Sunday, 27 May 2012

Six days in Lviv & Western Ukraine

Early in the morning of Monday 7th May, our train arrived into Lviv station, which had a grandiose station building, but the area outside the station didn't appear to be that welcoming to us, however we did manage to find out that we could catch the No31 bus to reach the centre, Due to Lviv, being one of the host cities for Euro 2012, there was a lot of road works being carried, which meant the tram route No9 from the station to the centre (Plosha Rynok) had been truncated. The time we arrived was 08.35, a time when many of the locals were going to work, and the small buses left the stop Full & Standing, eventually we boarded a 31, but passed the centre, ending up at a terminus many kilometers on the other side of the city. We then caught a bus back to a stop by Svobody Avenue, just opposite our hostel, Old City Hostel. Our checking in time wasn't due until the afternoon and so we had a wander around the stalls in Svobody Avenue, a coffee & doughnut, then visited the superb tourist information office in Plosha Rynok, and arranged a tour on Wednesday with a local historian. Around 12 we had sausages & vegetables pan fried (very tasty but arrived in a very hot pan) with a beer in one of the several pavement cafes (this one called Ratesz). When we were able to check into the hostel, we did, had a shower & rest, after meeting the helpful Irena. In the evening we wanted some supper, Irena suggested a local place called Puzata Khata, one of several places in Ukrainian cities. Puzata Khata in Lviv is on the road leading out of town towards the university. We were very impressed with this restaurant, where friendly staff in traditional Ukrainian clothes, stand behind counters offering tasty local food. This evening we tried a local soup, cake & beer. Also on our way we bought some food for breakfast tomorrow morning.

Tuesday 8th May turned out to the coolest & wettest day of the holiday. In the morning we walked around a local market selling mostly clothes & shoes, then returned to a coffee shop in Svobody avenue, while waiting for the Free Tour Lviv to start, meeting the guides & visitors outside the opera house at noon. There were several visitors waiting when the tour guides arrived. Unfortunately the lady who could speak English & knew the history was unwell, and so two others tried their best to show us some of the architecture & history of Lviv, one could speak some English, the other knew the history. After hearing about the opera house, we walked along Svobody Avenue & saw the Wave & Shevchenko memorials. The Wave symbolises the freedom of Ukraine people & T Shevchenko is the national poet. We visited the Latin and Armenian cathedrals, before ending up in the main square, Rynok Plosha. We met Doris from Singapore who is writing an article on Ukraine for a Singapore magazine. Liz & I went for some lunch in Puzata Khata, where we discovered the lovely local soup & Ukrainian cheesecake. In the afternoon we visited a famous cemetery called Lychakiv. The walled cemetery is one of the "must visit" (along with Pere Lachaise in Paris & the Zefriedhof in Vienna) cemetery for its interesting memorials, mausoleums & statues dedicated to famous people including Polish nobles, Polish Child soldiers, Communist, Polish & Ukrainian heroes. The cemetery was created from a paupers burial ground by the Austrian-Hungarians in 1786. We travelled to Lychakiv by tram No7 from the book market place (where there is a statue of a man reading a book). Lviv is also famous for its trams which are quite old, and run on a metre gauge, In the cemetery there was so much to see it took us nearly the whole afternoon. With the weather damp & quite dark, this made the atmosphere even more eerie. We took the tram back to Lviv Book Market Place, and spent the evening in the hostel, we had bought some cold meat, cheese, bread, fruit, beer & wine for our supper. We also met Viktor who is a guide/driver & interpretor & we arranged a tour of Western Ukraine for 7am on Thursday 8th May.  

Monday, 21 May 2012

My three weeks in Ukraine, Part 1 Kiev

On Sunday 29th April 2012, we travelled by aeroplane from London to Kiev with Lufthansa Airlines, our flight from London left 09.05, we were treated to a complimentary sandwich & drink. I had to change aeroplanes in Munich airport, the time for the transfer was only thirty minutes, my next flight went to Kiev, Boryspil Airport, on board we had complimentary drinks & refreshments. We arrived into Kiev at about 16.30 where we had to pass through Passport control. In theory our luggage should have been waiting for us, however my case was nowhere to be seen. So I had to report this incident to the office in the airport, the form filling & other paperwork took two hours out of schedule, and eventually we were able to take a "Skybus 322" from the airport to the city, the terminus was outside "Pivdenny" station, which linked to the main station (Voksal). Central Kiev is three stops on the city metro (Voksal'ny to Khreschatyk) The metro runs deeply underground, we bought a "jeton" a plastic disc for only two hryvnia. The "jeton" allows traveller to pass through the barrier. As we arrived at Khreschatyk, it was starting to get dark, the street, was closed for traffic, local Kievians promenaded, other people were playing music, breakdancing and trying to persuade passer-bys to have their photos taken with doves on them.
We bought an ice cream as it was still very warm (the day had been exceptionally hot +30C), we approached Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti, where there was a lot of activity, pavement cafes & bars, serving local food and beer. Our hostel, called the City Center Hostel, was just on a side street from Maidan Nezaleahnosti, in an apartment on the 7th Floor.

