Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina

The beating sun of Dubrovnik was long gone and as we arrived in cloudy Mostar. Our first destination was the old Turkish quarter (which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site) with its cobbled paths; where we wandered through streets lined with kitschy souvenirs (If the mood takes you, you can buy ashtrays for your loved ones made from spent mortar shells) and copper tea sets mingling with the smell of freshly cooked Burek. This is the picturesque Mostar for your instagram account; and while the area is small, you can really see why this place is becoming more popular with tourists.

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A place of note is Koskin-Mehmed Pasha’s Mosque which is open to visitors. It is a small and modest mosque which you are allowed to enter with your shoes on and women are allowed to enter without covering their hair. (You have to pay a small fee as part of this. We tried to avoid this charge but they identified us as tourists and insisted on the fee.) Once inside, you can also go up to the top of the minaret. It is 89 steps in a very claustrophobic funnel but at the top, you will have an excellent panorama of Mostar.

This panorama will allow you the best view of the city’s main sight; the Stari Most (or Old Bridge).  Originally built in the 16th Century to link the two sides of the city together, it stands majestically across Bosnia’s Neretva River. Once described aptly “as a rainbow arch soaring up to the skies” by the famous Ottoman writer Evliya Çelebi, it was destroyed by Croatian missiles in the war. The bridge was painstakingly reconstructed for three years, using the same stone and the same construction methods as the original, and it was unveiled to great fanfare in 2004; a major milestone in Bosnia’s recovery from the war. Despite this significant restoration project, and the symbolism that comes with the bridge, it hasn’t healed all the wounds in Mostar.

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“I don’t really cross the bridge much” Ivo said over a beer. “Just for whatever we need, then we go back”.

Today, the bridge is most famous for its divers — people who plunge off the edge into the icy Neretva River below he jumps are typically done feet-first, but some of the men do a traditional head-first dive.  With the river only three meters deep, this feat is extremely difficult and dangerous and not recommended for amateurs. These men are the celebrities about town; each with tattoos of the bridge on their biceps as a permanent reminder of their tremendous feat.

It seems pertinent to speak of permanent reminders of past moments because Mostar has been marked in more ways than one. As we walk down the street, it’s hard not to notice how certain buildings have been cleaned up and reconstructed; but others are still mere skeletons. In most situations, they sit next to each other as uncomfortable bedfellows. Despite the restoration, nearly every building still shows pocket marks from bullets. A few of them have been repaired and repainted and some have been repaired but not yet painted (which means you can see the splotches of fresh new concrete) with little rhyme or reason.

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The Sniper Tower

This scattergun approach of restoration is best demonstrated by the juxtaposition from the new UWC World School which is built next to the infamous sniper tower of Mostar.This building used to be a bank — until the war, when it was taken by the Serbs and Croats and turned it into a sniper tower that they used to pick off the Bosniaks across the river due to its location and height.  Now it has been left as a concrete skeleton that reaches several stories high, art work sprayed on the inside with broken glass all over the floor.

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It is not an official attraction (even though it draws attention from travellers) but the building isn’t closed off to the public despite it not being safe.  Entrance is through the blown-out shell of a revolving door, stepping through piles of ashes, broken glass, and what is likely asbestos.  After climbing up eight precarious floors to the top, we’re greeted with a wide view of the city and it dawns on you why this building was chosen; a sniper would be able to see everything from this structure; down the streets and into the homes on the other side of the river.

Of the houses left behind after the conflict, one stands out and that is Muslibegovica House. Constructed by the Ottomans 300 years ago, it is beautiful example of the architecture from that period. After buzzing the owner outside a large gate, he led us into a beautiful garden filled with sweet-smelling flowers and running water. Taking off our shoes to enter through the double-arched entrance with the central pillar (that betrays the heavy Mediterranean influence on the owners) the exquisitely carpeted house (walls and floors) is comprised of separate quarters for women (haremluk), and men (selamluk). Inside, items and documents provide an insight into the life of a wealthy bey family and is a. It’s a surprise it survived in such detail and has been preserved so well.1800056_10152201942692590_1341162265_o

As a contrast, we then came to the large Mostar cemetery, fresh with headstones from the last 25 years.  Some are headstones for bodies that were never found and are still presumed missing. This sharp contrast remained in my head as we crossed to the other side of the city to stay with our host. His friends all came around and we enjoyed the summer air.1599675_10152201315642590_799454856_o As we sat and drank Bosnian beer and ate Cevapi in the cool summer heat, the conversation turned to the nature of Mostar and the divide.

