All of the sudden I’m awake. I see the conductor standing next to me. She is whispering: “Next station: Chernivtsi”. The station I have to get off. I grab my sheets and transform my bed back into a chair. Quickly I put a comb through my hair as the train already starts to pull up at the station. A new destination, but not my destination. My journey continues to the old town of Kamyanets-Podilsky, a two-hour drive from Chernivtsi. This meant getting off the train and getting on the bus. On my way to the national pride of Ukraine: the castle of Kamyanets-Podilsky.
Most likely you’ve never heard of this city. I surely didn’t when I first read about it. But the truth is, Kamyanets-Podilsky is a real gem in western Ukraine. It’s even considered as one of the ‘Seven Wonders of Ukraine’. Also on the list is the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv. I loved that cathedral, so I had high expectations for Kamyanets-Podilsky.
Short history Kamyanets-Podilsky
I’m a history geek and old cities just speak to my imagination. Kamyanets-Podilsky is a city with a long history. It exists for over 900 years which makes it as old as Kyiv. This town started out as a frontier town in the Kyiv empire, but in the fifteenth century it became an important trade city. According to legend, Kamyanets-Podilsky was famous for its impeccable fortification. The twelve watch towers (now nine left) made sure every corner was watched. It was unbeatable, they thought. Until the Turks came along and conquered the castle. The Turks ruled for a short twenty years, but they’ve left an impression. The bridge connecting the city with the fort is now called the ‘Turkish bridge’.
The fort: Ukrainian Games of Thrones
The location of the fort is simply spectacular. It is situated on its own island surrounded by steep gorges. Some are up to 50 meters deep. This canyon landscape definitely adds to the image of an already impressive sight of a castle. Inside the castle the medieval illusion continues. While I was up in one of the watch towers, I imagined myself on the set of one of the episodes of Games of Thrones. Why this castle hasn’t been used as a movie set surprises me. It’s gorgeous! I get why the Ukrainians admire this place.
Entrance fee: 60 UAH.
A stroll through Old Town
On the other side of the castle you can find the Old Town of Kamyanets-Podilsky which is also pretty charming itself. It’s full with cute little cobble stone streets and colorful houses. You can also find here lots of restaurants with a typical Ukrainian cuisine. This means a lot of meat, which isn’t that convenient for a vegetarian. Most of the time I was stuck with the draniki with smetana (potato pancakes with cream), which actually wasn’t that bad at all. It tasted pretty great.
new Kamyanets-Podilsky: street art
Old Town is pretty cute, but it’s also quiet. I didn’t see many people on the street except for tourists. Most of the locals live on the other side of the river in an area called the New Plan. It is a regular urban district, but there is a pleasant surprise. New Town has a lot of street art! In 2011 the city started organizing an annually street art festival called ‘Respublica Fest’. There are around 30 murals all over New Town, created by local and international artists. As a street art enthusiast I couldn’t let this side of the city simply pass. I even cleared a whole day for it. Well needed, because many works are not that easy to find. But then again that’s the beauty of street art. The hunt is the game.
How to get to Kamyanets-Podilsky?
In 2015 I traveled from Lviv to Chernivtsi by night train (8 hours) and then by bus to Kamyanets-Podilsky (1,5 hours). This is a good route and it gives you some time to check out beautiful Chernivtsi. Other possible routes are:
- From Lviv: there are several daily trains to Kamyanets-Podilsky, travel time is 6 to 7 hours. However, these trains are not direct. You will have to change trains in Khmelnytsky. There is a direct bus option, but the travel time is longer (9 hours).
- From Kyiv: there are two daily trains, travel time is 7 to 8 hours. There is also a direct bus option, but it is a long journey (11 hours).
Are you also surprised by this Ukrainian city?