This was my first time in Ukraine and first country out of the Schengen zone. Here Latin typography changes to Cyrillic. In Ukraine I can say that I overcame my comfort zone to the East.
From Warsaw to Lvov
I spent the morning chatting with Adriana my couchsurfer host in Warsaw and checking some information about Kiev and the train to Russia. The breakfast was at always fulfilling, not only for my stomach but my brain. This girl is someone who can give you references about any topic. Before living her place to pick my BlaBlaCar to Lvov she even granted me with a beautiful postcard with the references we talked about and a little beautiful text.
13:00 I had the appointment with Mikhailo, the guy who was about to take me to Lvov. Before meeting him behind the Cultural and Science Centre I get something to lunch. The ride was about to be 5 hours.
The ride to Lvov was quite as Mikhailo didn´t speak English and I did not speak Ukranian or Polish. However, we get to have some conversations about events and things we watched in the way.
At the border with Ukraine we had a double control. First to get out of Poland and the Schengen Area and then to get in Ukraine. As Mikhailo told me we have been lucky as we needn’t to wait any queue. Even, both police control went fast.
Once in Lvov Mikhailo picked up his friends and drop me next to my hostel. He was so gently that he offered me to contact him if I had any trouble.
It was already night when I get to Lvov and the day was cloudy and rainy all the way from Poland to Ukraine. The city looked like a grey city with not much light in the streets. It made me feel a little sad. That night I went to an ATM to extract some cash and then to buy some food for prepare dinner.
Back with the food I met Haci, a Turkish guy that was staying at my same room. There was also a blond girl who didn’t even answer when I salute her. Haci offered me to dinner with him of the fried vegetables he was preparing. In exchange, I offered him a beer and some chocolate as desert. His English is not perfect, but I guess it might be funny to see us talking.
That night he told me a little about his life and I told him about mine. We didn’t go out but stayed at the lunchroom of the hostel till late. I forget that here it’s one hour later than in de European Community.
Lvov is a small city at the west of Ukraine. It used to be one big cultural Polish city, but after the Russians occupancy most of the wise people of the country had to emigrate or face death. The Soviets gave education to the mayor of the population int heir occupied territory, but they did dislike people with their own ideas, different from the ones of the government.
Lvov was and might be right now the cultural capital of Ukraine. With a magnificent Opera and majestic buildings. Its Old Town is full of churches. This region of Ukraine is mainly Catholic. However, you can start to see the presence of the Orthodox. It is fascinating how religions, as ideas change as you travel. It is not related to politic boarders, but cultural influences.
Lvov was a small city where I had planned to stay several days. Worried of getting annoyed I decided to slow down my rhythm while visiting the city. The day wasn’t shining so I took my time to leave the hostel.
I went to visit the Cathedral first and the garden named after the Hero of the city, Ivan Franko. He wasn’t a warrior or a king as people might expect from a Hero. It was a writer.
From the garden, I went to the boulevard and to the Opera Theatre.
As I had good references of the Opera House of Lvov I was wondering if it would be possible to visit it. When I get to the door I saw people getting in through the main door so I followed them. I thought that it was open to the public. Once in the main hall two big groups get separated in both sides of the hall. It was then when I realised that I had just squeezed inside of the Opera as a member of a tour. I took some pictures of the inside and as I was not part of the tour I went back to the entrance. The door was close. I was locked in with two tour groups in Ukrainian. I followed one of them from far away, seeming sometimes that I was coming always with the other group. I get to visit all the Opera without talking to anyone.
Back to the city I started to visit it zig-zagging from the side of the Opera and the Boulevard to the Castle. Not willing, I keep following the tours of the Opera jumping from one to another around the churches of the city.
Back to the market place I went back to the hostel to see if my Turkish friend was ready to go for a walk together. He has a hangover from yesterday night. I couldn’t explain it as we had drunk the same and I did not felt tired in the morning.
As he preferred to rest, I went out again to continue on the other half of the old town. In the direction of the Fireman station.
