L'viv, Ukraine 2012

Today is my first day of vacation. Well, technically, I guess yesterday was my first day, but a 24 hour train ride is no vacation. Some people really enjoy the train riding in this country, and although I have warmed up to some parts of the process, I still find the entire experience completely shitty and frustrating, bordering on inhumane sometimes. I have to navigate Russian websites to get train schedules. Then I have to buy my tickets, which can only be done within 45 days of travel. I cannot buy the tickets in my town (without paying huge service fees), so I, or someone else has to buy them when we are in another city that has a train station. But, by that time the good seats may be sold out, or the whole train may be sold out. Then you have to start all over again with different dates. I hate it, hate it, hate it. During the summer they pull old trains out of storage to accommodate the extra travellers during those months. These old cars may or may not have working windows, and most certainly have no air-conditioning, which makes for very uncomfortable sleeping arrangements. Today's train is no different, except the good news is that at least our berth has a working window. Sadly, the woman I am sharing a berth with is sick and finds the breeze too cold. So, even though it is hot outside, and even hotter inside, I sit with my moist towel patting my forehead and neck down frequently...but at least she is comfortable, right? It is 7:00am and we still have another 7 hours to go before we hit L'viv. I have been doing some reading up and reaching out to some of the volunteers in that area. Tomorrow Erin (my sitemate) gets in and we will explore the city together for a few days. She is just returning from a trip to Europe and has a camp in west Ukraine (near L'viv) next week. Instead of coming all the way back to Razdol'noye in between, she decided to check out L'viv and asked if I wanted to join her. She is in Kiev now and I will have one day on my own to get my bearings before meeting up. According to the research, L'viv is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, on par with some classics like Prague and Vienna.

We will stay at a hostel called Old City Hostel that was recommended as the best option by other volunteers. As we speed along the western Ukraine countryside, I wish El was with me. But, I will use this opportunity to scope out a potential destination for us on a future trip. Our train ride is punctuated by stops along the route. Some stops are only three minutes, whereas others can run longer than 30 minutes. I assume that the length has more to do with track traffic and maintenance than the size of the city the stop is in. Although the bigger cities tend to be more like five minutes to allow all of those exiting and entering enough time to get where they need to be. The train waits for no one and I know of at least one time when friends of mine had to jump onto a train as it was departing the station. The thing I find fascinating is the culture of platform marketing [check my blog on this subject].

Day 1: Wednesday June 27, 2012

I arrive, tired but without incident to L'viv. I get off the train and need to find tram #1 to take to the hostel. The directions I was given said take the tram to the "first stop past Poshta". Luckily, I can follow the announcements and the map on the window to realize that the tram route is two way. The trams run in a circle, but some run the route clockwise, while others run it counterclockwise. So in my case I actually need the stop before Poshta. As the tram heads towards my stop of Doroshenko Street, we actually pass the hostel, so when I exit, I only need to backtrack a couple of blocks. I check into the hostel and get shown around. It will certainly do the job.

Even though the Euro 2012 is over here, everything is still in "tourist friendly" mode, just without all the tourists. I feel special. I shower and leave to find the Rinok Square (the center square of the old city). There is a tourist information center on the first floor of city hall in the center of the square. I stop in, get my In Your Pocket guide, maps, and dinner recommendation. This time, Kumpel. I see them written up in the IYP guide and it looks good. I found it only a couple blocks away. Kumpel has an English menu and downstairs is no smoking. I order a tomato and avocado salad served with ham and bacon and a decent mustard sauce. It needs a little salt (even with ham and bacon!) And the deep fried cubes of rosemary flavored cheese are nice. The entree is gulash soup with dumplings. The waiter says "good choice", but don't they all? I like this place. The first two things that strike me about L'viv are the cleanliness (not sure if this is normal or Euro 2012 related) and architectural beauty. I had read about this city being visually wonderful and in the hour I have been there I can already see this as a way different city than Kiev.

