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Jos on the road Turn up my collar, welcome the unknown...


UKRAINE | Monday, 16 July 2007 | Views [650] | Comments [3]

So, in the evening of 9th July I got the night bus from Krakow to L'viv. There's a lot to be said for night buses: they're not uncomfortable (as long as you have short legs and don't get travel sick, like me), they're cheap and they're often quicker than getting the train. Also, given that I'm female and travelling alone, I feel much safer sleeping on a bus than in a train compartment. I slept a bit until we got to the border in the early hours of the morning. It turns out the Polish-Ukrainian border is the place to be at obscure o'clock on a Tuesday morning. Who'dve thunk?

Now, folk from the EU don't need a visa any more so I foolishy assumed that the border crossing would be straight foward. Firstly, we were stuck in a queue of traffic forever. Then, a guy with a gun comes and takes everyone's passports after scrutinising the photos on the way round. After about 40 mins, he returns the pile to the driver, who hands them all back out again along with little forms to fill in. These include the address of where you will be staying, so if you're ever heading to Ukraine, don't try and sort out accommodation on the fly. Anyways, then another guy comes and collects the passports and forms and wanders off with them for another 40 mins. It's all a bit intimidating; even though you know you're not doing anything wrong, you have to wander if they're gonna find some reason to haul you out and question you. But passport was returned, stamped, and we were waved on our merry way.

My first impression of the country was formed in the early hours of the morning, from looking out of the bus window. It seems ot be a very woody country, punctuated with small villiages. More than once we had to stop/swerve to avoid cows being driven along the road. But it seems to be a country in flux. For example, you'd see bigger villiages with shops... and then someone getting water from a well. Or you'd see tiny cottages with attached wood sheds... and a satillite dish perched on the side. Well, I guess they're a bit far out for cable. The arcitecture was facinating, especially the little local churches with tiny onion domes.

I sort-of got the feeling that I'd got to the country a bit early, and they weren't quite ready for visitors yet. We got onto a main road that was so smooth, and a little further down there were roadworks as they hadn't finished adding in the central reservation. In L'viv, I turned a corner and thought there'd been a huge accident because of the piles of rubble that people were wandering around and over. But no, they just hadn't finished cobbling the street. Even the hostel was still being renovated.

Finding the hostel was an adventure, as the road names were all in cyrillic and the directions I had were all in English. Still, I had acquired a map and managed to navigate but road structures and churches so I got there in the end. The place is called the Sun Hostel and was still in the process of being renovated. It wasn't in a souless appartment block though, the rooms were comfortable, and the place is run by one of the most super-naturally friendly and helpful man in the world. He seemed to consider himself everyone's dad, and insisted on dropping everone off at the station/airport when they left. I was the only person in a eight bed dorm on the fourth floor, up a windy wooden staircase. The bathrooms were a bit odd: a toilet with no toilet paper, and a sink with an extendable shower head instead of a tap. Go figure.

L'viv is possibly the most beautiful city I've ever been to. Even when it's far too hot and you've not had enough sleep recently, you still can't help falling in love with this city. Cobbled streets to get lost in, and always another beautiful building each corner. There's also an awesome (also cheap) canteen-type place called Puzata Khata which sells awesome Ukrainian stodge. I ate there a lot.

The only real problem I had was the language. Now, my Russian is faily poor (and entirely phrasebook-based) I admit, and I struggle to decipher cyrillic. I know that Ukrainian is about 70% the same, but I had a lot of difficulties making myself understood. People really don't seem to like speaking Russian. Almost no one seems to speak any English, so I was doing a lot of smiling, pointing and general mime. Strangely, I found that people were a lot more patient with Stupid English Tourist than Attempting To Speak Russian tourist. Mostly, I got by fine but I had real difficulties trying to get train times. In the end, I asked the guy in the hostel to help we out with a few phrases in Ukrainian and to write down place names in Cyrillic so I'd have a fighting chance of understanding. Instead, he took me to the train station, let me through the maze of corridors to an obscure desk to ask about the train I wanted. It turned out the trains were rubbish, running once every two days, taking nearly 24hrs and arriving at 11:30pm. So, he got me a bus ticket instead. Seems night buses are the way forward...

    Last notes on L'viv:

1. I saw a cat. Czechs and Polish folk seem to be very much dog people and this is the first one I've seen in weeks.

2. Cobbled streetslook great for visitors but aren't great for locals to drive on. Having said that, I could write a whole article on their 'driving' so it's perhaps for the best that it keeps the speed down a bit.

3. In the Czech Republic, everyone seems to drive Skodas. In Poland, there are still numerous Fiat 126s (although I doubt they're many people's car of choice). In the Ukraine, every other car seems to be a Lada.

Tags: Adventures



As I tried to say before you last disappeared off MSN, Lviv was also the site of the worst air show disaster in history (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sknyliv_%28Ukraine%29_airshow_disaster).

If I ever form a bad industrial metal band, I'm going to call it Lviv.

  Damian Jul 16, 2007 8:24 AM


The question is; did you name the cat?!

  Sara Jul 17, 2007 3:43 AM


I should've named it really, shouldn't I? Bit out of practice now though :)

  josdent Aug 2, 2007 9:26 AM



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