I’ve been back home to Montreal for a while now and I really miss being on the move. Most importantly I really miss the Balkans, the people, the food the music.
Luckily I live in one of the most multicultural cities of North America: Montréal. Just this past week-end I had the chance to attend a few shows (thanks to Mundial Montreal) and once again, I’ve felt the spirit of the Balkans.
I have seen the Lemon Bucket Orkestra in concert more than a few times, but their show on November 21st 2014 at Club Soda was probably one of their biggest shows in the province of Quebec. I also brought the camera with me so I could record a few of their songs and share it with you.
So, without further ado, the Lemon Bucket Orkestra!
After spending a month in Kyiv I decided to start moving towards the Balkans. Of course before leaving Ukraine I had to spend some time in Lviv as I mentioned in Lviv during the day and Lviv in the evening posts.
The cheapest way from Lviv to Romania was by train (mostly). So I purchased my 115UAH ($10) train tickets for the train #601, Lviv – Solotvyne. The train departs at 20:40 and arrives to the border town of Solotvyne around 9am. The ticket for the 2nd class sleeper compartment also includes fresh sheets so you could get a good night sleep. Solotvyne is a small Ukrainian town that feels very Transylvanian. You can find statues for such figures as Stefan cel Mare (prince of Moldovia in 15th century), some streets names are Romanian, etc.
After a 10-15 minutes walk through the town you’ll get to the border with Romania. One of the reasons I chose the Solotvyne border was being able to walk across it, which I’ve never done before. We tried to take a photo of the border crossing on Ukrainian side and got yelled at by one of the agents so we kept on walking. Show your passports and keep on going through the bridge over Tisa river. Take your passports again for the Romanian border officers, look at their surprised faces (I guess not many Canadians cross this small border by foot). The passport control guy sent us for the “luggage inspection” but when the inspection lady saw we had Canadian passports she told us to close the bags and have a good time in Romania.
They mostly inspect the bags and merchandise of locals who bring in stuff into Romania. These old Ukrainian ladies are real hustlers. They bring in 1 pack of cigarettes, 1 kg of potatoes, a bag of apples and a few other things to the small market on the Romanian side of the border, hoping to make a few bucks. Romania is more expensive than Ukraine, so Romanians are happy to buy some discount products from their neighbors.
Ukrainian exit border in Solotvyne
We got a little unlucky with the weather as it was raining most of the day. We crossed Sighetu-Marmatiei (Romanian bordering town) and got ready for our first hitchhiking adventure. To be honest it was completely out of my comfort zone. I’ve never done this before and I was seriously nervous about it. I drew up a sign, stood on the side of the road with hopes that someone will offer us a ride.
This is also when I learned one of the very important hitchhiking lessons.
I wrote “BUCHAREST” on the sign. However, Bucharest was 600km away (9 hours drive on Romanian roads). I didn’t occur to me that no one is going to Bucharest. I was on a small road, outside of a small town, 600 km away from destination… after some time I made more signs with names of near-by towns (like Bistrita). After about 30 minutes wait an older Audi finally stopped. I was getting a bit desperate and annoyed with the rain so I didn’t care where the car was going, I just wanted to get away from where I was.
Marius and Paula
Marius and Paula were driving to Baia Mare and offered us a lift which we gladly accepted. We started to talk about this and that and they offered to do a little detour in order to show us a lake. Sure, why not! When we got to the lake I was very glad we made the detour because the place was simply gorgeous! Romanian nature is a must see.
After the short visit to the lake we kept on to Baia Mare, while listening to some Romanian pop. The “30 De Grade” song is still stuck in my head. In fact I listen to it from time to time, reminiscing those summer moments.
Finally we arrived to Baia Mare and Paula said they needed to make a last short stop before leaving us at the exit of the city where we will be able to get another ride. So we stopped, Paula left and came back a few moments later with a bag of Covrigi for us. A very popular snack in Romania, kind of similar to a bagel but yet totally different. That was incredibly sweet of her and made our first hitchhiking experience that much more amazing.
Covrigi in Baia Mare
In Baia Mare we made a sign for Dej, next town on the way to Bucharest and it took only a few minutes to hitch a ride with an older Romanian guy who didn’t speak English. Good thing I can speak some basic Romanian. We got to Dej and made another sign for Cluj. A few cars stopped and they asked for money however when we told them “fara bani” (without money) they smiled and left. However, moments later an old Audi A6 stopped with two very young Romanians who were listening to manele and they told us to get in.
