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Jul 22 2014

A One-Way Ticket to Eastern Europe

If you have been following me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, you will be well aware of my recent trip around some Eastern European countries.  I was intending just to stay in Poland and visit Ukraine briefly, but that changed while I was away.  That is one of the things I love about buying a one-way ticket and then going with the flow.  You have the freedom to change your plans as you wish, something I was somewhat limited with on my round the world adventure due to my RTW ticket.

This time, all I knew was that I had to be back in the UK for a teaching gig in July. That was it.  So, instead of going to two countries, I ended up going to five.  I went to Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine, Lithuania, and Latvia.  Obviously, because I was only away for 5 weeks, I didn’t get to explore all the countries in great detail, but I got a taster, which was great.  To be honest, I find it hard to believe that I was only away for 5 weeks.  Because I covered so much ground and connected with so many people along the way, it actually felt like so much longer.

The route

This was the route I ended up taking:

London – Warsaw – Zabuze – Warsaw – Krakow – Zakopane – Poprad – Kosice – Uzhgorod – Lviv – Ivano-Frankvisk – Warsaw – Vilnius – Riga – Vilnius – London

Warsaw

Warsaw Old Town

Warsaw was the starting point.  I was initially there to meet up with people I was going to be working with for the following week.  After that, it became the main hub I returned to during my trip.  Luckily, I found a really friendly, new hostel that is well-located in Warsaw, which was like a home from home.

I did some sightseeing in Warsaw, although I spent most of the time catching up on work, relaxing, and meeting up with people.

Zabuze

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I spent almost a week in Zabuze, which is by the River Bug, helping Polish business people improve their speaking and listening skills.  The surroundings were beautiful, the mossies were plentiful, and a lot of fun was had by all.  It’s a great place to chill out and see a different part of Poland that most people never see and experience, including Polish people.

Krakow

Krakow Old Town

On returning to Warsaw for a night with a few of the people I had spent the week with, I continued on to Krakow with one of them, a Canadian lady.  During our short time there, we also visited the Wieliczka Salt Mine and Auschwitz.

As Zakopane wasn’t too far away, I decided to spend a couple of days there before returning to Krakow.

Zakopane

Zakopane

Having said farewell to someone I’d spent over a week with, I started chatting to a Polish girl who was waiting for the same bus.  I had no idea at the time that we would end up travelling together for a few days.

Zakopane reminded me of Interlaken West with its wooden chalet-style buildings.  I was shocked at how big and touristy it seemed.  I hadn’t expected that.  I was going to stay for another day or two to explore it further and then return to Krakow, but my plans changed.

Poprad

Poprad

The Polish girl decided to venture into Slovakia because she had never been and she liked the idea of visiting another country.  The thing is, I had wanted to go to that side of the Tatra mountains and Kosice the year before, but I didn’t have the time.  Once she had planted the seed in my head, I wanted to go, so I did.  Well, I had nothing stopping me and my curiosity had gotten the better of me.

We got on a bus and stopped in Poprad, which I thought would be similar to Zakopane – wrong!  It seemed to be more sprawling and industrial with a relatively small city centre.  It seemed less touristy than Zakopane.

Kosice

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After that, Kosice wasn’t far away and, as it was the European Capital City of Culture 2013, I really wanted to see what it was like.  The Polish girl decided to come too.  I’m so glad I went because I loved it.

Uzghorod

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I had wanted to visit Ukraine, particularly Lviv, for a while.  The Polish girl would have come with me, but she had only her ID card and not her passport with her.  So, we said goodbye and went our separate ways.

Lviv was a long bus ride from Kosice, so I decided to stop for one night in the Ukrainian border town of Uzghorod.  I had no idea what it would be like, but I wasn’t expecting much because, in my experience, border towns are never very nice.  Oh, how wrong I was!  I loved Uzhgorod and ended up staying for 3 nights.

Lviv

Lviv centre

I was so happy to finally make it to Lviv, having travelled by train from Uzghorod.  Lviv is one of those cities that you can easily wile away hours at cafes and restaurants.

I was running out of time, but I wanted to see a bit more of Ukraine.  I didn’t want to spend most of the time I had left travelling, so I looked on a map and checked on the Internet to find out where I could go.  I looked at how long it would take to get from Lviv to some of these places, looked for photos and any info I could find on them to get an idea of whether I would like them, and to see if they had hostels or cheap accommodation.

Ivano-Frankvisk

Ivano-Frankvisk city centre

I had never heard of Ivano-Frankvisk and not one Ukrainian person had mentioned it as a place to visit, but it was close enough to get to easily and it looked nice from some images I had found on the Internet.  I had no idea if this was a good idea or not, but I decided to go for it.

It was pouring when I arrived, but as I walked down the main pedestrianised street towards one of the two hostels in the city, I knew I had made the right decision.

I really didn’t want to leave this city.  I could have easily stayed longer, but I wanted to meet my parents in Villnius, so I had to move on and got an overnight bus back to Warsaw.

Vilnius

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Having returned to Warsaw briefly, I got an overnight bus to Villnius to meet up with my parents who were flying in that day.

I wasn’t expecting a lot from Villnius because I had spoken to a lot of people who had been there and not one of them had raved about it.  The first day I was there, I didn’t think I’d be raving about it, but by the next day I loved it.  In fact, the longer I stayed, the more I loved it and so did my parents.  Everything is so orderly and relaxed, it doesn’t have the hustle and bustle of big cities even though it’s a capital city, and the architecture… well, there are beautifully preserved, old buildings pretty much everywhere you look.

Riga

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My mum really wanted to go to Riga while we were there, so we hopped on a bus.

Riga is the European Capital City of Culture 2014.  It is beautiful.  I love the architecture in the Old Town, the cobbled streets, and the Art Noveau district.  However, compared to the tranquility of Vilnius, Riga is a much bigger, busier, and touristy city.

From here, we returned to Vilnius to fly back to the UK, having booked tickets online a few days before.

Summary

It’s amazing when I think back to how I used to be.  A few years ago, I would never have contemplated travelling like this, but people change and I certainly have.

Without the restriction of having to fly back from a specific airport on a certain date, I had the flexibility to go with the flow as did my parents.  I love the freedom that gives me when I travel because you meet people, build friendships, and discover new places as you travel around.  It also gives you the flexibility to spend more time in places you love or want to explore more and less time in places that just don’t grab you in the same way.

Location

This map shows you the different places I stopped at during this trip:

Have your say

Where would you go with a one-way ticket?

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.

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