My Romanian road-trip led to the hallowed Putna Monastery where Saint Stephen is buried. From Putna, it’s only 14 kilometers to Ukraine. Not knowing if we could cross the border, Adrian, Natalia and I decided to give it a try. Success! We were welcomed at immigration and stamped into Ukraine.

With fields of sunflowers beneath a bright blue sky, Ukraine looks like its flag. Orthodox chapels decorate the highways every few kilometers. About one car in twenty is a Lada. (Russia produced more than 20 million of these low-budget cars between 1973 and 2012.)

Downtown Chernivtsi

Just 30 minutes from the Romanian border is historic Chernivtsi, a city of about 250,000. Chernivtsi is one of Ukraine’s important cultural, educational and architectural centers. Historically a cosmopolitan community, Chernivtsi has been dubbed “Little Vienna.”

In spite of the current war with Russia, Chernivtsi is a lively city with a vibrant night life. Click the photo above to take a walk down the pedestrian mall in the middle of the city.

Sampling authentic Ukrainian food is a delight. At a popular outdoor café, borscht is served in a bowl made of bread. When you finish your soup, you eat the bowl.

квас (pronounced “kvass”) is a chilled, low-alcohol beverage made from fermented rye bread. It’s sold on street corners throughout the city and is a perfect thirst quencher on a hot summer day.

Founded in 1875, Chernivtsi University is one of Ukraine’s leading public universities as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its stunning architecture. Free tours start at 10:00 am every day.

Not far from Chernivtsi is medieval Khotyn Fortress overlooking the strategic Dniester River. From the 13th to the 19th century, this fort was the focus of countless battles as Poland, Turkey, Austria and Russia fought for control of eastern Europe. Today, the fort is a popular place for picnics as well as a filming location for movies like The Arrows of Robin Hood, d’Artagnan and Three Musketeers, and The Ballad of Ivanhoe.

Entering Ukraine, I expected to see bombed buildings, military vehicles, armed soldiers and crippled veterans. In Chernivsti, I saw none of these things. Nevertheless, as the sign above shows, Russians are definitely not welcome in this city. People avoid speaking Russian and tend to greet each other in Ukrainian, Romanian or English.

Of course, the war is taking its toll. In Chernivsti, we chatted with the waitress who served us our borsht. She’s doing her best to to wear a smile and to stay strong — although she became a war widow and a single mother last month. In Khotyn, I stopped beside a wall memorializing the town’s fathers, brothers, husbands and sons who’ve been killed by Putin. Click the play button above to hear Ukraine’s spirited national anthem.

Ukraine is country #182. Adrian, Natalia and I were only in Ukraine for two days and one night. which is hardly enough to do justice to a fascinating country as large as Texas. I plan to return later this fall to see more of Ukraine. For now, we’ll head south to Moldova. Stay tuned for my next blog.

If you’d like to see more about our visit to Ukraine, here’s Natalia’s vlog about our short visit.