We were in Krakow when we found ourselves with two weeks to spend in any country nearby where both of us had never been before. Ukraine and Romania seemed the logical choice not only for the geographical proximity, which allowed us to take the car, but also because it would be the most different places still nearby Poland. We thought of going to Belarus, but because we would have had to wait for the visas which would mean losing some days, we left almost immediately.
The border between Poland and Ukraine couldn’t have been more boring. We waited almost 5 hours in a line of cars that seemed not to move. When we got to the office it was stamping passports and move on. Ukraine does not use Latin alphabet but due to its proximity to Poland and a shared history some people speak Polish and we were able to manage ourselves through. As we entered the country, we started realising why most people on this side of Ukraine want a tighter connection with western Europe and European Union. The roads are miserable and the holes are gigantic. Holes that will ruin any car damper if you try to speed even a bit. Many home made horse carts and no signs of road reconstructions. We could see old Lada cars everywhere. Magda told me it reminded her Poland 15 or 20 years ago. For the first time since we left Portugal I felt that we were in a completely different place.
We went straight to Lviv, city that used to be part of Poland till the beginning of World War II. Some people still speak Polish there. Lviv impressed me a lot in a positive way. Its historical centre is very well preserved and it was bustling with animated people everywhere, which made us enter the city with a big smile on our faces.
After two nights, we left Lviv to go to Kamianets-Podolski, our next stop. If the roads were bad between the Polish-Ukrainian border and Lviv, between Lviv and Kamianets-Podolski it was a real nightmare. I think our average speed throughout the 270 km of the trip was of 30km/h. After making a brief stop in Ternopil to see the Komsomol Lake we arrived in Kamianets-Podolski in the evening under some heavy rain.
Ukraine is a rather flat country, especially in the north. What annoyed us the most, except for the holey bumpy roads, was that they don’t offer any views! Each and every road has a thick line of high trees along, so all you see during the hours of shaking in the car is road ahead and trees.
Imagine our surprise when suddenly a considerable in size castle appeared in front of us as we entered Kamianets. And then a long stone bridge over a sudden valley dividing the town from the fortress and surrounding the whole old town. The river that goes in the valley creates a kind of canyon with unique views from the two bridges on the opposite sides leading to the old town.
We wandered around looking for our hostel, trying our Polish-English communication skills with local people and eventually after around 45 minutes we found it. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to go down that particular street that looked like an 8th century bad roman road, specially with the water from the rain running down as though it was a river. But we made it. It was a very home-like guest house where nobody spoke English, but everybody made an extra effort to make us feel comfortable.
Kamianets-Podolski is a medium sized city, very pretty and definitely worth visiting if you’re around. Its main attraction, the castle, is running for the Unesco world heritage list and is one of the seven wonders of Ukraine.
After two night we left in direction of Romania. On the way, we stopped first in Khotyn to visit its fortress in the margin of Diester river. Kothyn Fortress is also one of the 7 wonder of Ukraine and its construction dates back to 1325. Inside, amongst other things, you can visit a room full with torture devices used in the past. Later we stopped in Kolomyia, for the Pysanka museum, the museum of Easter Eggs.
It’s funny that in almost every electricity post along the way there was a stork nest with little storks. Roads can be in bad shape but their churches are shiny and impeccable. We saw many of these churches with beautiful golden roofs along the way.
We were only 5 days in Western Ukraine but we left with the feeling we would love to visit the rest of the country some day. It is, without any doubt, a different country that is worth of all the attention.