touring | ukraine & moldova | '17 - with a side of belarus. (revisited '18)
'ukraine. a land of beautiful contrast's thats moving ever closer to europe'
ukraine. its a country thats been in the news a lot in recent years. mainly because of the issues associated with russia’s push to take over lands in the the east and crimea. when i said to people i was going to the ukraine they couldn’t believe it! they had heard so many bad stories and now a war?
well i can tell you that unless you are on the border of russia to the east that this is an absolutely safe country for travellers young & old, men & women…
so that can you expect from ukraine?? well for starters it will be one of the most colourful places you ever visit from the church's, universities and museums, bright colours are everywhere. i was given a tip by a local that you should always look up at buildings inside and out its part of their heritage to put interesting items up high from painting to sculptures.
their is also a sense of progression that even though they are still dealing with rampant corruption the young of the nation are taking the country forward from new businesses to learning english at an advanced level. don’t be scared to come here because you think no one will speak english that is simply not true. while mostly the older generation do not the young have a good grasp and were always helpful towards me during my time in the Ukraine. just to note europeans do not need a visa and cheap flight can be found with wizzair from around the continent.
i visted three places while in the ukraine. its not many for one of the biggest country in europe but i only had 10 days after arriving from belarus. so i decided on kiev, chernobyl and lviv.
depending on if you arrive by train or plane the best way to get around the city is by the vast metro system that has the deepest station in the world (arsenalna). if you’ve arrived late or just want to get to your hotel then i suggest using uber as taxi driving in kiev will charge you crazy prices. its was a public holiday when i was there actually independence day and the mood was joyful in the city. its a big place with so many things to do. i took the metro only (€0.30) anywhere in the city, i visited all the major attractions my favourite being the motherland monument its a huge silver statue of a woman holding a sword, it actually bigger than the statue of liberty. you can get to the top for great views of the surrounding city.
my hostel, dream house. is located i believe in the most beautiful part of the city with cobbled streets and minimal traffic most of the tourist attractions are around this area too. the dream house is a great hostel that offers both comfort and safety, it located in a courtyard. its more of a hostel with hotel facilities like 24 hour reception and its own cafe, bar, restaurant that serves great food and beer at low prices. i think one of the best things is that they offer is bike rental this is a great way to get around the city in the summertime. the team are great and my stay was fantastic plenty of people to meet.
early the next morning i organised a tank driving and shooting tour….. yes you read it correctly tank driving. i booked with a company called adventure tours ukraine they are located in the centre of the city and picked me up at my hostel. the owner sergei is such a character and made my whole
experience fantastic. we headed out an hour or so out the city to the tank driving area that was set up for us. its a real cool experience i had such fun learning to drive this huge tank. after we all finished driving the tank we headed to lunch at a little local place, the food was fantastic. after lunch we then made our way to the shooting range were we had the opportunity to shoot a hand gun, kalashnikov, shot gun and only what i can describe as some type of sniper rifle. i am not a big gun fan but it was really fun. i want to also note that sergei and the teams attention to safety, they really make sure that you are safe during your whole experience they are always happy to take photos and videos for you to have the memories of the day. its a great once in a lifetime experience that can’t be missed. you can book it here…
the home of the largest nuclear disaster in the history of humanity. we set out at 8am in the morning. all precautions were taken but really its nothing just make sure you take your passport for the military checkpoints. alot of people asked why would i go to chernobyl? its dangerous right? wrong.... the truth is that the danger has mostly passed after a massive clean up the most dangerous radioactive particles has dissipated over the years. you would have to live here for years for it to have a a lasting affective on you so don’t let fear take hold as this is an unmissable day trip. last year a new enclose was fitted to the damaged reactor the largest moving man made structure on the planet. its a great place to get a some photos. our guide was great we went though some small villages that had been abandoned at the time of the disaster and had been taken over by the forest, its amazing what nature can do when given time to thrive. we then moved on to pripyat at town that was constructed to house the reactor staff it was modelled on the soviet ideal life a version of the american dream you could say. its a place that was growing like crazy at the time as it was once one of the nicest places to live in the USSR. here, its truly a ghost town all the residents had to leave within 2 hours so you get the chance to see so many items left behind to decay over time. the most famous place is the fairground. this is the yellow ferris wheel that you see in all the images when googleing chernobyl its a truly airy place to be. such a special place for someone like me to take some truly amazing photos that you would not normally get the chance to take. this type of urban decay images cannot be found anywhere else in the world. another big highlight for me was the chance to explore the abandoned building from the old primary school with gas masks scattered everywhere to the olympic size swimming pool and then the rooftop of a 15 floor high rise here you can really take in the scale of what was left behind. you can see the reactor in the distance but also so much woodland and greenery its amazing what nature can survive. all in all the tour was over 12 house. it was the best tour of my life. i truly unique experience you can’t miss.
