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Ukraine: some travel advice

Posted in Personal on 2008-01-01 22:39

Khan's palace, Bakhchysaray

Parvez Khan posted a long list of questions in the comments, and I thought I'd take a separate blog entry to reply to them, since he had quite a few questions. So, here goes.

Before you read my answers, one piece of advice: buy a travel guide! It covers most of this stuff already, and in a lot more detail than I can. I only know of the one from Lonely Planet, which is a first edition, written by Sarah Johnstone. It's accurate, detailed, and up to date. However, ms Johnstone has a tendency to get very enthusiastic about sights you need to understand Russian/Ukrainian to fully enjoy, without making this clear. So even if she has been overwhelmed by some sight, don't assume that you will necessarily even enjoy it...

I have a number of blog entries already written up in my journal about Ukraine that may expand on the picture given here quite a bit, which I'll post as and when I can.

1. Cheap accomodation

Hotels in Ukraine are not cheap, even the ones that are not very good. In fact, in much of the country there seems to be little connection between the price and quality of hotels. I think we paid from 350 UAH to 600 UAH per night for double rooms, and then we stayed quite well.

There are much cheaper alternatives used by the locals, but these generally require you to speak Russian/Ukrainian and in some cases also to book ahead. In fact, even booking from abroad at major hotels can be something of a challenge, but just showing up is fine.

Lonely Planet says you can rent apartments for as little as 17 Euros a day if you aren't too particular about the locations. We stayed at a local place in Koktebel that cost only 13 Euro per night for the two of us, and I think you can find more places like that if you get help from the locals. Again, that requires you to speak Russian/Ukrainian.

2. Crime

The former Soviet Union has a really bad reputation for this, and from what I know it does seem like organized crime is a major problem there. Still, I wouldn't worry about this at all. In three weeks we saw nothing to make us even slightly nervous, and we really did nothing to avoid bad areas. The guidebook mainly warns about scams and pickpockets, and I'm sure what they say is right, but as far as I can tell the risks are very limited.

The beach at Yalta

3. Rental cars

We never tried this. The guidebook says rental cars start at about 40 Euros a day, but, well, I'm not sure I'd do this. Public transport in Ukraine is very extensive, so trains and buses will take you pretty much anywhere, mostly for a very limited cost. Taxis are also very cheap and reliable. We travelled between towns in Crimea by taxi for less than you'd pay for a day's rental. This requires interaction with people who don't speak English, of course, but then there is no way you'll escape that, no matter what you do.

4. HIV and other infections

I have no idea. I really don't.

5. Dating agencies

See the above. There seems to be lots of these, but I really don't know anything about them.

6. Immigration and police

Immigration was no problem at all for us. Visa restrictions were lifted for lots of countries after the orange revolution. You should check your local embassy to see if you need any visa, but I wouldn't worry about the immigration officers. We've passed that border four times now without the slightest hitch. (For more detail see the Krakow-Lviv and Lviv-Krakow entries.)

Regarding the police we never met them. The guidebook says they may ask for bribes, and may be bribed to give you lower speeding tickets and so on, but adds that this may change in the new political climate. I really don't know.

7. "I am from USA citizen"

We travelled Krakow-Lviv with two Iranians who had US passports. The border guards took their passports away, kept them for maybe half an hour, then returned them. They never explained why, probably because they had no English, but there was no problem.

1 Euro dinner, Sudak

8. How much money to survive for one month?

That's hard to say, as it depends a lot on how you travel, stay, and eat. I've had dinner for as little as 1 Euro, and for as much as (I think) 20 Euros, so clearly there is quite a span here. Note that Kyiv, and to some extent the other cities, is generally more expensive than the rest of the country.

If you really try to save money I'd guess something like 1500 Euros or 2200 US dollars.

9. Getting to know people

I see that in quite a few places on the internet, especially in internet forums for tourists, locals offer their services as guides. I've never tried this, but it seems like a good idea to me. Ukrainians seem to be mostly reliable, and this is a good way to find someone who speaks English and can show you around.

In general, however, you can't expect to find people who speak English. Mostly people will be more than happy to talk to you and help you (unless helping you is their job, that is) but odds are usually 50 - 1 that they don't speak English.

10. Other stuff

Learn to read Cyrillic. You'll be really lost if you don't, as you won't be able to read the names of train stations, bus stops, streets, shops, etc etc otherwise. There aren't so many characters, so if you do 5 a day you'll be done in a week, and it's not really hard. You'll be slow, but you'll get by.

Make sure you have some kind of Ukrainian or Russian dictionary, like a phrasebook or something. This is essential for making sense of menus and communicating with people selling you food/water/beer/tickets. This is not western Europe we are talking about here, and being able to say "black tea, please", "the bill, please", "where is the bus station?" and stuff like that doesn't take much effort, and will save you a lot of pain later on.

Anyway, I hope this helps, and I hope you enjoy the trip. Ukraine really is worth a visit.

Dominican cathedral, Lviv







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Comments

Parvez khan - 2008-01-02 20:29:36

Thanx for the answer.............Lar Marius holidays in Ukrine experience. Khan

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