Monday October 4 – L’VIV
After overnight train, passports, bunks and bags, we felt a little sketchy coming off the train.
Natasza and her mother, Ella were waiting for us on the platform. Baggage people came to help and Lord knows we needed it; the station is a bit on the crumbly side and there were stairs to negotiate. Outside, we decided on a big taxi for Ella, Carol and me the luggage. Brian and Natasza followed in a second, smaller taxi.
Rumbledebump down rough cobblestone streets, many with trolley tracks poking above the eroded street surface. I was in the front seat and could see that our driver knew the location of the biggest potholes and steered to avoid them. He was also opposed to stopping for red lights when he saw no other traffic around.
We turned off the big street to a smaller street and the driver made a right turn and pulled over mid-block. In the dark I saw only shadows of big buildings with dark windows. The space between curb and building was very wide and haphazardly paved with asphalt, concrete or nothing.
Here’s what it looks like in the daylight:
The contrast was shocking, and welcome.
We got the bags to rooms and Natasza said to me, “Something to eat?” Yes, my stomach was empty, but all I really wanted was something simple, like a boiled egg.
“Yes,” I said. Natasza and Ella sprang into action and produced a plate of sliced squash with garlic and salt, red bell pepper slices filled with cream cheese garlic and dill, sliced summer sausage, sliced cheese and sliced ham made by Natasza’s cousin’s father. Finally, a small decorated cake and coffee. We gathered around the octagonal oak coffee table in the sitting room and ate bits of each.
We were more tired than hungry and it was still only a bit past 7am after all night on the train. Naptime.
I slept really well in my sweatshirt on top of the bedclothes. I woke up at nine, wide awake. The others took until 10:30 while I wrote this in my journal:
Clothes I Haven’t Slept In
After travel travel travel and only one night in a real bed, I feel as if all of my clothes have been slept in.
I’m not a fan of overnight travel… gets your rhythms all messed up, gets your clothes all messed up. Son Brian figures that if you travel in the night, you save on a hotel. He has clothes and pills for that.
Oh, but Brian gave me tips. Bring comfy clothes to sleep in. OK. Did that. But I didn’t change in the teeny tiny WC on the massive Boeing 747. Did change for the overnight train. And I’m not a pill kinda guy.
Did pack carefully: One bag (Tumi — easy to carry on and get into) for before Kyiv, and another bag for Kyiv, where we’ll have five days in one place (that one is unopened). Prepared physically, but I didn’t prepare myself mentally.
The train from L’viv to Kyiv should be better. Brian planned it so we leave at 7:30pm and we’ll have some recreational time on the train before sleeping. No borders to cross at 4am… and arrive in Kyiv at 10am, so we’ll have time to have breakfast and adjust before packing up to disembark. That’s a long time on the train, but we’re goin’ a long way, baby. And after that, I don’t plan to travel overnight ever again.
But that’s thinking forward. In the here and now, everybody got up, we had lunch or second breakfast or whatever on the same stuff as breakfast… plus tomatoes and grapes, still good stuff.
Carol read about a tour of L’vivski Brewery in our guidebook and suggested that to Natasza, who agreed to lead us there. We set out walking. I had no Ukraine Hreevney ($1 = about 8UAH), so I got 200UAH at an ATM… out came a single 200UAH bill. Interesting.
Natasza led us through the streets of L’viv, around corners and over hills. Through bulldog determination she got us to the brewery and got us on a tour. It seems that the entrance to the brewery tours was behind a construction fence, so after trying multiple ways in, N went in through the Exit and we followed. The tour guide, a tall, slender young woman, was surprised. She had had a week or so of no tours because folks couldn’t find their way in. She was fine with that. She agreed to give us a tour, but only in Ukrainian. She was good at it, a very nice and melodious delivery.
L’vivski was founded in 1715 and was enjoyed at the royal banquets in Austria-Hungary and in Poland. Through subsequent generations they came under the rule of various governments, including the Soviet Union when the name was changed but the beer remained the same, in different bottles. Now, L’vivski is brewed in L’viv, Kyiv and Odessa and though the same recipe is used, the taste varies slightly due to the different water.
So that was all interesting, even in Ukrainian (some signs about the history and brewing process were in English), but the best part was the tasting of the beer. First the unfiltered, then the filtered. Really good beer.
Wonder if our local BevMo has it? [They don’t] I felt good so I bought a ball cap and deck of playing cards… pretty cool.
