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Published: October 28th 2019
Lviv is awash with bars. There is nothing unusual in the majority, but down an otherwise unremarkable street leading away from the Rynok a dark secret awaits. A bronze statue marks the entrance, which is a tribute to a Lviv inhabitant of yesteryear - Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. The name admittedly doesn't trip off the tongue. Herr Masoch would lend his name to the subject of sexual pleasure from pain and subjugation i.e. masochism. Old Leopold was an Austrian nobleman, who resided in these parts in the mid 1800s. A writer and a journalist, he gained some renown for his romantic stories. His best known work, Venus in Furs from 1870, explores the very un-Victorian subject of his understanding of sexual relationships. It is probably fair to say, they were unconventional for the time. This is a guy who signed a contract with his mistress - a certain Baroness Fistor - that he would be her slave for 6 months with a stipulation that she should wear furs as often as possible. Visitors pass by and have their snaps taken with yet another of Lviv's cute statues, unaware of the events taking place within. Leopold would probably appreciate the rather beefy looking
waitress, who awaits you inside. She lashes out instantly with her whip and instructs you a table to sit at. Further lashes come with the menu. I hadn't come to Lviv for a beating and the prospect of what might happen next, along with the overpriced beer, was enough for us to make a sharp exit. The internet is alive with more graphic accounts of their experiences. I dread to think what would become of a random tourist who just walks in unaware, but when the stag and hen parties transfer allegiance from Prague at al I am sure that it will go down a storm. We'll put it down to experience.
The day had started with more bright sunshine and a hearty breakfast back at the hotel - or to be more precise at its cafe next door. It was busy, busy at 8.30 am and we were directed to the downstairs seating. We waited. We waited some more. The pressure of numbers seemed to have destroyed the customer service and after popping up to ground level a few times like a group of meerkats, we finally secured an order. The avocado on toast went down well in
the healthy circles of the group and I have to say, the Ukrainians do a fine sausage and egg breakfast. English breakfast ironically seemed a popular choice on the menus of the average Lviv cafe. We headed out to explore. The streets were alive at this fairly early hour. We were only a street away from the main University building and young students dominated. Despite the warm temperatures, the leaves had turned colour and were beginning to fall. The Ivan Franko Park was doing a passable impression of New England and everywhere the local authority workers were engaging in trying to minimize the leaf debris on the footpaths. Leaf blowers, brushes and sheer hard work built mounds of gold and brown leaves awaiting collection. They must have prayed for this weather and the lack of any noticeable breeze. Alas, their work was largely in vain and only as good as the next falls fro the branches. The park is named after a poet and founder of the socialist and Nationalist movement in this part of the Ukraine. At the top of the park, we walked past the renovated Hotel Dnister to where we would return on our last day. At
the top of the hill, the streets opened out to reveal the biggest and most impressive of the churches of Lviv. The St George's Cathedral was constructed between 1740 and 1760 and has acted as the base of the Ukranian Greek Catholic Church for the last couple of centuries. A large arch gives way to a courtyard and the steps leading to the main entrance. As with many churches in this part of the world, the exterior prevails over the rather ordinary interior. The yellow stone looked particularly impressive today against the backdrop of a bright blue sky. We walked further out from the centre in search of the local temple to the railways. We were side tracked initially by the green steeples of the Olha & Elizabeth Church. They certainly aren't short of places of worship The railway station building was opened in 1904 as the then hub for the Austrian city of Lemburg. It is one of the most Art Nouveau buildings in the city and was apparently visited by the architects of both Prague and Vienna railway stations to gain inspiration. The majestic appearance from a distance was somewhat undone by the chaos on the Avenue leading
to the building. The tram line in was being reconstructed and the forecourt approaches were awash with passengers abandoned slightly further from their intended destination than they had anticipated. The local city bus station and a gaggle of taxis added to the confusion. As with St George's Cathedral, the columns of the exterior far outshone what lay inside. The building took some extensive damage during World War 2 and whilst it was repaired, the interior got a more Stalinist makeover. It is best described as functional. I have been to eastern Europe many times now, but I still struggle badly to make in roads with the cyrillic language. If you are planning on taking a train from here, do your research. I looked up bewildered at the yellow departures board.