“My family are all from Mostar but I am Croatian.”

“Would you ever move to Croatia?”

“No. I am for a Croatian nation but that is not my home. Mostar is my home and it will always be.”

Mostar a city split in the middle by nature had become split demographically in the war and in a region such as Bosnia & Herzegovina where ethnic groups for hundreds of years mingled peacefully without one side claiming dominance. All that changed with the war and now I find myself sitting in Bosnia watching Bosnians (according to their passport) booing their national team as they beat Slovakia in a World Cup qualifier. But if a Welsh community grew somewhere in England, would they stop being Welsh because they don’t live in Wales anymore? I’m reminded of a time when I watched some Welsh people cheer on Australia verses England in a Rugby match in a pub Shepherds Bush, London and somehow, this divide makes sense. While in appearance there appears to be no difference, a divide in culture is human and normal.

However, shortly after, loud bangs and flares are seen outside among chanting crowds in the night air. News reports say that it is caused by ethnic Croatians trying to attack Bosniaks on the other side of the city. My host says the opposite; saying that Bosniaks have crossed the bridge to goad the Croatians. We watch the flares burn in the distance amongst the sirens of and the divide between both sides no longer seems jovial but raw and based on more than banter.

Mostar exists between two sides and all that is between them is a bridge; a physical metaphor illustrating that divides can be crossed. But someone has to make that crossing and at this time; some of the Bosnians do not seem ready.

Some scars cannot be seemingly plastered over so quickly.1276556_10151865161802590_907277375_o

How to… Plan a cross-country trip in Europe… Part I

A lot of times, people fly to only one country and never think to cross that nearby border or realise how close countries can be in Europe. I feel that this is a shame, especially with the continent having such diversity and cultural differences in the space of a couple of miles. Public transport in Europe is excellent and most countries have cheap flights between each other, meaning no matter where you start, you will still find a good flight back.

English: Map of countries in Europe and the su...

Look how many different countries there are! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I get asked how to do this quite a bit so I thought it would be good to share.

P.S- I personally dislike Eurail passes. I am aware that many people like them but I avoid them. If you are interested, Nomadic Matt has some good tips for purchasing these passes.

Where do you start?

Unless you have an explicit idea of where you want to visit, it can be a bit daunting. My advice is to relax and go where the wind may take you. Or in this case, where the flight takes you. I visit Skyscanner, type in To “Everywhere” and the Month I wish to go. Importantly, I choose “one way”.

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So scroll down your options, hovering over each price. It tells you where you have to fly out from and when. This is good for identifying the dates acceptability. Most importantly, your decision should be based on a) the country and b) the price. In this example, I’ve chosen to fly to Macedonia. You may prefer Western Europe or even Asia. As I said, go with your piqued interest.

So, I’ve got the first flight…

skyscanner1So I have my flight out and it’s only £25 to get there. Now, it’s time to work out where I’m flying back out from. Load up Google Maps, and type in where you are flying to. Now look around and see what is nearby. In this example, you have plenty of countries to choose from: Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia… Just think- all with their own languages, their own cuisine… their own alphabets, All within several miles of each other.  Excited yet?

Time vs Distance = Destination

What you need to do is work out a) how long you are travelling for and b) how long you want to spend in each place. My personal plan is 2-3 days in each city with a day devoted to travel. If you’re going for 5 days, I think 2 cities is enough. Now, after deciding how long you have, cast your net out wide and type in the names of the nearby countries on Skyscanner, making a one-way trip back to your starting point. Start from the nearest, and work your way out (make sure the return flight is after your chosen starting flight). Note down the cheapest flights and build up a picture.  Imagine it as circles going outward.

RyanAir or not?

Many travellers dislike Ryanair, some love them. I’ve flown with them and I like them, but some argue against the manner of their custom. (How they cram you into the titanium shell that is a plane, the baggage costs…). The big things you need to know when booking a flight with them is the actual location of the aiport. It may SAY Milan, but it’s REALLY Bergamo which is quite a trek to Milan. Always do your research on where an airport. You may feel it is worth spending a little more because of the distance and there may a big AIRPORT bus fee to travel to the airport itself, which would undercut the saving on the flight. Additionally, because of the bus system, you may actually waste a day getting there. Personally, I go with Ryanair by playing them at their own game.  DON’T use their bus routes, use other public transport instead and don’t go straight to the big city. (For example, Treviso to Padua rather than to Venice). 1) You’ll save more and 2) you’ll spend less.

