Ukraine - when it was still calm ... (part 1)

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The dramatic events in Ukraine certainly discourage tourists from visiting this beautiful country. It is sad because our eastern neighbor offers many really fantastic places to see - such as the picturesque Crimea. Let us keep our fingers crossed for the situation to improve soon, so that traveling to Ukraine will be possible again. In the meantime, we invite you to read the report from the holiday trip Lviv - Kiev - Feodosia - Odessa - Lviv, which took place in the summer of 2012. The heroes of this story are three friends - including the author of the text himself.

Ukraine: stage one - a journey through Poland and the border

Many may be surprised by the statement that the most tiring stage of the route to Ukraine was ... the journey through Poland. The destination city was Przemyśl, from where it is only a few kilometers to the border in Medyka. The train - going on an extremely long road from Szczecin - dragged on mercilessly, and falling asleep sitting in a huge crowd was not the most pleasant. Tired, we got off early in the morning at the beautifully renovated, though depressingly empty railway station in Przemyśl. From there, we went to the bus stop, which for a two-zloty coin transport everyone willing to the Medyka-Szegini border crossing. Bearing in mind our previous experiences, we expected difficulties when crossing the border - especially from the Ukrainian customs officers. We were also afraid of queues, the so-called ants, that is, people living off small cross-border trade. You can meet them right after leaving the bus - they intrusively shove cigarettes, vodka and various eastern valuables carried across the border (more or less legally). Oh, the color.

As it turned out, this time we did not encounter the ant rope, the check-in took us only a few minutes. The next stage of the journey is reaching a large grocery store, where the so-called Marshrutkas, i.e. heavily worn cruise buses. The inhabitants of Wrocław can feel at home there - the timetable is hanging, but it seems that nobody cares about complying with it. You just have to stand and wait, clutching a pebble of green ... a handful of hryvnia mentioned in the nearby exchange office. Interestingly, you can also pay for the ride in Polish zlotys - this seems to be a more profitable option, as the exchange rates at the border crossing are, to put it mildly, overstated. When the long-waiting bus with the inscription "Львів" (Lviv) arrives, you can get quite a shock. The level of wear and tear of a vehicle can be terrible, and the mysterious cylinders placed on its roof only increase the fear. The situation is not improved by the innate bravado of drivers, which, combined with the terrible condition of the roads (although a lot has changed during Euro 2012), causes attacks of seasickness and prompts an examination of conscience and silent prayers. After an hour and a half of professional driving in a huge crowd (and it was not too bad, once on the route to Kamieniec Podolski one of the passengers was a fragrant goat), we finally found our way to beautiful Lviv.

Ukraine: stage two - Lviv and a trip to Kiev

My friend and I know Lviv very well, so coming to it was an attraction mainly for the third of us, who was just making his Ukrainian debut. For people like him, a different alphabet, similar to the Russian one, can be a cultural shock. After learning the letters - it is almost a sentimental journey to kindergarten - understanding Ukrainian lettering poses no problems. As we planned a longer tour of this beautiful city at the end of our trip, we spent the time left until the departure of the train (about 6 hours), feasting in a pizzeria near the market square and talking to a friend from university who bought us tickets to Kiev and Simferopol. Why did we ask her for this purchase? We did not trust the Internet system of Ukrainian railways. On the forums you could find many complaints from people whose money was lost somewhere in the depths of the station's cash register. And it is worth knowing that tickets must be ordered well in advance. This is necessary because they are always in a certain place. There are several travel classes in Ukraine - the basic one is the so-called Siedatyj, a seat in a crowded and not very nice smelling car. Plackartnyj is a sleeping place in an open carriage.Open, which means that on the day, when there are no sheets on the bed, anyone can sit on it - mainly the person sleeping above you or on the other side of the corridor. We chose the shopping class, which means a bed in a four-person, closed compartment. Such a ticket is extremely attractive in terms of price - even on long, multi-hour routes, you will pay an average of between PLN 50 and PLN 80. The last standard of travel is the lux class, costing a fortune - as we found out later - a sleeping place in a double compartment.

Waiting for the train at the Lviv train station is very pleasant. This historic building has been beautifully restored, and Western tourists will love English messages and inscriptions. Once we got into the car - and it's worth knowing that its manager, a lawyer, takes the ticket at the entrance - we had a nice surprise. It turned out that on the eight-hour route (the train goes very fast compared to Polish standards) we will sleep in excellent conditions. Compartments have been completely renovated, air conditioning (working!) And lamps (working!) Were installed, moreover, we had (working!) Power contacts and (working!) Internet. Such a trip is a pleasure - all you need to do is arrange the bedding received from the lawyer (additional fee, a few zlotys) and you can sleep.

A little tip - if you are hungry or thirsty while traveling, you can buy food and drinks from small vendors who camp on the platform during stops at each station (and they last a long time). The best choice is either dumplings with potatoes and onions, made by hand-made babushkas, or various varieties of chops, i.e. fried rolls with filling. The latter is a Ukrainian specialty - you can meet, among others, for versions with mutton (attention, potential steats) and with cabbage and mushrooms. The dough of such a bun is very similar to the one that we use when making donuts. Thirst is best quenched with kvass - a drink widely available in Poland, but often of quite poor quality. Ukrainian acids are delicious - perfect for hot weather.

