Ukraine is, in my opinion, an underrated touristic destination. I don’t mean that one should go to the east of this country at the given moment. But consider, how huge Ukraine is! Western Ukraine is one of my favourite places on earth. Everyone, who already spent some time there, might agree.
As I told you before, I wanted to go to Kiev in February to visit some friends. Due to the protests, which reached their peak in the end of February, I reconsidered my plans. But I missed Ukraine a lot. So I decided to go at least to the very west of the country, namely to Užhorod.
From Bratislava to Košice
A long weekend, a good chance to go eastwards. From Bratislava we went to the eastern Slovakian city of Košice by train (which lasts
half a day 5 hours), where we stayed for one night. Košice has a beautiful and very large historical centre. Coming from the train station towards the centre one cannot miss the huge Gothic cathedral. All around the cathedral is a big square with old houses with nice façades. The whole centre is very tidy.
In the evening we decided to go for a drink and found the ‘Cafe Jekyll, Bar Hyde’. It is one of the more alternative places in Košice. What surprised me was that for a Friday night there were not so many people around and many bars closed already early. After all, it is the second largest city of Slovakia. However, there were some open places of which I cannot recall the names now.
The next morning one of my students, who is from Košice, guided us through the centre and gave us some insider information. I recommend to visit Potter Street, a small and very pretty street with some coffee-houses.
From Košice to Užhorod
By bus we travelled forth, direction Ukraine (both ways only 14 EUR). We crossed the border without much delay, turned our watches one hour further and, finally, reached Užhorod. It is only one kilometre from the border.
Some words about Užhorod: It is the capital of Carpathian Ruthenia/Transcarpathia, the most western region of Ukraine. This region was part of the first Czechoslovakian state until 1938. After WWII it became part of the Soviet Union. The whole region is multicultural.
One of the largest ethnic groups are the Rusins (an eastern slavic people, settling mostly in Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine, also, in a lesser quantity in Romania, Serbia and Hungary) who are recognized as an own people in Slovakia, but not in Ukraine. The Rusins have an own language. Užhorod is the capital of the Ukrainian Rusins. Also many Hungarians are inhabiting the region.
It took us about 20 minutes by foot from the bus station to the centre of Užhorod. On the way there one can see the famous blue/white Russian Orthodox church. The river that gives the city its name, Už, needs to be crossed to reach the centre.
The last time I have been there was about seven years ago. The city looks different now. It seems like many renovations were made, the streets are even and tidy, the facades were re-painted. While trying to find the hostel I was bitten by a stray dog. Such an arse! As I haven’t turned into a were-poodle yet, everything should be fine.
The Five Flags Hostel was a great place to stay, not least, because it is the only hostel of Užhorod.
A walk through the streets of Užhorod. It rained permanently. The male head-hair here is shorter, the heels of the ladies even higher than of those in Košice. Life here goes on normally, despite the crisis in the country’s east.
Nice sightseeing places are the castle, where several museums can be found, as well as an open air museum of a Rusinian village. The Greek-Catholic church is a masterpiece of architecture and worth a visit.
In Užhorod you can find a bunch of cozy coffee-houses along the river. For the night you can go to discos all around the centre, but as this whole clubbing thing is nothing for me, I preferred to go to a rock’n’roll next to the river.
The Way Back
At about 9 a.m. Ukrainian time we boarded a bus to Košice. We were asked by a couple of old ladies, if we could bring one bottle of vodka and two packs of cigarettes over the border for them (this is the allowed amount). As we had already our own amount of spirit and tobaccos, I gave them a friendly ‘no’.
Because of all this ‘legal smuggling’ the border control took about three hours! We all had to leave the bus and open our bags. No complications there, fortunately. Several times I already witnessed that people tried to bring more than the legal amount over the border.
Back in Košice we caught a train to Bratislava, where I had an interesting conversation with an old man, who helped constructing the border between Slovakia and Ukraine.
Next weekend I will go to the Romanian city of Timșoara. Soon I will tell you, how it was.