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© Douglas Hykle
2006-2012
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Travel Information - extensively revised in October 2009

Click to view the weather forecast for Tovste.



Introduction

This chapter describes how to get to and from Tovste and Chernivtsi (the nearest 'large' city, 75 km or 90 minutes driving time to the south) by various means of transport – including airplane, train, coach / minibus, private taxi, and rental car; as well as information on various accommodation options in town or within driving distance; and practical advice to take the guess-work out of routine daily activities. The advice is based on over ten years of experience.

Although some of the information is specific to travel in this area, much of it is relevant or can be applied to other destinations in western Ukraine. You may also find additional useful information on various Ukrainian message boards and chat forums mentioned in the Useful Links section.

Many people travel to Ukraine as part of pre-arranged package tours. Typically they are met at the airport by a driver who takes them to their destination, and stays with them throughout their visit. I have no experience with this kind of travel, but it obviously offers advantages in terms of comfort and convenience if one is willing to pay extra for this kind of personalised service. Tour companies may take you to interesting places that you would not otherwise know about or be inclined to visit.

Alternatively, if your budget is limited, with a little advance knowledge and a spirit of adventure you can do things on the cheap and still get a flavour of the real Ukraine, whilst interacting with the local people and their customs.


Air travel

Entering Ukraine via Lviv   

Travelers from abroad have a number of options for getting to Ukraine by air, then taking other forms of transport to reach Tovste or other cities with reasonable hotel accommodation in the vicinity.

One option is to enter through Lviv (also known as Lvov or Lemberg, in former times), which is well served by direct daily flights of several airlines affiliated with the ‘Star Alliance’: for example, from Vienna on Austrian Airlines, from Munich on German Lufthansa Cityline, from Warsaw on LOT Polish Airlines, and from Istanbul on Turkish Airlines. Lviv is also served by Ukraine International Airlines from various European destinations; and from Kyiv by an AeroSvit affiliate (see below).

Important note: it has been reported that Lviv Airport will close for renovations from 1 April 2010, in preparation for the European Football Championship in mid-2012. Although it is still not a certainty that Lviv will actually host some of the matches, upgrading of the terminal building and runway are long overdue. How long this temporary closure will last isn't known, but it has been suggested that during the renovations airlines might elect to shuttle passengers to Lviv by ground transportation from Ivano-Frankivsk, which hosts the next closest airport.

Airport of Lviv, Ukraine Lviv's small airport, with its characteristic Stalinist-era architecture, is located on the outskirts of town. After reaching the terminal building by shuttle bus (upgraded in recent years), there is usually a scrum in the small arrival hall to obtain immigration forms and customs papers. I have never seen these made available on any flight before landing, so try to remember to pick up extra copies to save some time on your next visit.  

There are normally two immigration officers on duty; they are generally hospitable and the queue is usually processed quite efficiently. In any case, it always takes some time for the baggage to be manually transported a few hundred meters from the aircraft to the luggage room next door, so it’s not worth fussing about the time it takes to get through immigration.

After collecting your bags, you will be asked to put them through an x-ray scanner, normally only a formality. At least in former times (but perhaps no longer), there is one final check before exiting the baggage hall, where you will be asked whether or not you have medical insurance. I have never answered anything other than “Yes” to this question, which assures that you will be sent quickly on your way into the airport lobby to face a thick crowd of people waiting to greet the arriving passengers. On the other hand, if you really do require travel insurance, before your journey you might want to consult www.tryukraine.com which gives details of reasonably priced health insurance (and lots of other practical information and advice on Ukraine).

If you are also departing from Lviv: note that the check-in facilities for at least a couple of airlines (eg. Lufthansa, Austrian) have been moved from the main building to an annex about 20 m off to the right, as you face the airport. I imagine this somewhat ad hoc arrangement will be discontinued in the course of the renovation of the terminal building, described above.

