Lviv, Ukraine

Lviv, Ukraine
July 14th, 15th 2010

I took the overnight train from Kiev to Lviv. I departed around 10 pm and arrived around 7 am the next day. The train itself was old and I had a bunk that was a bit cramped but I surprisingly slept for most of the journey. The train ride cost 93 HRY (roughly $12), surprisingly cheap but I guess old train + Eastern Europe + common route = cheap prices.

After taking tram #9 to the city center, I got off and looked around for Drukarska Street. Bear in mind, I had to find this street with no map, and in Cyrillic. A kind old lady took it upon herself to show me where it was (the only words shared between us were “Drukarska? Drukarska. Drukarska? Yay! Drukarska!”. My hostel was located at the top floor of a real old building, much like my hostel in Kiev. Old Soviet style buildings, converted into living spaces for travellers.

With a map provided by Igor, the guy who works at the hostel, I set about exploring the city. Hiked to the top of Vysoky Zamok (Castle Hill) and got a nice overview of the city. Walking around this time was easier after I had some practice reading Cyrillic. I could make out street names, compare it to my map, and not get lost. Plus, the city itself wasn’t too big so it was difficult to get lost.

After walking around for a bit, it was time for lunch. I tried to find a self-service cafeteria (like the one in Kiev) that Igor told me about. It was supposed to be next to Lviv University but I didn’t find it. I didn’t know its name, just the whereabouts, but I figured it would be obvious. I decided to consult my guide book for another place to eat and turns out, they listed a self-service cafeteria (Puzata Khata) located around the same spot Igor pointed out to me. It must’ve been the same one and it was. I translated the name into Cyrillic and found it that way. Again, eating good meals for a few dollars, gotta love it. At the end of my 2 days, I must’ve tried almost 60-70% of the main dishes the place had to offer.

I decided to check out whatever was playing at the Grand Opera House at 6 pm. Turns out, I just made it to the start of a ballet performance. I don’t remember ever going to a ballet performance before so I think this was my first one. There was a story but instead of words, they danced so it was left to the audience to interpret what the story was. At least it was for me, I think the Ukranians had a pamphlet they could read to give them an idea. I heard that the next night would be opera night so I decided to check that out too. BTW, the ticket was 45 HRY (or $6). I’m not talking about watching amateur hour here. It is the Grand Opera House of Lviv. And I paid $6 to watch some world-class ballet.

Next day, I went to check out the famous Lychakiv Cemetery. Once I got there, I thought to myself, ‘Why the f*** am I here? It’s a cemetery!’. But walking around for a bit and looking at various death dates on tombstones, I contemplated life and death. We live, then we die. Some die old, some die young. What we do in between is important.We have to try to live our lives as fully as we can because we never know when our one and only chance at life will be taken from us.

I also visited the Pharmacy Museum (just for my sister). It was located right next to my hostel, so might as well. It was a functioning pharmacy that’s been around since the 1700s. The museum had old cabinets filled with old bottles and old vials. There were some old medical looking devices around but I had no idea what they were.

That evening, the opera ticket cost me 35 HRY ($4). I didn’t know what was playing but I found out later, it was ‘Carmen’. Familiar tunes were played (I’m sure most of you have heard ‘Prelude’, ‘Habanera’, and ‘Toreador’) and I never realized they were from ‘Carmen’. The songs were sung in French (it’s written by a French guy, George Bizet) but the Ukrainians had the benefit of subtitles overhead. I, on the other hand, had nothing. I had to appreciate the opera for the music itself but after 3 hours of still not knowing what the hell the plot was, I decided to leave during one of the intermissions. There was still 1 hour left but I decided to eat dinner instead. Back to Puzata Khata for OK food and cheap prices! I think the people there were familiar with me as one lady asked me if I wanted Borsch again. I had picked up what I thought was a cake for dessert at the end. I finished my meal, then took a bite of the “cake”. The pickle garnish on top should’ve been a warning sign to me but it was more like a layered kebab meat cake, with mayo layers instead of sweet cream. It was disgusting yet delicious.

