Monday, 1 April 2013

Day 303 – “Honey, you’re in the wrong home.” (Ukraine)

Cherkasy isn’t a location that seemed especially desirable to visit; it’s not famous for anything or particularly note worthy and there’s not much there, if anything at all, for tourists to occupy themselves with. It’s about 500km from Odessa (our previous destination) and Kiev (our next destination after Odessa) though, so we thought we’d try and make the most of our couch surfing prowess and look for a host somewhere between the two locations. We’ve found before that this is a fantastic way to plan a route as it encourages you to visit places you wouldn’t otherwise think of stopping in, and gives a unique incentive to experience towns that really are off the tourist trail. So we searched for hosts anywhere between Odessa and Kiev, and when a host accepted us in Cherkasy, a town of 250,000 residents located about 200 km South of Kiev, we jumped on the opportunity and made the arrangements.

Our hosts were laid back, very cool and impressively artistic, joining us in the evenings to have exciting conversations about all sorts of subjects, but leaving us to take care of ourselves during the day. We only stayed there two nights, so we had one full day to explore. We had noticed on our way into Cherkasy the previous evening, and we could clearly see from the grey blanket of apartment blocks surrounding the one we were staying in, that this town was a classic example of the Soviet style. As we drove from our hosts’ apartment to the centre of town we wondered how we would ever find our way back. Our directions were something like “turn right at the Soviet apartment block, then keep going past the Soviet apartment blocks until you get to a Soviet apartment block where you should take a left...” And how do people remember which building they live in? We did hear a few amusing stories during our extensive time in ex-Soviet countries about people arriving at the wrong apartment, unlocking the door with their key, entering the apartment and continuing on with things like watching television or cooking dinner, and not realising they were in the wrong apartment until someone else came home. The same jokes are made about China. It is an amusing image, but in actual fact it is such a sad reflection on the effects of communism. If we didn’t laugh about it, it would probably make us cry.

So as far as we could tell our impressions of Cherkasy were true – there really is nothing of great interest there, for an outsider anyway. During our day of exploring we saw a lot of Soviet apartment blocks and not a whole lot else. There were a handful of older, more beautiful buildings in the city centre, but other than a couple of cafes there wasn’t a whole lot to keep a tourist occupied. It is such an important part of travelling though – and one of the main reasons to do it by car – to see these places that you wouldn’t usually go to unless you had to; to witness how people live in all sorts of localities including those that aren’t picturesque, exciting, historically important or home to someone or something famous.

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