*  *  *  *  *

There are a couple of options if you are heading into Lviv in order to catch a connecting train or, better yet, to stay overnight to see the sights of this charming city:

(1) Normally, there is a cluster of unlicensed 'taxi drivers' around the entrance who will approach you with an offer to take you in their private car for the journey into town – about 15-20 minutes depending on traffic. The vehicles might not be in the best of condition, but I have never had any difficulties with these drivers. The first price they quote will likely be inflated, but this can be negotiated downward if one is firm about it. It’s not worth haggling too much though, as the fare is normally only about 40 Hryvnia (roughly USD 5). Just make sure the rate is agreed and understood by both parties before setting out. Hotels in the city centre typically charge upwards of 2-3 times this amount for airport pick-up.

Meter taxis do exist in town, but you would be lucky to find one operating out of the airport. I find these meter taxis to be the least hassle of all and the most economical (in the order of 20-25 Hryvnia) for the return journey to the airport. An extra charge for luggage in the boot offers the only opportunity for extracting a few more Hryvnia from your wallet.

(2) For the more adventurous, thrifty types there is also a trolley bus into town which departs from a stop located about 40m off to the left as you exit the airport building – more or less in front of a store selling bathroom fixtures and tiles. The trolley bus costs only about 2-3 Hryvnia and is okay if you are not burdened by heavy luggage. Otherwise it can get rather crowded and uncomfortable since it collects passengers as it approaches town. It ends up in the centre of Lviv, but unless you have a map showing where your hotel is, it is perhaps not so convenient to use this cheap mode of transport when you first arrive.

Train travel is described in more detail below, as is the option of hiring a rental car at the airport. Depending on your arrival time in Lviv and the amount of time needed to get through the arrival formalities, it is technically feasible to catch connecting trains that depart from Lviv's main station for Tovste or Chernivtsi, an hour or so after landing. In the past, I managed a few times to make a 1500 train after arriving at 1400 on the LOT flight from Warsaw! Nowaways, all of the Star Alliance flights, except for Austrian Airlines, arrive in Lviv between 1215 and 1420; and the trains now depart somewhat later (eg. 1533, 1645), so catching one of them is definitely possible. However, this strategy is predicated on knowing how to buy a train ticket, where to find the platform, and which wagon to get on etc., and is, therefore, probably not realistic for first-time visitors.  

In any case, this advice is not meant to dissuade you from staying in Lviv, which certainly warrants a visit of at least 2 or 3 days. Should overnight accommodation be necessary, I can recommend the Swiss Hotel, which is centrally located on Knyazya Romana Str., with room rates that start at about 750 Hryvnias per night, including breakfast (October 2009 prices).


Entering Ukraine via Kyiv   

A second option is to fly into the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv (or Kiev), which is well served by many international airlines and Ukrainian carriers, such as AeroSvit or Ukraine International Airlines. From there, one can connect to Chernivtsi with a domestic flight or train. I have taken the train a few times, and I would recommend it highly, if only once, because it allows you to soak up the scenery at a leisurely pace – that is to say, an overnight journey of some 15 hours or so. In former times, the train used to pass through the neighbouring country of Moldova; with an immigation/customs check en route that helped to break up the monotony of the journey.

If time is an important consideration, air travel is a very convenient alternative. Over the past five years, there has been a steady evolution in the quality and frequency of service between Kyiv and Chernivtsi. The route is nominally served by AeroSvit, using aircraft operated by smaller affiliates, such as Dniproavia.

Antonov-24 aircraft of ARP 410 Airlines  

The domestic airline operating the Kyiv - Chernivtsi route in 2005 had the catchy name of: "Kyiv Aircraft Repair Plant (ARP) 410". The company typically deployed a 1960's vintage Antonov-24. This propeller-driven aircraft, shown here, is similar to the ATR-42 used in the West. Apart from their age and condition, I found them to be remarkably comfortable and spacious inside, albeit rather noisy.

Over the last couple of years, more modern aircraft – such as the Saab 340 or Brazilian Embraer 145, pictured below – have been introduced on the KBP-CWC route. The flight time remains about one hour and 15 minutes.

Saab-340 at Chernivtsi Airport  

  Dniproavia Embraer 145 at Chernivtsi Airport


Incidentally, if one has the inclination, a bit of "web sleuthing" can reveal the pedigree of the individual airplanes in the fleet of AeroSvit and its affliates. Two of the three AeroSvit 767 "workhorses" used on international routes are about 20 years old, having been acquired from SAS in the early 2000's. The Embraer 145's in the fleet operated by Dniproavia have an average age of about 10 years.

