A Travellerspoint blog

Ukraine

Ukrainian Trains

A general rant about our experiences


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We previously blogged about the Kiev metro. It is pretty uninspiring, always packed, but reliable and cheap.

We heard that Ukraine has some very nice, modern trains particularly on the popular routes Odessa-Kiev-lviv. Some apparently even have power sockets and WiFi. We never saw anything like this on our routes. We caught a variety of trains - intercity and local. Here's a few observations about Ukrainian trains:

1. They are all extremely old, probably from Soviet era
2. The windows haven't been cleaned since Soviet times, so you are unlikely to see anything out the window due to the grime
3. They are always late (and in our case one was cancelled leaving us stranded in a small country village)
4. The attendants are mostly useless. They don't clean, or do anything. They are all grumpy.
5. If travelling in Zakarpattia don't be surprised to see your compartment taken over by gypsies (Romanis) on a free ride
6. Smoking on trains is common (especially rural trains)
7. You pay extra for bedding (50 UAH per person). This is sometimes more than the entire train fare. It is not part of the fare unless you ask for it.
8. No bins are provided and if the windows open (a big if) normal behavior seems to be chuck your rubbish out the window
9. Toilets on longer train journeys are stainless steel with a foot pedal to wash. And they are usually pretty clean (if a bit smelly). On local trains you get a hole in the timber floor. Under no circumstances go into a toilet at a rural station- we saw sights to rival Indian toilets.

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Toilet block

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Toilet inside toilet block (thankfully this one was clean)

10. Seats range from rock-hard timber benches to very hard padded benches. Bring a pillow!

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Looks more comfortable than it really is

11. How do they get the inside of the train colder than the outside temperature?
12. Walking across the train lines is completely normal. Some stations don't even have a platform.
13. Most stations are interesting in their own way. Some must have been something special in their day. Uzhgorod station even had a massive fountain inside the station which probably was impressive years ago when the water ran.

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14. Train stations are at least 10 times the size they need to be.

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Very long platform at small town station.

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The enormous and very impressive Kiev station "vokzal"

15. For some reason the train does not use the perfectly good platform, instead stopping a couple of lines accross where there is no platform.

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Station has perfectly good platform.

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Where we got off.

On the plus side:

16. Trains are extremely cheap
17. There is little difference in the fares for 1st,2nd,3rd class. That's because there is little difference in what you get. But 1st or 2nd class is good if you want a bit of privacy.
18. Maybe it was just our journeys, but the trains were mostly empty. On one long journey, we had an entire 3rd class carriage almost for ourselves. On another, we had the whole 2nd class compartment to ourselves (after we dispatched the Gypsies).
19. The UZ Mobile App (and web site) works well for purchasing tickets on line. But only for long distance trains. For local trains you can use http://poizdato.net/ (Ukrainian and Russian, no English, but easy to use if you know your Cyrillic).
20. Trains go all over Ukraine but sometimes not frequently (once a day) but sometimes the times are not friendly (3am departure, 1am arrival)
21. The train toilets on long distance trains are usually basic but clean. They usually flush, with a foot pedal, out onto the track (environmental movement hasn't made it to Ukraine- see point 8 above). Often you get lucky with toilet paper and soap.

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Small town stations.

Posted by MikeinCairns 01:46 Archived in Ukraine Comments (0)

Rural Ukraine

Finally!!

sunny 20 °C
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It has taken a lot of patience (and Google translate) but we finally secured a farm house in the rural town of Stavne in the Carpathian Mountains ($60 per night).

Lviv to Stavne was a long bus trip up and over a mountain pass (5 hrs, $10 each). The region is on the border of 5 different countries (Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Ukraine) and is a popular place for illegals crossing into the EU so there were a few military checks.

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Busy Lviv bus station - even has international coaches

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We caught a mini bus and it was pretty comfortable.

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Scenery along the way

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The local Stavne school bus looks like belongs in a BBC period drama!

