Budapest and Ukraine
Pretty soon after my trip in the Baltics I knew that my next step would be Ukraine. I think Ukraine abolished the Visa regime for citizens from the EU this year or the year before, to show them their will to cooperate, hoping that the EU would do the same in return (and joining the EU on a later phase...). Hence, I visited a Russian language course in the University so that I could be able at least ro read and write street names etc. when going there.
Again in September (as student during summer holidays I always worked full time the two month before) I started my journey. The way leads to Budapest first and from there passing the border in Chop. In Ukraine my plan was to make the trip clockwise: Lviv, Kiev, Kharkov and I can remember that I was considering also visiting Dnipropetrovsk but also going to Crimea and finishing in Odessa and then heading back. Unfortunately I decided not to do so and left Crimea. Why so? As far as I can remember it was a mixture of lack of time and I did not feel so well when I was in Kharkiv. So I took a „shortcut“ and directly went to Odessa, also having in mind, that I would and could spare „the best“ - Crimea - for a later moment...showing now that it's not so easy at the moment. I really regret that I did not go there back then because it's difficult now. However, the journey took 2 weeks where I am not sure if I could have extended it for at least for another week or had to return because semester started:
Regarding Budapest I have to say that I did not take too many fotos there respectively you can find a lot in the internet, showing why people go there. It was my first time then but up to now have been there already couple of times, also because it is pretty close to Vienna.
In the introduction I already mentioned the term „sister cities“ and here I'd like to point on some aspects which make Budapest different to Vienna and Prague: you realise that Hungary/government did not have so much money explaining why the city and buildings are in worse condition than compared to the sister cities. In addition with the fact that architecture is a bit different, more gothic, it gives Hungary's capital a „darker“ atmosphere – what I really like:
From Budapest I took the night train to Lviv, what in itself was an adventure because it was my first contact with this kind of trains (kupe, platskart etc.) but should also got common on later journeys.
Unlike when travelling to the Baltics, I was excited to enter Ukraine – Post-Soviet and undiscovered land. Sure, I was once travelling to Tunesia but this was an ordinary hotel/beach holiday bought in an travel agency with my girlfriend then and nothing special. This time nothing was organised except knowing my route and doing everything myself on-site (tickets and accommodation). In addition a different language and another culture...I was on my own.
I still can remember arriving the border at night and the neat (and yes, I have to confess: pretty) border-control lady checking my documents ^^ Also the train was lifted because track width for trains from Hungary to Ukraine change - also a sign that something was „different“ than in the West but at least until Hungary.
In Lviv I headed to the hotel I have chosen. Consider that this was long before mobile Internet and like in the Baltic countries chosing accomodation etc. needed either research beforehand or a good guide – which was the backpackers bible: Lonely Planet ;) I remember that the chosen – budget – hotel was behind the opera on the left... When checking in I was surprised that the receptionist, an old lady, switched to German after checking my passport. She told me that she lived for a time in the GDR (German Democratic Repulic/DDR) and learned the language there; and I should find out that a pretty lot people served either in the Red Army or elsewhere in the GDR and loved the time there! Be it people in Ukraine, Kamchatka or Kirgistan (even though I met guys there who met in Kirgistan because they also served there but in fact one lived in Uzbekistan and one in Moscow).
Concerning the city you see that Lemberg was part of the Habsburg monarchy. It still has the style and look of the Austrian-Hungarian empire. Apart from that I can recommend the local cemeteries because they are really beautiful and IMO show the history of cities in a dense way:
Next stop was Kiev and I think I also used a night train to get there. My hotel was (still is?) situated at the end (or beginning) of the street leading to the mainstation, hotel Express. I chose a room having shared shower for the whole floor, what is common in the West for hostels. Recpetionist was also suprised as I, as someone from the West, asked for budget. Tourism in 2005 was more of business and businessmen and not backpacking students :o)
Kiev impressed me with it's massive buildings as it should boast Soviet power, after being heavily destroyed by leaving German forces. Another power getting visible is the church, also having pretty impressive buildings. The metro was also impressive because metro in Vienna or Munich is simply minimalistic and pragmatic and has hardly any decoration. Something massively differing from, but Moscow will beat Kiev's stations..!
I think that I also considered a visit to Pripjat, the city nearby Chernobyl, but was somehow too „scared“ or did feel too uncomfortable to do so, so I limited myself in going to the exhibition/museum related to the catastrophe which happened on 26th of April 1986. Even though I have in mind that it was rather small, it was depressive and sad to see what happened and how many people died in cleaning up to prevent the extension of the catastrophe... By the way, even though taking place in the Ukraine, the Belarussian Republic was more seriously affected than the Ukrainian Republic. It is on the borderland and the wind was taking most of the stuff to the north... So a lot of Belarusian land and people was contaminated.
Another eye opener was my visit to the museum of the Great Patriotic War. Even though there are documentaries in our TV, we do not have museums or the like. Only once, in the middle of the 1990s, was a heavily discussed and even criticised tour exhibition about crimes of the Wehrmacht. I have been there with a friend, but except that nothing else exist. In Kiev I have seen the first time in my life so many things in: full colour - full size and full cruelty... This was depressing. Getting in contact with real things/exponats is definitely different than with the distance of TV..! By the way, I can also recommend the movie „Komm und sieh (Idi i smotri/Иди́ и смотри́)“; when you really want to see how the war happened for people in the USSR. Schindlers Liste is always mentioned when it's about cruelty in the 3 rd Reich. Yes, it it is sad in someway but still Hollywood – with a good and positive message. Idi and smotri is pure pain, sadness, shocking and tear breaking...
Hmm, this city left a grey impression. In addition that it was cloudy, this massive grey architecture battered me somewhow. Anyway, the core is the main place where Lenin was standing (removed 2014), encircled by constructivist buildings. My hotel was at Lenin street or prospect or the like and I also remember that my phone in the room was from the „Volkspolizei“ ^^ Unlike in Lviv or Kiev still having a budget room, I had a fancy bathroom and could take a bath due to the „cold“ or distanced atmosphere. Simply to compare the city now with 15 years ago I'd like to go there again:
As I already mentioned, instead of going to Dnipropetrovsk or Crimea I directly headed to Odessa. As you can see on the fotos, weather was much better there. I also can remember here, that I entered a hotel and asked for a budget room, causing surprise that someone from Austria is going budet ^^ In Lviv and Kiev I had a single room with shared floor shower and Kharkiv was fancy as I had my own bathtub (sill budget and soviet style). Hotels in post-Soviet space have, unlike hotels in the West, all classes of rooms reaching from 1 to 4 stars. When you nowadays use booking.cam you get the fancy rooms suggested and back then they also always offer you their fancy rooms. But they all have still the „Soviet style“ rooms – even though old fashioned and worn, they by the way often have better oder even the best views! However, here I got a shared room with again shared with another room the bathroom. Again something what we are used for hostels. However, I was alone, so budget often does not mean that you would not have privacy.
Odessa itself boasts a beach, but it was partly in bad condition (foto below). What I was also looking forward to was seeing the Potemkin stair...being not so impressive has I expected :) Nevertheless, it marked the end of my journey in Ukraine and slowly returning to Austria. But not before also honoring the battleship Potemkin monument and Odessa being a hero city:
In November 2013 I revisited Kiev. I knew about the tensions within the country, but never expected that the situation would escalate in what started right after I left Kiev and exploded in February 2014. Sad that this happened.