Somewhere on the way they picked up a local “hitchhiker” who gave them some money for the ride. This is when I realized that hitchhiking in Romania is actually a popular mode of transportation although unlike in most other countries, you are expected to pay a small fee for the ride.
The guys explained that a lot of people from Cluj go to Bucharest and it should be easy to catch a ride. Once we got to Cluj we figured out where the road to Bucharest was and we started walking towards that road. While walking up a pretty steep hill I lost my water bottle so I stopped at a petrol station to buy another one. I also thought it would be a good place to hitchhike. When I came in the shop the clerk told me it was a bad place to hitchhike and recommended to walk another 1km, just past a roundabout. He said I will see locals hitchhiking there because that’s the good spot.
So we kept on walking, past the roundabout and finally we saw a bunch of locals trying to hitch rides to nearby towns and villages. The good sign was that others were hitchhiking, so it was a good spot indeed. The bad thing was that we had to compete with locals (and there were many of them). We got to that spot after 6pm, which is usually not a great time to hitchhike as it’s getting late. It took us over 3 hours (!!!) to finally get a ride but more on that in the next post.
In the next post I will be sharing more stories and experiences from Romania so stay tuned!
Lviv offers a variety of things to do and see in the evening. In the previous post I wrote about visiting Lviv mostly during the day. However, once the sun goes down and you leave the High Castle you should probably find a place for a drink.
There is a chain of bars and restaurants in Lviv owned by “Lokal” group and I must admit these guys are making the city’s nightlife a lot more attractive. They run many themed establishments and you should try to check out at least some of them. If possible, get a Lokal loyalty card which will offer some perks and rebates.
Inside Kryjivka, photo from www.fest.lviv.ua
Kryjivka is the last hiding place of Ukrainian Insurgent Army left from the times of the World War II. Designed as a bunker, this restaurant offers a very unique experience. First of all, the queue might be long as this place accepts over 1 million visitors per year. Once you get to the unmarked door and knock on it, you’ll be asked for a password (“Slava Ukraini”). Then you will be greeted by a man with machine gun who will offer you a shot of vodka. Once they show you to your table, take your time to look around. The decorations are awesome and you really do feel like you’re in the 40’s.
The food is okay, nothing spectacular. We ordered dark beer but it was flat and tasted more like bad cider. I sent it back, although the waitress tried to persuade me that this beer is exactly the way it’s suppose to be. The thing is that earlier we went to another establishment and got the same exactly beer which was great. Our friend (couchsurfing host in Lviv) admitted that she woudn’t send it back – because it’s not something people do in Ukraine. Anyways, they changed our dark beer to light without arguing, which surprised me.
Conclusion: Kryjivka is a must see, it might not have the best food but the place is really special and memorable.
Find it at: Rynok square, 14
House of Legends (Дiм Легенд)
House of Legends, Lviv
This building has many different rooms and each room offers a different theme. In one of the rooms you can lock yourself in a cage, in the library room you can read pick any book and read it. In the summer time there is also a cool terrace on the roof of the building which offers a great view on the old town. You can also go sit in a Trabant and take some photos. Now, I wouldn’t recommend getting a table on the terrace because the whole night you’ll have people coming up to the roof to take some photos. I got a feeling that the people at the table were starting to be bothered of all the people walking around them, pushing their chairs and constantly throwing coins.
The 4L Beer at House of Legends
We ordered a 4-liter beer and a cheese plate, which was great but I cannot tell you about the rest of the food. The service was not the fastest but we weren’t in a hurry. All in all great experience and well worth the visit.
Find it at: 48 Staroevreiska Str.
Mazoch-Cafe (Мазох Кафе)
Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, a famous erotica writer, was born in Lviv. The term “masochism” derived from his name. Not really my scene but it is very unique and special. Chains, candle wax, whipping and a lot more is on the menu. For some reason the atmosphere in the cafe made me think of the Korova Milk Bar in “Clockwork Orange”… it doesn’t look the same but it has some similar vibes, at least that’s how I saw it. All the drinks and food have “sexy” names such as “Almost orgasm”, “Not a virgin” and many others. We decided to keep things simple and went with Dark Zenik (their own beer brand, found in most “Lokal” establishments).
So what exactly happens at this place? I think the name says it all… and in case you’re still wondering, here is video from Youtube to give you an idea:
Before entering the cafe you will also see a life-size statue of Leopold Masoch in front of the door. Don’t be shy, put your hand in his left pocket and tell me what you find
Find it at: 7 Serbska Str.
