Few weeks ago, I took the opportunity to visit Ukraine in 7 days. I decided to travel by hitchhiking and to be host through couch-surfing, in order to make my travels more ‘authentic”. First time in Ukraine, first time as a couch-surfing guest and surely not the first time as an hitchhiker in a foreign country, here is some fact which surprised me. Here are 10 facts about Ukraine.
- My first step was in middle city in Western Ukraine called Uzhhorod (Ужгород). There is around 115.000 inhabitants. Although, at midnight there is no tap water, you have to wait until 8 am to be able to get water from the tap. But If you would have come before December 2015, you could only get tap water from 7 to 9 am, 12 to 2 pm and 7 to 9 pm. So no shower when you come home from a party.
- Trains in Ukraine… Believe it or not, are more slower than the Romanians ones. Yes it is possible. For instance, from Zalichtchyky (Залiщики) to Chernivtsi (Чернівці́) which take you 55 mn by car. It took me 3 hours by train. They stop more or less every 4-5 km and their speed is about 10-12 km
/h. Oh yeah, and I almost forget, apparently it’s totally normal to have an ax in the train
- About transportation, one of the most use mean bu Ukrainian peoples is called “Marshrutka”. It’s like a communist mini-bus for everybody. They can stop everywhere, I even hitchhiked 2 of them. Bu for a long distance I still had to pay. Don’t worry it’s very cheap. the national currency is “hryvna”. 30 hryvna worth 1 euro. To make 80 km with this mini-bus I payed 1.50 euros.
- To continue with the bus. let’s talk about the city bus. I don’t know if it’s the same for every cities. But I can tell that in Ternopil (Тернопіль), there is true alternative micro-society in those city bus. First there is no speaker to broadcast information or to announce the bus station. So, someone is paid to announce loudly the bus station. Imagine someone up on a chair yelling every 5 mins. Plus, this person is charge to control the tickets. So when the bus is full, and they are every time full, like very full, and you can’t move yourself within the bus. Your only solution to get your ticket is to stretch your arm with the money in you hand. And someone will take this money and pass it over until it reach the hand of the “speaker”. And your ticket will eventually make the way back through foreigners hands until it gets to you pocket. It’s a very good way to socialize, everyone is cooperating and helping each other.
- The region of Western Ukraine is an incredible mix of culture. There, you can find remnants of the Polish, Lithuanian, Hungarian, Romanian, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austrian culture. I saw many Romanian decorations on the buildings or the clothes. Ukraine is a grey country, between European Union and Russia, between war and peace
- Thinking about buying a car in Ukraine ? Don’t, it’s a very bad idea, every Ukrainian will tell you that. Actually, it’s very common to see cars with polish or Hungarian licence plate which are owned by Ukrainian citizens. The laws doesn’t say anything about this, it’s not legal nor illegal. They just need to register the car once a month in the country where they buy it. When I told you Ukraine is a grey country.
- By talking about car, the national Ukrainian car is called “Lada”. You can find every kind of Lada, the old one, the tuned one, the new one and so on. Even if it’s actually a remnants of the USSR, it’s nowadays an informal symbol of Ukraine
- Drink 3 times and then… In Ukraine, the even number bring bad luck so as 1 is not enough 3 is a lucky number. For instance when you drink with someone, you drink 3 glasses, 3 shot whatever you want. The first is in honor of the poor people, the first for the dead people and the last for the host. After you can drink as much as you want (or you can). It works for everything, once a receptionist of a hostel wanted me to taste Ukrainian cigarette, I was up to take only one but he forced me to take three. I didn’t have the chance to see I this work with the christmas gift, though.
- The countryside of Ukraine is also a different world. I had the opportunity to find a couch-surfer-host who live in a little Ukrainian village. He didn’t even give me his address, but his coordinates to say so. Something very surprising for me, but not for Romanians, the kitchen is separate from the house and toilets are outside. Also, while we were having a walk in the village, my host offered me to drink birch sap, berezovyy in Ukrainian. Basically it’s water from a tree, the water goes out of the tree through a tiny pipe which has been pushed in the trunk.
- And let’s talk again about Ukrainian countryside. Ukraine is a poor country, but I had no idea how is the situation. I start to see it when I bought an apple to an old women in a the street for 0.10 euros. But an afternoon I met an old Ukrainian couple with my host, and they decided to invite us into their house to taste home-made wine ( He even gave me one by the way). And with some translations of my host, I acknowledge that the lady of this couple received every month a retirement of 50 dollars. 50 dollars; it’s not enough to live in the city, but if you do have a vegetable garden around your house in the country side you can live a decent life. This couple even had a sauna in their house and a kiwi tree in their garden !
- Bonus ! If you go to Lviv in western Ukraine, you have to go to a restaurant called “KryjivkInside Kryjivkaa” It means hideout, because it used to be a secret headquarter of the Ukrainian resistance under the USSR. This one is very special, first there is no specific address. If you go on the website it’s indicated “Somewhere at Rynok Square”. Then, once you finally found it, you have to knock on the door. A “guard” will open a little window and will bark something in Ukrainian. If you want to enter you have to say “Glory to Ukraine !” (Slava Ukrayini !). Once you are inside you still need to drink a shot vodka honey to order, otherwise…