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A few days in Ukraine

My impression of Odesa is that it's at least as weird as Batumi, but in subtly different ways. I only spent one day there though, following the ferry from Georgia.

Odesa is mostly Russian speaking, full of tourists, and fancy old buildings. The sea front is madness. The beaches are probably nice but you can't see them for the people, loungers, and sun umbrellas. I actually don't think I've seen beaches so efficiently packed; from the wall to the ocean, not in a inch is wasted. They're also lined, Bali-style, with hip bars with nice seats, DJs, cocktails etc. Of course it's all vastly cheaper than Bali. About the same amount of trash. With temperatures pushing the mid 30s when I was there, you really don't need to go all the way to Asia. I think venturing further south might have lead me to quieter beaches, but I didn't have time. There's a large green park space around the coast too, which hopefully means awful apartment block construction by the sea will be limited (unlike Batumi).

A paved town square with fancy buildings around the edge, and a restaurant with tables and umbrellas A fancy cream and gold building with pillars, against a blue cloudy sky and a busy street Cream walls with lots of bushes and leaves, painted with brown silhouettes of people doing things like having coffee A view of a port full of cranes, framed by trees A silhouette of a tall statue of a man from the side Blue sky; sea in the background and a concrete area with tall water spouts and children playing Peering between plastic sun loungers and umbrellas on sand, the sea is visible and full of people An area of beach with people sitting around and a large rock on the edge of the sea

As I was a day later than planned, I ended up not staying in the hostel I originally planned. Hostel Komuna was generally terrible; packed, hot, loud.

Photos from Odesa.

I took the train at 10am the next day. The station is utterly confounding, even with rudimentary Russian reading. There are loads of signs with trains, times and routes, but none of them had my train. I did find it closer to departure time by just wandering the platforms, but it was a bit worrying that signs appearing to list the full day's departures just didn't include mine. Oh also it was scheduled one minute earlier than my ticket said, and there are two ways to spell Lviv in Russian.

The train itself was 11 hours. I got the ticket the day before, online. There had been no tickets at all in the weeks ahead, but a woman in the hostel in Batumi told me they sometimes add new last minute tickets. Good tip! From Odesa to Lviv is 600UAH - less than 20 EUR.

I thought I was choosing a window seat, but turned out to be a top bunk. Each carriage is divided into small 4-berth compartments, and I was sharing with an older couple and a younger dude who may or may not have been travelling with them.

A cramped compartment decorated in blue and white; outside the door a man is by the train window Trees and a traintrack as seen from the train on a sunny day A narrow corridor inside a train, with windows on the left and doors to compartments on the right

It was hot as fuck, and burly Ukrainian men of all ages take this opportunity to go shirtless without fail.

Once the train was moving, airflow from the open windows kept us alive. At one point the conductor came through to close all the windows and maybe said something about air conditioning. Half an hour later it may have been slightly cooler, but really that was bullshit and eventually I opened the windows again (when my carriage-mates were asleep..)

There was power, but no wifi. I slept and read and worked. I couldn't see out of the window from the top bunk. There's no storage except for under the bottom bunks, which must be lifted to access it. I asked one of the people in the lower bunk if they would move so I could use it, and succeeded.

We arrived to Lviv on time, just as the sun was setting, and I made it to my hostel before dark.

Photos from the train.

For the next few days I was thoroughly looked after by members of Quinta Group, of ProZorro/OCDS/open government procurement fame. I worked from their office for two days, and was well fed and entertained. Such a wonderful welcome surely shaped my impression of Lviv, but I'll definitely spend more time there.

A group of people smiling at the camera from a restaurant table in purple lighting A white sign on a white wall saying 'quintagroup' A group of people smiling at the camera from a brightly lit restaurant table covered in half eaten food (the table not the people)

First, I had to forget Russian and re-learn key phrases in Ukrainian.

The old town is cute, there are lots of green spaces, and universities. There are many nice restaurants, cafes, dessert places and more, and in the evenings the city center is really alive. Also good second hand shops!

A narrow cobbled street with restaurant tables to the left and a domed church at the far end A domed cathedral from pale coloured stone with pillars A curved tall sculpture against a dusky sky with people chatting at the base Dozens of bright coloured umbrellas strung up over a street A grand building with sculptures and pillars A curved monument with detailed engravings, beside trees and buildings A statue of neptune with a trident on the right, in front of a street with carts and vendors Sacks of coffee beans in the foreground and coffee grinding machines against a brick wall in the background

It's a very walkable city, but for further out it's well covered by buses, trams and marshrutkas. Also for when it's raining - which it does, often. Buses and trams are 5 UAH (about 0.16 EUR) for any single ride which is a pretty good deal. Lviv also has a unique fare-paying system which I've never seen the likes of before. You board through whichever door is convenient, then hand your fare to the nearest person, who will in turn pass it to the front of the bus until it reaches the driver. If you only have a 100UAH note, no problem, just say (in Ukrainian) how many people you're paying for and your change will return by the same route. If you're on a packed bus and someone hands you some money.. don't be confused, just pass it forward.

I climbed Castle Hill, which has some ruins but not really a castle. I went to the Lychakiv Cemetery which is incredible. There are huge fancy tombs and headstones and lots of famous people are buried there. It's also beautifully full of trees. Stryisky Park is also gorgeous, with wild and curated places, lakes, trails and cafes. A good place to disappear into nature within walking distance of the city center. While I was there it went from hot and sunny to torrential downpour with dramatic lightning and thunder. Wasn't much to be done, except get wet.

Blue sky behind a crowd of people near a tall pillar A lamp in the foreground of a view over Lviv from high up A view over Lviv from high up, with trees and a TV tower A monument on a hill to the left and grass and well maintained graves A headstone made from reflective metal with a flying bird carved out, amongst the bushes An abstract sculpture in the middle of a pedestrian roundabout, with trees in the background A cobbled path leads to a bright white elaborate swan fountain, with trees in the background, but no water Round derelict building with a domed roof amongst the trees

Lviv bus station is inconveniently far from the city. Buses and trolleybuses go there though of course. It also had a big sign of every bus and departure platform, except for mine. (I asked, and was told where to wait.) I departed in the evening, bound for Riga.

Photos from Lviv.

What did I eat?

🏷 Odesa, Ukraine lviv travel ukraine tourism