*  *  *  *  *


As convenient as it may be to fly into Kyiv and connect to a flight bringing you directly to Chernivtsi, all is not well as I write this in October 2009. Despite the popularity of the KBP-CWC route – reflected in apparently high passenger volumes – all flights operating under the AeroSvit name have been cancelled for the second time this year, both times without any explanation whatsoever on the AeroSvit website. Other western Ukraine destinations have been similarly affected.

While the disruption in early 2009 may have been a consequence of the economic downturn, the abrupt halt in October 2009 may be linked to an ongoing labour dispute with AeroSvit pilots, which was reported in the media. An inquiry to AeroSvit was met with the ever so informative Soviet-era response that "the flights were cancelled due to technical reasons".

But it's not even clear whether this is the real picture. Dniproavia, which operates the flights that used be bookable online through the AeroSvit website, has its own website showing the following timetable for Kyiv - Chernivtsi: 1425 - 1535 Mon-Fri and 1730-1835 Sat-Sun; and Chernivtsi - Kyiv: 1650-1800 Mon-Fri and 1530-1635 Sat-Sun. Perhaps these flights are still operating after all; and their unexplained removal from the AeroSvit website simply reflects the end of a marketing agreement between AeroSvit and Dniproavia?

A few words about Kyiv's Boryspil Airport. It used to be that if you were connecting to Chernivtsi from an international flight, you would have to pick up your luggage and take it yourself to the domestic terminal. This burden was lightened as of mid-2007. You can now have your bags retagged inside the international luggage claim room, and they will be redirected to the connecting domestic flight. The domestic terminal is walking distance, but you must exit the international terminal and walk outdoors – to the right, past all of the taxi touts – for a couple of hundred meters.

Note (from 2007, but probably still valid): When transferring or checking in for the connecting flight, you will likely be told that you have excess baggage. AeroSvit is very assiduous about maximizing its revenue from this source, which amounts to about USD 8 per kg on international flights and USD 1 per kg on domestic routes. (In other words, if you are 12 kg over the 20 kg limit, this can add more than a couple of hundred dollars to the cost of your return ticket on AeroSvit.) It used to be that the agents in Kyiv would give you a bit of break on the number of kilos if you paid on the spot and did not request an official receipt, but these days everything seems to go by the books. You will be directed to another office in order to pay and secure a receipt, which you then surrender in exchange for your boarding pass.

With the increasingly popularity of travel to Ukraine in recent years, the capacity of the country's main gateway has become stretched. Expect long queues at immigration on arrival unless you happen to arrive at a quiet time of day. More importantly, upon departure for international flights be prepared for delays and a bit of chaos at the security / immigration checkpoints, as many hundreds of travelers are funneled through just a few stations. Hopefully a new terminal presently under construction will help to ease the congestion.

Chernivtsi Airport  

The reception on arrival at Chernivtsi airport is decidedly low key. There is no need even to go inside the turquoise terminal building, pictured here.

Luggage is offloaded onto a trolley which is rolled over to a fence where people are left to themselves to collect their bags before exiting through a gate.

On the other side, a number of taxi touts will be waiting to charge exorbitant prices for the journey into town or to the Cheremosh Hotel, which is conveniently located only about 3-4 km away. There might also be a public bus, but the stop appears to be several hundred meters up the lane.  

When it operated, for many years the daily flight from Chernivtsi to Kyiv departed at around 0800-0830 in the morning. Don't be too anxious to arrive early for the flight, as you are likely to find the terminal building locked until 0700-0715. Unless you are with a driver who is familiar with Chernivtsi, finding the airport at all might be a bit of challenge though, since there are absolutely no signs on the roads leading to it to indicate where it is! (The airport is situated more or less south-east of the city centre.)


Trains — from Lviv / Kyiv to Tovste and Chernivtsi   

Train travel in western Ukraine is extremely inexpensive and, from my experience over the past decade, very punctual and reliable. You usually travel in an open or closed compartment that has four berths (i.e. fold-down beds), which are comfortable for sleeping or just relaxing. I highly recommend travelling by train, but with a few caveats, described below.

