Bazhanyy, pryyemnyy, vitaty-laskavo prosymo -- these are just a few of the ways that the people of Ukraine say Welcome!
Now that the elections and the ensuing controversies are over, a visit to Ukraine may be just what you're looking for. You won't need too many Hryvnias (the official currency of Ukraine) to enjoy a memorable trip to this newly emerging "it spot" European destination. Ukraine is actually Europe's second largest country, so don't expect to see it all in one short trip. The relative newness of the Ukrainian tourism industry to westerners means that many tours are provided by locally-based operators, rather than some of the larger international tour companies. Some US and Canadian-based companies will only run tours if a large enough group is put together. Unfortunately, Ukraine also seems to be picking up where Russian bride tours left off so beware of tour companies promising to introduce you to Ukrainian beauties.
Although it is a politically young country, the architectural and historical legacies of Ukraine's position in the former Soviet Union and Poland are prolific. Highlights of this beautiful nation include its capital, cosmopolitan Kiev (yes, that famous garlic-filled chicken cutlet does have a home), the resort area of Yalta -- where czars once took their summer vacations in ornate palaces and castles (and where Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt carved up Europe after World War II), the Crimean coastline (Sevastopol, and Balaclava) -- the Ukrainian version of the French Riviera, the Carpathian Mountains -- a mini Swiss Alps, Odessa -- the Black Sea's major port city and Lvov -- a city of Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Italianate and Neoclassical architectural masterpieces.
Scope Travel (tel. 800/242-7267; www.scopetravel.com) is the largest US-based Ukraine travel specialist. They have a wide variety of escorted tours departing throughout the year. Their "Best of Ukraine Tour" is a 15-day all-inclusive first class tour that includes round-trip airfare via Aerosvit Ukrainian Airlines from New York, two nights in Odessa, three-nights in Kiev, five-nights in Lvov and four-nights in Yalta, visits to Bakhchysaray, Chersonesus and Sevastopol, most meals, transportation and a bilingual guide. The price for the July 21, 2005 departure starts at $2,950. The September 23 to Oct 2, 2005 "Ukraine Budget Tour" is a 10-day package that includes round-trip airfare on Czech Airlines from Newark, five-nights in Lvov, three-nights Kiev, daily breakfasts, farewell dinner, sightseeing per itinerary, a bilingual guide and all entrance fees for $1,490 plus taxes. Scope also runs several multi-country tours featuring combinations of Ukraine with Finland, Poland, Russia and Hungary.
Affordable Tours (tel. 800/935-2620; www.affordabletours.com/search/it/?t=BUBS#p) offers 12% off any listed land price if you purchase a land and air package or 10% off any land price on its Brendan first class "Ukraine and the Black Sea Cruise". The cruise aboard the MS Marshal Koshevoi is from Kiev to Odessa or reverse. The cruise includes visits to Odessa, Sevastopol, Yalta, Kherson, Zaporozhye, Kremencug, Kanev and Kiev. The package features transatlantic flights, airport transfers in Odessa and Kiev, 11-nights cruise accommodation in an outside cabin on the lower deck, all meals while cruising, sightseeing per itinerary and all local taxes. Airfare taxes plus port charges of $92 are not included. Land only price starts at $1,398 from June 12 to September 8, 2005 departures. At press time, air and land combinations range from $2,175 in September to $2,513 on June 12 or August 28. There are regular departures from June to September inclusive.
One locally based company that appealed to me was New Logic Tours (tel. +380/44-20633 22; www.newlogic.com.ua). They offer themed tours that may be attractive to visitors after a more cultural experience whilst in Ukraine. Their eight-day/seven-night "Art Tour" features four-days each in both Kiev and Lvov. Not only does it include visits to museums, galleries, cathedrals and craft shops, but it also offers hands-on art classes with Ukrainian artisans and craftsmen (ceramics and embroidery) so you come away with new skills. Unfortunately, New Logic requires 10 participants in order to run these tours so gather up your closest friends (and even your enemies if it will make up the numbers) and take the plunge. The $770 per person price (for a minimum of ten people) includes all accommodation, meals, train tickets between Kiev and Lvov, transport services, an English-speaking guide, excursions and entrance to museums. Equally tasty is their seven-day/six-night "Cookery Tour". In between visiting historic and culturally significant sites in Kiev and Lvov, learn how to prepare authentic Ukrainian culinary delights like vareniki and borshch. The $670 price (again with a minimum of ten persons) includes accommodation, transportation, meals, excursions, an English-speaking guide and entrance fees. With both these tours, the price per person comes down significantly as the tour groups get larger, with a maximum of 30 participants. I have chosen not to include information here on their hunting wild game tours, but if this interests you, see New Logic's website for details.
