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December 23rd 2019
Published: July 5th 2020
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23rd Dec: The journey to Lviv from Krakow can only be described as a nightmare. What should only take a few hours, ended up taking forever due to lazy border staff. While I would expect some queuing, a couple of hours max, sitting at the border for 8 hours is just ridiculous. I had to lol when after finally clearing Ukrainian immigration one of the bus drivers announced that we had entered the Ukraine. Then we stopped at a service station for about half an hour. I don't have the patience for these kinds of journeys. Finally, we arrived at the bus station in Lviv around two in the afternoon, when we were scheduled to arrive at 6 am. I couldn't be bothered to deal with the bus and had booked a taxi transfer to my hostel. I thought it would be quick, but due to the train the traffic was a nightmare and the journey took about an hour. I was ready to cry with frustration by this point. I just wanted a shower and food. When I made it to the hostel, I went through all the formalities and had a lovely shower. It was so nice to be clean. Next was laundry, I stuck a load on and was surprised that it was going to take a couple of hours.

The next thing on my to do list was get some cash, as I only had a little Ukrainian money. It took a couple attempts to find an cash machine as some have very low limits. Now, I needed food and coffee. There was a burger place that I'd wanted to try, but since I got ignored when I went in, I left sharpish. There was an Italian restaurant, Dolce Vita, under my hostel, so I just headed there for ease. I got a warmer welcome there. I really needed a coffee so ordered one of them straight away. Then I had a look through the menu and chose a quattro stagioni pizza and a sprite. I think if I'd have had an alcoholic drink I would have fallen asleep at the table. The pizza was delicious and was covered with ham, mushroom, pepperoni, and artichoke, each in their respective corners. After checking on my laundry and transferring it to the dryer, I went for a little walk. It was cold and drizzly, so I didn't want to stray too far from where I was staying. Lviv looked pretty as there were lots of little stalls set up around the main town square and on first impressions it didn't look too different to Krakow. I ended up in a huge chocolate shop as I thought it was a supermarket and I eventually found a small store to buy some supplies from. I headed back to the hostel, ready for an early night.

24th Dec: I felt so much better after having a pretty good night's sleep. I headed down to the hostel's cafe for breakfast. They had a great selection of different Eggs Benedict, so I ordered the one with salmon, and a juice and a coffee. I had picked a comfy looking couch to sit on, but that proved to be a mistake as I sunk right into it, and it was hard to reach the table. I thoroughly enjoyed my breakfast when it came and although probably a bit overpriced, it was a nice treat. I had decided that I would do the free city walking tour that morning, but since it didn't start until 11 am, I went for a walk around myself first. I took a walk down some of the streets next to the Town Hall Square and stopped off at the Dominican Cathedral. I went inside for a quick look around. I got the evil eye off one of the nuns, I presume it was because my head wasn't covered, but there were no signs or rack of scarves to borrow, I feel they need to make it more obvious for tourists. Eastern Europe seems to be very mixed on whether you have to cover your head, as a female, or not. Since it was rather cold and drizzly, I found a little coffee shop to warm up in. The coffee was pretty cheap and nice and strong, so I chilled there until it was time for the tour.

The walking tour started at 11 am in front of a statue on Rynok Square. There were about ten or so people on the tour. Since it was raining, we headed round to hid under the eaves of the Town Hall as the guide gave us some history about Lviv and Ukraine in general. We spent about two hours wandering the Old Town of Lviv. I can't remember a lot from the tour, so this is probably just the highlights and may be out of order. From here we headed down Serbska Street leading away from the square. We came to the statue of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. He was an Austrian nobleman, writer and journalist, maybe most famous for his name being used in the term sadomasochism. You could put your hand in the pocket of the statue and rub his you know what for good luck, none of the group were brave enough to do it. The cafe/bar behind the statue is named after him and has a masochist theme. We also checked out a few of the different churches in the area. We made our way to the remains of the Golden Rose Synagogue and the Space of Synagogues, which is a memorial to the synagogue that stood there from the late 16th century until the Nazis blew it up in 1943. The guide mentioned a book which is a memoir partly set in Lviv, so I have added it to my ever expanding reading list. We saw some of the old city walls before taking a break in an old tram, that was now a coffee and souvenir shop. We continued on to the Pharmacy Museum. We didn't go into the museum properly only the actual pharmacy that is still attached to it, although they did have a few good things on display to look at.

