Fast City Guides: Transcarpathia
Fast City Guides: Transcarpathia
Population: 1.2 million
Location: South western Ukraine
To sum up: Seriously old school Eastern Europe.
Value for money: Extreme. To the point of farcical. The local Hryvnia stretches like a bungee cord off just about any foreign currency. To go by a Euro conversion, you can get a beer for the equivalent of 30 cents, an hour cab ride for €3 and a 3 star hotel for less than €15.
Straddling the Carpathian Mountain range which crosses through East-Central Europe, Transcarpathia is an isolated, beautiful and intriguing Ukrainian Oblast (region) that few people have heard of. Formerly the most eastern province of Hungary, the Transcarpathian region was annexed to Soviet Ukraine in 1946. For this reason Hungarian culture and influence is just as strong here as Ukrainian, if not stronger. Romanians and Slovaks have a strong foothold here as well, though there are divisions between the regional ethnicities, each of whom have different schools, different universities… and different time zones.
The small towns and villages which make up the region lack impressive sights or obvious draw-cards, but what you will get is some seriously un-moderated Eastern European culture. Asides from Hungarians who like to visit in the summer, there are ZERO tourists here so you’re guaranteed an exclusive travel experience. Given most locals have never met a Westerner before – you’ll get a lot of attention as well.
Who‘s it for?
Real adventurers, lunatics, fugitives, and those wanting to practice their Hungarian, Russian or Ukrainian will all delight in Transcarpathia. Know in advance that there are no hostels or hotels geared towards foreign travelers and you’ll be extremely lucky to find a person who speaks any English anywhere. Unless you know someone locally or speak the languages – you’ll really be on your own.
- In all seriousness, you will almost certainly be screwed here unless you speak one of the local languages or have a friend who does. This particular guide is actually more of a dare than any tangible aid. That being said, an understanding of Cyrillic may help a little.
- Winter time can be insanely cold, even for locals. Prepare yourself.
- Those of a non-European appearance will stand out like Martians. Expect zero political correctness.
- Eat at nice restaurants, spend extra at bars and clubs and tip people. Spend up! You can afford it.
- The former Hungarian towns of Mukachevo and Uzhhorod make pleasant day trips.
- Go swimming and catch some sun at Lake Chorna Hora in the summer. It’s popular with locals and utterly stunning.
- Check out the night scene at the popular Club K2 near the town of Bereho.
- Try some local wine. It’s of very high quality and comes recommended by Vladimir Putin himself.
- The National Park in the Carpathian Mountains. They’re completely untouched and nature lovers will be enchanted. Excellent hiking is on offer and you can go skiing in the winter time here as well.
The Must Do
Try and meet some locals. They will almost certainly love you.
Avoid like the plague
Mukachevo after dark has a local reputation for its thriving gang, drug, violence and periodic kidnapping scene. Either be extremely careful or avoid completely.
I was invited to Transcarpathia by an ethnic Hungarian girl who I’d met earlier and having never heard of the place. She was my lifeline the entire time I was there and I had a blast with her showing me around local sights and hanging with her friends during the evening. Her parents even cooked me a traditional Hungarian Feast. I felt like a VIP here and was constantly amazed at what I could get for my coin. The only downsides were the bone-chilling mid-winter cold and the laughably outdated train I had to take to get there and back.
The easiest way is to take the 4 hour archaic train ride from Lviv which passes through the main towns of Uzhhorod, Mukachevo and Chop. There’s also a tiny airport in the main town of Uzhhorod connecting with Lviv and Kiev – but its due to be closed down soon.
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