I’m writing this about 5 months after the fact, so expect it to be a combination of poorly remembered things and complete fabrications. But I’ve been posting on here for years, so it would be a pity if I didn’t at least make a minimal effort. At least for this one, I’ve got pictures.
After weeks without lakes and oceans, I was craving water. So like Ishmael, it was high time I got to the sea as soon as I could. Odessa, Ukraine, was the closest city on the sea (the Black Sea), so on I went.
There aren’t a lot of Americans in Odessa. Not a lot of English, in general. But I anticipated that, and in reality more people spoke a little English than you might expect. But I didn’t care for Odessa. A bit more touristy, it seems to be where the people in this region went to party and chill at the beach. I wandered down to the beach club place once during the day, but the “city center” was more my speed so I purposely stayed there instead of the resort area.
The cafe game was a bit weak, but I think it’s one of those places where you need some time to figure out all the places to go.
The main street is quite touristy, but that was a bit helpful for someone like me. Actually quite a few vegetarian options (mainly pizza, everywhere). I spent most of my time just sort of wandering around and working from my AirBnb.
The bridge here had so many locks on it that it was breaking, so they replaced it and took all the locks and turned them into this heart sculpture. Kind of neat.
I walked by this place about a dozen times before I actually went in to check it out. That’s what I mean by kind of “finding the cooler spots”. There were always a lot of younger people outside smoking, so I figured I’d give it a try. Turned out to be a two-story beer and food hall with live music in front. Pretty cool, should have checked it out earlier.
What else do I remember about Odessa… I discovered my first Lviv Croissants here, which is a Ukrainian croissant place that serves all kinds of croissants. Filled with dessert stuff, or sandwiches of all types, including a vegetarian one which was really just a croissant with mayonnaise, lettuce, cucumber and tomato. It was simple, but for a little more than $1 it was tough to go wrong. Plus, it was one of the few places I could sit and play on the WiFi for a bit.
They also had Georgian restaurants here. I guess they sailed over. But I hadn’t had Georgian food in quite a while, so I was happy to get some khachapuri and khinkali again.
So my couple weeks here were mostly quiet strolls on the walkway along the sea and admiring the architecture. Here are pictures of some of the buildings I liked.
These are the Potemkin Stairs. I don’t remember why they are important, but I can tell you there are a lot of them. When I wanted to walk out to the pier, I had to walk down these, and then back up them again.
I would have left Odessa a bit earlier, but alas my booking was for a couple weeks. All things considered, it was fine though.
Next stop, Kiev. The most popular tourist thing to do from Kiev is to visit Chernobyl, the site of the nuclear accident back in 1986. In the aftermath, the essentially cleared out the entire area, so the area has essentially just been deserted for the past 30 years. The radiation levels are now relatively low, so you can go in without sprouting extra arms.
I met some nice people on the excursion, and it was pretty cool wandering around the deserted town. They gave us little Geiger counters to keep track of how much radiation we were experiencing, found some hotspots and whatnot. I let a spider bite me and stood by one for as long as I could without looking to suspicious, but no superpowers as of yet.
Our tour guide wasn’t the best, but she tried. It was an interesting, rather surreal experience nonetheless.
A few years ago when I tried to go to Russia, the visa process was seemingly impossible, so I didn’t even bother looking into it this time. But with the World Cup going on, nearly all the tourists I met in Kiev were going up to Russia to watch some games. Apparently, all you needed to get into the country was a World Cup ticket. I’m pretty mad at myself for not figuring that out and planning accordingly.
I was at a hostel for a couple days, and we did a couple fun things. We went to this old soviet-style bar (obviously for tourists, but still rather fun), where we put on flame retardant suits and helmets, then got lit on fire and pounded on the head with wrenches and stuff while doing weak shots of stuff. There’s a video of me doing on a Peruvian man’s Facebook wall somewhere, but I’m afraid I’ll never get to see it.
One night I decided to tag along with them to this well-reviewed Ukrainian restaurant called “Chicken Kiev”. But they didn’t have any vegetarian options. They just made different types of chicken Kiev. Who would have guessed?
After a couple days at the hostel, I splurged for a hotel/apartment thing. It was a little weird, but it was central, and it had this great view out the window.
Kiev is an absolutely massive city. That’s a fact, one of the biggest in the world, but walking down the main streets there you could really feel it. Just really long, wide, busy streets with huge buildings surrounding you. It’s also extremely inexpensive. All of Ukraine is. I knew it was going to be pretty cheap, but it was like, REALLY cheap.
This is the Friendship Arch. Honestly, I had to look it up, Kiev is a bit of a blur. “Metal rainbow Ukraine” – good job Google. I do remember walking through this cafe courtyard and on the other side there was a woman dressed in a leather catsuit pacing outside a club with a whip. Now that’s what I expected from Ukraine.
