Can't live without travels! Wherever she goes she always looks for alternative spots or street art. A huge fan of Central Europe and off the beaten path places and a living proof that you can balance full time job and extensive travel!
I didn’t plan to go to Ukraine in the first place. No matter how much I enjoy our neighbor country this past August I was supposed to visit Balkans again. Long story short: my flights were cancelled and suddenly I was left with some extra hours I worked hard for (and a national holiday that would be a big shame not to use for travelling) and no plans. Not to mention I was already looking forward to the nice getaway. After lots and lots of thinking over every possible option I suddenly came up with the best idea ever: why not visiting a completely new country, one of the very few I had left in Europe? And so I’ve decided to go to Moldova!
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But… it’d have been too easy to travel directly there, especially that I had over a week to spend. I figured the best would be to go via Ukraine, especially that there’re lots of direct buses there. I found the most perfect one – to Kamyanets-Podilsky, departing from Warsaw on Friday at 5pm, right after I finish work. And so decision was made, Kamyanets-Podilsky was my first stop on this trip!
I’ve been to Ukraine few times before but only to Kiev and Lviv. And as much as I loved both I wanted to see other places too. Ukraine really is one of the most interesting, misunderstood and underrated countries in Europe and it’s heartbreaking to see what’s happening there. When I shared my plans with friends and family the majority of people thought I’m crazy and stupid, more than ever, going right into the war zone. Well, true, there’s a war in Ukraine but only in the east part of this huge country. The rest is really safe to visit and even if there might be some tensions tourists are really fine there, welcomed more than ever.
After 15 hours long bus journey I woke up in the most perfect moment – when we were approaching the magnificent fortress in Kamyanets-Podilsky, the place I learnt so much about at school. It was like stepping from a dream into a fairy tale. Kamyanets-Podilsky was first written about in 11th century as the Armenian trade center. After the troublesome years the city got under the Polish rule at the beginning of the 15th century and remained so until 1793, the Second Partition of Poland, when Russians took it over. Kamyanets-Podilsky was known as urb antemurale Christianis, the place defending the frontiers of Christian Europe from the Ottoman Empire. This was especially seen in the 17th century when the Ottoman troops tried to conquer the town and eventually succeeded in 1672. For 27 years Kamyanets-Podilsky was part of the Ottoman empire to finally got back under the Polish rule. When Poland was erased from the map of the world (to get the independence back 123 years later) Kamyanets-Podilsky was taken over by Russian and then became part of Ukraine to remain so until these days.
Not many of my friends have visited Kamyanets-Podilsky (which is kind of surprising). When I looked up some info online (and especially pictures) all I could see was the fortress, pretty impressive one. I was so sure that’s the only decent thing the city has to offer. Oh how wrong I was! Already the bus journey through Kamyanets-Podilsky could show me that it’s the kind of place I’d enjoy a lot. The beautiful pastel architecture remembering the old times and the breathtaking location made the trick for me.
Quite typically, I started exploring the city from the Kamyanets-Podilsky fortress, the most famous landmark of the city and probably the best of all the Ukrainian castles. It sits magnificently on the deep shores of the river Smotrych, dominating the area around. When I saw its pictures online I’ve thought it’s nothing really special, just the castle like many. But wow, what a place it was! It really took my breath away! I spent much more time than expected in and around the fortress, checking out every corner and angle (and sometimes those places wouldn’t pass European safety standards…). I felt like a kid at the huge playground, the one that has been through so much over centuries. I’ve never expected the castle can bring me so much joy. I actually could have been there so much longer but there were still so many places I wanted to see in the city I thought might be not so interesting.
Across the bridge from the fortress, on the high bank surrounded by the river Smotrych lies the old town of Kamyanets-Podilsky. It’s fairly small but so very charming. Cobbled streets, beautiful old houses, city gates, churches and the tranquil vibe made the place look and feel like the time has stopped there. It was all kind of perfect. The place reminded me of Lviv in a way, another Ukrainian city I adore so much. I just can’t really figure out why was that – could it be the common past and the Polish heritage? I was just surprised how empty the old town was. It was Saturday, in the middle of August, a perfect summer day and there were very few people around (the fortress however was fairly busy). Too bad the majority of visitors skip the old town as it’s such a gem!
But still the best of Kamyanets-Podilsky was waiting for me – the street art! A while ago I discovered by accident that there’s a pretty active street art scene, with the festival and some cool murals around. During my lunch break in the cozy cafe I quickly drew a map of Kamyanets-Podilsky murals and I headed to the more “normal” area of the city, determined to find them all. Of course I failed – could be my terrible drawing skills – but I’ve seen some great ones anyway. They were mostly connected to Kamyanets-Podilsky’s history which I think was a great way to commemorate the city. And to my great surprise the best murals were hidden in the old town!
Kamyanets-Podilsky felt even more abandoned in the evening. It seemed like no one wanted to stay there overnight, even if just to witness the fortress illuminated in the demonic manner. In bright red colours it looked like from the creepy horror movie or one of Amsterdam’s famous districts. This view actually made my stay in Kamyanets-Podilsky so much better and memorable!
The next morning I stormed through the empty old town and not so empty other parts of the city to catch the bus to one of my dream destinations – Chernivtsi (guess not many of you have heard of it). Kamyanets-Podilsky was a perfect first stop in Ukraine – it put me in the travelling mode right away and I enjoyed every single moment of my time there. If you consider a trip to Ukraine anytime soon make sure to include Kamyanets-Podilsky in your itinerary and give the city more than just few hours. Trust me, you won’t regret it!
Have you been to Ukraine? Would you like to visit Kamyanets-Podilsky? Which city was much more than you expected?
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