Ukraine: stage three - Kiev

When we woke up, the vast suburbs of Kiev were already looming outside the window. The capital of Ukraine has as much as 835 km² and has almost 3 million inhabitants - for comparison: Warsaw can boast 517² km and 1.7 million citizens. Before we got to the monumental railway station, we managed to see hundreds of concrete blocks of gargantuan dimensions, which are in vain to be found in even the most damaged Polish cities by the Polish People's Republic. Getting off and walking through the incredibly crowded Kiev railway station was a real challenge. All three of us were intimidated by the view of the main hall. At first, it seemed to us that we were in the middle of a huge Byzantine basilica, because delicious chandeliers dripped with gold from the ornamented vaults, and from the walls, saints from centuries ago looked at us gloomily.

Pinched almost to the ground by their scolding eyes and with our heavy backpacks, we went to the nearby McDonald's (the only gastronomic establishment open at 6 am - valuable information for travelers), where we refueled coffee (good) and ate a breakfast set (traditionally hideous). Later we headed towards the nearby metro station - there we found out that you do not pay for the fare, but only for the entrance to the station. In this way, for a paltry two hryvnia (then it was 80 cents, today only 56) you can ride at will. It was then that we realized that monumentalism would always accompany us in the capital of Ukraine. The descent of the escalator into the depths of the station, which lasted a good few minutes, made a great impression. It is the feeling of being swallowed up by the ground, swallowed by a huge monster. Or less fairy-tale like - an experience like going down to a mine shift.

Traveling by crowded - as probably in every capital - metro was short. We arrived near the city center, where we had rented an apartment. We were able to book them through the Wimdu service. As it turned out, getting along with the Russian-speaking owner was quite problematic - despite the knowledge of the basics of the language, it was necessary to use gestures and ... Google translator with a voice function. These difficulties were fully compensated by the rental price - we paid less than PLN 30 per person for a room, kitchen, bathroom and balcony! And it is in the city center, right next to the highest skyscraper in Kiev and a stone's throw from the Christians, the main artery of the metropolis, leading to the famous Maidan.

But the capital of Ukraine was only seemingly kind to our wallets. Pocket drainage happened later - mostly in grocery stores and restaurants. We explained the horrendous prices with the recent Euro 2012, which is an opportunity to milk foreign (implicit: stuffed) guests. We, apparently, were also included in this group, because we were plucked both when shopping for breakfast and dinner, as well as in pubs where we paid for a small plate of (otherwise delicious) Ukrainian dumplings (varieniki, pielmieni, etc.) as for grain. It was also expensive in an Armenian restaurant near the Polish Embassy (Jaroslawiw Wał). However, even though we settled down there, we didn't regret it - the food was fantastic and the belly dancer performed with it.

A must-see during a visit to Kiev is a walk along the Christ Church, the main city route. It is a street built practically from scratch after the war - hence its socialist realist architecture. When walking along the promenade, you can feel really tiny, because the shade of huge buildings - residential and commercial - is really overwhelming. In one place we even came across the Palace of Culture in Warsaw on a slightly smaller scale, inhabited by hundreds of Ukrainian families. Christians leads to the Maidan of Independence, a place of joyful events in 2008 and dramas at the turn of 2013 and 2014. At that time, nothing foreshadowed a catastrophe - it was clear that Maidan is a favorite meeting place for young people from Kiev. Music was heard everywhere, people were shopping at the stalls, and the fountain tempted with the refreshing coolness of its water. A real idyll among concrete and stone. Who would have thought that a year and a half later, at the place where I drank cold Coke, someone would be killed by a sniper bullet. Who would have thought that the paving stones we walked on then would be stained with the blood of the Berkuters.

Among the places we visited, we should also mention the square with the monument to Hetman Chmielnicki, where the buildings of the so-called Sofia of Kiev, that is the Council of God's Wisdom. Unfortunately, the entrance to the complex was deadly expensive, and we wanted to save the blackheads for dinner - so regretfully we gave up sightseeing. Another interesting area is the coastal hill behind Majdan, from where there is a beautiful panorama of the wide Dnieper. At the top there is a communist monument to Ukrainian-Russian friendship, a bizarre concrete rainbow (?!) And a monument commemorating the old Cossack times. The next interesting point is Padił, which is the lower, older district of Kiev. A picturesque street full of artists and theaters rises up there, along with the museum of master Mikhail Bulgakov. Attention! Sightseeing only in a pre-arranged group - unfortunately. For lovers of eastern wasteland and crustacean, once encountered on the streets of Polish cities, a trip to any of the last metro stations is recommended. After a long while, you land on a strange planet - the gilded domes of the church and Stalinist stone castles disappear, and in their place appear (seen earlier from the train windows) concrete monsters reaching the sky, the habitats of hundreds of thousands of Kiev residents. In the spaces between the blocks there are littered littered markets where you can buy anything - from the gaping pig's head in a silent scream, part to a tractor and a devious counterfeit iPhone.

That's all about Kiev. Having passed the Kiev saints painted in the station hall for the second and last time, we boarded the Kiev-Simferopol train.