Thursday, August 11, 2011

Day 9: Khotyn and Kamyanets-Podilsky

Points to whoever can pronounce the title! As I said yesterday, I joined up with the hostel group tour to go out to see the fortress of Khotyn and old city of Kamyanets-Podilsky (hereafter to be known as K-P, for obvious reasons). Our group consisted of the hostel owner and his son (English), a Belorussian couple and two Ukrainian girls heading off in a jeep. The first thing I can tell you is that the roads are terrible around here! In the cities, the streets are often paved with cobblestones, which makes for a teeth-rattling ride, but on the highways it's sometimes even worse what with the uneven road surfaces and potholes all over the place. I think the guys sitting in the back over the wheels lost about 20 IQ points going over the bumps.

We stopped off first at Khotyn, which I hadn't been planning to visit on my own, a 15th century castle built by a Moldavian prince, occupied by the Ottoman Empire and then later the scene of a great battle between forces led by the Poles and the Turks in 1621. The Poles won, but it got retaken by the Turks in 1711 and apparently went back and forth before finally being handed over to the Russians in 1812. I suppose I knew in the back of my mind somewhere that the Ottoman Empire had control of this region at times, I certainly knew they were in the Balkans, but it still comes as a surprise to think about I think. The fortress itself was nothing amazing, mostly empty apart from one room dedicated to horrific torture instruments, many of which relied upon being inserted into various orifices for their effectiveness, but the views were great and it was fun walking around.

Unusually, rather than being set on the highest hill, the fortress is in a depression so that it's invisible from the land side until you're almost on top of it. Despite this, it commands some great views over the river

A lookout tower set in rough terrain near the castle

The fortress of Khotyn

Me in front of the fortress

Our little group in front of the castle door

A view over the Dnister

On the castle wall overlooking the Dnister

The awkward result of me trying to 'pose like a Ukrainian'

After Khotyn, it was back in the jeep to head to K-P, a 'museum city' which is almost completely encircled by a canyon and the Smotrych river. Unfortunately, you can't really see this when you're there, but I've seen photos and it's pretty cool. I probably didn't see as much of the sights as I would have on my own, but Marcus the hostel guy gave us a nice little tour, pointing out the garden where there used to be a statue to a nun who miraculously gave birth to a child although she was a virgin (the statue was removed much later when the Soviets discovered a secret tunnel between the monastery and nunnery), the oldest chapel in K-P, dating back to 1398, the Polish town hall with its slightly leaning tower (under the Magdeburg Law each ethnic group could have a degree of legal autonomy and control over their religious practices), and the St Peter and Paul Cathedral, built in the 15th century, which has a minaret topped by a golden statue of the Virgin Mary, another reminder of the Turkish presence in the area. Marcus told us that the story goes that after the Turks conquered K-P, they sent a note to one of their conquered rivals saying 'we pray to Allah from a higher place than you' and when the Poles got it back, they built Mary and sent word back that she was standing on the place they prayed to Allah from. Finally, we took some photos at the castle (but didn't go in) and then Marcus set up the barbeque while the rest of us took a walk along the river to a waterfall with very picturesque views of the castle.

View of the gorge around the town, you can just make out a waterfall coming down and the river appears as a patch on the bottom

A lookout tower facing over the gorge

The cathedral with its minaret

Polish town hall with the (slightly) leaning tower of Kamyanets-Podilsky

The 1398 church of St Nikolai

Gates to a ruined church

The castle at K-P

Me at the castle

View of the castle from across the waterfall

We ended the day picnicking by the river on barbecued chicken drumsticks and kebabs, yum! It was really interesting chatting with everyone - the Belorussians confirmed that no-one really likes their dictator but if you say so, you will get sent to prison, and Marcus gave us a lot of insight into how the whole Ukrainian bride thing works and how many guys he gets through the hostel who are just here cruising for sex.

All in all, I had a great day (all for about 9 euros by the way) and I'm really glad that they were running the excursion just at the right time for me, we had great weather, and that I didn't decide my day would be better spent napping and walking around here in Chernivtsi. I was exhausted when I got back though, straight to bed by about 10 and I slept through until 7.

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