We stayed in a beautifully restored timber farmhouse with a big garden of fruit trees leadining down to the Uzh River. Booked three nights/ 4 days and could have stayed forever.

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So nice to be in the country. Sounds of chickens next door. Occasional cars driving down the one street. We know the time of day from the three trains that go through town each day.

Margaret even made stuffed vine leaves and we have some fresh farm produce.

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Went walking in the hills (Carpathians). Weather has been magnificent - bright sunny 20 ish degrees but about 6 degrees at night as we are the mountains.

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Sometimes we wonder why we bother going to the big cities at all. This is the life. It has been the highlight of our Ukraine travels so far. Unfortuately, we had to move on. Caught the train to our next (and last destination in Ukraine), Uzhgorod.

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Train station toilets are a reminder that we are still in a developing country...

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At least this one is clean.

Posted by MikeinCairns 02:30 Archived in Ukraine Comments (0)

Western Ukraine

25 °C
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After the depressive five days in Kiev, we were hoping things would improve - and they certainly did.

Tunnel of Love
We saw this place on the internet and just had to go. Fortunately, it's extremely difficult to get to without a car, meaning it is not overrun with tourists.

We travelled by train From Kiev to a large town called Rivne (7hrs $10 each for a sleeper). The train had 15 carriages and was 90% empty. Just as we had mastered Russian trains, we now have to learn the finer details of Ukrainian trains. We pulled down the matressses and pillows to sleep some of the journey and were promptly told off by the attendant that we did not pay for them. Apparently bedding is an optional extra when booking a sleeper!

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Learning Ukrainian quickly to organize onward tickets.

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Small town Ukraine

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Mobile coffe van in Ukraine village

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Lutsk bus station

After arriving at Rivne train station, we found the Marshrutka (mini bus) to the one street town of Klevan for the Tunnel of Love. It was a short walk to the Tunnel and the hotel that some enterprising local had built next door $44 per night.

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Lviv
Getting out of Klevan is even more difficult than arriving. We caught another marshrutka from Klevan town to the main highway where we transferred to another for Lutsk. Once in Lutsk we caught the third bus to Lviv. It took all day. Arrived at the upmarket Lion Castle for a couple of days sightseeing Lviv $68 per night with huge breakfast.

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Another city full of beautiful buildings and monuments.

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A lot of underground dungeons to explore. Some have been turned into bars and restaurants.

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Up the city hall tower for a great view of Lviv

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Nice and sometimes weird street cafes

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An unusual playground in an apartment block

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The old classic

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The old classic !!

It has taken a lot of patience (and Google translate) but we have finally secured a farm house in rural Ukraine. Next stop Stavne!!

Posted by MikeinCairns 11:57 Archived in Ukraine Comments (0)

Kiev

Underwelming and Depressing

sunny 23 °C
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From this point, I am changing format a little. I will not detail each and every day, but summarise each location. This blog starts with Kiev, Ukraine.

Firstly, let me say this blog will probably offend Ukrainians - apologies in advance. It is our honest opinion of our first impressions of the country. Secondly, let me note that Russia is a hard act to follow, and we will invariably be making comparisons with our recent experiences in Russia.

Sometimes it's best not to have any expectations when visiting a new place. Like when we thought we would hate Beijing and then were very pleasantly surprised and had a great time. We had high expectations for Kiev and this might have been a problem. We booked 5 nights in Kiev which was at least three too many. We also had the only Airbnb we have walked out of in many years of Airbnb.

Really there is not much going on in Kiev (or at least not much of interest to us). It is a dirty city with horrible infrastructure, terribly overcrowded public transport, and is not particullary welcoming to tourists. It has a "trendy" city centre full of outrageously expensive tourist restaurants. It has no real "heart", no pedestrian malls, no nice parks or gardens. In a word it is depressing.

LATE EDIT 12 Sept....Just discovered the Kiev that was in my imagination....it's a town called Lviv in Western Ukraine. Magnificent architecture, a great old city, cobblestoned street cafes and magnificent views. We basically stuffed-up. Should have spent 1 day in Kiev and 5 days in Lviv!

