Articles tagged with "ukraine"

On the beach

On the beach

The next day there was a colossal cruise ship docked at the ferry port, and the city was suddenly full of elderly tourists puffing up the steps, and Filipino-looking crew members enjoying a few hours off their ship. I decided to go to the beach for the day. I headed out to Lanzheron Beach, which looked like a straightforward walk on the map but ended up being more adventurous than I’d expected. The map led me to what appeared to be some kind of old people’s home or health spa, and once I’d walked through the grounds of this I reached a high fence. There seemed to be no gate, and I didn’t feel like backtracking all the way to the main road, so I scaled it and jumped over. Then I had a ten minute walk through some quite thick woods until I found the beach.

Lanzheron Beach looked like it had seen better days, and this year’s season was clearly over. Most of the bars and restaurants lining the promenade were closed, and only a few people were around. I paddled in the Black Sea briefly and then slept on the sand for a while, only just managing to avoid getting horrifically sunburnt.

I liked Odesa but I felt like I’d pretty much exhausted its possibilities after two days. So I decided to head west, into what would prove to be one of the strangest places I’ve ever visited: Transdnistria.


Odesa

Odesa

I felt like I was missing a lot of Ukraine by getting night trains, but then if Ukraine is known for anything it’s for being flat. I woke up to find the sky blue and the Sun blazing over green plains. Soon the suburbs of Odesa were appearing, and we arrived on time at 8.48am. I bought a coffee at the station and then walked into town.

Odesa seemed very laid back after Kiev. I soon reached the steps, which were not nearly as dramatic as I expected. I thought I probably needed to have watched Battleship Potemkin to fully appreciate them, and wrote a note to myself in my journal that I should buy it when I got back.

At the bottom of the steps was Odesa’s ferry port, jutting out into the Black Sea. I was vaguely thinking of getting a ferry to the Crimea, because everyone who’d been there said it was awesome, but my plan was quickly scuppered when I found that the ferries had stopped running at the end of August. It meant I had a good reason to come back to Ukraine, at least, and it left me more time to see Moldova and Romania. I watched the boats coming and going from Odesa’s massive container port for a while, and planned my onward journey.


St. Sofia’s Cathedral

St. Sofia's Cathedral

On my final day in Kiev the temperature had dropped more than 20°C. It was cool and rain was falling. I walked down to Kreshchatyk again, which was pedestrianised because it was the weekend. I don’t know if it was a special event or if it happens every weekend, but the whole street was filled with people playing sports of various kinds. There was five-a-side football, badminton, volleyball, and pole-vaulting. It was a shame it was rainy but I really enjoyed seeing all this going on. The atmosphere was friendly and communal and I decided that Kiev was a city that I liked a lot.

After Kreshchatyk I walked up to Ploshcha Sofiyivska, where St. Sofia’s Cathedral stands amid heavy traffic. It cost a couple of hryvnia to go up the bell tower, to see the view over the bright golden domes to the grey rainy city beyond.

I’d have liked to stay in Kiev for longer, but my train ticket was booked, and so later that evening I walked to the train station with April. She got her train to L’viv, and then I boarded the night train to Odesa. We left Kiev at 10.15pm.


Babin Yar

Babin Yar

The next day I visited this part of the city again, but the sunshine had gone and the city was swathed in mist. I got the metro to Arsenalna and walked through the park to Rodina Mat. It was a Saturday, and there were newlywed couples near all the statues and war memorials, having their photos taken. I spent a while looking around the Museum of the Great Patriotic War.

Back outside, the mist had cleared and it was another fearsomely hot day. I set off towards Druzhby Narodiv metro station but I took a wrong turn somewhere. Instead I ended up walking a very long way up and down hills and through random suburbs of Kiev, until I chanced upon Pecherska station instead. On the way, a couple of people had stopped me to ask something, and both had seemed very surprised that I wasn’t Ukrainian. I felt that probably in a few years time, Kiev would be well on the way to being a major European tourist destination, and I was glad to be here now while foreigners were still comparatively rare.

I got the metro to Dorohozhychi. Just outside the station is Babin Yar, a park area which was the site of terrible massacres after the Nazi invasion of the USSR. Today there was a flower market on, and the whole park was filled with colourful market stands. I sat in the park for a while relaxing in the Sun, but it was beginning to cloud over, and it seemed like a change of weather was coming. I walked back to the metro, and by the time I got to Vokzalna, it had started to rain. That night there were power cuts for much of the evening, and I sat in darkness in the small hostel I was staying at, talking to the other travellers staying there.


Rodina Mat

Rodina Mat

The next day was hot again. My first target was to buy a train ticket to Odesa, a task made much easier through being accompanied by April, a traveller from Australia who I’d met in the hostel. At the train ticket office, we wrote out our ticket requirements in Cyrillic and joined a queue. As we chatted, a lady in front of us asked us if we would like her to help us buy our tickets, and she turned out to be a lifesaver. Both the trains we wanted were full and we’d have struggled without a Ukrainian-speaker to help us book alternative trains.

