The short answer? Vodka, unsurprisingly.
The interesting answer? Getting invited to a local stag night.
How did this happen? It all starts with a fairly famous fellow known as Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, known for writing the classic erotic novel ‘Venus in Furs’ – better known as the man from whose name the term masochism was coined. You may be thinking, what on earth has this to do with writing yourself off with a bunch of locals celebrating a mate’s final days of bachelorhood?
Well, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch was born in the city of Lviv quite some time ago, and there’s a cafe/bar in Lviv named after him – the Masoch Cafe. I’d discovered this because it was listed on the ‘Just LVIV it!’ map I’d been given and I thought it would be interesting. I’d also heard that the waitstaff there whip the patrons and as a few other people at the hostel agreed to go, I thought it might be a different and novel experience. So five of us went out to dinner and headed to the bar, at which point three of the guys chickened out and just went back to the hostel. They regretted that the next day – the experience, not the hangovers.
It ended up being just me and a French-Canadian guy called Dmitri who stayed. We ordered some drinks, and he was a little unnerved by the sculpted genitalia that stuck rather prominently out of the wall beside our table, and the large leg-irons hanging above. We were downstairs, where it was all painted red and a number of TV screens on the walls played a mixture of porn, crappy romance scenes and Ukrainian parliament. Yes, that’s right. Just when you’re watching a clip involving a couple of very naked people it cuts to a scene from the Ukrainian parliament. Why, I have no idea, but it was quite funny.
So we were sitting there chatting and having a few drinks when a group of seven young local guys heard us speaking English and invited us to join them. We figured, why not? So we pulled up some more chairs at their table and they promptly ordered a round of vodka shots. Just like at the little roadside stalls, the concept of a ‘shot’ in Ukraine differs greatly from the standard shot we’re used to in Australia. They’re more like half a glass. And so it began…
We soon found out that this was one of the guys’ stag night – his buck’s party – and he was getting married the next weekend. They were terribly excited to meet some foreigners, and they’d all studied English at university so spoke quite fluently. As soon as one round of vodka was downed, they’d order another, never letting either myself or Dmitri pay. After about four rounds of vodka we started on cocktails. The menu was only in Ukrainian, and it was my choice of cocktail. I could read ‘tequila’ as they call it the same thing only write it in Cyrillic, and it looked like the words for orange juice next to that. Accordingly I thought ‘tequila sunrise’ and went for that.
It definitely wasn’t Tequila Sunrises that came out shortly after. I still don’t really know what it was. Each drink came in three glasses – one with something clear, one with something dark, and one with something else. You also got a straw. The clear drink was set on fire, and while it’s burning you drink it through the straw. Just as it’s almost finished, the dark drink is poured in, catching fire too, and you drink that. Then you shoot down the third drink. I was a little concerned about drinking a liquid that was on fire through a straw, but hey when in Ukraine…
Quite a few more followed after that. What also followed was the waitress coming over and tying up the groom, blindfolding him before putting ice-cubes down his shirt and flogging him with a six-foot-long braided leather whip. After he’d been whipped I convinced Dmitri it was his turn, and while he didn’t get the restraint-and-ice-cube treatment he did scream a little. Of course, being the only girl in the group [and having made a deal with Dmitri that I would do it if he did], it was of course my turn to be whipped. I’m pleased to say that unlike the boys I did not scream. They claimed of course that I wasn’t whipped as hard, but I think it was more that they were a little embarrassed that they both squealed like little girls.
When we went outside to have a cigarette, we were told off by police for being too loud. Shortly afterwards we were required to leave the Masoch Bar – no, we weren’t kicked out, it just closes at 2am. That’s when the Lviv Strip Club Tour started.
To be fair, the strip clubs we went to were all pretty classy affairs – not dingy little basement joints. And I think it’s fair to say that they contained a number of unbelievably attractive, if clothing deficient, young women. But that wouldn’t be a challenge in Ukraine – pretty much all of the young women there are unbelievably attractive. That’s one country where stepping out of the door results in an almost immediate blow to the self esteem of any female who does not resemble your average Hollywood starlet. So we hopped from one to another to another, enjoying overpriced [for Ukraine] drinks and talking about a whole lot of random things. The guys were of course all interested in finding out about Australia and so I told them about how just about every creature in Australia is trying to kill you. They thought that was rather entertaining. I don’t really recall a whole lot of details about the conversation, and I have no idea at what time we decided it was time to try to find our way back to the hostel. It was almost starting to get light, so fairly late.
How we managed to get back is somewhat of a mystery. I know we walked, and that I led the way [Dmitri admitted his sense of direction was abysmal – he couldn’t even remember how we got to the Masoch Bar when sober], and that somehow we got back there. I think that was quite an achievement at the time, especially given that I still have absolutely no idea where any of the strip bars we went to were. I even managed to put my pajamas on and get into bed.
Needless to say I spent the entire next day feeling like I was slowly and painfully dying, my head verging on the edge of explosion. I spent the day in bed feeling rather sorry for myself and popping ibuprofen like tic-tacs. But I did get to meet the locals and get to be the lone girl on a testosterone-fuelled binge-drinking buck’s night in a country far, far away. I had an absolute ball, even if the next day it didn’t seem like such a good idea. One thing about Ukraine is that there’s no refusing a glass of vodka – and the common sense voice in the back of your mind warning you to drink responsibly is very quickly drowned in a torrent of vodka that never seems to end.
And that’s how you get a hangover in Lviv.