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© Douglas Hykle
2006-2017
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Travel Information - extensively revised in November 2017

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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 two decades of experience travelling in western Ukraine.

The contents have been extensively revised in November 2017, to take account of important developments in recent years. For example the Hyrvnia (UAH) – USD / EUR exchange rate is now approximately 26:1 / 31:1, respectively; and prices for most goods and services (such as taxis, public transportation etc.) have risen accordingly.

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 Kyiv and various other European destinations; and from Duesseldorf 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.  Its gleaming all-glass facades replace the Stalinist-era architecture of its small predecessor, which still stands nearby. Nowadays, all of the basic airport services (check-in, security, customs, baggage delivery etc.) operate very efficiently and you are unlikely to experience any delays upon arrival or departure.

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:

Normally, there is a cluster of unlicensed 'taxi drivers' lurking around the entrance who will offer to take you in their private car for the journey into town – about 15-20 minutes depending on traffic. The vehicles might not be in the best of condition, but I have never had any difficulties with these drivers, apart from the inflated rates they invariably quote. The “terrible taxi touts” now ask upwards of 200 UAH for the 8-minute drive to the nearby hotel I usually frequent, whereas the going rate was just 80 UAH less than two years ago. The 150% hike can’t be explained by fuel or exchange rate increases over that period. (By comparison, the return journey from hotel to airport, with a reputable call-up service still costs only about 60 UAH.) The quoted rate may be negotiated downward to some extent, but even if you are ripped off, take it with a grain of salt, as the "damage" is unlikely to amount to more than a few dollars.

If you would like to avoid the touts entirely, the regular bus all the way into the city centre will set you back just 4 UAH! The bus stop is situated slightly to the right, across the road in front of the terminal building. 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.

Reputable meter taxis do exist in town, but you would be lucky to find one operating out of the airport, unless you happen to know the local number (eg. Taxi Optimalna: 099 633 2222). I find these meter taxis to be the least hassle of all and the most economical 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.

Lviv certainly warrants a visit of at least 2 or 3 days, and 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. Personally, I find the Nota Bene Hotel to be very satisfactory in all respects, but its location (in a quiet neighborhood, west of the city centre) might not appeal to those who wish to be close to the attractions.


Entering Ukraine via Kyiv   

A second option for entering Ukraine is through the capital Kyiv (Kiev), which is well served by many international airlines and Ukraine International Airlines (UIA). After a break of several years, daily flights from Kyiv (KBP) to Chernivtsi (CWC) have resumed, flying under the banner of UIA. I believe at least some of the Embraer RJ145 aircraft flying the route are operated by Windrose Aviation. The 1h15m flights are reasonably priced, if booked well in advance.

Upon arrival in Chernivtsi, the few available taxis are quickly snapped up by informed locals. While the inexpensive (4 UAH) trolley bus might be an option for getting to the city centre during daytime hours, I would not want to count on this for late evening arrivals. Chernivtsi departure formalities are pretty "low-key". In practical terms, that means you can still arrive at the airport, on the outskirts of town, fairly close to the scheduled departure time.

Chernivtsi Airport  

Dniproavia Embraer 145 at Chernivtsi Airport



From Lviv / Kyiv to Tovste and Chernivtsi, by train  

For journeys by train, the online booking system of the State Railway company “Ukrzaliznytsia” is excellent, and is especially useful for checking schedules, selecting seats, and purchasing/printing tickets from home: https://booking.uz.gov.ua/en/

It is advisable to use this service to book tickets in advance, as seat availability may be limited on certain trains during peak travel times.

In general, trains continue to be reasonably comfortable, punctual, reliable, and relatively inexpensive. Unfortunately, very few of them now stop in Tovste, at hours that are inconvenient to most users. So, when returning from Tovste to Lviv, I often take one of the frequent morning buses to Ternopil (roughly 2h15m, journey time), then continue the rest of the way by train (about 2 hours). In the reverse direction, it’s possible to do the whole journey by train, if you don’t mind arriving in Tovste in the middle of the night. (In October 2017, I took a train departing Lviv at around 20:00, arriving Tovste at 02:30, including a short connection in Ternopil.)

Additionally, there’s now a modern train service between Lviv and Chernivtsi that dramatically cuts the travel time between those two cities, however the high-density (six-abreast) seating makes for an uncomfortable journey.

Securing a ticket in person at the train station in Lviv can be a bit of an adventure, made easier if you have done a bit of research in advance. (There is also a ticket office in town, at 20 Hnatiuka Street.) Armed with the precise train times and numbers makes it much easier to deal with the ticket agents in the Lviv station, who generally cannot converse in English. Purchasing a ticket all the way through to Tovste can be challenging. In the past, at least, the computer system the agents use in Lviv seemed not 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.)

TIP: Apart from the Ukrainian website listed above, 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.

The train station in Lviv is a bit dreary and very crowded, but one can buy food there, eat in the restaurant, and use the washroom facilities etc. The queues for tickets tend to be long and 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. 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, it is necessary to present your passport as a form of ID; and 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 quite 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, since 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.

