Road Trip through UKRAINE

Kuwait Times - - TRAVEL - By Ru­pert Parker

Ukraine, the coun­try fa­mous for ban­ning Hol­ly­wood Steven Sea­gal from vis­it­ing, is open­ing up to tourism with visa-free travel. Add to that di­rect flights from the UK and the fact that it is still re­mark­ably good value for money, this is as good a time as any to visit. We sug­gest you get be­hind the wheel or a hire car or in­deed to hop on a train.

Lviv

Si­t­u­ated in the far west of the coun­try, just 50 miles from the Pol­ish bor­der, Lviv was known as Lem­burg when it was part of the Aus­tro-Hun­gar­ian Em­pire from 1772 to WW1. That’s re­flected in its quaint cob­bled streets, pro­lif­er­a­tion of churches and ar­chi­tec­ture rem­i­nis­cent of those other Haps­burg cities like Vi­enna and Bu­dapest. Of course it also has trams, trol­ley buses and cof­fee houses. In­deed they say that the first cof­fee shop in Vi­enna was opened by an Ukrainian from Lviv in 1686.

It’s a pleas­ant place to wan­der round, with street mu­si­cians on ev­ery cor­ner, and the Mar­ket Square in the old town is lined with re­nais­sance houses. The elab­o­rate Lviv Opera House still stages pro­duc­tions of opera and bal­let and im­pos­ing Cathe­drals beckon you in­side. My visit co­in­cides with Na­tional Em­broi­dered Blouse Day so ev­ery­one is sport­ing one, men and women alike.

Out­side the old town, the 18th-cen­tury Ly­chakiv Ceme­tery has or­nate tombs, chapels and shrines plus a spe­cial sec­tion ded­i­cated to those who are still be­ing killed in the armed strug­gle on Ukraine’s Eastern bor­ders. Most Ukraini­ans I speak to be­lieve that it’s Rus­sian mis­chief mak­ing and can’t un­der­stand why their for­mer ally is mak­ing trou­ble. Cen­tral and Western Ukraine show no signs of the war, so trav­el­ers shouldn’t be alarmed.

Carpathian Moun­tains

The Carpathi­ans form an arc run­ning roughly 1000 miles across Cen­tral and Eastern Europe, mak­ing them the sec­ond-long­est moun­tain range in Europe. They oc­cupy the South West of Ukraine, sep­a­rat­ing the coun­try from Ro­ma­nia, with the high­est peak, Mount Hoverla, reach­ing over 2000m. Life car­ries on here much as it’s done for cen­turies and dur­ing the Soviet pe­riod was left al­most un­touched. Even guer­ril­las fight­ing their Rus­sian op­pres­sors stayed holed up here for years.

Kolomyia

It’s a three hour drive across the Ukrainian steppes to Kolomyia, fa­mous for the world’s only Pysanka or Easter Egg Mu­seum. Of course it’s built in the shape of a gi­ant egg and houses an im­pres­sive col­lec­tion of in­tri­cately dec­o­rated spec­i­mens from all over the world. Nearby is an­other mu­seum ded­i­cated to the Hut­suls, the largest eth­nic group in the Carpathi­ans, scat­tered through both Ukraine and Ro­ma­nia. It’s an ex­cel­lent in­tro­duc­tion to their cul­ture with an ex­hi­bi­tion of eth­nic cos­tumes, arts and crafts.

Yarem­che

The land­scape be­gins to change as I climb up to the town of Yarem­che at 580m. The wide corn­fields give way to forested hills, wooden houses and quaint chapels by the side of the road. The River Prut runs through the cen­tre of town in a series of rapids, and there’s a rather tacky craft mar­ket on ei­ther side of the ravine. How­ever if you’re in the mar­ket for woolly slip­pers or dodgy fruit wine, this is the place for you.

Bukovel

An­other 40 min­utes of climb­ing brings me to Bukovel, the largest Ski re­sort in Eastern Europe at 900m. It opened in 2000 and has 16 ski lifts with roughly 30 miles of pistes, and more are promised. There’s a boat­ing lake but oth­er­wise there’s not much char­ac­ter here. A few of the ski lifts re­main open and, at the top of one of them, there’s a rather ter­ri­fy­ing Roller Coaster Zip line which hurls you high through the trees. I pre­fer a spot of gen­tle hik­ing.

Kho­tyn

An easy day’s ex­cur­sion from Ch­er­nivtsi, is the fairy-tale fortress of Kho­tyn, on a cliff over­look­ing the Dni­ester River. It was built around 1400 by the Mol­da­vians but fell into Turk­ish hands in 1713. They kept it for an­other 100 years, un­til the Rus­sians be­came the fi­nal own­ers. These days it’s been much re­stored but it’s still an im­pres­sive, with walls 40m high and 6m thick. It’s been the location for many fea­ture films, in­clud­ing the Ukrainian ver­sion of Robin Hood.

Kiev

I catch the overnight train to Kiev, the car­riages built in for­mer East Ger­many and full of com­mu­nist charm. It’s slow but com­fort­able, al­though all the win­dows seem to have been nailed shut. Ukraine’s cap­i­tal city has wide leafy boule­vards, onion-domed churches and rel­a­tively few of those dull Soviet ar­chi­tec­tural mon­strosi­ties. Since Ukraine’s in­de­pen­dence many of the build­ing have been re­stored and re­painted as sym­bols of na­tional pride.

Don’t miss the 1980’s re­con­struc­tion of the Golden Gates of Kiev or the 11th-cen­tury Or­tho­dox cathe­dral of St. Sophia. I like the 19th cen­tury St. Volodymyr’s cathe­dral which was a mu­seum of athe­ism dur­ing Soviet times. The big at­trac­tion is the Lavra Cave Monastery which is a com­plex of re­li­gious build­ings with cat­a­combs be­low con­tained mum­mi­fied bod­ies of for­mer monks. Nearby is the huge Moth­er­land Mon­u­ment, known lo­cally as “Brezh­nev’s Daugh­ter”, 62m high, dom­i­nat­ing the sky­line. It’s part of the WW2 mu­seum and you can climb up to the mother’s hand in an in­te­rior el­e­va­tor.

Lviv Kiev

Carpathian-Moun­tain

Kolomyia

Kho­tyn

Yarem­che

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