After I left Lviv the real challenge started, because in the next cities neither English nor Polish language helped me to get by. Read how I still managed to survive in Vinnytsia.
En route to Vinnytsia
I already travelled a few times overnight in Ukraine. For getting to Vinnytsia you don’t need a whole night though, so I travelled during the day. As I thought that they use the modern Hyundai Rotem trains – which had been bought as part of the infrastructure upgrade for the European Soccer Championship 2012 – for intercity connections during daytime, I was looking forward to a comfortable ride. Oh, how wrong I was! It turned out that I was taking the old rumply night train which runs from Lviv to – please read out loud now – Dnipropretovsk. So I took my place in the 3rd class on which I spent the next 4 hours while the train rattled through the gentle slightly hilly countryside.
Opposite of me sat a pretty young woman. The moment she helped me in telling the train conductor that I don’t need bed sheets for my rather short trip was the starter for a nice conversation as her English skill was good enough. She was from Dnipropretovsk and was on the way to – you name it – Dnipropretovsk. And once again just for the sake of it: Dnipropretovsk. She was a student at the customs administration academy to become a customs officer for the Ukrainian state. Employment is virtually guaranteed for every graduate which is of course great. Not so great is the expected salary which had even been decreased in the last years. It won’t be enough to realize her modest dream to visit Poland as a tourist unless the political and economic situation in Ukraine improves until she finishes her studies. It is a good reminder how lucky we who are travelling abroad are.
After I got out of the train in Vinnytsia I had a rather long walk to the hostel. But hey! This is a blog about exploring cities on foot! So I should honor that concept as far as my feet can carry me. There we go, 30 minutes walk to reach the edge of the old town. If you don’t feel like walking or are under time pressure you can take the tram no. 4 or the trolleybuses 5, 11 or 14. A one-way ticket costs 3 UAH and trust me, you won’t miss any sights between the train station and the center.
The hostel in Vinnytsia
I chose to stay in the Centr Hostel. It is located at the east end of the old town near the bridge which leads to the train station far far away. How to find the hostel? Simple: if you have passed a big church with golden cuppolas you went too far. Turn around and go back a bit. Look at the shabby area next to the bridge. There is the hostel. If you come by bus or tram: get out at the first stop after having crossed the bridge, then walk back a bit.
The hostel occupies the 1st floor of the building and looks rather new and modern. But as I mentioned the language challenge earlier on, here it started: The hostel staff comprised of some big bad mamas in the 40s or 50s only speaks Russian and Ukrainian. No English at all! I still managed to check in (the reception is open 24/7) and get the key to the room which I should always leave at the reception whenever I go out to explore the city as it is the only key for my 8-bed dorm room. In practice this meant to just leave the key in the door. Why have a key then anyway?
My bed in the 8-bed dorm room of Tsentr Hostel
Another problem was the wi-fi connection. It existed but I couldn’t connect, and I didn’t feel like trying to explain the staff my problem when there is no common language. So whenever I needed internet access I went to the Free Wifi zone in front of the Roshen chocolate store just a few minutes away from the hostel. You also find a supermarket there which is open until 11 pm.
Vinnytsia is a city with more than 300.000 inhabitants and it is the seat of the Roshen chocolate company which is renowned in many former soviet union countries for its good quality chocolate. Exploring the old town doesn’t take more than 4 hours and while doing so you might get the impression that all the city improvements have been sponsored by Roshen.
Roshen playground. I don’t get anything for this shameless product placement.
Even the main attraction of the city is sponsored by the chocolate company and fittingly called Roshen fountain. In my brief research about the city before arrival I knew there is a fountain, however I expected a chocolate fountain and not an “ordinary” water fountain show.
Roshen overload: factory, fountain and nougat.
The world’s largest chocolate fountain, now THAT would be something unique that could bring some international visitors. The rather recently installed tourist infrastructure – signposts, tourist office city wifi – is already in place both in English and Ukrainian.
On my stroll through the city center I came across some interim memorials which commemorate the fallen soldiers of Vinnytsia Oblast in the war in the Donbass. At the time I visited Vinnytsia there were about 150 names on it.
Interim memorial on the theater square for the fallen soldiers of the war in the Donbass.
There was also another interim memorial which commemorates the protesters who were killed during the EuroMaidan.
A pleasant sight are the streetcars. They have been sponsored by the city of Zurich as they had been replaced there with modern streetcars. Maybe that is a cheap way for some US cities to build their public transport network: just buy second-hand!
Here are some more impressions of Vinnytsia:
Roshen Tramstop at Soborna Street. You have free wi-fi here
Old Zurich tram in Vinnytsia.
The old watertower in the center of Vinnytsia houses the tourist information office.
Mural of Vinnytsia with two of its landmarks.
Vinnytsia didn’t have the wow factor for me but it was OK.
Where to stay in Vinnytsia
Let me tell you straight-away: there is no need to stay longer than one night in this city. If you arrive in the morning you might even continue your trip in the evening after you have seen one of the fountain shows after dark. If you decide to stay for a night, here are my recommendations of English speaking hotels and guest houses based on reviews on the big reservation portals (interestingly I couldn’t find ANY hotel on HRS.com or Hotels.com. Also there are hardly any hotels with international star ratings in Vinnytsia, and if a hotel has an own website it is either not in English or just partly translated into English).
Hostel na Pestelya 11: One of only three hostels in town, and the only one with sufficient English skills according to guest reviews. About 15 minutes walk from the central square.