Our next destination was a slightly more controversial building. The Citadel Inn is now a 5 star luxury hotel, but has a more complex past. We climbed yet more steps to its vantage point above the city centre and were confronted by a steel fence. The Man in the Middle wasn't even getting through this with his trusty try every handle technique. Fortunately, we just had to press the
button and it we were deemed worthy of entry. We headed into the reception and queried whether there was a high level restaurant or cafe. The restaurant on the top floor looked a bit out of our price range, so we just circumnavigated the outside terrace, checked the bar / cafe in the inner tower and retreated to the ground floor. The Citadel was originally built by the Austrians in 1848. The purpose was not to protect the city from external threats, but for their own protection against the locals after a series of uprisings. It was never used for the intended purpose, but shots were fired by the Ukrainian nationalists in 1918 as they tried to resist Polish forces. The controversial history came with Second World War, when the Germans used it as a concentration camp. The hotel website manages to miss that part. Today, the 5 star luxury was eviident. The lobby housed some expensive statues and works of art, which are apparently not for photographing with a camera. The doorman abruptly advised, "you can only use your phone". Meanwhile, a wedding photo shoot was underway in the grounds. We escaped back through the fence and had a
coffee at the base of the hill.
One of the more bizarre statues or artworks in Lviv is the Beer Belly or Golden Navel. Tucked away in a yard near the Rynok, it is there because? Nobody seems to know or care. A succession of people wander through including ourselves and stare at the work which resembles a man's belly after he has invested too often in some refreshments. We walked back out to the nearby Boim Chapel. The Chapel was built around 1615 by a family of wealthy Hungarians resident in the city. You will spot it by the crowds listening intently to a guide outside. We paid our 30 Hryvnia and entered. The crowds remained outside admiring the decorative western facade. The Chapel is basically a private burial chamber and was one of a number in the city centre, before authorities decreed that all burials should be in the out of town cemetery. The main focus inside is highly decorated west wall with Judas holding out for his 30 pieces of silver and the dome ceiling. The latter is one of the more photogenic I've ever seen.
We wandered out on to Freedom Avenue and up
to the Opera House. Whilst we opted not to check out the ballet or the opera, we took the advantage of having a tour of the building. The Opera House was built in 1900 and cost a huge amount of 6 million Austrian Crowns. The building itself caused a bit of a scare, when it was deemed to be sinking. The River Poltava runs underground nearby and the new Opera was effectively built over its course. After an initial settlement, the building stabilized and remains intact to this day. The internal decoration is grand. Materials were brought in from Vienna and Siemens sorted the electrics. A portrait of the only woman invited to the official opening stands centre stage at the base of the stairs in the main hall and a freeze marks the Pope's visit in 2001. When we visited Kiev a few years back, the mainstays of our dining were the huge cafeteria diners that seemed popular everywhere. The visits were partially prompted by the need to keep warm and also because it was easier just to point at a dish on the counter, rather puzzle over a menu exclusively in cyrillic. We ventured into the one near
our hotel for a spot of cheap lunch. It was a whole lot more upmarket than our Kiev establishments, but the principle was the same. At roughly £3 per head, a full meal and a drink was on offer.
After our fortifying meal, we set off on another climb. The High Castle amounts in reality to no more than a viewpoint on the far side of the "old" town. Yet more steps. The afternoon heat was taking a toll on our willpower, but we climbed on. It had to be done. The summit was busy and in the afternoon the view of the town below was directly facing the sun. A group of Japanese tourists were climbing in tandem with us. One of the group was more attired for going down. He sported a Titanic tee shirt. We descended a different route, passing the old TV tower. The objective was the Yard of Lost Toys. A Ukrainian family had the same target, but also failed to find the said yard. We were both convinced we had the right place, but the toys had escaped or found new owners. The occupants of the yard need to update TripAdvisor to rod
themselves of future hordes invading their residence. We finished the day in the nearest you would find to a real ale bar in what we called Jazz Alley near our hotel. The Bratyska had 29 craft ale and cider selections. It wasn't a bargain, but you knew you had been drinking them. The day closed with a meal in a traditional Ukrainian restaurant, where the food was good and the prices kind to our pockets.
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