The following day Monday 30th April the hot weather continued, the hostel had a kettle, and so we had a coffee before going outside, we had breakfast of "veraniniki" (dumplings stuffed with sweet & savoury fillings, not too dissimilar to ravioli or periogi) & a fruit drink.

The Tourist Office of Kiev, provide "Free Walking Tours" ( , which give visitors a taste of the sights of the city, and the first walk which starts daily at 12.00, took us to "Ancient Kiev". We met several other "tourists" as well as our guide "Fedor", at Point Zero, a monument topped by a globe, at the bottom are arrows pointing to other cities in Ukraine. Our tour continued by passing the Southern Gate, uphill to two sacred sites, where there are two beautifully decorated Monastery complexes of Saints Sophia and Michael (Archangel). We also approached "Andrew's Descent" Andriivsky uzviz, which was under reconstruction. We passes through a children's park, which had colourful sculptures depicting characters in children's literature. Continuing along Volodomyrska vul, we arrived in St Sophia's square, on which is an equestrian statue stands. Other interesting statues included a horse designed by students, a wooden hedgehog, a bronze cat & another cat made of plastic forks. Our tour ended at the Golden Gate, a large wooden gate, complete with a statue of Jaroslav the Brave, carrying (a model of) St Sophia's cathedral. Some of us accompanied Fedor back to the tourist office, Here I met Marina, and some of her team, who helped us with tour & other bookings and information. I had heard about Marina and Free Kiev Tours through Klara (Prague Extravaganza tours). The rest of the day we took it easy trying local beer, later meeting Olga in the Tourist Office, who recommended two local restaurants, one called "Varpobeda" ( a sort of "diner" with decor of the "soviet time", but the food, service and beer was very good.

The following day (1st May, which historically has been associated with the labour movement) was another hot and sunny day.  After a coffee & light breakfast we walked to Khreschatyk, which was closed for traffic.Soon we were watching a march & rally by the local communist party, complete with music, bands, and red flags! We then went to Maidan Nezalezhnosti where we had some vareniniki & soft drink. Our other plan for the day was a visit to Babi Yar, a ravine somewhere out of town, and two stops away from Khreschatyk on the metro (stop called Dorohozhychi), the site is poignant due to tragic events, the first being the murdering of Jewish, Romany, Ukrainian & others during World War Two. We saw the memorials in the park, one of a menorah, the other of a child & her broken doll. In the 1960;s the same site was hit by a tragic landslide, After walking through the park, we were lead to a street, from where we caught a trolleybus No 18, back to Maidan Nezalezhnosti. We spent the rest of the evening in Maidan Nezalezhnosti.

After the history and politics from yesterday, we decided to have a more peaceful & relaxing day by visiting St Sophia's Cathedral (Sofiysky Sobor) but stopped for a McDonald's breakfast, although not our ideal choice it only appears that McD's is the only place open before 10am. The cathedral is inside a walled compound, and we hired an audio guide which told us about the buildings, some of which date back to the 11th century. The grounds were so peaceful, and blooming chestnut trees made the area very photogenic. Inside the cathedral are many interesting mosiacs and because of these UNESCO have made this site, one of it's World heritage Sites ( We continued walking along Volodomomyrska to the start of Andrew's Descent, a fairly steep hill of many historical buildings, starting with St Andrew's church at the top, a couple of museums & several shops and bars. We had a beer in a wooden building called "Svitlichya", and nearby was the fantastic Bulgarkov (Ukrainian author) museum at Number 13. this museum is where Bulgarkov used to live, and has many fascinating rooms, and a collection of the author's work. Another museum is called the "Museum of One Street" as "One Street" refers to Andrew's Descent through the street's history. As an end to the day we returned to Volodomosky street, and had a meal of chicken kiev, fried potatoes, and a sweet pancake in a touristy restaurant called "Spot'ikoch",

On Thursday 3rd May, we had booked a Jewish Theme tour with the Tourist Office, which was due tostart at 13h00, so had time time for a breakfast of strong coffee & vareniniki. The weather changed to a cooler with showers at the time we started the tour, our guide was Konstantine, who started the tour by taking through the Khreschatyk Metro station, to an area known locally as "Little Paris", with amazing architecture, a small park, which had in it, displays of painted eggs (nothing to do with the tour, but a display for the Orthodox Easter) a statue of Gnat Yura (an actor in his role of  soldier Schweik). Just outside the park is a theatre. Konstantine continue the tour with a visit to a sugar merchants house, the Ukrainian National Bank, we visited the Synagogue, the statue of Shalom Alachiem (whose books inspired "Fiddler on the roof", a successful musical & film about "shetl life in the 19th century), We finished our tour at the house of Golda Maier, who became a president of Israel and the Bessarabian market. We soon realised that this market square wasn't too far from Khreschatyk boulevard. We also saw the only remaining (in Kiev) statue of Lenin.

In the evening we had arranged to see the performance of "Swan Lake" at the Kiev Opera House. A performance like this would have cost a fortune in England & Western Europe, but is affordable in Ukraine, we had a good view of the ballet, with three scenes, the lake, inside the castle & back to the lake. After the ballet we had a beer in Maidan Nezalezhnosti & then back to the hostel.

