Look, I know you were a little worried when I told you I was going to visit Ukraine. I thought at this point it was common knowledge that most parts of the country are perfectly safe, but I guess I’ve been locked into my travel blogger bubble for a little too long to realise that not everyone is up to date on the hot new travel destinations.
Anyway, I’m fine. Although I have to admit that arriving in Lviv at one o’clock at night was a bit of a harrowing experience.
My bus had been delayed by engine trouble, border control and probably by the sheer fact that I was now entering Eastern Europe. I had spent the journey working on my thesis, and as we pulled into the station, I suddenly had this sweet, victorious revelation that I might still, after all, graduate.
After getting my backpack out of the hold, I looked around. The station building was run-down and old, its windows dark. It seemed like every other passenger had got out of there as quick as they could; had it been possible, there probably would have been human-shaped silhouettes hanging on the air like in cartoons. I stood in the lot alone, facing the abandoned high rises on the other side of the road.
I checked Google Maps; I was over five kilometres outside of the city centre. A four-lane highway ran towards it, but in the middle of the night it was as abandoned as the rest of the world.
Walking would be no good. It would take me an hour to get into the city, maybe more, and I felt tired and groggy from travelling all day. The air was crisp but not freezing; a week from Easter, winter had already loosened its grip.
A lone, red car approached. As it got closer, I saw it was a taxi, and frantically waving, I got it to pull over.
Dobrej den, I said, as I had practiced. Rynok?
He nodded and gestured me to get in.
It took a few more words to get him to understand that I wanted to know the price of the ride, and he showed me a 100 hryvnia bill.
Dobre, I confirmed and jumped in the back. He chuckled to himself in the way that people do when foreigners are trying hard to speak their language but failing miserably. As if to say, I approve, but also: Well, that’s adorable.
Dobre, he repeated.
His radio was quietly playing American chart singles. It was the only thing that reminded me of anything I knew here. We rode past dark little kiosks and large, brutalist high rises, and I gawked at the foreign alphabet but couldn’t get a hold of their complex curves. For the first time in a long while, I felt the wonderful sensation of standing on the edge of something completely foreign.
He dropped me a few blocks off the main square and as I strode the last minutes to my hostel, I couldn’t stop smiling. I never even knew I had wanted to go to Ukraine, but there I was, enjoying the hell out of myself.
And you know what, mum? Even though it was dark and at night; even though I was alone in a country where no one spoke English; even if it was someplace I’d never been before; I was never once scared.
It took me until breakfast to confirm something I had already felt the night before. I ordered a cranberry ginger tea, and when I took the first, delicious sip, I knew it: I was in love with Lviv.