A Return to Europe

Part I of the time in Lviv, a city that, in contrast to most of the rest of the country, serves as a fine reminder that Ukraine is, actually, in Europe.

Oh hi there, Taras!

After a pleasant but uneventful stay in Kyiv, it was time to move on. And so, with a full day train ahead of us (10 hours, 11am-9pm), we stopped in to the grocery store to pick up the necessities. Reading a page out of my past life as a student/post-Soviet train traveler, I of course had to insist on a couple of basics. Namely, fake mashed potatoes and noodles. Both of which can be handily prepared with the on-hand boiling water, conveniently available near the conductor’s compartment. To which, we added bread, smoked cheese, and other assorted goodies. True story: it made me super nostalgic for living in Russia.

Mmm, nothing like fake mashed potatoes!

With copious amounts of sleeping (I believe I slept something like 7 of the 10 hours on the train (during the day, I repeat!), some trashy romance novel reading, and watching the Wire, we soon found ourselves arriving in Lviv, where we were met by Maki’s great uncle. Hello, Lviv!

Lviv's train station by night.

Vasyl took us immediately back to Briukovychi, the quiet suburb of Lviv where he lives with his wife, Orysia, and where we were going to be staying for our five-night stint in the city. The next morning, after a very filling breakfast, Vasyl took is into town, gave us a few directions, and set us off to fend for ourselves.

And so we did, wandering the streets of the city, and I was pretty much immediately struck by how much the city had changed in the nearly four years that had elapsed since my most recent time in the city, back in February 2008. The buildings, obviously, are the same, but it was so much cleaner, so much more organized, so much more ready for tourists, and had so many more options for eating and drinking and sleeping. We stopped into the tourist agency, located in the city hall, where we were so professionally helped by the employee working there and walked away with a nice collection of pamphlets and maps. Pretty useful, as not everyone seems to be huge fans of the city’s major map initiative, rendering so many of the theoretically helpful information maps less than useful…

At least this map is still largely readable!

Seriously, graffiti aside, this city is a real gem.

Various views of Lviv.

Above all, I was particularly struck by just how Habsburg the city seems, particularly as in the four years that have elapsed since my last visit, I’ve seen quite a few more Habsburg cities. But of course, with its own distinct post-Soviet flair.

The inventor of the gas lamp was from Lviv! And here, you also see various city scenes and even a second hand book market. I bought myself "Kukhnia narodov SSSR"--"Cuisine of the peoples of the USSR," $3 well spent!

We caught a late lunch at Mons Pius, a local microbrewery at a place locally known for its beer and for its meat, on the suggestion of Kate, my college roommate who had lived in Lviv off and on between 2007 and 2009 and had been back last summer to observe it in its most recent transformation. I had a lovely fish.

As we walked out, though, the weather–hovering around freezing–had taken a turn for the worse, and after a limited bout of wandering (and probably some coffee; I don’t remember–we were always drinking coffee, though), we headed back to the suburbs, where we were wonderfully fed by Orysia. Full and in good spirits, we were ready for our next Lviv adventures to commence the following day, at this point, January 5 (sigh, how did I get so far behind!?).

View of Lviv from the Vysokyi Zamok.

Vasyl had that morning off, and was eager to take us to various places around Lviv, beginning with a site of political repression. Never hurts to remember Soviet crimes. I know that sounds sarcastic, but I mean it in all seriousness.

Before heading over to the Vysokyi Zamok to take in views of the city from above. The Castle/Fortress from which it takes is name is long gone, but the views are wonderful.

But alas, it was cold and windy, so we headed back down pretty quickly, before moving on to Lviv’s Lychakiv Cemetery, where we took in the most important sites (as well as the grave of a distant relative of theirs), under Vasyl’s guidance.

The cemetery was wonderfully picturesque–there will be a separate slideshow of pictures in my next post–as we admired the graves of various Ukrainian luminaries, also stopping to note just how many Polish (and even German) names were mixed in among the Ukrainian ones. A clear reminder of the city’s colorful history. As we exited the cemetery, Vasyl returned us to the center and headed off to work. We, meanwhile, binged on internet, warmth, coffee, and “village potatoes” at McDonald’s (seriously, why don’t we have those at American McDonald’s?!), before a bit more wandering. We eventually landed at our destination for the evening, the requisite trip to Kryivka, a partisan-themed restaurant. I had been once before, back in 2008, but Maki had not, and it was on our very short list of must-dos for the whole trip.

Locals, at least the ones we talked to, tend to be very negative about the restaurant, invariably criticizing it for sacrilege, kitsch, or expense and noting that only foreign (and especially Russian) tourists really went. Still, the place is an experience and kind of a must-do. You recite the requisite partisans’ greeting (“Slava Ukrainy! Heroiam slava!) and must verify there are no Moskali (derogatory term for Russians) within your party. And then, you take a shot of medovukha to be admitted into the bunker, which is completely decked out in partisan artifacts, weaponry, and other assorted hilarity.

We enjoyed our meal and took shots at Beria before heading off to meet a couple of Maki’s acquaintances for beer at Kumpel’, yet another local brewery, this one preserving a very Prague-ish air. We sat and chatted for quite some time, eventually moving to another café and wandering through the city by night. We passed by (but did not go to) the Masoch Café, named for the person from whose name “masochism” is derived, yet another of Lviv’s many luminaries. If you look closely  at his statue, you can see a portrait of a woman (scantily clad, I might add) in his heart.

Can I just ooze again about how lovely and pleasant Lviv is?! Seriously, a wonderful, beautiful city.

As I’m already at some 17 pictures and no shortage of narration, I will end my Lviv narration here for now, to be picked up (after a brief foray into the cemetery) with the wonderful Christmas Eve festivities. But it was a lovely reintroduction to a wonderful city. Perhaps a reflection of the European-ness of the city and having a bit more time to really settle in, the trip was finally starting to feel like a real vacation (to say nothing bad of our previous travels, mind you). Oh Lviv, I do love you!

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