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The Budapest to Lviv train service

Lviv Budapest train

The Budapest to Lviv train carriage

It has been a while since I last travelled to Lviv. The Budapest to Lviv train service no longer operates overnight, which gives a wonderful opportunity of seeing much fine scenery along the way. It is a real pleasure travelling through the Hungarian Puszta flatlands with the morning sunlight and watching the stalks flying over by; before venturing through the spectacular Carpathians hills and valleys in evening atmosphere en-route to Western Ukraine’s largest city.

I bought my ticket with seat reservation 2 days in advance. At 7am on a Sunday morning, I arrived at Budapest Nyugati train station and made my way to this particular 7.23am train. I was greeted by 2 friendly and efficient train attendants. After showing documents and passport, I was taken on-board to my compartment, which was entirely mine throughout the journey.

This carriage belonging to Ukraine Railways, carried a wondrous sense of romance and intrigue from a bygone era. I relished its graceful, old-fashioned décor and charm; and felt honoured to be part of its history; knowing perhaps, this carriage with its vintage allure, may be replaced by something modern and high-tech next time.

Lviv to Budapest train

View from my compartment

Linen and blankets were provided, as it was possible to close the curtains and stretch out on the makeshift beds. Teas and coffees were also served by the ladies throughout this occasion. I was comfortable and very happy to be on board.

The journey

Whilst in Hungary, this train also stops at Szolnok, Debrecen and Nyiregyhaza and a few others towns, before arriving at the Záhony border, a little over 4 hours later. In terms of distance, one is about half way to Lviv. In terms with the train’s schedule, this is not so!

The train stops for one hour at the edge of Hungary. The in-land carriages are then disconnected; this understandably takes a little time. The border guards and customs officers come on board. Once inspections are complete, the Budapest to Lviv train takes its leave across the majestic River Tisza to Ukraine. At this point, the clock moves 1 hour forward from CET to Ukraine time.

15 minutes later, the train arrives at the Chop border town. Once again, one has to show documents to the Ukraine authorities who also step onto the train. The time is about 2 o’clock and the train is not scheduled to leave until 4, because this carriage has to adapt to wider railway lines.

What makes this journey wearisome at this stage, is not so much this procedure, but when the guards, who have taken everyone’s’ passports away for inspection, do not allow passengers off the train at this particular time until they return.

Budapest to Lviv trainIt was interesting to watch the changings taking place, as I have not witnessed this before. But after a while, all was too much of a long wait, that did not have to be. Please may I recommend to the Chop border authorities and to Ukraine Railways…..

Either allow passengers off the train as soon as they arrive, and attend to all passports inside Chop International. Once cleared, the passengers can wait inside the pleasant Chop National waiting room before continuing with their journey.

Or change trains and provide another for immediate travel to Lviv after passport and customs clearance. This would serve customer and journey time!

Palanko castle from the Lviv Budapest compartment

Mukachevo Palanok Castle

One hour later whilst approaching Mukachevo, the sun starts to go down, the train finally ventures into the cool of the Carpathian hills. The scenery is most spectacular when passing through Volovets onto Skole. With high peaks, green fields, alpine trees, wooden buildings, horse and carts, and local people working the land; all this gives a great sense of peace and calm. The train finally passes through the Carpathians to further flatlands onto Stryi, before arriving at Lviv train station, after a 14 ½ hour journey. The time is now 21.51. I was now looking forward to greetings and events that soon followed.

Lviv to Budapest train

Somewhere between Volovets and Skole

Lviv is an historical and architectural wonder, with numerous fine buildings, churches, theatres, cultural events as well as a variety of exquisite tea shops. Lviv, alongside with Krakow and Budapest is one of the great cities of Central Europe with much to offer.

Conclusion

I really enjoyed this train journey as much as my time in Lviv. I appreciate the Budapest to Lviv train service will have to modernise when the Ukraine tourists boards work with Hungarian and Ukrainian railways with future promotions. However, today’s travellers demand a faster train service. In this case, the Budapest to Lviv train, with its long wait at the border, must improve on this.

I know in time, conditions at the border will get better. I will overcome this and return again soon.

Alex Stemp

Alex@ Vysokyi Zamok/ High Castle Hill. Lviv May 2015

With compliments: Alex Stemp.