On Friday 4th May, the warm weather returned & we had a late breakfast in Kult Ra (a cafe recommended by Olga (a friend of Marina in the tourist office). The cafe/restaurant was in traditional Ruthenian/Ukrainian rustic style, the staff we met were friendly, spoke English well, the cafe also sold books & provided information & staged performances by local and visiting musicians. Our waitress was called "Kritini" who was keen to show us the decor and the restaurant on the second floor.. We had a herbal tea & delicious apple slice. The staff also mentioned that there was going to be a concert that evening & we decided to attend. We then walked to the National Art Museum of Ukraine, No 6 Hrushevskoho Street ( where we saw Ukrainian work of art including early works (mostly of religious icons) through paintings of life in the 19th & 20th centuries, finishing with rather disturbing & frightening modern works. We returned to Maidan Nezalezhnosti for lunch (vareniniki & beer). As arranged in the evening we attended the concert in Kult Ra, after we had a borshch soup (a thick vegetable & beer soup with beetroot. During the concert Donya (one of the waitresses) kindly took photos of the performer/concert, we returned to our hostel after the concert.

Saturday 5th May turned out to be very hot. Our plan was to visit Lavra (a complex of monasteries, churches & caves) which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. To reach there we needed to travel by bus (#24), which we caught from outside the Dnipre Hotel in European Square. Arriving at a stop near to Lavra, we came across a very different memorial (to the victims of Famine) and the Eternal Flame. We first saw this golden domed church which appeared to need some Tender Loving Care, but this was nothing compared to what we saw later, however as mentioned we came across to this memorial to Famines (not caused bt crop failures but man-made in 1932-33, when several million Ukrainians starved, the Angel of Sorrow, the girl with five ears of corn (Sad memory of childhood), The Candle of memory and the display of photos & machinery made the visit more poignant. We passed the Eternal Flame with soldiers on guard, and a newly married couple, who were being photographed. The couple even had vintage (or maybe replica) cars. We walked to the Lavra, which lived up to the beauty mentioned in the guidebook, and seeing the churches and other buildings in the monastery took most of the afternoon. There was a museum of Folk Art (with many interesting pictures painted by Ukrainian artists & a collection of costumes from different parts of Ukraine) and stalls selling souvenirs, food and drink. The monks with their flowing gowns with the beautiful buildings were definitely photogenic. Getting back to European Square proved very difficult as we saw no No 24 buses, but many full microbuses, eventually we crammed ourselves onto one of these, and started to talk to a young student. For our last meal in Kiev we went to the "Varpobeda", the Ukrainian diner in the soviet style

Our last day in Kiev was Sunday 6th May, which started off like most of the others as hot & sunny, but the weather changed as we went on our afternoon walking tour. This day there was also a marathon in Kiev, which meant closures of Khreshchatyk & other main streets, including the route to the Lavra & the Great Patriotic War Museum. Instead we had to use the metro to Arsenalna, and walk to the museum. We walked around the outside looking at the murals of Soldiers & civilians, guns & tanks, and the huge statue of Mother (a 200 ft titanium lady, inside the statue are steps to the top of her hand). In the middle of the outside display were two brightly coloured T34 tanks. We walked back to Arsenalna, took the metro back to Khreshchatyk, and had a quick lunch of vareniniki & beer in Maidan Nezaleshnosti, before meeting Viktoria, who was taking the afternoon (16.00) tour of Kiev. The afternoon tour is themed on the more modern Kiev, and we headed from Majdan Nezalezhnosti to European Square, where we saw the theatre & the "Arch of International Friendship". We walked across the Lover's bridge into the Khreskhatiy Park (passing the Dynamo Kiev football stadium), this park lead into another park called the City Garden & then another Mariinskiy Park. We also saw Maryinsky Palace, which was being renovated. There is a statue of a famous Ukrainian actress called Maria Zanikovchbka in this park, and we saw the Parliament buildings & a statue of Generalovi Batutiynu. When we came out of the parks we walked along a main street, passing the National Bank & a shop, which in communist times was known by the locals as the "slops-shop", as they were only allowed to buy what was left after the "important" people had done their their shopping. We continued to be one of the architectural masterpieces of Kiev called the House with Chimeras, as designed by Vladislav Gorodetsky. Made of concrete the house was on the side of a hill, three stories on one side & six on the other. Even more interesting were the "chimeras" (animals & birds) which decorated the building. The tour then ended with a visit to a small enclosed park, which had statues of an actor Gnat Yura (as Soldier Schweik) & Nikolay Yakovchenko (on a bench with his dachshund) & near to the Touriist Information we saw & photographed Vladislav Gorodetsky, sitting a table. Visitors were able to sit in the spare chair opposite him.    Liz & I also met Anna, a Ukrainian, who was hoping to be a tour guide herself, and after the tour, the three of us went to have a pot of tea in the shopping centre underneath Maidan Nezalezhnosti. All too soon it was time for Liz & I to go catch our train which left Kiev at 21.56, which went to Lviv. We travelled in a second class compartment of four bunks, the (gentleman) steward, helped us on with our cases, and served us tea in glass cups.