The tour finished in the Armenian Quarter of Lviv. I really liked the little alley that the guide took us down at the back of the cathedral. After the tour, we had a quick look around the Armenian Cathedral of Lviv. Now it was time for another coffee to warm up and we had a place in mind. We headed to the Lviv Coffee Manufacture, which was on the Town Hall Square. We headed down into the basement, which was like being in a mine. You could even grab a hard hat to wear if you were so inclined. We took a wander around as there were lots of small rooms and some exhibits on display. I would so get lost if I worked here. After having a nose about we grabbed a table and ordered a fire coffee and a shot of Baileys each. We didn't have to wait too long for the drinks and coffees to arrive. The fire coffees are a speciality of this place so I was excited to see it, more than try it. After placing the drinks down on the table and warning us to stay back, the waiter set fire to our coffees and did a little fire show with them. I was well impressed. The place was a bit overpriced, but it was fun and in my opinion worth it as it was something different. Then we headed back over to the House of Legends restaurant as we wanted to check out the views from the roof top. We climbed up several flights of stairs to reach the top of floor of the restaurant. Since it was winter, the outside area and bar were closed. To be honest, the whole place didn't really feel that open and I'm glad we weren't eating there as it didn't seem very inviting. I did enjoy the views across the rooftops of Lviv. It looked really gorgeous. The car on the roof was a bot of a novelty, although I didn't fancy going in it myself.

Since we were opposite the haggling restaurant, we decided to head in there for a light bite to eat. The Golden Rose is a Jewish style restaurant where there are no prices on the menu. I hadn't heard of this place until we were on the tour earlier, but the others seemed to know it, and one of the people had eaten there before and recommended it. The restaurant was really quiet when we went in, there were only a couple of other tables taken. It seemed quite small and homely. We were given a menu that had no prices on it and since we weren't feeling too hungry, we just went for a sharing platter of Jewish spreads and a couple of shots of horseradish liqueur. The shots of horseradish liqueur were a bit of an acquired tasted and there was no way I could have downed it on one as the shot glass was rather large. Instead, I sipped on it. The platter of spreads was nice, there were five different spreads, some nicer than others. I really liked the hummus, but then I normally do, the eggplant one was good, too. There was a fish one that was interesting but definitely edible, a tomato one that was okay, but I am not a huge fan of tomatoes anyway and I can't remember what the fifth one was, so not memorable. We also got a basket of Matzo (Jewish flatbread) to eat with the spreads. The food was decent, but not amazing. Once we were done, we asked for the bill and this is where the haggling started. The waiter gave us a price, I can't remember how much, but it was very much inflated, when then haggled our way down to a more reasonable price. We had actually gone a bit cheaper than the menu price. However, when we settled up and the waiter brought us our change, I realised that he had actually charged us the real price and not the one we had haggled for. That left a really nasty taste in my mouth. Like what was the point in us even bothering to haggle. I am not a fan of haggling in general due to the lack of transparency and feeling that people are trying to take you for as much as they can. Plus, I felt like the food was overpriced for what we got. Definitely a gimmicky place and not a good one like the fire coffee.