I left the castle to visited with Haci. This time when I went back to the hostel he was ready to go for a walk. Together we visited the Southeast part of the old town. And surrounded it on the East to the north to get to the market. It was late and most of the market stores were closing. We were looking for some chicken for dinner. But we couldn’t find it. Neither in the market or the supermarket they had chicken. We bought some vegetables and cooked them for dinner.
As the previous night we took dinner together chatting about turkey and Ukraine. We didn’t drink as the previous night, so we went to bed earlier. We planned to continue visiting the city the next day and what to dinner.
Second day in Lvov. I felt like if I had already seen everything here. Thinking of 3 days more here made me feel a bit like I’m wasting my time. Sometimes I’m so hyperactive. I took then the decision of do a bit every day and try to put my blog up to date. Also, to chill out and learn to relax a bit more.
The day was sunny and warm. Much worth for an outdoor walk than the previous day. So, after doing the laundry, cooking a nice breakfast for Haci and me, arrange all my stuffs.
During the morning, I chat with an Australian man that sleeps in our same room who also has been traveling al around the world. His son 28yo. had already visited 70 countries when he was 14. So you can have an idea of how much he travels. He did a 6 months’ travel from China to Europe. More or less the opposite way that what might be my journey.
I went with Haci for a little walk and the train station. He showed me where to pick the bus and how to get in the evening to the High Castle.
The public transport here is really cheap 2PLN and everyone approaches to the driver to pay their ride. It would be really easy to get a free ride, but no one those it.
At the train station, I take the challenge of buying my train ticket to Kiev. I could have done it at the hostel on internet, but I preferred to try face to face. Here almost no one speaks English, what makes it a bigger challenge. It wasn’t difficult. I had the chance to meet the nice cashier. By writing in a paper the references of the train, the hours of arrival and departure and the prices we get to understand each other.
Ticket in hand, we went back to town visiting the nearest Church of St Olha with his clean Neogothic style. The transparent windows made the interior so light as it was the aim of the gothic architecture.
Ivan Franko Garden
Then we walk back the garden of Ivan Franko. There we split as he had a date. I continued my walk passing by the hostel and then up to the High Castle.
Getting to the top of the High Castle is not a big challenge. It is a little hill at the East of the old town from where you can have a nice panorama of all the village. In sunny days like that day, at the top there where a musician, a painter and lots of couples having a romantic time together. Some of them brought up a bottle of campaign to cheers for the sunset.
Back in the old town I went to the Tourist information to find out what to do the following days. The girl at the Tourist information really did help me with things to do here in Lvov and the surroundings.
As she advised me I went to dinner to a restaurant at the main square and then I went back to the hostel where I met my friends and a new British guy, Miroslav. His mother was Ukrainian and he with a friend was starting his journey across Europe to Portugal from here.
Miroslav playing the bass
In the morning, I cook breakfast for me and Haci as the previews day. After breakfast, as I considered that I had already seen everything, I went to a village nearby. Zhovka, is a town on the north of Lvov. A small town with local architecture, a fortress, several orthodox churches and a synagogue.
Bus in Ukraine
When the girl from the tourist information told me about the village it sounded to me as an interesting place. However, it wasn’t that much. I get there by bus after 45 minutes. I stopped in the bus station next to a street market. It was next to the Synagogue. The Synagogue was a ruin. An abandon building about to collapse.
A bit farther in the way to the city centre were the Orthodox churches. I went to visit the first one and the complex was open, but the church was closed. I asked a woman if it was possible to visit the church. She pointed to the doorbell. I ring the bell and insisted but no one came. After a while I desisted and tried in the next church.
The other church was under restauration so it was impossible to visit. The same happened with the Fortress.
Churches and Fortress
It seems that they had receive recently an investment to repair the whole town. AS it was lunch time I went to one of the terraces in the middle of the old town to have a sandwich. After lunch I tried again the first church, just in case it was close due to lunch time. But no luck. Still closed. I walked the abandon park behind the fortress and visited a little church with a particular local architecture style next to the bus station.
