The first day in Lviv I was utterly exhausted, thanks to our considerate little roommate on the overnight train from Kiev. I was also feeling pretty behind on life, as I hadn’t replied to a single email, reviewed a single Anki flashcard, written a single line of code or jotted down a single blog note in days. Especially considering the eventful conclusion to our stay in the Ukrainian capital (including the near-fight on the party boat, night at Club Patipa, bling shop, and beach party) I really wanted to jot down something before kicking off yet another whole new city.
So once we picked a hostel and got settled I suggested that Peder go ahead without me, opening up a bit of time to catch up on sleep and on work – even if it would mean skipping some of Lviv’s touristic offerings.
I passed out the instant my head hit the pillow. And when I awoke an hour or so later, he was still there – to give me one more chance to reconsider, insisting that I’d regret it if I forfeited one of our only two days in such a historically famous city. So I succumbed. But only after catching up on emails and Anki reviews. I guess blogs would have to wait just a little bit longer 😛
Our plan for the day was, as usual, to follow the Lonely Planet walking tour. And as usual, it gave us a very nice overview of the city’s most important sights and sounds.
Here are my observations from our two-day stay in Lviv:
• It’s clearly a far more historical city than Kiev, with old-style cobbled roads, churches, statues, and monuments galore. While Kiev does have its fair share of interesting historic sites, in general it felt like a pretty typical modern city. Lviv did not. Everything looked far more old and worn, sort of like Odesa, where the dilapidated buildings, crumbling roads, and stray dogs had once again returned – but with many more historical monuments thrown into the mix.
• The city’s historic center is quite compact, so it’s easy to see most of the sights in a half-day’s walk. When we first started planning this trip we figured we’d need about as much time in Lviv as in Kiev – but now I know that Kiev actually requires at least twice as long. Lviv may have tons of history, but Kiev just offers so much more variety.
• If you like churches, go to Lviv. By the time we’d run through the entire walking tour my memory of the day’s sights were something like this: “Walk 500m and admire the Catholic church; then head left down so-and-so street and stop to marvel at the Gothic church; continue up ahead until you reach the courtyard of the Baroque church before grabbing a seat at the small cafe, making sure to enjoy the view of the Armenian church. When you’re done, just around the corner is a glorious Jesuit church. Church, church, church. Church. Church-church.”
Seriously though, there are over 80 churches and cathedrals in central Lviv alone…and after seeing the first six or seven, I felt like I’d had my fill 😛
• Probably the highlight of my visit to Lviv was the food. Just around the corner from our hostel was a fantastic eatery that served all kinds of traditional Ukrainian dishes, all at very reasonable prices. We probably had 5 or 6 meals there over the course of our 2-day stay. And because of the cafeteria-like style of the restaurant – where you walk down a line and simply point at what you want – it provided the opportunity to sample all sorts of interesting dishes, without the need to decipher a complicated Cyrillic menu. Delicious.
• It’s simply amazing how oblivious some people are when it comes to photos. Peder and I have often commented on how nine out of ten times someone offers to photograph the two of us, they somehow completely miss the point of the picture. Today, at the top of Castle Hill, I got back a gem that really takes the cake.
We started by standing on either side of a Ukrainian flag and asking another climber to snap a photo. The result was us with a pole – the flag completely cutoff from the top. So we asked him to take another, this time making sure to include flag in the shot. His solution? Cutting us out of the picture – only the very tips of our heads were visible, peeking up from the very very bottom of the frame.
• Until today, we’ve had remarkably good weather ever since Belgrade: sunny skies and warm nights every step of the way. But here in Lviv the overcast gloom has once again returned, giving the city a distinctly different feel. It really is amazing how much a blue sky can do for the vibe of a city (not to mention the quality of the photos).
• Kosmonaut Hostel is located in an old, creaky wooden building – definitely nothing to write home about – but the decor alone is so interesting that I can’t help but give it a spot on my list of recommended lodgings. Not only do its walls sport an impressive variety of hand-painted murals, but all kinds of antique Soviet memorabilia have been used to liven up each and every room – from rusty old rifles to Soviet generals’ caps to some pretty freaky-looking gas masks. Plus, the staff was as friendly and helpful as they come, even offering free laundry and breakfast.
Comparing this to IYH Kiev, where the staff never even seemed to smile, Peder and I were once again enjoying the fun hosteling experience – in our own private 2-bed dorm 🙂
• All in all our stay in Lviv was very low key. Even the second day, after having ample time to recover from the exhaustion of a long night out followed by a sleepless train ride here, we were still feeling pretty sluggish. So after rolling casually out of bed we spent the afternoon leisurely crossing off the few remaining sights from our list.
This included an ascent of the City Hall belltower for an overview of the city, a stop in a “must see” cemetery very much like the Parisian necropolis I visited a month or so earlier, and a stroll through a typical street market or two.
Then, when it seemed like we’d sufficiently sampled what Lviv had to offer, I headed back to the room for a few final hours of online catchup work before bidding goodbye to Ukraine and boarding the midnight train to Poland.
It wasn’t exactly our usual “go out with a bang”-style departure…but I do tend to feel less energetic when the weather turns cold and dreary.