Marg and Leigh's travels around the world

We are two retired women from New Zealand, busy travelling the world. Our quest is to experience other cultures before they are changed beyond recognition, and see endangered animals and environments before they disappear. We hope you like our blog and enjoy our exploits. We sure have had fun getting here.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Ukraine from Poland

Entering Ukraine
Leaving Zamość, Poland we drove to the Ukraine border. After waiting in a queue of cars for over 1 hour to exit Poland, we swapped lanes into the bus queue in the hope that it would reduce our wait. It worked, as after two buses we were waved on ahead of the cars!

The officials thoroughly searched Vanni, then suddenly waved us out of Poland and on to Ukraine customs.

We managed a friendly reception from the first Ukraine official who wanted our passports; a little more solemn from the next one who thoroughly searched Vanni, asking us about the drugs in our first aid kit. Finding that no-one spoke any English at all, we prodigiously used (and quietly blessed) our Google Translate phone app, to help him understand that our drugs were antibiotics, and tablets to deal with various illnesses.

Marg helped through her excellent acting – she mimed vomiting – it was an explicit mime and worked a treat as it ended the search!

That done, we headed to another office (for we know not what), then to the last office to be greeted by an extremely curt man who had ‘some’ English. He also thoroughly searched Vanni and asked us if we were sure we weren’t carrying drugs or narcotics.  We assured him that we weren’t and he steadily became friendlier, then waved us on saying “welcome to Ukraine”.

Church- Zubra village
We had a short but picturesque drive to L’viv, seeing some lovely villages, churches and rural activity.

However, our GPS didn’t like it when we wouldn’t take an illegal left turn that she indicated, so she recalculated and took us right through the L’viv old city instead of going around it – all in an absolute torrent of rain.

L’viv tram through wet windscreen
We drove through narrow, steep and slippery cobbled streets where we crawled along, followed unpassable trams, and held up traffic. We eventually came out on the other side of town rather shaken up.

After that drive and a demanding several hours at customs, it was late, still pouring, and we were tired.

Looking for overnight parking, we found a place at the local racecourse. A security guard waved us through without question, and without cost. There was no electricity but we felt very secure there, and we could even pick up the jockey’s wifi!

L’viv-Buhta Viking Camp
Next day, we headed out of town seeking Buhta Viking Resort which advertised ‘camping’. 

We found it easily and thought it an oasis, being beautifully set in a forest around ponds, with walkways and picnic/BBQ places.

Breakfast was included in the price so instead of our usual muesli and yoghurt we got Ukrainian food.

We had a choice of blinis filled with minced chicken (very yum), pork sausages, or chicken Kiev - with a really good cup of coffee! We waddled out of there the first morning!

Buhta Viking camp bus stop, Marg
We were about 30 minutes out of L’viv so we caught the local bus into the city (we later found that each Ukraine bus stop is uniquely decorated).

The bus was an experience in itself as it was quite decrepit, dirty and very hot. Unfortunately, we got off at the wrong stop then walked for ages before flagging down another bus

L’viv-Rynok square, Marg
A friendly man and his son, who spoke some English, gave us advice on how to get to L’viv centre.

After input from all the men sitting in the front who were very excited we were from New Zealand, we were directed out at another stop and told what number bus to catch.

L’viv-Black Stone House, Leigh
We made it to the centre of the old town and were greeted by the sight of attractive, grand but rather faded buildings; streets arranged around the rynok square with the town hall in the middle and a fountain in each corner; narrow, cobbled and interesting side streets, and restaurants everywhere.

People were in variations of traditional dress with embroidered shirts and blouses, and there street vendors and stalls everywhere, vying with local shops – all very colourful.

We stopped at a cute little restaurant right beside the wall of the old armoury for a traditional Ukrainian lunch.

L’viv book market, Leigh
We found L’viv to be a vibrant and friendly city and easy place to walk around. There is so much history here and we soaked it up as we wandered about.

The weather started to look threatening so we headed to where we thought we should catch our bus home. We waited and waited, then the heavens opened so we decided to forgo the experience of another bus ride and looked for a taxi instead.

L’viv living
After a bit of bargaining we got a reasonable price and headed back to Vanni in a Mercedes that had seen better days.

Parts of the road home were absolutely shocking and cars were weaving their way across the road attempting to miss the worst of the huge potholes, now full of water. If you had a business here in car springs and shock absorbers you would do well!

­­­­­The Buhta Viking Resort was a fascinating place to stay while in L’viv. Each day we saw many families visiting for a picnic; dance party; bike, buggy or horse ride, or just a stroll and chat.

We were parked on the edge of the activity area but had many families strolling past and looking at us very curiously. People were very friendly and a few spoke some English.

Relaxing at Buhta Viking Camp
While there, we had an evening meal at the resort restaurant accompanied by a delicious bordeaux. We both had different cuts of deer and they were both very tasty.

We are finding that food is pretty cheap here compared to home so we thought maybe we should eat out more while in Ukraine. We are not sure if our waistlines would thank us for that though!

We spoke to Irina, who is in charge of the resort, about the political situation and safety in the Ukraine capital Kiev - our itinerary would see us in Kiev around the time of the Ukraine presidential election. She assured us it was safe in western Ukraine (roughly, the regions between L’viv and Kiev), but definitely not in eastern Ukraine. It was reassuring to speak to a local about what’s happening and how it is affecting Ukraine people.

She along with several other people have asked us if we were scared coming to Ukraine at this time. We have told them that we are being very cautious, following the news, and listening to travel warnings. They are very impressed that we are here as tourists and are so proud of their country and the fact that we think it is wonderful. Several recommended other places within Ukraine that we might enjoy.

We have now decided to delay our arrival in Kiev until after the elections. We are now off to visit some of the recommended places instead.

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