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© Douglas Hykle
2006-2017
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Travel Information - extensively revised in September/October 2012

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Introduction

This chapter describes how to get to and from Tovste, Chernivtsi, Lviv and Ternopil by various means of transport – including airplane, train, coach / minibus, private taxi, and rental car; as well as information on various accommodation options in town or within driving distance; and practical advice to take the guess-work out of routine daily activities. The advice is based on nearly 15 years of experience travelling in western Ukraine.

Although some of the information is specific to travel in this area, much of it is relevant or can be applied to other destinations in western Ukraine. You may also find additional useful information on various Ukrainian message boards and chat forums mentioned in the Useful Links section.

Many people travel to Ukraine as part of pre-arranged package tours. Typically they are met at the airport by a driver who takes them to their destination and stays with them throughout their visit. I have no experience with this kind of travel, but it obviously offers advantages in terms of comfort and convenience if one is willing to pay extra for this kind of personalised service. Tour companies may take you to interesting places that you would not otherwise know about or be inclined to visit.

Alternatively, if your budget is limited, with a little advance knowledge and a spirit of adventure you can do things on the cheap and still get a flavour of the real Ukraine, whilst interacting with the local people and their customs.


Air travel

Entering Ukraine via Lviv   

Travelers from abroad have a number of options for getting to Ukraine by air, then taking other forms of transport to reach Tovste or other cities with reasonable hotel accommodation in the vicinity.

One option is to enter through Lviv (also known as Lvov or Lemberg, in former times), which is well served by direct daily flights of several airlines affiliated with the ‘Star Alliance’: for example, from Vienna on Austrian Airlines, from Munich on German Lufthansa Cityline, from Warsaw on LOT Polish Airlines, and from Istanbul on Turkish Airlines. Lviv is also served by Ukraine International Airlines from various European destinations; from Kyiv by Dniproavia (an AeroSvit affiliate), and from Düsseldorf by the discount airline Wizzair.

In anticipation of the UEFA football championships, held in Ukraine and Poland in 2012, Lviv airport opened a brand new, world class terminal building in April 2012.  Its gleaming all-glass facades replace the Stalinist-era architecture of its small predecessor, which still stands nearby. The arrival/departure procedure is now very efficient, and passage through customs and immigration is uncomplicated. While the capacity of the spacious new terminal is greatly underutilised at present, Lviv is well placed to fulfil its aspiration of becoming an important gateway to Ukraine in the years ahead.  

New terminal building, Lviv Airport, Ukraine   New terminal building, Lviv Airport, Ukraine
     
New terminal building, Lviv Airport, Ukraine   New terminal building, Lviv Airport, Ukraine


*  *  *  *  *

After leaving the airport, there are a couple of options if you are heading into Lviv in order to catch a connecting train or, better yet, to stay overnight to see the sights of this charming city:

(1) Normally, a few unlicensed 'taxi drivers' lurking around the entrance will approach you with an offer to take you in their private car for the journey into town – about 15-20 minutes depending on traffic. The vehicles are generally in good condition, and I have never had any difficulties with these drivers. The first price they quote will likely be inflated, but this can be negotiated downward if one is firm about it. It’s not worth haggling too much though, as the fare should normally be only about 60-70 Hryvnia (roughly USD 8-9). Just make sure the rate is agreed and understood by both parties before setting out. Hotels in the city centre typically charge upwards of 2-3 times this amount for airport pick-up.

Meter taxis do exist in town, but you would be lucky to find one operating out of the airport. I find these meter taxis to be the least hassle of all and the most economical (in the order of 40 Hryvnia) for the return journey to the airport. An extra charge for luggage in the boot offers the only opportunity for extracting a few more Hryvnia from your wallet.

(2) In front of the new terminal building, across the road, you will find a stop for a coach service into town. During the 2012 football championships, a large, Western-style coach was operating on this route (no. 48), but the service has since reverted to much older (bright yellow) Soviet era buses. I cannot comment on the service or price, as I have not used it. The sign at the coach stop indicates that its final destination is the city centre, with several stops along the way at the following streets: Vyhovskhoho - Velykoho - Kn. Olhy - Sakharova - Kopernyka - Doroshenka and Svobody Prospect.

