During my last few days in Dubrovnik I dragged my feet deciding what city I should visit next; Bosnia was a short trip to the north, Montenegro to the south, and just beyond lie Serbia, Kosovo, and Albania - so many choices! I wanted to visit them all, but the beautiful coastline of Croatia called to me like a seductive siren's song, luring me to stay just a little longer. The enchanting spell Croatia casted on me was difficult to break, and making plans for what country to visit next meant accepting that that I was intentionally leaving this wondrous landscape - a thought I couldn't bear. While I never planned to visit Montenegro, I crossed paths with two Finnish cyclists, Aarni and Tommy, who were both tired of the droves of tourists in Dubrovnik and were heading south to the towns of Kotor and Tivat. All it took them to convince me to tag along was a promotional flyer for 33% off a hostel in Tivat.
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off the beaten path
I will admit my decision to visit Kiev was more of a conscious effort to give family and friends grief. After my time in Lviv, I realized there is really nothing to fear about Ukraine and, contrary to what people think back home, everyone I spoke with said Kiev was perfectly safe to visit. With Russia now axed from my travel itinerary, I had a few extra weeks to explore Ukraine and since an overnight train to Kiev was only $12, I figured why not. In all likelihood, this was my only chance to visit Kiev, because I doubt I would ever travel halfway around the world for the sole purpose of visiting Ukraine.
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.