If Krakow had us feeling like melanin queens at the receiving end of lavish compliments, selfie requests, little gifts and trinkets; in Lviv we were akin to long-awaited aliens who had just disembarked off some invisible spaceship and onto the city. Heads turned whichever path we took, people stopped in their tracks on the streets in shock, necks craned to take a glimpse; there was nudging, pointing and whispering for others not to miss this sight.
At the markets, the old ladies seemed thrilled to see us, some practicing a little English, and breaking out into dance when we made a purchase. That was some major attention overload just for being chocolate-colored.
Being chocolate-colored also had us mistaken for tourists with a stash of cash to burn. There were a few elderly ladies who quickly hobbled in our direction to ask for something when they spotted us; then there were the young families; men, women and children with slinky dark hair and skin the color of cappuccino, who stretched out their hands on catching sight of us. After our experience in Warsaw of our zlotys being thrown back at us; I thought it wise to share whatever food we had on us instead of doling out our rapidly dwindling monies. That meant sometimes offloading our water, milk, bread or fruit, to the chagrin of my daughter who wasn’t feeling the #BackpackingEasternEurope trip.
The bright yellow minibuses or marshrutka reminded me of our matatus back home. While some passengers stood, others sat and even more piled in. There was the bumpy ride, swerving to overtake and the screeching to an abrupt stop. If we didn’t hold on, we would fall on other passengers; so we hung on for dear life. What we found cool was that the cost of the rides from our hostel to the city centre was 4 Ukrainian hrygvnia, which was quite cheap. We would be squashed in the middle or at the back of the minibus, but our notes would be passed from one hand to the other and handed to the driver, and if we had a large note and needed change, it would come right back in the correct denomination. The honesty was astounding.
The taxis smelled of diesel, dust and clutches that seemed hard to maneuver; there was always the grinding sound when gears were changed.
If the public transport was nothing to write home about, the architectural structures were out of this world. Lviv is a beauté; regal and ornate….like a medieval painting that has been breathed into life. The heart of this city was as fascinating as it was inviting, unraveling itself for one to explore the treasures within. We saw train stations, churches, opera houses that were simply stunning..worthy of time spent just staring in awe. Lviv has a rich history with influences from it’s past inhabitants whether they be from Poland, Austria-Hungary, Ukraine or even the Soviet Union. The city takes pride in it’s image as “the cradle of Ukrainian nationalism that survived the miseries of the Soviet Union to reclaim its position as one of Europe’s great, inventive and most seductively beautiful cities..”
Venturing into the city was quite confusing to us; everywhere we looked, Cyrillic glared right back at us. This was the first place as a travel blogger I felt lost and a little bit challenged. Fortunately, Julia of JC Travel had offered me a complementary, so she sent a tour guide to take us round the city.
The first thing that you notice walking through the city is the abundance of lion statues, setting the city up for competition with London. The symbol for Lviv is the Lion; the story goes that King Daniel of Galicia founded Lviv in 1260 and named the city after his son, Lev (lion). Today, Lviv is filled with over 4125 lion statues; lions decorate the city’s coat of arms as well as various buildings, parks and plazas.
Then there are the coffeehouses. It was a pleasurable experience to walk around Lviv, and inhale the constantly wafting aroma of coffee. Numerous cafés were opened in the late 18th century with the coming of Austrians, resulting in coffee gaining popularity in every circle of society. While time has passed, the Lvivian love for coffee has just evolved. Coffee is not just a beverage in this city; it’s the spirit of the old city, it’s soul and pride. It’s no surprise that the “Have a cup of coffee in Lviv” festival is an annual event drawing in coffee lovers to celebrate coffee being brewed the traditional way, with recipes.
Being at the crossroads of East and West, Catholicism and Orthodoxy has shaped the unique character of Lviv. There are huge churches with some of the most beautiful centerpieces I’ve ever seen. As one example is the Bernadine monastery, now known as the Greek Catholic church of St Andrew.
Rynok square: As with many other European cities, Lviv has a market square. It is a top tourist attraction positioned smack in the city centre; the confluence of Lviv’s social, economic and cultural life. Around the square are statues and buildings set up in diverse architectural styles all listed by UNESCO as world heritage sites. The city hall there has an observation platform from where you can have an aerial view. If you prefer to stay on ground; you can sip on cappuccino or lemonade at the ‘coffee-to-go’ stand there; or you can eat food at the surrounding restaurants. The square is also the stage for festivals and many other major events, so you’ll find no reason to be bored if you are there.
Chocoholics will appreciate Lviv. There’s a real chocolate factory where you can view chocolates made from scratch right before your eyes, then get to sample ready made pieces upstairs. It’s quite surreal to see chocolate of every size, shape, color in each room.
There are farmer’s markets all around the city with fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese at unbelievably low prices.
Lviv is also an Information Technology (IT) hub with over 15,000 professionals in the city; the other big earner is tourism…there are so many lovely surprises in this small city; and best of all, it’s an affordable destination. Have you been?
The next city traveled to by night train was Kiev.
Disclaimer: My tour around Lviv was made possible by JC Travel Ukraine. Pictures my own.