Charles Bukowski Pub
This pub does not belong to “Lokal” which makes it very attractive for the residents of the city. Prices are very low (beer for less than a $1) and they also serve food! You can play pool, enjoy your drink and a cigarette and simply relax. One late night, in the middle of the week where most bars were closed, we decided to check out the Bukowski pub. Our friend told us it’s rather filthy and not touristy – so we got really excited about it! In a basement, the pub plays rock music and is often referred to as Lviv’s backstage. Many musicians have been spotted there after their shows in the city.
The music is loud, it’s full of cigarette smoke and once again, the alcohol is cheap – I guess a real pub. I could compare it to Montreal’s “Foufounes Électriques” where most rock/punk crowd hangs out.
Find it at: Ivana Franka 3.
There are many other cool places in Lviv, unfortunately I do not remember the names of many of them. There are clubs as well but I never managed to make it there, I didn’t really want to either. The point is that Lviv offers a pretty interesting and various nightlife, from bars to clubs, passing through pubs and restaurants. Mind that the municipal law does not allow stores to sell alcohol after 10pm, however you can easily find place that will gladly sell booze at any time of the day or night, you just have to look for them.
Best hot dog I ever had
If you get hungry after an evening of drinking, I would highly suggest trying one of Lviv’s hot dogs (many hot dog joints are open 24 hours). For $0.70 you will get a big hot dog, loaded with sauses, corn and many other ingredients. Unhealthy, tasty and cheap!
I lived in Ukraine for the first 14 years of my life. I went to school in Kyiv, I went to the seaside during summers and I’ve spent a fair share of time in the Carpathian mountains as a kid but somehow I never went to Lviv, the city of lions.
In front of Lviv Opera, photo by Elizabeth Viatkin
In 2010 I drove through Lviv but I got so annoyed with the confusing streets and never ending cobble stones that I decided to not stop in the city. In 2014 I ended up in Ukraine once again. I was going from Warsaw to Kyiv and decided to stop in Lviv for a day so I could meet a local entrepreneur/travel blogger.
Little did I know that one day stop would make me fall in love with this beautiful city. Since I didn’t come by car the streets appeared as very cute and historical. The cobble stones made me think of old medieval towns and the whole city just had a very welcoming vibe. I spent the whole day walking around Lviv even though there was a pretty serious rain storm outside. I made a promise to myself to come back to Lviv and spend more than a day there.
One month later, after visiting Kyiv I went back to Lviv for a few days. Just 3-4 hours before arriving to Lviv I sent out a few CouchSurfing requests and surprisingly enough got a reply almost instantly, from Liliia. We took a tram from the train station to the center of the city and our awesome host. Liliia turned out to be not only a great host but also a great guide who showed us the city, introduced us to her friends and all in all helped us have a great experience.
First of all, Lviv is really different from all the other Ukrainian cities. Ukraine could have probably been like Lviv but the huge influence of the USSR made it different. Most ex-Soviet cities have the cold square architecture that looks quite boring. Lviv, however, perserved an interesting mix of Ukrainian, Polish,Armenian, Jewish, German and Austrian cultures. Somehow the city survived two World Wars and now offers us its architecture in the original form. In 1998 Lviv’s historic center became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
One of Lviv’s Cathedrals, photo by Elizabeth Viatkin
I can keep on going about the old historical facts but you can find this info on wikipedia. Now let’s talk about what I have seen and liked in that city and what I recommend seeing when you visit Lviv, Ukraine.
Walking around Lviv
Right next to the Lviv’s Opera House (which you can’t miss) there is Lesi Ukrainky street where you can find a small market with loads of cool souvenirs: magnets, Ukrainian traditional clothing, paintings and a lot more. I couldn’t resist buying a t-shirt there. Remember that you can haggle with the vendors for a more authentic bazaar experience.
Lviv Theater of Opera, photo by Elizabeth Viatkin
From the market walk back to the theater and enjoy a relaxing walk through the Svobody avenue all the way down to Mitskevycha square. On your way you can grab some ice cream and enjoy it on of the numerous benches, if they aren’t taking up by a group of old men playing chess. Now you can head to Rynok Square (Market Square) to see more beautiful buildings, street performers, cute shops and a lot more. You can easily spend 2-3 days just walking around the old town.
What to visit in Lviv
Lychakiv Cemetery is a must-see in Lviv. This cemetery is like nothing I have ever seen before.
Lychakivske Cemetery, photo by Elizabeth Viatkin
Lychakiv Cemetery, Lviv, photo by Elizabeth Viatkin
The Lychakiv Cemetery (Lychakivs’kyi tsvyntar) is one of Europe’s oldest and most famous cemeteries. Along the regular tombstones you will find grand monuments and even small chapels. The place has a unique feel to it and you could spend hours there, wondering around and reading writings in Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, Latin, Hebrew and some other languages.
