Niamh heading back to Ireland in preparation for going back to the-place-we-don’t-speak-of, that is, Salone, Benno and myself took a train to, what is said to be, the cultural capital of the Ukraine, Lviv. Still a 14 hour train ride, in part because the wheels have to be replaced on the former Soviet border, the wagon, the only one going only to Lviv, the rest of the train continuing to Moscow, was pleasantly comfortable, due to it being a first class wagon.
Not too cheap though, ticket and sleeper coming in at just over 50 euros.
The city, enjoyable, reminds me of a smaller version of Kiev and is neither as impressive as either the capital of the Ukraine or Budapest, though at the same time it does still feel more typically Eastern European than Budapest does, now.
English isn’t very widely spoken, and menus are often only available in Ukrainian, but with a little help through the many wifi networks, even just a tool like Google translate helps a lot.
The first thing we noticed, walking out of the train station, was how quiet the city is. Right in front of the station, a major road is being redone, but none of the machines, nor any of the workmen, were actually doing anything. A day later, walking around town the city felt pretty much as quiet. Peaceful perhaps, or was it placid?
Asking for an interesting place to eat, our hostel’s receptionist pointed us to a cellar bar called Krievka, done up like a communist underground resistance headquarters from during Stalin’s heydays. The entrance not marked and, when we finally did get in, guarded by a young man in khaki uniform toting a Kalashnikov and demanding the password, finally letting us in only if we drank a honey flavored vodka to prove our allegiance to the motherland, we missed our calling at first, instead ending up on the wrong floor, at a place called “The most expensive Galician restaurant”.
Not to be confused with it’s Spanish counterpart, the eastern European Galicia is an area named after a small village in western Ukraine first mentioned in the 1200s and now is partially in Poland, partially in Ukraine. There, at the restaurant, the food and drinks were decent, if a bit overpriced.
The best experience, though, was our entrance. The entrance door also not signed, we took a side door, which brought us to what seemed to be someone’s tiny living room, where a gentleman in a house coat ushered us through to another side door, on the other side of his tiny room, after which we suddenly found ourselves in the restaurant itself. Not too unlike Krievka, where half the venue can only be found through ‘secret’ passageways.
Our second day’s excursion brought us to the city’s main cemetery. Not as impressive as Budapest’s, but at least as popular, many different tour groups walking around on the grounds.
The walk to the cemetery saw us pass through the grounds of the medical university, which was perhaps as enjoyable as the nearby cemetery.
After walking back, we visited a few art galleries and, in what probably once was the Jewish quarter, a lovely coffee shop called Shtuka.
Lviv, like Brussels, once had a river running through it, which was covered up. Here, to create the city’s main drag, as part of the design for the city’s opera building. In Brussels, it was to cover up the stench of what had become an open sewer.
Buying a train ticket to Odessa reminded me of traveling through Russia a few years ago. Though the train station did have an information booth, with a lovely lady who actually spoke English. Because our train was going to leave the next day and was going to Odessa, we had to get our tickets from one of only three specific desks out of the 20 or so in the departure hall. An hour in line and the ticket lady first claimed no trains were actually going, tomorrow night. Only when the piece of paper the English speaking lady had given us was finally inspected did we first get a verbal scolding and, later, our tickets. A 140am departure is, of course, not in the evening.
Interestingly, our ticket didn’t list the time our train is supposed to leave Lviv, but only lists the time it is to leave it’s place of origin.