Traditional Architecture Church
After walking with locals that looked at me as a Martian and 45 minutes in the bus I get back to Lvov. At the hostel, I met again Miroslav and co. and they offered me to go out for a drink with them. I was supposed to have dinner with Haci, as it was about to be our last night together. However, he wasn’t there. I cooked but he didn’t get back so I left with the guys.
We went to a bar that was supposed to have live Jazz music. Instead they had a bad singer singing in Ukrainian. Then we went to a bar under the opera that was supposed to have a river across it. The river was just in the entrance. The rest was a regular bar with, again, a teenager’s local band that didn’t play so well. Finally, we went to the bar we called the fetish bar. It is a bar where the waiters are dressed in leather costumes and they slash you with a whip when you get in and from time to time when they pass next to you in the bar. Lvov is a bar full of theme bars.
After several drinks and watch some whipping challenges I decided to get back to the hostel. At the hostel, I found Haci that was cooking the spicy soup he said he was about to cook. I was feeling like going to bed. It was already over midnight. However, as he insisted and it was about to be our last night together, I joined him. Won’t regret doing it. We drank beers and a drunk Russian joined us with more beers latter. The soup was supper spicy and we offered to everyone that came back from the party to see their reaction. Memorable night. The Russian guy dances and tricks made our night.
Next morning, I felt a bit tired when I woke up, however I wanted to visit the cemetery of Lvov. I went there with Mathew, a guy from the hostel that had it in mind as well. The cemetery is on the north of the city passing the University.
The cemetery is a big complex where are buried many relevant persons of Ukraine, including their hero Ivan Franko. Also, there are areas dedicated to the war heroes and soldiers. Mainly one for the first world war and other for the second world war.
From the Cemetery, I wanted to visit a an Art Nouveau House that passed from a Nobel family to a cultural centre and now a days is exhibited as a museum of itself and host several meetings and events as weddings. Mathew joined me as he had nothing else to do. The house is spectacular. However, as a multi-functional place it was too empty. The hall and the stairs where impressive, not talking about the details on the fence of the stairs and the ceiling.
From the house, we went back to the hostel. There I just charged my phone and prepared to go to the train station. I was about to take my first night train to Kiev. I went before time to the train station to get something for dinner there. It was there when I found why in all the menus they advise the price and the portion size. I though they charged me double for my piece of cake, but it was because the weight of the piece was the double of what was written on the menu.
At the train, I had an upper bed in a second-class compartment. As it was almost midnight, the other passengers of the compartment where already sleeping. In my bed there were missing lining and cover, but as I was inexperienced at that time and I had no one to ask I managed to cover myself with what I found around. It was far away from a comfortable night. But the only discomfort was the lack of pillow and lining, not the train itself.
The morning, when I was getting to Kiev, I found out that you can have tea at the train for less than 1€, that was nice.
Kiev is the capital city of Ukraine. To understand Kiev now a day, you should consider the history of Ukraine. At least that it is a Post Byzantine Orthodox Christian country, member of the Soviet Union occupied temporally by the Nazis and then back to the Soviet Union until 1990. During most the post-soviet period the government was pro-Russian. Until 2014 when a student revolution that ended with students killed in the capital. From then started a movement towards Europe that divided the country. That is the cause off the current situation on the East of the country. Ukraine is in war inside of his territory. An independentism movement supported by Russia is claiming their independence in the East.
This is something you can feel in the city. The students killed are called heroes of the revolution, and the communism is regarded negatively at the time that many monuments persist in the city as symbols of the nation. In the streets and religious buildings, you can feel the consequences of the present conflict.
One way or another, Kiev still an immense, in extension, city. It is full of activity and culture all around. There are several universities next to the old town that fills the city with young people and new movements. It is easy to recognise the old town more alternative, the commercial and administrative area, with big avenues and Imperialistic architecture, and the religious complex.
In Kiev, I was about to stay with Inna, a Couchsurfer. She told me how to do it to get to her place and after a coffee and one hour I was with her. She showed me her amazing and clean house in a growing area of the city. As she told me there’s a lot of people migrating from out of the city to the capital looking for new opportunities. Also, a lot of students come and go to the several universities that are located in Kiev.