There are several trains each day from Lviv to Tovste, with journey times ranging from 6½ to 7 hours or more, depending on the service. Securing a ticket in the train station in Lviv can be a bit of an adventure, made easier if you have done a bit of research in advance. TIP: I have found that the train schedules for western Ukraine on the Deutsche Bahn website (yes, German railway system!) are generally reliable and very informative. Select the English language option, and type in Lvov and Tluste or Chernovcy (note the spellings) in the departure/destination boxes. Armed with the precise train times and numbers makes it much easier to deal with the ticket vendors in the Lviv station, who generally cannot converse in English.

The train station in Lviv is a bit dreary and crowded, but one can buy food there, eat in the restaurant, and use the washroom facilities etc. The queues for tickets tend to be long and you will undoubtedly experience a sense of frustration when the ticket agents close up shop for about 10 minutes every hour while they take their scheduled break. TIP: It is advisable to travel with food and drink, as there is little to offer on the train itself, except hot tea. When booking the train ticket you will be assigned a particular wagon, compartment and berth. The cost of a ticket from Lviv to Chernivtsi was constant for years, at about 25 Hryvnia (less 5 USD), but it may have increased somewhat in recent years.

It is advisable to go to the platform about 20 minutes before the scheduled departure, since the train usually arrives about 10-15 minutes in advance, and there is always a scramble to get on board with awkward luggage. As soon as the train pulls in, try to approach one of the conductors on the platform who will direct you to the correct wagon, if you haven’t already figured it out from the ticket. The compartment and berth number is also written on ticket, but can this can be a bit difficult to decipher, so ask for help before or after boarding.

The journey itself should offer no surprises. It’s a great chance to catch up on sleep, paperwork or just enjoy the scenery slip by during the daytime. To avoid any misconceptions, it should be understood that the trains are of a rather old vintage but are otherwise very comfortable. The toilets, though functional, are not for the faint of heart. Normally, sheets will be offered for a modest charge (about 10 Hryvnia, if I recall correctly), to go on top of the bedding already in the compartment. The trains’ punctuality is such that there is a good chance that you will arrive at your destination precisely at the scheduled time, which is more than can be said for many Western rail systems. If traveling at night, the cabin attendants will alert you about 30 minutes or so prior to reaching your destination, so there is little danger of missing your stop.

I have traveled a few times from Lviv to Tovste on the overnight train that departs Lviv just after midnight (0011), passes through Ternopil and arrives in Tovste around 0630. This is one of the quickest and, in some respects, most conveniently-timed trains between Lviv and Tovste. The last couple of times, purchasing a ticket all the way through to Tovste was a challenge because the computer system the agents use in Lviv no longer appears to be aware of the existence of Tovste. (As a matter of fact, as far as the Ukrainian rail system is concerned, Tovste still goes by the 1940s era name of "Tluste", but even knowledge of this anachronism doesn't help in Lviv.)

From my recent experience, the only option is to purchase a ticket, for about 25 Hryvnia, as far as Ternopil where one must change trains in any case. The late-night train from Lviv arrives in Ternopil at 0221, and there is plenty of time to buy another ticket there (15 Hryvnia) for the connecting train to Tovste, which departs at 0300 (information correct as of October 2009). There is also an afternoon train, departing Lviv at 1533, but the 2240 arrival time in Tovste might not be so convenient.

Morning arrival in Tovste  on overnight train from Lviv/Ternopil     Arriving in Tovste shortly after sunrise can only be described as enchanting. But unless you happen to have a welcoming party, hauling one's bags a few hundred metres to the station over rough track is much less agreeable!

As mentioned above, one can also travel by overnight train from Kyiv to Chernivtsi, a journey of about 15 hours or so, departing early evening (1830) and reaching Chernivtsi at 0930. [As a matter of fact, this is the very same train that passes through Ternopil in the early hours of the morning, and which stops briefly in Tovste at around 0630.] Reservations for this train are hard to come by on weekends, as the sleeping compartments are heavily booked in advance.

Trains depart from from a recently modernised station in central Kyiv. To get there from Boryspil Airport, take a "marshrutka" (minibus) that departs regularly from in front of the terminal building as soon as there are enough passengers on board. The journey costs 25 Hryvnia and takes around 45 minutes (more or less, depending on traffic).

