Ukraine: Lviv, Kyiv / September 2013

Introduction

This was not exactly a touristic journey, both me and Inna had some things to attend in Kyiv, but it was still lots of fun. We took a train, as usually. This time the route was somehow changed, as we made a slight curve and went through Zagreb, rather than directly to Budapest.

Please excuse the poor quality of photos.

Departure (Day 1, 27th September)

On our way to Zagreb, we’ve meet an interesting man from Croatia. He shared his story of traveling all around the world, having slight love affair with a woman from Russia, but ended marrying a Slovene. Now that he’s retired, they’re living in Slovenia, he shared, but still having a small place in Croatia, where they grow olives to make an olive oil.

He was really a friendly guy, with lots of interesting stories to share.

Our fist train switch was in Budapest, and unfortunately another, in Chop (on Hungary/Ukraine border). This is necessary because of Break-of-gauge. Ukraine has quite a lot of narrow gauge railways.

If you take a sleeper, that’s not a big problem, you can (try to) sleep while they’re switching bogie.

Unfortunately we’ve failed to book it in Slovenia, and was also unable to do so in Budapest (because there was no space left anymore). We’ve really tried hard, ready to go even so far as to bribe someone, but, if there’s no space, there’s nothing anyone can do.

Non sleeper wagons are terrible not only for obvious reason that you can’t sleep, but also because in Chop, you need to leave the train. That’s not all. You have to wait in a cold small Hungarian railway station, for a small carriage which will driver you through the border. On the other side an airport-like passport and baggage control is waiting for you, and finally after some more waiting, you can board back to the train and continue your journey. The whole thing takes about two hours, and is happening in the middle of the night.

It goes without saying the matter is anything but joyful, and I must add, rather confusing if you’re experiencing it for the first time.

We’ve made couple of trips to Ukraine, together or individually, so nothing could really surprise us anymore. But this was really tiring.

We’ve met a very talkative Hungarian guy in Chop. He was accompanying his friend from Ukraine. After his friend left, chatty fellow joined us, and told us all kinds of details about himself. I unfortunately forgot most of the things he said. He was a friendly individual, but the time and the place was not good for having a large debate, you know, considering this was at midnight at a big, cold, empty railway station in the middle of nowhere.

In either case, he even accompanied us to the train and waived us goodbye. Hungarians sure can be friendly people.

Before boarding the train we were able to book the sleeper, though that was a challenge on its own. At railway they did not accept Euros, there was one shady guy offering to exchange money, at the terrible rate, of course. I rather opted for a credit card, which by the look on cashier’s face, and the outdated equipment she used, they probably don’t get much. It took quite some time, but in the end thing worked and we were able to get some sleep for the rest of our journey to Lviv.

Lviv (Day 2, 28th September)

First thing on the list was food; we visited my favorite place in Lviv, called Red Cat, where they server some excellent pasta. Red cat is a lovely café with lots of cats, not real cats, but souvenir cats of all shapes and sizes. Beside coffee and other drinks and cakes, they also serve food, a concept which for me, was a little bit confusing. In either case, we found Red Cat by a chance on our first visit to Lviv (some years ago), and visited it each time since, to order exactly the same meal. It became a tradition in a way.

We’ve also visited Coffee Manufacture, which is a coffee factory, where we were able to buy (surprise, surprise) some coffee. There’s also a mine (underground restaurant/museum) attached to it, which I won’t lie, impressed me a lot, especially considering this is in the underground in the middle of a busy city.

Lviv is really lovely, I wish we could have dedicated more time to it, and explore it. But since time was limited, we had to use conventional tour bus, which showed some really interesting parts of the city, with comments on what we’re seeing. Of course, seeing things through the bus windows, does not offer an experience of walking, stopping and really inhaling all the details.

There was one stop though, at the St. George’s Cathedral. When it comes to religion, Lviv has majority of Catholics, which is not typical for the rest of Ukraine which is Orthodox. Still, in Lviv both types of churches can be found and this one belongs to the Catholic branch. The complex of St. George’s Cathedral is most famous for its bell, the oldest one in Ukraine, dating back to 1341.[1]

A tall yellowish baroque cathedral.

St. George’s Cathedral

Sculpture of a bearded man kneeling and praying to the cross in a cave.

Our train towards Kyiv was late at night, so after the buss tour, we still had some time to wonder around. At some point we came across a girl playing a piano on a busy street of Lviv:

Young girl playing a piano on a busy street.

Interesting monuments at Prosp. Svobody:

The Wave of National Rebirth (left) and Taras Shevchenko Monument (right).

A theatre of Opera and Ballet, which we tried to enter to see an evening show, but was unfortunately overcrowded:

Lviv Theatre of Opera and Ballet

Streets were full of people, there was lively evening life happening all around. Kids running, elderly couples peacefully walking, old men playing chess or having debates, one could guess, about good old days. Young man waiting with flowers for his sweetheart. It was such a lovely evening all together.

Whenever I visit Lviv I fall in love with it all over again. It’s such a heartwarming city, with lots of things to see and do.

Kyiv (Day 3-4, 29th-30th September)

I wish I had something to say about Kyiv, but we were mostly running around from one place to another. There was no time for sightseeing so I haven’t taken any other photos than couple in our hotel. Here’s one from the window:

If you check some of the older posts (I’m adding traveling posts all the time), you might find another one about Ukraine and Kyiv.

The Return (Day 5, 1st October)

We of course took a train back home too. The journey took one full day. We ate at the train, I had mushrooms with potato which had an excellent taste, despite the fact that cook was obviously drunk.

Fastiv’s (Ukraine) railway station

An obligatory switch of trains in Budapest where we’ve exchanged what was left of our Ukrainian hryvnias to Forint at the railway. The exchange rate was absolutely terrible, no doubt the guy ripped us off.

Since our last meal was on the train, we looked for a place to eat, unfortunately we found only something that looked like a Turkish restaurant. Food was clearly not freshly cooked and tasted altogether terrible.

What was left after that, was journey towards Slovenia, through Zagreb. In Zagreb a Slovene guy boarded, apparently lots of Slovenes going to Croatia for a dental work. We had a pleasant conversation with him, all the way to Zidani Most where our journey finally pretty much ended.

Impressions

Ukraine is one of my favorite destinations. I especially like Lviv, but in general you can find wonderful cities, with much things to experience. The food is just excellent and people are friendly.