I have come to very much enjoy my time in Kiev, but I think it is for the things I do in Kiev rather than the look and feel of Kiev. I already feel L'viv is different. It is still light out so I decide to get out and see more of the center before it gets too late. I start following a walking tour of churches. I don't go in, but the concentration of architecturally interesting buildings is really kind of cool. Sadly, I got a text from Erin telling me that she is being forced to cancel her trip to L'viv, leaving me to explore solo for the days I am here. As I walk, I come upon a stage set up with a string quartet playing. The first song is Prince's "When Doves Cry". Then Led Zeppelin’s "Immigrant Song" with heckler doing Robert Plant's trademark "ah ah ah aaah". Deep Purple's "Highway Star" and The Beatles "Come Together". The audience makes me laugh as old people who probably have very little, if any appreciation for the original Deep Purple or Led Zeppelin versions are listening and enjoying this string version. I spot a man enjoying the rock tunes as much as I am and ask if he knows any good rock bars. He points me to one nearby, which is where I may head after I have my fill of symphonic hard rock. As they start on the unmistakable first bars of "Smoke On The Water", I decide to head out. The bar that was recommended was called Johnny Rocker and it sounds promising. It is across the street from Krumpel where I ate dinner. The place certainly looks the part with great rock and roll decorations. One small problem though, there is no music playing! I order a beer and grab a large table in the back. This gives me a chance to spread all of my guides and maps out and start to plot my itinerary. With Erin now out of the picture, I don't have to hold off on seeing things that she might want to see. I have a tentative game plan that starts with me hanging in the neighborhood of the hostel tonight and heading to the cemetery in the morning. I will reserve museums for any day it rains. I move on before dark. Unfortunately, on the way out of the bar I catch the weather report and it appears tomorrow may be a museum day- with rain predicted. Oh, well, I have my rain gear and I will have a plan B. I head over towards the opera house. As with many cities, the opera house is usually something to see. It is usually a building of beauty. On my way, I start seeing signs for "Fan Zone". Since Euro 2012 is going on right now, many cities have set up these public fan zones where people can come to a central location like a park, and watch games on jumbotrons and buy beer and souvenirs. I believe that these are officially sanctioned events. The zone is free (if there is no special concert event) and on my way to the opera house I have to pass into the zone. I check my map and see that it is actually the park in front of the opera house that is partitioned off as the fan zone. I walk in to see a giant stage set up...directly in front of the opera house! I guess I will have to wait for next visit to appreciate the opera house. At the other end of the park is the Shevchenko monument. It is rather nice. I had passed a bar on the way to the opera house that I thought I might stop into on the way out. They tell me that there is a match tonight at 9:45 between Portugal and Spain. So far, almost every place has spoken some measure of English. I got an English menu at dinner and I have had no problem using my Russian. The next, and probably last, beer place for the night is called The Music Lab. The decorations are right. A bathroom full of Queen, Beatles, and Johnny Cash. Vinyl records line the walls and I spy a Kiss "Rock and Roll Over" among the dozens. I walk in to the Doors on the video screen, which, although not my favorite, leaves room for potential. However, it is just about 9:45 and all TV screens switch to Euro 2012 coverage- reducing this promising rock and roll bar to a run of the mill pub with nothing setting it apart from any of the other bars in this city tonight. My decidedly last stop of the night is a place called b/w 5x5. It is a dessert/coffee place and, it appears also, a photo gallery. I ask for a table and order a latte and apple strudel, and think of El as I eat. There is no doubt in my mind if she was here, this is what she would be eating at this moment. The strudel is a little odd with a cream cheese like sauce, but the latte is a winner. It looks like this may be the only spot in town that you can't see the Portugal/Spain game. And I am OK with that. You know, cinnamon is a funny ingredient. Whenver I see it on a cappucino or piece of pie, or in this case, a piece of strudel, I forget that it doesn't do anything for me unless there's some sugar to go along with it. I have just been reminded of something that infuriates me about this country...pricing by the gram. I just ordered an apple strudel. The price on the menu is 13UAH per 100 grams. No problem. Except when I get a check, it says they have served me 175 grams and my dessert bill includes 22.75UAH for strudel when I thought I was ordering a 13UAH strudel. You have no idea how much you will be charged even though you clearly know the price. I end the night here.

Day 2: Thursday June 28, 2012

Today is a holiday in Ukraine and the streets are very quiet and it is after 8:00am. I have an apple tart and mocaccino at Coffee Manufacture on the corner of Rinok Square. My plan is to take the 90 minute Chuda bus tour around the city center at 9:30. The problem is that it only runs with minimum of 4 people. As I exit the cafe, I am approached by a woman who is offering a van tour of 200km to the outlying areas of the city. It is called "The Golden Horseshoe" Tour. And while I wouldn't mind going, I have only been in town for less than a day and was hoping to see more of the center before going off to see the outlying stuff. I head back to the bus tour stop and am told that the 9:30 departure will not run. I decide to go back to the van tour that leaves at 9:45. The weather looks like rain, so as of now, it is my best guess as what to do. As I stand, waiting for the day trip to start I realize that it is being organized through one of the tourist offices across the street from the Pharmacy Museum. I have no idea where they came from, but all of the sudden our little group of 5 tourists gets joined up with 18 others and now we have a full scale tour. The day costs 175UAH and I am told it runs from 9:45-4:30. As of now, the tour is only in Ukrainian, but I will see if anyone can help me translate at key points. Not 10 minutes into our excursion, the rain arrives and I realize this may have been a good plan. Our first stop is the castle at Olesko.

It is about 70km from L'viv center. The rain is still coming down. Enough to be annoying, not enough to alter our plans. The guide comes around and collects 10UAH from everyone for the entrance fee. There is a 20UAH supplement for photos. The first room has a series of displays, each focusing on a different period in the history of the castle. The guide seems to be giving a lot of information to the group, but I haven't seen anything yet that I think I need an explanation of. Most of the art inside is of religious variation and not necessarily spectacular. I bet the views are really pretty on a clear day. It is a little foggy today with the low clouds obscuring the farthest edges of the vistas. Our tour finishes after about 30 minutes and he gives us some time to walk around.

Our guide tells me he speaks four languages. Sadly, for me, English is not one. He tries to answer some questions for me, but we are too far apart to bridge the gap. He offers to wait for another guide and ask her my questions, but there is not enough time. I will just have to read about where we were. Our next stop is the spot known as Pidhoretsky. Not really sure what it is. It looks too religious to be a castle, but looks too palatial to be a church.