SAM Travel Ukraine (tel. +380/44-2386959; www.ukrcam.com/tour/tour_0.html), another locally based tour company can provide a private eight-day/seven-night "Kiev-Lvov-Odessa Tour" for two people from $995 per person or the price goes down to $515 per person if 15 people participate. It includes accommodation in three-star hotels with daily breakfast, transportation, excursions, entrance fees, a professional guide, medical aid insurance and visa support. The six-day/five-night "Crimean Tour" includes visits to Kiev, Simferopol, Yalta and Sevastopol and includes accommodation in three-star hotels, daily breakfast, transportation, first-class train tickets Kiev-Lvov-Kiev, excursions, entrance fees a professional guide, medical aid insurance and visa support. Prices for four people start from $794 per person or $985 if there are only two people.
Unipress Travel Ukraine (tel. +380/482-210516; www.travel-2-ukraine.com/tours/default.htm) offers two Ukraine tours. Their "Best of Ukraine Tour" is ten-days/nine-nights covering Kiev, Lvov, Odessa, and the Crimea. This tour, staying in economy accommodation, is priced at $286 per person. In standard accommodation the price goes up steeply to $815 and $1,524 in superior accommodation.
See the best of the Western Ukraine during the winter on the "Winter Fairytale Tour". The seven-day tour includes visits to Lvov and Transcarpathia (Uzhgorod). The tour includes six-nights accommodation, three days in Lvov -- the architectural jewel of Ukraine, a train ride to Uzhgorod in Transcarpathia, visits to medieval castles and museums. Standard accommodation starts from $345 and in superior accommodation, the tour price is $602.
You may wish to consider visiting one of the dozens of thermal spas (or as the locals refer to them -- sanatoriums) whilst in Ukraine. The healing powers of these spas have been famous for centuries and you will be enjoying the warm waters in some of the most picturesque locations in the country.
Trouskavets is a well-known spa area located in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, some 60 miles from the city of Lvov. The spa area is known for its mineral waters that have a curing effect on gastric, metabolic and urological diseases, gall bladders and diabetes. There are several locations in this area -- the most popular treatments are at Naftusya, Mariya, Yuzia, Sophia and Bronyslava. The waters at Resort Morshyn, located in Prikarpattya, are believed to make radical improvements to a person's general immune system, partly due to the diuretic and laxative nature of the mineral water. The resort, which is over 125 years old is situated about 55 miles from Lvov and is accessible from the Strui Lvov railway station.
In the Transcarpathia region, there are over 300 mineral water springs located among the forests, vineyards and mountains of this historic area. Spa towns like Yesentuki, Borzhomi and Arzni offer resort treatment centers, but unfortunately there are no websites to assist you in planning (unless you speak Ukrainian). Don't expect US-style luxury but do expect serious health-restoring properties and an authentic Eastern European spa experience.
Aerosvit Ukrainian Airlines (tel. 212/661-1620; www.aerosvit.ca) is the only airline that flies direct from New York to Kiev. Flights depart four-times weekly, with one additional Thursday departure from now until September 23. Depart midweek between June 16 and 26, 2005 and a ticket valid for 30-days is $883 plus taxes to Kiev, Odessa or Lvov. The usual high season price starts from $983. A weekend surcharge of $25 will be applied for a Friday to Sunday departures. During the low season -- from January 1 to March 31 and from November 1 to December 12, the price for a round-trip flight from New York goes down to $583, before taxes, for a ticket valid for three-months travel. Add $2 from Boston, $22 from Detroit, $32 from Washington DC and $83 from San Francisco or Los Angeles. Book your Aerosvit flights online directly through their Canadian-hosted English language website or through Scope Travel (tel. 800/242-7267; www.scopetravel.com).
1800 Fly Europe (tel. 800/359-3876; www.1800flyeurope.com) has discounted one-stop round-trip flights from New York to Zhulyany Airport in Kiev from October 27 to December 15 and from December 24, 2005 to April 2, 2006 from a low $477, before taxes, with no advance purchase required.
Travelocity (www.travelocity.com) has summer flights via Warsaw on Lot Polish Airlines starting at $690 round-trip from New York until September 1, 2005.
US citizens must apply for a Ukrainian visa at one of its consulates in Chicago, New York or San Francisco. Information about visas is available at www.ukremb.com/consular/visas.html#fees. Nine-day standard processing for a double-entry visa is $10, or $20 for three-day express processing. A multi entry visa is $65 and $130 respectively. You can also arrange your visa through a tour company, but in general this increases the cost significantly.
For more information about travel in Ukraine visit pages.prodigy.net/l.hodges/ukraine.htm#Travel -- a site that lists travel agencies and services specializing in Ukraine. Unfortunately the main Ukraine government tourism website is in Ukrainian and Russian only. For specific information on any of Ukraine's many historic castles, visit www.castles.org/castles/Europe/Eastern_Europe/Ukraine.
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