Thursday, April 12, 2007

Around Lviv, Ukraine

We covered quite a bit of ground during the three days we were in Lviv. And, although we got more and more comfortable with the city, we were constantly shocked and impressed by it. Lviv was both run-down and beautiful, impoverished and enchanting, exotic and familiar.

Statues and monuments were sprinkled across the city. Most were of old, stoic men, but others were of Greek gods and goddesses, angels, the Virgin Mary, or Communist-style abstract sculptures. A 35’ Soviet-esque statue of a man whose name we have no idea (engraved at the base in Cyrillic) stood opposite the university at the entrance of a large, planned park. He was a bit intimidating, although the bright and sunny day did add an element of playfulness to his rigid features (pictured). We set up our camera on his marble base and put the timer on. That’s us in front of the university building, standing next to the other couple taking photos (pictured). St. Ed’s has nothing on Univ of Lviv—it’s like a palace…of learning. A castle for culture. An estate of knowledge. Anyways, it was pretty.

We found some very interesting gems in Lviv that seemed to be dropped straight out of the 1950’s. The market we visited, where we found good instant coffee (no, that wasn’t a typo—it was actually delicious) and florescent yellow eggs, weighed all of their bulk goods on a white scale (pictured) that was as old as the hills. And instead of typing your total up on a cash register, they used a wooden abacus (shown in the bottom left-hand corner of the market picture). They shuffled the wooden balls quicker than anyone could type—it was wonderful. The cars were another thing. Most of the cars in the city were oldies with a strong Soviet flavor. Probably from the 60’s, these cars were consistently in tiptop shape and chugged around town with attitude. We found an old Red Cross van one day, deep olive green with perfectly round headlights, parked right outside a church. We goggled for a moment and continued our walk. Quite a few of the trams seemed to be from the same period. By far the most quirky thing we found was the drink machine (pictured). We’re still not sure how it works, but there is a glass glass already loaded and you can choose between two options: one costing 25¢ and the other 10¢. We wondered: does everyone share the same glass?

The small, cobbled streets on the Rynok (the main square) were little packages of the past. Cellar coffee shops deep under the streets, soaring Orthodox churches topped with silver domes, tiny shops with Catholic bishops’ and priests’ gold embroidered silk robes displayed in the windows, the healthy-looking stray dogs laying belly-up to the sun on the green grass, the merchants selling their boxes of turnips and beets on the sidewalk, the cars zooming past pedestrians and missing a collision by inches, couples walking hand in hand, licking their ice cream cones on even the chilliest day.

The architecture on the square was amazingly well maintained and charming, similar to Krakow. But it felt very different from it’s Polish equivalent. We rarely, rarely heard English spoken and it seemed like we were the only foreigners in the city. No one gawked or got angry with us because we were tourists, it was like Lviv hadn’t had the international exposure yet to make the locals hate us. In every archway there was a courtyard, filled with laundry draped over long lines, wooden balconies sloping at a dangerous angle, and other archways, windows and doors that kaleidoscoped your view. The signs and advertisements where all in Ukrainian/Cyrillic so we couldn’t figure out where we were or what we were looking at until we peeked in a window or popped in a door. Every city block held a new mystery.

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