I arrived in Skopje after a 6 hour bus from Sofia and made my way to Unity Hostel where I would spend the next two weeks. It was immediately evident as I walked through the city that what I’d read about Macedonia’s capital was true: the government has been spending a ridiculous amount of money to “beautify” certain aspects of the city, while leaving other parts in poverty. The first bridge I saw was very impressive, but then I saw the next one, and the next, and it became immediately evident that these were not really part of the city, that they had been built to put on a show. A show that many of the city’s inhabitants greatly disagree with. Continue reading
My first stop in Bulgaria was Varna. Varna is a beachside town on the Black Sea which is well known for its nightlife. I, however, was staying in a small hostel in an outer suburb, half an hour from the centre by bus. It was so quiet and peaceful and the beach was not at all crowded. Having said that, the beach also wasn’t great, but the water was a wonderful temperature, absolutely perfect. A bit too much seaweed for my liking though. Continue reading
The bus from Moldova arrived in Bucharest at 6am. We were dropped in the centre of the city next to a large fountain and James and I couldn’t help noting that although we couldn’t see anything overly spectacular it felt like we had taken huge leaps and bounds away from the downtrodden and somewhat suppressed atmosphere of Chisinau. It was quite refreshing to be somewhere that simply felt alive, even though it was too early for there to be much life around. Continue reading
From Kiev I travelled south to the Black Sea and the seaside town of Odessa. Probably the coolest thing about Odessa was that I stayed in a Harry Potter themed hostel, complete with robes and wands for posing in photos and the Harry Potter films on a continuous loop (dubbed in Ukrainian). Continue reading
The first thing I did when I arrived in Kiev was get lost in a relatively small market about 3 minutes after getting off the train. Once I finally made it to my hostel, the next thing I did was go in search of a deep fried hotdog. That’s right. I’d read about these hotdogs, I was very excited, and I had an even more excited friend at home who is a deep fried hotdog enthusiast (shout out to Cam!) who couldn’t wait to hear about it. Continue reading
I arrived in Lviv around midday after hardly any sleep on my delayed overnight bus. It was very windy as I walked to my hostel but I was enjoying the atmosphere of the city. It felt like a city that was yet to reach its glory days, stuck in the 80s. At the same time, however, it also felt like it had once been wonderful and grand, but those days were long gone and all but forgotten.
After checking into my hostel and having a little lie down I went out to explore. I walked through the old town, through the main square, and up to Castle Hill, where there was once a castle but not anymore. The lack of castle aside, the top view point of Castle Hill offers 360 degree views of Lviv and the surrounding country side, a nice way to introduce yourself to the city but on this day I was afraid the wind was going to blow me back down the hill.
I fought my way back to the old town and found my way into Puzata Huta, just down the road from my hostel and a restaurant I’d read about online. It’s a bit like an old school canteen, you select what you want from each station and you pile it on a tray and then you pay. The food is delicious, super cheap, and all traditional Ukrainian food. There were soups and salads and meat and vegetables and my favourite eastern drink kompot (basically boiled berries). I sat and ate and used the free wifi and then went off to bed to enjoy an early night.
The next morning I woke to the sound of rain, and lots of it. Eventually I decided I needed to go out and see some things even though it was raining, I didn’t want the weather to make me waste my only time in Lviv. So I put on my waterproof jacket and off I went.
My first stop was the café around the corner, which made me really thankful that I’d learnt to read the Cyrillic alphabet before coming to Ukraine because all the words on the menu were the normal English names for different coffees, just written in Cyrillic. I ordered a latte, and received something that tasted good but was no where near hot enough. This turned out to be a ongoing trend everywhere in Ukraine and eventually I gave up on buying coffee and instead started making my own instant coffee. Much better.
I walked around the corner to the palace, which is now used as an art gallery, but the whimsical point of interest is around the back: a garden of miniature castles.
Out the front was an ironic art display of umbrellas hanging across the street. So many people, mostly locals actually, were stopping to take selfies with their own umbrellas.
Next door to the palace I discovered a little market. Whatever it was I wanted to have a look because it was undercover. It turned out to be an Indian market, with dresses, jewellery and scarves and even little Buddha figures, singing bowls and incense.
The rain was coming down even harder now so I figured it was time to seek shelter with some wifi. Unfortunately the wifi at the hostel was broken, so I ended up in Puzata Huta again. It turned out that the wifi there was also not working but I was able to pick up wifi from the juice bar next door. After a while a boy came over to me, about 12 years old, and he started asking me something in Ukrainian. I couldn’t understand but he was holding out a phone with the wifi options open. So I told him in English that the one he was trying to use wasn’t working and he said something else and I told him which one I was using and after it connected he said “thanks” and went back to his family. It was an enjoyable, multilingual conversation.
After about four hours of constantly checking out the window to see if it was still raining I was suddenly shocked to see that it had stopped!! I packed up my things and went to explore a bit more. I saw statues and churches and old soviet buses. Right across the road from where I saw the buses, however, was a bicycle ride share point, again giving that feeling of being stuck somewhere between the old and the new.
I somehow ended up back in Puzata Huta one more time for dinner before heading back to the hostel for more wonderful sleep until my alarm went off at 5am so I could get to the train station for my 6am train to Kiev.
Of all the places I’m visiting during my three months in Eastern Europe, Kraków is the only one I’ve been to previously. I stayed in Kraków for two nights during my Contiki tour almost exactly three years before. I loved Kraków so much during my first visit that it was one of the reasons I was drawn back to discover more of this area of the world. Continue reading