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Lviv: exploring Western Ukraine

Tuesday, 9th September 2008
A fun start to the day was had as our train rolled in to Lviv station bang on time at 6.32am, but our transfer driver couldn’t be bothered to drag his scraggy carcase out of bed to deliver us to the Hotel Dnister. Forty minutes of waiting around in the chill morning air in just shorts and t-shirts was enough to prompt us to the decision of procuring a taxi and despatching ourselves to our lodgings under our own steam.
With a less than satisfactory start to the morning already under our belt, not being able to check in to the Dnister until 12 noon simply compounded the problem, and these events conspired with our tiredness to imbue the day with a disagreeable cast that proved irksome to shake. Wandering around in the cold morning light like homeless urchins was doing little to improve our humour, so we retreated once again to the hotel to sustain ourselves with a 60 hryvnia breakfast. We managed to spin this out for an hour, and then attacked the city again with renewed vigour and warmer sunshine.
Beautiful as Lviv is (some call it the Florence of the east) it seemed hard to put any kind of itinerary together that would suit us; it may just have been the awkward mood exhaustion had put us in, of course. We did take the 409 steps up to the top of the town hall tower, which afforded us spectacular views over the domes and spires of the city, and then spent the morning wandering the ancient streets, taking in the essence of this quintessentially medieval old town which feels less Soviet than any other we had visited in the Russian Federation, barring, of course, St Petersburg itself.
A high point was our stop off at ‘Fresh Cava’, a unique little ‘haunted’ coffee house, where we sampled a ‘fresh white chocolate’ – “only in Lviv” – which was a heavenly cup of melted white chocolate with a liberal scattering of chopped almonds; delicious! A lunch of chicken with cheese was taken at Hors, further into the city centre, which was washed down with a perfectly acceptable Ukrainian red – Inkerman medium-dry.
A number two tram did its level best to return us to base (the journey itself providing spiritual sustenance as we were serenaded by a small choir of Ukrainian elders imparting a beautifully sung hymnal in their mother tongue) but, as is our wont, we decided to take a short cut from the tram stop back to the hotel, arriving in reception some fifty minutes later, feet like charred stumps. A message was waiting for us from our humbly apologetic Ukraine administrator, Dialog: they were terribly sorry our driver had not collected us that morning – there had been a mix-up over timings. Just as we thought – he hadn’t got up in time. By way of recompense, they promised they would collect us from the Dnister on Wednesday “at 7pm sharp”. Oh dear, if they didn’t show again it would leave us very little time to organise our own taxi to get us to the train station in time for our 7.45 departure. All Russian and former USSR trains, despite being slow, are frighteningly prompt; something we Brits, of course, are just not used to. I suppose we could give them until five past, but their previous record (apparently, according to Regent, they had done exactly the same thing to a couple the day before, at the same station) didn’t instil us with confidence. We’d have to wait and see.
An hour on the bed enlivened us sufficiently to enjoy gin and tonics on the 9th floor Panorama Bar, watching the golden glow of the sunset over the city’s elegant architecture, before heading for the restaurant and some delicious borsch, salad and more red wine. Aah, “time for bed,” said Zebedee.
Wednesday, 10th September 2008
After breakfasting on the balcony in the warm autumn sunshine, we headed into the city to explore the ‘High Castle Hill’ which, after much toing and froing, we found ourselves at by midday. It was hardly a castle, but did provide a superb viewing-point for photos. There were padlocks fastened to the railing around the summit, reminiscent of those in Vilnius, deposited by newlyweds in the superstitious hope that this would bring luck in the years to come. Opportunistic locals gathered also, in the hope of renting you a pair of binoculars or selling you a souvenir of Lviv. I purchased a set of twelve pen and ink sketches of the city for the princely sum of 25 hryvnia (£2.97) which were actually quite charming.
A lunch of Ukrainian salads at the restaurant at the base of Castle Hill sustained us for a journey to Lychakivsky Cemetery in the afternoon. The number 7 tram that should have taken us there in just five stops from the city centre was not running, so we eventually joined forces with fellow Brits Nathan and Ruth, whom we met at the tram stop. Clubbing together for the 20 hryvnia taxi journey proved a satisfying way to tick this one off our list. The cemetery itself was a truly amazing experience, the vast expanse of it proving a touch daunting.
A gothic hour was brought to a close with a short walk and a number 2 tram ride back to striking distance of the Dnister, where a rest, a few drinks in the Panorama bar and a dinner of solyanka soup and veal burgers, washed down with a Ukrainian red, brought a superb day to a close. Our impression of this city had been wonderfully warmed with our second day experience; Lviv has a charm all of its own, and is certainly one of the more rewarding gems in the Ukrainian crown. There’s a peacefulness about this compact medieval haven reminiscent of sleepy Transylvanian towns and villages, and the sense of warmth and belonging it imbues leave an indelible longing somewhere in your middle; Lviv begs you to return and it’s going to be very difficult to say no.
Thursday, 11th September 2008
Awoke after a fairly restless night, and breakfasted on the balcony in the autumn sunshine. After packing ready for check-out, we headed into the city for the final time, managing at last to track down the book shops where I purchased a couple of volumes on Lviv.
After a leisurely morning enjoying beers at our local by the town hall square, we wandered around photographing the amazing Lviv architecture before settling to a bitter orange hot chocolate at ‘Fresh Cava’; sublime!
More photography of the city’s amazing churches  was a prelude to a delicious lunch of borsch soup and ‘Budapest’ salad at one of Lviv’s more superior eateries, washed down with a more than palatable bottle of Moldavian merlot, which whiled away a couple of our last few hours. As we dined, Ukranian storm clouds rolled in and we found ourselves in the middle of an autumn downpour, which all seemed to add to the atmosphere.
After the late lunch, we wandered around in the rain, visiting and photographing the Dominican church and monastery, before walking back to the Hotel Dnister ready for our transfer. The driver, armed with a bottle of Odessa ‘Champagne’ by way of apology, did turn up, and we found ourselves at Lviv station in time for a beer, and the chance to purchase some light refreshments for the train journey ahead. Odessa here we come!

