It is the third part of the series of articles reporting the story about five cyclists who decided to cross Central and Eastern Europe with a single attempt. In 16 days from leaving Vilnius in Lithuania, they managed to cycle 2400 kilometers and successfully have reached the southernmost point of the trip - Thessaloniki city in Greece. Every separate article covers one of the countries - Belarus, Poland, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, which they managed to cross on their way. If you would like to read another article from series, kindly proceed here.
My assumptions about cycling conditions in Ukraine prepared based on the experience of two bicycle tours in Western regions of the country. Overall it is an enjoyable and welcoming country to visit. Ukraine can be proud of its longtime history, culture, and local cuisine that has been influenced by both East and West. Moreover, many European travelers will like prices that are still significantly lower than anywhere else. That said, I must mention - the infrastructure for bicycles very limited. It means, traveling in Ukraine, you rarely can notice route signs or dedicated paths. Therefore you need to use either small local roads that are not always in good condition or use public transport sometimes to skip some parts.
- Zakarpattia province probably the best place to start your introduction with Ukraine. It has many attractions for all kinds of tourists.
- Prices are significantly lower than in most other European countries.
- Simplified border crossing procedures and visa requirements for most western countries' visitors.
- Poor cycling infrastructure and no marked routes.
- In smaller towns and villages, language might be an issue.
- Using public transport with carrying a bicycle might be complicated.
Well deserved rest day in Lviv
In the first hours of cycling in Ukraine, our mood varies depending on circumstances. Empty roads, stretching through the endless fields of the harvest. It is interesting to me to observe every single farm we passing by and discover new farming aggregates, which I haven’t seen before. Soon we enter the main road to Chervonohrad. Now we must watch out for potholes which are everywhere. Miserable road quality - that is, I remember very well from my last trip to the Carpathian mountains. Not much I expected this time as well, but the leg to Zhovkva is decent, and we are moving towards Lviv fast.
After almost 7 hours on the road, we are entering Lviv. The largest city in the Western part of Country and one of the cultural centers of Ukraine. Lviv is also known as a very liberal city. The streets of the old town are full of young art, music, craft creators. In 1998 Lviv's old town was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. In general, a place worthwhile to visit and explore by yourself. That’s our actual plan - to have a rest day here and after a break, take a train to Chernivtsi.
The same evening we did a short walk tour around the old town. Nevertheless, that it was a Monday evening, the streets were full of youngsters, playing and singing well-known songs, hanging around with their friends. Before leaving for the trip, a friend of mine told me to try out Lviv restaurants, which are cheap and serves tasty food. So we went to try steak in one of the most promising places. A jar of local beer with dried fish for a starter was unexpectedly palatable. But the beef steak was fabulous. Each of us has spent approximately 5 euros for similar combinations.
After dinner, we visited the Pravda Beer Theater. 3-floor old town brewery building, split into different areas for everyone, who wants to eat, drink or spend out time. By walking through each of the floors, you can see beer production lines, learn about the process. Afterward, order from the bar desired glass of beer. Pravda calls themselves the only Ukrainian brewery that brews beer with fresh hops, elderberry flowers, sunflowers. So there is a lot to try. It feels more like a museum than a pub. It is a must-visit place for every tourist.
The next day we had a first lazy morning in Lviv. No need to rush pack the stuff and get back on the road. We took a ride with a hop-on hop-off bus. Then ascended the Town Hall Tower to check out the city from a bird's view.
For lunch, we have stopped in a Dom Legendy restaurant. A weirdly superb place to visit. It is hard to describe all the surroundings and interior details that you can see there. I bet you have never seen anything similar before. You climb narrow wooden stairs until you reach the top. Once you are on the roof, you will see an old Trabant from East Germany times. Sit down inside and enjoy swinging while at the same time tasting your beer and exploring panorama through the front window. Perhaps weed must be very special to bring up such crazy ideas, but we enjoyed being there.
Today we had one more thing to do - visit the train station. Cycling in Ukraine on the main roads is not the best idea. Moreover, regional roads are so poor that it was not worth wasting precious time. Therefore, we went to buy tickets for tomorrow's trip. Middle-aged woman, sitting at the cash desk, didn't speak English. We could expect that. But the issue was with the Russian language as well. She understood us well, but we didn't as she was replying in Ukrainian only. The reason for that is understandable, but it didn't help much in our situation. Especially, as we found out later, we didn't get the point when she was trying to warn us.
The next day, 20 minutes before leaving, we came to the same train station. Surprisingly, no one except us was there. It appeared a bit suspicious, so I went again to the cash desk double-check. And then the same lady started yelling at us with fluent Russian language. “You, idiots, I told you yesterday, train departures from the central station and does not stop here!”
It was 4 kilometers to Central station, so we didn't listen for the full feedback from her. We promptly jumped on the bicycles and hurried out to another place. We came there 2 minutes before departure, but our daily adventures continued. So they could be brought onboard bicycles have to be dismantled. The stone-faced stewardess was strict. In a few seconds, doors closed, and the train faded away on the horizon with us lonely standing in the platform and staring at it.
That was the last train in today's schedule, and the next will go after tomorrow. That was an awkward situation with no clear idea of what to do. Our plan was so strict, that we could not afford to spend one more day in Lviv. Many doubts in mind. “Should we take a bus? Wait for another train? Change the route?” In any of those scenarios, our schedule would shatter completely, which causes a huge risk not to reach Greece before the flight home.
And in that hopeless situation, I noticed myself acting completely different than I would have expected from myself 10 years before in the same moment. The obstacles, which you are facing during that kind of trip, finally teach up you to keep the spirit and don’t lose the optimism even if there is no way out from the first point of view. And the more you have experienced before, the more confident you feel this time. So we took that positive mood, and instead of panic, we started asking locals for help. “You should go to the bazaar parking lot and look for minibus drivers. They are often shipping various stuff from town to town. Perhaps someone will go to Chernivtsi tonight as well... ” - advised us a stocky guy with big dark glasses and a cigarette in his mouth.
And it was our luck! There was the last minibus with little space left, but surprisingly still enough for our bicycles.
It took us a while still, while the driver finished his dinner. Then he had to visit some customers and pick up the last parcels (watering tubes, butter, bread). And lastly, he drove to an unknown abandoned industrial place to fill up the tank with gasoline. But we were not complaining at all and keep sipping beer in the back as long he kept his promise to bring us to Chernivtsi tonight.
3 AM, finally we went into the hotel. The receptionist was waiting exclusively for us arriving. And we were back on the mission. Another 15 minutes for quick tomorrow's briefing and sweet dreams for us - well deserved. Hell yeah, our trip continues!
End of part three. Next country - Romania.