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Trip Report Ukraine trip August 2011 Kiev-Lviv-Chernivtsi-Odessa

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I blogged every day in Ukraine, so the full details with photos start here …blogspot.com/2011/…day-1-paris-to-kiev.html and go on for the next 15 days if anyone's really interested! So I'll try to keep this reasonably brief.

Firstly, I am a woman in my 20s, travelling alone, and I had no problems. I am pretty adventurous and have travelled alone quite a bit before, but while you need to keep your wits about you anywhere, I didn't feel any less safe in Ukraine than anywhere else. This included taking overnight sleeper trains with men in the same carriage as me. I do speak some Russian and can read Cyrillic and I made an effort to learn some basic Ukrainian too (although it was quite hard to remember to say Ukrainian words rather than Russian - I only really tried to in Lviv and Chernivtsi). I would recommend you do as well if you're travelling without a guide. No-one ever spoke English to me except I think in the George Hotel, Lviv, but I didn't ask them to. Look after yourself, of course, but don't be scared!

Itinerary/Transport:

Kiev (4 nights, overnight train to Lviv)

Lviv (2 nights, overnight train to Chernivtsi)

Chernivtsi (1 night, overnight train to Odessa)

Odessa (4 nights, overnight train to Kiev)

Mostly my itinerary was okay. I flew in and out of Kiev to keep costs down and decided it was too much hassle to get to the Crimea as well. The train from Chernivtsi to Odessa was really long (NINETEEN hours!) and it went back to Lviv! If I'd realised that, I might have planned things differently, like flying in to Romania or Poland or something, or breaking the journey up with a night in Moldova, as someone suggested (too late). It wasn't all that bad though. I got first class from Kiev-Lviv and Chernivtsi-Odessa, and second class on the other two trips. First class was definitely nicer, especially on the Kiev-Lviv train, when I actually had the two-bed carriage to myself. Second class is bearable though. I bought my tickets in the train station at Kiev - I wrote down all the details, which I found online, and gave it to the woman at the foreigners window (anyone at other windows will just tell you to go to her anyway). I had to go first class Kiev-Lviv because there were no second class tickets left (a few days before the trip) and there were no bottom bunks left on the second class legs, but otherwise I had no problems getting tickets at the last minute even in August.

Highlights:

I loved climbing up inside the Rodina Mat war memorial in Kiev. It was a beautiful day and I have some great photos of the city. Anywhere else in the world, you wouldn't be allowed to pop up out of a statue 91 metres up without any guard rail and with a hole under your feet (we did have a safety rope to be fair) because of health and safety, I'm sure! It was a great experience!

I had a great stay at the TIU Chernivtsi hostel - everyone was very friendly, I had a lovely private room and the bathroom was gorgeous. Marcus the owner took a group of about 6 of us on a day trip in his jeep to visit the fortress of Khotyn and the town of Kamyanets-Podilsky. Khotyn is very unusual, it's down in a dip instead of up on a hill, so you can hardly see it until you're almost on top of it. Really nice setting next to the Dnister. At K-P we walked around the town and then hiked a little way along the river to a waterfall with views of the castle - gorgeous - and then had a barbecue by the river prepared by Marcus which was very delicious! And he was great at telling us stories about life in Ukraine and about the historical sights. I wished I had more time to see Chernivtsi itself as well - it's a small place but packed full of interesting sights, and as I said, I had a great time with the people at the hostel.

Saint Sophia in Kiev was also very historic and beautiful. The Caves Monastery (Kievo-Pecherska Lavra) was interesting as well. I really enjoyed the Museum of Historical Treasures, which you have to pay for separately. There was some really nice ancient jewellery and other precious objects from prehistory to the 20th century.

Lviv and Odessa - I didn't do so much sightseeing in these places. Lviv is very picturesque and great for just wandering about taking in the atmosphere. It's also quite cheap for eating out. Definitely don't miss the Boim Chapel, it's small but amazing! I spent most of my time in Odessa on the beach. It is a bit dirty with cigarette butts and so on, but if you can put a towel down or clear a bit of a space, it's not too bad. It was nice just to relax and enjoy the sunshine and the sea! I didn't go swimming, because I've heard the water is not great. I heard it would be very crowded, but it was fine.

Lowlights:

With the good comes the bad... Some of the things I didn't like about Ukraine included the public toilets! The one by the St Michael Monastery was the WORST. I soon learned not to leave my hotel or a cafe or restaurant without taking a trip to the bathroom. Also noteworthy were the toilets on the beachfront at Odessa which had no doors on the stalls! Some of them you could even see into from the path outside!

Getting around Kiev was also a bit of a pain. Using the metro was fine, but I kept getting lost on foot, especially any time I had to cross under the road, or coming out of the metro at a different exit than I had before. There didn't seem to be many street signs and it was really confusing. I got lost for over an hour trying to find my hotel, about 5 minutes from the metro! And I couldn't find the Museum of Communism at all. It also took me a super long time to find the "Kiev Central bus station" - tip, it's just what looks like white vans in a car park, there are no signs! I was trying to go to Chernihiv for a day trip, but when I finally found the buses, the driver said I should go to another bus station, so I just gave up.

One other thing I found a little bit disappointing was how "new" a lot of things were especially in Kiev, such as the St Michael's Monastery or lots of stuff around Maiden Nezalezhnosti. I know that's not Ukraine's fault - a lot of stuff was damaged in WWII or under Communism, but it was a bit of a letdown at times. On the other hand, there is a lot of genuine old stuff, like the cave monasteries or St Sophia's or the Boim Chapel etc. etc., so I suppose just focus on what is there instead of getting upset about what's been lost. Also I thought the Potemkin Steps were kind of ugly, sorry!

I don't want to end on a bad note, though, because all in all I really enjoyed my time in Ukraine. I did meet some of the sort of grumpy customer service people you will be used to if you've been to former Communist countries before, but I also met people who were really nice and friendly and went out of their way to try and help me and talk to me. I had some yummy meals, saw some lovely places, and had a great balance of historical sight-seeing and just relaxing. I would love to go back and see the Crimea next time!

Thanks again to the people who helped me plan! I also used the Bradt guide, which was pretty useful especially for planning practical matters and deciding on an itinerary before I went.

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