After a long introduction Inna had things to do so I went to have a walk in the city centre on my own following her advices. I made a long walk from the Circus Theatre, passing by the University and the Opera House to the main street of the city.
Park in front of the University
On this street is the main square of the city. There I found the first memorials to the recent revolution. Among the monuments of the plaza there are statues of all the cultures that passed over this lands, even the Mongols. Below the plaza is a commercial centre.
In one side of the plaza there’s a slope which roads leads to two religious complex. I visited first the Saint Sophia Cathedral. Went to the top of the tower an inside of the Cathedral. There I played Seek and Hide with the guardians to take some pictures.
In the other side of a big esplanade is the statue of the Princess Olga and the monastery of Saint Michael. This one is free, but once again, you are not allowed to take pictures.
From the monastery, I walked down the hill to the river through the garden. Other option might have been taking the funicular, but I am young to do such things.
In the lower level of the city I walk to the old town where I simply get lost before and after having lunch. I visited a feria of products from Georgia and Ukraine, several Orthodox Churches, a modern city market and the museum of Chernobyl.
To get back to Inna’s I took the long way across a residential area where there was nothing of interest. Walking this area at sunset, crossing areas with no buildings but isolated ruins I realised how comfortable I was feeling. I hadn’t felt so far in danger yet. The words of friends telling me to take care in the eastern countries sounded in my mind, but I was felling right. When would I need to take care? Would I be able to recognise a dangerous situation or I am too optimistic to that?
Back to Inna’s I wait for her at the bar under her house having a local craft beer. We ate together dinner and chatted about what to do the following day together. Also travels, she had recently been traveling in Spain. She told me about the struggles Ukrainians need to pass to obtain the Schengen Visa. I thought getting my Russian visa was hard, but for Ukrainians with Schengen countries is the same or worst.
We had a good breakfast together and went out for visiting the city. Inna had the day off and wanted to show me some monasteries, monuments and memorials. From her place, we went to the Orthodox Monastery of Pechersk Lavra.
Ukrainian Genocide Holodomor Memorial
At the monastery, I had to pretend I was coming to pray not to pay the touristic visitors fee. It was easy as I was coming with a local. I simply had to walk next to her and say nothing. She told the guardian that we came to pray and that was all.
The monastery is one of the multiple orthodox sites of the city. This is the biggest one congregating several churches, chapels, and the most interesting for me, caves where were buried priest, saints and monks.
Inna told me about the rituals, the praying and the services of the Orthodox. It is something I’ve been watching since I get to Ukraine, but till that moment no one told me about it.
Monastery of Pechersk Lavra
We continued our way to the military memorial and the Motherland. There is the Army museum with tanks, aircrafts, helicopters and canons from the last wars in which Ukraine has been part off. Don’t forget that now a day there is a war conflict inside of their territory.
Motherland is a huge statue of a woman that represents the Ukrainian Nation. It is located in one hill with an esplanade with a panorama view over the newer part of Kiev.
We walked back to the communist city centre passing by a modern area and the Water Tower of Kiev.
Next to the city centre we passed by several government buildings. They all recall the imperialistic communist architecture. Also, we visited the place where two years ago the students died in the Ukrainian revolution.
We visit the Gorodetsky House an eclectic building with figures of animals decorating its external walls.
Back to the centre we went to one of the old gates of the city, the Golden Gate. To finish the afternoon, we had dinner next to the Stadium built for the Poland-Ukraine UEFA Euro 2012.
Back home we kept on chatting about the history of Ukraine, her view of the world and our future plans.
In the morning Inna had to work so I left her apartment with her, but I had my train at night. Another night train. This time to Moscow.
First I went to the train station where I left my backpack and lighter I went for a random walk along the places I had already visited. I just let myself go on the streets and parks watching the people coming and going from one place to another. I even came into the University to see the people daily life.
I chilled out at the garden next to the University and at night I went straight to the train station.
The train I was about to travel to Moscow was a super long one. My compartment was a 3rd class wagon. What means that there is no division inside. All the beds are in one single space. It was so hot inside and there where already people in that came from Lvov.
I will tell you the train ride to Moscow in the next post.