Traveling from Ukraine to Romania

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.

Traveling Ukraine Romania

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.

border Ukraine Romania Solotvyne

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.

Romania border

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.

Hitchhiking Romania

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.

Lake in Murmures

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.

Romanian-Covrigi

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!

– Alex

Probably World’s Cheapest Public Transportation: Ukraine

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.

Ukraine train ticket

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

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

– Marshrutki

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

$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

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.

Hitchhiking

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!

– Alex

The Cheapest Way to Travel Across Europe

You don’t need to be a millionaire to travel through Europe, however money helps. If you are on a budget, there are several things you can do in order to travel without breaking the bank.

Cheap flights in Europe

Flying in Europe

Flying is actually one of the cheapest ways to get around Europe. Especially if you don’t have a particular place to go to and if you are traveling light. You can fly from Warsaw to Oslo for less than 15$, from Frankfurt to London for $30. $30 will also get you from Milan to Paris. However, flying with these “low-cost” carriers may be difficult at times. You are only allowed to bring a small carry-on because checked-in luggage will cost you more than the flight itself. You also must be careful when booking a ticket. Some of these companies try to impose a bunch of extras on you which significantly increases the price of the ticket. Some even require that you print your ticket in a specific way, otherwise they fine you. Be careful.

Most known European low costs are Ryanair and WizzAir.

Ridesharing in Europe

Another cheap way of traveling around Europe is rideshare (aka car pooling). As I mentioned in a recent post (Traveling from Warsaw to Berlin) I used carpooling to get to Poland from Germany. I also went from Warsaw to Krakow and then back to Warsaw. I have also used this method in 2010, going from Berlin to Prague.

There are many ridesharing websites but BlaBlaCar seems to be the most popular one at the moment. It’s often cheaper and faster than buses and trains. The down side of carpooling is that you might not be able to find a ride exactly when you need it. A lot of site’s users offer a ride within a week of departure. If you are not time-limited, ride sharing could be a great idea but it could be hard to plan a trip in advance.

carpooling europe

Hitchhiking in Europe

For the most adventurous there is hitchhiking. The fashioned “thumbing” on the side of the road seems to be making a comeback. In most countries this method of traveling is free, however Ukraine and Romania you might be asked to pay small fee. In order to prevent a misunderstanding it’s always a good idea to make sure the driver understands that you won’t be paying for the ride. I have been reading quite a lot of articles on HitchWiki about this method of transportation since I am planning to use it in the near future.

Unfortunately don’t have much experience with hitchhiking. In 2010 I traveled through Ukraine with my own car and I picked up quite a few hitchhikers that were going my way. This year I am planning to become a hitchhiker myself, when I will be traveling through the Balkans. I guess after that trip i will be able to share quite a few stories on this blog.

Got anything to add? Comment below!

– Alex

Free Walking Tours in Warsaw

The best way to see any city is by simply walking through it. Especially when you have a knowledgeable guide. This is exactly what I did in Warsaw: Free Walking Tours.

Walking Tour Warsaw

photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

I actually attended 3 of the 4 possible tours: Old Town Warsaw, Communist Warsaw, Alternative Warsaw. Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to do the Jewish Warsaw tour. The guides were great, friendly and they knew the history of their city in great detail. Our guide, Agnes, not only knew lots of cool stories and details about Warsaw and the world history in general, she also made us laugh quite often with her great jokes.

– The Old Town Warsaw walking tour takes you through… well, the old town of the city. On this tour you will learn lots about the city, how it was destroyed and how it was rebuilt, mostly from looking at 18th century paintings of Warsaw. That’s the tour that will make you understand why the residents of Warszawa are so proud of their city. Everyday at 12 pm. and 6 pm. (summer schedule).

– The Communist Tour concentrates on the USSR influence and another part of Polish and Warsaw history. A lot of historical facts will be told by the guide so you could understand why the communism was not the most favorite regime of the people. Of course you will be making a stop at the infamous Palace of Culture and Science and a few other “key” locations. Wed. Fri. Sun. at 10:30 am. (summer schedule).

– The Alternative Warsaw tour is brand new. I think we were one of the first groups (if not the first) that went on that tour. This tour takes you away from the central Warsaw all the way across the Vistula river, to the Praga district. Praga has been the ghetto of the city but is now turning into a hip district. I could probably compare it to Berlin’s Kreuzberg or Montreal’s Plateau. Hipsters are starting to take over because the rent is cheap and the district is getting more and more artsy and fun. If you want to see bears practically walking on the street, if you want too see where “The Pianist” was filmed, if you want to see what many tourists won’t see – I highly suggest this tour. Mon.Thu.Sat. 10:30 am. (summer schedule).