Returning from the Brewery, we passed through the L’viv Market, entering at the top of a hill and taking a winding route down and through the market. The stalls on the hill are mainly food; meat, sausages, vegetables, fresh and canned, most anything you want. The non-food items were of flea market style and quality, not much of substance, although Carol and I each bought slippers and we got a pair of jazzy stockings for Alison.
N had selected a special place to take her mom — and us — for lunch. We walked and walked through some pretty sketchy parts of L’viv to the downtown. From there, we took a bus to a place near the Square (Rynok Square) and there it was, on the right.
Nice place. Small. Enter into a room with a small bar and the Hostess. We’re seated in the adjoining dining room with about six tables. She describes the specialty of the house, a traditional Ukrainian Casserole served in a clay dish with a lid. Your choice of meat and potatoes or beans.
I started with Red Borscht — which was more like beef broth with potatoes. It was light red, but with no beet flavor and no body.
Pork Casserole with Beans:
When I removed the cover, I saw a thin piece of dark bread with melted cheese… very difficult to cut through. Big, white beans and chunks of pork, but with no particular flavor and very little liquid.
The service was terrible — the woman couldn’t remember who ordered what, even though we were the only customers at the time. She brought the casserole before the soup was finished and was generally brusque, unpleasant and inattentive. Nice atmosphere, though, and Ukrainian songs on the sound system.
Since we got a late start, we didn’t finish until after 4:30. Ella had to be back to our flat by six to take a taxi to the train station. We walked back, checking out sights and so on along the way.
Natasza and Brian went with Ella to the station. Carol and I took a welcome sit and drank some vodka. Brian and Natasza joined us later and we talked about “In Soviet time…” a phrase kind of like “back in the day,” but referring to a very specific time, and is used to describe architecture, social condition, clothing and so on.
Tuesday October 5 – L’VIV
Got up thinking about the bottle of Vodka in the freezer. There were a couple ounces that we needed to finish before bags-out-of-flat time at noon. I fashioned Bloody Marys out of vegetable juice, salt, pepper and vodka. Not bad.
Our flat came with two free breakfasts at the “hotel” – the parent of our remote flat. It’s about five blocks away. On the way to the “hotel” I remarked that this has been the rolling luggage test track. It has involved every kind of stone paving one can imagine, including broken stone paving and especially cobblestone – from large to small, smooth to sharp.
Breakfast #1 – omelet with yogurt, bread, butter, jelly, coffee. The omelet had no filling , but was loaded with butter.
Breakfast #3 – Yogurt, meat, cheese, bread, butter, jam.
Breakfast #2 – didn’t order so don’t remember.
After, we walked to the Opera, a lovely building set in a large plaza with a fountain. Just so folks won’t get all stuffy about the Opera, small scale electric hot rods and race cars are lined up for kids to go careening around the plaza.
Inside, we paid our 5 UAH fee and acknowledged that there are no tours in English. Midway up the grand stair is the “King’s Door,” and inscribed over it, “1897-1900,” the years the hall was built. This was during the Austro-Hungarian rule of the Habsburgs. At the top of the steps we were intercepted by a rogue tour guide, a woman in her 60’s full of energy and bravado, wearing a sparkly, loose fitting top over a long black skirt; she looked, sounded and acted the part of an opera tour person.
She took us into the balcony of the hall and gave history of operas performed there. (People must have been much smaller then… my knees wouldn’t fit in front of me in the front row.) As we left the balcony, she said she does this on her own and asked that we contribute five dollars. Enthralled by her knowledge and style and that she spoke English, we each gave her a $1 bill to take us to her “magic place.” She was thrilled. The other two folks that came in with us, split at that point. Well, her “Magic Place” was simply opposing mirrors in the front of the upper lobby. She said to Carol, “Come over here, come to me,” then said to me, “How many wives do you have?”
Going along, I said, “one.” She stepped aside and said, “Now you have many,” as Carol was reflected endlessly in the mirror. After other demonstrations of her magic place, she took us to a costume exhibit created for the upcoming run of Aida. Her act quickly became stale and we parted ways. I managed to get into the orchestra level for some pictures before being booted out because we weren’t with a regular tour guide.
By then a tour of greater L’viv school teachers had gathered on the stair to hear from the Music Director. We had nothing to do but wait until the stairs were unblocked.
OK, let’s find a place for lunch. We walked toward the Square.