if their is one thing that you must do in ukraine then this is it. book here with ukraine adventure tours.
a few months ago i had never heard of this city. but after doing some research on the country this place kept coming up in the results. its located in the west of the country near the polish border. i took the fast train at 6 am to get there in good time its about a 5 hour journey. i would recommend taking trains in ukraine as the network is extensive and extremely cheap the main cities all have new train connections making the journeys very safe and easy. its best to book online before hand. i had some issues with the official ukraine rail website not accepting my card so i would recommend tickets.ua its covers all you ukraine travel needs from trains to flights. it costs around 300uah (€10/$11) to take the train from kiev to lviv.
lviv was once a polish city and you can really see the european style in the centre of the old town. it was spared destruction from the world war as the main battles took place in away from the city, this gives a cool historic feeling to the city.
again i was staying at the dream hostel here its super new, cool and the best place to stay in the city. as always i would recommend taking the free walking tour its available on most days, details can be found on tripadvisor. i learnt so much about the history of this lively city the guide also showed us some great places to spend our nights like the famous masochist bar known as the whipping bar. here you enter at your own peril. a leather whip to the bum when you walk through the door will make you understand whats its all about. its nothing seedy, all fun so don’t be a prude and have a night of drinking there. its so funny to watch others being whipped or on special occasions wax dripped all over them. lviv is also a city of art galleries and museums my favourite being the pototski gallery its a huge manor house just outside the main city that has classical art on the inside and modern art in the grounds surrounds the house.
(updated 2018) so of course i found myself returning to this beautiful city nearly exactly a year to the day. this time around i had the opportunity to collaborate with the lviv tourism board. from this summer they are organising a prepaid tourist card that will offer you free entrance to most of the museums and art galleries along with free public transport, its going to be a great project for the city as ryanair starts flying here from october 2018. over the years i have been traveling i have seen the huge impact on tourism that ryanair can have on lessen known cities and i think this will be no different its going to increase tourism exponentially.
if your a chocolate lover then i let you in to a little secret the lviv handmade chocolate company in the centre next to the main square offers 50% off their chocolate 14:00-14:15 every fri-sun. they have stores all over ukraine and are producing some of the best chocolate in the country.
for me lviv is a super european place in terms architecture but also mindset of the people. a very beautiful place to stay for the weekend, take in the sights while having a coffee in many of the hipster coffee houses. i would also recommend eating vegan here. they have plenty of healthy vegan places that are super cheap compared to most countries in the world, my favourite being vegano hooligano.
prices. is it cheap?
ukraine is one of the cheapest countries that i have had the chance to visit its minimum 50-70% cheaper than most EU countries and the USA. food and coffee especially you will get a meal in most places including a drink for an average of (€3/$4) and a cappuccino here will set you back around (€1/$1.10). public transport is also very affordable; the bus from lviv to the airport about a 30min journey cost 5UAH (€0.15/$0.20) yes that's not a mistake. tours in general are a little more on the pricey side but for a 12 hour chernobyl it around (€90/$100). as a traveller for the the accommodation is the biggest expense but here its so cheap on average (€4/$5) per night.
to sum up….
ukraine is an place that can inspire you. a land of colour and history that has been negatively portrayed in the media. i had an absolutely awesome time here, that was filled with once in a lifetime experiences. my only regret is that i never had more to time visit some of the other beautiful places in this country but i will defiantly be back in the future to explore the mountains & coastline.
