2015-11-05

Over the Eastern Border. Lviv


As for a trip that had been desired for such a long time it wasn't as well planned. The idea to ask N. to go to Lviv with me was spontaneous and her agreement made me really happy as I lost hope I would find anyone sharing my interest in going to Ukraine. I have to say that indeed I had some fears myself though they were completely irrational. And I can now eagerly recommend taking such a trip to anyone.
Our plan was like the one by most low budget visitors - to get to Lviv by various means of transport and to cross the border on feet. As I had fears that spending fifteen hours in Polish trains to Przemyśl would ruin both my trip and spine we decided to take a one day break in Lublin. It is one of the biggest cities in eastern Poland and very much worth visiting as well.
The next day we took the bus to Przemyśl where we caught another one to the border. The exotic part of the trip started there. The driver walks around the bus collecting 2 zlotys from each passenger. You won't get a ticket or receipt. The same rule applies in Ukraine. Both in marszrutka from the border and in Lviv.
We crossed the border on feet and it was easier to get to Ukraine than to get back to Poland again later. Apart from the fact that I hardly remember when was the last time I stopped at the border (I travel mainlny within EU) I have never been searched before. There was no queue on our way out, so it took us very little time. Though we had a hard time finding the bus stop to Lviv. For those interested it is at the very end of the parking lot on the left side of the road. You won't see it from the street so just go to the end of the parking lot. A very useful thing is also knowledge of the alphabet. We didn't do much use of our English in Ukraine apart from in the restaurants in the centre of Lviv, so we were just using Polish. Sometimes effectively, sometimes less, but with a little bit of good will on both sides and a dose of concentration we could get along quite well. Funny thing is that I had a constant feeling that the Ukraininans understand me, though I could understand them very rarely.

Marszrutka to Lviv costed 34 Hryvnias. We drove for two hours and landed at the main station in Lviv. We exchanged some money and even though I read that it is best to take euro with you, there was no problem with exchanging zlotys, both by the station and in the centre of Lviv.
Our hostel was in the centre in the old tenement house. The old town in Lviv is renovated and kept in a very well state. It is only when you take a look behind the front walls do you realise how it all deteriorates. The stairs that remember the '20s or even earlier, broken windows. We admired that view from a little balcony in the kitchen. I very much liked the atmosphere of it and to my own surprise it was hard to leave the view from the balcony behind when the time came to come back home. The contrast between the centre preserving the greatness of its past years and the decay of the inside and of the streets going further from the old town was something I found very alluring.

Perhaps not the dream holiday view, yet we strangely enjoyed coffee at the balcony
Lviv is the city that carries the history mainly of four nations - Poles, Ukrainians, Jews and Armenians. And the most visible sign of diveristy one does always see are temples. Lviv certainly offers the full array of them: christian - Catholic, Orthodox and Armenian churches as well as Jewish synagogues. Well, I am very much acquainted with Catholic churches but Orthodox ones are always a thrill to visit. The richness, golden ornaments and variety of colours. To my surprise Armenian church looked similar. It was saturated with purple and gold. Simply beautiful.
The Armenians had probably come here even before the city was established. They were Christians, which made life easier for them. They where mainly merchants and craftsmen and formed much respected and willing to asimilate community, part of wchich gained quite a fortune and moved to the countryside leading a life of nobility. In fact, some of them were knighted.
It was different for the Jews. It has always been them in all Europe and throughout the centuries to be blamed for natural disasters and other missfortunes. They appeared in Lviv around 13th century and with changing luck managed to build a community that contributed to the city's welth and intellectual elite.