How far can I go from the first destination?

The skies the limit! Well, no. Your tiredness is. Are you willing to travel for 10 hours to see a place and then go back in the morning? I thought 17hrs from Krakow to Vilnius was worth it, but you may not. So, for each day, add an extra 7hrs travel between each place (if you’re not driving)- any more and you will be rushing ridiculously between each place- snapping pictures of monuments through a bus window.  If that’s your thing, feel free, but by cramming too much, you end up seeing little. (London may have famous sights within a couple of metres of each other, but if that’s all you want to see of London, and all you have are the photos that you could have grabbed off Google, you’re not really travelling are you?).

When you’ve made a decision and booked the flight, now comes the hard part… the route! This, I’ll discuss next time…

Any comments or things you would suggest? Write and let me know.

Related articles

Bound for the Balkans

The Balkan peninsula as defined by the Soča-Kr...

The Balkan peninsula as defined by the Soča-Krka-Sava border in the north. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This summer, I’m planning on travelling round the Balkans in Southeastern Europe.

So, how did this trip come about? Like most of my trips, it came out of a throw-away comment.

Rather akin to  Raminta saying “You should come back to visit me”, all our hosts in Croatia said the same thing in Spring: “You should come back to Croatia when the weather is better, like in Summer”

Cue Lunch breaks staring at Skycanner trying to find cheap flights and devising the best route across the region to a) see a lot (but not) b) rushing too much and missing out. Which is easier said than done when the region is mostly made up of mountain ranges which creates the image that the borders for such a fragmented region was drawn up by a deity.

Even the term “Balkan” is fragmentary, with different people defining it as different things. Does it include Italy and Turkey? Or do we exclude Greece? I decided to go with the definition on Balkanology where “Balkans” and “Southeast Europe” can be used more or less interchangeably.

But still, Balkans carries an edge to it. Growing up in the UK, my first experience of the Balkans came from the television and news of NATO strikes in places like Bosnia & Kosovo. Then one day at school, there was new children at school. They were a young brother & sister from Kosovo who had fled the country.

I spent much of the 90's reading this in the wake of Euro '96

I spent much of the 90’s reading this in the wake of Euro ’96

Being young myself, the concept of being a refugee was alien to myself and aside from the usual curiosities, we did not speak much. I remember they stuck close to each other at lunchtime, holding hands observing us playing tag or whatever game. In later years (and a greater understanding of contexts), the word still carried an allure.  Even when names like Milosevic get stuck in the bad corners of you head, it quickly gets forgotten when you read Match magazine and see a team play in Red and White chequered kits and (cool) team names like Red Star Belgrade and Partizan. My younger self didn’t take in account the shattering of identities of the 90’s, I just thought in the idea of new flags to learn and new football teams for England to lose to in International tournaments.

So, in respect to this trip, the Balkans will mainly be made of up post-Yugoslavia states, including Croatia. But a route would come second to finding the flights, which soon followed.flightsbalk

By doing the technique explained here, I found a one-way flight to Skopje, Macedonia for £29.99 including all taxes. From there, I expanded my range out within the 2 week window I had given myself and after going through the many airports in the region (Albania’s main airport is named after Mother Teresa Fact fans) I finally found one from Belgrade for 5699 dinar. 5699 Serbian dinar = £43.50.

So a round-trip for £75 in the middle of Summer. In Europe. How could I not go?

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Macedonia -> Albania -> Montenegro -> Croatia -> Bosnia -> Serbia

Choosing the route was fairly simple, taking in account the time-frame I had given myself.  After landing in Macedonia, I would travel into Albania before heading north into Montenegro. After seeing the “Pearl of the Adriatic” (or Dubrovnik), I would head deep into Bosnia before finishing (probably) on a barge in Belgrade. Like most plans, it is destined to go wrong and change at the drop of a dinar. Or Euro. Or Lek. But isn’t that the point of travelling?

Check out the map above and share your opinion on the upcoming trip, or share your travel stories.

Reading

This is Serbia Calling – Matthew Collin

The Balkans – Misha Glenny

Liban Quarry, Kraków, Poland

Liban Quarry, Kraków, Poland

One of the eeriest and forgotten places in Kraków, the Liban Quarry should first and foremost be a place of remembrance for the victims of the Nazi labour camp that created here during Kraków’s WWII occupation. Later, the looming rusting towers were built here as part of Spielberg’s recreation of the Płaszów concentration camp in the film “Schindler’s List” to lie dormant amongst the overgrown abandon that permeates there today.

