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Ukraine, western, and a few days in northern Romania

This was a 32 day journey. Ages 68 and 75. Bags were 16 or 17 yr. old Magellan's Borneo Bags, convertible carry-ons. No insurance. No STEP program. Lewiston, ID to Seattle, to Amsterdam, through Warsaw to Lviv and return.

At Lviv we stayed at the Hotel George. From Lviv we took a little local bus (mashrutka) to Ivano-Frankivsk, spent a few days looking around again. Some of this trip was a repeat of thirty months ago when we spent six weeks there. From I-F we bussed to Kolomiya. At that small city we made final arrangements with a young man we had met before to set up a day with relatives in one of the villages.

The hotel arranged for an English speaking driver to take us there. We met the translator and went to the relatives house. To be honest, this was very much like a scene out of an old Russian peasant movie. These people make or grow almost everything they consume. The lady of the house and my wife are directly related, by brother and sister grandparents.

It was an eating, drinking, and visiting day. The main meal involved moving in another table and benches to seat a dozen people. The table was laden. The vodka was homemade as was the wine. Everything but the bread and salt was produced by the couple or relatives. As I was the eldest, it was up to me to keep up with the vodka shots, which I did. My god was it a good day.

From Kolomiya we bussed to Chernivsti, a beautiful old university town, spent several days and then went by bus across the border to Suceava, Romania and on to Botosani.

In Botosani we met our young friend and her father whom we hadn't met before. We went to the family home in one of the villages and the eating and drinking resumed. Our friend's parents very kindly showed us around that part of Romania including Iasi over four days.

We re-entered Ukraine, stayed at Chernivsti a couple days and took a bus back to Lviv, a 7 1/2 hour bus ride that was pure torture.

Editorial. Patriotism in Ukraine has never been stronger. Flags, banners, pins, and national garb were everywhere. One young Ukrainian family we talked to, who were touring on their own said the Ukrainian people didn't know why America was giving them more support than the European Union.

We noticed some moderate price inflation inside the country from our last trip. This can be easily understood, but the cost of things in Ukraine are very modest compared to the rest of Europe. Infrastructure and social welfare programs haven't had the attention they need. Ukraine has other priorities now.

Highlights: the people, the people, the people. The food, the food.
Lowlights: considering what the gointry is going through it would be bad manners to list anything here.
Guidebook: Lonely Planet Ukraine. A few things pertinent to our trip were out of date and I've sent a note to L.P.
We have some hryvnias that we can't use, in case someone really needs them.
It looks like we won't go back because this was physically a very difficult trip. If any one would like further information send me a personal message.

Posted by
215 posts

Neat report. I have relatives in Western Ukraine. We were there in Oct 2010 for the wedding of one of my distant cousins.
Great food and drink, all homemade. Considering we don't speak Ukrainian, and only 2 of the relatives spoke any English, we had a wonderful time. We did hire an English teacher to translate for us most days, though. My dad did the driving, I did the map reading. If the English teacher was with us she'd guide us. We basically stayed in the Ternopil area. Hotel was in Shumsk, relatives are in Ratyschi and Trostianets. We stayed one night at a cousins in Ratyschi. Very neat experience considering the language barrier. Landed and took off out of Lviv. On our way back to the airport we got a little lost in Lviv, my dad would stop the car near a pedestrian and I'd ask Aeroport?? and we be pointed in the right direction. We'd do this at pretty much every intersection as to not get lost. Great memory. Hope to go back someday:)

Posted by
9906 posts

Excellent report Monte! See you both Saturday.

