Tuesday, 28th August/Friday, 31st August 2018 – Hotel Shiskinn, Snovjanka, Ukraine
Having spent four days at the hotel, I’m more than a little amused by some of its claims to “Western” service levels and such like, so I’ll try and be fair because if you do find yourself in this part of the Ukraine, I suspect there aren’t that many accommodation options in the vicinity. However, I was feeling more than slightly dyspeptic about the ShiskiNN on first arriving and not just because of those capital letters in its name! By the time the bus dropped us off, I had already had a 5:00 am start to drive to the airport, followed by a four hour flight and a three hour bus trip, and was feeling shattered. My last cup of coffee had been at 07:00 and “lunch” ended up being a Mars bar and a pack of dried mango pieces, bought at the roadside supermarket the driver had stopped off at. I had hoped, once I’d dragged my thankfully small suitcase up three flights of stairs to my overheated room, that I might be able to get another one. There were cups in the room, but nothing to put in them. And the mini bar otherwise contained a bag of peanuts (not a legume I can be arsed with) and a bar of chocolate – with peanuts in. So no sensible options there, and no alternative as far as I could see.
The hotel claims that English is spoken – I’m afraid it pretty much isn’t apart from in a handful of cases, one of the receptionists, and one of the waitresses on the last night only – and sadly my command of Ukrainian, Russian or Romanian (all official languages in some or all the Ukraine) is non-existent, so I couldn’t ask for anything successfully. There was at least water in the rooms (a complimentary bottle per person per day), which was a relief. Dinner wasn’t impressive – while I know they were trying to feed around 100 people all in one go, if there’s one thing I don’t like it’s not having any choice of what I’ll be eating, and if there’s another it’s having my food bunged at me so fast I don’t have time to enjoy it. Which is what happened when we were all summoned into the main restaurant “Grand Cafe” at 19:00. The cafe which is described as offering “a wide range of forms of food developed by us: coffee breaks, breakfasts and suppers, smorgasbord, menu «à la carte»” which is somewhat alarming, and has opening hours from 08:00 to 20:00, which is presumably why they couldn’t serve us fast enough!
We started with some sort of salad, that looked a little like a Caesar salad without the chicken or anchovies. It was OK, just not very interesting, and was followed, before I’d actually had the last bites of the salad, with a chicken breast that looked very rubbery (I didn’t try it – I really don’t like to eat chicken unless I know where it’s from and how it’s been raised), half a roast potato that was too hard to cut, and some very vinegar-inflected aubergine chunks, cooked to a mushy texture. I didn’t bother. The dessert was a local version of an apple strudel with so much cinnamon in it, you couldn’t actually tasted anything else. It was accompanied by a glass of a local apple juice (kompot seems to be the term for it and covers any number of fruit variants where the fruit is stewed in water and sugar). The odd thing was that it was smoked somehow, and to drink it tasted very smoky and not much of apple. The bread was good so I filled up on that instead. We also managed to locate the wine eventually, and then only had to summon up a waitress who had a corkscrew and was prepared to use it. The wine was a Ukrainian wine from Shabo, a company with vineyards somewhere near Odessa, and was actually very good. They seemed to have been trying to fob us off with beer prior to that, with the only pre-dinner tipple by free beer in vast glasses. Beer is fine and has its place in the scheme of things, but a litre of fizzy beer before dinner does not appeal in the least. At least it meant I wasn’t consuming calories I didn’t need. In fact I spent the next few days having a certain amount of difficulty making sure I ate enough.
