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krisek Lviv - A travel report by Krys
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Lviv,  Ukraine - flag Ukraine -  L'vivs'ka Oblast'
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krisek's travel reports

Christmas in Polish Royal City, Lwów (Ukraine).

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Lwów for centuries has been Poland's Royal city, until in 1939 it was invaded by and then at the end of the WWII awarded to the Soviet Union. It is a place with picturesque old town, cobbled streets, lovely mansions and trams on their last legs.


The Townhall in the middle of the Rynok.
The Townhall in the middle of the Rynok.
Winter prevented my going to see Polish seaside at Christmas and staying at a hotel in Warsaw was not a terribly appealing option. So, a few clicks on a couple of websites and I found myself flying to Lwów. Weather forecast was not too bad for the city and I was hoping to see much of Lwów's old town renovated in time for the Euro 2012 football championships. For the city was awarded the World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO and as a Polish Royal City, together with Kraków and Warsaw, is a magnificent showcase of Polish urban planning and life.

The size of the historic centre was considerable. I wandered off a bit and on every street and alley there were grand mansions, palaces and tenement houses, whose facades stopped me. Lwów, like Kraków, escaped destruction during the war. And like Kraków in the late 1980s it desperately needs much renovation. The authorities have plenty to do. The core of the centre would for sure benefit from the withdrawal of traffic, rerouting of trams, facade painting, new adaptation of buildings, and an introduction of clever lighting at night.

Nevertheless, the city was uniquely charming. The abundance of fascinating and varied architecture, churches and temples dedicated to a number of beliefs, narrow alleys, museums, galleries, ever growing number of cafes, where locals mingle and send happy vibes, made Lwów a great destination. I knew that I should have come in the summer to see what the lovely Ukrainian girls would wear. On these cold days with slippery pavements they managed to don super high heeled boots and shortest jackets and skirts, showcasing their long long legs.

Intriguingly, the Lvivians did not seem to master their English well. For Poland managed to turn around so quickly with almost anyone working at a bar, restaurant, hotel, club, cafe switching seamlessly from Polish to English. This was not the case in Lwów.

Favourite spots:
The Kryvka Church in the Shevchenko Gai.
The Kryvka Church in the Shevchenko Gai.
My favourite place in the city was the Shevchenko Grove part of which housed the Ethnographic Museum showcasing Ukrainian traditional architecture. It featured mainly wooden churches, chapels and houses. One of the more famous churches was the Kryvka Church, a superb example of eastern Slavic sacral architecture, almost all of which had been built without foundations. This is why it was relatively easy to move them to Lwów from many different parts of the country. The atmosphere of the place was unique. Snow was still present in places, the woods and general lack of visitors created a mood of mystery as if the entire park was a set of ancient eastern fairy-tale about elves, fairies, witches, genies and strange forest creatures, who either help the good people go through life peacefully or make it hard. Amazing ambiance, considering the park is located in the middle of a large bustling city.

What's really great:
Rynok (Square) by night with the fountain of Adonis.
Rynok (Square) by night with the fountain of Adonis.
Lwów fascinated me with its cobble stone streets, which made vehicles go up and down as if they were vessels struggling on ocean's waves. Seriously, the street waves were often a few feet high. Since the old part of town, full of countless mansions and palaces, went for miles and miles, the length of the cobbled avenues was much greater than in many historical cities I had seen before. The authorities have so far struggled to convince UEFA that by the time of the Euro 2012, the streets and alleys will have become more passable. As fascinating as this may seem, the car owners must be cursing a lot as they frequently need to replace their undercarriages, exhaust pipes and suspension mechanisms.

Sights:
The Assumption (Dormition) Church, left and the Dominican Cathedral, right.
The Assumption (Dormition) Church, left and the Dominican Cathedral, right.
If concentrating on the old town, these would be the places to see: the Arsenal (dating back to 1430); the Square, aka Rynok, with the massive Townhall with its 65 meters high tower (1619), the matchless Black Stone House (1588), the Polish king Jan III mansion (see below) and the Italian Yard within Kornjakt Palace. The Opera House (1900) is a magnificent edifice designed by Zygmunt Gorgolewski, the same responsible for the Kaiser Wilhelm Bridge in Berlin, the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden and Vienna State Opera. There are o course many grand churches within the old town, incl. the Latin Cathedral (1360-1493), the Dominican Cathedral (1750), the Bernardine Cathedral (1630), the Benedictine Cathedral (1597), the Carmelite Cathedral (1650), the Armenian Cathedral (1571), the St George Cathedral (1901), the Assumption Church (1578), and the fascinating Chapel of Boim Family (1615).