From the nearby site of Kopiec Krakusa (Krakus Mound),  the scale of the site become apparant with deep limestone cliffs. The leftover buildings from the film  act as an echo for its history. Initially ran by Liban and Ehrenpreis, two successful Jewish families; during 1942 and 1944, it was a penal site for young Poles during the Nazi occupation of the city. Over 800 youths did forced labour here. Now, the site is slowly filling with water, and wildfowl are retaking it as a nature sanctuary.  Yet, whilst the modern additions are constructed, as they slowly rust and creak into oblivion, they are still evocative of what happened previously- creating a sense of unease as you walk around charred buildings and bent wire below the watchtowers.

Accessing Liban- How to get in

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There are two routes to the quarry. One suggested by In Your Pocket to says ” following a trail from Krakus Mound toward Podgórze Cemetery along the rim of and into the quarry. My route would be to go into the Cemetery itself and go to the far end. There, there are low fences that can be jumped and can lead on the path that goes round the quarry. Alternatively, you could try your luck from ul. Za Torem; though there is nothing unlawful about being in the quarry, city employees of have been known to deny entry or ask people to leave. I exited by heading towards the main entrance and by going down a small footpath that ran parallel which puts you to the left of the main entrance.

Let me know what you chose to do.

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Note- The towers themselves are fairly stable, though they are not maintained and do move. Some access to the towers has already been destroyed. 

Medyka-Shehyni, Polish-Ukrainian Border Crossing

Due to the city’s proximity to the border (It’s about 12km or 7 miles), we decided to catch a bus to the crossing. We were informed that the bus station was found next to the train station by an underpass.

The Border Buses are located here

The Border Buses are located here

The bus station was going through some resurfacing work so mud and gravel made up the road and by the signs near a small kiosk, the mini-buses nearby were our route. Groups of old men, smoking copiously made up our entourage. We greeted one; his moustache matched his leather coat. “Granitsa?” (Polish for “border”) He nodded, without taking his cigarette out his mouth and gestured at the group of mini-buses, without specifying. After some time, he stamped his cigarette out in the mud and got on one, gesturing at us, and the groups of people clutching plastic bags of stuff. The bus should cost around 2.50/3 PLN.

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Holes were cut out of the backs of headrests and even the seat itself. Small plastic bags were stuffed into them; like the ones you see in Airports- punters had obviously tried to smuggle stuff over. Following the Wikitravel advice on the subject, we sat in the back and held our bags- We didn’t want to get caught up in anything. The bus drive was swift and we ended near a supermarket and a carpark; filled with vans. People had set up tables selling their wares; babcie stood with their covered heads, declaring loudly that their vodka was cheap. We strode past, going down a long path lined by a green fence. This was the crossing itself.

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The path never seemed to end, but all of a sudden, it bottlenecked and it was full of people with bags and bags. Black plastic bags roped tight, tied to another black plastic bag. A small shopping trolley of bags. A man holding a massive telly straight from the shop. With some quick observation, we quickly realised what was going on. With it being Easter in Poland soon (Ukraine uses the Orthodox or Julian Calender) and not in Ukraine, these were Ukrainians getting their shopping before the Polish shops shut for the weekend. And what shopping! Bags of instant cappuccino and face cream were obvious but the black plastic bags that smelled of fresh meat and cheese stood out. These were items they were taking back to Ukraine to sell. Everyone was standing still chatting. From the snatched bits of conversation (that we understood) the border was shut for a bit.
Then, it wasn’t.
Everything kicked into overdrive as EVERYONE at once shoved their way to the front. Now, it was everyone for themselves. Everyone has to pass through a turnstile and the bulky bags and suitcases being carried were too big to fit, but obviously, it was worth trying. Shopping trolleys rammed into your legs, small old women trying to get through under your arms and elbows went flying. We shoved and shoved. People bellowed Ukrainian curse words into your face. The Polish border guards watched in horror (or amusement?) as 50-something people all shoved to get through a single turnstile. Time dragged as shoving, pushing, went on en masse. I stood on the precipice of stepping into the turnstile when a woman lifted her 4 bags over me and into my face as an attempt to get through; just as a old lady was lifting her bag of pork and beef under my armpit. I jumped forward, grabbing 2 of the woman’s bags and taking it through the turnstile (There was no way she would fit with all 4) and leaving them on the floor. She screamed at me as a thief and I waited patiently for Amelia. As the lady came through, I handed her bags back. She showed little emotion. These people are refered to as “ants” by locals. It became obvious why.

