Okay, so I might only just have returned from three months in Central America, but when I realised I had a completely free week before starting work again, I was straight on Skyscanner. I love searching for United Kingdom to ‘everywhere’ to find cheap flights to random places. Who could refuse £38 return to Ukraine especially when it’s one of the few European countries I haven’t visited yet?
I decided to fly into Kiev for two days, have a tour out to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site, take the train west to Lviv near the Polish border and fly back from there. At the last moment I also invited my mum, who enjoys visiting random places as much as I do.
We arrived into Kiev mid-afternoon and immediately set out for the Lavra complex. In 1051 two monks lived in a cave here and slowly were joined by others, creating a religious community. Today the site comprises numerous churches and museums but is most famous for the underground labyrinth of narrow caves and tunnels, which you can explore visiting the numerous corpses entombed there. Apparently it’s narrow, dark and crowded, but you get given a candle as you enter, so that’s okay then!
By the time we got to the complex the ticket office had closed, in fact I’m not sure we should even had been in there but we had a roam around and admired the numerous golden spires and impressive religious paintings on the ornate buildings. Then we made our way to the Motherland Statue, a 62m high steel monument, celebrating the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany. The statue is a little controversial these days following the outlawing of communist symbols in 2015, although World War II monuments are exempt. Although we didn’t go up the statue we still had great views across the Dnieper river and the east side of Kiev.
The next day we had our 11 hour day tour to Chernobyl which was so fascinating I wrote a dedicated post about it. In 1986 one of the worlds largest nuclear disasters happened here, creating a 30km no-go exclusion zone and the permanent evacuation of over 200 towns and villages. We had a fascinating day learning the events leading up to and following the accident, with the highlight being a walk through the deserted Soviet-era town of Pripyat which is slowly being reclaimed by the forest.
On our one full day in Kiev, we started by treating ourselves to a posh brunch in the historic centre. I’ve written my first ever foodie review (and guest blog) for The Breakfast Page (posted here) where I describe in great detail our delicious breakfast of Syrniki, traditional cottage cheese pancakes, and not-so traditional Eggs Benedict. Sadly we didn’t leave room for the fabulous looking iced éclairs.
Afterwards we had a relaxed ramble through Kiev centre taking in as many historic sights as possible. I was really impressed with Kiev. Beautiful buildings, clean streets, friendly people and a coffee kiosk every 50 yards! They definitely like their coffee here. We took the metro a few times and it was really simple to find our way around. They’re the deepest metro stations I’ve ever been in though, taking several minutes to descend each time.
We paid to climb the bell tower at St. Sophia’s Cathedral, once the biggest building in Kiev, and enjoyed fantastic views across the city. We walked through Independence Square which is the modern centre of the city but found it a bit ugly and souless. We much preferred the numerous parks and viewing platforms overlooking the river, where we sat in the sun and contemplated buying coffee and buns from one of the numerous kiosks.
Before leaving the UK I’d booked our train tickets to Lviv, so on our fourth day we were up bright and early to catch the first metro of the day (5.45am!) to the central train station. The six hour journey passed quickly enough (entertaining myself with blog writing, knitting a pair of socks and listening to the fantastic Naked Podcast) with small villages and empty fields flashing past.
Lviv is close to the Polish border and is supposedly the most European city in the Ukraine. After checking into our apartment we walked down to the historic town square to have a beer and gawp at the insane number of tourists milling around. The atmosphere was so different to Kiev – there was an angel on rollerskates advertising a tattoo parlour, a guy dressed up as a pizza slice, small boys selling ribbons in the blue and yellow Ukrainian colours and old-fashioned photography stalls. We sat for over a hour watching numerous tour groups circling the square and its historical buildings. Our beer and orange juice came to a grand total of £1.40 which led me to Google the Ukrainian average monthly wage – £149 in Kiev, dropping to £80 in rural areas.
After a good walk around the busy cobbled streets of the old town surrounding the square neither of us wanted to spend much more time there. So we decided on two relaxed days to end our week – one day we’d walk up to the High Castle then go out for dinner and the last day we’d wander around the town cemetery then have afternoon tea in the old town. We both wanted to visit Rosen, a chocolate shop that seemed to have stores on every street.
First though I wanted to find the Monument to the Backpack which I’d seen on Google maps (I still don’t know what it’s for) and the Yard of Lost Toys, listed on Atlas Obscura (a website dedicated to unusual sights).
The High Castle these days is a hill high above the city with a viewing platform offering 360 degree views. A fortress or castle was on the site from the 13th century onwards and today it’s the highest point in the city. Back in town we headed to Puzata Hata, a canteen style national chain restaurant where you can choose from a selection of pre-cooked dishes. Never mind the main course, I was keen to try the cherry filled dumplings or Varenikis, another traditional dish.
Walking around a graveyard may seem a random thing to do, but it was on several online top sights in the city lists – honest! The Lychakiv Cemetery dates to 1787 and has several moving monuments to different wars, which made me realise that Ukraine has been through a lot to become a sovereign state. We braved one of the decrepit looking city trams to get out there, but enjoyed a slow meander back on foot.
Our last Lviv stop was afternoon tea (just a classy way of saying coffee and cake) in a small cafe on the edge of the old town. I instantly loved this place when they brought us free macaroons because there was a small delay on our waffles (which we hadn’t even noticed). What a great way to end our trip!
Unfortunately I’m back to work next week, so there’ll be very few new adventures until the winter. It’s time now to start daydreaming about where I’m going to go next – perhaps South America, or the Caribbean, or maybe the Pacific Islands… that’s the problem with travelling, there’s always somewhere new to go!