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Trip Start Feb 04, 2007
Trip End Mar 09, 2008

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Flag of Ukraine  ,
Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Back again? So soon?

Polish trains are, it would seem, the world's most expensive - causing us to dive for our calculators when the price of two tickets to Bucharest ran to 960 zloty ($450 for two!) for an overnight trip. Not including sleeper supplement, which would be negotiated, after midnight, with a Romanian cabin attendant. Given the relative negotiating position of the parties this would not be cheap. A key phrase in negotiating is BATNA - the Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. This would be a NATNA situation: if the conductor doesn't like the price, welcome to the snowy abandoned station in the middle of the night.

Some quick homework shows that the 100km trip to Lviv ($20 each) then lets you pay Ukrainian prices down to Bucharest or Moldova (less than $40 each, including First Class sleeper supplement). I took a first class Ukrainian train from Kiev to Lviv by accident: when I heard the price I had assumed I was in second class, only to enter a cabin with just two bunks, deep red velvet fittings and matching tablecloth, an old bankers lamp and old world charm in every nook. $20 please. 

Lviv, you will recall, was also home to the World's Greatest Biscuit Lady. We duly returned and expanded our sampling rate. These are all essential winter warming carbs to see me through hibernation.

Winter has set in. The snow barrels down and the odd errant step can put you in shin deep. Its beautiful, and because its not windy, amazingly bearable at minus four degrees. Long underwear was bought at a local market: I went to a stall to try it on and emerged carrying nothing but a handful of money for the laughing proprietoress. Its never coming off, and even if it is made entirely from the new DuPont fabric, Itchalon, its my new best friend.

I do feel I am eking more of the subtleties of Ukraine out from the quick return visit. We did the land border thing again purely for speed (the train takes hours to change wheels), and I felt like a tour guide taking Claude through the experience. Acquiring a working knowledge of Cyrillic makes everything easier - something picked up through a few hours of the Metro and various other little tricks like reading billboards for products you know and matching the letters: brands like Nivea Sport are generally transliterated rather than translated - a handy tip for young players. The granddaddy of them all is the McDonalds menu. Big Mac, McTasty and ChizBurger all help you to learn letters that would otherwise be mere squiggles.

Lviv also has one of the world's great places to stay, and returning to the Kosmonaut Hostel was happily warm and familiar like an old pair of shoes. And bar one irritating French guy who smelt like that old pair of shoes, it was just as good on the return visit.


Lviv, another place I spent eating, drinking pure liquid chocolate drinks (astoundingly tasty) and being grateful for hot running water whilst trying to sort out virus on camera and usb stick problems.  Gladly, eventually all were solved.   

In Lviv the temperature dropped to below zero which was another reason why venturing outdoors was something we did in extremely brief bursts, even after the purchase of the obligatory leather mittens and puffy, hooded jacket.  Yes, I now look like every other local, black, puffa jacketed L'vivian.  

I'm not sure how the whole population over here aren't obese as every half hour you would want to escape the ferocious cold by entering a little cafe and sampling the local fare/drinks etc.  I think the lowest official temperature we experienced was -5 degrees (but I have a photo of -4 degrees on a wall clock). 

The most exciting thing about the low temperature was that it began to snow on our second day.  The snow is absolutely amazing!  Everything is coated in perfect white, untouched fluffiness.  The bone-chillingly cold climate becomes bearable when you have such an amazing vista everywhere you look.  Every snowy tree is a potential photograph, every rooftop straight out of that 'white christmas' movie.  Every old, rusty drainpipe has nurtured a cluster of clear, icy tendrils which somehow forms a specimen of beauty far, far greater than the sum of its dirty parts. 

This is the first snow I have seen in a few years so it was very exciting to reacquaint myself with these weather conditions.  Having said this, after a few days I was pretty glad that it doesn't snow in Sydney.  I mean, it's all well and good in short burts and it has a great deal of novelty value but after a while you just want to get some place where it is warm and stay there.

Next stop Moldova!
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