We stood in the dead-zone and collected ourselves. I saw a large “Welcome to Ukraine sign” (in Ukrainian) and thought, “That will make a nice picture”. I took the photo and thought nothing of it. Until I looked forward and out of a guard box, two men: one was short and dressed like an archtypal Bond villian and other (with the gun) strode towards us.  We wasn’t happy. “No photos here!” he said (in Ukrainian or Russian). He demanded our passports. My only thought was “I have royally screwed things up”. He then demanded my camera. I offered to destroy the photos (in broken Polish). We went through my photos on my SD card, and he would say “destroy” or “next” (luckily, destroy is similar in Ukrainian to English). (This explains why I have no photos of the border crossing) He asked me questions, such as “Where is that?” to a photo of Krakow or “Who is that?” to a picture of Ellie. He then asked if Amelia was Ellie, to which we denied. After what seemed like forever, he handed the camera back and sent us on our way- tail, very much between my legs. Tip- don’t use your camera.

The next crossing point was a small hut. Here, the queue was non-existent. We handed our passports over. It was supposed to be a simple check, visa (stamp in passport) and done. The border guard could not understand the passport. She asked for my name- I said it. She asked for nationality, I said it (in Polish). No luck. She tried scanning it as an Irish passport (because she understood the Northern Ireland part), which got a big no-no from the computer. She brought a guard over, who didn’t know better. She walked off with my passport into another room. At this point, a queue was forming, including the lady from before, which started cursing us for holding up the line. She came into the hut with a dictionary into Ukranian and tried to translate my details in Cyrillic for the database. The guard from the camera debacle laughed through the glass and the Bond villian General stood in the way of the border, blocking any escape route. Eventually, she stamped my passport and we were allowed through. The general stepped aside, and we were allowed into Ukraine.

Passport stamp from Shehyni. Border crossing i...

Passport stamp from Shehyni. Border crossing into Poland at Medyka. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tips

  • Don’t take photos in the dead-zone.Without basic Polish, he was very willing to take my camera away and he probably took pity on us, so don’t take that risk.
  • If the shoving to get through the turnstile, say “tourist!” or “Nie rozumiem!” (“I don’t understand in Polish). They usually toned down the vivacity of their shoving.
  • To speed up the Ukrainian crossing, you could translate your name into Cyrillic. We did this for our first names (not taking in account that “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” doesn’t translate very well)

Now, all we needed was a bus to L’viv. That was easier said than done.

Next Post…

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This is Part 3 of a journey to Ukraine.

Part I – Planning

Part II – Przemyśl

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Przemyśl, Poland

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The Belfry

I find sitting on a train gives you some time to read up on a destination before you disembark. The descriptions all said the same- Przemyśl sits on the edge of Poland’s border with Ukraine, but this is a recent situation. Previously the city was part of a voivodeship (a county) which was lead by L’viv (then L’wow) when that was part of the Polish empire. Only after the Soviet Union took the city from the occupation of the Nazis in 1944 has it sat on the precipice of the two nations; an action which stripped it of much its former glory until the Soviet Union fell in 1990. A lot of history bore down, like a shadow on the place long before we arrived on a rattling Polish train, with its worn down red leather seats and wooden floor) into the station itself.

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Map of the city of Przemyśl



The contrast of the station to the trains was startling. A a ornate interior with a  glorious cream exterior that echoed larger stations in Kraków in it’s 18th century design, with a Parisian twist with the Car Park outside on it’s doorstep. The first square we came to (on Franciszkanka ul.) sat quiet; the morning bluster had yet to begin; it had barely began to crawl. You felt as if the obligatory statue of Jan Pawel II was waving scriptures at yourself. A faint mist hung in the air, like the hours post a storm. I guess that’s when we were visiting the city- after the metaphorical rain-clouds had finished and people were left with puddles to traverse. In this small square, is the Clock Tower where (randomly) there is a Museum of Bells and Pipes. We ventured in further and the streets narrowed with tall churches.p22

Unlike Krakow’s (and English villages) churches which seems to be the focal point of an area, the churches here blended in with the furniture, with only the large welcoming staircases to distinguish them from the apartments at ground level. Nothing was awake at 9am, but it conveyed the idea that it wouldn’t either as we reached the main square (Rynek). The rows of trees that crossed across the space were leaf-less and black and the cobbled floor was itself, cobbled from different size bricks in a scatter-gun mosaic. Most interestingly, it’s slanted which almost makes you forget it is a square. Surrounding the square were the typical Polish design (i.e- nothing at the bottom, all upstairs) that lacked the heights of the as before-seen churches. The tenement-houses date from the 16th and 17th centuries, but were rebuilt in the 19th century.