The free walking tours in Warsaw are free and the guides earn their “paychecks” with money that attendees contribute at the end of the tour. The cool thing is that you are not obliged to give them any money. This makes the tour accessible even to the tourists on very low budgets. However, if you can – please do contribute as much as you think your guide deserves.

The same foundation offers free tours in other cities of Poland, such as Wroclaw and Krakow. I can only imagine these tours are as great as the ones in Warsaw.

Check out their website here for the tours schedule or like their Facebook page. I like their FB page because they constantly posts cool facts and stories about the city.

Got anything to add? Comment below!

Warsaw to Berlin – Cheapest Way to Travel

In April I decided to leave Warsaw for a week and visit Berlin, my favorite city in the world. There are many ways to get there but what’s the cheapest way to get from Warsaw to Berlin?

Berlin to Warsaw

Warsaw – Berlin by air:

This is the first option that comes to mind – however this is usually the most expensive one. The cheapest plane ticket I found from Warsaw to Berlin was about 200 ($280). I am sure you might be able to find some cheaper low-cost flights from time to time but I wasn’t able to find any.

Warsaw – Berlin by train:

Traveling by train is often comfortable and the train journey from Warsaw to Berlin lasts a little more than 5 hours (no connections needed). The train ride will cost you abut € 60 ($80). A lot cheaper than flying, however, still not the cheapest way.

Warsaw – Berlin by bus:

PolskiBus.com is a quite popular way of getting to Berlin from Warsaw (or back). Traveling a long distance by bus is not very comfortable – but it is cheaper. PolskiBus leaves Warsaw and stops in 2 other Polish cities before heading to Berlin – this is why it takes almost 9 hours to reach the destination. The cost? € 25 ($35) if you purchase the ticket a few days before leaving. You can pay as low as € 12-13 ($17) if you buy this ticket months in advance.

Warsaw – Berlin by rideshare:

Rideshare or carpooling is becoming more and more popular around the world. It seems like BlaBlaCar.com is the most popular car-sharing website in Europe. On this website you can either find a driver with a car, or offer a ride in your car for a relatively small fee. The goal here is not to make money but to simply split the cost of fuel. The prices vary from 15 € to 35 € but the number that I see most of the time is 22 € ($30). Warsaw to Berlin car trip takes about 5 hours.

 

The Best and Cheapest Way to Travel from Berlin to Warsaw (Warsaw to Berlin).

Flying is expensive. Trains are expensive. I went from Warsaw to Berlin by bus for 25 € – which is rather cheap, but I really hated being in the bus for about 9 hours. PolskiBus also advertizes free WiFi on board, however WiFi was not available in that bus, which made the trip that much longer. On my way back from Berlin to Warsaw I decided to go with rideshare (BlaBlaCar). For a bit more than 20 € I got to Warsaw within 5 hours. Besides the fast trip, I was also a lot more comfortable in the car (it was actually a Mercedes van) than in the bus. So my personal recommendation would be carpooling. It’s the most comfortable and fastest way to travel without breaking the bank.

Got anything to add? Comment below!

Cheap Accomodations in Europe (free accomodations)

CouchSurfingI am finally back home to Montreal after almost 7 months spent in Europe. First of all – it was amazing. No regrets about anything, I wouldn’t exchange this experience for anything in the world. Now, less about me and more about things YOU could do when you travel.

I have used Couch Surfing pretty much throughout the whole trip (except Poland and Ukraine where I had friends and family). What exactly is CouchSurfing (CS)? It’s an online community of folks who help each other travel. People from all over the world offer you a place to sleep, free of charge. Why? Because they want to help, because they want to learn about other cultures, because they want to meet new friends…  So basically before you go to a city, you do a search for available couches on CS then you sent requests to people you think you’d like to stay with. My experience with CS has been simply amazing! The Italian Alessio in Amsterdam, The German Mirjam in Brussels, The Russian DJ Andrei in Cologne, The Surf/Beach bum Bjorn in Berlin – and many others, all amazing people who did not only let me sleep at their place but also took me around town, introduced me to their friends and even got me pretty tipsy at times:)

At first my friends were freaking out when they heard I’d be couchsurfing. I was told that only pervs and freaks invite strangers to their house… well I guess not:) CS is free, people are generally very friendly and interesting and the experience is simply unbelivable! This is probably the cheapest way to travel, I mean you can’t get cheaper than 0$. So check out CouchSurfing, get a free account and start meeting people!