Before our Euro-trip could officially start, Tori and I first had to get to Europe. Now Sokyriany is located close to the middle of Ukraine. I made a map for you to be able to visualize our journey, because I’m a map person : ) So refer to the red heart: this is Sokyriany. The first leg of our journey to Krakow, Poland, consisted of stops in Chernivtsi, Sniatin, Kolomyia, and L’viv, before crossing the border into Przemyśl, Poland. You can see Chernivtsi on the map, and nearby you see a green diamond. This is Sniatin, where my close friend Tammela lives. Only an hour from Sniatin (heading west) we have Kolomyia, where my friend Mike lives and where one can see the World’s Largest Easter Egg. Heading north you see L’viv, and then directly west we have Krakow, our first destination outside of Ukraine.
While we have this handy dandy map, we can outline the rest of our journey as well: from Krakow (the pink star) we took an overnight train southwest to Vienna, Austria (aqua triangle). From Vienna, we took a train to Ljubljana, Slovenia (which is next to the green cross). After heading east to Zagreb (capital of Croatia, symbolized by a yellow diamond) we traveled south along the Croatian coast, stopping in Zadar, Split, and finally Dubrovnik. Then we went east into Herzegovina, making stops in Mostar and Sarajevo (the inverted red triangle). Our last stop was Budapest, located above the purple square, from which we took a train back to L’viv, ending where we started. We pretty much circled around central and eastern Europe, stopping in 7 countries (including Ukraine) and doing as much as physically possible in just under 3 weeks 🙂
I think that our first part of the journey, crossing Ukraine and getting to Poland, was probably the hardest. The main reason was luggage; Michelle had helped me pack a whole suitcase of things that I didn’t need in Ukraine anymore to send home with Tori, and we were planning on dropping it off in L’viv so Tori could fly back to America with it at the end of her trip. So hauling this monster suitcase in addition to all our Euro-trip luggage was a huge pain! Plus the weather was HOT and the rides on the marshrutkas and trains were terribly long, so by the time we were crossing into Poland we were already exhausted. But I’m getting ahead of myself : )
We left Sokyriany on a fine July day, taking a bus to Chernivtsi, a tram across the city, and another bus to the town of Sniatin. Tammela met us at the bus stop and gamely helped us lug all our bags across town to her apartment. We were her guest speakers at English Club that night, and afterwards we went for a walk to to the River Prut, which runs along the edge of Sniatin. Then we had a wonderful home-cooked meal at Tamm’s place, and Tori got to know and spend time with one of my dearest Peace Corps friends. Tamm and I planned this get-together weeks in advance so she’d get to meet my baby sister, and I’m so glad we worked it into the schedule 🙂
The next morning, Tamm helped us flag down a bus to Kolomyia, where my friend Mike works as a Youth Development volunteer at a center for disabled children. Kolomyia is one of my favorite cities in Western Ukraine, and I made sure to put it on the itinerary so Tori could see the world’s largest Easter Egg. The Easter Egg is actually a museum, so you can go inside and learn about the Ukrainian tradition of “pysanky,” the hand-decorated Easter Eggs.
Mike also had a French guy who was Couchsurfing with him, so he showed us all around town and we stopped for coffee at the cutest outdoor cafe ever. Tori and I got a picture there, and it turned out to be quite precious, so I’m sharing it with you here!
From Kolomyia we took a train to L’viv, our last stop in Ukraine. Unfortunately for Tori, she felt extremely sick on the train. But on the upside, we saw a beautiful rainbow out the train window! (And no, this didn’t console Tori or make her stomach hurt any less. It did, however, make a great pic!) I chose to take the rainbow as a good omen for our adventure 🙂
When we finally made it to L’viv, Tori had already determined that one of the carry-on suitcases was going to find its final resting place in a garbage can, even if it meant having to re-pack at the end of our travels. I couldn’t wait to get rid of the big suitcase that was bound for America, and soon enough my friend (and former language trainer) Natalia met us at the station. We took a taxi back to her place, where my huge suitcase and the carry-on suitcase Tori despised remained! It was so great to leave them behind : )
It was also wonderful for Tori to be able to meet Natalia, who is probably my favorite Ukrainian girl ever. She’s sweet, hilarious, and incredibly patient (she must’ve been, to survive teaching my cluster Ukrainian for three months). Not only did she agree to keep our suitcases at her apartment, but she also fed Tori and I an incredible dinner after our long day on the train, and insisted on us staying with her and her family that night so we wouldn’t have to venture back outside in the rain to find a hostel. Then she and her mother explained the cheapest route for crossing the border, complete with bus and train timetables, to make our journey into Poland easier. I don’t know what we would’ve done without her : )
The next day she woke up and made us breakfast before walking us to the bus stop. She wished us well on our travels, and we were off! Leaving L’viv with only Tori’s backpack and my rolling carry-on, we felt incredibly light and ready to conquer the world. Or at least Poland 😉