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The Rynek of Przemyśl

As it was the beginning of the Easter weekend, there was more life when people started going to church. In countries where religion has started to become less obvious, the sight of a river of people walking to church; some old, some young still is evocative. With the morning mist still hanging as we looked down from the Zamek (Castle) (That was built by King Kazimierz the Great in about 1340 but had been reconstructed in a renaissance facade) on the hill, one could feel something spiritual.
Unless that was the tiredness kicking in. Legs heavy, bag heavier, we sagged.

Note- I apoligise if this leads to someone not enjoying the delights of this place- we were shattered.

Never doubt the power of coffee

Never doubt the power of coffee

We loaded ourselves with coffee, in the only place open at this hour. A nice warm interior and the weight off our back helped steel ourselves for what we needed to do- work out a manner to the border. We started searching (after two kavas) for a nice place to have food, but there was only Milk Bars and Pizza restaurants (everywhere you go(!)) open so we settled in for some hearty bigos and pierogi.

Ready to leave this border city, we couldn’t leave without seeing the bells next to Przemyśl Cathedral. The cathedral was originally built in a gothic style in the 15th century, but (like most churches in Europe as fashions change) was restyled in the 18th century was rebuilt in a baroque style. It’s belfry loomed out and shaped the town’s panorama. Best of all, was the addition on the side of massive bells in a special arch. They were operated by a crank, and rang alongside the bells in the Belfry. But as the bells chimed in the new hour, we would be heading to ventures new, and that involved crossing the border into Ukraine…

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Zamek on the hill

The Town square and Bear Statue

The Town square and Bear Statue

Famous for Pipes

Famous for Pipes

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       This is Part 2 of a journey to Ukraine.

Part I – Planning

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Planning- Going to L’viv, Ukraine

It started off as a toss-up between L’viv & Budapest.

I knew an American in Budapest and she knew an American visiting L’viv that weekend- the weekend when Poland would grind to a halt due to Easter and while eggs and produce would be plentiful at the gates of a church; every shop would be closed, all our friends would be with their families and a change of scene was required. Weekend break planning was on.

Ukraine won mainly because it involved an actual border crossing, which we realised was an actual rarity. Living in the EU meant that borders could be crossed without much issue aside from Passport checks at airports and the whim of the exotic won. It still hung in the balance- the former situation was open for us, but the latter was in flux until the afternoon before. Nastia sent us an e-mail, I sent a text to Amelia and after an hour on the internet, a journey involving 2 train changes, a minibus to a border (which was crossed on foot) and a bus to L’viv had been crudely drawn out (after a printer had broken). Off to Ukraine we were… at 3 in the morning.

One of the first things you learn- No travel in Poland involving trains is rapid and to get to the Ukrainian city before it got too late involved middle-of-the-bleeding-night travel. We stole ourselves by keeping warm in a local bar Cafe Philo. “Ukraine sounds amazing” said our compatriots we met there- I was mainly impressed that how dangerous they were making our route sound. “Why not get the direct train? What if you miss a connection?” Clearly a) travel inside the EU was far too cushy and b) Ukraine conveyed a bad vibe to other Brits. Was it because it was unknown and exotic? Or was it because it was too “East”? I didn’t know, although it reminded me of conversations I had about the country I now resided in before I moved there. These were the same people who would happily travel to Thailand and drink the cheap alcohol there and sun themselves on the beaches there. What made somewhere so culturally different from our own considered “safe” and yet somewhere European “dangerous”? Perhaps the recent Soviet history of Ukraine wasn’t something that could be forgotten? Maybe it was the spirit of the uncanny valley? Or maybe it was something I was about to find out as we got on the train that ran first to Tarnów, then to Rzeszów and finally Przemyśl on the Polish border

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Standing between two trains at Tarnów Station (Tarnów Główny)

This is Part 1 of a journey to Ukraine.

Part II – Przemyśl