(updated 2018) this time around i had the opportunity to visit the holiday town of odessa. in the summer time this is the holiday destination of choice
after having my my faith restored in humanity by a nice guy in romania after being left to hitchhike in the middle of nowhere by a bus driver i arrived in the capital of this lessen known country nestled between ukraine & romainia.
over the last few years i have been teaching myself about wine going on countless tours to wineries around the world learning about this incredible product. not many of people know but moldova has some amazing wines & wineries and while relatively unknown in the western world it was once the pearl of soviet union wine production with some of the best wines coming from this country. i had the pleasure to spend the day with winetours moldova on and epic one day discovery of wines from the region.
i only had 3 days in this country so taking one of these one day tours was invaluable to get to see the surrounding beautiful countryside and wineries all less than 1 hour from the capital. my favourite winery being the castle mimi winery south of the capital. this winery has been recently redesigned by an italian architect and you can really see the quality. the grounds are beautiful, similar to a french chateau if your a true wine lover to can even stay in one of the onsite rooms while winding the days away in the pool.
while i didn't spend much time in moldova & chrisnau i felt that i would like to come back to explore more as the people i met and places i visited where something special.
i promised a side belarus and here it is. i was only in minsk for 5 days as they have recently opened up the country to visitors with a 5 day visa on arrival at no cost. you just need to fly in and out of minsk airport to get this visa. i am also of the understanding that the visa will be extended to 10 days in the future.
of all the ex soviet counties i visited in the last month this defiantly is the one that felt closest to russia in terms of architecture and feeling. i was excited to visit here as its a country that is totally not geared for tourism but i was quite surprised to find a cute little hostel in the central old town area called trinity hostel. its a calm in the noisy metropolis away from the roads and commuters a great place to stay hidden away in a courtyard.
in general minsk is a commercial city but its has some gems that are worth the visit. trinity area and the old town are nice places to have an walk and take in the city. the river is also a very calm place as it cuts right through the city. this is a bicycle friendly city it has a 16km track along the river that can be done in a day. you can rent a bike from the hostel its a must. another cool area is vulica kastrycnickaja its an area of old industrial building that has been transformed by huge graffiti murals and hipster restaurants. check out a restaurant called enzo for great food.
minsk is an easy place to get around most young speak some english and everyone else russian. i felt that i was in a city of young people, so always an opportunity to go out. in terms of money its a little more expense than ukraine but still much cheaper than most of europe. make sure to try the local delicacy dracki (savoury pancakes).
my recommended places to visit
- motherland monument kiev
- old town area lviv
- wineries in moldova
places to eat
- vegan hooligano kiev & lviv
- noodle vs marketing kiev
- black honey cafe lviv
- masoch bar cafe lviv
-drunk cherry lviv
how to get around
-metro ( one of the cheapest in the world) kiev
-uber (super cheap here) (use code; carlm5078ue for a free ride)
where i stayed
- (kiev) dream hostel
- (lviv) dream hostel
- (minsk) trinity hostel
length of stay
- i would say if you truly want to experice the ukraine then at least a month is needed. for minsk you can only have a 5 day visa on arrival.
- they use UAH in ukraine, very cheap country.
- if you a european citizen and you travel often see my blog post on the curve card its the best travel card around i have saved hundreds of euros using it. download the app and enter my promo code to get a free card & €/£5. click here to see the post
country travel tips
atm: any is fine they all charge a small fee.
taxi: can be expensive here take an uber
sim card: i used kyivstar sim card that i bought in a store (€4/$5) for 4GB more info here
uber: use code; carlm5078ue
booking.com: get $20 / £20 off your booking click here
airbnb: get $20usd off your booking here: www.airbnb.com/c/cmuies