The guidebook was right when it said the inside was sparse. I bought the photo pass anyway, for 8UAH and the entrance is only 4UAH. There are several photographs on display showing the contents of the place when it was in use, but all of the contents have since been moved out, leaving only bare rooms (except for the photos). After exiting, I can't help but feel a little ripped off by the 4UAH entrance fee. Then we are lead downstairs to a dungeon like room. It is dark and damp and cold and has really weird music playing. As I look at the displays along the walls, I see that the team of American Ghost Hunters has been here. It is pretty hokey and I am pretty sure any measure of translation would not have helped. I always view photos from ghost hunting collections like sonograms. I never see anything, even after the doctor shows you what you should be looking at. It is now 2:00pm and I am really hungry. Unfortunately, by vote, the group opts to press on instead of stopping for lunch. I will try to grab something when I can. Our next, and probably last, stop is Zolochiv Castle. It costs 10UAH. I do not get the photo ticket. The place seems to have quite a history of being a prison, torture compound, and site of Jewish executions in 1941. Upstairs is a sizable collection of paintings and an interesting collection of parts of dead animals. It is like a trophy room, but included are a whale vertabrate chandelier, a stuffed wolf, and a walrus' skull with tusks. The tour goes on for a while and I understand none of it. Now I am cranky and fortunately, I have no companions to experience it. At this point I am hungry, tired and ready to get back to L'viv. I am not disappointed I took this tour today and think it was a good way to spend an otherwise dreary day. The only thing I would suggest against, is taking the tour by yourself if you can't follow the guide. At least if I had someone to talk to or compare notes with, it might have been a little more fun and a little less boring for me. The guide gives us 30 minutes to walk around the compound, but I only need about five. I head back to the bus and start to plan my evening. We get back to the city around 5:30 and I head direct for a restaurant called Veronica. It is a chocolateria upstairs and a full service restaurant downstairs. The menu is rather large and has English translations on it. I order the Pork Veronica served with a "spicy cream sauce" and a side of risotto. After dinner I plan to check out a bar called Kult that is nearby. They actually start me off with a plate, compliments of the chef, of what appeared to be a slice of holodetz or head cheese with a dollop of spicy mustard on top. It wasn't anything special, but I give high marks to them for trying something (amuse-bouche) I haven't seen elsewhere in this country...ever. El would be proud of the risotto, near perfectly done. The pork should have said "spiced sauce" or "with spices", instead of "spicy". There is nothing subpar about this meal, with one funny exception, the drizzle. The squirt of liquid used to make the plate look attractive upon presentation, had some ingredient, that when it mixed with the cream sauce did not blend well. Maybe anise? Whatever, if that was the only complaint, that will be great. And to boot, a strawberry sherbet palate cleanser after my plates are removed. Nice. I'll have to remember this place. Next is 4 Friends Whiskey Bar. Decent selection. Playing Queen in concert on the video. Has wifi. I am good for now! The staff is friendly enough, but as I sit here with an empty glass working on the computer, no one has offered me another drink. I finish up what I was working on and decide to press on. Queen is over and they have switched to the videography of Roxette. I am out of here. My next stop is a bar called Kult. It is written about as a rock and roll bar...but, it is the Euro 2012 and L'viv has that fever too. So as I walk into the mostly empty bar and order a beer, I see all of the "reserved" signs on the tables. In less than an hour it will be full of people here to watch the game. I promise to not stay long. I think I am working my way towards a coffee dessert place. Not looking to make it a late night. This place is cool, but they need the table. I pay and press on. I end up at a place called Kabinet. It looks like a library/bookstore inside. It is here that, again, I find myself wishing El was here. We have proven time and time again that we are great travel partners. I have now been here for 24 hours and think she would love it. I order a latte and something called a "drunk cherry cake". I had ordered a "Kabinet cherry ice cream" but was told they don't have it. I think that is sad when the place does not have the selection of something that is named after them! As I eat my cake I expect that it is probably made with Kirschwasser (hence, "drunken"). It is OK and the coffee decent, but nothing to write home about (except that is exactly what I am doing?!) Also, parenthetically, I have been in this cafe for about 15 minutes and there is a woman sitting in an armchair to the side of an endtable. There is nothing on the table. She has no food or drink within reach. She just sits, staring into the rest of the room. It is a little strange. I am also noticing that it is almost 10:00pm and is still relatively light out. As I leave, she stops me to try to sell me some books- all in Ukrainian, which explains her presence. Not sure if I will make another stop on the way to the hostel, but if not, I will call it a night. On my way back I remember a place that was recommended by a friend. It is called L'viv Bereg (Livyi Bereh) and it is located underneath the opera house. Outside in front of the opera house is the fan zone. But this bar seems to be relatively low key. As I walk downstairs it seems pretty dark and quiet. Once I reach the bottom I realize it is just a lull in the game (on almost every screen naturally) that is keeping the room full of people quiet. They have seats available and I don't think I need food, but a beer or a shot of something would put a lid on this night. The shot prices are a little steep, so I go with the beer. It is called zhee-va beer, which means live or unpasturized. I have never heard of this until yesterday and this is my fourth today. I am going to have to look this up. Hey, I spy a TV screen playing a Metallica video. The sound is down, but at least it is something to watch instead of soccer. Afterwards, I head back to the hostel which has people watching the game in the lounge. On the agenda tomorrow...cemetery, sign up for walking tour, and take Chuda bus tour. The rest is anyones guess.

Day 3: Friday June 29, 2012

Another quiet morning in L'viv- probably a four day weekend. Except for a couple of tourists and the doorman at the 24 hour strip club, there are very few people. I had read that one of the fun things to do here is to just wander down streets and basically "get lost". On a quest for breakfast, I try that method. Incredibly, most cafes are closed at this hour and do not open until 10:00am. I do find one called Tsisar. I ask for a mocha (coffee and chocolate) and am told they do not have that. I then order a latte. I am then served a mocha? The breakfast menu is limited and dwarfed by the rest of the menu. To make it easy I get blinchiki with banana and chocolate. It's nothing special, but fits the bill at this moment. The weather is grey, but if it will rain is anyone's guess. I think I will head first to the cemetery this morning and try for the 90 minute bus tour in the afternoon. There is something about a grey sky that suits walking through a cemetery.

I arrive around 10:30. It costs 10UAH entrance, 5UAH for a photo ticket, and they sell a map of the cemetery for 10UAH. I put on my headphones and somehow Black Sabbath's "Sabbath, Bloody Sabbath" seems oddly appropriate. For a cemetery with [the guidebook says 4,000, but the information brochure sold at the cemetery says 400 thousand- so I don't know] people buried within, there are only a few famous ones and of those, only one I know. That is Ivan Franko.

