Within hours of arriving into Zagreb, I noticed a significant difference in my mood as compared to when I was in Lviv. Although I had less than four hours of sleep back in Budapest and the weather in Zagreb was just a bright and sunny as I remember in Lviv, I was remarkably cheerful. It was a strange feeling that I couldn't quite put my finger on, but I couldn't stop smiling. I strolled through through Zrinjevac Park in the middle of downtown Zagreb for a half-hour before it finally dawned on me why I was in such a positive disposition - the people here are smiling! They seem so much happier than in Lviv! Even after three weeks of traveling through Ukraine, I still can’t get over how ingrained the simple act of smiling is in my life and how significantly it effects my mood.
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For those of you out there who are unaware, there are no direct trains or buses between Lviv, Ukraine and Zagreb, Croatia. I'm almost positive this little factoid will be of absolutely no value to anyone, but I wasted several hours of my life to come to this conclusion, so I'm going to throw it out there hope someone finds this useful. From Kiev, I took a rather uneventful train back to Lviv for a few days to relax and figure out how to get to my next destination, Zagreb. I wracked my head on the matter for hours on end, and after countless worthless phone calls I realized it was a hopeless endeavor. The only option for me to get to Croatia was via Budapest, Hungary where I would switch from my train to a bus that would take me the rest of the way to Zagreb.
I've greatly enjoyed touring through Kiev the last few days, but what's really piqued my interest during my time in Ukraine was the chance to gain a better understanding of the recent political issues surrounding the country. We've all heard the news reports for months now, but I wanted to see what local Ukrainians had to say regarding the matter. At the end of the day, learning more about the country required that I learn more about the current crisis going on in the east. While I was Ukraine the conflict was frequently a topic of conversation because I couldn't let an opportunity like this just slip through my fingers.
When knowledge of my year-long trip across the world became public many people though I was crazy for seriously considering making the jump from NYC consultant to traveling hobo. Voyages like the one I was planning are merely idealistic goals Americans only dream about, but never actually do – what idiot would actually crazy enough to leave their entire life behind to travel? I repeatedly questioned my own sensibility long before departing, but since then I've realized my travel plans are peanuts compared to some of the remarkable stories and ambitious escapades of my fellow backpackers out there. One such traveler, conveniently named Andrew as well, will forever serve as a reminder to push myself to travel off the beaten path.
Contrary to what you hear in the news, the one word I’d use to describe my time in Lviv is “tranquil.” Even though the city is full of activity, it never once felt stressful like the bustling streets of Manhattan that I'm accustomed to. Moreover, my hostel was full of quiet local Ukrainian travelers instead of boisterous, inebriated vacationers I found through much Europe. People here kept to themselves and few, if any, spoke more than a few words of broken English. Day and night the noise level at the hostel was kept at a minimum and for the first time on my trip it felt like I was in a person’s home rather than a hostel. At first it was refreshing not talk to anyone, but within a few days I was eager to chat, and that’s when it hit me…
I’ve always been told there is a stark contrast between the western and eastern portions of Europe. During my first tour of Europe while on exchange in Milan, I visited Slovakia and Hungary naïvely expecting to see a region of the world heavily influenced by the old Soviet era. Much to my surprise, the countries were beautiful and my assumptions were completely wrong. Even on my recent trip through Krakow I harbored similar expectation that likewise proved to be completely unfounded. Geographically I was on the eastern side of Europe, but where on earth is this “Eastern Europe” everyone keeps talking about? Well my friends, I just needed to go a little further east and cross into Ukraine.
Since I began my trip, numerous people have asked me what it is like to travel as a backpacker and how I specifically get from one city to another. My usual response is “it depends,” but such an answer is far from satisfying and doesn’t serve to clarify anything. In reality, every leg of my trip is different and when I travel there are so many variables to account for that I simply figure things out as I go. I've tried creating travel itineraries, but they are usually rendered useless within a few hours when my situation changes unexpectedly. While the majority of my transit stories are not particularly fascinating for readers back home, Ukraine threw me a few curveballs that I think my readers back home may find rather entertaining.