Our trains sorted, we headed out to see more sights, and we took the metro to Dnipro station. The metro cost only 50 kopeks, or about five pence, for a ride, and it was almost as grand and impressive as Moscow’s. Dnipro station was near to the Pecherska Lavra, a monastery founded around some caves in 1051. We bought candles and wandered through the caves, passing coffins containing the mummified remains of long-dead monks. Then we walked along to a more modern symbol of Ukraine nearby: Rodina Mat, a huge statue of a woman holding a sword. She is 60 metres tall and stands over the Museum of the Great Patriotic War. Around the museum are various relics of Ukraine’s Soviet history, with statues and sculptures commemorating the Soviet Hero Cities and the USSR’s military victories.


Radioactivity

Radioactivity

It was hot and sunny when we arrived in Kiev the next morning. As soon as I walked out of the station I liked the city. It instantly reminded me of Moscow but was way less huge and intimidating. I walked out of the station on Komintern Street, found a hostel and then set out to explore.

In Lviv, there had been no supermarkets – at least, none that I’d managed to find. There were only small grocery stores where it was quite difficult to buy things because most of the produce was kept behind the counter, and I didn’t know many Ukrainian words for food beyond kleb for bread. But outside my hostel here was a huge and well-stocked supermarket, and that made me like Kiev even more. I bought an ice cold drink and walked up Shevchenka. This led me to Kreshchatyk, the main street, and on to Maydan Nezalezhnosti. This square, the heart of Kiev, had been the focus less than two years previously of the Orange Revolution. Hundreds of thousands of people protested rigged election results, sweeping Viktor Yushchenko to power in place of the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovich. I sat in the square in the hot September sun and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere.

I walked up a hill led me to St. Michael’s Monastery, topped with golden domes. Near by, a large expanse of parkland overlooked the Dnipro River, and I walked down through the park to the district of Podil. Here, after a bit of searching, I found the Chernobyl Museum. It was about 5.30pm and the museum was supposed to close at 6, but the staff fancied knocking off a bit early and I was rushed through the rooms at a furious pace. There were few signs in English but it was still obvious what a catastrophe the incident had been. Displays showed photos of people who had been killed in the explosion and the effort to seal the reactor immediately afterwards, and there were photos of the now-deserted town of Pripyat.

Back outside in the sunshine, I walked up Andriyivsky Uzviz, which winds past street markets and monasteries from Podil back up to the main town, from where I could see the broad Dnipro river flowing slowly by. In the days after the Chernobyl accident the river had carried radioactivity from the disaster area right into the heart of Kiev. Radioactivity by Kraftwerk happened to be playing on my mp3 player. In 1986, when I was seven years old, I remember hearing about the accident. Then, Ukraine was a distant place, a province of a country on the other side of a terrible barrier from where I was. Now, in the hot autumn sun, there seemed no possible connection between the Soviet Union of then and where I was walking around now.


L’viv

L'viv

The next day it was raining heavily. Only a couple of weeks earlier, Ukraine had been in the grip of a fearsome heatwave with temperatures well over 40°C, but it had broken now. L’viv in the rain was not quite as enchanting as L’viv in the sunshine, and I decided to book a train to Kiev for that evening. To do this, I went to the ticket booking office in town, and reused a method which had worked a treat when I was in Moscow – I wrote down my destination in Cyrillic, the time of train I wanted, and the word for ‘sleeper’, and handed it over. The woman behind the counter passed back a demand for a modest number of hryvnia, I handed it over, and I got a ticket for the night train to Kiev in return.

The train was at 10pm so I had all day to kill. I met Johan and Brianna for lunch, which we had at a place that Johan had wanted to try out. It was called Kupol and the decor was pure 1930s. It was like having tea round a very old person’s house. After lunch I wandered around randomly, taking whichever street looked the most interesting and covering a lot of central Lviv in the process.

By now it was dark, and I set out to walk back to the station. I passed the impressive church we’d passed on our way in to town, took a slight wrong turn into a dodgy part of town, quickly backtracked and made it to the station unscathed. I left for Kiev at 10pm.


To the East

To the East

We arrived in Lviv in pitch darkness at 4.45am. I hardly remember arriving as I was tired beyond belief, but I know I found my way to a warm waiting room with my two travelling companions, Johan from Sweden and Brianna from the US. We slept in the waiting room for a couple of hours, before heading into the city at about 6.30am. As we walked out of the station the sky was just starting to get light.

We didn’t really know which way town was, but we guessed that it would be in the direction of some huge church spires we could see down the road, and we headed off. Our instincts were right, and after about twenty minutes we found ourselves in the centre of town. I found a hostel and straight away went to bed. I woke up at 2pm, anxious to get out and see the sights. It was a warm afternoon and I headed out to Svoboda, the main street, to check out the atmosphere. Then I walked up to the historic centre, Ploshcha Rynok, and looked around there.

In the evening I met up with Johan and Brianna for a meal. The first place we went to said they were sorry, but they had a power problem and so couldn’t do any hot food right now. So we went to a place a few doors away, but they said the same thing so this part of Lviv seemed to be having a power cut. So we stopped at the second place and had a salad.

After the meal we decided to have a look at Castle Hill. This proved to be quite an expedition as the paths up it were unlit. From the top, though, we got some great views of the town. I took plenty of photos. One long exposure was ruined when a large spider walked across my hand but some others came out OK.