He was quite a figure in Ukrainian history as most towns have an Ivan Franko Street, statue, or in some cases the town itself can be named after him. He was a big deal. As I walk along, I follow my map. I don't need to, but I start off doing it. It is a nice looking cemetery even if it seems a little crowded. The sites don't seem to be set out in perfect alignment, but they aren't necessarily on top of each other either. Some of the tomb sculptures (which really fascinate me) are looking a little weathered, but in an appropriately dirty way.

I make my way through the main area as well as some of the side paths where I admire some of the headstones of people who lived and died more than a century ago and are since long forgotten. After a couple of hours, I finish at the cemetery, but not before seeing a really creepy monument with a dead woman...probably supposed to be sleeping, but she certainly looks dead to me.

It is around noon and I need to get some food then walk to High Castle. As I walk along the street I see an odd looking set of steps leading up to beyond where I can see. It wasn't too long, just a narrow path upwards. I decide to follow it and at the top find myself in a quiet, little neighborhood that I would surely never have found myself in if not for the steps. I remembered the directive to get lost and that's what I was doing. Although, truth be told I did check my map- so it was more like wandering than actually getting lost. I come upon a cafe serving a complete lunch for 20UAH. A bowl of soup, mashed potatoes, beef patty, bread, and tea. Just what I needed. OK, now, what would you do? When I got to the cafe they offered a prix fixe menu for 20UAH. The manager comes out and says they are out of the beef patty and asks if I would like the chicken instead. I agree and I eat the meal. I go to pay and the bill is more than 50% higher than advertised. The 20UAH prix fixe is now 32UAH. When I ask how that's possible, since I ordered the 20UAH prix fixe. He replied, "you didn't get the beef patty, you ate the chicken"! How would you have reacted? (I negotiated the best I could and left). I move along and head up to the High Castle which is not really a castle, but an overlook point of the city...and a cell phone tower. It is sad that cell phone technology is such that they need to erect these tremendous eyesores not on top of the hill, but blocking the view from the hill on one of the four sides! The walk was challenging, but not Masada tough.

A little sweaty and tired, but not unreasonable. I don't stay long as I want to try to hit the tour bus today and that is back near the center. I get a little lost on the way down, but get righted by a maintenance worker who refuses to give me directions and settles for nothing less than personally guiding me to the bottom of the hill. At the bottom, I wander into town and find a bar called The White Lion. I intend to check email. No problems. After the beer I head the Chudo bus. This is the 90 minute tourist bus that runs every 2 hours from in front of the Assumption Church. They require a minumum of 4 people and it costs 60UAH. Each seat has a set of headphones and you can choose one of seven languages. With the weather being nice, the driver retracts the roof for an open air excursion. As the bus rides along, the operator keeps the narration on track. Although there is some interesting information, most of it is about local history (that building on the right used to be KGB headquarters, the building on the left is where some really rich guy used to live, etc.). I mean I am glad I took the tour since it took me to parts of the city I would never have seen otherwise. I would say it was worth the time and money, but I didn't learn much, which is fine beacuse I am beat. Also, the bus does not stop for photos as it is not a hop on/hop off style. The only exception is right at the end, there is a drop off for people who want to climb up to the High Castle. It is not like they drop you off at the top, but they do set you off significantly higher than the elevation of the city square. The tour then ends where it began, in front of Assumption Church. I walk through the daily book market set up near the Dominican Church. I see someone with a stack of records, all Russian pressings. I take a half hearted flip through looking for Kiss. No Kiss, but a couple of Beatles that I pick up for my friend Greg.

After my negotiating skills, the price was right. I think I would like to drop the records off at the hostel. On the way I am tempted by a beer and fries at the Dominik Bar. There is no wifi, but I do get a chance to catch up on my journal. I head back to the hostel and drop off the l.p.'s. I alslo ask the receptionist to show me on a map some of the places I need to find. Three monuments.The first is The Statue of Liberty which is a unique monument to liberty in L'viv. It is set on the dome of a house that was constructed in the late 1800's on Svobody Park. The statue was designed by the same master that made the famous Statue of Liberty from NYC.

The second monument is to the victims of communist repression.

I have a really tough time finding the last monument, even with a map and an "X" marking the spot. As I stood under a street sign converting the Cyrillic to find my place on my English map, a family was walking by and asked if I needed some help (was it that obvious?) I explain where I need to go. The good news is they know where I need to go. The bad news, it is quite a way away and all uphill. I decided since I came this far, I might as well keep going. After about 15 sweaty minutes, I finally find the monument to the defenders against fascism.

On the way I had seen a restaurant that was on my list of top 10 places to eat in L'viv. Figuring I would not make it back to this part of the city again, I stopped into The Black Cat for a beer. The thing I figured out as I was seated was that this was way more of a restaurant than a bar- even though it is called "an English Pub" on its awning. I will need to eat and I am seated, so I order. I start with an order of wild mushroom soup which is good, but a little on the salty side. For my entree I got spaghetti Bolognese which was good, but a little on the sweet side. El calls at the beginning of the meal and since there is only one other table with people, I take the call eating my dinner while she eats her lunch seven time zones away. After dinner I walk back to the hostel to check email then head back out. First for coffee. I go to an outdoor cafe with signs advertising that it is a "Euro 2012 free zone"- I already like this place. I get my latte and journal thinking I will probably just call it a night. I have a feeling tomorrow will be a big touring day and I should be ready for it. Plus, I will be here two more nights, and I am sure I will hit another bar or two in my time here.

Day 4: Saturday June 30, 2012

It's only 9:15 and I already feel accomplished a lot. I took pictures of all of the important buildings on Rinok Square, I have a list of 24 lions I am trying to find and have found 13 of them. I have caught the glimpse of the trumpeters at city hall, and I have found a cafe for breakfast that comes highly recommended. Rinok Square is lined with several significant buildings and I figured that at this hour there wouldn't be many people obstructing my photos. I was right. After that, I started working on my list of lions. This city seems to have a love affair with lions and you see them pretty much everywhere.