(3) Apparently, the old trolley bus – which departed from a stop located about 40m ahead and to the left of the old Stalin-era terminal building – still operates. It cost only about 2-3 Hryvnia and was okay if you were not burdened by heavy luggage and knew where you were going. Otherwise the trolley could get rather crowded and uncomfortable since it collects passengers as it approaches town. It ends up in the centre of Lviv, but unless you have a map showing where your hotel is, it is perhaps not so convenient to use this cheap mode of transport when you first arrive.   Airport of Lviv, Ukraine

Lviv is a charming city with a rich history, splendid architecture and a wonderful café culture. It certainly warrants a visit of at least 2 or 3 days. Hotel accommodation is plentiful. I can recommend three hotels of a fairly good standard where I have stayed in the past: Hotel Wien, not far from the theatre and other attractions; Swiss Hotel, which is centrally located on Knyazya Romana Str., and the Dnister Hotel, a larger complex situated at higher elevation above a park, about 10-15 minutes walk from the center. All of these hotels have reasonable rates, with good breakfast included, and English-speaking staff. Check their websites for current rates and availability. Note that Lviv hotels tend to have high occupancy during peak tourist season (e.g. summer and autumn), so it is advisable to book ahead. If the hotels mentioned above are not available, there are many others to choose from.

Another good option is to rent one of many private apartments that are advertised through a central booking service at: inLviv.info. Typically these apartments have been renovated in recent years to a high standard, with full kitchen facilities, and cost a half to a third of the price of comparable hotel accommodation. A deposit for one night will likely be requested in advance. Many of these apartments are conveniently located in the town centre, but it should be noted that the buildings in which some of them are situated may be in poor condition.


Entering Ukraine via Kyiv   

A second option for entering Ukraine is through the capital Kyiv (or Kiev), which is well served by many international airlines and Ukrainian carriers, such as AeroSvit or Ukraine International Airlines. Until a few years ago, it was possible to connect from there to Chernivtsi with a domestic flight using aircraft – such as the Saab 340 or Brazilian Embraer 145, pictured below – operated by smaller affiliates of Aerosvit, such as Dniproavia.

Saab-340 at Chernivtsi Airport  

Dniproavia Embraer 145 at Chernivtsi Airport

With a flight time of about one hour and 15 minutes, the twice daily service was popular and often operated at near capacity. Then, around 2009-2010, the route was inexplicably cancelled. An inquiry to AeroSvit was met with the ever so informative Soviet-era response that "the flights were cancelled due to technical reasons". As far as I am aware, no public explanation was ever given, but a labour dispute with Aerosvit pilots may have had something to do with it. Some years later, an Aerosvit pilot told me that there were not enough aircraft to service this particilar route.

I do not provide a link to the Aerosvit website because I cannot, in all honesty, recommend this airline to anyone, on account of countless instances of gross incompetence and indifference that seem be ingrained in the corporate culture. In any event, as of September 2012, it appears the only way of reaching Chernivtsi by air is via Timisoara, Romania, on Carpatair. There is a daily mid-afternoon flight which returns to Timisoara each morning.

*  *  *  *  *

A few words about Kyiv's Boryspil Airport. With the increasingly popularity of travel to Ukraine in recent years, the capacity of the country's main gateway has become stretched. Expect long queues at immigration on arrival unless you happen to arrive at a quiet time of day. More importantly, upon departure for international flights be prepared for delays and chaos at the security / immigration checkpoints, as many hundreds of travelers are funneled through just a few stations during peak hours.

Boryspil has undergone its own modernisation programme in recent years, dispensing with the old domestic terminal and bringing its operations under one roof. Despite this progress, it is still not possible to check bags through from Lviv to their final destination, and to obtain a boarding pass for the entire journey. It is necessary to retrieve your bags and check in again after reaching Boryspil, before proceeding through immigation controls and security. If the connection time is short (i.e. less than 2 hours) and you are passing through Boryspil during a peak period (e.g. during mass movements of Orthodox Jews visiting Ukrainian holy places in September/October), be prepared for a highly stressful travel experience. If memory serves me correctly, on one particular September day when I experienced this mayhem firsthand, Aerosvit inconveniently arranged for six of its fleet of seven 767 aircraft all to depart within a space of about 90 minutes, to destinations around the globe. Only through strategic jostling and good fortune was it possible to reach the departure gate on time! During ordinary times, the connection should be relatively hassle-free.

If you find yourself with a stopover in Kyiv and prefer to stay near the airport, I can highly recommend the Hotel Korona which is less than 10 minutes away by shuttle van. The prices are reasonable and all the services very professional. The 24-hour restaurant has good food, albeit a bit pricy by Ukrainian standards. There are several other small hotels in the vicinity of Boryspil with similar offerings, but I have not used any of them. Judging from numerous critical reviews on tripadvisor.com, the main aiport hotel (walking distance, at about 500m) should be avoided.

As described below, travel to/from Kyiv by train is a pleasant alternative to flying. I have taken the train from Kyiv a few times, and I would recommend it highly, if only once, because it allows you to soak up the scenery at a leisurely pace – that is to say, an overnight journey of some 15 hours or so. In former times, the train used to pass through the neighbouring country of Moldova; with an immigation/customs check en route that helped to break up the monotony of the journey.


