Check out this short and sweet interview I did about traveling Ukraine over on Travelinksites!
1. Could you briefly introduce yourself, your site and your experience travelling in Ukraine?
Hey! I’m Larissa and I have a travel blog called The Blonde Gypsy. I’m originally from California but living in Sweden at the moment and working on a Master’s degree in European Studies.
My blog is a mixture of stories and lots of photos from my life as a blonde gypsy addicted to traveling and Europe. In the summer of 2011, I moved to Odessa, Ukraine for five months where I did an internship and traveled as much as I possibly could in my free time. Ukraine is like a third home to me (the U.S. and Sweden battling it out as my first and second) and a country I know I will always be going back to.
2. What made you choose this country and what were your first impressions?
I first visited Ukraine back in 2009 when I needed a place to go for a while that was outside of the Schengen Area. Preferably somewhere cheap, somewhere I didn’t need a visa, and somewhere I could put my failing Russian to use. Ukraine fit that bill to a tee so I went and traveled around for about a month.
Not knowing anything about it beforehand, I was completely surprised by how much I fell in love with it and what a strong connection I felt to the country and the people after being there for only a short period of time. I made a lot of great friends and felt extremely comfortable traveling around by myself, even with sub-par skills in Russian. With that said, when it came time to decide where I wanted to do an internship for a few months, Ukraine was my first choice. I was only supposed to stay 3 months but ended up staying almost 5.
3. How much money can someone travel around Ukraine for? What are the greatest expenses? What things are relatively cheap?
Euro 2012 aside, Ukraine is a very cheap country to travel around. Unfortunately prices for accommodation in the big cities have skyrocketed for the month of June when they will be co-hosting the event with Poland. It should go back to normal once everyone has left town.
How money someone can travel around for at all depends on how they want to travel and where they want to stay but I’d say one could definitely get by on $500 a month, maybe even less if you got hooked up with a cheap short term apartment rental or did a bit of Couchsurfing. Transportation and food is very cheap.
4. What is the local cuisine like? Did you find yourself trying new things or pining for the familiars of home?
Ukrainian food is a bit heavy, but delicious. Vareniki (filled dumplings) with sour cream, mlyntsi (filled crepes) with sour cream, holubchi (cabbage rolls stuffed with meat and rice), shashlik (meat on a stick), and of course borscht (beet root soup) were some of my favorites. I tried lots of new things but probably the craziest that I actually started liking was salo which is straight up pig lard. Put a little on top of some brown bread and it is the best chaser to a shot of vodka you will ever have. And yes, LOTS of vodka.
I am always pining for good Mexican food when I am away from California..
5. What cultural activities and events would you suggest everyone seeing or taking part in while travelling in Ukraine and why?
Getting down to Odessa in the summertime to hang out at the Black Sea and party at the beach clubs is at the top of my list of things to do in Ukraine. Exploring the themed café scene in L’viv is also a must. Kiev is the capital of culture with all its amazing churches and cathedrals, some that are even included on the UNESCO world heritage list. The Pechersk Lavra, a huge cave monastery complex, is by far one of the most important attractions in Kiev.
6. What is your favourite thing about travelling this country? What is your least favourite thing?
There are so many beautiful things to see in Ukraine yet it still remains a bit off the beaten path which is probably my favorite thing about it – that and the fact that vodka is extremely cheap. I know more and more people are starting to visit, especially with the Euro 2012 coming to town, but I still found it somewhat rare to run into tourists when walking down the street. That makes it seem more authentic and unspoiled in a way.
Ukraine is a pretty poor country with a government that doesn’t always take care of its people and cities as much as it should which I guess is my least favorite thing about it. Seeing old people begging or selling what belongings they have to make ends meet because of meager pensions is particularly upsetting. Seeing so many architecturally rich buildings and churches in disrepair is also a bummer but luckily in the bigger cities they have been making major improvements ahead of the championships. Corruption, alcoholism, and racism are also huge problems in Ukraine and not uncommon to run into as a traveler.
7. What things do you focus on most when you blog about this country? Why do you choose these things?
My blog is more of a narrative of the things that I did while I was traveling and living there rather than a “how-to” with tons of tips. If people have questions that they can’t find answers to there, they are always welcome to ask me personally. Photos are a big part of my blog because I am a very visual person I’m still sifting through a lot of material and photos so there is a much more to come.
8. What’s one thing you can’t travel around Ukraine without?
Patience. Things are slow – transportation, service, bureaucracy – and without a knowledge of Russian or Ukrainian it can be a bit harder to get around because not so many people speak English. Like in a lot of other Eastern European countries, people can often come off as a bit cold and even rude at first which I am sure some might also find frustrating. Just.be.patient.
9. What kind of response have you had to your blogs about Ukraine? What post had the most interest?
I’ve gotten a really good response. Since I lived in the country as opposed to having just traveled through, readers have deemed me a bit more knowledgeable and trust my recommendations. Ukraine is also not a typical place a girl my age picks up and moves to so for that reason I think people have been more intrigued.
My posts that have received the most attention by far have been the ones on visiting the breakaway territory of Transnistria from Odessa (between Ukraine and Moldova). There are a lot of mixed reports out there on how to do it and whether or not it is safe. I tried to provide as much information as I could on getting there and what it was like spending time in the capital, Tiraspol. My posts on visiting Chernobyl have also been pretty popular because, well, it’s Chernobyl. For many it is place they could never imagine visiting themselves and also tours were shut down for a short while making it seem all the more “crazy”.
10. If you could think of one thing you wished someone told you before you started travelling in Ukraine what would it be?
Nothing. I think it turned out to be one of my greatest adventures yet because I had absolutely no idea of what I was going to find.