To get to Chernivtsi from Lviv, we took a night train. It was Russian-style, which was the same sleeper train format we were used to from India: open compartments. The big difference though was that the train was mostly empty, and so we were at most eight people in our whole wagon.
Unlike in other train rides in Eastern Europe thus far, the person in charge of our wagon was really friendly. In the morning, he sat down with Travis and together they had a 30-minute conversation: an impressive feast since neither spoke the same language. He was a real nice, funny guy who even showed us pictures from where we were going to get us excited about the place.
We arrived in Chernivtsi on Easter Sunday – possibly the worse day of the year to do so. The city is deserted, and it is as though we are they only ones around. Every store is closed, even convenience stores. As we walk around town, we see a few people scurrying around or driving by quickly, but other than that, we might as well be the only ones in this city of 300+ thousand people.
Our sightseeing quest brings us to three churches, and oddly all of them are also empty. Where is everyone? At home with their families? In the country somewhere? Sleeping in? It feels bizarre, as we were expecting all of them to be at least at mass.
The first church we visit is the Armenian Church, which we discovered looks like most other Orthodox churches thus far. As we leave the church, a black dog decides to adopt us. He is super excited to see us, and jumps up to get cuddles. He follows us as we head towards the next church, stopping twice to attack the tires of cars driving by. Clearly he isn’t the brightest puppy.
A most famous sight of Chernivtsi , St Nicholas Cathedral is often called the “drunken church” due to its twisting turrets. Inside we find a few people praying in the Orthodox church, but aside from that it looks as though it hasn’t performed any services in years.
The doggy is waiting for us outside of the church, so the three of us head together towards the main square of town. On our way, we stop at another church. This one is busy, and we feel out of place peaking in: it feels as though we’ve just arrived after or before service. The people inside look ethnic to us, different from what we had been seeing in the rest of the Ukraine (which is very hegemonic). They seem like well-dressed gypsies to me, or more probably just another darker-skinned ethnic group.
We leave the church quickly and continue our quest to the town’s center alongside our puppy, who had waited for us again. On our way, he runs off to chase cats up trees and return to us looking triumphant. Clearly he thinks that he’d doing a great job protecting us from cats and cars. As we find an open restaurant to settle down in though, we are sad to say goodbye to our new friend, no matter how quirky he was.
Hunger satiated, it’s time to finish our tour of the town. There are only two things left to see: the theater square and the university. It’s not hard: both are a five minute walk away, and the theater square is on the way to the university.
The university is by far the coolest sight in town. It’s often called the “Harry Potter” University, because it looks as though it could be part of the movie’s set. I really just like the architecture and the cool roof tile pattern.
The door to the main building of the university was open, and I went in. it was pretty deserted and locked up, but it was cool to get to see a little bit of the inside.
The ultimate best though stood on the other side of that building. Opening the door, I felt as though I had walked straight into the Secret Garden. Birds were chirping, the grass was green, the trees filled with tender green buds. There were flowers growing everywhere, and the sun was shining nice and hot, the wind being blocked by the trees. The whole place felt like a great little discovery and made me want to lie down in the grass and nap in the sun.
At the back of the garden we found what looked like a farm building, with compost piles, a garden and bee farm. Over the university’s wall was a great view of the city – or should I say, countryside. The whole thing was right beside an apple orchard, and was the cutest thing ever.
We left the university and headed back to the square close to our hostel. We were happy to find that a bar had opened up, and so we grabbed a massive beer (for less than $1!) to unwind from the day. We had seen the main sights of the city in less than 4 hours, and unlike with Lviv we did not feel that this was the place to spend extra time in. Maybe it was because of the whole Easter thing, but this place just doesn’t have as much charm as Lviv. Still, sitting in the sun under a perfect blue sky, looking at children playing by the fountain, there isn’t much to complain about.