From Lviv / Kyiv to Tovste and Chernivtsi, by train  

Train travel in western Ukraine is very inexpensive and, from my experience over the past decade, very punctual and reliable. You usually travel in an open or closed compartment that has four berths (i.e. fold-down beds), which are comfortable for sleeping or just relaxing.

There used to be several trains each day from Lviv to Tovste, including one leaving mid-afternoon, with journey times ranging from 6½ to 7 hours or more, depending on the service. However, the rail service in Ukraine has been greatly cut back in recent years. As far as I can tell, there is now only one fairly direct connection via Ternopil, leaving shortly before midnight and arriving Tovste at around 05:40 (total journey time 05:47, including connection time in Ternopil). There are other trains that reach Tovste via Chernivtsi, but the journey time is more than 13 hours. (Note that the straight line distance from Lviv to Tovste is only about 250 km!)

Securing a ticket in the train station in Lviv can be a bit of an adventure, made easier if you have done a bit of research in advance. TIP: I have found that the train schedules for western Ukraine on the Deutsche Bahn website (yes, German railway system!) are generally reliable and very informative. Select the English language option, and type in Lvov and Tluste or Chernovcy (note the spellings) in the departure/destination boxes. Armed with the precise train times and numbers makes it much easier to deal with the ticket vendors in the Lviv station, who generally cannot converse in English.

The last couple of times, purchasing a ticket all the way through to Tovste was a challenge because the computer system the agents use in Lviv no longer appears to be aware of the existence of Tovste. (As a matter of fact, as far as the Ukrainian rail system is concerned, Tovste still goes by the 1940s era name of "Tluste", but even knowledge of this anachronism doesn't help in Lviv.)

From my recent experience, the only option is to purchase a ticket as far as Ternopil, where it is necessary to change trains in any case. The cost for the journey between Lviv and Ternopil varies between 25 and 75 Hryvnias in either direction, depending on the origin of the train (and not the quality of service, which is fairly consistent). There are a couple late-night trains from Lviv that arrive in Ternopil between 45 and 20 minutes before the connecting train to Tovste, which departs at 02:15 (information correct as of September 2012). It is advisable to take the first train to have enough time to reach the station building in order to purchase another ticket. Note: the train from Lviv to Ternopil may be fully booked in advance, so there is a possibility that you will be denied a ticket if you try to purchase it only on the intended day of travel. The cost of a ticket from Lviv toTovste has probably doubled in recent years, but is still inexpensive at less than the equivalent of USD 10 for each sector.

The train station in Lviv is a bit dreary and crowded but one can buy food there, eat in the restaurant, and use the washroom facilities etc. The queues for tickets can be long, but they move fairly quickly. You will undoubtedly experience a sense of frustration when the ticket agents close up shop for about 10 minutes every hour while they take their scheduled break. Ticket counters 3, 4 and 5 are meant for purchases of short-term tickets (i.e. departures within 24 hours); while counters 7 and 8 are reserved for longer-term ticketing. If you do run into difficulty, a tourist information counter situated to the right of the main entrance has helpful English-speaking staff who (from my experience) will go out of their way to assist. TIP: It is advisable to travel with food and drink, as there is little to offer on the train itself, except hot tea. When booking the train ticket you will be assigned a particular wagon, compartment and berth.

It is advisable to go to the platform about 20 minutes before the scheduled departure, since the train usually arrives about 10-15 minutes in advance, and there is always a scramble to get on board with awkward luggage. As soon as the train pulls in, try to approach one of the conductors on the platform who will direct you to the correct wagon, if you haven’t already figured it out from the ticket. The compartment and berth number is also written on ticket, but can this can be a bit difficult to decipher, so ask for help before or after boarding.

I find train journeys in Ukraine to be pleasant and generally without unwanted surprises. They're a great chance to catch up on sleep, paperwork or just enjoy the scenery slip by during the daytime. To avoid any misconceptions, it should be understood that the trains are of a rather old vintage but are otherwise very comfortable. The toilets are, shall we say, rudimentary. Normally, sheets will be offered for a modest charge, to go on top of the bedding already in the compartment. The trains’ punctuality is such that there is a good chance that you will arrive at your destination precisely at the scheduled time, which is more than can be said for many Western rail systems. If traveling at night, the cabin attendants will alert you about 30 minutes or so prior to reaching your destination, so there is little danger of missing your stop.

Morning arrival in Tovste  on overnight train from Lviv/Ternopil     Arriving in Tovste shortly after sunrise can only be described as enchanting. But unless you happen to have a welcoming party, hauling one's bags a few hundred metres from the station over rough track is much less agreeable!