Is this Kiev? Maybe yes? Maybe no? There’s no way of knowing. But I think it is. One of those days I did a lot of walking, through some botanical gardens and a park? I’m pretty sure this is where I took it from.
These are from Independence Square in Kiev, including the sign picture above. The most memorable part of this was some lady dressed as a minion following these older British men around accosting them for money. Pretty sure they don’t want a picture of you dressed as a minion, and were more than likely just annoyed that you were getting in their picture.
Kiev’s another one of those places I think you could enjoy staying a little bit longer. They had a number of good little cafes, a couple vegan places, and plenty of modern options. I mean, it’s a massive, modern city. I also had some Georgian food here. Overall, it didn’t make me eager to run back to, but I certainly wouldn’t mind another visit.
Now, I think these are pictures from Lviv. Am I sure? No, I’m not sure at all. But I ended up staying in Lviv for a couple weeks because as I mentioned before Ukraine is insanely cheap, plus this was a smaller, touristy city that was a little more my speed.
And of course it is home of both Lviv Croissants and Lviv Chocolates. A city good at those two things can’t be all bad. So yeah, I went to Lviv Croissants all the time because there really aren’t a lot of veggie options here and I have very limited self control when I need a snack.
Lviv was a quaint little city, very management, has a good reputation of being a place to work from as a digital nomad. And it was. I found several nice coffee shops I liked going to that didn’t seem to mind if you sat around and worked for a while. That was a big plus for me. My favorite two were Kredens Cafe and Lviv Coffee Manufacturer. I can also highly recommend Vegano Hooligan for vegan food.
I can see how it gets its good reputation to hang out and work for a while. I enjoyed the stay there, but all above average things most come to an end. When I tried to catch the night bus from Lviv to Krakow, I went to the wrong station, realizing it about 15 minutes before it was supposed to leave. A taxi driver sped me through the streets, through red lights and stop signs to get me in just as the bus was about to pull out of the parking lot! Sadly, the bus did not wait for me, and despite us trying to chase him down, he refused to pull over. What a dick. So I decided to instead just spend the night sleeping on a bench in a tiny Ukrainian bus station. Accordingly to FitBit I slept reasonably well considering, nothing got stolen, and I was able to take a bus at around 8 in the morning, arriving a few hours later and a few hours poorer than I would have otherwise (had to buy another bus ticket).
Known for it’s beautiful, well-preserved old town area, it’s bustling tourism industry has their great-grandfathers to thank for folding to the Nazis immediately, before any of the architecture could be destroyed.
In all seriousness, the main square is extremely beautiful. It’s huge and has a great view from any angle (the building in the middle below is actually in the middle of the square – shops and stuff), cobblestones, horses, and all those nice things.
I stayed closer to the main square, but the hipster district – formally the Jewish district – is probably a bit more my style. I walked down a few times, but it was a bit of a hike – there are lots of cafe/bars down there where it’s appropriate to work from. In my area, I was limited to Starbucks and Costa, which really isn’t so bad at all.
I was relatively close to a mall too, so I could go there and have some coffee and watch some World Cup games on a big screen. There was a covered market on my way there, which on weekends turned into more of a food and wine market. A couple stands had delicious veggie options, although I forget exactly what I ate, but the people there seemed to be genuinely happy that people were showing up to eat their food.
Having been in Ukraine and Moldova previously, I wasn’t accustomed to the tourist level that Krakow presented me with. I didn’t hang out in the main square, and I also didn’t realize you had to sign up in advance to go to museums. So instead of going into Schindler’s Factory, I just walked by a couple times. To be fair, it’s really just a factory, but it was at least a part of history to be near and wander around.
The most wonderful thing about Poland might have been the pierogies, and honestly I’ve never been a pierogies guy. There were plenty of places of course, but Przypiecek was near me so I went a few times and would highly recommend it. For just a few dollars you could get a mixture of vegetarian pierogies that were delicious.
Glonojad is also a delicious vegetarian place, as was Krowarzywa Vegan Burger.
No trip to Krakow is complete without a visit to Auschwitz, so I did that as well. It’s a somber place, as you might imagine. Most of it is rather bare, with many of the buildings filled with installations from different countries that had people transported to the camp there. It’s a lot of sad, relatively similar displays as you go through the rooms.
I’m also sad to announce that after nearly 20 years of service, my backpack has turned in its final performance. After a journey that spanned high school, college, and over 50 countries, the rip in the bottom became too big to ignore. So let that be a reminder, life is short and precious and over before you know it. One day you’re staring at the stars on a desert night or hiking around the largest waterfalls in the world, and the next you’re being emptied and trashed in a tiny Polish pierogi shop.
As much as I’d like to spend time seeing more of Poland, I had a date to meet up with the family in Italy. So I grabbed my flight from Krakow to Venice, where I’d spend a couple days getting the lay of the land before meeting up with them.