Armenian Cathedral, if it looks too modest for your taste, just go inside
The weather could be better, at least on our first day. Rain let us out only in the afternoon, so we did a small tour around the old Market Square. Proper sightseeing had to wait though. If you plan to visit Ukraine in the nearest time and wonder how much it would cost, then be sure that not much. But please don't eulogize over low prices, just keep in mind why they are so low right now and have a bit of decency not to bring Lviv down to how affordable it is.
And as far as it comes to recommend the places for a drink in the evening, there is just such a wide choice. There are plenty that are unconventional. On our first day we landed in a sort of S&M bar that was however so preposterous that we felt very comfortable to spend an evening there. We had a good laugh and at the end were brought our bill in a bra. We unfortunatly forgot the name and street, so we couldn't go back even though we wanted to.

Piano on the street? Why not
The thing that stirred my imagination and that I wanted to see really badly was the High Castle. It grew to be the symbol of the city. Even Stanisław Lem entitled his memoir form the years he spent growing up here after it. I had high hopes and they had a hard clash with reality. I knew how it looks, I read about it and yet, I let myself wander into imagining some magical atmospere. A green, alluring park with at least some of the riuns exposed at its centre. But I shouldn't have. I knew how it looks and yet, I was disappointed. In fact the castle was proudly standing on the hill over the city since the 13th century until the Swedes destroyed it at the very beginning of the 18th century. Later, already under Austran authority, the rest of it has been demolished and in 1869 what was left of it was used to pile up a mound at the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the Union of Lublin.
It is worth to go there though if you want to see Lviv panorama. True, partly obscured by hardly appealing TV aerial and the trees. Ruins are only a small remains of one wall at the foot of the viewing point. You probably won't find magic there as well.
Yet, my sadness over the lack of what I wish the High Castle would look like didn't last long. We very soon climbed the stairs of the city hall and could once again admire a beautiful view. This time of the old market square.

If you want a grand city experience, you should walk along Shevchenko Prospekt, a street with Opera House on one end and the monument of Adam Mickiewicz at the other. That is city's most famous street and packed with luxurious cars and shops. It is very pleasant to take a stroll along the walkway in the middle.

Lviv Opera House
Lviv is not one of those carefully made to measure cities. It is perfect in its imperfection. Old and brand new next to each other. I loved finding very old vehicles, they added charm to the streets. I loved all the signs of history, flaked elevations. I loved open-air market in the centre. There is Lviv and Lviv. Some parts are modern and well-maintained and some parts are left to decay. Some are both at the same time. It was hard leaving the city that was once intellectual and cultural centre of the region, compared to Vienna in its beauty and potential and later locked indide the Soviet Union and left to decay and oblivion. Now it slowny regains its fame attracting tourists from around the world. I would really love to visit Lviv again someday. In fact I would love to visit more of Ukraine in the future.


Have you been to Lviv? What are your favourite things in the city?

7 comments:

  1. I have never been in Lviv, but I hope I will be there in future (maybe with you?) ;) but the first step is Vienna :D beautiful pictures!

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    1. It is really worth visiting, Aga! But I told you that before and you weren't interested ;) perhaps now I convinced you a bit :D And I'm waiting for you in Vienna!

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    2. Yes, this picture and story convinced me to visit this place and of course Vienna first! Greetings :D

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  2. Lviv looks magically. Maybe in the future I will visit this city. Right now I'm thinking about Prague, my brother was there a few weeks ago and he really liked it. I have been there on a school trip but it was a long time ago...I can not wait to read about Vienna :)

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    1. Thank you for reading and for the comment! I think you would very much like Lviv :) But Prague is also wonderful, I was there a long time ago too, perhaps I should visit it again as well :D
      I still have to see more of the city myself to write a post about Vienna, but I will surely do so! I am learning more about it every day :)

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  3. Nigdy mnie tam nie ciągnęło mówiąc szczerze, ale zmieniłam zdanie po przeczytaniu tego artykułu, jest świetny, a zdjęcia dopełniają resztę! Mam nadzieję, że kiedyś uda mi się tam pojechać i zwiedzić to cudowne miejsce :)

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    1. Dziękuję Agu za komentarz :) Cieszę się, że Cię trochę Lwowem zainteresowałam, to naprawdę ciekawe miejsce :D Polecam i trzymam kciuki, żeby się udało! :)

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