After looking in on a few restaurants, we came to Centaur, a Carpathian Restaurant (featuring mushrooms). Looked good, so we entered to look at the menu. Menu is very interesting. There are a few rooms and a coffee and pastry shop at the entrance. Our room is dimly lit with heavy dark wood furnishings, traditional with some humorous touches.
As an appetizer, we got four kinds of fresh mushrooms. Oh my.
M – Carpathian Style Golubtsi (cabbage rolls)
Five cabbage rolls stacked three on the bottom, then two, then on top, a chicken meatball skewered with a small chicken wing bone as a handle. A beautiful presentation. Not only that, they were rich and delicious. Small beer.
C – Minced meat crepes, which were actually more like little triangular meat pies than French crepes. Fresh pressed apple juice – truly fresh – it had foam on top.
N – Stuffed Whole Trout. What a sight to see. Fresh pressed Beet, Carrot and Celery Juice.
B – Foie Gras Dumplings. Big beer.
Dessert – Apple puff pastries with ice cream and clotted cream. Again, a sight to behold and treat to eat.
Just a totally wonderful lunch in every way for 420UAH, that’s about $13 per person. C’mon.
Note: So far in Ukraine, restaurants don’t serve complimentary bread or water. One has to order it. Not a bad thing.
We walked around the square, noticing a counterculture display urging new, young people to get involved in politics and the electorate to get out and participate in the political process (as explained in pretty good English by one of the young men). Not sure what all these things say or mean, but the graphics are pretty cool.
(Back home, I looked up their website key.lviv.ua. The English translation of the headline reads: “We strive to build a new system of government. To achieve global change, you must first change the system in which these changes should emerge.”
Needing to kill an hour or so before heading toward the train, Natasza suggested a museum and we started off in that direction. I spotted a most special gift shop with a teaser sign out front in English and Ukrainian.
I went in and beckoned the others. Four rooms of imaginative and even daring pop culture – B said counterculture. In any case, we managed to kill our time and I bought a T-shirt (the white one that says L’viv) and deck of cards. B and N bought a bunch of stuff for gifts.
The hotel ordered a taxi to take us to the train station. Thinking 4 people plus driver plus luggage will fit in a Lada the size of a 1970’s Honda Civic. Of course we had to hail another cab. In case we got separated, I rode with Natasza and Brian with Carol.
I must say the train station looks way better coming from the outside… and in the daylight. We were about half hour early and the train was in the station, so we were allowed to board early. Good enough, but there were only dim night lights and the WC was locked. The WC can only be open while train is rolling.
When it came time to leave, the train’s movement was barely perceptible. We glided out of the station and the lights slowly came on in our compartment and in the passageway.
We bought a cabin for each couple, each with 4 bunks. We put the aft upper bunk up and used the forward upper for storage of bed clothes, bags and stuff and we were ready to rock n roll. We adjourned to Brian’s place for dinner. Look familiar? You saw it yesterday called breakfast.
After dinner we played cards with the Ukrainian deck I bought. Started with hearts, explaining to N (and ourselves) the rules as we went along. B dumped the Spade Queen on poor N and we switched to a Ukrainian game. It was comprehensible only to N (maybe).
I slept well. Time to get ready – both physically and emotionally – is important.
In the morning I discovered the WC has no W! I said to N as she passed by… She showed me, press on the bottom of the faucet, water dribbles out on to your hand. So what are those things that look like valves for? (to fuck with American minds, sez I).
Morning also brought reflections of the train passing through War and Peace land.
B & N invaded our compartment with breakfast and by the time that was over gave us the rules of the train: do this with the sheets, that with the blankets and so on. I must say, gimmie the Polish train anytime… This ride was better because we had time to wind into it, sleep, and then wind out of it. But the Soviet-era train is just way old and tired.
Maybe Doc B could add a paragraph or two about the significance of Lviv in the Ukraine? Why is it different from Kiev? Why is it worth a stop-over on the way to Kiev? Otherwise a great narrative, and am looking forward to meeting N’s family in the next installment.
Outstanding. I recall when we were in Russia (or was it Soviet Union still in 1992?) they do love their yogurt. Seems to come with everything. More like kier actually. Great travelogue. Looks like great fun (so far)…
This trip is making me hate all of you, you know. I’m so jealous right now. The food looks so good. You know what I had for dinner last night? Two words: Microwaveable. Oatmeal. Anyway, looking forward to more!