I will mention trains departing from Tovste only briefly, as purchasing a ticket for the return journey is not for the faint of heart. Normally, one must have a ticket in hand to get on the train. There is a ticket booth on the ground floor of the train station, but it opens for only a short time at unpredictable and highly irregular hours. There is also a small signaler's (?) office on the second floor which seems to be staffed 24/7, where one can go in desperation to try to find out when the ticket booth might possibly open. Once, when the ticket booth did not open at the appointed time, I found myself waiting for a train departing after midnight – my only way of getting to Lviv to catch a flight – with no ticket in hand. Fortunately, a young Ukrainian found himself in the same predicament and we managed to locate a conductor who let us on board. The whole drama played out in less than two minutes – the duration of the train stop in Tovste – but hauling luggage down a railway track in total darkness, in the hopes of finding the one car with a conductor on duty is not recommendable.

*  *  *  *  *

One can also travel by overnight train from Kyiv to Chernivtsi, a journey of about 13 hours or so, departing early evening (18:42) and reaching Chernivtsi at 08:16. As a matter of fact, this is the very same train that passes through Ternopil in the early hours of the morning and stops briefly in Tovste at around 05:40. There is also an earlier, quicker train departing 18:20, arriving Chernivtsi at 05:40 (all information correct as of September 2012). Reservations for these trains are hard to come by, especially on weekends and holidays, as the sleeping compartments are heavily booked in advance.

Trains depart from from a modernised station in central Kyiv. To get there from Boryspil Airport, take a "marshrutka" (minibus) that departs regularly from in front of the terminal building as soon as there are enough passengers on board. The journey costs the equivalent of only a few dollars and can take as little as 45 minutes depending on traffic, which can be quite congested during rush hour, increasing the journey time considerably. These days one can also find very smart looking taxis (white sedans) in a queue in front of the terminal building, if you prefer to travel alone, in more comfort.

This busy railway station is rather large; and although there are lots of places to sit in the free public area, the seats tend to be occupied according to the rules of "musical chairs".

For a more tranquil environment, one can relax instead in a cavernous waiting lounge nearby for a fee of about 15 Hryvnia.
    Kyiv Train Station

Normally you share a train compartment with other people, especially since the Kyiv-Chernivtsi route is heavily frequented. You might use the opportunity to strike up an acquaintance or simply travel undisturbed, minding your own business. Apart from the occasional case of overly exuberant travelling campanions, well-supplied with beer, I have never had a bad experience traveling with other passengers, taking normal precautions with valuables etc. Once or twice in the past, I opted to pay for the whole compartment when I was traveling with family or when I wanted to be able to spread out papers to work; but this "extravagance" might not be so easy to arrange these days if the trains are travelling at capacity.


Travel between Chernivtsi / Lviv / Ternopil and Tovste - taxi and bus 

Many visitors to Tovste will want to use Chernivtsi – 75 km to the south – as a base, since there is only limited accommodation available in town and not much on offer in nearby Zalishchyky either.

If you have not arranged a private car and driver, there are a couple of options for getting to Tovste from Chernivtsi. Some 'slow trains' do pass through Tovste on their way north, but their departure times are generally not convenient for day trips and they are, by definition, very slow – stopping at every village along the way.

The quickest way to reach Tovste in 1 1/2 hours or less is by taxi, but not just any taxi. There are two or three companies that operate fleets of taxis equipped with standardised meters, which (in my experience) are transparent and not subject to abuse. They can usually be identified by the large telephone numbers inscribed on the sides of the vehicles. At a rate of 4 Hryvnia per km, the cost of the 75 km one-way journey from Chernivtsi to Tovste will set you back close to 300 Hryvnia, depending on where you leave from. By western European standards, and with current exchange rates of around 10 Hryvnia to the Euro, this is still very reasonable.

Note, however, that many cars that look like legitimate taxis – with a light on the roof and perhaps even with numbers on the side – might not have a meter. Avoid these unless you are really in a pinch, because there are unscrupulous drivers who will try to charge whatever they think you are able to pay. In the late 1990s/early 2000s, the going rate for a negotiated taxi fare used to be 1 Hryvnia per km, which worked out to about 75 Hryvnia for the journey from Chernivtsi to Tovste. Nowadays unregulated taxi drivers in substandard vehicles, probably without any insurance, demand many times that much – well above the increase that could be justified by higher petrol prices. Stick with meter taxis for short and long journeys, without exception, if at all possible!

Another even more economical – though less comfortable and somewhat less convenient – option is to travel to/from Tovste by public bus. In Chernvitsi, the main bus depot is located about 10-15 minutes walk from the Cheremosh Hotel down the road leading east (to the right as you exit the hotel).

Interior of typical bus servicing Tovste - Chernivtsi route  


Buses heading in the direction 'Rivne', 'Ternopil' and 'Dubno' etc. leave from Platform 2 at regular times during the day. The first bus in the morning departs at about 06:50, and the last one at 17:45. Full schedules are shown below.

