Ukraine: Lviv

I was staying in Krakow for a few months and at the third one I started thinking about moving elsewhere but still was not sure where, that’s when Ukraine came to my mind.

I looked for information regarding the visa and the cheapest means of transport to enter the country and the cities that looked interesting to pay a visit to which I concluded that the easiest and cheapest way would be to take an overnight train that departs in the afternoon directly from Krakow arriving the next morning to Lviv in Ukraine, a city near the border, which I had read it was very nice and worth a visit, afterwards I would move to Odessa to check out the sea and then finally go to Kiev to then return to Lviv and take the same train back to Krakow.

That day, I boarded the train, searched my second class cabin which was very small, with four bunk beds one on top of the other which looked more like drawers where you can only turn around half-way before falling off to the void. Luckily I got to share it with a Polish family with a child about eight years old, fairly well behaved so the only problem was the brutal human-heat that we accumulated since I came in last so I got the top bed for myself.

I thought that at least, being it an overnight trip, I would be able to sleep all the way through without noticing anything during the journey, but I was so wrong, I had not taken into account that, upon reaching the border, first the Polish border patrol quickly comes to knock on every door and review the documents of all the passengers, and after that, the train stops for about an hour and a half so that now the Ukrainian border patrol comes up knocking several times at every door, asking for passports and visas, questioning about your reasons for travelling there, inspecting cabins with flashlights and even dogs, apart from some loud noises and sudden movements the train makes for some reasons then unknown to me, until someone later told me that Ukraine has it’s train tracks on a different wideness to the rest of Europe as to hinder the passage, for strategic reasons from the Soviet Union times, therefore they have to almost replace all the wheels of the wagons in order to continue the journey. So sleeping during the trip… not really.

Arriving at the station in Lviv I got off the train with enough energy by the excitement of being in a new country, I followed the people to get through the tunnels that connect the railway lines to the main building of the station and right down the stairs, one of the things which I had read about in guidebooks to be careful not to be deceived with happened, a military dressed guy (милиция) stopped me when he saw that I obviously do not look like an Ukrainian and asked for my passport, I handed it and he started asking me something in Russian which I did not understand, then said “tourist? Student? “To which I replied that I was a tourist, he stood thinking for a while, looking at me up and down and not finding anything suspicious so that he could take some money out of me, because this is what they like to do to tourists, he gave me back my passport and turned away. Right when I climbed the stairs to exit the tunnel to the station, I got stopped by another militsia in exactly the same way.

I thought that once I was there I should already buy my train ticket to Odessa so I started searching for the queue to the foreigner’s window because there is a different one from the one Ukrainians buy their tickets. I had read about this on the internet because if you stand on the Ukrainians’ queue, you can end up losing half an hour to then be told at the window that you have to go to the foreigners’ one. Well, seeing that everything was in Russian and no English signs or even in the Latin alphabet, I ended up standing in the wrong line and losing about half an hour.

Once I reached the appropriate window, I was surprised to find out that they did not speak English even in the foreigners’ one. I had my ipod with the name of the city, the train I wanted to take and the schedule in Cyrillic written in the Notes app, to show it to the lady and have no further language barrier problems. She quickly looked for the train in the system and then asked for my passport, I gave it to her so that she could write my name on the ticket, as they normally do in Ukraine, but as my passport is in the Latin alphabet in Spanish, she could not understand which one was my name and which my surname because she could not read it. I pointed out which was which with signs and she began to write it slowly because she had to take out a sheet with a keyboard layout with the position of the Latin characters in relation to her keyboard in Cyrillic. In the end it took her about fifteen minutes to sell me the ticket which taught me that I should be at the train station a long time before my trains were due.

From there I went to the hostel whose address was easy to find but not the same for itself as it was in an ordinary-looking apartment building with just a small sign in the upper corner of a window with the name. Upon entering the building it looked like I was getting into someone’s home but when I found the hostel it was actually pretty nice.

The rest of the day I took the opportunity to sightsee, Lviv is a very nice city with a Polish air in it because it was part of Poland several times, and it looks a little like Krakow.

While walking I decided to contact some people through the couchsurfing site. I put my post in the forum saying I was traveling alone and wanted to walk with someone either local or not, to which soon after a Russian girl who was also walking around contacted me and we met by the city center. We went for a stroll and she told me that she too had contacted people from couchsurfing, they were locals and wanted to show us the city so I went with her and we all formed a nice group. It was composed of two Ukrainians, two Poles, the Russian girl and me and they were all very friendly and took us to visit places that I would have not seen if I’d been there alone, like a hill-top with a television antenna where people often do picnics or parties. I spent with them every day I was in Lviv both on my first visit and the second one when I went back to Poland and this time one of them hosted me at his place.

At the second visit, I met with the Ukrainian guys who lived there, and a different group of people from the last time among whom were a Canadian, two Ukrainians and one French girl, three of them flat mates. On my last day, we spent a nice time in a park and then they thought about going to their place and cook a pizza. The flat had a small balcony connected to the kitchen to which, in the afternoon, we went out to with a bottle of shampoo to make bubbles and the camera of one of the Ukrainians to take some pictures, chill and have a good time. One of the things that never I will forget was when under the sunset light, we all sat on the balcony floor, laughing and joking when the Canadian addressed to me with some light in his eyes and said “you know? This is what life’s all about, the little moments like this one”.

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