Weekend in Lviv

Not many people are venturing into Ukraine these days, so when I found out there was a cheap and easy way for me to travel to Lviv, it seemed like an opportunity not to be missed. The trip was an adventure from the very beginning, and though it wasn’t without stressful moments, my weekend in Lviv has been one of the highlights of my semester so far.

Our bus was scheduled to leave Krakow at 5:15 p.m. on Friday, but at 6 it still had not arrived. It turns out that the Krakow bus station is not the friendliest or most helpful place, so with no one to reassure us we sat and waited and hoped that our ride would show up, which, thankfully and an hour late, it did. We felt so relieved to finally be on our way until about 20 minutes into our journey, we hit a massive traffic jam. The bus moved maybe 3 meters over the course of the next 50 minutes. Already 2 hours behind schedule and not even outside of Krakow, we noticed we had a message from our Airbnb host in Lviv who was concerned about our whereabouts and wondering why we had not showed up for our reservation. We told her when we made the reservation that we would be arriving at 1 a.m., but I guess she must have understood it as 1 p.m. After explaining the situation to her and worrying for a minute that our actual arrival time would be too late and we would get there without a place to sleep, she said that was fine and she would see us soon. Once we got out of that traffic jam, the rest of the trip went slowly but smoothly. We got to the Ukrainian border and border patrol searched the bus and checked our passports on both the Polish and Ukrainian sides, a process that took about an hour in total. Finally, at 3 a.m. we arrived at the bus stop in Lviv and were lucky to have a very easy time locating our accommodations for the night. At the apartment, there was no hot water after 9 p.m., the shower curtain was hung up with a piece of thread, you had to make sure not to flush any toilet paper down the toilet and the central heating system in the building was nonexistent but we were far too tired to care. After eating the snacks that our lovely hostess had provided us we finally passed out at about 4:30 and I had the best night’s sleep I’d gotten in awhile.

Our alarms went off just a few hours later but there was no chance of us waking up that early. We stayed in bed until a leisurely time and spent the day sampling Ukrainian dishes, exploring churches, cathedrals and the usual tourist attractions and killing time in the multitude of cafes and pubs. Seriously, this city had more restaurants, bars, coffee shops, etc. per capita than anywhere in the world I’m pretty sure. Most notably was the Masoch Cafe, dedicated to Lviv-born author Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch and sadism/masochism themed. There were bras and torture devices hanging around the place, risque images painted on the walls, and the waitresses walk around whipping people without warning. This place is something you really must see for yourself. Not only was it a truly unique experience, but the dessert we ordered (chocolate mousse with raspberry sauce and vanilla ice cream) was probably one of the best things I have ever eaten. Later on, we made our way to the Lviv Philharmonic where we expected to sit and listen to a classical orchestra. We were surprised to arrive at a performance by Ihor Bohdan, Lviv-born musician famous for performing Ukrainian national songs during the communist Soviet era.

Lviv Image 1

Masoch Cafe

Lviv Image 2

I wish I could eat this forever

The next day as we were looking for a place to have brunch we kept walking past things we recognized and realized that we had spent the entire previous day walking around in circles within a 1 mile radius without even realizing it. Lviv is a relatively tiny city and all the sights and attractions are within a 10-15 minute walk from the center. After checking out the Lviv National Gallery of Art, a wine and cheese festival, and doing a little bit of shopping it was time to attempt to find the bus stop and head home. We took a taxi to approximately where the bus was to pick us up, but our tickets had no specific information and no one was able to help us. We found that almost  no one in Ukraine spoke more than a little basic English. We found one guy who we were able to communicate with and he did us a huge favor by calling the number for the bus driver just in time, as the bus was pulling up to the stop in an entirely different place. As we finally took our seats on the bus, we were relieved and honestly a little surprised not to be stranded in Ukraine for the night. About an hour and a half into the bus ride, we stopped at the border and we did not move for six hours. SIX HOURS. There was no bathroom and they shut the engine off so we also had no air circulation. The worst part was not having any idea how long we were going to be stuck there for. The bus had been scheduled to arrive in Krakow at midnight, but at 1 a.m. we still hadn’t even crossed over to the Polish side of the border. At just before 5, we pulled into the Krakow station, thus ending our adventure of a weekend.

Lviv was a great city and the trip was totally worth it, despite being trapped on a bus for six hours. Ukraine is a great place to travel if you are looking for something totally unique, or if you are on a budget. The whole trip, including transportation, the apartment, and everything cost us less than $100 each even though we spend the entire time eating and drinking at nice restaurants and cute cafes. Going to Lviv was like traveling back in time to the 1970’s Soviet Union and it was the first time I had experienced a real language barrier with a really hard time communicating and getting around. I would highly recommend this destination, but you should be prepared for anything.

Madison Goddard is a student at Hartwick College and an official API Blogger. Madison is studying abroad with API in Krakow, Poland.

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