Despite the ups and downs of our Eastern European Road trip, we decided that we still should give it another shot. We hopped on a night train (the nicest night train that we have been on so far), and headed off to Ukraine. When we boarded the train, we ran into 6 Edmontonians who were on a 6 week study trip (essentially and extended vacation with 9 hours of class a week and excursions on Tuesdays and Thursdays) to Lviv, the city that we were going to. They all had Ukrainian parents, and all were fluent in both English and Ukrainian. We talked for a while and yes, we did give them grief about being Oiler fans!
On each night train, there are compartments with three beds in each one. We had a friendly Slovenian in ours who helped Kif make his bed and helped is with the conductor a little because Peter's Russian was not as polished as it could have been. He thinks the conductor was just being difficult, because no one else had any trouble understanding him anywhere else in the country. We were setting up the beds, and the hand off the wall on one side, and are supported by a small metal bar and then a hanging chain on the other. We helped the Slovenian get his bed in place, and then we each proceeded to shake the bed because it was unstable. We exchanged confused looks (Kif's was more a look of trepidation because he was going to be on the bed below the shaky one). Finally we fixed it, and we are happy to say that Kif did not get crushed on the night train to Lviv!
Peter had a lot of difficulty sleeping because he was on the top bunk and all of the heat decided to congregate there, right above him. When the train stopped at the border, he decided to sleep half in the compartment, half in the hallway until the border guards came around. He was rudely awoken by the noise of a drug sniffing dog (the term "dog" being used loosely here as the animal appeared to be more of a wolf than a dog) walking along the hallway. Peter scampered back into the cabin and received some funny looks from the Ukrainian border guards for his troubles. The passport control went smoothly, but the train was stuck in Chop for three hours because they have to change the wheels underneath the train because the tracks are different gages. It was kind of cool to be be in the car as it was lifted up to allow the wheels to be changed underneath.
We arrived in Lviv at 10am, and the Canadians helped us book our tickets back to Budapest, change money and get us into town. We stayed at their apartment for a while (which is a 3 bedroom 1200 sq. ft. palace located on the main drag. They are very lucky to have it! We said goodbye, thanked them for their help and hospitality, and then went wandering in Lviv.
The city is gorgeous! It is what I imagined Prague was like 20 years ago before tourists discovered it. There are gorgeous town squares and beautifully painted buildings everywhere. Some of these buildings have decaying paint jobs and are missing a brick or two at times, but it just adds to the atmosphere of the place. There are also churches around every corner. We saw Armenian, Catholic, Dominican and Orthodox churches all within blocks of each other. It's great to see so many branches of one religion co-existing in peace. We hiked up a hill by to get a great view of the Old Town. Lviv is what all former Soviet cities should look like. There is a beautifully preserved Old Town on one side of the hill, and the Soviet concrete apartment blocks are all hidden away on the other side of the hill, invisible from the Old Town. For lunch, we went to Puzata Hata, which is the Ukrainian version of McDonalds except thaat it serves traditional Ukrainian food such as borscht and perogies, rather than deep-friend grease.
We left Lviv that night, and lucked out by getting a 3 person compartment to ourselves. We ordered some tea on the train, and it was fantastic. It was almost as strong as the Bosnian coffee that we had in Mostar! The border on the way home was less exciting, and we both slept a lot better than the night before. We returned to Budapest at 10am, all ready and prepared to kill three more hours until we hopped on our next train. This time, we were off to Prague.
Bye for now
Things we learned in Ukraine:
-They employ wolves as drug sniffing devices
-Perogies are so much better in Lviv than back home
-Not hearing english spoken all day caan be quite nice
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