This busy train station is rather large; and although there are lots of places to sit in the free public area, the seats tend to be occupied according to the rules of "musical chairs".

For a more tranquil environment, one can relax instead in a cavernous waiting lounge nearby for a fee of about 15 Hryvnia.
    Kyiv Train Station

Normally one shares a train compartment with other people, especially since the Kyiv-Chernivtsi route is heavily frequented. You might use the opportunity to strike up an acquaintance or simply travel undisturbed, minding your own business. Apart from the occasional case of overly exuberant travelling campanions, well-supplied with beer, I have never had a bad experience traveling with other passengers, taking normal precautions with valuables etc. Once or twice in the past, I opted to pay for the whole compartment when I was traveling with family or when I wanted to be able to spread out papers to work; but this "extravagance" might not be so easy to arrange these days if the trains are travelling at capacity.


Travel between Chernivtsi and Tovste   

It is assumed that most visitors to Tovste will want to use Chernivtsi – 75 km to the south – as a base, since there is only limited accommodation available in town and not much on offer in nearby Zalishchyky either (although the situation there has improved since mid-2006).

If you have not arranged a private car and driver, there are a couple of options for getting to Tovste from Chernivtsi. Some 'slow trains' do pass through Tovste on their way north, but their departure times are generally not convenient for day trips and they are, by definition, very slow – stopping at every village along the way.

The quickest way to reach Tovste is by taxi, but not just any taxi. There are two or three companies that operate fleets of taxis equipped with standardised meters, which (in my experience) are transparent and not subject to abuse. They can usually be identified by the large telephone numbers inscribed on the sides of the vehicles. The cost of the 75 km one-way journey from Chernivtsi to Tovste will set you back about 165-190 Hryvnia, depending on where you leave from. By western European standards, and with current exchange rates of around 12 Hryvnia to the Euro, this is extremely reasonable.

Note, however, that many cars that "look" like legitimate taxis – with a light on the roof and perhaps even with numbers on the side – might not have a meter. Avoid these unless you are really in a pinch, because there are unscrupulous drivers who will try to charge whatever they think you are able to pay. In the late 1990s/early 2000s, the going rate for a negotiated taxi fare used to be 1 Hryvnia per km, which worked out to about 75 Hryvnia for the journey from Chernivtsi to Tovste. Nowadays unregulated taxi drivers in substandard vehicles demand 3-4 times that much – well above the increase that could be justified by higher petrol prices. Stick with meter taxis for short and long journeys, without exception, if at all possible!

Typical bus servicing Tovste - Chernivtsi route   Another even more economical – though less comfortable and rather less convenient – option is to travel to Tovste by public bus. The depot is located about 10-15 minutes walk from the Cheremosh Hotel down the road leading east (to the right as you exit the hotel).

Buses heading in the direction 'Rivne', 'Ternopil' and 'Dubno' etc. leave at irregular times during the day. It is several years since I last used this service, but I recall that the first bus in the morning departs (theoretically) at about 0650, but it usually left at least 5-10 minutes late.

The fare is cheap – only about 15 Hryvnia (less than 3 USD) one way to/from Tovste – but you get what you pay for. All of the buses are old and are sometimes prone to breakdowns. The smaller ones can get extremely crowded, with passengers picked up along the way having to stand in the aisle for most of the journey.   Interior of bus

There is a wonderful bilingual website (Ukrainian-English!) that gives schedules for bus services within Ukraine, including departures from Chernivtsi and Tovste. It is extremely useful as a planning tool, especially to show when the first and last buses of the day operate. From what I can see, the schedule appears to be accurate though it seems not to cover all of the buses heading south from Tovste, nor does it show independent local services (say, from Zalishchyky to Tovste).

Traveling from Chernivtsi on a good day, after a short stop in Zalishchyky to allow for a cigarette break or for passengers to use the unspeakably abominable toilet facilities at the bus depot (you have been forewarned!), you can make it to Tovste in about 2 hours. Otherwise, if the bus stops for many passengers along the way, it can take as long as 2 ½ hours. You can ask to be let off in Tovste just about anywhere, but there is a scheduled stop at the 'depot' more or less opposite the Greek Catholic church.