Early autumn sunrise in Lviv, Western Ukraine

Ukrainian adventure, part 2: Lviv, jewel of the West

Tuesday, 9th September 2008

A fun start to the day was had as our train rolled in to Lviv station bang on time at 6.32am, but our transfer driver couldn’t be bothered to drag his scraggy carcase out of bed to deliver us to the Hotel Dnister. Forty minutes of waiting around in the chill morning air in just shorts and t-shirts was enough to prompt us to the decision of procuring a taxi and despatching ourselves to our lodgings under our own steam.

With a less than satisfactory start to the morning already under our belt, not being able to check in to the Dnister until 12 noon simply compounded the problem, and these events conspired with our tiredness to imbue the day with a disagreeable cast that proved irksome to shake. Wandering around in the cold morning light like homeless urchins was doing little to improve our humour, so we retreated once again to the hotel to sustain ourselves with a 60 hryvnia breakfast. We managed to spin this out for an hour, and then attacked the city again with renewed vigour and warmer sunshine.

Beautiful as Lviv is (some call it the Florence of the east) it seemed hard to put any kind of itinerary together that would suit us; it may just have been the awkward mood exhaustion had put us in, of course. We did take the 409 steps up to the top of the town hall tower, which afforded us spectacular views over the domes and spires of the city, and then spent the morning wandering the ancient streets, taking in the essence of this quintessentially medieval old town which feels less Soviet than any other we had visited in the Russian Federation or former USSR, barring, of course, St Petersburg itself.

A high point was our stop off at ‘Fresh Cava’, a unique little ‘haunted’ coffee house, where we sampled a ‘fresh white chocolate’ – “only in Lviv” – which was a heavenly cup of melted white chocolate with a liberal scattering of chopped almonds; delicious! A lunch of chicken with cheese was taken at Hors, further into the city centre, which was washed down with a perfectly acceptable Ukrainian red – Inkerman medium-dry.

A number two tram did its level best to return us to base (the journey itself providing spiritual sustenance as we were serenaded by a small choir of Ukrainian elders imparting a beautifully sung hymnal in their mother tongue) but, as is our wont, we decided to take a short cut from the tram stop back to the hotel, arriving in reception some fifty minutes later, feet like charred stumps. A message was waiting for us from our humbly apologetic Ukraine administrator, Dialog: they were terribly sorry our driver had not collected us that morning – there had been a mix-up over timings. Just as we thought – he hadn’t got up in time. By way of recompense, they promised they would collect us from the Dnister on Wednesday “at 7pm sharp”. Oh dear, if they didn’t show again it would leave us very little time to organise our own taxi to get us to the train station in time for our 7.45 departure. All Russian and former USSR trains, despite being slow, are frighteningly prompt; something we Brits, of course, are just not used to. I suppose we could give them until five past, but their previous record (apparently, according to Regent, they had done exactly the same thing to a couple the day before, at the same station) didn’t instil us with confidence. We’d have to wait and see.