Chapel,Lychakiv Cemetery, photo by Elizabeth Viatkin
This is the only cemetery (in my experience) that charges an entry fee, unless you have relatives buried there. I think the fee is a couple of euros, although we went in for free. If you go through the main entrance, you will pay the fee. If you go through a different side, you might get in without paying.
Lviv High Castle
Right before the sunset you should start climbing up the High Castle (Vysokyi zamok). The hike to the top might make you sweat so bring a bottle of water with you. Most people get a little disappointed once they reach the High Castle since there is no castle… Once upon a time there was a castle but it was destroyed by different wars. The city considered reconstructing the castle but it isn’t possible at the moment (and I am sure it would be crazy expensive). This place is the highest point of the city and offers a great view, especially during early evening.
Lviv High Castle photo by Elizabeth Viatkin
When we got to the High Castle there were a lot of people, taking photos, enjoying the weather and even launching candle powered light balloons. This is another “must-see” place in Lviv.
Lviv has in incredible coffee culture. You can get a cup of coffee anywhere and everywhere. Besides coffee shops I’d highly suggest trying out Ukrainian food. There is no shortage of restaurants in the city. For a very unique coffee experience I would highly recommend the Lviv Coffee Mining Manufacture(Львівська копальня кави) located near the main square, Lemkivska Street 15a. If you are not in the mood for a coffee I still suggest going to his place and checking out their basement. Before going “to the mine” you’ll be handed an old metal helmet (for obvious reasons). Take a tour of the underground cafe, find a table in one of the poorly lit corners and enjoy the ambiance.
Lvivske Museum of Beer & Brewing is very affordable and interesting. For $2 you get 2 freshly brewed beers and access to the museum. You can visit the museum by yourself, however a guided visit is a lot more interesting. You should contact the museum in advance to find out about their tours in English. The exhibition was cool, the short documentary about Lvivske beer was interesting and the beer was amazing. I don’t remember the last time I tasted such fresh beer.
Pharmacy Museum, Lviv, photo by Elizabeth Viatkin
Pharmacy Museum, Lviv, photo by Elizabeth Viatkin
There is also a “Pharmacy Museum” which is pretty unique, loads of gorgeous churches, cathedrals and other historical monuments, even the main Post Office is worth walking into! I am sure I’m forgetting a lot of details and places, so Lviv is yours to discover. I am still surprised (but happy) that Lviv is not more known abroad. The city is simply amazing, a lot to see and do and prices are incredibly low, especially for Western travelers. There is a huge demand for cities like Lviv and I think now is the right time to visit, before the city gets ruined by the tourists and turns into another Prague…
“Something Interesting” gift shop in Lviv, photo by Elizabeth Viatkin
Besides the landmarks, restaurants and coffee shops Lviv offers a lively and interesting night life which you should not miss. More on that in the next post.
Have you ever been to Lviv? Would you like to go there? Let me know in the comments!
Transportation and accommodations are the two biggest expenses while traveling… in most countries. For instance a city bus fare will set you back $1.50 in Warsaw, $3 in Montreal and almost $4 in Berlin… or $0.20 in Ukraine. You will pay $140 for a 500-600km train ride between Berlin and Dusseldorf. Montreal – New York (similar distance) will cost you $80.
Ukrainian train ticket. Unfortunately nothing is written in English.
The same distance in Ukraine (Lviv – Kyiv) will cost you about $12, that’s including a set of fresh bed sheets, in a sleeping cabin.
As you might have guessed, this post is about the public transportation in Ukraine. In 2014 I managed to try out the trains, buses, private mini buses, trolleybuses, tramways, metro (subway) and even hitchhiking at one occasion.
Trains in Ukraine.
Trains remain the most popular way of traveling long distances in Ukraine. With over 23,000 of railway tracks Ukraine is the world’s 6th largest rail passenger transporter (thanks, wikipedia). Trains are relatively fast and incredibly cheap. I would suggest paying a few dollars extra to get a bed in a “coupé” (2nd class) – that’s a compartment with 4 beds, separated by a door from the other compartments and the train hallway. However, you might consider trying a slightly cheaper but a lot more authentic “Platzkart” (3rd class). There are 54 beds in the Platzkart, compartments are separated from one another, however there is no door separation you from the hallway. You will hear every single sneeze and you will see every single person passing through the wagon.
