Holiday in Russia and Ukraine
"Why did you come to the Ukraine? Why? I cannot understand this." The question is put to us over breakfast by a Ukrainian fellow guest, and I have to admit that I had asked myself the same question several times already. The holiday started out great in Moscow, and from there we took the train to Kiev which we liked even better. Finally, we went to the Crimean Black Sea coast, which was more of a mixed bag.
St. Vassiliy Cathedral, Moscow
The answer to why we'd come was simple enough: we chose Russia and Ukraine out of a desire to see new places and experience a new culture. I've been fascinated by Russia for as long as I can remember. It's always been a vast neighbouring country, neither entirely western, nor entirely eastern, enigmatic and exciting. I've been to Finland and the Baltic countries before, where you can see strong traces of Russian influence in the architecture and food, and this is part of what made me want to experience this culture for myself firsthand. Russia is also a country with a horrible and fascinating history, ranging from Viking and Czarist times, right through the October Revolution and the 80 years of the Soviet Union. In fact, on reflection I think anyone would be quite excited about seeing the country of Ivan the Terrible, Stalin, Gorbachev, Dostoyevskiy, and Shostakovich.
Of course, one also hears stories about poverty, crime, poor service, and so on from Russia, but every source I looked at said that crime was not really a problem for tourists. And my experience is that poverty in practice translates to low prices for tourists. If you see poor service as a cultural remnant of communism, even that becomes a tourist attraction. In other words, there wasn't really anything much to dissuade us from going.
Relaxation or adventure?
The beach at Sudak
I told our Ukrainian friend a very condensed version of this. He thought this over and replied that "I always go to the same places on holiday. I have only two weeks of holiday each year. This way I can be sure that I get a proper rest in my holiday."
This, of course, was the problem. He couldn't see why we'd choose Ukraine as a place to relax, and for part of the two weeks that we'd tried it, neither could we. The Black Sea coast of the Crimea, from Sevastopol in the west to Feodosia in the east is one huge holiday resort. Every beach is crammed with Russians and Ukrainians. We knew this, of course, in a vague sort of way, from reading Lonely Planet, and so had planned to go there to relax after Kiev and Moscow, and do some sightseeing when relaxing got too boring for us.
However, relaxing turned out to be difficult to do. My preferred place of rest is a quiet café, but the Crimea does not have these. It has thousands of bars and cafés, but they all play very loud music, usually cheap electronic dance music designed to raise your pulse. It's hard to explain how disconcerting it is to find that the only quiet place in town is your hotel room, but the result was that for a week and a half we'd drifted eastwards along the coast in the hope of finding a quiet place. In the end we gave up and returned to Simferopol (also in the Crimea, but not on the coast).
This is not to say that the Crimean part of the holiday was a failure, but we did have to do something to adapt to circumstances. So we'd buy bread and sausage in a local shop, and climb the rock inside the fortress at Sudak and have lunch there in a lonely and blissfully quiet spot at the top. We'd also learn which cafés were quiet in the early afternoon, or how to analyze the acoustics of restaurants to find the one table sheltered by the angle of a wall. And if all else failed one could always buy a beer in a kiosk and drink it on the beach at night like the locals.
Dormition Cathedral, Kyiv-Pecherska Lavra, Kiev
Overall, we experienced so much during this holiday that despite the discomforts and frustrations I'm very happy about the decision to go. In fact, I would be quite keen to go again, and perhaps see places like St. Petersburg, Suzdal, and Nizhniy Novogorod. I'd also be quite curious to see some of the more exotic places in European Russia, such as the Solovetskiy islands, Kazan, Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad), and Astrakhan. If we ever will is another question, of course.
Anyway, some highlights from the trip:
- The whole experience of Moscow was in itself one long highlight. The Kremlin, the Red Square, the metro (yes, really), Georgian food, the brewpubs, the architecture, and the infinity of churches. Plus some surprises. I'll come back to those.
- An unusually beautiful city, nestled on the hills by the huge Dnipro river. Again, churches and monasteries, incredible buildings, wide avenues, and the experience of a city only just waking up from its communist sleep.
- A nature preserve on the Black Sea coast with unique flora and rock formations, created by an undersea volcano 170 million years ago.
- A deserted city on top of a cliff plateau near Bakhchysaray in the Crimea. Untouched by tourist developments, so you really get to see what a deserted city looks like. An eerie experience.
- The culture
- The experience of Russian/Ukrainian people, food, ways of being; train travel; their weird hotels; travelling in Ukrainian minibuses; talking to Ukrainians, etc etc. All of this was just great.
Rock formations, Kara-dah
There were of course also some annoyances, like dirty toilets, poor service, having to wait ages for things that should be quick, language problems, horrible food etc. None of these really matter that much, though, so I won't spend time on those.
So, in short, I would happily do this again. I wrote lots of blog entries on paper during the trip, so I'll follow up with more detailed blog entries on various aspects of the trip as and when I have time.
We took the elektryushka, the electric commuter train, out of Simferopol, through the lovely Crimean countryside
Read | 2014-03-09 12:35
For this year's holiday we plan to fly to Moscow, then travel south to Kiev, and on from there to the Crimea, and finally back to Moscow for the return flight
Read | 2006-07-25 23:47
jim twohig - 2007-01-24 18:05:03
would you really reccomend russia, is it expensive for transport and food,
Lars Marius - 2007-01-24 19:17:49
I would definitely recommend it, yes. Public transport is very cheap, but in Moscow food is neither cheap nor expensive. In the Ukraine both were cheap. But hotels are quite expensive, especially compared to what you get for the money.
It's not like being a tourist in western Europe, though, which is both good and bad. I wouldn't worry about crime and all that stuff, but the language barrier makes everything require a bit more effort and time.
vadim - 2007-02-27 22:00:08
DEFINITLY UKRAINE, U HAVE WAY WAY MORE FUN THERE!!
Parvez khan - 2007-12-30 15:44:50
Hi thanx for your experiense as a tourist to Russia and Ukrine.Please send me more informations in connection with thanks;-
1.I am a student cann't afford expensive hotels what could be alternative...paying guest/street cheap motels/youth hostel/Or..How much it will cost @ nite or wk or month.I wanna stay more than amonth........?
2.How about thieves/robbers...
3.rental cars @ day...how much is a @gallon gas.
4.How about HIV and related infections...
5.What is your experience about adv dating agencies..if u have any...?
6.How about immigration and police....pay n go/Or..?
7.I am from USA citizen having age of 24.........
8.How much minimum US dollars needed in Ukrine to survive for one month........
9.Any good friend to be allowed for get to know...in Ukrine
Thanx be happy
Lars Marius - 2008-01-01 16:40:22
Parvez, I answered your questions in a separate post: http://www.garshol.priv.no/blog/144.html
Russia - 2009-01-29 04:50:14
As you are sharing your experiences it looks like you have come here for the first time... In Russia, we have seen many a times that people argue which one is the best place to go if you have come on an official tour having just 2-3 hours only...I always suggest Dormition Cathedral in Kiev.. there you will get full peace... and dats what people look out for.....?? Don't you think so??
kim - 2009-11-08 02:46:08
I am desperately trying to find a recipe for pompelhei(i know that is spelled wrong but i do not know the correct spelling)My husband is Ukrainian and his grandmother who has passed away made them for him. I would love to have the recipe to make with our daughters for my husband and to pass on to them so that they can add it to our other Ukrainian recipes.
samsri shan - 2011-07-13 16:19:45
arethere any nudist beaches to visit and how we can arange that?
Pedro - 2021-08-10 20:27:56
Yes, the metro, ffor sure the Moscow metro is one of the most surprising highlights.