Monday, July 9, 2012

The 16-Hour Trip In Lviv

Mastering only a bit of Russian and Cyrillic, I must say that my decision to visit Ukraine during the Euro Cup was perfect. With tourists and football fans coming to the cities, the country has employed English-speaking volunteers at the train stations, airports, stadiums and other public spaces. The volunteers are like heaven sent angels.

After almost a week exploring Kiev, I stopped by Kiev Vokzalna Central Train Station and did what a crazy tourist would do: order a roundtrip train ticket to Lviv, one of the host cities for the 2012 Euro Cup. I had previously asked Mas Haris about the city and he said that Lviv was unlike the rest of Ukraine.

"Lviv is like Western Europe. You'll see what I mean when you reach the city. Also, Lviv has many street signs in English. I think it's safe for you. But are you sure you want to go there on your own?" he asked.
"Sure," I said.
"How are you going to order the tickets?" 
"There are volunteers at the train station."
"Ok. The night train should be safe for you. Don't worry."
I think he is more worried about letting me go alone than I am :). Now that I'm writing this back in Jakarta, I could not help thinking what if something happened to the solo Muslim (and hijab-wearing!) female traveler who did not even speak Russian. Alhamdulillah, everything went well. 

The train to Lviv departs from Kiev at 10:40 p.m. and is scheduled to arrive in Lviv at 06:35 a.m. With the 2012 Euro, all types of accommodation have been fully booked. But that is allright with me, for I planned to explore the city in just 16 hours, then took the overnight train back to Kiev.

By the way, can you guess how much I paid for the roundtrip tickets to Lviv on a sleeper train's third class? Only around 145 Ukrainian Hryvnia (UAH), or Rp 145,000! Lviv is located at 480 kilometers away from Kiev, it's like going from Jakarta to Semarang. But if you go from Jakarta to Semarang by train, that money can not even cover one way. Oh, Ukraine, the land of cheap trains, how I love you so!

I left the house at 9:30 p.m., hopped on a marshrutka (a kind of public minivan) to Kiev Vokzalna Central Station and checked out the big screen at the station's lobby. The volunteer who helped me ordered my tickets said that the platform number would appear on the big screen at the station's lobby 30 minutes before the departure. Once I read that it was platform 1, I immediately went there.

The Kiev-Lviv train

My train came and stopped with a screeching sound (made me imagining the trains in Harry Potter series). I hopped on to my wagon and tried to find my berth. The third class has no doors between the cabins, so people walking through the aisle can look at you. Each cabin has six berths, with four on one side of the aisle and two on the other side. Three berths are on the lower side and three on the upper.

The aisle

My faithful backpack on my berth

I was the first coming in the cabin and I got the lower berth. Yay! The train started its journey and everyone made their mattresses for sleeping. Besides the mattress and a pillow, each person gets a sheet, a thin blanket, a pillow cover and...a towel! Oh wow, there I was taking the cheapest train in Ukraine and I felt like a queen already. Indonesia's railway company PT KAI should learn something from Ukrainian railway company.

Inside Lviv Central Train Station


Lviv Vokzal Central Train Station

The train reached Lviv at 06:32 a.m., three minutes earlier than planned. I asked an officer how to get to the city center. He said in broken English that I should take a tramway number 9. I said thank you and started my exploration in Lviv.

The tramway that goes to City Center. Only cost me 1.5 UAH, or Rp 1,500 :)

A photo shot during the tramway ride

Lviv is known by many names, with Polish calling it Lwow, Russian Lvov and German Lemberg. Unlike Kiev, which has Soviet-style architecture (that is how Mas Haris and Dima call it, hahaha), Lviv has beautiful architecture that reflects various European styles and periods. Strolling along the streets of Lviv, you can get a feeling that you're in Rome or Vienna (I'd like to say Paris, but I've never been there :P).

Now, did you remember Mas Haris said that the city had English-language street signs? It's not completely true. I still found signs in Cyrillic, even in the Lviv Vokzal Central Train Station. Fortunately, after a week in Ukraine, I've mastered basic Cyrillic words. So I survived the streets of Lviv :).

The top line reads "Center". I don't give a damn about the ones below :P

I brought Lonely Planet's Eastern Europe edition with me. I opened the Ukraine chapter, read the Lviv part and started walking around the city center. The great thing about European cities is all tourist attractions are in the city center and within walking distance.

All museums, offices and shops open at 10 a.m. in Ukraine. So I kinda explored the city before it's opened for public:). Below are the pictures I took there.


The weather was cold when I visited Lviv. Probably around 15 degree Celsius (for a tropical animal like me, 15 degree Celsius is cold!). I had to wear my jacket and constantly went into a building to warm up. Brrr. The crazy thing was I made it to Lviv Stadium, which is in the city's periphery, amidst the chilling weather.

This has got to be the highlight of that day: hot chocolate! And the waiter could speak English! Yay!

During the train ride back to Kiev, I met two Russians and an Ukrainian. They spoke English and were quite chatty (perhaps because they were drunk, but thank God they did me no harm). They said they had just visited Odesa, a port city in southern Ukraine, before going to Lviv and even recommended me to visit that city. This must be a sign :).

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