So here is a quick wrap of what we did on Kiev. Mostly from recommendations of internet blogs.....

1. Stay around the station, "it's convenient" says the blogs. Wrong. We arrived at around 10pm at the Kiev central station. It was a bad vibe. Heaps of black african and indian youths everywhere (wtf) and a very seedy area. Just out of interest apart from that first night we never saw another black african in Kiev (wonder where they all go in the day time). Made a big mistake booking an Airbnb in the area. It was part of a high rise shared by some very dodgy hotels and even worse characters. Next day we checked out and moved to Golden Gate district which was much nicer.

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It migh tlook garish at night, but it is fact a beautiful railway station to rival any in Russia.

2. "Go to VDNKh park" said the blogs to see great soviet architechture. Having enjoyed the one in Moscow, we thought it might be fun to see the one in Kiev. What a bad joke. If you had not seen the one in Russia, it might have been interesting to see a few crumbling neglected buildings of the old days, but for us it was just depressing. There was virtually no one there. It was like an abandoned theme park.

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Where is everyone??

3. This site made Mezhygorie sound so interesting it was high on our to-do. Unfortunaetly, it is a scam. A really expensive park where rich Ukrainians go to do selfies and Instagram shots. The day we went there must have been at least 50 wedding parties there. Hire bikes were 2-3 times the cost at other places. The house of the corrpupt politician is a no-go area, you just look from the outside. And we never found the garage of expensive cars. Two hours was certainly enough to see the nice gardens.

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Nice gardens- pity it was just an expensive tourist trap

4. Water musuem - not a museum - more of an educational centre for kids. They let us make big bubbles with soap, make sand castles and feed the fish. Hmm.

5. Motherland Monument. Now this was great. Although I am surprised it is still standing since Ukraine has legally banned all symbolism from the Soviet days. See it while you can.

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560 tonnes of stainless steel. Seriously impressive.

6. Peoples Friendship Arch. Another magnificent soviet structure that will probably be removed. Built by the Soviets to celebrate the friendship of nations (ironical in todays political climate). It now has a painted on crack to represent the current situation between Ukraine and Russia.

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The not-so-friendly peoples arch

7. Petchersk Lavra. Probably the best thing in Kiev. A monastery complex and collection of beautiful churches. And a bell tower with a spectacular view over all Kiev. Some blogs suggested a full day, but you would need to be a serious church buff. We spent 2-3 hours and enjoyed it.

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8. Golden Gate. An interesting reconstruction in the centre of the city and historically significant for Ukrainians. It is a popular meeting spot for locals. Worth a 15 minute look.

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9. St Sophia and St Michael churches. Truly beautiful churches with so many golden domes. To be honest we were a bit "churched-out" after Russia, but enjoyed them regardless.

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Some nice churches in Kiev

10. Kiev Funicular. A 10 minutes ride up the old funicular to the park was nice for an evening activity.

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11. Kiev Metro. A very, very poor cousin to Moscow. Not only were the stations boring and unatractive, they were covered in advertisments of all sorts and occasional graffiti. The metros were always packed to rafters, day and night. However we learned that Kiev metro is the deepest in the world, and has the fastestest escalators (at least, the half that were functioning).

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Some of the more interesting metro stations

12. Independance Square. Really nice central square with fountains (actually running fountains with water!! Many public fountains have been switched off to save money), some impressive monuments, and the towering soviet Hotel Ukraine.

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13. Monument to the Frog. Enough said.

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For us, Kiev seemed like a run-down, depressed city, ashamed of their past and not ready to move to the future. It needs serious investment to maintain and renovate the city and its infrustructure. Apparently Ukraine are keen to join the EU (understandably to get protection against Russia) - who knows if this will help the situation.

We are definetly hoping the Ukraine country side is more interesting.

Posted by MikeinCairns 10:36 Archived in Ukraine Comments (0)

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