I took the list of where to find them and started collecting my pictures of them. The thing is that I was under the impression that the lions on this list had some sort of string that tied them all together. Maybe all created by the same artist? Maybe all identical? I didn't know what to expect. Well, the answer is that they are all different and seemingly unrelated. Some are sculptures. Some are reliefs on facades of buildings. Some feature prominently, while others are difficult to spot amid all of the other things on the buildings. In fact, some of the statues are eroding and look more like sickly cats than regal lions. Anyway, there are only 24 on my list, so I will take pictures if I have nothing else going on. As I was walking towards breakfast, as I passed city hall, I spotted the lion on that building. I pulled out my camera and as I went to focus, saw an open window below. Then I noticed the clock tower and heard the striking of the 9:00 chimes. I recalled that one of the things to see are the trumpeters that appear every hour from 9:00am to 9:00pm on the weekends.

They blow to announce the hour for about 20 seconds, then retreat, disappearing and closing the window behind them until the next hour. Certainly not as spectacular as the astronomical clock in Prague, but a bit of local flavor captured by being at the right at the right time. I see on my list that Viennese Cafe at 12 Svobody Street is on my list for lions as well as a place for great coffee. I go for both. I have just ordered a Viennese cappuccino (with caramel, chocolate, and vanilla- really rich and really good!) and an omelette. I have a walking tour at noon and I want to try to get to the north side and or the east side of the center today. This city reminds me of my experience in Quebec City. We spent so much time exploring the different directions of the old city, that eventually, we realized that all of the areas we knew all connected and that you are never more than a street or two away from something you already know. I am feeling that here. My breakfast does not last long and I am soon on my way. It is just after 10:00am and I want to try to make a tour at noon. I hit another lion on the gate of the Armenian Church and head up to the north side to try to find a hidden courtyard. I recently experienced "statue/monument burnout" while visiting Odessa and L'viv is the place for "church burnout".

Church burnout is real and I am not even going into them! I walked to Old Rinok Square to see the courtyard at #2 Lva Street. As I wander in it feels like I am trespassing. Technically not public or private, it just didn't feel right. Afterwards I find the memorial to the Victims of Political Repression.

I make my way back to the city center and I have enough time to walk up the city hall tower in Rinok Square. It is 408 steps and it was a chore getting up.

I got some pictures and head to the opera house for the 12:00 walking tour. I show up at 11:50 and see several people walking around in front of the opera house...the problem is that it is not obvious if anyone else is waiting for a tour to start. I go inside to the cashier and ask where the tour starts. She tells me it starts at 1:00. It dawns on me she is telling me about the tour of the opera theatre and not the walking tour I am waiting for. I stand outside until about 12:07. Then, as I am about to leave, a guy shows with an 8 1/2 x 11 paper that says "Free Tour". I approach him and he tells me we need ot meet the guide at city hall (where I just came from). We meet the guide and it turns out I am the only one on the tour! Having seen so much of the old city by now, I was able to tell her where I had been and not needing more information and also being able to slow her down for more info whenever I wanted. It was great. The tour lasted 2 hours and we did not stop once (some tours have a cafe stop). She was very thorough in her explanations and I really enjoyed the tour.

Afterwards, I think I will go to the brewery museum, but need to eat some lunch first. I stop into a cafe called Zoloto Polubotka for lunch. I order the "spicy pork". I am told it will take 20 minutes to make, so I also order a salad. The salad is very fresh and tasty. The pork is a thin loin with mayo, then tomato, then pineapple, then swiss cheese melted, topped with an olive. It is a little heavy, but may be exactly what I need before going to a beer museum. The dish is not spicy or spiced beyond salt and pepper. In fact it is a little weird, in a lomito kind of way. Glad I stopped for lunch though. I am getting beat from all of the walking I have been doing. I found the brewery without much difficulty. I went downstairs to ask about tours in English. None. Only Ukrainian, but they do have a film that they can play in English at the end. The museum is 20UAH with beer and 10UAH without. I drink this beer all the time here on draft so I didn't necessarily need their beer. I took the self-guided tour and it takes me about 10 minutes to go through the history of beer (the dispalays do have English translations on the signs). After I got through the displays, I realized I don't care that much about the history of beer. In Ukraine, in Germany, doesn't matter. I want to drink beer, not learn how they sealed kegs 100 years ago. At the end I reluctantly asked for the English film which they did play for me. However, it turned out to be a 9 minute long commercial for L'vivskaya Beer which I drink and enjoy anyway. I understand that the restaurant downstairs has decent food and can be fun with a group of friends, but I skipped it. I would say, skip the brewery altogether. But- that's just my opinion. After the brewery I went to St. George's Cathedral.

I didn't spend long there and headed back towards the center. I had been looking for a statue of St. George (that has nothing to do with the church- the statue, not the saint). It is a statue of St. George slaying a serpent with a spear and commemmorates the policemen who have died in the line of duty.