Random Photos:

Habanera:

Hilarious version:

Toreador:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OqEn57tVA1s

Carmen Overture:

Lviv, Ukraine Pics

Kiev, Ukraine

Kiev, Ukraine
July 11th, 12th 2010

Kiev was a total 180 compared to Oslo. Upon arriving, I was immersed in a different world. Everything was in Cyrillic and very few people spoke English. I had to depend on Hostelworld directions to get me to my hostel and even then, I got lost because I didn’t know what “solarium” in the instructions were and I missed my turn, causing me to be lost for about an hour. I finally found a hotel that had wifi and the lady at the front desk was kind enough to allow me to use it to find my way. I finally did and thank goodness for the 2 hour time different from South Africa, or I could’ve missed the start of the World Cup final as well.

Once in the hostel, which is more like an old Soviet-esque apartment (plenty of Eastern European hostels are apartments), I met a Korean girl named Su Min. She was an exchange student and studying Russian literature in Russia. Upon graduating, she was travelling around Eastern Europe before making her way back to South Korea. She could speak Russian and read Cyrillic so she was definitely a handy companion when we went out to watch the World Cup. She spoke to some people and we finally managed to find a restaurant/bar that had one open table left (every other place seemed to either not show the World Cup or was full). Nice Iniesta goal but we were disappointed that the Dutch didn’t win.

Next day, I took it upon myself to learn Cyrillic in my Lonely Planet guidebook. I learned what Cyrillic alphabets corresponded to which Roman letter and how to pronounce it. Before long, I was getting the hang of it. I even started speaking a little Russian to get around. BTW, Russian is commonly spoken in Eastern Ukraine. I’ve read that Russian isn’t welcome in Western Ukraine though (aka Lviv, which I will be visiting). But my book didn’t have Ukrainian phrases so I had to use Russian instead.

I walked around, looking at my guidebook chart and trying to read signs. I had started my day around 7 am and was looking for a coffee shop. I walked into what I thought was a coffee shop but it wasn’t. Instead, right next to it, was a self-serve cafeteria which was open and several locals were having breakfast. This joint would be where I would eat all my meals while in Kiev. I got a lot of food to fill myself up for breakfast/lunch/dinner and each time, my meal ran between USD$3-7. I am talking a LOT of food for USD$7. It was insanely cheap. I was beginning to love Ukraine already. Not to mention, most of the women in Kiev were just smoking hot. No joke. Cheap food, cheap beer ($0.50 for a good bottle of beer!), hot women everywhere, nice city…what’s not to like?

I did a couple of things in Kiev. Visited the St Sophia’s Cathedral, and later walked the cobble stone Andriyivsky uzviz (Andrew’s descent) street which is one of the oldest streets in town, stopping for some dumpling soup on the way down. I also got to witness an Orthodox church ceremony held outside St Andrew’s Church’s gate (see picture above).

I had originally wanted to take a day tour of Chernobyl (about 100 km outside of Kiev) but due to lack of time, I made do with visiting the Chernobyl Museum, once I could find it. I actually walked into a police station and thought it was the museum. It was that secluded and hidden. BTW, that museum blew. But I did see a mummified preserved mutated puppy, which was very creepy.

I took a long long long walk to the Caves Monastery as well (did I mention it was very hot?). I heard there were mummified monks in underground catacombs so that sounded really interesting. But the Caves Monastery is more than a tomb. It had a couple of churches where plenty of Orthodox Ukrainians went for religious reasons. All the women wore head scarfs. Everyone lit candles. And upon entering the pitch dark catacombs where candle-holding people were the only source of light, I saw many people kissing the coffins with the monks and praying on their knees.

I got the hang of the metro system once I learned some Cyrillic. I took a picture of the metro map, then proceeded to look at the signs around the station. Whichever sign contained the words I was looking for (roughly), I knew that was the right train to get on.

To cross the roads, sometimes I had to take the stairs underground. Once underground, I found a ton of shops. Underground malls are common in Kiev. Food, clothes, books, shoes etc could be found in these shops. Sometimes, it’s like a maze so having a good sense of direction will help lead you out to the right exits.

One evening, I decided to get a beer and sit in the open square outside the store, drinking beer with all the other local kids who were just hanging out. A few drops of rain started coming down and within a minute, a huge torrential downpour descended upon Kiev. The wind started blowing so hard that even with an umbrella, the rain flew right into everyone horizontally, soaking anyone in its path.

Being back in Eastern Europe feels good. It’s another world. One has to challenge themselves to truly adapt to their surroundings.

Kiev, Ukraine Pics