One of the places I really wanted to visit in Lviv was the Lontsky Prison National Memorial Museum. The museum was about a fifteen to twenty minute walk away from the Old Town. Luckily, it wasn't raining and I enjoyed seeing a different part of Lviv. This area seemed quieter and a bit more residential. The museum is pretty unassuming from the outside and I can see why people might struggle to find it if they hadn't googled it. The museum is free to enter and although there isn't a lot of information in English throughout the museum, there is a book in the foyer which gives some details about the place. The building comples was completed in the late 19th century and was built in the Neo-Renaissance style. It was originally designed to be the main office of the Austro-Hungarian Gendarmerie, and the prison part was added after the end of World War I. It was used as a prison by the Polish, Soviet and Nazi occupation regimes. The prison could hold 1,500 prisoners. It became a political prison in 1923 and the people who were imprisoned here had mainly been those who had fought for Ukraine's independence. We spent a while wandering around the cells. Some were left in their original condition with damp and I imagined that it would have been really bleak to be imprisoned there. Other cells were done up to show what the parts of the prison were like, such as the interrogation room. The cells were spread out over several floors and we could visit two of the floors. There was also some Soviet artwork and propaganda on display, as well as some anti-Soviet artwork. I also read about the mass execution that occurred in June 1941, when the NKVD, unable to evacuate all the prisoners, murdered 4,000 of them between 23rd - 28th June. I'm not sure if these were only prisoners from this prison or also from other prisons around the city.

Since we'd only had a small lunch, we were in need of something proper to eat and as we wanted to checked out the secret underground bar, we decided to head there and get a meal there. The name of the place 'Kryivka' means a secret hide-out and there are no signs advertising where it is, but of course, its location is on google maps and it is a popular place for tourists to visit when visiting Lviv. There was a small queue when we arrived as they only admit one party at a time. You have to say the password 'Slava Ukrayini', which translates to glory to Ukraine, to enter the bar. Once through the door, the doorman gives you a shot to down. It was quite fun toasting with him and downing a shot, not that he does it, or he would be absolutely mortal. The bar/restaurant's theme is a freedom fighters' secret hideout. It was quite dark and dingy, with lots of cool decor. I was really surprised at how busy it was, we had gone in the late afternoon and we had to wait a few minutes for a table as it was packed, every table was taken and the place seemed to be quite big. When we got a table, we had a look over the menu, which is filled with traditional Ukrainian dishes. We opted for the pig's ear as a starter, as it was something different to try and then pork belly with roasted potatoes and vegetables for our main. Of course, we had to have some beer to wash it all down with. The pig's ear was not something I would rush to have again. I think I'd already had it the food tour we did in Hong Kong. It was a lot of jelly and crunchy cartilage. However, the pork belly was absolutely superb. It was cooked to perfection, the meat was soft and juicy and the crackling was salty and crunchy. No matter how full I would get, I knew I had to eat every bit of my pork as I would regret leaving any. The vegetables were also really, really nice and the portions of those were massive. The bar might have been a bit kitsch and touristy, but I really enjoyed it, especially the food. Also, you didn't leave the same way you came and we ended up on a right tour trying to find the exit. We ended up in some courtyard with some art and sculptures, before heading into a souvenir shop, and then finally back out on to the main square.

We headed over to Pravda Beer Theatre, which was on the opposite side of the main square. From the research I'd done this was one of the best places to go for a drink in Lviv. It's a bar, brewery, restaurant and music venue. We had a look around the gift shop in the ground floor and then went for a bit of an explore. There were some cool kitschy posters of some of the different beers that they brew. They have some quite controversial ones famous world leaders such as Putin, Merkel, Obama and Trump adorning the bottles. I love the not so sly dig at Trump by him on a bottle of 'Imperial Mexican Lager'. We headed upstairs and grabbed a table and ordered a beer. I went for a Red Eyes, which was an American style red ale. I like lager and beer, but am not a connoisseur, so I don't really know what's good. The beer was drinkable, but I wouldn't be in a rush to have it again. Although it was a gold medal winner at the Brussels Beer Challenge in 2016. Those people obviously know their stuff. The bar was okay, but it seemed to be lacking in atmosphere and was rather large and spread out. I can't say that I was too impressed with the place, but if I went back to Lviv, I would give it a second chance. So after we finished our drinks, we decided to head out. There was another bar that we had wanted to try that we had passed earlier on the city tour, this was Masoch Cafe aka the spanking bar. We went in and got spanked on the bum off the girl working in the gift shop. It was light, so nothing painful. We were shown to a table and had a look at the menu. There were quite a few tables taken, and it mostly seemed to be groups of friends. We ordered a coupe of cocktails and enjoyed those while looking around the bar and taking in the atmosphere. The decor was very S&M, with contraptions that I knew nothing about and bra strung up all over the place. It did look really cool. While we were there, there was a woman sitting alone at a table eating ice cream, which we thought was a bit weird as I wouldn't have picked this as a place solo people would hang out at. Well, one of the guys on the table next to her starting talking to her and we discovered that she was a prostitute and he bought her. Some of the people at the other tables found this as shocking as we did. I never seen such casual prostitution going on and it was a bit of an eye opener.