*  *  *  *  *

Travel from Kyiv to Chernivtsi by train is a pleasant alternative to flying if you are not in a hurry. I would recommend it, if only once, because it allows you to soak up the scenery at a leisurely pace – that is to say, an overnight journey of about 11 ½ hours. This train used to pass through Tovste and even make a brief stop there, but now it takes a more direct route. Departure/arrival times as at October 2017: 20:05 - 07:30. 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 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.

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 small fee.
    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 

Some 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 ½ 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. These days, I expect the journey from Chernivtsi to Tovste will set you back about 750 Hryvnia (one-way), depending on where you leave from. By western European standards, and with current exchange rates of around 30 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 in a pinch, because there are unscrupulous drivers who will try to charge whatever they think you are able to pay. Stick with meter taxis for short and long journeys, if at all possible.

Another even more economical – though less comfortable and somewhat less convenient – option is to travel to/from Tovste by inexpensive public bus.

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. [NB: timetables accurate as at 2012, but still generally indicative of the present situation]

 

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 much of the journey. Drivers don't always stick to the published schedules, and may leave 5 minutes ahead of time.
  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, 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. In Tovste, the bus stops at the 'station' at the T-junction just beyond the Greek Catholic church. NB: for the return journey to Chernivtsi later in the day, there are only a couple of buses that leave late in the afternoon/early evening.

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 stop. It costs only about 15 Hryvnia for a shared journey to Zalishchyky, versus about 150-200 Hryvnia 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 700 Hryvnia or so, but identifying the reasonable ones is best done through 'word of mouth'.

*  *  *  *  *

In the absence of conveniently-timed trains, I have experimented (in the past) 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. 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 least 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.

Some 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 hours), 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, as mentioned above. Driving time by taxi directly to the train station in Ternopil is about 1 ½ hours. (The bus takes about 2 ½ hours and terminates at the main bus station, which is about a 10 minute taxi ride to the train station.) From there, regularly scheduled trains depart for Lviv throughout the day, starting from about 06:00. Journey time is just over two hours. As mentioned above, the Deutsche Bahn and Ukrzaliznytsia websites can be consulted for a detailed schedule. Once you reach Lviv train station, a 100 Hryvnia taxi ride will have you at the airport in 15 minutes.

NB: Ternopil’s central bus station has been modernised and some changes are not necessarily for the better. Whereas it used to be very easy to find an ‘informal’ taxi directly in front of the station, there’s no longer any obvious taxi queue and whatever ‘semi-official’ system is in place now is incomprehensible. (In October 2017, after some angst, I finally found someone who agreed to drive me 10 minutes to the railway station for UAH 50.)


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. I have used most of the car rental companies based there, and have found them all to be very professional and reasonably-priced (roughly 30-35 Euros/day for a compact car). As of October 2017, Hertz was undercutting the competition, but this may vary at different times of the year. 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.

For those who may, justifiably, find the prospect of self-driving in Ukraine somewhat daunting, given the poor condition of many of the roads*, another option is to hire a car and driver (who might also be able to offer limited translation service). Typically, the cost of a car/driver from Lviv to Tovste is in the order of USD 85-100 (one-way).

* Exceptionally, in October 2017, I “discovered” the northern E40 highway between Lviv and Pidhirtsi, which has been paved to a high standard. This makes the Olesko-Pidhirtsi-Zolochiv castle route a very interesting alternative to the H02 highway between Lviv and Ternopil, which is poorly maintained in some places. Normally, I avoid that route entirely and take highway H09 to Tovste, passing through Rohatyn, Berezhany, Pidhaitsi, Monastyrska, Buchach and Chortkiv (ca. 225 km; 3.5 hours non-stop driving time, when familiar with the route, pothole locations etc.)



Hotel Accommodation and Restaurants in Tovste 

Dvir Guesthouse - Tovste   Well-stocked grocery and hardware stores abound in Tovste, but hotel and eating establishments remain almost non-existent. As far as I am aware, the only hotel accommodation in Tovste is 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 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 (when I last stayed there 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. A decade ago, I found 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. 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, 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.


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, may take weeks to arrange and cost hundreds of dollars. On top of that, the visa fee now approaches USD 75-150 depending on how much of a hurry you are in. 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. 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.

Online/offline "Google Translate" and/or a good phrase book comes in handy and should be adequate for most day-to-day situations. 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

Ukrainian currency  

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. 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 might 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 have no other option.

Tovste no longer has a branch of PrivatBank in the center of town (only an ATM remains), but it’s possible to exchange money at the state Oshad Bank, not far from the museum.

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 and then buying top-up cards at ubiquitous kiosks for 100 Hryvnias (USD 4) each. As an alternative to buying cards, which are not always available in large denominations, one can also purchase extra phone time through branches of PrivatBank.

Kyivstar and Vodaphone 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 has much better internet coverage, especially outside of large cities. Its SMS messaging service 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).

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 far from universal 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!