Accommodations:
Room #16 of the George Hotel, located on the first floor. These were actually two joined single beds
Room #16 of the George Hotel, located on the first floor. These were actually two joined single beds
The George Hotel, opened in 1793, is one of the oldest hotels in Ukraine. It was renovated a few years back and offers a range of rooms for various budgets. My standard double room with bathroom (#16) was €60 per night. The hotel is annarchitectural gem in its own right. It was designed by two Austrian architects: Herman Helmer and Ferdinand Felner in the Neo-Renaissance style. My room was clean and the bathroom was modern (equipment from Polish bathroom factory in Koło) and spotless. White, thick towels and all toiletries were provided. Breakfast, included in the room rate, was rather basic - eggs (hard boiled, fried), sausages, potatoes, buckwheat, cheeses, cold meat cuts, cereal, milk, coffee, tea, juices, and selection of breads and Danish pastries.

The personnel spoke some English and was helpful in advising on what to do and see in the city. They had free guides, walking tour directions and maps. Some also had good advice on nightlife spots.

Nightlife:
Just outside the Rumba Bar.
Just outside the Rumba Bar.
I tried the not so easy to find Dublin, Irish Pub. It was very popular and they had a good selection of draft beers, incl. Guinness, Kilkenny, and Paulaner. And I saw people tucking into some great steaks there, too.

I was recommended to go to the Fashion Club, yet although I followed the directions diligently, I could not find it! I then went to the Rumba Bar on Staroevreyska St. Out of six beers from tap, just two were available: Stella Artois of Belgium and Staropramen of Czech Republic. Disappointing. The bar was small, with only six stools. And it looked like the locals frequented the spot mainly to grab a bite to eat rather than go out drinking. When I found the Fashion Club, I realised that I would not like it.

Hangouts:
Inside the Mapa Cafe.
Inside the Mapa Cafe.
One of the more characteristic spots to sip coffee or hot chocolate on a cold winter day in Lwów was the Mapa coffee house. It offered free wifi Internet access and had an excellent selection of coffees, chocolates and teas (from UAH15) which could be served with a variety of alcoholic warmers (from UAH25) They also served cakes and desserts starting from UAH25.

In Ukraine, it was still legal to smoke in cafes, bars and restaurants, when I visited, which was a major inconvenience. It was absolutely acceptable to smoke at the bar and blow the smoke straignt into the bartenders' faces, as well as at the table where companions were still eating. It was such a pity, as many of the cafes and bars, particularly those located in the centuries-old cellars, were very atmospheric and inviting. Yet the smoke ruined everything and it was impossible to breathe there.

Restaurants:
View from the Panorama Restaurant - Prospect Svobody with the Christmas Tree and Old Town's towers.
View from the Panorama Restaurant - Prospect Svobody with the Christmas Tree and Old Town's towers.
Cazanova Restaurant, a tiny place with a stage for live music shows. Menu limited but the traditional Ukrainian fare was tasty. Borsch with duck and prunes for UAH 40 (€4) was superb and the chicken surprise (stuffed chicken breast) for UAH 85 (€8.50) had a crisp layer of cheese on it. Georgian red wine was so so, but I did not complain.

The Panorama restaurant on the seventh floor of the Hotel Opera offered great views of the Opera House, the Townhall tower and domes of a few churches sticking out of the old town roofs. They had free wifi access, which was rather patchy. Their local wine ranged from UAH25 to UAH60 per glass, the Norwegian cheese soup with baby shrimp was thick and tasty for UAH45, and various pasta types with a range of sauces was about UAH60. Their espresso was short and fine.bIn the summer, the terrace opens and it is apparently recommended to make a booking.

The Kentavr (Centaur) Restaurant at the Rynok had a magnificent decor and was not overpriced.

Other recommendations:
The Jan III Palace's facade (in the middle).
The Jan III Palace's facade (in the middle).
The Jan III Palace at Rynok was originally bought by the king's father, Jakub. In 1634, Polish king Władysław IV, who occupied Moscow and seized Russian crown lived here. The Polish-Russian Eternal Peace Treaty (anything named like this never lasts) was signed at the palace in 1686. Since 1908, the house has been a museum!

Lwów's airport was tiny. The terminal building was not larger than a minute train station. It looked cute, but it lacked almost any necessary functionality of an international airport. The departure room (c.40 sq meters in total) after passport control could only fit about 100 people and only had seats for 45 passengers. That was less than an aircraft to Warsaw would take in a single flight! A new terminal is under construction, and so luggage conveyer belts could appear in Lwów for the first time.

One has to be careful when taking a taxi to the centre. It should cost no more than UAH40 (€4) for this 6km ride! Touts at the arrival hall would want at least UAH100.

Published on Sunday December 26th, 2010


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Sun, Dec 26 2010 - 01:56 PM rating by jorgesanchez

So good that the bad weather made you head to Lviv and therefore you wrote this nice report!
I am glad that you went to Shevchenko Grove.
Thanks for another good report!

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