Five Things To Remember On Your Ukrainian Adventure

KIEV, Ukraine -- Whether it’s Euro 2012 or simply the desire to see the Dnieper River and ancient churches in Eastern Europe’s oldest land that brings you to Ukraine this summer, you need to be prepared.

A view of Kiev and the Dnieper river.

Traveling to a place that offers all the accommodations the western world has to offer but is still relatively new to the international tourists scene can be tricky.

But if you are prepared it will be fun.

Most cities, especially those that are hosting Euro 2012 – Kyiv, Lviv, Donetsk, and Kharkiv – have been renovated, the airports have been modernized and the main roads are repaired.

Credit card and ATM use and wi-fi internet cafes are very common everywhere in Ukraine, especially in major cities.

You will see ubiquitous chain stores like Zara, Gap, Desigual, not to mention McDonalds and Starbucks.

Things will be convenient and, in some ways, familiar.

Yet, you might want to look into some of these tips to make your travels easier and avoid unnecessary surprises:

1) Banking: Before going to Ukraine, figure out what your bank’s policy is regarding credit and debit card use in Ukraine.

Place a travel alert but be prepared because in some cases it’s not enough: some governments recommend you refrain from using credit cards or ATM cards in countries like Ukraine because of widespread reports of fraud.

You may not be able to withdraw cash from just any available ATM.

It’s better to have some cash on you until you find a cash machine that is willing to give you money.

Ukrainian currency is Hryvnia (UHA). The exchange rate as of June this year is about $1.00 USD = 8 UAH, or 1 UAH = 0.0995 EUR.

Even though prices in Kiev are comparable to any other major European or North American city, the logic sometimes is not very consistent.

For instance, you can buy a fancy bottle of water for 35 UAH ($4.33), and at the same time get a cab ride within the historical center of the city for the same price.

Although, if your hotel calls a cab for you, most likely, it will cost you 90 UAH ($11.13) or more to get to any destinations within the main city.

2) Transportation: there are cabs, underground trains and shuttle buses.

The main streets in Kiev will be shut down for traffic for the duration of Euro 2012.

This doesn’t make the city residents and taxi drivers happy, but it should make life easier for pedestrians and ease the traffic in narrow historical streets.

The shutdown includes Kiev’s main avenue, Khreschatyk Street, and surrounding streets.

Regardless of events, Khreschatyk is often turned into a walking zone on weekends and holidays.

3) Navigation: The streets, just like in any other old European city, weave chaotically in an intricate labyrinth.

Even though there are some signs in Ukrainian and English, if you can’t read Cyrillic it’s going to be tough.

And even if you do read Cyrillic, sometimes there are no signs to read or no arrows to follow.

For instance, finding the actual entrance to Independence Square subway station in the underground maze can be a task — but fun, as there are numerous small food places, flower shops and coffee machines.

For Euro-2012, there are special signs installed in the host cities.

There are arrows and symbols, pointing the directions of destinations for pedestrians and drivers.

4) Food & Drink: Food in Ukraine is everywhere, for any kind of budget and any kind of international cuisine.

You can find vareniki, pirogi, and borshch, as well as places to have sushi or shish-kebab.

There are plenty of cafes and restaurants with menus in English and Ukrainian.

A tip for those who will travel by train: a good place to hang out is the pierogi restaurant “Pobeda” (varenichnaya “Pobeda”) right near the main train station in Kiev.

In addition to traditional Ukrainian food and various kinds of beer, this place offers the quirky style of the Soviet times: the waitresses wear Soviet school uniforms; the chandeliers are nothing but lamps wrapped in copies of the old Soviet newspaper “Pravda” (“The Truth”), and when they bring you the check it is inserted in an old soviet passport cover.

You can get really good coffee in Ukraine, Turkish style, Americana, or whatever you prefer.

These days you can see random coffee trucks in the streets selling real cappuccino and espresso drinks, in addition to regular coffee.

5) Language: While many young people in Ukraine speak some English, you shouldn’t expect fluent conversations with most Ukrainians, especially, older generations.

You will be just fine with no or very limited knowledge of Ukrainian or Russian because there are places with English menus and some signs in English.

But in general, if you get lost, you are better off trying to ask for directions from someone on the younger side.

No babushkas selling daisies and cornflowers by the subway station entrance would be able to give you directions if you ask in English.

If you can, bring a smartphone with an up-to-date map app.

Ukraine has a number of interesting sightseeing destinations, full of history and captivating stories – like the capital Kiev, or the western Ukrainian city Lviv.

On the southern side, there is Crimea and the Black Sea.

This summer the country is ready for foreign visitors and if you’ve ever thought about going there it’s probably a good summer to do so.

Be prepared to see an eclectic mix of the ancient, the soviet and the contemporary.

Safe travels!

Source: Forbes