The fare is cheap – only about 25 Hryvnia (about 3 USD) one way to/from Tovste.

 

In general, the quality of bus service has improved markedly in recent years, as many of the older buses (pictured here) have been replaced by more modern ones.

Still, the smaller buses used on shorter routes (e.g. between Zalishchyky and Tovste) can get extremely crowded, with passengers picked up along the way having to stand in the aisle for most of the journey.
  Old bus at Zalishchyky depot


Traveling from Chernivtsi on a good day, after a short stop in Zalishchyky to allow for a cigarette break or for passengers to use the renovated toilet facilities (if they are open), you can make it to Tovste in about 2 hours. Otherwise, if the bus stops for many passengers along the way, it can take as long as 2 ½ hours. You can ask to be let off in Tovste just about anywhere, but there is a scheduled stop at the 'bus depot' more or less opposite the Greek Catholic church. Note that for the return journey to Chernivtsi, there are only a couple of buses leaving late in the afternoon, before the very last one at 18:55.

Alternatively, there are also 'free-lance' mini-buses that travel the main north-south highway at random times. These can be hailed in front of the small supermarket opposite the bus depot. It costs only about 8 Hryvnia for a shared journey to Zalishchyky, versus about 75 Hryvnia (or more) by private taxi. There are no meter taxis in Tovste. If you need to get back to Chernivtsi in a hurry, there are individuals in town who may be prepared to drive there for 300 Hryvnia or so, but identifying the reasonable ones is best done through 'word of mouth'.

*  *  *  *  *

In the absence of conveniently-timed trains, I have recently experimented travelling by bus from Lviv to Tovste, and vice-versa. From Lviv, buses leave from a depot on the outskirts of town, perhaps 5-6 km from the city centre. Departure schedules are published (in Cyrillic) in some kind of daily or weekly gazette that seems to be freely available in the city. While I am sure the depot can be reached by local bus, it is much easier simply to take a taxi there, for about 40 Hryvnia. The buses are reasonably comfortable and the journey to Tovste, via Ternopil, takes about six hours, punctuated by frequent toilet/cigarette stops along the way. There is enough time at the bus station in Ternopil to have a light snack, purchase food and use the facilities. In the reverse direction, from Tluste to Lviv, the buses operate at twice daily, departing early in the morning and mid-afternoon. After arrival at the same bus depot on the outskirts of Lviv, the city centre can be reached with a short taxi ride.

Most international flights from Lviv depart early to mid-afternoon, and it can be a challenge to reach the airport from Tovste on the same day. Excluding the option of hiring a private taxi all the way from Tovste to Lviv (a journey of about 4.5 - 5 hours, which will cost close to 1000 Hryvnias), a good compromise is to take a taxi or bus to Ternopil and from there catch an inexpensive train the rest of the way to Lviv. Driving time by taxi directly to the train station in Ternopil is about 1 1/2 hours (cost for the 100 km trip is likely to be close to 400 Hryvnias).

Alternatively, the early morning bus from Tluste to Ternopil (departing 7:55 and costing around 32 Hryvnias) takes about 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 hours and terminates at the main bus station. From there, a 20 Hryvnia taxi ride should get you to the railway station in about a 7-10 minutes. Regularly scheduled trains from Ternopil depart for Lviv throughout the day, starting from about 06:00. Journey time is just over two hours. As mentioned above, the Deutsche Bahn website can be consulted for a detailed schedule. Once you reach Lviv train station, a 50 Hryvnia taxi ride will have you at the airport in 15-20 minutes.


Bus schedules for Chernivtsi / Lviv / Ternopil and Tovste  

There is a wonderful bilingual (Ukrainian-English) website that gives comprehensive schedules for bus services within Ukraine, including departures from Chernivtsi, Lviv, Ternopil, and Tovste. Besides showing departure and arrival times, each entry shows the type of vehicle, reliability of on-time departure (expressed as a percentage), as well as the point of origin and final destination of each route.

I have reproduced the relevant schedules in the following tables, which are accurate to September 2012. In addition, the links in the headings should take you to the original schedule where you can check for the latest complete information, in case updates have been made.

There are a few additional buses to/from Chernivtsi not listed in the tables which depart from and arrive at another bus depot on the northern outskirts of town, which can be accessed by taxi.