It is now after 6:00pm and I think I can go for some dessert. I saw a chocolate cafe on the walking tour today, but it is rather crowded. I instead go to the virtually empty (and expensive) Restaurant called Vintage. You can order wines by the glass. I get a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and a dessert of pear-caramel. It arrives poached in a vanilla syrup. It is very tasty. I try to plan my next couple of hours. There is a concert in the Fan Zone tonight of dance/techno music, so I want to try to stay away from there and the hostel (that overlooks the fan zone) as it is just too loud for me. I am reviewing my list of things to do before I leave and it is dwindling nicely. If I can knock off a couple more of them I think I will be completely satisfied with my trip. It's not to say that I would have had a bad time, but L'viv is so far from where I live (farther than Moscow is) that I doubt highly that I will get back here again before my service is through. The good news/bright side is that I am falling in love with this city and can certainly see it on a future trip for El and I. After Vintage I am in the mood for either beer or more wine (not needing coffee yet). I had read about a hidden pub called Kvatyra 35 (Apartment 35). You have to go to another bar, called Dzyga and ask for "Kvatyra 35". They point you to an unmarked staircase and the bar is at the top. I think it is a jazz bar and the live music can start at anytime. I walk in and am the only customer. I order a white sangria which is like some fruit juice concentrate mixed with some really bland wine. It is refreshing, but I think I may have to head downstairs to order a real drink afterwards. This complex is located at #35 Virmenska street. I say "complex" as the building has 3 different bars/restaurants as well as a free open art gallery on the first floor. I walk through the small space, which doesn't take long. Another place I keep passing is Cafe Masoch. Evidently the guy who the term "masochist" comes from was a resident here. This cafe's employees walk around with cat-o-nine-tails or whips and actually (playfully) beat the customers. They even stand on the street trying to drum up business by whipping passersby. I wouldn't mind checking it out, but not by myself. That would just be a little too weird for me. During my tour today, I was told that there are more than 3000 lions in L'viv. By comparison, my puny list of 24 seems...well, puny. I will continue to take pictures of intersting ones, but can probably skip the wethered and otherwise eroded ones. As I finish my sangria, a jazz trio starts. I make my way downstairs to Dzyga for a dessert snack. I cannot help but to try the "chocolate covered salo"- slightly cured pork fat (essentially uncooked bacon without the smoke flavor). It was disgusting to say the least. That I only ate one of the four portions was really saying something. Come on Ukraine, all you have to do is add a little more salt and some smoke flavor and you will have one of the finest foods on the planet. To serve and eat this stuff...is just lazy! It is almost 9:00pm and I need to get to the House of Legends for the once a day fire breathing and train roll performance, if I can.

Note that this place has a thing about the clocks all being off real time. They say that the performance is at 9:00pm, but it is according to the clock just above the train and that clock is about 20 minutes slow. First the train goes back and forth once. Then an old guy climbs a ladder and rings the bell. He gets everyone to countup and on 10 the dragon shoots a single shot of sparks out of its mouth. Then it is over.

Afterwards I go to Kryjivka Bar that has been recommended by a few people. I am trying to get into this place, but they are making it difficult. I know that I have to learn the words "glory to heroes" before going, but I expect this is more fun if you have been to this place with other people. All they told me is that you will be met at the door by a guy with a machine gun. You have to say "glory to heroes", he will respond with "glory to Ukraine", give you a shot of vodka and welcome you in. So, I know where the door is, but beyond that I'm stuck. I see people coming out, but no one going in who I can even follow. I walk to the door and try to open it, but it is locked. I decide to knock, again, nothing. I am not sure if someone is watching me. Am I supposed to just say my "glory to heroes" piece and the door opens? I stand for about 30 seconds and figure, if it is this difficult, I have way better places to spend my money. I turn to leave and see a couple coming in. Problem solved. Except, the asshole guy (customer) tells me, "you can't come in with us if you don't know the password". I knock- nothing. You knock they open the door? If they don't want to serve me they can tell me. I know the stupid password and I am prepared to spend money! The guy with the gun gets involved and I am like, let's move on. I knock- nothing, they knock and get let in? Maybe I didn't knock loud enough, but if I give you the password and you don't let me in, I will call it a night. The guy at the door is way nicer than the dick customer. He gives me my shot, apologizes for not hearing the knock and sends me downstairs. I get seated near the live band. Fiddle, tambourine, and accordion and an audience clapping along like it's their favorite song. I order my beer and update the journal. I figure I may or may not hit a chocolate bar after this. If not, I'll go back and call it a night. As I get ready to leave the band comes back. I decide that if the waiter comes back, I will order an appetizer and another beer. The rest of the customers are really getting into singing the songs (and I can't believe how many I recognize from performances at our House of Culture!) Now the drunken customers are way off key and turning the fun sing along into an aural mess. The band finishes the song and politely moves to the other room. Sadly, my food and beer have not arrived, and although I could have made my retreat now, I am set to stay here for another half hour. As my food arrives I am approached by another Peace Corps Volunteer from my group who is visiting L'viv with his family. He invites me to join them and I do. We stay for another hour before calling it a night. On the way out Casey shows us a spot where customers can don military hats and coats and then pick up one of two guns...and of course take pictures. I get back to the hostel around midnight. The music from the street is so loud, but not enough to keep me from falling asleep immediately. It has been a long and tiring day.

