I thought perhaps I had chosen the wrong time of year, and in this case, that particular year, I was right. Wanting to give it another go in the light of a new season, I told Kitten to pack up, booked a hotel and bought some train tickets: We were going to have a wonderful time in the incredible City of Lions.
An Illuminating Landscape
Night trains can be a good place to provoke thoughts we are often too busy to unearth during the day, so while Kitten sleeps – she can sleep anywhere – I stare out the window wondering what our next couple of days are going to hold. I’m looking forward to the rest, the architecture, the atmosphere and the ambiance. But to be honest, I’m a little anxious about the effect the last visit had on me. People complain that the weather in Lviv is very similar to that in London and so I am hoping that this time we’ll be lucky enough to enjoy the warm contentedness that spring often brings. I have even gone so far as to have a look at the forecast; which, promising sun and only the slightest of winds, is definitely better than my last trip out west.
Outside my window it is dark, and only spotlights from the road or nearby houses we pass mark our journey this night. Finding myself in this time tunnel with so many thoughts running round my head, every illumination we pass acts like sheep jumping over fences and before I know it, I am asleep.
Awakened by the rusty voice of the oversized train-conductress (how I hate the way they announce our arrival!), I see that Kitten is still sleeping and think how nice it would be to have a cigarette. Unfortunately, there is a no-smoking rule on trains now and the more I think about this sad reality, the more I want to smoke! But Lviv continues to inch closer and closer and soon we will be at our destination and that is a very good thing indeed!
Early Morning Memories
Pulling in, the Lviv Railway Station is a beautiful landmark of the city and is a place that almost everyone I know recalls long before or after their trip has come to an end. We take a couple of not-very-good pictures, I will admit (two people who’ve spent the night on a train certainly aren’t at their best the next morning), and then go in search of some much needed breakfast. I fear, however, that our early arrival might cause problems in the food department and so with little open where we are situated now, we decide to hop on the tram and head into downtown. Here we get a real taste for this ancient Ukrainian city as we spend about half an hour listening to the natives talking about all that’s important at the moment. It’s wonderful. Because while I might not speak the native language very well, I can clearly hear the difference between the Ukrainian spoken in Kyiv and that spoken in Lviv.
Having arrived downtown, my previous experiences and gloomy expectations are quickly washed away and I can see that the city's look is very different from that which I remember. Kitten is impressed too, and reading her smile I can tell that she is already enjoying this little adventure we are both on.
The central square is called Ploscha Rynok or Market Square, and while it is still quiet at this hour of the morning, I am sure that within another hour or so, it will be brimming with tourists who will be flashing their cameras and making a good old racket. Looking for a place to settle, we take a little walk down the street, when suddenly we are addressed by a decent-looking chap wondering what it is we are trying to find. A citizen of Lviv we presume, we don’t need to say much as all he has to do is look at how hungry and tired we are to point us in the right direction. It doesn’t take long to figure out what he is doing out on the streets so early though either: He’s a tourist-hunter looking to be making a little cash from the info he dishes out. And getting off without having to pay for the good info we receive, we follow his advice and walk down the very narrow Krakivska Street full of various cafes and coffeshops.
Fed and Watered
We still have plenty of time to have breakfast before checking into the hotel and so finding a quaint little eatery, we sit down to enjoy a wonderfully rich and famously aromatic Lviv coffee. Coffee in Lviv is something special. It is a brilliant symbol of this little European getaway where people meet, sit and talk about their day while drinking one of the best kinds of shots that can be found in Ukraine. And so what do we order? Well coffee, of course, toast and pancakes with jam – this is the Lviv breakfast.
Once we’ve finished eating, we take the short stroll to the hotel, all the while enjoying the relaxed atmosphere this elegant city has to offer. You’ll find quickly that Lviv is much smaller than Kyiv or Odesa and if you aren’t in a hurry, then public transport isn’t always a necessity. I’m kind of angry with Kitten, however, because for a three-day vacation, she has packed a fairly large bag – and guess who’s carrying it all?! But personal issues aside, our walk takes us only 10 minutes and quite quickly we find ourselves in front of the hotel we’ll be calling home this weekend.
For our getaway this weekend, we decided on the Premier Hotel Dnister – close enough to downtown without the noisy crowds of tourists and such. And only one of a number of the Premier Collection spotted around the country, it’s a beautiful venue with a stylish sort of flair.
Once checked in, we head to our room (which is quite large in fact), turn on the air conditioning, and start the hard part: relaxing! This room seems to be the best place in the world at the moment as I have only just realised how tired I am. The same story goes for Kitten – she looks exhausted. And so climbing up on what can distinctly be distinguished from a hard train bench, we curl up on the beautiful soft bed for a quick catnap.
A Worthwhile Endeavour
What was supposed to be just a quick purr, has turned into a full on snooze. It’s been worth it, however, because the kinks are gone, we are fully refreshed and ready to take the city head on.
Thinking that a little lunch might be in order after our stressful morning of respite, we head down to Ploscha Rynok to see what we can find, and another distinctive feature of Lviv appears: this city loves its pizza! Found on just about every corner of the city, Kitten and I look at each other and smile – we love pizza too! As a tiny morsel of interest, one of the things I love about this girl is that she can put back a number of slices without putting on the pounds. It’s something, I’m sure, that would drive the greater part of the female population sticking to diets crazy. But I think it’s funny!