Posted by
6 posts

Hi Monte,
Interesting report. I am a 59 year old Canadian travelling alone (I usually do) in Europe right now, been here a month and will be here until August 28. I am housesitting right now in southern France and then will be housesitting in Torquay and London. I am of Ukrainian background on my mother's side of my family so I would LOVE to visit Ukraine. My idea is to go to Lviv and maybe the surrounding area (as I believe the unrest/fighting is basically in eastern Ukraine) around August 10. I have discovered EasyJet (inexpensive flights all over Europe) but can't seem to find a country that flies to Lviv but there are inexpensive flights to other eastern European countries. It sounds like going by bus in Ukraine is hell. Do you know if it would be possible to take a train from Krakow, Poland or Prague, Czech and what are the trains like? Any advice you can give me as to an inexpensive,safe and relatively comfortable way to get to Lviv and spend time there would be appreciated. Also, safety tips, of course, would be great. Tanya email: tealeaf.56@gmail.com

Posted by
6876 posts

Tealeaf - first off, don't post your e-mail address here (edit your entry and delete it)...Monte can send you a private message without the need to post your e-mail for everyone to see. This is not a secure website.

I'm Polish so I can answer your question partially. You can take a non-stop flight from Warsaw to Lviv using LOT Airlines. Or you can travel by bus or train from Krakow. I don't know what the trains are like in Ukraine but they're fine in Poland (maybe slow though). The train journey would be overnight so you won't see much.

Posted by
1834 posts

Tealeaf, Follow Agnes's advice to the letter. The best way to go to Lviv is by Lot from Warsaw airport to Lviv airport. Forget buses and trains. They take forever. Yes, buses in Ukraine can be hell, but sometimes you have to go through hell to find happiness. There is an ATM at the airport.

Before you take off for Lviv be sure to reserve a room at the Hotel George. When you get to the Lviv airport, which isn't crowded, you will find a very convenient information desk atteded by people who speak English. This is very important. Ask a person there how to get into the city and to the Hotel George. That person will tell you to go outside and get on the yellow bus which you can see from the desk. The information person will give you a little slip of paper with the hotel's name on it in Ukranian. You go to the bus and give the driver the little slip of paper and four or five hryvnias. There is no need to tip. The desk people can also arrange a legitable taxi, but the cost is about forty-five hryvnias.

The bus goes to the old downtown, a magnificent area. The dirver will stop at the appropriate place you get out and go to the hotel. Sometimes the bus stops a little ways a away and you have to walk a block. The hotel will be expecting you and you will be greeted in a very friendly manner. People working at the front desk speak English. You check in just as at any hotel. There is an excellent pizza and other food place just to your right and about four steps through the door.

The hotel staff have been good about finding an English speaking taxi driver to take us out of the city to an ancestral village. They have also been very good about finding a taxi driver to take us out to the bus station and to the airport. You do not have to worry about taxi drivers taking advantage of you. The all have been exceedingly honest. Taxi drivers do not expect a tip, but my wife have given them extra money if they took us out to the countryside and did some translating.

Buses are the only way to advance to the next city in western Ukraine, and that's where hell comes in. Always buy your bus ticket at the ticket window. That assures you of a seat and not a standing. I've had more rear ends and front ends rubbing against me than I would like to remember. Bus stations are often a long way from city centers so you may have to use a cab to get from the station to somewhere else. We always approach a driver that is not just lounging around, laying on his car, or otherwise seeming not to care.

Use a Lonely Planet Ukraine guidebook. The cities are billingual. Try to learn the Ukraine alphabet becuse the most difficult thing for an American is being able to read the signs or say "Hello", etc. Have some little sticky notes or something similar to write in Ukranian where you want to go so you can show it to the ticket window lady or to the cab driver. Always take a business card from the hotel you are staying at or leave a trail of crumbs so you can find your way home.

Ukraine is an inexpensive country to visit. Our thirty-two day journey from Lewiston, Idaho, through Seattle and Amsterdam and Warsaw, in the country, a week in northern Romania and home again came to just over fifty-one hundred dollars. It was by far the least expensive trip we have ever taken. The people are exceedingly happy to see Americans who are giving them more support that the European Union whom they joined after going through their own hell. Not may Ukranians speak English so you should bone up a little. You will fine little to suggest a war is going on in Donbas, but it is possible to engage people in a brief conversation about it. I think its best to leave the subject alone unless someone else brings it up.

That's about all. Send me a personal message if you would like us to help further.