I would call Lviv the cultural capital of Ukraine. It has a pretty central square surrounded by interesting districts and churches to see. What really makes Lviv special is the mixture of different restaurants, museums and historical places to see and experience. Everything from a museum dedicated to "Salo" (literally pig fat), to a crazy restaurant that you need a special password to get into. Lviv has all that somebody new to Ukraine needs. Our first visit was for a place of perogies and borscht at a restaurant called "Puzata Hata" (at least that's how it's said!). Home made Ukrainian food a la cafeteria style. I was pleasantly surprised when a try loaded with food and beer cost only 4 euros. Amazing.
We managed to get ourselves onto a free tour of Lviv and saw some of the sights. I've got to say that for a guy trying to film a lot of daily life in Ukraine, a free tour is the perfect way to get out. Traveling with a camera and tripod isn't easy in Ukraine. When you're holding a camera has a value comparable to some peoples yearly salaries, you get a lot of looks. I can't say I felt super safe walking around with the camera out, so I would repeatedly replace it into my camera bag. There is a sense of security you get when you're accompanied by a tour guide and a group of people with other nice cameras. You don't worry about being singled out and victimized or worry so much about people giving you dirty looks as there are about 20 other people taking the same photos. By the way a bit of a shameless plug here. If you're traveling with a camera, tripod, computer, hard drive etc... I highly recommend the Lowepro Fastpack 250. Great system so you can whip your camera out, grab some shots and replace it quickly while being nice and discreet. Not to mention it is well padded an holds nearly all the gear you'll need for the day.
After our fantastic tour of the city, we decided to hike to the top of City Hall. It's a massive tower that you can climb to the top of for the best view of Lviv. I think it was 10 hryvna which is about a euro. As we climbed to the top we realized how out of shape we were after not seeing the steps of Dubrovnik in over a month. At the top, the view was beautiful as it was definitely the highest point in town. I filmed plenty of clips as I was catching a great birds eye view of the city. Fortunately for us the bells didn't go off as they can be a bit deafening if you're nearby.
That evening we met up with Angela, my friend Katya's cousin. Back in April, Katya gave me a call wondering if I was free for a coffee. It just happened that at that exact moment I was with Emmett grabbing a coffee at 10th an Alma street. We were sitting around talking about the future, about potential travel for the fall and where Emmett would be willing to go. We were talking about returning to Ukraine and seeing the motherland. It was all a pipe dream but now that I think about it, it was all aprt of a much bigger plan that was actually falling into place quietly. The world had something in store for us.
So Katya shows up... with her cousin Angela in tow. Turns out Angela was from Ukraine. Lviv to be exact! So we talked about what it was like, the prices, things to see and at that point I invited her to my going away party that weekend. She came, we ate hamburgers and drank beer and played darts. Never in my wildest dreams would I actually have thought that we would see her in Lviv seven months later. It was a total trip to have Emmett there as well as she walked into the "House of legends" restaurant. It seems over seven months, she seemed to have grown up what seems like a few years. Her English was amazing compared to the previous months. In Vancouver I'm sure she was shy with her english, but in Ukraine she was a pro! We all ordered a vodka (turns out "one" vodka is actually a triple shot back in Van) and some food as she helped us translate some of the documents that we had received from my mother. Documents from 20 years ago that would hopefully help point us in the right direction to reuniting us with our family.
Angela's fiancee Nikolai came to visit us and we decided to head to Krjivka Restaurant. Well actually it was more like a bunker. As you walk up to the door, down the long brick hallway you realize there is no handle on the front of the doorto open with. You knock on the door and a big burly guy wearing a soviet era military outfit and wielding a machine gun answers the door. He says something in Ukrainian along the lines of "What's the password" as he says " Slava Ukraina!" which is your cue to answer "Hrvojem Slava" (I am slava). He then proceeds to pour you a shot of brandy which you must promptly take and then he shuffles you into the place. Based on the Ukrainian resistance movement, it has a pretty rugged setting for decorations. The walls are shingled raw log cuts, the toilet has a bit of an "outhouse" feeling to it, and the dishes are military style aluminum bowls. The food though was amazing and reasonable. Nikolai instantly ordered us a bottle of vodka, many shots were had, toasts were given and plans were made for the weekend. It was a great experience, especially Katarina's delicious potatoes and Mils and Emmett's potato pancakes. We left Krjivka nice and drunk only to be surprised by the first snowfall of the season. Enough snow to stick to items but not enough to cover the ground, I felt honoured to experience the first snow of the year in Lviv. Fortunate for us it was also the last snow we saw throughout our trip. Not sure what the odds of traveling Ukraine in November are without getting snow, but we certainly had a larger power on our side for the trip.
The next day we went to the "Salo" museum. A modern art museum, it was about 3 euros to get in, including a plate of Salo at the end. Now for a description of Salo. You either love or hate it. It is essentially pork fat. Pork fat in a cheese like state. Spread it on bread, slice it up or mold it into modern art. Salo was a cool experience except for the fact that at the end you get a platter of salo with a shot of vodka. The vodka was easy, chewing greasy funky fat was not. Needless to say we all gagged down a few pieces before we felt too sick to continue. I had the sick feeling of salo in my stomach for the rest of the day. Ugh, it still makes me feel ill when I think of it.
We all left the Salo exhibit a bit sick, but explored the town and checked out the public market in town. Mostly composed of pictures, knitted wool items and old soviet era and metal pieces, the market is a cool but somewhat limited place. I should have done souvenir shopping but seeing as I hate shopping period, I decided to put it off right until the very end of our trip.
Overall Lviv was a fantastic experience. I could easily return and eat myself retarded. Doing Ukraine in winter gives you a unique perspective on things. It was nice to see the town as it really is with the local people in winter. It was also amazing to get to reconnect with Angela and see a familiar face from Vancouver in such a different place. We planned to stick around and see a show at the local ballet show at the theater but unfortunately we realized that if we stuck around Lviv for much longer we would miss out Kiev. So we booked a hostel, hopped in the car the following day and made a B-line for Kiev. It was time to see the capital and all it had to offer.