Grabbing a table inside one of the pizzerias we find ourselves in front of, we checkout the menu and are immediately bowled over at how cheap all of their pies are! Scoffing down a number of slices like we haven’t eaten in weeks, we are both quite full but quite happy, and ready to do a little landmark hunting.
The city is a great gathering place of beautiful things, as every monument, statue and cathedral exemplifies. But even the cafes, pubs and shops are artistically designed and display architecture from the Renaissance, Baroque and Classical periods. Taking a good look around, one of the things we come across is the Lviv City Hall where one can walk up the 400 steps to the top and enjoy the 65-metre high views. Thinking this might be a rather romantic journey, Kitten takes my hand and we begin our ascent. Halfway up, however, I can feel her clutch get ever tighter and while I’m sure I told her the observation point was rather high, she’s not happy; I can only pray that the marvelous views that await us at our destination will save me from the massacre that might ensue…
While not the highest of heights in or out of the city, everything is perfectly visible from this vantage point. And while absolutely everything is worthy of description at this height, I’m not sure I’m up to the challenge – you’ll have to go and see it for yourself.
A More Relaxed Panorama
Having made our way down with a lot less drama than on the way up, we carry on, checking out the same vistas from the bottom up. Some of the churches we come across include the magnificent Dominican Church, the Latin Cathedral as well as the breathtaking (and even a little scary) Armenian Cathedral. Everything we see is incredible and feeling like we’ve taken enough in for one day already, we head back to the hotel talking about all that we have seen and heard.
Thinking that a drink would end the evening perfectly, we decide to visit the Dnister’s Panorama Bar situated on the 9th floor. It’s not as high as City Hall, but the way up is easier and the wall-sized windows allow for a pretty good view of the city’s lights twinkling in the darkness, making our last moments ones to remember.
The next day, rather than needing to find a guy on the street to tell us where to dine, we wake up to breakfast provided by the hotel which promises to be something really special; especially since it is included in the room price. A couple of minutes of preparation are all we need, and headed to their decent-sized breakfast buffet, a sunlit terrace is waiting for us to sit down and bask while we eat.
Taking a couple of helpings of just about everything, we are back out on the street in no time at all. Assuring Kitten that she won’t have to climb any stairs to arrive at this next destination, I make another suggestion: the St Yuriy Cathedral, just a few steps from our hotel. She pinches me but agrees and we make our way in its direction; both pretty impressed by this marvel of ancients, where gothic structures stand guard and come alive I’m sure when no one’s watching.
Checking Out the Archives
Wondering what might be the best way to spend our time today, we settle on some souvenir-hunting as well as a couple of museums. Museums here tend to be a little more aberrant than those found in Kyiv as the first one we visit, the Drugstore Museum, can well attest. It’s not hard to locate, it’s right next to her favourite - City Hall! But from what we can see it’s just an old apothecary… Kitten, that sly minx, however, smiles when she spots the actual entrance from behind one of the counters, and having actually entered the museum now, I feel kind of bowled over at what they’ve got on display: a number of old and rather scary-looking machines to formulate prescriptions, very old furniture, even older manuscripts and a number of other things that would have at some point been connected to the history of pharmacy. It’s a spooky kind of a place, and having visited the room of what would have been the old witchdoctor and finding an even spookier storehouse of barrels with god knows what they encase, Kitten and I both feel as though we’ve had enough adrenalin sprinting through our veins for one day, and so take our leave to head out into the sun.
We don’t stay out for long, however, and find ourselves in front of the Arsenal Museum. This fortified building was raised in the 16th century and was used as a warehouse for several centuries after that. Today it serves as a museum, and walking around enjoying the surroundings more so than the exhibits on display, we both decide that perhaps its time to sit down and have some lunch.
Lviv is Different
We want to experience something extraordinary and so look for something accordingly. What we find is Masoch, a cafe named after the man who was a revolutionary in the science of sex: Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Heading in, the masochist theme is in full force here where all things leather, chains, studs and fur are featured everywhere. We sit down slightly anxious – admittedly – but realise soon after that there is not much to worry about.
The food is good and so is the service and when our bill arrives in a high heel shoe, we laugh it off and think it is very fitting. Thinking that this was a very pleasant lunch indeed, we are stuck when we here screams of an awful sort. Just outside the café one of the diners is being punished by her waiter with a whip in front of the Sacher-Masoch statue. The girl is pleading for forgiveness – while giggling just a little – and it is a little unnerving! Watching for just a few moments, another one of the waiting staff mentions that their guests need to be quite careful when ordering cocktails because there a couple on the menu that include a special serving!
With the show over, we decide on some souvenir-shopping and find a great little market right behind the Opera House. Anything Ukrainian you could want is here, and while we don’t really NEED anything, we have fun looking at some of the things they have on display to bring back to our friends in the capital. Wanting to pick up a few edible treats as well, we head to a little café called the Golden Ducat which sells two of the things Lviv is very well known for: coffee and beer!
With everything we need to make the trip back home – some great memories, our energy refilled and of course a bag full of superfluous souvenirs – we grab a cab that takes us all the way through the city and back to the railway station for the ridiculously low price of 15hrv. With just a few moments enraptured by the last look of Lviv’s railway station, we hop on the train, find our seats, and let the spirit of this ancient and breathtaking city drench us while watching the beautiful landscapes of Western Ukraine go by. It’s been a good trip, and I’m glad to say that all remnants of my cold autumn experience have been replaced by some very fond memories.