Here is the layout of Coupe (on top) and Platzkart (bottom):
Layout of train cars – Ukrainian Railways
I took a train from Lviv to Kyiv for $12. Then “electrified train” (електричка aka suburban train) Kyiv – Vinnytsya – Kyiv for $3 each way, then Rivne – Lviv and finally a night train from Lviv to Solotvyno ($9), a border town where I crossed to Romania by foot. Once again, highly recommended method of traveling in Ukraine.
Buses in Ukraine
Ukraine offers an enormous amount of private bus transport companies. There are buses that will take you everywhere and anywhere. Buses are usually more expensive than trains, take as long if not longer and they are a lot less comfortable. I had to take a bus from Kyiv to Rivne (since I couldn’t find a train for that trip). This 300+km trip cost $10 and took about 6 hours. Please note there are usually no restrooms in the bus. Not the best way to travel (in any country) but the vast availability and multiple daily departures make this method of traveling quite popular.
Transportation Inside The City
Most Ukrainian cities offer several means of public transportation: buses, trolleybuses, tramways, mini-buses and metro (in Kyiv). Buses seems to be dying out in the cities since they are being replaced by the private “marshrutki” – or mini buses. These big vans (or small buses) have very interesting routes and could take you from one part of the city to another for $0.30 within a very reasonable amount of time. They are often more convenient and even cheaper than public transport.
For instance, you might need to take a tram, then metro then trolleybus to reach your destination. Since tickets are not transferable in Ukraine you will have to buy 3 separate tickets at 2 hryvnya each for a total of 6 hryvnya ($0.60). Or you could use a “marshrutka” for only $0.30 and it will take exactly where you need to go without changing the line. The big problem with these mini-buses is that they don’t have a posted route (main stops of the route are written on the side of the bus). Yet, people somehow just know which mini-bus goes where. You will have to ask the locals if you are planning on using this method of transportation.
These mini-buses can also take you to near-by villages and some even do long distance trips. A lot of locals use this service to travel within 15-50km of the city since state-run bus service is almost non-existent.
– Tramways and Trolleybuses
These historical pieces of transport are still rather popular in Ukraine. Prices ranging from $0.15 to $0.20 per trip make trams and trolleys in Ukraine one of the cheapest public transport in the world. Tickets are usually sold by the conductor or the driver. Students pay half price and it’s free for most old people, war heroes, etc. There is something about tramways that I just can’t explain, especially about the old Soviet trams that still run strong, wandering the streets of Ukrainian cities, throwing you from one side to another. It’s wonderful.
$0.20 tramway ticket in Lviv
Metro (Subway) in Ukraine
Kyiv’s underground metro system is the most popular way of getting around the city. You can always beat the traffic by using the subway. 3 lines (4th one under construction), 52 station and less than $0.20 ticket price aren’t the only great things. Arsenalna station is one of the world’s deepest metro stations (over 100 meters underground!). Ukrainian metro opened in 1960 – so it was built by the communists, for the communists. Most station offer impressive architecture and feel more like museums than metro stations. The trains arrive every 2 minutes or less, so the waiting time is incredibly short compared to many other cities/countries.
Kyiv Metro Entrance – photo by Elizabeth Viatkin
I was surprised to find out that Kyiv subway is adding more and more English to its signs and announcements. There is still a lot of work to be done but most tourists will be able to make it around the metro without any issues. You can purchase the tickets (or should I say plastic coins) at orange ticket machines or at the cashier’s desk.
Taxi in Ukraine
This time around I took a cab only once, in Lviv. I mentioned it in Warsaw to Lviv post. A bus dropped me off on the outskirts of Lviv at 3 am. I took a cab to the central station (pretty long ride on the cobble-stoned streets while in an old beat up Lada). It cost $4, which is also very cheap for a cab. I would suggest calling official taxy companies, or even better asking a local to call a cab – this way you won’t overpay.
Last but not least: hitchhiking. A lot of locals use hitchhiking as a method of transportation inside and outside of the cities. However, you are normally expected to pay a small fee to the driver. The fee is usually agreed upon in advance. While in Lviv I met two people who constantly travel around Ukraine without paying. They simply tell the driver they don’t have the money (before getting in the car) and most people still take them. If you have a sign with your destination – people will assume you are not local and might take you out of curiosity. If you are a foreigner, you might also get free rides because people will be surprised (as Ukraine doesn’t get many foreign hitchhikers). Just like in any other country – be careful and listen to your “inside voice” when hitchhiking.
If you are planning to travel to or through Ukraine, I highly suggest checking out “Ukraine Travel Secrets” – very well detailed travel site where you could not only find lots of great info but can also book tickets!
Do you have any questions about traveling in Ukraine? Let me know in the comments!