That was what the free map I was given upon arrival at Kosmonaut Hostel in Lviv said, anyway.
After a much needed hot shower I was heading out the door to check out Lviv, and met a Canadian photographer, Francois, who was also staying at the hostel. My first plan was for food, so we went to a small local cafe that Francois had heard of. As it turned out it was very, very local with not a person who spoke a word of English. After pointing randomly at the menu we were given toast with cheese. It certainly was not the most exciting meal and not an impressive introduction to Ukrainian cuisine, but it was food nonetheless. The cafe was hard to find, having to go through an apartment building to get there, and it was tiny and dark with some old memorabilia on the wall and locals quietly drinking coffee.
Once my stomach was satisfied, we walked briefly through the centre of town and decided to check out the ‘real’ city, ie. walk out of the pretty places and into local neighbourhoods along a dirty broken road. It wasn’t very attractive, however on every other corner was a little stall on the side of the road selling shots of vodka for three hryvnia – less than fifty cents – and they were triple the standard shot size. After a few of these and a couple hours aimless wandering we began to head back into the town. We stopped at the Beer Museum, which had an unimpressive collection of stuff to do with beer including copies of Sumerian tablets describing beer making and a whole lot of old beer bottles strung from the ceiling.
That evening I made my first visit to a cheap little restaurant that would become my fall-back plan everywhere in Ukraine – Puzata Hata. It’s a reliable and pretty cheap place to eat and the food is not too bad. It’s standard Ukrainian food, buffet style, where you walk along and pick what you want. It’s great because you can see what things are and hopefully figure out what they are – sometimes there’s English signs telling you what something is but most of the time its only in Ukrainian. I got totally hooked on the tomato and onion salads – exactly like the one my grandmother always makes – and I think I got a side of that every single time I went there. They also did pretty good dumplings…and sometimes even had my favourite honey cake.
The next day I decided to spend some time exploring the old town of Lviv and visit the main sights. Having enjoyed sleeping in, I started the day by having an early lunch with a group of people from the hostel before they headed off for paintball and I to explore. Lviv is not a very Soviet city, nor a very Ukrainian city – and that’s because it’s not. The city has only been part of Ukraine since WWII – it was previously part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and was also under Polish rule for a time. This likely explains why the old city centre is so pretty, and so similar to a lot of other cities I’ve seen.
It’s got the standard central square with a town hall complete with tower in the middle surrounded by lovely old buildings painted various pastel colours. A lot of construction is going on in the town centre, and so there are also inconveniently located piles of cobblestones, holes in the footpaths and taped off areas where the tape is totally ignored. Many of the buildings are hidden behind scaffolding as the restoration works are not limited to the ground level. There were girls dressed in old-fashioned court dresses wandering around selling soft sugared jellies on sticks and an ugly red tourist train, like th ones you see in shopping centres during school holidays only a little larger, trundling around between sights.
As I was sitting on the edge of a lovely old fountain, taking in the square and people-watching, a drunk and/or crazy homeless man decided that it was time to take a bath in said fountain, stripping off his clothes while shouting and ranting at everyone who was trying not to listen and jumping into the cold and not-so-clean looking water. At that point it was time to move on.
There was a small market selling souvenirs and handicrafts which I wandered through, before heading east to the other side of the centre where I came across a small second-hand book market. The books, unsurprisingly, were all in either Ukrainian or Russian and so I didn’t spend a huge amount of time perusing the titles – there’s not a lot of point in carrying around a book that I cannot read! But it was quite nice, behind a big church and beneath a very large but benevolent looking statue of a man whose name I cannot remember.
I visited the church briefly and it wasn’t particularly exciting – they’re all starting to look a bit the same. On the steps of the church a number of beggars waited, plastic cups in hand, for a few hyrvnia from the faithful and/or tourists visiting the church. There are a lot of churches in Lviv and I checked out most from the outside only – many are closed or under restoration anyway.
Heading back towards the hostel, I stopped for a while at the Opera House and watched the pigeons flocking towards anyone willing to throw anything resembling food. There’s a large fountain before the opera house and a long boulevard before it leading to another central square passing a few statues and memorials on the way.