainian National shirt

A Ukrainian song about motherhood got me emotional as my mom is in Ukraine and I am one ocean away from her.

I wish I didn’t know how to pay for university exam in Ukraine.

I wish I didn’t know how to bring my new boss expensive cognac just for hiring me.

I wish I didn’t know how to agree with my boss on something being “white” while entire team thinks that it is “black”.

My parents

I wish I didn’t know how to sneak money into doctor’s pocket just so they truly diagnose me.

I wish I didn’t know how to stay in a long line to get a paper in order to apply for another paper in order to then apply for another paper to apply somewhere.

I wish I didn’t know all the stories about corruption and bureaucracy that I know…

I wish I didn’t know how to get very small salary which is also under the table (in cash) in my own country.

My grandpa turned 90 this year

I wish I didn’t know how to miss my dad who left for work in Western Europe when I was just a kid (every 3rd family have to have someone working abroad in order to support their family in Ukraine.) By the way, my dad still lives in Italy.

Sure, you can have your own small business. I wish I didn’t know stories about mafia that comes and closes your business though.

I wish I didn’t know how to be depressed because over the last 5 years about 14 000 Ukrainians died protecting Ukraine`s Eastern border from Russian occupation/aggression.

I wish I didn’t know stories of my grandparents about the starvation during Holodomor (the Ukrainian genocide) that took place in Ukraine in 1932-1933 and stories of my disappearing-to-be-killed great grandfather, cruelty of communism regime and cold emotionless autocracy of the USSR.

Holodomor
Click on this image to learn more about the Holodomor

I wish my parents immigrated somewhere so I didn’t get to know how hard it is to be homesick sometimes.

I hope my future kids will be proud Ukrainian Canadians who loves mama`s borzh and cabbage rolls.

They will iron their Vyshyvankas as they are getting ready to go to Ukrainian festival to tell others “Oh, our mom is Ukrainian, she came to Canada in 2012 to look for a better life”…

Lago di Como

Flashing back to my Italian Summer of 2017, I would like to do something new.

I would like to offer you a photo-essay of Lake Como and its stunning views from different heights.

Located within one and a half hour drive North from Milan, Lake Como is tucked in between beautiful Italian Alps.

Let me guide you from the lake all the way up to the top of mountains.

I started off with a boat ride. When its 30 degrees outside, being on the water does make me happier.

Lake Como has attracted artists and celebrities for hundreds of years and its famous villas come as a result of that.

A lake of glacial origin is 425 m deep. Breath in the fresh air and enjoy views of architectural heritage of Lombardi region.

Next, lets hop on to a Funicolare that is made to be 45 degrees angle.

Hold your breath as views will get more dramatic soon.

As the journey continues, I suddenly realise how big the lake is.

The funicular railway connects the city of Como with the village of Brunate.

Many Italians own their summer houses up in the Brunate village.

Funicular railway itself is a glorious view.

Red roofs are traditional for Italian buildings.

Walk up a bit more along the charming cobblestone road.

Mesmerizing view from the top of the mountain will be worth your exercise.

And of course it wouldn’t be Italy without a church on the very top of the mountain.

From here, higher than us only birds can fly.

My journey of one of the most breathtaking lakes in the world is over and I hope that yours is just set to begin soon.

Republica Dominicana Inside Out

To me an all-inclusive trip down south wouldn’t be a real experience if I didn’t make a side trip to see how local people live in the village.

As we were approaching El Salado village on our jeep, countryside excursion guide was giving us a little insight on the Dominican life.

Many Dominicans left their native land and looking for better life in other countries. Believe it or not but Dominican Republic has its own immigrants coming mainly from Haiti, some from Venezuela and Colombia in search of jobs. Haitians speak French which is beneficial for Hospitality sector jobs. Hospitality and tourism is the main economy sector in this Caribbean destination.