There was time for one last quick drink before heading home. I had been wanting to go to п’яна вишня, Pyana Vyshnya, in English 'Drunk Cherry', since reading about it while researching my trip. It is a Lviv institution and I had seen several of its small bars around the city. This place specialises in cherry liqueur. The bars are really tiny and most people just stand outside of them at the tables in front of it. It's like the winter equivalent of a beer garden. Inside there are lots of bottle of cherry liqueurs on display. We ordered large cups of the warm cherry liqueur and stood outside people watching as we sipped the warm goodness. I really enjoyed the cherry liqueur, if I had purchased check in baggage, a bottle of it would have definitely made its way into my backpack. On the way back to my hostel, I stopped off at the pizza place next door that sold individual slices as I needed one to soak up some of the alcohol I'd consumed. I'm a bit gutted that my time in Lviv was shorter that I would have liked thanks to the ridiculous wait at the border, but I am really pleased that I got to cram a lot in, in the little time I had. I hope I can return one day, hopefully when it isn't raining.

25th Dec: My train was leaving late in the morning, so I was able to have a leisurely time. I went to the cafe downstairs again for breakfast. I opted for the Eggs Benedict with creamy mushrooms, a juice and a coffee. The breakfast was really good and I thoroughly enjoyed it. After grabbing my stuff from my room, I checked out and headed to the tram stop. The receptionist had told me to take a certain tram as the stop was closer to the hostel, but I wasn't keen on taking it as it didn't stop at the train station, but the main road nearby. Instead, I headed to another tram stop that was on the other side of the Town Hall building as that tram terminated at the train station. I think I had just missed a tram as I had to wait quite a while for one. The tram was definitely a bit of an adventure. You have to purchase your ticket from the driver, while they are diving, by putting your money in a little slot and they return you a ticket, that you then have to stamp on one of the machines scattered around the tram to validate it. The interior of the tram did look like it had seen better days. The next stop is also announced, but the tape seemed to be out of loop and I couldn't see out of the window as they had all steamed up.

It didn't take too long to reach the train station maybe 20-30 minutes. I was surprised at how busy the station was. There weren't many shops or cafes, so I headed to the platform to wait there. The train was a little late, but nothing compared to how long I have waited for trains in the UK. Once the train arrived, I found my carriage and waited in the queue to be admitted. The carriage attendant checked each ticket before being allowed to board. I was totally confused when I got on the train as there were two sets of seat numbers on eaxh compartment and I had no idea which one was mine. I just went for one set and sat down. Turned out it was the wrong one. The woman whose seat I took was lovely and helped me find my right seat and introduced me to the people in my compartment. I had booked a first class ticket for the journey to Kiev. It wasn't expensive and there were no second class seats left when I booked it. The ticket included two free drinks, however the attendant only served us one drink. I had a coffee. I loved the glass cups, they were served in. The journey took about 6 hours and I just spent the time reading my book. There wasn't a lot to see out of the window. I have to admit I am not a fan of the compartment type style seating as I prefer an individual seat and feel they are more private as you're not facing anyone and have better leg room.

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