Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Western Ukraine

On the train to Lviv, somebody was saying about the living conditions in the Emirates, particularly that the pension in there is $90,000. A local guy who was in the same cabin as me asked why do you need so much money? Whatcha going to do with it, change your furniture every month? First we gave him a strange look, then we all laughed at him, and I told him, as they say, there isn't too much money, there's only little imagination.
While I was in Lviv, I decided to use the opportunity to renew my Ukrainian visa by crossing the Poland border. I've heard terrible stories about people fighting for every inch of space, and that I would have to wait hours upon hours. Doesn't sound like too much fun. This border is very famous for smuggling cigarettes. You can bring two packs which cost 10 times more in Poland, and you don't need a visa if you go for a day. So a bunch of grandmothers make this trip back and forth 5 times per day. Apparently 20 plus percent or so of Poland cigarettes are smuggled in!
Luckily for me it was a holiday and the border was empty! Not a single person, I was even worried that it's closed. I crossed it, turned around and entered back. I was a bit nervous, but they didn't ask me a single question. Now I have 3 more months ... jeez, I hope I wouldn't need it!
Lviv is a pleasant city with a nice historical center filled with way too many themed restaurants. There is a lion restaurant where you can eat in a cage and have paws of lions sticking through every wall. Then there is a sewage restaurant with pipes running through the sitting areas, and videos of Lviv's sewage system. There is a Jewish restaurant where there are no prices on the menu, and you have to bargain for your food. There is a sado masochism restaurant where you can pay the waitress to whip you :) A kerosin lamp restaurant, a pharmaceutical restaurant with smoke coming out of colorful bottles, a restaurant that has a car on the roof and statues sitting on the chimneys, and in general the city is filled with a bunch of churches, statues, and painted buildings, but after a while, it all looks the same :)
Went to a restaurant in a place where people used to hide during the war. A properly clothed soldier with Kalashnikov and all, opens the door, asks you for the password. He says "Glory to Ukraine!" and you answer "Glory to heroes!", then gives you a shot of vodka, lets you in through a secret book shelf door and leads you through some passage to the basement, quickly quickly to your table, you can't wait because "they" are searching for you :) Over all you sit in a bunker like space with blinking lights, soldiers' uniforms and weapons hanging everywhere ... it's fun! At the end some girls wanted to take a picture of the guard, he lifted his hand almost kicked her and yelled out "No Chinese shit in here!"
Having problems getting money out. All 100s banks won't accept my card ... welcome to Ukraine! Even in Bolivia it works! Thank god the prices are cheap, and $40 lasted me good few days. Finally I managed to take the money out with Visa.
I'm done with cities, want to go to the mountains ... NOW!!!
I met this super weird guy in the hostel, or should I rather say "crazy!". I don't know what he's been doing or snorting, he even saw god!!! It was funny to listen to him for a while. He was late for quite a few planes, and then run out of money and in the airport tried to get on every plane that went home without a ticket. Then he opened a hostel in Odessa out of the blue. I don't even know how many of his stories were true, if any, and how he still managed to stay alive. But nevertheless there he was, and he decided to go with me to the mountains ... hmm ....
Arrived in a nice, small very cute town in the middle of the Carpathian mountains - Yaremche. We found some extremely nice B&B, looked like a cabin in the woods. I can finally relax, breath in the fresh air and smile :) Everybody speaks only Ukrainian, but they're friendly enough to slow down and explain what they mean. People warned me about Western Ukraine, and how much they don't like the Russians and the Russian language, and advised me to speak to them in English rather than in Russian to get a better service, but I found everybody to be super nice ... I don't know, maybe they saw that I was a foreigner anyway. Which Russian in their right mind would walk with sports pants in the middle of the city when the local women put on make up and high heels just to throw the garbage out? :)
Off we go to climb the highest mountain in Ukraine - Hoverla, which is not that high at all, just 2061 meters. We, well - I, decided to walk to the mountain from a nearby village which is 24 kms away. I thought the walk would be on a trail, but nope, it was all on the road ... sucks! 7 hours later I'm too tired to move and after dinner could barely reach the room. The "hotel" is funny. They don't have a menu. You just order from a receptionist an hour before, pay, and go to the "restaurant" for a surprise meal. What I can say is that there are too many potatoes!