Returning to Chernivtsi in the evening can be problematic. It used to be difficult to find out the schedule for the last bus and to predict when it would actually arrive. To be on the safe side, one should stand on the main road leading to Zalishchyky between 1700 and 1800, and hope for the best. There is now a schedule on the wall of the bus depot in central Tovste which seems fairly accurate for forecasting local bus arrivals and departures, as long as you can read Cyrillic.

Alternatively, there are also 'free-lance' mini-buses that travel the main north-south highway at random times. These can be hailed from in front of the supermarket opposite the bus depot. It costs only about 5 Hryvnia for a shared journey to Zalishchyky, versus about 50 Hryvnia (or more) by private taxi. There are no meter taxis in Tovste. If you need to get back to Chernivtsi in a hurry, there are individuals in town who may be prepared to drive there for 250 Hryvnia or so, but identifying the reasonable ones is best done through 'word of mouth'.

Finally, if you need to return to Lviv to catch a flight – which typically depart Lviv from early to mid-afternoon – some ingenuity is required. Trains from Tovste to Lviv are few and far between, and they tend to leave at inconvenient times of the day. Buses make the 5-6 hour journey to Lviv twice a day – early in the morning and in the middle of the afternoon – but they don't reach Lviv in time to make the earliest flights. Excluding the option of hiring a private taxi, which can make it to Lviv airport in about 4 1/2 hours, a good compromise is to take a taxi to Ternopil (which can be reached in 1 1/2 hours from Tovste) and then catch an inexpensive train from there the rest of the way to Lviv. They follow a reliable schedule throughout the day. When you reach Lviv train station, a 40 Hryvnia taxi ride will have you at the airport in 15-20 minutes.


Car rental 

It is not so many years ago that hiring a self-drive rental car in western Ukraine was unusual, if not impossible. But today, several of the major international rental chains have branches at the airport in Lviv which offer this service. The prices are quoted in Euros and, in my estimation, are fairly expensive.

However, in 2009, I discovered a 'local' alternative that provided exactly what I required at a very reasonable price. AUTO-Drive, which appears to have its headquarters in Lviv and branches in about a dozen cities throughout Ukraine (including Chernivtsi) offers a fairly wide range of western and Russian vehicles. With help from an English-speaking staff member in Lviv, I was able to organise a two-day van rental from the Chernivtsi branch for Euros 15 per day, including insurance, with unlimited mileage. The vehicle was fine and the pre- and post-rental service was very professional. I would not hesitate to use their services again in future. This is a viable option for anyone who feels confident enough to drive by themselves and alert enough to avoid police speed traps stationed along the major thoroughfares.

For any of these car rental companies, it is advisable to reserve well in advance in the months of summer and autumn, since the supply of vehicles seems not to be sufficient to meet the demand during these peak periods.


Accommodation  

Dvir Guesthouse - Tovste   Until fairly recently there was no accommodation whatsoever in Tovste, however this changed since the opening, around 2004, of a motel cum guesthouse, which began to advertise its services in 2005. The "Dvir Guesthouse" is located on the way into town, on the left hand side of the road as one approaches from Zalishchyky. The following review was written in 2007 and prices may have increased since then.

From appearances, it has all of the amenities of a proper guesthouse, with at least three or four rooms upstairs and a restaurant on the ground floor. The guest rooms, costing in the order of 100-200 Hryvnia per night irrespective of the length of stay (2007 prices) are fairly new and are very spacious, with en suite bathroom, including shower. There is even a sauna and Turkish bath on site, which the locals seem to use. Noise from the main street and adjacent pub, which is occasionally used for all-night wedding celebrations, may be a nuisance for light sleepers; and (in 2007) there were some "issues" related to the water supply and lax operating procedures.

Notwithstanding these inconveniences, the Dvir Guesthouse remains the only option readily available in Tovste, and it avoids the long journey to/from Chernivtsi. Also, the food in the restaurant, which is open until at least 2200 in the evening, is pretty respectable and good value for money. As a bonus, much of the menu has been translated into English, and makes for an amusing read while waiting for the food to be served.

