To the east

Sep 04, 2007 in Eastern Europe 2007

To the east

The next day it was raining heavily. Only a couple of weeks earlier, Ukraine had been in the grip of a fearsome heatwave with temperatures well over 40°C, but it had clearly broken now. Lviv in the rain was not quite as enchanting as Lviv in the sunshine, and I decided to book a train to Kiev for that evening. To do this, I went to the ticket booking office in town, and reused a method which had worked a treat when I was in Moscow – I wrote down my destination in Cyrillic, the time of train I wanted, and the word for ‘sleeper’, and handed it over. The woman behind the counter passed back a demand for a modest number of hryvnia, I handed it over, and I got a ticket for the night train to Kiev in return.

The train was at 10pm so I had all day to kill. I met Johan and Brianna for lunch, which we had at a curious place that Johan had wanted to try out. It was called Kupol and the decor was pure 1930s. It was like having tea round a very old person’s house. But the food was cheap and very good and I liked it. After lunch I wandered around randomly, taking whichever street looked the most interesting and covering a good part of central Lviv in the process. In the evening I went back to the place we’d eating the night before and had an awesome nalisniki (traditional Ukrainian pancake) for dinner.

By now it was dark, and I set out to walk back to the station. I passed the impressive church we’d passed on our way in to town, took a slight wrong turn into a dodgy part of town, quickly backtracked and made it to the station unscathed. I took a few photos of the massive station arch while I waited for the train. It rumbled out of the station at 10pm, and I sat back to enjoy the journey.

L’viv

Sep 03, 2007 in Eastern Europe 2007

L'viv

We arrived in Lviv in pitch darkness at 4.45am. I hardly remember arriving as I was tired beyond belief, but I know I found my way to a warm waiting room with my two travelling companions, Johan from Sweden and Brianna from the US. We slept in the waiting room for a couple of hours, before heading into the city at about 6.30am. As we walked out of the station the sky was just starting to get light.

We didn’t really know which way town was, but we guessed that it would be in the direction of the impressive church spires we could see down the road, and we headed off. Our instincts were right, and after about twenty minutes we found ourselves in the centre of town. I found a hostel and straight away went to bed. I woke up much refreshed at 2pm, anxious to get out and see the sights. It was a warm afternoon and I headed out to Svoboda, the main street, to check out the atmosphere. Then I walked up to the historic centre, Ploshcha Rynok, and looked around there.

In the evening I met up with Johan and Brianna for a meal. The first place we went to said they were sorry, but they had a power problem and so couldn’t do any hot food right now. So we went to a place a few doors away, but they said the same thing so this part of Lviv seemed to be having a power cut. So we stopped at the second place and had a salad. We sat outside, enjoying the warm September air in the far east of Europe.

After the meal we decided to have a look at Castle Hill. This proved to be quite an expedition as the paths up it were unlit. From the top, though, we got some great views of the town. I took plenty of photos. One long exposure was ruined when a large spider walked across my hand. I’m not keen on spiders at the best of times but having one crawl across my hand while I was up a hill in Ukraine at night was particularly traumatic. But despite that I enjoyed the hilltop views, and reflected on how strange it was that Lviv was in Poland before the Second World War. Like someone pulling the bedsheets over, Russia pulled a series of European borders towards it at the end of the war; eastern Belarus became part of Russia, eastern Poland became part of Ukraine and Belarus, and eastern Germany became part of Poland. Most of the Poles of Lwow (as it was then) moved to Breslau, the former German city which became Wrocław. Although part of Poland only 60 years ago, Lviv today is where the Ukrainian language has its heartland and Russian is seldom heard.