My opinions and views of Ukraine thus far have been far from admirable. Within a week I was ready to leave the country and couldn’t believe what a utter mess Ukraine was/is in. But being out of the country for a few months has given me some distance and perspective allowing me to appreciate my ancestral homeland a little more. Now I begin my posts on the Ukrainian cities I visited.
L’viv is the cradle of Ukrainian culture, though some would say Poltava in the East preserves Ukrainian traditions better. (NB: The ‘ in L’viv is a soft sign represented by the “ь” in Ukrainian, called the м‘який знак, translated as the “little sign”. It is a “palatized sound”, which means you pronounce the city’s name by somehow softly bouncing your tongue off of the roof of your mouth, kinda like when you kiss Ukrainian women.) In any event, I visited this city three times while in Ukraine.
By the time I left Ukraine I’d gotten to know quite a few folks in L’viv. Fortunate for me, my cousin back in Canada introduced me to a couple of Ukes (short-hand for “Ukrainians”.) Although I don’t remember our first meeting (I had gone out the night before and apparently they had come to get me in the morning), they helped me understand modern Ukraine while taking me around the city and introducing me to their (gorgeous) female friends. It was through them that I would learn that Ukraine is a good country to visit, not live in. Further, since they actually lived just outside of L’viv they took me over to their house so I could see what Ukrainian village life was like. Not only that, but L’viv also offered me the chance to meet my “long lost family”. Well, they’re not really lost so much as contact has been sporadic. However, I’ll save that story for another time.
Not only that, you could consider L’viv to be sort of a Ukrainian-Canadian baby-making machine. Many of the Ukes posting up in Canada are from L’viv, the surrounding area, or other places in Western Ukraine. I was surprised to find out that L’viv was declared Winnipeg’s sister city way back in 1973. Funny how you learn some things while travelling. Not only that, I learned that “L’viv” is not so recognizable in German. In German it’s called Lemberg, with the typical gutteral vocalization of the German language that makes everything either sound like a swear. It’s spoken “Lhehm-BURGHH!!!!” or something like that. Imagine my surprise when a few folks in Poland recommended that I visit “Lhehm-BURGHH!!! to which I responded I’d also like to visit L’viv. They said it was the same thing. So I learn.
L’viv is justifiably Ukraine’s most gorgeous city… in the summer. I first arrived in winter when the snow was still melting and things were a mess. But if you get a chance to go to L’viv (and I don’t understand why it wouldn’t be on your itinerary if you’re going to Ukraine), visit the High Castle. Gorgeous scenery, peaceful, and clean air. It’s almost a holy experience. Amazing. I also did the L’viv walking tour found in the Lonely Planet’s Ukraine guide (which they republished a MONTH after I bought the old copy… grrr.) Or you just ask at your hostel (I stayed at the Cosmonaut) for a map and walk around, that way you get to take in L’viv’s brilliant architecture.
The city is also known for its cafe culture. So, after you’ve visited High Castle and done your walking tour, be sure to sit down and enjoy the scenery of downtown L’viv at one of the cafes. It’s hard to pick a cafe that stands out since most are along the major walkways and always within listening distance of the street musicians (modern Ukrainian bards!) Grab a coffee and enjoy the pulsating culture of L’viv.
The city is a hub since it connects to all of the neighbouring countries, and you haven’t experienced eastern Europe until you’ve taken a night train! Not to worry, cops and other authorities in L’viv seem to be much nicer and have a better sense of international relations than their eastern counterparts. Here you can practice your Ukrainian, Polish, Hungarian, Slovenian, or any other multitude of languages, and they’ll even politely listen to Russian… though they won’t enjoy it. If there’s one thing that L’viv fiercely preserves it’s their language. In Ukraine you speak Ukrainian, not Russian, Polish or English. Ukrainian. Kinda reminds me of the French folks in Canada! (Which, by the way, I support.)
And having experienced the vibrant beauty and pulsating culture that is L’viv, I moved onto Kyiv.
(An apology is in order as I don’t have many photos of L’viv right now. I left my harddrive in Dauphin which has ALL of my photos and videos. I will upload them shortly.)