Before I go any further I should point out it wasn’t us who had too many drinks at the ballet. For a ridiculously cheap €4 we got some pretty decent seats in the stalls of Lviv’s Opera House (though the stingy could have gone as low as €2) and though neither of us are dance experts, for that price we could totally get on board! The night was made more interesting when a couple of ‘merry’ gentlemen decided the orchestra needed a bit of extra help so started conducting from the front row and shouting ‘bravo’ very loudly whenever there was a lull in the music. They were in fact kicked out not once but twice, the ballet so entrancing that they just had to sneak back in for a bit more conducting action. Ah Lviv a very memorable beginning…
We took the overnight, sleeper train from Krakow to Lviv, managing to get very little sleep because of border checks from both countries. The Ukraine customs official seemed to be making the night more interesting with a little vodka: she smelled distinctly of booze and laughed a lot at the fact we spoke no Ukrainian or Russian. I suppose if you’re going to be woken up at 3am by a customs official it might as well be a happy drunk one! We arrived into the city at 6am and decided to find a coffee in the city square and wait for a more reasonable hour to check into our accommodation. Unfortunately the Lviv gods were not pleased about us being there as, while waiting with our bags, a dustbin lorry sprayed Ella and all of our possessions with a layer of oil from an exploding pipe! Luckily for us Lviv did get better, as soon as we’d washed the oil off…
So you may have gathered that Ukraine is cheap, much more reasonable than anywhere else we had been in Europe so far. This is where the Poles come for a cheap weekend away and the city, having once been part of other central European nations, has a closer feel to Krakow than it does to Kiev. We were glad, sitting in the old town square, in the most touristy place in the city, a beer was less than a euro.
We were lucky enough to have a few days to relax and enjoy the sunny weather, wandering up around the Austro-Hungarian boulevards and having coffee in the many street side cafes. We walked out to the Folk Life museum, where you can see wooden houses from all over Ukraine, which have been moved here to be preserved. I don’t know what you think, but the churches look a little like Taoist temples in China…We also walked to the cemetery where many famous Ukrainians are buried: poets, composers and military leaders. It’s the equivalent of Paris’ Pere Lachaise and tours take tourists around to see the most famous graves. Not being super informed of Ukrainian cultural figures most of the famous names were lost on us, but the cemetery also has a number of military graves. Many Poles are buried here after fighting the soviets, as well as new graves for those killed in the conflict in the East of the country.
We had read that this western part of the Ukraine was the most Ukrainian (rather than Russian) and therefore very patriotic. In Russia there had been a lot of positive images of Putin: Putin hugging a dog on a mug, Putin with a bear on a hoodie or Putin punching Barak Obama in the face on a tea towel. Here his face was still present but in a very different light. Putin’s face appeared on toilet paper, on doormats and on t-shirts along with the words ‘number one terrorist’. A craft brewery had made their own series of beers around the conflict in the East, one of which was called ‘Putin Dickhead’. He was definitely not like in this part of the country. In a square, just outside our hostel, a gun shot ridden people carrier was on display, next to a tent collecting money for the fight.
Lviv has another interesting draw for the tourist, there is an obsession with themed bars and restaurants. Whether you want to eat at a Harry Potter inspired bar or a military bunker restaurant it’s all here! We had read about a hidden restaurant on the main square, inspired by the Masons called the Most Expensive Galician restaurant, and though it had no sign we spotted a couple of brown flags hanging from a first floor window and with some trepidation, made our way up the stairs. We knocked on the door of an apartment, numbered 8, to be greeted by a middle-aged gentlemen in his dressing gown, in what appeared to be his living room. For a split second I though we’d made a terrible mistake, disturbing this guy in his home, but luckily before we apologised and left he gestured towards another door. On the other side was a beautiful restaurant and bar, complete with a car(!) , portraits of famous masons and a menu of ridiculously expensive traditional meals, I guess the clue was in the name. But we had got a Lviv card in preparation, which gets you 90% off…to be honest I think they would have given us the money off anyway and we tucked into a delicious meal with a view out across the square below. If you do end up going make sure you make a trip to the bathroom…trust us on this one, it wont be like anyone you’ve sat on before!
Waiting for our tiny, hot bus to the border, we were reminded that Ukraine is a much cheaper country because it’s a much poorer country than many other in Europe. As some homeless children came up to us to beg for money, I decided a few days was definitely not long enough to understand Ukraine and that we had to come back to explore more of this complicated country.
But for now onward to Hungary