Dinner at the pectopah
Trip Start Sep 12, 2006
100Trip End Sep 08, 2008
We arrived at the bus station in Lviv around midday, and after changing some zloty to hryvna (the Ukraine currency) we haggled with a taxi driver for a ride in his decades old Soviet style car to the centre of the city. It was a little further than I expected, and during the twenty minute ride we passed a number of huge grey communist style apartment blocks
Our driver dropped us off close to Lviv's rynok, which was where I first saw just how beautiful the city really was. Prior to the Second World War, Lviv was the second largest city in Poland after Warsaw. The Russians invaded in 1939, followed by the Germans in 1941, and they caused the same carnage as in virtually every other Polish city. Later on the Soviet Union took control of the city again, and most of the surviving Poles were relocated to Wroclaw, in the south west of Poland. Lviv was under Russian control, and when the borders were redrawn, Poland lost its beautiful city. The townhouses surrounding the market square still had a Polish look to them, although there was something different about the place. Perhaps it was that the rynok was on an incline. Perhaps it was that the huge rathaus (town hall) in the centre made it feel like less of a town square. Perhaps it was the fact that all the writing in the shop windows was in the cyrillic alphabet. Perhaps it was that the people seemed to be dressed in darker clothes, and many of them were wearing the Russian style hats I hadn't seen in Poland
After getting over the hurdle of ordering some food from a menu we couldn't read, in a country which spoke a language quite different to one we were used to, Chris and I found a reasonably priced hotel near the centre and decided to catch up on a little sleep before meeting a girl I'd contacted through the hospitality club website. We found Anastasiya waiting for us near the Neptune statue on the rynok at half past four, and we walked around the city chatting for a while before finding an eatery where we could get some food and drinks.
Anastasiya was probably the fifteenth person I'd met through the hospitality club website, and like the others, I found her to be a very friendly, curious and talkative person. When she said that another hospitality club member had contacted her and would like to meet us, I didn't think twice about agreeing to meet them. Well, neither of us was to know what this person would be like. Kevin from Los Angeles met us at the eatery, and from the moment he sat at our table I got a bad feeling about him. Over the course of the next hour or two, he pretended to know more about Ukraine than our kind host, while at the same time insulting her, insulting me, and making it perfectly clear that the Ukrainian women sitting at nearby tables were nothing more than objects to him
After calming down and grabbing a beer at a strange little bar modelled on the inside of a ship, we caught up with Anastasiya and her friends, and went to the Millenium nightclub, one of the biggest in Lviv. Upon entry, Kevin said to us that he'd never been to a nightclub where so many girls had been checking him out as he walked in the door. I told him that that was funny, as none of them were looking at me, although I decided not to add the obvious, that even IF they were looking at him, it's probably because they had never seen such a short, fat, arrogant asshole before. I guess Kevin was starting to get the idea that none of us liked him all that much, and not long after he disappeared. The rest of the evening proved to be a fantastic night at Millenium, which really is a story in itself.
We had just a few short hours of sleep before we took advantage of the pretty ordinary free breakfast at our hotel and began a day's sightseeing around the city
Anastasiya, who'd left for a weeks study in Germany earlier in the morning, told us we could climb to the top of the rathaus tower in the centre of the rynok for a fantastic view over the city, and this was our next destination. However, we were halted somewhat as we tried to figure out exactly what was going on in the rynok. The protestors from the previous evening seemed to have grown in number, and a few tents had been set up behind their banners. They were cooking some food on a grill and also playing some very loud rock music which seemed to detract from the atmosphere of the place. What surprised me wasn't so much the protest, but the fact they seemed to be able to cause such a disturbance without any intervention from the police or anyone.
It was quite a climb to the top of the tower, however by the time we reached the top the sun had broken through and we were rewarded with a fantastic vista over the city. In all directions surrounding the rynok we could see the beautiful architecture of the old town, as well as a number of huge cathedrals (Greek orthodox, Catholic and Armenian among them). In the distance we could make out 'Castle hill', a small hill in the centre which not surprisingly, given the name, once had a castle upon it
After grabbing a bite for lunch we made our way up to the summit of castle hill, via the Armenian Church and church of St John the Baptist. Both were pretty impressive, although it was the little things I'll remember, like the market stalls selling old communist memorabilia and Eastern European tourists looking just as enthralled as I was. The view from Castle hill over the city was great, but as we were further from the centre, we could see even more concrete apartment blocks, which were obscured by the hill when we were atop the rathaus.
Feeling pretty tired after just a few hours sleep the previous two nights, I caught up on some sleep back at the hotel before dinner. When we were ready, dinner proved to be a little difficult to organise. Most restaurants had menus written using Ukraine's cyrillic alphabet, and when we went back to a place we knew to have an English menu, we found it closed for a private party! After almost an hour of wandering through the streets, about ready to give up and head back to the hotel, we found a small Greek bistro with a waiter who could speak a few words of English
Dinner was followed by another all nighter, this time at the Metro club. This place was very different to Millenium, less pretentious with a crowd looking to have fun rather than pose. I'd never seen a place quite like it, with three rooms, all decked out to look like an underground, with the main dance floor being cleared every so often for dancers. It was great, even if the intense house music in one of the rooms was enough to make my head explode.
Not wanting to catch another overnight train back to Opole, and knowing that we would probably be up for more trouble at the border, we decided to get the 12.20pm bus back to Przemysl. This meant I wouldn't have time to see the cemetery, which I'd been told was an amazing site. I've done enough travel now to realise it's simply not possible to see everything, and given the amount I had seen in just two days I was willing to make that sacrifice. In such a short time I had fallen in love with the city, and was actually questioning my own decision to make Poland my home without even researching the Ukraine. Not only was Lviv a beautiful city, but it had a really authentic atmosphere, unspoilt by thousands of tourists as Krakow and to some extent Wroclaw had been. It wasn't easy, not being able to read anything, and communication was difficult, but that challenge made it all the more fun. Furthermore, the locals I met were great people. As we got a ride to the bus station in a taxi, I hoped that I would get a chance to come back. One thing I knew for certain was that Ukraine warranted further exploration.
There were just six people on the bus as it pulled out of Lviv's bus station, and we both thought that meant it would be a quick, hassle free trip over the border...