In 2005, I discovered a couple of other alternative accommodations options in nearby Chortkiv (Tchertkov), about 20 km to the north: Hotel Tanya (03552 22755); Hotel Avianosez (03552 21830); and Hotel Hetman (03553 31284). I know nothing about the first two, but I did visit the Hotel Hetman, which has clean rooms, with shower/toilet for 80 Hryvnia per night. It is situated only about a 5-10 minute walk from where the bus stops on its way to Tovste. There may well be other alternatives of which I am not aware.

Zalishchyky, 25 km to the south of Tovste, was a thriving resort town in the 1930s, but until recently it had no accommodation to speak of. This situation changed for the better in mid-2006, when the renovation of the "Old Zalishchyky" hotel was finally completed. It offers rooms of various sizes ranging in price from 60-80-120 Hryvnia per night (2007 prices). All of the bedrooms have been freshly painted and the largest suites are very spacious. The mid-size room is more than adequate for two people. All of the en suite bathrooms are small and very basic. One side of the hotel faces a park and nearby street, while the other looks onto a courtyard and restaurant (both potential sources of noise). In any case, the "Old Zalishchyky" hotel offers visitors a cheap alternative to staying in Chernivtsi, making Tovste and the surrounding attractions much more accessible.

Cheremosh Hotel - Chernivtsi   In Chernivtsi, which is worth visiting in its own right for at least a couple of days, there are several accommodation options available: three or four large hotels catering to outside visitors, as well as private accommodation in furnished apartments. The Cheremosh Hotel, situated on the outskirts of town, is well equipped to handle large tour groups and individual guests.

Facilities include a number of restaurants, a discotech, currency exchange office, internet facility, in-house translation / interpretation service, multi-lingual tour guides etc. The room prices are variable – with a very basic double room costing in the order of USD 45 per night, excluding breakfast, and more recently renovated rooms costing closer to USD 75 per night. The rooms are by no means luxurious and they are definitely showing signs of their age, but they have all the basic amenities: hot/cold water, television, telephone, and modern refrigerator. For such a modest room rate, one could hardly expect much more.

Depending on ones' tastes, the Cheremosh might not be convenient for those who would prefer to stay in the centre of town. On the other hand, it is handy to shops and a market nearby, and to the bus terminal down the road, and it is easily reached by taxi and public transport. Also, being on the outskirts of town there is plenty of greenery nearby.   View to the south from Cheremosh Hotel
     
Bukovina Hotel - Chernivtsi   A comparable alternative to the Cheremosh is the Bukovina Hotel, located on a main road a little closer to town. Some parts of the hotel were modernised some years ago. While I have seen the rooms – which look okay in the new wing – I have never stayed at the Bukovina Hotel and therefore cannot comment on the services.

At least the hotel management has made a sustained commitment to maintaining the appearance of the outside of the hotel and the grounds. The colourful flowers on the balconies always seem to be in full bloom.

Unfortunately, if you are expecting or looking to find a higher standard of accommodation in Chernivtsi, it is simply not available from my experience, except perhaps in more expensive, privately furnished flats.  


Miscellaneous practical advice   

Visas

Citizens of most countries used to have to apply for a visa to enter Ukraine, before travelling. This entailed paying upwards of USD 100 for the privilege of sitting for long periods in the anteroom of an embassy or consular office, and waiting for officials to deign to serve prospective visitors to their land. Fortunately, in 2005, visa requirements were waived completely or relaxed for nationals of countries of Europe and North America, among others. This eminently sensible decision on the part of the government should help to attract more visitors to Ukraine, who might otherwise be deterred by bureaucratic red tape.

Language

From my experience, is still fairly uncommon to find people in western Ukraine who speak English. A good phrase book comes in handy and should be adequate for most day-to-day situations. There are some exceptions, however, among Ukrainians who have lived and worked abroad elsewhere in Europe for a number of years. In such case, one may be pleasantly surprised to discover that knowledge of German or Italian holds the key to being able to communicate relatively easily, even in towns.

Menus in restaurants tend to be written only in Ukrainian, so ordering food can be challenging wherever you are.

  Lonely Planet Ukrainian phrasebook

Currency exchange

Changing money in Ukraine, even in small towns, is transparent and very easy thanks to the large number of exchange outlets. Banks and small money changers use billboards to advertise the exchange rates for dollars and euros, which may fluctuate from day to day. What you see is what you get – there are no hidden commission fees.

