It was only a short hop to the closest city to Europe, so I did it.
A reservation was made at the Old Continent Hotel in Uzhgorod, and there I was. First impressions were of a quiet backwater, more European than former Soviet block, with all the staff at the hotel being very polite, and all speaking excellent English.
The city itself is split in two, with the river Uzh running through the middle. It was a beautiful day when I arrived around lunchtime so a walk along the river seemed a good start.
Fairly soon I realised the numerous fishermen were like fishermen the world over. More there to escape their wives than to actually fish. Fishing on the Uzh seemed to consist of throwing a line into the water, consuming sizeable quantities of a clear liquid from what looked surprisingly like vodka bottles, bringing the line in, walking/staggering 20 yards further down stream and repeating the process.
From the riverbank, I moved into the city, and followed a tree-lined boulevard. A street market was in full swing, and then, a wedding.
I don’t know if these were pre-wedding pictures or the real thing, but the bride looked a bit grumpy.
With some Hryvna in hand I took a chair on the banks of the river and ordered a meal from the “A Priori” restaurant, a thriving place with very busy staff, all keen to practice their English on me. It appeared that I was served quicker than anyone else around me, but nobody seemed to mind, least of all me.
Food finished, back out into the incredibly warm late afternoon sun to try and find the post office for stamps and postcards. I followed incomprehensible signs, and incredibly I arrived ….. just as the stout cashier was closing for the day. I pleaded in my best Russian, and she took pity. Once inside her lair, she refused to let me out until her entire English repertoire was exhausted. I must confess to struggling a touch with her accent, slightly thicker than bitumen. I smiled encouragingly, the deal was done and I escaped.
A slow walk through the city brought me back to the bridge and to my hotel. I’d been travelling a lot, and was lookingforward to a couple of quiet beers and an early night.
After a shower and a quick flick of the telly channels, I went downstairs. I appeared to be the only foreigner in the hotel bar, everyone appeared to know each other, the atmosphere was friendly and the barstaff excellent. Two beers, as promised and I retired up to my room……………
Where a live band, apparently playing on my windowsill were blaring out Western music from the 70’s and 80’s with such passion but such little ability that I was seriously thinking of walking back to the border
Silence reigned around 2am, and then a decent nights sleep in a very comfortable bed. Breakfast was followed by another trip around the shopping area before heading to the Slovak border.
I only spent 24 hours in Ukraine, but left with the impression of a happy people, with the same hopes and fears as myself. I’m not sure I can even imagine what their fears are right now.