In 2009 I fell in love with Paris. Because Paris is beautiful, full of history, because there is loads of space, and every building seems to be unique. Lviv is loved by everyone, just because it is Lviv.
Lviv is old. Lviv is neglected. Such it may appear to a visitor from Western Europe, who might feel slightly superior seeing Lviv, because in their country there are no swaying, derelict bridges (through such we had to go today to catch an equally unsteady tram, which overall is not that different from the old one in my hometown, Częstochowa).
But Lviv is beautiful. We found this out immediately after getting off in the centre. The stop was located at the crossroads of the Theatre (Teatralna) and Cracow (Krakowska) Streets. There we discovered the Puppet Theatre and a market with paintings, jewellery, souvenirs and a thousand of other things.
After a short visit amongst the colourful canvas, gilded frames and mugs with images of Lviv, we went to the theatre. This time in the cashier box there was a friendly lady, to which we tried speaking Ukrainian. However, she saved us the trouble saying, with a slight accent but in an otherwise perfect Polish:
‘You can speak Polish.’
We bought two tickets and went into town.
We began with the walk along the Prospekt Swobody, where kids rode in tiny cars all over the pavement, finding themselves as drivers, probably for the first time. Balloons and lollipops were being sold, and the theatre presented the whole magnificence of its historic façade.
After a few minutes we reached the monument, or a column rather, of our famous bard, Mr Adam Mickiewicz. This gentleman succeeded internationally as a main contributor to literature in Poland, Ukraine, and in Lithuania. And here, in Lviv, there is a stone angel, lovingly leaning above Mr Mickiewicz’s figure. Perhaps it was thanks to him (who knows?) that the monument survived the wars untouched.
After paying a visit to the author of “Pan Tadeusz” (famous epos, known by every Polish person), we went to say hi to the former king, Charles Danyła, who, from his horse, additionally standing on a high pedestal, is watching the pedestrians on the Halicki Square.
From there we walked towards the Gliniańska Gate. But it seemed like the buildings were parading above us – each unique, sculpted, a work of architectural genius. Each of our steps was accompanied by street musicians: a guy drumming in cans, fiddlers and guitarists.
On our way we wandered a bit to the side and found ourselves on the Market Square – perfect for enjoying a cup of mulled wine.
A few steps behind the Gliniańska Gate we encountered another market, full of old books, coins and vinyl records. Of all places that I have visited so far, Lviv is the only one where one can buy – at the same time – the Black Sabbath’s vinyl, Polish translation of Shakespeare from the beginning of the 20th century, and war memorabilia mixed with coins, and all that on fresh air and accompanied by a stunning grey cat.
I believe the cat was not for sale.
Not long after our arrival to Leopolis, we drove to the city centre. I’d read quite a lot about Leopolis opera, so we went there first. The problem, however, was the road. It was laid with a partially corroded asphalt, and paving, which – you could think – would have remembered the times of the Roman Empire, were it not for the fact that the Roman roads are now in a better condition. Because of holes in the road, we were scared for the poor suspension of our car – and we were right. While crossing the tram tracks, with the speed of 1 mile per hour, it hit the metal so hard that we jumped. The advantage to this situation is one: that my husband did not fix the suspension before coming to the former “Eastern Borderlands”. Not worth it…
Our second problem was lack of entrance to the theatre. In the end, however, a tipsy doorman guarding the rear entrance informed us that the show was not on and generally nobody was on tonight, and the show will happen tomorrow. He was speaking in his language (Ukrainian), we were talking Polish, but somehow we understood each other. That is the beauty of Slavic languages. We even know that tomorrow’s show is called “The Lilies”.
The façade of the former Grand Theatre of Opera and Ballet (it sounds much better than the current name: “The State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet of Solomiya Kruszelnicza” – who would even remember all that?) is beautiful. The author of our Leopolis guidebook is right: the building of the theatre here can easily compete with Cracow’s.
As the theatre entertainment was out of reach today, we walked on so-called “Prospekt Swobody” (in free translation “The Prospect of Freedom”), and then – because of weather – we drove back to our hotel, torturing our poor Renault even more.
Here we ate a very tasty dinner, food accompanied by the delicious Leopolis local beer and cognac. Ukrainian kitchen is quite heavy, I think – my seemingly innocent dish, which figures in the menu as the Ukrainian Salad, consisted of tongue meet, ham, mushrooms, and hard-boiled eggs, with added parsley and something that must have been mayonnaise. The plate that was brought to me contained a rather inconspicuous-looking pile of food. There seemed to be little to eat, but after devouring a half of it – although it tasted good – I had enough! My husband finished my portion, and did not complain. Overall food rating is very good.
9th March 2012, Friday
Place: L’viv (Leopolis), Ukraine
Today we began our weekend in Leopolis. The journey from Częstochowa, Poland, was a bit tiring, but we had worse… We got to the Polish border, and – at the same time – the Eastern border of the EU, around 2pm, in our blue Renault Laguna. At first we lined up in the wrong queue, where the citizens from outside of the EU were waiting, along with those who had something to pass through customs and people like us, who just drove into the wrong queue and got stuck.
Once we realised that elsewhere there was no queue whatsoever, Bogdan drove onto a huge kerbstone, drove in between two small trees and we landed at the meeting with border guards.
It wasn’t easy here, either. It turned out that we did not have the so-called „green card”, which would allow us to drive our car in Ukraine. After some negotiations, Bogdan bribed the guard with twenty “green ones” (American dollars are still very popular here), and in the end we flew like the wind in our Renault, following the E40 route.
And it was a curious one. At the first glance you can see the contrast between the rich and the poor, practically eliminating the existence of middle class. Those who have the money (possibly border guards…) build houses as big as an average school. Those who don’t have the cash live in shabby, wooden cottages, old and put together like the houses of cards.
You can rarely see a car parked by a house – we were overtaken by several new, Western cars, several trucks, and a few curiosities of the four-wheel technology, which should now be in a motor museum, probably.
The hotel was easy to find and here we were positively surprised: it is pretty, and a high standard is maintained. And we have hot water 24/7, which is supposed to be a luxury in Ukraine (at least according to our guide book).
I have no foggiest idea what our L’viv hotel was called; I cannot remember the address. I have kept the bill as a souvenir, but everything is written in the Cyrillic – I happen to be from the generation of 1984, and we did not have Russian at school anymore, only German and English; thus I’m a bit behind. However, if anyone’s interested and can decipher the Ukrainian language, I can send the scan…