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After Russia Ukraine is the biggest country in Europe, and it is big indeed, spanning nearly a thousand mile from east to west and 500 miles South to North. There are several ways to get to know the country, its diverse landscapes and welcoming people. Starting in the capital Kiev, have a look around the city: the iconic Majdan Square is a good start, another famous sight is the Golden Gate. It is a massive city gate from the 11th Century, when the Scandinavian traders and raiders we know as Vikings became the Kiev Rus. They adopted orthodox Christianity from their main trading partner Byzantium, so many early churches and monasteries are located in Kiev. The most important is the Kyevo-Pecherska Lavra, a monastery found in 1051 by Greek St. Antony. The started digging caves underground before the impressive, golden domed monastery was erected. The caves where then used as a graveyard and their cool and dry air naturally mummified the monks buried there. The Lavra is one of the most holy places in orthodox Christianity.
As Kiev is located on the river Dnepr, a river cruise south to the Black Sea is a relaxed way to experience central Ukraine. Down the river you meet with historical Cossack towns, monasteries and fishing villages. Arriving at the coast of the Black Sea, the city of Odessa is waiting to be explored. Found by Russian tsarina Catherine the Great, Odessa was planned as a metropolitan town of merchants from all over Europe. The most famous sight of “The Pearl of The Black Sea” are the Potemkin Stairs, connecting the city with its harbor. Odessa also has a vast underground network of tunnels, guided tours are available. But just sitting in the warm breeze and enjoying the hearty food is another great a way to enjoy the town.
For the more active visitors there is the Carpathian Ski resorts on the border of Romania. The town of Bukovel has a modern fully planned ski area. It is also a great area for hiking and mountain biking in the summer. If you want to experience Ukrainian folk culture, try to visit the ArtPole festival near the village Ivano-Frankivsk, where folk artist and artisans from all of Ukraine gather for a week of art, folklore and fun. The little city is also called “Little Lviv”, but if you head west you can see the big one. On the border to Poland Lviv is the western connection of the Ukraine. Once called Lemberg during Austrian reign, it is a beautiful middle European town, but also a university town full of the buzz of young people having fun. Some call Lviv “the hidden gem of eastern Europe”, but it is not that hidden anymore, as more and more tourists visit from Poland, Slovakia or Germany.
For nature lovers there is the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve on the border to Romania. It is a vast area where birds like pelicans and cranes or fish like the mighty sturgeon have their home. Guided tours in kayaks are possible, but also by motorboat. Another attraction is the Dniester Canyon, a beautiful river with several waterfalls and caves in the steep walls. The area has a unique mini climate, warmer than the surrounding landscape. The rock walls keep the heat of the sun, making it inhabitable for birds and fish that are rare elsewhere. You can walk on the river bank, ride a bicycle or give whitewater rafting a try, if you feel adventurous. Whatever your favorite way to explore a country, you will be amazed by the diversity and hospitality you can experience in Ukraine.