Off the Beaten Path: L’viv, Ukraine

Sunday: 17 May 2009

After visiting Krakow and Auschwitz I left at 21.50pm for L’viv, Ukraine. I do not really know what to expect and I am excited all at the same moment.

We stopped at the border for a few hours to get through border patrol since Ukraine is not part of the European Union and is not part of the Schengen Agreement. I got a stamp form Poland and Ukraine to add to the many pages of visas, stamps and proof of my previous travels throughout the world. As we pulled in to the bus station I questioned my choice to come to Ukraine solo especially since all the signs are in Cyrillic and English is not a prominent language and is spoken by few. Sometimes even hand signals do not cut it since body language is not necessarily universal.

As I was in line to buy a return ticket back to Poland for that evening I overheard four young students speaking English with an obvious American accent. Contemplating exactly how long they should stay in L’viv; I stepped in to voice my opinion. They were simply there to renew their EU visas since they did not obtain a student visa for their studies in Warsaw and were only allowed to stay in the European Union for ninety days. After introducing myself; I began convincing them to stay and visit this majestic city that vividly demonstrates a perfect example of gothic architecture and is proclaimed to be a beautiful example of post-soviet society. I would leave L’viv at 21.30pm for Warsaw a few hours after my new American friends which gave me a little more time to explore the city well into the evening. I also asked if I may join them in their explorations and we soon located the number 5 trolley into the city center.

While walking around at 7am everything seems desolate and the city almost seems abandoned except for the occasional plump little old lady crossing the street or young man walking to church on this Sunday morning in L’viv. Nothing is yet open and no sign of coffee or a place to relax is in sight; while signs on doors inform us that almost everything does not open until 10 or 11am we have no idea what to do until then. So we just walked around taking in all the sights; the unique architecture and rich cultural differences that make Ukraine so enchanting were around every corner. As we continue to walk a glimpse of those golden arches catch our eye and we had finally found something open at this hour to help us warm up with a cup of coffee and to get a bite to eat for breakfast. I know…McDonald’s does not truly give the insight into Ukrainian coffee or cultural habits but it was the only option at the break of day on a Sunday morning. Afterwards we asked in what direction the high castle was and then took off for the target of our explorations.

We walked along roads that looked as if they were destroyed from war and obviously lacked the attention of reconstruction that was much needed. I was curious as to how cars even drove on these remote streets in these shanty neighborhoods. Amid these sights chatted little old ladies dressed in old rags, bright colors and head scarves; sitting on the steps of apartment entrance ways. It was as if stepping into the past yet trivial indications make the scene a reality with cell phones in hand even by the elderly women who look as peasants from earlier times.

Stray cats and dogs roam the streets and old buildings, churches and other structures capture your heart; to imagine that this city has not really changed much from previous generations. Some cities have been refurbished with the complete reconstruction and replication of buildings destroyed from World War II and the Cold War; designed to appear older then they actually are but this is not necessarily the case in L’viv. Gothic styles with renaissance, baroque and neo classical buildings are evident as we walked along the city streets and hiked up the hillside to the ruins of the high castle that overlooks the magnificent city. Panoramic views of the old city gave an ideal insight into how large this city truly is; to be able to see the steeples and select areas that we had already wandered through at an aerial view was sincerely a picturesque experience. As we made our way down the highest point in the city; we just let our intuition and the visual appeal to guide our journey through the streets of L’viv. Market places, cafés, art galleries and museums at every turn. We ate at a café that seemed to be a popular local dining place and ate a variety of cheese from platters, tomato salad, salmon crepes and Turkish coffee. Delicious!!!

We then made our way to the city center where blue skies and the smells of various cuisines filled the air; these now animated streets were much more appealing then when we first arrived in this Eastern European city. This sight would alter any ones previous opinion of this beautiful city drastically with the presence of people walking the streets; when everything comes to life. I then said bye to my new friends from West Virginia and continued to take in more of the city. I saw an accident where a car hit a trolley, met two kind Ukrainian guys from Kiev that gave me a short tour and brief history of L’viv along with Ukraine. They told me I should try the traditional Ukrainian beet soup and that they always fancy escaping the busy lifestyle of Kiev to have a relaxing weekend in this beautiful western Ukraine city. We then went our separate ways and I returned to the bus station where I would board the night bus heading to Warsaw; another nights sleep on a bus and not in a comfortable bed.

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