Slemence: The divided village

SlemenceI wanted to write about Slemence because this little, offbeat place had a huge effect on me. Not in the conventional sense, rather the opposite. I would prefer to avoid politics, but for anyone who knows anything about Slemence/ Szelmenc (in Hungarian), the divided village, the political connections are unavoidable and NOT about tourism. I went there because I wanted to give respects as I have a special relationship with this region. And to point out to any bicycle enthusiasts, it is possible to come to and from Slovakia and Ukraine by means of bicycle at this pedestrianised crossing and NOT at the very busy and heavy going Chop and Uzhgorod borders.

SlemenceThis particular village, between Uzhgorod and Chop, has been separated for almost 70 years. During the night of August 30th 1946, Slemence was divided by the Red Army into two parts to establish a border between former USSR and Czechoslovakia. The larger part remained in Czechoslovakia and renamed Velke Slemence, Big Slemence; and has been more developed. The smaller part went to the Soviet Union and renamed Mali Slemence,Little Slemence. Little has changed there in any-ones’ lifetime. The populations is made up with Slovaks, Ukrainians and Hungarians.

SlemenceThe border between the two sectors of the village cut through land and property, thus separating families and friends. They could only converse from several meters distanceover the fence; Or apply for visas, which meant lengthy travels elsewhere, just to obtain a simple permit to get to the other side of their village, via Uzhgorod.

SlemenceBy 1949, the 3 meter high electric fence was in place. Armed guards patrolled the grounds and were positioned in watchtowers. It was to the advantage of the Hungarians to make their exchanges to one another over the border, since the guards were unable to understand them.

SlemenceAfter Stalin, the border restrictions became a little lighter and it was possible to attend local church services along the village lane. There were still very strict regulations.

SlemenceWith the Soviets gone and EU Slovakia now controlling most of the village border. There have been some lighter restrictions introduced for Ukrainian citizens, but not enough to allow free movementfor all local persons. The only solution would be when Ukraine joins the European Union, this unwelcomed border would vanish. At time of writing, no date has been given for such a change yet.

SlemenceIt does not seem right with today’s mood that the vast Berlin Wall fell down and the tiny Slemence Wall still operates. And it is most unfair that I, Alex, from the other side of Europe, can come and go from Slemence as I please without restrictions; Whilst some Slemence people still have to apply for visas. None of this fits in with today’s liberal scene.

There is an interesting Slovak documentary called Hranica: The Border. The stories the Slemence/ Szelmenc people tell are very sorrowful. No thought was given to this village early on by the authorities. What could be a pleasant village, has been fundamentally destroyed.

Throughout the 20th century Slemence village went through various identities; Hungarian, Czechoslovakian, Soviet Union, EU Slovakia and Ukraine.

I am also surprised there has not much more outside awareness for the Slemence matter. Perhaps in time there may be a museum and memorials for the village, marking all that it had gone through.

Until then, those with EU passports from Velke Slemence can surely walk across the border, find a cheap bottle of vodka and bring it home in a matter of moments. Whilst those on the Little

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072b.TV

Alexander Stemp

Dear Reader, my name is Alexander Stemp. I am originally from England. I live in Budapest, married with 3 children. Before, I explored Central Europe, mostly by myself, by bike. I covered a few thousand kilometres, saw many places and had a great time. It must be now about 10 years ago that I ventured to all of Hungary’s neighbouring countries, accept for Ukraine.

I knew nothing about this place and visas were still required. Soon afterwards, Eszter my wife and I travelled from Budapest to Lviv, Kyiv and Odessa by train and enjoyed this very much. Read More

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I often travel to Uzhgorod and have visited the Carpathians hills and valleys many times. Before then, I never thought I would find some very endearing bus stops along the way. With this in mind, waiting for the bus, or having a rest after trekking around the peaks has a whole new meaning for the weary traveller, as they are most welcoming!

Carpathian bus stopThe traditional bus stops I am thinking of are mainly found outside the towns and must have been built during the early to mid 20th century. Such environments decorated with traditional folk art and culture from a bygone era, always tell a story; often emphasising family life, the environment and social values. These lively portrayals and impressions can be found on public buildings, town halls and at train stations throughout this region. Such enchanting and immaterial works of art may be a bit out of date with today’s theme, but continue to touch the heart all the same. Read More