In the morning, I woke up 2 hours earlier to make an extra hike cause hiking for 6 hours is just not enough! Luckily we met a Polish guy in the room next door who told us that we should take the long route up the mountain which is still closed due to too much snow! And thank god we did. It was more beautiful and easy. Of course there was a part where we had to go up a 45 degree slope knee deep in snow, but hey, what is life without adventure? :) Up on the mountain, it was beautiful but windy and freezing. We still needed to stay up there long enough for the soaks and shoes to dry. On the way down we took a shorter route, which pretty much went vertically down, or vertically up for the people who climbed to the top. The same views could be enjoyed half way up and I was feeling bad for the people who could barely breath and hoping that the next peak they see is the top ... no it wasn't!
Barely arrived alive back in the lodge, but that's not the end of it, now we have to walk for 7 more kms till the bus station, but luckily the staff changed in the hotel and they offered us a ride back to town. We arrived exhausted, didn't even go to dinner and went to sleep hungry.
In the morning while I was in the shower, he was on his computer doing nothing important as it seemed. When he took a shower, I was packing. It was half an hour till the train and 20 minutes to get there. He comes out of the shower and tells me that "we won't make it". I tell him "I don't know about 'we', but I'll make it. I'll wait for you at the train station". He didn't make it. People can be so irresponsible!
After the train, I took a bus to Verhovina, another small mountain village. I walked around for a bit, didn't find anything interesting, and anyway, it's not a town to be in all by yourself. So I took the next bus to Kosiv. The bus broke down, I'm not sure how not all the buses break down on these roads, which I must admit the worst I've seen in ANY country, and trust me I've been on some bad roads! There was a mini van that passed by and picked me up, cause they said that I look like a traveler, and I obviously need help :) The driver started asking me about Canada: if you can't build any house you want, if you can't fish, can't make fire in the forest, can't put a tent anywhere in the forest, what kind of freedom is that? Yes ... makes you think.
Didn't like Kosiv either and took a bus to Kolomya which is one hour from where I left in the morning, and I arrived there after making a huge loop, at 5:30pm.
At Kolomya I went to a very cute B&B. Everything's spotless, new, decorated with taste. I immediately loved it, and happily fell asleep at 9 :) Woke up at 9 as well, went to town center which was another boring European looking town. Didn't find anything interesting, went back to the B&B at 3pm and fell asleep again. Then had dinner with some boring American peace corps. Why do people need to be so fake, to act so perfect, it doesn't look perfect at all! Sitting there with perfectly straight back, controlling their every move and every word. Reminded me of a Russian saying "In a quite swamp the devils live"!
Took a good, new, AC, big bus to Chernivtsi. Well that took forever. No more good buses, only marshrutkas (small private mini buses) who speed on the pot holes when the big buses crawls over them. So instead of 1.5 hours, it took 3.5 hours.
Arrived in Chernivtsi which is much better than Kolomya, even though I can't really explain why. It's still European looking :) It has some nice university, and you have to take an excursion to see it. So many tourists, but I don't know, it's just a building.
Next day drove with tourists from Belarussia (and 1 baby) to Khotin. I wish I would continue travelling with a baby if I'll have one one day. Khotin was awesome for half an hour, it's a beautiful castle built with nice views, but the main reason I went there was to see the medieval festival, but it turned out to be pretty boring. I guess not enough people to cheer and participate in activities. But I got to throw an axe, a knife and a spear. I got an axe in, and I also shot an arbalest, and I got it in! Yei!! The guy said not many people do :) I don't know why, it was quite easy.
Crashed in the hotel, didn't even take a shower.
Took a minivan to Kamenets-Podilskii, another castle. There was only 1 person in the minivan and a driver, both of whom where male, and I barely got in, kinda scary, why aren't there more passengers when usually people are sticking out of the windows in every marshrutka? I've heard enough horror stories, but instead they kept feeding me apples, pears and nuts :)
KP is nice. Unlike Khotin it actually has a historic town attached to it with Polish and Armenian quarters. Too bad (or too good) that it was already Monday evening, and there were no people. I was in the castle on my own, and good thing that it was open till 7 when the guidebook said 5. For some reason they charged me a student ticket price, maybe because they actually didn't give me a ticket? I walked around and enjoyed the emptiness of the castle. Then went outside to explore and was happy with peace, views and my pix :)
It's 9pm, I'm already falling asleep, and I have a sitting night train that leaves at 1:30. I wonder how that's gonna go!!?
It went fine, except that 2 weeks later, my neck still hurts :S

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