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Poland & Ukraine

Whilst flying home from Croatia after my last trip in March I was flicking through the in flight magazine and I noticed that Wizz Air fly Kiev from London. Once checking online that the price of a single ticket was a pithy £40 my mind was made up. To get a 1400 mile (2253 km) flight for that money took any notion of not going out of my hands.

A friend of mine had always said how Lviv was a great town in Ukraine and I always wanted to go to Krakow in Poland so I thought I’d fly there first, pop over the border to Lviv and spend a few days there before moving on to my final stop in Kiev. So another fiendish travel plan had been successfully hatched.

Auschwitz and Chernobyl

Whilst in Krakow I knew I could visit the Auschwitz Concentration Camp the scene of the murder of over 1.3 million (mostly Jewish) people during World War II. I only had limited time in Krakow but my major reservation about going there was that it might be quite upsetting. In the end I decided to go and I was glad I did as it was very thought provoking and humbling.

In Kiev I knew I would be around 100km from Chernobyl, the scene of one of the worlds greatest ever environmental disasters. I knew that there was a nearby deserted town called Prypiat which was also part of one of many ‘Chernobyl tours’ run for tourists. I couldn’t get any concrete information on safety. I knew that the farm land in that area could not grow crops for another 20,000 years and the locals didn’t seem to be too keen to be moving back into that area any time soon.

I consulted the Kiev forums on couchsurfing and I was very lucky that a few locals replied and said that it was definitely NOT SAFE. I was told that if I went my teeth and finger nails would be most likely experience some form of ‘damage’. Some tour groups also advise you to wear old clothes and throw them away after the trip but I can’t throw my face away so this was enough to convince me to give it a miss.

The safety of Chernobyl tours was a recurring theme of my holiday. I met quite a few tourists in Kiev who had travelled especially to go there and had no problem telling me that it was all no problem and that Ukrainian reservations were because of national embarrassment. Every Ukrainian I met told me that it wasn’t safe and that those tours are run to make money from foreign tourists who don’t know any better. Admittance to the average tourist attraction in Kiev is about £2 but a day trip to Chernobyl is £80. Anyway if you’re thinking of going you should probably do some research and make up your own mind.

Have a look at my other posts from this trip – Krakow, Auschwitz, Lviv and Kiev.

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Ukraine: Lviv

After leaving Krakow behind I got an overnight train across the border to Lviv. Although I had been briefed on what a nice place it was I was amazed at how it seemed empty compared to Krakow. In Poland I was surrounded by tourists but here I seemed to be pretty much the only one. There were a several coach loads of Poles who had braved it across the border but hardly another Johnny Foreigner in site. Despite staying in officially Ukraine’s best hostel I had the dorm to myself.

Lviv is an undiscovered gem as Ukraine sneaks off the edge of the main backpacking trail. The Lonely Planet has a walking tour which lets you trundle through the many cobbled streets to see as grand a collection many fine churches and other buildings including gothic, baroque and renaissance styles of architecture.

Another highlight is Lychakiv Cemetery about 2km from the main square. There are some really interesting old tombstones with socialist realism and Christianity side by side. A lot of the cemetery stretches deep into the forest and a couple of the stones (like the one of the young boy above) gave me a bit of a jump as I couldn’t see the bottom half through the threes.

This cemetery is regarded as one of the loveliest in Eastern Europe and there is a number of Polish graves which attracts a lot of tourists from Poland here.

The best view of this fine City can be found by walking up the hill to the High Castle. Getting there really tested my rather poor knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet on the street signs.