An hour on the bed enlivened us sufficiently to enjoy gin and tonics on the 9th floor Panorama Bar, watching the golden glow of the sunset over the city’s elegant architecture, before heading for the restaurant and some delicious borsch, salad and more red wine. Aah, “time for bed,” said Zebedee.

Wednesday, 10th September 2008

After breakfasting on the balcony in the warm autumn sunshine, we headed into the city to explore the ‘High Castle Hill’ which, after much toing and froing, we found ourselves at by midday. It was hardly a castle, but did provide a superb viewing-point for photos. There were padlocks fastened to the railing around the summit, reminiscent of those in Vilnius, deposited by newlyweds in the superstitious hope that this would bring luck in the years to come. Opportunistic locals gathered also, in the hope of renting you a pair of binoculars or selling you a souvenir of Lviv. I purchased a set of twelve pen and ink sketches of the city for the princely sum of 25 hryvnia (£2.97) which were actually quite charming.

A lunch of Ukrainian salads at the restaurant at the base of Castle Hill sustained us for a journey to Lychakivsky Cemetery in the afternoon. The number 7 tram that should have taken us there in just five stops from the city centre was not running, so we eventually joined forces with fellow Brits Nathan and Ruth, whom we met at the tram stop. Clubbing together for the 20 hryvnia taxi journey proved a satisfying way to tick this one off our list. The cemetery itself was a truly amazing experience, the vast expanse of it proving a touch daunting.

A gothic hour was brought to a close with a short walk and a number 2 tram ride back to striking distance of the Dnister, where a rest, a few drinks in the Panorama bar and a dinner of solyanka soup and veal burgers, washed down with a Ukrainian red, brought a superb day to a close. Our impression of this city had been wonderfully warmed with our second day experience; Lviv has a charm all of its own, and is certainly one of the more rewarding gems in the Ukrainian crown. There’s a peacefulness about this compact medieval haven reminiscent of sleepy Transylvanian towns and villages, and the sense of warmth and belonging it imbues leave an indelible longing somewhere in your middle; Lviv begs you to return and it’s going to be very difficult to say no.

Thursday, 11th September 2008

Awoke after a fairly restless night, and breakfasted on the balcony in the autumn sunshine. After packing ready for check-out, we headed into the city for the final time, managing at last to track down the book shops where I purchased a couple of volumes on Lviv.

After a leisurely morning enjoying beers at our local by the town hall square, we wandered around photographing the amazing Lviv architecture before settling to a bitter orange hot chocolate at ‘Fresh Cava’; sublime!

More photography of the city’s amazing churches  was a prelude to a delicious lunch of borsch soup and ‘Budapest’ salad at one of Lviv’s more superior eateries, washed down with a more than palatable bottle of Moldavian merlot, which whiled away a couple of our last few hours. As we dined, Ukranian storm clouds rolled in and we found ourselves in the middle of an autumn downpour, which all seemed to add to the atmosphere.

After the late lunch, we wandered around in the rain, visiting and photographing the Dominican church and monastery, before walking back to the Hotel Dnister ready for our transfer. The driver, armed with a bottle of Odessa ‘Champagne’ by way of apology, did turn up, and we found ourselves at Lviv station in time for a beer, and the chance to purchase some light refreshments for the train journey ahead. Odessa here we come!

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4 Responses to “Lviv: exploring Western Ukraine”

  1. John Wright says:

    Where can I buy prints of your photographs, they are amazing!

  2. Nige Burton says:

    Hi John, thanks for that. Some of my prints will soon be on sale in the Travel Store, but you can buy a print of pretty much anything in the meantime. If you’d like to email me with details of the one(s) you’d like and sizes, I’ll let you know the cost and how you can pay. Cheers, Nige

  3. Brown says:

    Interesting and informative. But will you write about this one more?

  4. Nige Burton says:

    Thanks for your comment – I will indeed be adding more articles about Lviv in the near future. Watch this space!

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