It’s the season of presidential elections in my home country Ukraine. We are on the radar again, for all the most controversial reasons. I’ll go against the tide and offer you something more pleasant to read about. Let me introduce you to Lviv – a charming cultural capital of Ukraine.
Lviv, which made it to Lonely Planet’s “Best in Europe” list of 2016, has become a popular travel destination for English-speaking tourists ever since. And why wouldn’t it? It’s ridiculously pretty, full of friendly English-speaking locals and has a very affordable cafe and restaurant prices. In addition, Lviv still continues its’ centuries-old love affair with strong coffee and lion sculptures.
By Julia Leescu
What’s good in Lviv? Just let me pitch you some travel ideas.
– Eating at the quirky restaurants:
The Jewish restaurant “Pid Zolotoyu Rozoyu” where you are left to negotiate the price of your food, the hidden Masonic lodge which is also a restaurant; the dimly lit “Masoch Café” where you can be whipped by waiters if you wish… Does it all sound to you like an ordinary restaurant visit in a post-Soviet town?
Stefka Lytwyn, a British-Ukrainian expat working in the tourism industry, offers her explanation: “I think Lviv picked up different aspects of culture from various nationalities passing through, and they traveled East to West on various trade routes. It just is as it is, at face value, and people fall in love with that. Love for a place transcends boundaries, anyone is welcome here. It doesn’t have the same post-Soviet feel that other Eastern European cities do, and I think that appeals to Westerners too.”
– Coffee culture:
If you will check the super-funny “Atlas of Prejudice” by Yanko Tsvetkov (www.atlasofprejudice.com), you’ll notice that both Romania and Western Ukraine belong to the space of “coffee culture”.
And Lviv is the Ukrainian epicenter of caffeine addiction. Back into the Austro-Hungarian Empire days, Lviv was well-known for its coffee-brewing traditions and coffee houses, where contracts were signed, lovers met and lonely locals came to people-watch.
This coffee culture has miraculously survived grime Soviet days and grown stronger in an independent Ukraine. There are hundreds of great cafes and coffee shops in Lviv, where you can get your quality caffeine kick. Coffee with cinnamon, ginger or even a coffee lemonade – everything goes better with coffee.
– Love of lions:
The name of “Lviv” comes from “Lev”, which means “lion” in Ukrainian. There are more than 4,000 lion sculptures in Lviv and God knows how many smaller architecture and decor elements involving these noble beasts.
Pose with lions that you will find on your way or rub their noses if you’re looking for a bit of extra luck!
– Local people:
As it is with any nation in the world, Ukrainians have their good side and dark side. We can be quite direct and rough, but in Lviv, our considerate and respectful side wins over. Lvivians, especially the younger generation, are courteous and kind to strangers, including tourists.
– Art and architecture:
The center of Lviv is one big open-air museum with its monuments, palaces, and churches. Exploring it feels really like an immersive experience with the flavour of the former Austro-Hungarian empire and an occasional hint of communist shabbiness.
I’ll share with you my favorite piece of art in Lviv: the mystic fresco in the Armenian Cathedral. It was created by Jan Henryk Rosen and represents the Funeral Procession of St. Odilon. They say that the fresco represents past, present, and future which exist simultaneously at that cathedral.
So, would you consider dropping a Lviv pin on your Google Maps? If you are thinking about ways of getting there, taking a flight from Bucharest to Kiev and then from Kiev to Lviv is your best bet. Alternatively, a road-trip from Bucharest to Lviv is also an option. It will include an interesting detour since the best border-crossing point is near Suceava.
There’s one more thing I forgot to mention: you should visit Lviv with someone you like or love, it’s extraordinarily romantique!