Day 5: Sunday July 1, 2012

I get out rather late, around 9:00am. As usual the streets have minimal people and the cafes are just setting their tables and chairs out. I sat down and made another list of places that I'd like to see/do before I leave on Monday morning. It consists of three museums, six cafe/bar/restaurants, and one monument to take a photo with. The monument is on the roof of a cafe, and I have to wait for them to open. I may also get together with Casey or another volunteer who will be passing through today. My first stop is what I think is a chocolate cafe, but after I sit down and order, I realize that I am actually next door to the cafe I was looking for. Oh well, my warm apple cake and hot chocolate with shaved cardomon on top is not the worst mistake I could have made. It is actually pretty good. Stari Mury Teahouse is the name of this place. As I get the bill, I am again victim of the pay-by-the-gram pricing. My first museum is The Arsenal, a museum of weaponry. The cost is 10UAH to enter and 20UAH to take pictures. I tell them that if I want to take pictures I will come back and pay for it, but I wanted to see the displays first. The first display features weapons that are hidden inside umbrellas and daggers hidden within canes and the display cards are written in English. It takes me about 20 minutes to go through the museum. The collection is pretty impressive and the exhibits are well put together. There is not much in the way of art and if you have little or no interest in old guns and swords and canons, you can probably skip the place all together. Afterwards, I go to the Italian Courtyard at #6 Rinok Square. It costs 2UAH to visit the courtyard plus 20UAH to take photos. Again, if I decide I want photos, I'll come back. The courtyard has a cafe, but the Italian part is escaping me a little. I see two, copies no doubt, Italian looking statues and a couple of stone sculptures that look a bit beat. The flowers around the yard are pretty, but only in a punctuating way (it's not a floral garden, the colors just brighten spots in the yard). I order a moccaccino in the cafe and ponder the fact that I just paid an entrance fee to drink in a cafe? My next stop is the Pharmacy Museum at the corner of Rinok Square. You walk into the apteka and ask for a ticket to the museum as if you were ordering a bottle of aspirin. Entrance is 8UAH with a photo suppliment, of couse. Just as the Arsenal Museum was comprehensive on weaponry, this one is comprehensive on pharmacy stuff. Medicine jars, scales, tablet presses. Everything from making medicine to making labels for pill jars. Most displays have no cards, and the ones that do have no English. It is already better than the beer museum though. There is a small room dedicated to the making of medicine using herbs and animals. At least that is what I expect the taxidermied turtle and puffer fish are for. There are some paintings on the walls and also some ceramic reliefs of people working with medicinal things like scales and mortar and pestles. I think they were just trying to stretch out what they have. Then you wind up in an underground passageway with dioramas of figures standing over boiling pots with dried herbs hanging around them. You eventually get to a room with large barrels (I guess they used to make batches of medicine in them). A fountain in the courtyard has the figure of an old woman holding a snake. I believe this is the end of the small self-guided tour. It is. A woman appears and opens the door leading me to the street and before I know it I am on the other side of the door looking for my next stop. I head back to the House of Legends to see what that's all about (they open at 11:00am). I walk in and head upstairs. I confirm that I can get to the chimney sweep statue by going up. I make it to the top and get my photos. On the way up, I see a lot of quirky things- fun things, in the rooms of the restaurant. This is said to be the "tallest monument in the city" and the chimney sweep holds a top hat.

You are supposed to try to throw a coin in the hat from about 10 feet away. The thing is that if you miss, the coin would bounce onto the tables below. The terrace is covered by umbrellas to prevent this, although some coins do make it to the floor below. It's all results of the bounce. I decide to check email and grab a beer and a soup. Today is my last day in L'viv. I certainly hope to make it back here again. Maybe I will get lucky and have a conference here or something. The soup arrives and is lukewarm at best. It is a chicken broth with small dumplings with the obligatory dill and parsley sprinkle on top. The tourguide that really alerted me to this place admited that the food wasn't that great here and I concur. However, I think it is fun enough of a place that a visitor should check it out. I recommend just getting a beer or coffee and saving your appetite for the next place you hit. The day is breezy, sunny, and generally beautiful. Sitting under the shade on the roof is a nice way to pass this moment. As I leave I stop in to check out the rooms inside the restaurant. I confirm that there are no photos allowed inside- only on the terrace. The restaurant is five floors and each floor has two rooms. One is a "book room"- set up like a library in someone's house. One is a "lion room". A "clock room" where even the tables are shaped like watch gears. Another is a "fish room" or more technically an "angler's room". A "stone room" that probably needs explanation, but I didn't get one. Very quirky. I love it. As I leave my lunch I decide to hit a dessert place. Only a few blocks away (but aren't hey all?) the Cafe Tsukernia. It is on my list of places to try both coffee and chocolate (two things that L'viv is known for). When I walk in and playfully tell the hostess that I heard they had good chocolate and I should eat some, she tries to direct me to the place around the corner! I insist I want to eat here and she seats me. I order a macciato and a slice of chocolate cherry cake. In the middle of dessert, I get a call from Casey who is on his way to a restaurant near the square (aren't they all?) I tell him I will meet them in about 10 minutes. The cake is really nice. The coffee, a little strong for my liking, seems to be hit or miss in this town. I head to meet Casey at an Armenian restaurant called Brama Krakivka, just off of Rinok Square. I arrive, and they have already been seated. I wasn't sure what kind of food I would encounter. The menu was extensive, but I wasn't completely hungry, having had my soup and then chocolate cake. I went with a Carpathian salad of fresh vegetables with brinza on top. Brinza is a type of homemade cheese and I suspect there is no standard recipe for it. I have had brinza that tasted like mozzarella. I have had brinza that tastes like a mild cheddar. This one was a little too sour for my liking. Luckily the chunks were able to be scraped off and set aside. Additionally, I got a rice with vegetables on the side and an order of Armenian bread which is like really thick pita bread. The food around the table gets some mixed, but mostly positive reviews. We spend about an hour enjoying our lunch and talking. I don't think the waitstaff was necessarily rude, just a little abrasive. After lunch I part ways with Casey and his family, thanking them for the great time. Next up I go to the Pinzel Museum/Exhibit. The entrance is 5UAH and no photos are allowed. As I walk through I am struck by how haunting the scultptures and paintings are, especially the sculptures in wood. Some pieces are very large and some are small and ceramic, but the wooden ones are the most eerie. The ceramic are really expressive and convey a lot of pain. The displays have English text, but there aren't many of them. The gallery is located inside an old church. You can see the ceiling and some of the upper sides, but it does not appear to be a working church at ths time. It does not take long to go through the exhibition, but for 5UAH I found it worth it. If I am not mistaken, the work of Pinzel is also displayed at the church of St. George which I was at yesterday. I did not go into that church, but would have if I had seen this first. This stop marks the last museum I need to see in L'viv. Next, I head to the Gasova Lampa Pub. I don't remember the connection between this bar and the inventor of the kerosene lamp but there is a statue of him sitting on a bench in front of the bar. As I walk in the music is Tin Machine to Rammstein to an Iron Butterfly deep cut! I could really love this place. I hit the restroom and there is no sink in the room! I think this is strange but see a contraption with a tube on the bottom. It turns out to be a kerosene can. I feel around for some sort of lever, but the water is automatic. The faucet is built into the gas can! I love stuff like that! So much so, that I go back to take a photo of it. I stay for a couple of hours enjoying the music and beer. I review my list of places to visit before I leave and besides a couple of coffee places, I have really done everything I set out for. It is about 6:00pm and I am really full from all of the beer and food from today. I think I may even just head back to the hostel and see if I can't just relax for the night before my train ride tomorrow. I finish my beer and leave as Metallica "My Apocalypse" comes on. On my way out of the bar I stop at the gift shop to ask for a reminder of what the connection is between the bar and the kerosene lamp. My Russian does surprisingly well and I do understand what the girls are saying, but they are frustrated with their lack of English and seek out another employee whose English is very good. As I stand in the gift shop, most of the things for sale are kerosene lamp related. From magnets of lamps to actual lamps, with a couple of obligatory Euro 2012 items thrown in to round out the offerings. When the young man arrives, he confirms that the bar is merely a tribute to the inventor of the kerosene lamp and as such is just the gimmick behind the pub's charm. It is not as if the lamp was invented on this property, that the inventor lived on this property, or even that the first lamp was used on this property. No, it seems that the smell of kerosene in the entrance all the way up to the gas can sinks are all just ways to get people in to drink beer. He also gives me a list of other bars and restaurants in town that have similar gimmicks. As I review the list, I realize I have been to several of them (all owned by the same group). I leave the bar full, and not needing another stop. It is only about 5:00pm and one of my friends said she may be passing through and we could get together during her layover. I head back to the hostel to start getting my bag ready for the morning, as my train leaves at 9:30 tomorrow morning. While at the hostel Erin (volunteer passing through- not sitemate) contacts me to say she is at the station and can meet for dinner. We meet at the central square and connect with a few other volunteers who are also in town for the day. We are told of an Indian restaurant and make our way to find it. Sadly, after asking people on the street and looking at every storefront in the area we were told, we cannot find it. We are really hungry and go to the last restaurant on the street that is not McDonalds. It is called Domashnie Restaurant Panchyk and I order a grilled pork chop with chanterellle sauce and a side of rice and vegetables. As the two of us sit and eat, her contacts start calling and before we know it there are six of us at the table. Some ordering light fare with others getting full dinners. The pork was really quite decent and I heard no complaints from the others. The only issue I had was at the end of the meal when the issue of tipping once again rears it head. The problem I have found is that Ukraine does not have an unwritten tipping policy or standard. Some will tell you that 10% is fine and sometimes 10-15% percent is added to a bill for table sevice (this would be a restaurant policy). The problem I have is that many Ukrainians will tell you that there is no reason at all to tip and refuse to leave anything. Unfortunately, some of the volunteers (and not just here) take this to say "hey, the Ukrainians don't tip, so why should I?" This makes it harder to settle up a bill. The bigger the bill, the more difficult to reconcile. Let's just say that some people wound up putting way more to cover the shortcomings of others. It will be a difficult adjustment for all of us back in the U.S.- especially those who are losing the tipping practice. After dinner we part ways. Erin has a train to catch and others leave to watch the final Euro 2012 game. I head to the hostel to pack for the morning and get to bed around midnight.

