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Aug 19 2014

Uzhgorod: My Favourite Border Town

As part of my unplanned trip into Slovakia a month or so ago, I decided to go for it and visit Lviv.  So, how did I end up in a Ukrainian border town I had never heard of?  Well, as part of my decision-making process, I went to the bus station in Kosice, where I was staying, and looked at the board that had all the destinations listed.  Lviv wasn’t on it, so I looked to find out where the Ukrainian towns were on Google maps.  I located Uzhgorod (Uzhhorod) on the map and it was just over the border.  I decided to stay just one night and then continue my journey to Lviv.  In my experience, border towns aren’t generally the nicest places to be.

I have no idea why, but I wasn’t able to buy my bus ticket the day before at Kosice bus station.  When I returned the next morning, I bought my ticket and boarded the bus.  The bus driver made some scheduled and unscheduled stops to pick people up and for a last minute shopping trip.  The entire journey only took two and a half hours, including an hour at the border.  Pretty much as soon as we crossed into Ukraine, we arrived in Uzhgorod.

Uzbhorod journey

Having arrived at the bus station, my first impression confirmed my idea that it was going to be a typical border town.  There didn’t seem to be much there.  I had no idea where the centre of town was and I couldn’t see a sign for it.  I thought I might find a cafe near the bus station that had WiFi, but that was just wishful thinking.  I couldn’t see a bank or ATM anyway either.  This really didn’t bode well.

I tried asking for the direction of the town centre and a woman pointed and said I could get a bus.  I didn’t have any Ukrainian currency, so that wasn’t a possibility.  I spotted the train station across the road, so I went over.  The train station looked very different to everything else I’d seen up to that point.  As you can see from the photo, they’ve certainly made an effort with the decor.

Uzhgorod Train Station

Inside the train staation was an ATM, so I was able to get some Ukrainian money.  I decided to start walking in the direction the woman had pointed, hoping I would come across a cafe or restaurant with WiFi.  After walking for about 10 minutes, not knowing if I was going in the right direction, I spotted a sign for a restaurant on a horrible-looking, dusty road with precious little around.  I was expecting a dump of a place, but I was in for a big surprise.  It was as if I had walked into an oasis.  It actually looked really nice.

Fancy restaurant in Uzhgorod

It was lunchtime, so I decided to have lunch and make use of the WiFi.  I found and booked some accommodation online and then enjoyed my meal in comfort.  Once I knew where I was going, I continued on foot until I reached the town centre.  Things, by that point, had started looking up.

When I spoke to the person running the hostel, I found out that there was a palace in a nearby town, so I decided to stay an extra day. The thing is, the longer I stayed, the more I liked this border town.  It wasn’t a typical border town after all, so I ended up spending a few days there.  This is why…

It’s quirky

Quirky Uzhgorod

This was my first introduction to Ukraine and I found it a little quirky.  They have a statue halfway up by a building by a lamp.  It’s a tribute to a specific lamplighter, ‘Uncle’ Kolya, for all his years of service.  Then, while walking along the riverside, I found a small metal statue of a man with his arms folded, sitting on a railing.  I have no idea who this person is supposed to represent. Oh, and, of course, the love lock bridge, with the biggest locks I’ve seen so far on my travels.

The Architecture

Buildings in Uzhgorod

Just strolling around the town, you will see lots of different styles of buildings and a number of places of worship.  Out of all of those are two cathedrals.  The photo on the left is the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and top right is the Greek Catholic Cathedral.  The former is on the main road into town and it towers over all the other buildings in Uzhgorod.  The latter is in the centre of town.

The History

History Uzhgorod

You can learn about the history of the town from a visit to the castle (left) and the Transcarpathian Local History Museum (bottom right).

The castle, now a ruin, is an important part of Hungarian history as the town was part of the Kingdom of Hungary for a long time.  It was built between the 13th and 18th centuries.  A key figure in Rákóczi’s War for Independence, Bercsényi, resided in the fortified palace within the castle.  When fortifications were no longer required, the castle was given to the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which opened a school in the grounds. 

Next to the castle is the museum.  It has a mix of all sorts of things from a bygone age – weapons, periodicals, clothing etc.  All the text is in Ukrainian.  Even if you don’t understand Ukrainian, like me, you can still appreciate the displays.  Outside is a reconstructed village from the past, which has a number of well-preserved buildings (houses, a school etc.).

The nearby town with a palace I mentioned earlier is Palanok Castle in Mukachevo.  This was also under Hugarian control.  In my view, it’s far more spectacular than the castle in Uzhgorod and it’s only a 40-minute bus journey.

The Transportation

Transportation Uzhgorod

This might seem a little odd, but I was fascinated by the old vehicles.  I loved travelling on the old, colourful buses and looking at the old cars.  I wondered if they were representative of Ukraine, but they aren’t.  I only saw them in Uzhgorod and Mukachevo.

A Place to Chill 

Chill out

Uzhgorod is one of those small towns that you can just sit back and relax in one of the numerous cafes, bars, and restaurants, or sit down by the river with an ice cream.  You should try the Kibi (Kiwi) ice cream; it’s very refreshing on a hot summer’s day.

Useful Information

One really handy thing to know is that you can exchange euros anytime of the day or night at a 24-hour currency exchange.  When I arrived, it was getting late and it was the weekend, so the banks were closed until Monday.  As I had some spare euros, I used this handy 24-hour currency exchange bureau, located outside the front of a large supermarket, about a 10-minute walk from the town centre.

Currency exchange

Location

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Have your say

Do you have a favourite border town?  If so, which is it and why?

Disclaimer

It’s important to note that I went to Uzhgorod on my own accord.  I wasn’t asked to write anything about it, nor was I paid or sponsored to go there or write about it.

About the author

Teresa Keane

Teresa has been to almost 60 countries. She started travelling independently at the age of 38 when she gave up her job, rented out her house, put her possessions in storage and spent a year travelling the world. It changed her life. She now creates, publishes, & promotes online travel content and is an experienced freelance trainer & EFL teacher.

2 comments

  1. John D

    Looks like Uzhgorod,in the Ukraine have done it in style.
    When things settle down, it will be on the “must see list”

  2. independenttravelhelp.com

    Thanks for your comment, John.

    It is worth exploring. You know, Ukraine is a big country and Western Ukraine is perfectly safe to visit at the moment.

    All the best, Teresa.

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