Eastern Europe was never high on my list of places to visit – but since visiting Slovenia and Slovakia in the last year I have been fascinated by the region. And it would be difficult to visit Chernobyl without stopping in Kiev.
But before spending time in Kiev I took a little side-trip south of the capital.
This is something I try and do when I have time in a new country: I travel to an ostensibly random town in a remote part of the country.
In this case I travelled to Cherkassy (or written “Cherkasy” in some cases), some 200km south along the Dniepr River. This town is not mentioned in any guide book, so I had to get any information from the web – and luckily there was some.
I was very impressed that I could buy and pay for bus and train tickets online! Maybe it is from the Soccer tournament in 2012?
On landing at Kiev airport, therefore, I tried to find the skybus, but was eventually lead, in broken English, to a mini-bus with already waiting passengers. This is probably the least expensive way to head into town (about 5 EUR). While you do wait for the bus to be full, you can get out pretty much wherever you want (this would turn out to be a hallmark of all bus journeys).
I made it to the Central Bus station, and found the CASA (cash office) where I exchanged my internet voucher for a small bus ticket. All without much of a common language – I loooove this part of travel, even if it can be stressful – luckily I had enough time!
The most tricky part was finding the correct platform for the bus – but even that I managed to decipher from the manual departure boards. Thank heavens I had learnt the alphabet!
At ten to 11 a slightly rusty, very purple mid-sized bus arrived. I double checked the hand-written destination board in the window, and yes, this was my transport for the 2½ hours to Cherkassy.
It was an uneventful ride, sitting behind the blue-curtained and gold-tassled driver cabin of the driver.
It was good to see the wide open plains of the Ukraine, the small towns where we stopped were interesting to see with the mix of cars and country-folk.
In Cherkassy I checked into the Dniepr Hotel and immediately ordered a taxi to take me to the sightseeing points I had decided on beforehand. The driver didn’t speak any English or German, of course, but that didn’t stop him from being proud of his town.
The first stop was at the Hill of Glory with the huge Motherland statue of a female figure with an eternal flame as a tribute to all the soldiers that have died defending the motherland. Kiev has a similar one, but this was one was very accessible.
We drove through town and past the Park of October Anniversary – a popular park for those in love to go walking. But I was so unbelievable hungry by this point that I waved us past it, so that I could go and eat…
Afterards I took a stroll to St Michael’s Cathedral. This is the tallest Cathedral in the Ukraine, and was only built in 1994. You wouldn’t say it was so new when you see it inside.
The cathedral is magical inside, beautiful, and the experience was enhanced by the constant singing by a group of women at the front of the church. Several people came into the cathedral for a few moments or minutes. To have a quiet interlude, or to say a prayers.
I was even more lucky at the light coming through the windows at this time of day… truly magic.
At sunset I took a walk along the huge river (they say it is so wide that birds flying across it, fall into the river halfway across). And after dinner in the hotel, had an early night.
I was up again at 6 in order to get to the train station by 06h30 for a departure at 06h48. Needless to say, with this train being the seemingly only connection to Kiev today, it was busy. Of course, at that time of day there was only one CASA open…
Luckily (for me) queuing is sometimes a rather broadly used term…. So that when I saw a mom and her daughter push an internet voucher like mine through the window from the side of the mass of people, I boldly gave her mine too with the words “Help me please” in a universally understood tone of helplessness… after all, the train was leaving in 10 minutes, and I had no idea which platform to go to!!
I eventually found the train, and the lady in charge of wagon 5 (each one has a “stewardess” looking after everyone). Remember, it was still dark and basically the middle of the night for the passengers on board.
So I quietly found my upper bunk bed in a space shared with 3 others. The toilets on the train were rather… basic… but despite the lack of smiles or a common language, everyone was really friendly.
And 4 hours later I was in Kiev!