Day 6: Monday July 2, 2012

My train is at 9:38am and I am reasonably sure of how long it will take to tram to the station. The hostel is pretty quiet with only two of us in the big room for the evening. I get up early, shower, and I am out before 8:00am. It takes me only about 10 minutes to get to the station. My train is already on the board, although it is not in the staion yet. I walk to the track and wait. I notice that all of the station announcements are in both Ukrainian AND English! I assume this is resulting from the Euro 2012 preparations. It will be interesting to see if they continue to announce in English after the Euro fever dies down. That would be a sure fire sign of the interest in L'viv becoming an international destination. I do not know how much of what I have experienced in the past several days is a direct result of the Euro 2012. L'viv was a host city along with Kiev, Kharkiv, and Donetsk in Ukraine. L'viv being the only one in the west of Ukraine and the closest one to Poland (the co-hosting country). I know that Ukraine was hoping for some economic stimulation from this event and there had been much debate on the country's readiness for the influx of tourists. The thing is that the amount of English that I have experienced in this city alone has far exceeded all of the other English I have experienced in the entire country combined over the last year. I am not saying that everyone needs to speak English, but the fact is that it goes a long way to make people want to visit a place (in terms of ease of accessibility). Is L'viv ready for international tourism? From what I have seen they are certainly on their way. Although, one thing I found really conflicting in this city was my usage of Russian. Although many people understood and communicated with me in Russian, I found several people who actively asked me to switch from Russian to English. I was not sure if this was because my Russian was so bad- or if there was more of a national pride at play here? If they asked me to speak English I did, but real world practice of my language skills is something I need. Once I met with my friends who live closer to L'viv and speak Ukrainian, I was told that many people in this part of the country treat Russian like a foreign language, preferring strict Ukrainian. As I leave L'viv I think about what I would do differently the next time and the only thing that comes to mind is spending more time where the Fan Zone was set up (in the park in front of the opera house). I understand why they had it, but I am betting that that park takes on a whole new perspective without the partitions. In many ways L'viv reminded me of Quebec City, another city that I just love. Having just spent five days here is really surprising to me. Usually three days is enough for me, but this time I think, finances allowing I could easily have stayed another day of two. Not necessarily to see things I missed, but just to get myself lost and really explore the neighborhoods. I supose that's the whole of the agenda if I ever make it back to L'viv by myself. Not only do I love the fact that I found a city that I like, but I love more that I found it in Ukraine. I hope this is the sign of good things to come for Ukraine...L'viv and beyond.