The following morning it was raining heavily so I didn’t enjoy my run, despite making myself go out and do it. Breakfast was a bit hit and miss and the coffee urn was tricky to operate. I had a massive headache by then, having not slept especially well either, so my first day of meetings was spent trying to stay awake and functional. Lunch during the day was not impressive either, starting with a salad (which seems to be what happens at every meal apart from breakfast) that aimed to be a Greek salad substitute. The cheese used was soft, very, very salty and wasn’t fooling me into believing it was Feta. It was OK spread on the malted brown bread. It was followed by a green soup that was too salty, so I quit at that point and went out to get some air. Apparently a plate of pork followed do I didn’t miss anything. That evening, we were told that before dinner we would do a “quest” as a team building thing. It’s not my idea of fun, but if I was going to do it, I was going to do it properly. Sadly, a lot of the other team members didn’t take that approach, so no matter how much the leader tried to instill some enthusiasm into them it just wasn’t happening. I tried but there’s only so much you can do against general apathy, and it seemed absurd that I was the oldest person on the team by some way, but was the one moving fastest. It got me a box of chocolates as a prize at the end.
A decent dinner that night, with a very nice actual Caesar salad, followed by some sort of fish cooked en papillote, and stuffed with a courgette slice and a tomato slice. The chocolate mousse I could take or leave so I left it. However, I was starting to appreciate my surroundings far more by then. The hotel itself felt somewhat lacking in personality, but first thing the following morning with the sun coming up over the water that ran through the trees it was glorious. It put me in an even better mood when I managed to get out and have a swim before breakfast, and then, after my shower, went out and took some photos of the grounds.
It was lovely down by the water.
The pool was also a source of pleasure, and so, although I really hadn’t slept for a second night – my Fitbit informed me I’d managed 2 hours and 35 minutes – I was much happier than I had been. I managed a better breakfast too, with some very nice bread, cheese and ham, and a very good yogurt with what I would regard as a raspberry compote (not a kompot). Lunch was pretty weird again, with a rather sorry looking salad, then a consomme of mushrooms, with far too much dill in it, followed by mashed potato and mackerel, the fish slightly pickled. It was a somewhat peculiar combination but I was hungry, so I ate it.
That afternoon we finished early and the deal was we could do whatever activities we fancied including swimming, archery, football, quad bike riding and several other things, prior to the “gala dinner” in the tent outside. With no idea what that meant, I think we were all a bit nervous. However, meanwhile I’d petitioned our organiser for the opportunity to go to the nearest town, Chernihiv, because I knew from my own research that it had a long history and there were things there worth seeing. I had persuaded three of my colleagues that they wanted to come too, and in the end there were 17 of us on a bus organised to take us there and back. I’ll blog that elsewhere, suffice to say that we made it back just in time for the gala dinner.
Tables were allocated by drawing a number, and I ended up on a table where there was at least a fair amount of entertainment to be had, and the food this time was excellent with pretty much a single exception. When we arrived the tables were loaded with foods, salads, meats, cheeses, fish, bread, sausages, the lot. There was no indication whether this would be all we’d get, so I made some pretty healthy inroads into it, just in case.
I needn’t have worried, because it was followed by an excellent stuffed quail, filled with apple and grape chunks, and cooked to perfection, thus proving they could do it, if they wanted to. The course after was a disappointment in comparison, a chunk of beef overcooked to the point of being so hard I couldn’t cut it. The potato dauphinoise was fine though, so I ate that! There was a massive pause after that, and eventually, to pretty much everyone’s surprise, a plate of sole arrived, on a bed of pea puree. The puree was a bit heavy, but the fish was beautifully cooked; there was just too much of it. Some of it may have ended up in the stray cat that had been hanging around the bar every night, because rumour has it one of my colleagues took a plate of the stuff out to try and find the cat. We didn’t see him the following day, possibly because he was lying in a food coma somewhere with his legs in the air!
It was a pleasant night, I didn’t need any more food, and around 23:00 I left the others to it and staggered off through the grounds to my room where I fell into bed and slept, finally, right through till the alarm. And then it was time to pack, pay my mini bar bill for a bottle of mineral water (25 Ukrainian hryvnia, around 68 pence in Sterling terms), and go home. Just a small matter of a three-hour coach ride, a four-hour flight and a two-hour drive to get back to my own bed!
Oh and I tested the business lounge and Boryspil on the way home. It wasn’t exactly impressive, but it was at least quiet and had free wifi. The food options were soup, or boiled rice and plain chicken…