Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Weekend in Ukraine

Hi everyone... Thanks so much for all the lovely comments on the camera pillow - it makes me so happy to read! :)

For one of the first times ever, I can say I have no travel plans whatsoever in my future... I was looking through my photo archives when I remembered a couple people had asked me about my trip to Ukraine from last summer during my stay in Romania, so I thought i would finally share that story and some photos to keep the travel section of my wee blog interesting.
So anyways, while I was spending a month in Romania teaching English, we realized we were only about 20 minutes from the Romania-Ukraine border. So a couple of the other teachers in the program and I decided to take a weekend trip across the border to Chernivtsi. Our host parents first scoffed at the idea, but after some pressuring they finally admitted that the best and supposedly safest way to get across the border is to hitchhike. This was a fascinating cultural discovery for us because of course, in the US and Britain, hitching is seen as dangerous and stupid but where we were, it's more accepted because fewer people have cars and there's a communal sense of helping each other out. So there was that...

A common sight on the roads around rural Romania and Ukraine

A few days later we found ourselves pleading in an invented non-language with a Romanian taxi-driver to take us up to the border [he didn't have a passport so couldn't cross it], and off we went. Once we got to the first of three border lines we got out and watched as the taxi man asked all the passing cars if they would take us across the border in theirs... all the while we understand almost nothing going on and are not sure if the driver actually knows what we're trying to do. After a small monetary bribe, the three of us were in the backseat of a deaf-mute Ukrainian man [and wife's] car and we were off. We had thought this 'border town' was truly on the border, but after 45 minutes, he was still plowing along showing no signs of stopping. He actually nodded off several times for about a second; at first i told myself, 'it's OK, if you see his eyes close in the mirror, you can just shout to wake him up'... but then I remembered he was, in fact, deaf mute.. so it was actually a big relief when he just pulled up to the side of the road at one point and motioned that we had arrived. Hesitantly, confusedly, and also relievedly, we were left in the dust on our own.
That's when we remembered we didn't have any hryvnia [currency] even though, AHEM, i had suggested we buy some before leaving but was shot down. And we were told our banks would freeze our accounts if they saw unannounced activity from Ukraine. After wandering around the outskirts of town and attempting to communicate with people, we eventually made it to a big mallish thing where we managed to buy some currency and figure out where we were going. A tram ride, more confused mumbling and a looong walk followed, but we eventually made it into the center.
Stroll through the immaculate center.
City Opera House

And as it happened: our host families, the internet, and everything we thought we knew about Ukraine was wrong. THIS PLACE WAS SO BEAUTIFUL. We had been expecting a run-down border town with cheap markets catering to border-hopping Romanians. But what we found was actually one of Ukraine's best cities, voted its cultural capital and one of its biggest tourist attractions. 

Left: one of Ukraine's best university buildings
Right: A man in traditional dress + the city's newest repaved street on which nobody can chew gum or smoke

I can't remember the name of our hostel, but it was one of the only youth hostels online so wouldn't be too hard to find. The man who owned it was English and just had such a passion for Ukrainian culture. He took us on a 3-hour walking tour of the city during which we discovered loads of fun facts [all regrettably forgotten by now but amazing at the time]. The city was soo clean, and honestly, I felt safer there than I do walking home at night in Edinburgh!
The Drunken Church

This was one of those incredible almost spur-of-the-moment life experiences that I'm so eternally grateful for, and which, in retrospect, makes not only an awesome story but also makes me realize why my mom has trouble sleeping at night [sorry mommy]. It's weird, when these things happen and you look back on it and think, 'it could have gone sooo wrong', but in that moment you're just self-assured and you're handling the situation and having the best time with amazing people in the 40 degree heat and loving life. And in that moment, you don't realize how cheesy this story will one day sound...
There are a couple other trips we took during this stay which I still have yet to post about as well, so those might be coming up too. Has anyone else ever had one of those travel experiences where it started off scary but you're so glad you went through with it anyways?



Kelly's Korner said...

Wow! Neat story! I have, unfortunately, been scarred for life by US cinema and will not ever be doing what you did. Ever. I will instead live vicariously through you and the Stuttgart photo contest. :)

Megan said...

Jenny! Awesome post! I love love love your pictures, they really do capture the beauty of the place. What a fantastic story to tell!!!!

You're the coolest.

Jennifer said...

I agree with Kelly 100%. It has scared me off driving through the U.S too and staying in small weird run-down motels:) The place you visited though is beautiful! So exciting you can say you did this and survived:) said...

When you go to Ukraine, it is better to have phone numbers of local taxi services in your pocket. You don’t know when you will need it, and it is not recommended to stop an accident car if you want to be safe in this country. Use licensed taxi services and be secured. This is my list of Ukraine taxi all of these services are appropriate and rates are not expensive. If you know more good taxi services in Ukraine, please add them to this Ukraine travel guide.

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