Average salary in Haiti is 80 USD per month while in the D. R. it is 200 to 320 USD per month. Haiti and D.R. used to fight between each other and just like after any fight there is still some tension in the air between these two countries. Haiti was a French colony while Dominican Republic was a Spanish one. Haiti actually got their independence first. Also the first ever slaves revolution was taking place exactly in Haiti after which African slaves got free. Haitians are closer to African descent whereas Dominicans are a mix of Spanish and African descent.

Dominican Republic takes two thirds of an island while Haiti takes one third of it. Socialized health care in D. R. allows its people to have a free health care.

Hospitality workers live in the hotel type of accommodation that is close to the resort where they work. If you are let`s say Sales Manager of the resort – you live at the actual property. Typically they work 11 days straight and then off for 3 days. (So, yes stop complaining about your schedule right now). If you live in the city of Higüey which is 40 min drive from Punta Cana you can drive home every day after work. Alternatively, old school bus that was donated by state of Florida or resort shuttle will provide rides to hospitality workers.

Motorcycles remain the most officiant way for most people here. I saw as scary combinations as one adult and three kids on one bike or two adults and two kids on one bike.

Unusual type of Hibiscus was blooming everywhere.

Punta Cana was a beach area name before city was called Punta Cana. Highest mountains of the entire Caribbean region are concentrated in the D. R. with Pico Duarte Mountain being 3098 meters high.

Colorful houses are spread out on both sides of not paved road. This village is not far from touristic jam of Punta Cana and they didn’t have asphalt roads in the village. Now imagine village somewhere in the middle of the country side.

Electricity is new for this village of El Salado. Not everyone can afford to have fridge. Stove that runs on gas is often not in use to save gas that comes in expansive cylinders. Locals just cook outside on fire wood.

I saw multiple homemade showers where water naturally warms up by sitting all day in a huge plastic container above the roof. In Ukraine we call this kind of shower the Summer Shower because you can heat water like this only in a summer season. Luckily for Dominicans it is always summer.

Laundry is spread out everywhere from classic ropes across the back yard to comfortably sitting on yard bushes and piles of stones.

They built houses slowly as money are coming in slowly. You can see many houses with first floor being coat painted and second floor is on very early stages of being build. Some even have plastic windows and yes, grates on windows are unfortunately necessary in a high crime country.

Usually it is a wooden house with wooden blinds for windows. Brick house that can stand hurricanes costs 35 000 USD and that is a lot around here.

23 families created their cooperative in this village and they work together towards same goals. Producing chocolate and cigars, coffee and cacao, growing sugar cane, making delicious 8 % alcohol Pineapple wine, rum and Mama Juana – drink that is concocted by allowing rum, red wine, and honey to soak in a bottle with tree bark and herbs. The taste is similar to port wine and the color is burgundy. The legend behind this Dominican Drink says that once a female healer was treating everyone with herbs and was like a mother to everyone so her famous drink got called Mama Juana. It is also considered to be the Dominican Viagra.

By the way cigars contain 30 times less nicotine than cigarettes. So you will not only look cool but actually save your health for longer if you switch to cigars.

Do try one of my favourites: Coco Loco cocktail based on coconut milk, rum, vodka and a little bit of magic.

Loteka lottery can be seen on every corner. Just like Canadians, they dream to win lottery and have better life. Music is everywhere. I feel Latin passion in every note and move. There is a discotheque in the village too.

Most of the population is Catholic and that explains church in the village. Protestant are concentrated in Samana region of the Dominican Republic. For tropical hurricane safety reason Dominicans bury their dead in crypts above the ground. Cremation is not popular here.

Little girl was running behind our jeep and so we yelled “Stop!“ to our driver. We already gave our donation bags to school and to the family we visited. My coworkers and I literally had nothing. All of a sudden Heather took her sunglasses out and said:

‘’Here, give it to the kid, they are too big for me anyways’’…

Others were waiving to us and we were waiving back to them. Sometimes all you can give is a smile and some times that is all that is needed anyways.

I find purest souls in poorest countries because these people are not spoiled by wealth, they are very honest and real, they stay true to their roots and to their lives.