Ukrainian currency   It is my impression that in recent years, the Hryvnia has been allowed to float more freely against the US dollar and euro. Over the past year in particular, the currency has depreciated markedly against the dollar and euro. Whereas one used to pay 5 and 8 Hryvnia, respectively, for one dollar and one euro, the exchange rate in October 2009 was closer to 8:1 and 12:1. Prices for some commodities – particularly imported goods – have increased accordingly. While local people are undoubtedly experiencing hardship as a consequence, the favourable exchange rate makes Ukraine a bargain for foreigners.

Generally speaking, there are only small variations in rates from one exchange outlet to another on a given day, except perhaps at airports and train stations, which do not offer as good a rate. This is especially true of the exchange offices at Kyiv Boryspil Airport: do not think of exchanging money there unless you are really desperate.


The solitary bank in Tovste – PrivatBank, on the main street in the centre of town – is open from Monday to Friday (1000 - 1700) and on Saturday until 1500. Be prepared for longer queues on Friday (market day) and Monday mornings. Also, although the largest bill in circulation in Ukraine is 200 Hryvnia (around USD 12), the bank sometimes runs short – leaving you stuck with a fistful of 20's and 10's. Otherwise, the PrivatBank is a very convenient place to change money and top up a pre-paid mobile phone account.

Telephone

If you own a mobile phone that works in Europe and are going to be spending more than a week or so in Ukraine, it is definitely worth investing in a SIM card (for less than USD 15-20 if I remember correctly) and then buying top-up cards at ubiquitous kiosks for 25-50-100 Hryvnias (USD 3-6-12) each. As an alternative to buying cards, which are not always available in large denominations, one can also purchase extra phone time (eg. 100 Hryvnia) through PrivatBank.

Kyivstar and UMC are the two main competing mobile services. The per minute calling charge isn't cheap, but the convenience of making/taking a call from just about anywhere in the domestic network makes it worthwhile. From my experience, Kyivstar's SMS capability is also very handy. I recently discovered, to my great surprise, that the Kyivstar SIM card even works for SMS while travelling in some countries outside of Ukraine (eg. in Germany and Italy).

If you don't have a mobile phone, I think it is still possible to purchase phone cards in various denominations from the official telecom authorities, and these can be used for making inexpensive calls from public pay phones.

To dial abroad, one must use the prefix '810', followed by the country code, area code and number. Phoning from a fixed line within Ukraine can be a little tricky. If you are dialing from one locale (region) to another, you must first dial '8', then the area code of the other location, followed by the number. For example, to call Tovste from Chernivtsi, one would dial: '8' then '03554' then the (five digit) local number. However if you are calling a number within the same area, it suffices to dial only the number (without '8' or area code), otherwise you will not be connected.

Important update: The Kyivstar website has announced that as of 14 October 2009, Kyivstar would adopt a widely accepted international standard for dialing outgoing calls, whereby international calls are to be prefixed by '00' instead of '810'; intercity calls will no longer require the '8' prefix; and calls made with the Kyiv region (formerly prefixed by 8 044) will henceforth require the prefix 0 45. I am not sure whether UMC has also adopted this new convention, but it seems likely.


Day-to-day

Toilet facilities are an issue in towns and villages of western Ukraine, even ones of a fairly large size. Such facilities are generally not available and any respectable ones attached to offices or public buildings tend to be hidden away, out of sight, and/or under lock and key. Indoor plumbing in houses is still a rarity in towns the size of Tovste; more often than not the only toilet available will be a wooden outhouse, located behind the private dwelling you might be visiting.

If you are thinking of using a public lavatory before heading off from Chernivtsi, think again. The almost 'surreal' public toilet in the basement of Chernivtsi railway station – possibly constructed in the early 1900s and, by appearances, not upgraded since then – ranks as one of the most abominable on the planet.

An exception to this rule of thumb seems to be the many petrol stations that have sprouted up all along the highway leading from Chernivtsi to Tovste. It may be advisable to stop en route and take advantage of the rare chance of a clean toilet that these service stations offer. No other solution to this problem comes to mind, apart from advising one to drink sparingly before and during the journey!