TOVSTE -> LVIV
          
LVIV -> TOVSTE
Depart
Arrive
Route no.
Origin
Depart
Arrive
Route no.
Final
Destination
07:55
13:45
165
Zalishchyky
08:30
14:55
314
Zalishchyky
15:20
21:25
157
Chernivtsi
12:50
18:50
158
Chernivtsi
15:46
22:15
68
Chernivtsi
14:55
20:26
166
Zalishchyky
       
15:30
20:52
252
Borshiv

 

TOVSTE -> CHERNIVTSI
          
CHERNIVTSI -> TOVSTE
Depart
Arrive
Route no.
Origin
Depart
Arrive
Route no.
Final
Destination
09:00
10:55
171
Ternopil
06:50
9:00
196
Rivne
11:05
13:04
161
Ternopil
08:00
9:50
309
Pochaiv
12:07
14:15*
145
Kremenets
09:10
11:00
303
Ternopil
14:10
16:10
195
Rivne
10:00
12:10
156
Rivne
15:00
17:00
310
Pochaiv
11:40
13:30
308
Ternopil
17:25
19:30
1550
Rivne
13:05
15:15
157
Lviv
17:45
19:40
304
Ternopil
13:55
16:10
392
Berezany
18:55
20:52
158
Lviv
14:45
17:00
162
Ternopil
 
15:55
18:10
682
Chemerivtsi
 
16:30
104
Zolochiv
 
17:45
19:36
146
Kremenets

 

TOVSTE -> TERNOPIL
          
TERNOPIL -> TOVSTE
Depart
Arrive
Route no.

Final
Destination

Depart
Arrive
Route no.
Origin
07:55
10:30
165
Lviv
03:50
05:50
692
Kyiv
09:05
11:35
196
Rivne
06:35
08:55
171
Ternopil
09:55
12:20
309
Pochaiv
07:10
09:08
863
Ternopil
11:05
13:40
303
Ternopil
08:25
11:00
161
Ternopil
12:15
14:45
156
Rivne
09:50
12:05
145
Kremenets
13:35
16:00
308
Ternopil
10:35
12:50
319
Ternopil
15:20
17:55
157
Lviv
11:30
13:39
46
Ternopil
15:46
19:00
68
Lviv
12:00
14:15
324
Ternopil
17:05
19:05
162
Ternopil
12:30
14:55
310
Ternopil
17:55
19:55
691
Kyiv
12:55
15:05
322
Ternopil
19:38
21:50
146
Kremenets
13:20
15:25
341
Ternopil
 
14:10
16:45
335
Ternopil
 
14:50
17:19
155
Rivne
       
15:25
17:40
304
Ternopil
       
15:30
18:00
258
Ternopil
       
16:00
17:58
865
Ternopil
       
16:15
18:50
158
Lviv
       
16:20
18;50
337
Ternopil
       
17:00
19:30
158
Ternopil
       
18:05
20:34
166
Lviv



Car rental 

It is not so many years ago that hiring a self-drive rental car in western Ukraine was unusual, if not impossible. But today, several of the major international rental chains have branches at the airport in Lviv which offer this service. The prices are quoted in Euros and, in my estimation, are fairly expensive.

However, in 2009, I discovered a 'local' alternative that provided exactly what I required at a very reasonable price. AUTO-Drive, which appears to have its headquarters in Lviv and branches in about a dozen cities throughout Ukraine (including Chernivtsi) offers a fairly wide range of western and Russian vehicles. With help from an English-speaking staff member in Lviv, I was able to organise a two-day van rental from the Chernivtsi branch for Euros 15 per day, including insurance, with unlimited mileage. The vehicle was fine and the pre- and post-rental service was very professional. I would not hesitate to use their services again in future. This is a viable option for anyone who feels confident enough to drive by themselves and alert enough to avoid police speed traps stationed along the major thoroughfares.

For any of these car rental companies, it is advisable to reserve well in advance in the months of summer and autumn, since the supply of vehicles seems not to be sufficient to meet the demand during these peak periods.


Hotel Accommodation and Restaurants 

Dvir Guesthouse - Tovste   As far as I am aware, the only hotel accommodation in Tovste remains the "Dvir Guesthouse" , which opened for business around 2004. It is located on the way into town, on the left hand side of the road as one approaches from Zalishchyky. Prices have very likely increased since the following review, most of which was written in 2007.

From appearances, it has all of the amenities of a proper guesthouse, with at least three or four rooms upstairs and a restaurant on the ground floor. The guest rooms, costing in the order of 100-200 Hryvnia per night irrespective of the length of stay (2007 prices) are fairly spacious, with en suite bathroom, including shower. There is even a sauna and Turkish bath on site, which the locals seem to use. Noise from the main street and adjacent pub, which is occasionally used for all-night wedding celebrations, may be a nuisance for light sleepers; and (in 2007) there were some "issues" related to the water supply and lax operating procedures.

