The 20 hour journey towards Lviv (or Lvov in Russian) was a frustratingly slow and altogether soviet experience, it was probably the most eastern European feeling, no other tourists, lots of big ugly apartment blocks scattered through the country side, lots of abandoned factories and a few villages that probably haven’t changed for years. With my lack of Russian or any useful languages I made friends with the 2 year old in the next section and we had fun checking out the cows out the window. I was in the open plan carriage, similar to trains in India with an open corridor type thing along one side with 4 beds on one side then 2 next to the window, I actually prefer it to the closed 4 berth cabin type trains as there is more room, more chance to walk around and more people about. The attendants on the train cranked up their small cassette player the whole journey with Justin Timberlake, ABBA, M people and other sweet 90’s hits. Not that they spoke any English, but I had fun singing along to myself trying to keep myself occupied as I had no book and only limited ipod battery. Eventually we rolled into the beautiful train station of Lviv, full of more unhelpful staff. I finally changed a few euro’s and got enough money to take an awesome old school tram into town which threatened to stop at any moment, but I guess its been working for the last 40years so why stop now.
It was a lot colder in the Ukraine and finally I fished out my shoes and jersey, which I have been lugging round since I left home and barely used. Time for the cold north and the end of summer which was winding up with the beginning of September, it will only get colder from here and already I was wishing for the same hot weather I have been complaining about for the last 2 months. I found my hostel OK, a cool little place all kind of soviet kitsch style with a great kitchen and big table, and….other backpackers! Amazing after too much time alone on the train and in Chisinau.
Lviv is picked to become the ‘next big thing’ in Europe as it a beautiful old town pretty much untouched by the wars, lots of historic buildings and churches.
I spent the day wandering aimlessly, seeing about 8 weddings taking place (they seem to be following me round), drinking coffee, getting lost trying to follow a map with English street signs when really everything is in Cyrillic. There was much more Cyrillic than in Bulgaria and Moldova, everything is Cyrillic and so a bit daunting trying to figure things out, plus no one speaks English and like usual no one wants to help you if you are a tourist! I managed to find a book market and found an English trashy book which was really better than nothing! My evening was pretty quiet as not too many people around the hostel. Late at night I met an American chick who arrived so we hung out the next morning in an attempt to buy train tickets. But the women refused to help us and we ended up dragging this Ukrainian guy staying at the hostel down to the ticket office to translate. It was hilariously frustrating as the women refused to try to help us. I mean come on, a train ticket is not that hard to sell if you speak different languages! Eventually I got a ticket and ended up with the Ukrainian guy, a Hungarian guy and a French guy and we did a bit of a tour around the city, seeing some churches and climbing up a hill.
It was great actually having this Ukrainian guy with us, he was just visiting for the day and could actually ask directions which was oh so helpful. For lunch we stopped at this awesome place called Phaza Khata which was a huge canteen type thing where we had delicious potato dumplings and beetroot soup, everything covered in sour cream, so unhealthy but so so good.There are lots of cool cafes and bars around and a group of us headed out to a cute place later on for ice cream and coffee which was hidden down an ally way.
(inside the blue bottle)
(outside the entrance way to the cafe)
We actually used my phrase book and deciphered a bit of the menu which was exciting!On my last day around the city myself and the American girl somehow ended up in a university class as guest speakers to an English class. The teacher had overheard us on the way to the post shop and gotten us o come speak to her class as it was the first day. It was random but really nice and lovely students. The university is in an amazingly old building, there are lots of students around the town and we had arrived in the first days of class. I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the streets getting a few jobs done then meet up with some others for more delicious Phaza Khata for lunch then a bit of a hunt around for a nice café, we ended up at strange place with dodgy pictures on the menu and crazy wallpaper and our bill coming inside a high heel shoe. Again my phrase book came in handy and I managed to order chocolate mousse which was excellent. I really enjoyed my few days in the Ukraine and am a bit gutted I didn’t get to spend more time there as there seems like lots of other cool places to go to. It was a bit of an introduction to just how difficult Russia will be with Cyrillic alphabet and unhelpful people. But very cool place.
(a very random pig lying on the road)
I left early the next morning on a train bound for Krakow in Poland, which would have been a short journey if not for their strange way of changing the wheels on the train as the soviets have different tracks than the rest of Europe. So we had a long 4 hour wait at the border while we did that but eventually we got going and headed into Poland.