Ukraine: A Unique, Untamed Travel Destination

TORONTO, Canada -- I grabbed my last Tim Horton’s double-double, said goodbye to my comfortable bed and warm water in the bathroom, and boarded the plane for Ukraine from Toronto.

A street car passes through the centre of Lviv. Almost the whole centre is covered in cobble stone streets that Ukrainian women have to navigate every day in their high heels.

My brother and I landed in Kiev early in the morning and the Ukrainian capital greeted us with warm sunny skies and a bustling airport.

Situated in the North, Kiev is half way between the west and the east—polar opposites as far as the average Ukrainian is concerned.

The western regions of Ukraine are known as the “real” Ukraine, home to the vast majority of Ukrainian-speaking Ukrainians.

The east and most of the south are the Russian-speaking half, even though any Ukrainian can understand both languages.

When I was growing up, I learned Russian from the popular comic TV series “Yeralash.”

We took the train to Ternopil, and noticed there is a relaxed air about everything people do there as we walked through the streets.

The “grandmas” in the central bazaar—the largest marketplace in Ternopil—munch on sunflower seeds casually as they wait for customers.

City of Churches, Cathedrals, and Shrines

Ternopil is known throughout the country as the city of churches, cathedrals, and shrines.

Various occupants in western Ukraine, like Turks and Poles, brought different styles of architecture that make each church a unique destination.

I remember most the Church of the Holy Spirit in my grandfather’s village of Rohatyn.

Built in 1598 with massive oak girders and without a single nail, the church is a key character in a classic tale.

It was here that Tatar invaders kidnapped 15-year-old Roksolana during her wedding to a common villager.

Soon, Roksolana became one of the most famous wives of a powerful Muslim Sultan, Suleiman Pyshnyj.

She stayed loyal to her homeland by advising the Sultan not to invade the villages of Ukraine, and is still celebrated in the country today.

My brother and I visited relatives and friends in villages across Western Ukraine and enjoyed real—and I mean real—food.

Everything from meat, potatoes, bread, cheese, cabbage rolls, beetroot, and horseradish sauce was home-made.

This is the food that I grew up on and the rich tastes without preservatives or additives brought back pleasant childhood memories.

Everywhere we went, Dan and I left with a car filled with gifts of food: a whole bag of potatoes, huge jars of marinated apples and plums, milk, cheese, eggs, and greens.

Lviv, a Cultural Mecca

No journey to Ukraine is complete without a visit to Lviv, a cultural mecca for traditional Ukrainian arts and crafts, theatre, music, dance, food, and historical monuments.

Restaurants there often offer a unique theme, like the historical journey of a chimney sweep, or that of a politically incorrect Jewish-themed restaurant where the trick is to bargain for a lower price on your bill.

The most recommended restaurant was Kryjivka where we had to tell the guards dressed as Ukrainian partisans a pass code to enter.

The pass code symbolically reflected the spirit of Ukrainians in their fight for freedom against Russian communists.

The guards would declare “Slava Ykrayini!” meaning “Glory to Ukraine!” to which visitors would reply: “Glory to the heroes!”

In May and June, Ukraine is covered in white and pink blossoms from the cherry and apricot trees scattered through the streets, in the yards of apartment buildings, and anywhere with enough sunlight to grow.

Wild but domestic, they offer fruit for the masses.

In Ukrainian cities, people live almost exclusively in condominiums that are 10 floors high with four apartments on each floor.

But the city is often circled by houses that sometimes cluster into suburban villages.

Rather than lawns, however, these houses have potato gardens, which were buzzing with grandmas and kids planting when we were visiting.

Efficient Transit

Ukraine’s transit system is well developed with many bus stops and frequent schedules, although all routes stop at midnight.

Fortunately, you can get from one side of the city to the other by taxi for $2.50.

Mini buses seat 20, but 40 squeeze on.

Those who get on through the rear doors pass their fare to the front hand-to-hand, trusting each person to pass their money forward, with the change returning the same way.

Ukraine is untamed compared to Canada.

You can smoke anywhere, the drinking age is half-heartedly enforced, and police expect you to bribe them with $15 if they catch you speeding.

Traffic lights go through the colour yellow twice, like in formula one racing: get set-ready-go.

The preference for who crosses the road first follows a simple class hierarchy—if you have a Porsche, you go first.

Then comes the pedestrian, and then the Soviet Union-made Volgas, which still exist from the time of the Second World War.

But this is what makes Ukraine a unique travel destination.

Once back in Canada, I wondered why Ukraine hasn’t yet become a popular tourist destination for North Americans.

Ukraine might have struggled against the oppression of foreign powers for hundreds of years, but what remains constant for every Ukrainian is the spirit.

People are loyal, warm, and generous.

I felt the Ukrainian spirit in the bazaars, in family circles, and in the hearts of all Ukrainians, and that’s how I remember my motherland.

Source: The Epoch Times


Alix lion said…
Thanks for the informative post. Well after reviewing your post I remember my past when I live in Canada with my parents. Mostly we held a party outdoors and always prefer Kryjivka restaurant. It is the most famous restaurant and provides delicious food any time in 24 hours. Now I live in the USA and remember my past with a smile.