Notwithstanding these inconveniences, the Dvir Guesthouse remains the only option readily available in Tovste, and it avoids the long journey to/from Chernivtsi. Food in the restaurant, which is open until at least 2200 in the evening, is pretty respectable. As a bonus, much of the menu has been translated into English, and makes for an amusing read while waiting for the food to be served. However, the restaurant's prices have increased significantly in recent years, making Cafe Diana (on the road leading to the 'new' Greek Orthodox church) better value for money, if it is actually still open (2012 comment).

In 2005, I discovered a couple of other alternative accommodation options in nearby Chortkiv, about 20 km to the north: Hotel Tanya (03552 22755); Hotel Avianosez (03552 21830); and Hotel Hetman (03553 31284). I know nothing about the first two, but I did visit the Hotel Hetman, which had clean rooms, with shower/toilet for 80 Hryvnia per night. It is situated only about a 5-10 minute walk from where the bus stops on its way to Tovste. There may well be other alternatives of which I am not aware, which have sprung up in recent years.

Zalishchyky, 25 km to the south of Tovste, was a thriving resort town in the 1930s. Renovation of the "Old Zalishchyky" hotel was finally completed in 2006. It offers rooms of various sizes ranging in price from 60-80-120 Hryvnia per night (2007 prices). All of the bedrooms were freshly painted then and the largest suites are very spacious. The mid-size room is more than adequate for two people. All of the en suite bathrooms are small and very basic. One side of the hotel faces a park and nearby street, while the other looks onto a courtyard and restaurant (both potential sources of noise). In any case, the "Old Zalishchyky" hotel offers visitors a cheap alternative to staying in Chernivtsi, making Tovste and the surrounding attractions much more accessible.

In Chernivtsi, which is worth visiting in its own right for at least a couple of days, there are several accommodation options available: three or four large hotels catering to tour groups and individuals, several smaller boutique hotels, as well as private accommodation in furnished apartments. User reviews on tripadvisor.com suggest that the smaller hotels provide good value for money. The Magnat Lux (where I have stayed in the past) and the Hotel Premium are two such establishments having received good reviews. The former is within walking distance of the city centre. The latter is further out, but on a main thoroughfare well connected by public transport. The Dinadis hotel booking website gives a good overview of room rates at these and other Chernivtsi hotels.

The Cheremosh Hotel, situated on the southern outskirts of town, used to be the hotel of choice in Chernivtsi, since it was equipped to handle both large tour groups and individual guests. Facilities include a number of restaurants, a discotech, currency exchange office, internet facility, in-house translation / interpretation service, multi-lingual tour guides etc. The room prices are variable – with a very basic double room costing in the order of USD 50 per night, excluding breakfast, and more recently renovated rooms costing closer to USD 75 per night.

Cheremosh Hotel - Chernivtsi   The rooms are by no means luxurious and they are definitely showing signs of their age, but they have all the basic amenities: hot/cold water, television, telephone, and modern refrigerator.

Unfortunately, user reviews suggest that the hotel has suffered from neglect in recent years, after a change in management, with a noticeable decline in standards and service.

 

Depending on ones' tastes, the Cheremosh might not be convenient for those who would prefer to stay in the centre of town. On the other hand, it is handy to shops and a market nearby, and to the bus terminal down the road, and it is easily reached by taxi and public transport. Also, being on the outskirts of town there is plenty of greenery nearby.   View to the south from Cheremosh Hotel
     
Bukovina Hotel - Chernivtsi   A comparable alternative to the Cheremosh is the Bukovina Hotel, located on a main road a bit closer to the city center. Some parts of the hotel were modernised some years ago. I have seen the rooms – which look okay in the new wing – but I have never stayed at the Bukovina Hotel and therefore cannot comment on the services.

At least the hotel management has made a sustained commitment to maintaining the appearance of the outside of the hotel and the grounds. The colourful flowers on the balconies always seem to be in full bloom.


Miscellaneous practical advice   

Visas

Citizens of most countries used to have to apply for a visa to enter Ukraine, before travelling. Fortunately, in 2005, visa requirements were waived completely or relaxed for nationals of countries of Europe and North America, among others. However, the visa procedure for people of other nationalities remains extremely onerous and expensive, and serves as a major deterent to travel to Ukraine. The process begins by securing original documentation from a local tourist company or possibly an invitation from a private citizen, both of which may take months to arrange. Then, after paying in advance a fee that now approaches USD 100-200 depending on how much of a hurry you are in, you are completely at the mercy of the Ukrainian secret service agency which appears to impose no self-limits on how much time it takes to investigate your background. Whereas embassies apparently have discretion to grant visas to individuals who already have visas from 'reputable' countries in their passports, there is no escaping the bureaucracy if one does not.

