The Carpathians

The Carpathians look lived in -- this is not wild wilderness. Because the mountains have been worn down with time, they look more like the landscape that would surround a model train, built of foam hills and bright green model paint. But there is still an element of surprise. Occasionally a brightly colored church will explode in a flash from the green hillsides above villages of small, neat, white houses.

As the train from the Carpathian village of Uzhhorod winds its way through the valleys back to Lvov, you can glimpse untamed valleys. Even in late April and early May, the peaks at the end of these valley are still covered in slowly melting snow.

The Carpathians are still home to some of Europe's largest populations of brown bears, wolves and lynx.

Uzhhorod is a historically important town of the Carpathian region. Home to populations of Hungarians, Slovaks and Roma, the town has a slightly Balkan feel. Called Ungvar until the beginning of the 20th century, its skyline features an impressive fortress built by 12th-century Italian counts.

Today the town is divided into new and old, divided by the swift-flowing Uzh River. In the more interesting "old" section, cobblestone lanes run uphill past coffee shops and music schools, a synagogue that was long ago converted into the home of the town's philharmonic and a large Greek Catholic cathedral.

Past this is the castle and, just outside its walls, the Transcarpathian Architecture and Lifestyle Museum, which boasts a full-size wooden Orthodox church and many examples of the styles of clothing and houses built by the area's different ethnic groups. Arguable the most interesting are those of the Hutsuli highlanders, who even today work in the mountains as semi-nomadic shepherds.