Over the Edge....
.....probably more like 50 years behind! (for those reading on from the last article).
The Ukraine can be translated as the edge (or borderland depending on who you speak to) - the edge of what though is open to question. It's not the edge of Europe as it is most definitely still in Europe, it can't be the edge of the USSR as that doesn't exist anymore and it's not the edge of Asia - we're not that far along yet. Whatever is is the edge of it is plainly obvious when you've gone over it!! For a start the country uses the Cyrillic alphabet - so not only were we 'deaf and dumb' but now also 'blind' as well. Also everything became subtlety different - trolley buses appear in cities - there are huge holes in pavements (even bigger than Poland's) - the smaller roads are dirt tracks - more horses and carts - there is hardly any graffiti (well there wasn't to begin with anyway).
Our first stop was in Lvov - a city which still thinks of itself as Polish. It certainly has a similar feel to Krakow - although much more run down and dilapidated. It seems that the centre ('The Florence of the East' - Anne is a bit sceptical about that) now has a UNESCO listing, and presumably with one eye on the amounts of cash being generated by Prague and Krakow the council is renovating the central area like mad. Everywhere you walk there is something happening - 24 hour painting, roads being re-surfaced, buildings being renovated. Tenement blocks are being turned into trendy cafes and shops - churches are being tidied up. If you want to see the real Lvov - warts and all, I would think that you have about 3 months to get there.
We had tried to book a hotel from Poland - but one of the 'different' things about the Ukraine seems to be the reliability of it's phone and internet service. When we eventually found The George Hotel after realising that the Lonely Planet maps were written in Roman characters, whereas in reality all street names are written in Cyrillic (well done chaps!) we found that not only had they not received our booking, but that the hotel had also undergone renovation and subsequent price increases - possibly something to do with Euan Macgregor and 'The Long Way Round'. It was full anyway so we carried on and ended up in the Hotel Lvov - a 'Soviet' style hotel. From the outside it looked awful, but to be fair it was cheap, and had a fantastic view across the city.
On our first morning we visited the Lychakivsky Cemetery which was huge and had hundreds of overgrown monuments in the various styles of whoever was running the city at the time (Poles, Austrians, briefly Germans, Russians and even more briefly Ukrainians!). It was interesting and getting there served as good introduction to public transport - and taught us not to avoid paying. The conductresses are very nice but the 'female' inspectors are very very scary! On the way back we bumped into an English couple who were over here tracing their family roots (Hello Christina and Terry). Christina is a signwriter who has done a course with Ron Hough in Braunston - Anne was gobsmacked that there where two people in Lvov that knew how to paint narrowboats!
The cyrillic alphabet is proving to be a bit of a challenge. Some of the letters are the same as ours, but they don't always make the same sound (for example the Cyrillic P is pronounced R) and some are backwards letters that cause you to try to pronounce them as our's, but of course are completely different. This has caused us to speak a little less and write things down more. Still after a week we are beginning to improve - doubt we will ever get fluent though. To complicate things there are actually two languages in use here, some Ukrainian and some Russian. To our eyes they are both similar - for all I know we could be using sentences comprising both - anyway that's my excuse for nobody understanding a word I say.
We managed to buy train tickets to our next city, Ternopil, by a combination of mime and written signs and set off on our first 'Soviet style' train. Although we were only going about 3 hours down the road we were allocated a sleeper carriage as that was all there was on the train. It looked comfortable enough and I'm looking forward to actually sleeping on one (next chapter).
Ternopil looked like a real dump when we arrived, but the city centre was very nice - lots of trees, parks and pedestrian streets. Again we failed to book a hotel on the internet - this time we got a confirmation, but couldn't find the hotel!! We ended up again in a large Soviet style hotel overlooking the large artificial lake on the edge of the city centre. All in all we spent a very relaxing couple of days here.
The main reason for coming here was so that we could visit Kremenets (spelling varies with language) - a town about 60 km away which is the Borshik ancestral family home. We caught a bus from Ternopil and spent a very pleasant day wandering around, occasionally showing a few old photo's we had brought along to people in the (admittedly faint) hope that we might find a relative. People were interested but no-one recognised anyone in the photos - after all they were from the fifties. We actually found some postcards, and bought a map and a guide book in case any of the English Borshiks want to follow in our footsteps someday.
Reading our guidebook we had noticed a town called Kamyanets-Podilsky which looked to be interesting. Set on a hilltop surrounded by a deep gorge it was very photogenic complete with a 'fairytale' fortress. However, the town had suffered badly at the hands of successive armies during the war (in fact there were some towns in the region which looked as if the war was still going on!) and most of the old town had been destroyed losing most of it's population in a series of massacres in the process. What was left was mostly deserted, although some buildings had been restored. There was a half hearted attempt to turn the place into a tourist attraction going on but the prevailing attitude around the town was generally unwelcoming. It seemed to me to be a very 'unlucky' place that really just wanted to be left alone. That the only hotel still standing happened to be the dirtiest scuzziest dump that we had encountered so far just added to the gloom.
We were planning on taking an overnight train from there to Kiev, but when enquiring at the train station we were met with a 'Niet' - no trains available until September. Reverting to plan B we just caught a bus to the next largest town en route and took it from there. We eventually ended up in a place which I still am not sure of the name of - I can write it in Cyrillic, and pronounce it - a bit like Vassilyev. Whatever it is called it was a very nice place - the hotel was good and it gave Anne plenty of chance to recover from a dose of the trots she had contracted in Ternopil (and me chance to pick one up!!). On Sunday morning we woke to a downpour that would be out of place even in Macclesfield so we though bugger travelling, booked another night, and spent most of the day watching cars break down in the huge puddle outside our window where the road used to be. When the weather eventually improved we went for a stroll through the very smart city centre - had a look at the particularly impressive war memorial, finally found the train station and bought our tickets for Kiev.