If you have booked an airline ticket in advance – as most mortals are obliged to do, in the interest of keeping the cost down – you may find yourself having to rebook the ticket at the last minute, when the visa has not been delivered on time (notwithstanding clear guidance provided by the Embassy about its normal processing times). Be forewarned: if you are unfortunate enough to require a visa to travel to Ukraine, be prepared for a very unpleasant, stressful experience.

Language

From my experience, is still fairly uncommon to find people in western Ukraine who speak English. A good phrase book comes in handy and should be adequate for most day-to-day situations. There are some exceptions, however, among Ukrainians who have lived and worked abroad elsewhere in Europe for a number of years. In such case, one may be pleasantly surprised to discover that knowledge of German or Italian holds the key to being able to communicate relatively easily, even in towns.

Menus in restaurants tend to be written only in Ukrainian, so ordering food can be challenging wherever you are.

  Lonely Planet Ukrainian phrasebook

Currency exchange

Changing money in Ukraine, even in small towns, is transparent and very easy thanks to the large number of exchange outlets. Banks and small money changers use billboards to advertise the exchange rates for dollars and euros, which may fluctuate from day to day. What you see is what you get – there are no hidden commission fees. The largest bill in circulation in Ukraine is 500 Hryvnia (worth around USD 60), but it is still a rarity.

Ukrainian currency   After a dramatic depreciation in the latter part of 2008, the Hryvnia appears to have been pegged to the US dollar within a narrow range of about 8 Hryvnia to 1 Dollar. In contrast, the currency has been allowed to float more freely against the Euro since the beginning of 2009, with the exchange rate fluctuating between about 12:1 to 10:1 (where it stood in September 2012). Judging from increases in price of some basic commodities and transportation over the past couple of years, inflation is not insignificant. While local people are undoubtedly experiencing hardship as a consequence, the still favourable exchange rate makes Ukraine a bargain for many foreigners.

Generally speaking, there are only small variations in rates from one exchange outlet to another on a given day, except perhaps at airports and train stations, which do not offer as good a rate. This is especially true of the exchange offices at Kyiv Boryspil Airport: do not bother exchanging money there unless you are really desperate.


The solitary bank in Tovste – PrivatBank, on the main street in the centre of town – is open from Monday to Friday (1000 - 1700) and on Saturday until 1500. Be prepared for longer queues on Friday (market day) and Monday mornings. The largest bill in common circulation is 200 Hryvnia (around USD 25), but the bank sometimes runs short – leaving you stuck with a fistful of 20's and 10's. Otherwise, the PrivatBank is a very convenient place to change money and top up a pre-paid mobile phone account.

Telephone

If you own a mobile phone that works in Europe and are going to be spending more than a week or so in Ukraine, it is definitely worth investing in a new Ukrainian SIM card (for less than USD 15-20 if I remember correctly) and then buying top-up cards at ubiquitous kiosks for 25-50-100 Hryvnias (USD 3-6-12) each. As an alternative to buying cards, which are not always available in large denominations, one can also purchase extra phone time (eg. 100 Hryvnia) through branches of PrivatBank.

Kyivstar and UMC are the two main competing mobile services. The per minute calling charge isn't cheap, but the convenience of making/taking a call from just about anywhere in the domestic network makes it worthwhile. From my experience, Kyivstar's SMS capability is also very handy. The Kyivstar SIM card even works for SMS while travelling in many countries outside of Ukraine (eg. in western Europe and perhaps even further afield).

If you don't have a mobile phone, I think it is still possible to purchase phone cards in various denominations from the official telecom authorities, and these can be used for making inexpensive calls from public pay phones.

In October 2009, Ukraine adopted a widely accepted international standard for dialing outgoing calls, whereby international calls are to be prefixed by '00' + country code (instead of the former '810'); intercity calls no longer require the former '8' prefix; and calls made with the Kyiv region (formerly prefixed by 8 044) now require the prefix 0 45.


Day-to-day

Toilet facilities are an issue in towns and villages of western Ukraine, even ones of a fairly large size. Such facilities are generally not available and any respectable ones attached to offices or public buildings tend to be hidden away, out of sight, and/or under lock and key. Indoor plumbing in houses is still a rarity in towns the size of Tovste; more often than not the only toilet available will be a wooden outhouse, located behind the private dwelling you might be visiting.

If you are thinking of using a public lavatory before heading off from the railway station in Chernivtsi, think again. I'm not sure if the situation has improved since I last visited around 2009, but the almost surreal public toilet in the basement – possibly constructed in the early 1900s and, by appearances, not upgraded since then – ranks as one of the most abominable on the planet.

An exception to this rule of thumb seems to be the many petrol stations that have sprouted up all along the highway leading from Chernivtsi to Tovste. It may be advisable to stop en route and take advantage of the rare chance of a clean toilet that these service stations offer. No other solution to this problem comes to mind, apart from advising one to drink sparingly before and during the journey!