Ukraine: L’Viv

When going overseas on holiday, taking a break from ordinary life and jumping on a plane to escape to another land for a few weeks, there’s always a stark contrast between the two countries. Everything is usually a complete change, which is why you go there. On the other hand, when on a long trip, trekking between nations and losing track of how many borders you’ve crossed, it becomes somewhat easier for each destination to merge into one big mural, as opposed to separate portraits.

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I most definitely notice the transitions between every country, city and town I’ve visited. It’s what makes backpacking so fun; the difference in dialects from one side of a country to the other, the food, the scenery and the culture. But every so often, I arrive somewhere that makes me think, “Now THIS is a place of its own.” L’Viv is one of these places.

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While not currently a hot-spot within Europe, L’Viv is most certainly gaining attention as an up and coming tourist destination, with various critics adding it to ‘must-see’ hit-lists. I was told about L’Viv by a couple of friends I’d met over the last few months, who recommended it as a must-visit. It was a no-brainer for me as L’Viv is conveniently located between Kiev, and my next destination after Ukraine, Krakow, in Poland.

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I arrived in the middle of the day on an express train from Kiev and took a sweet old soviet-looking tram into the centre of the city. As I looked around me, I began to notice the differences between Kiev and L’Viv; people here seemed to walk with their heads held high, every shop, cafe and bar seemed to boast something different, the buildings were impressive yet subtle and the place had a much more ‘authentic’ feel to it, with an air of contentedness about the people. On the way to my hostel (Coffee Home, a name which invariably drew my attention) I stopped off at a clothing alteration shop, to see if the lady there would be able to use her splendid machine to stitch a couple of flag patches on to my backpack as I had just about had enough of impaling my fingers with blunt needles while trying to get the better of resilient military-spec nylon. She aced the job and then asked for 20 Hryvnia (about $1). When I gave her 50 for her efforts her smile almost reached around the back of her ears. It’s amazing what a couple of bucks can do in this country.

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I like how most of the streets here are made of cobbles and are driven on by all sorts of different stuff, like VW Jetta and drop-top Mercedes taxis.

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It’s too cheap to not eat well over here. You can find pretty much anything you’re after for a good price, like a veal main course for $2.60.

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I spent a fair deal of my time here jumping from cafe to cafe, all of which boast a distinctly unique theme, decor or product. This shop sold me a stellar espresso brandy, which did a good job of waking me the fuck up.

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No matter how late in the week or which hour of the day it is, impressive street artists can be found on practically every street in the centre of the city. You don’t need to go to a bar to enjoy good live music here.

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Statues and monuments are found almost everywhere. The highest monument in the city is found on a chimney next to a car on the roof of a seven story compacted restaurant waiter’d by little people, which has a sign outside warning you that there’s a good chance you may receive coins to the face as you eat your dinner, thrown by people trying to land them in the hat of another statue for good luck. Un-ordinary places are ordinary in L’Viv. Thanks to my friends I met that night who took me there!

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If you ever wanted to drink Obama stout, then the beer theatre, a three story craft beer haven by the main square, is the place to get your fix. You can also listen to a wicked covers band backed by a small orchestra when you’re there, too.

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As mentioned earlier, the buildings here tend to boast a slightly more subtle appearance than their counterparts in Ukraine or Russia, yet all blend in together to give the city a more ‘completed’ feel.

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This poor sod walked up and down the street outside the Lego shop for 3 sunny days (I checked his shoes every time I walked past). Wiggling on the side of the road for an hour advertising cheap pizza when I was 16 doesn’t seem so shitty anymore.

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I didn’t manage to have dinner at the Jewish restaurant pictured but what happens here is you eat and drink, then bargain over the price of the bill. Souvenirs and trinkets go a long way in keeping the price down.

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This bar is located underground in a place that’s designed to look like a bunker. To get in you have to answer correctly to a challenge issued by a man in a peep window holding a gun, and then reassure him you are not accompanied by any soviets. Inside, once you’re done with dinner, you can shoot some guns.

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I spent a pretty fun day with a couple of Canadian chaps I met. We went to this joint called Miner’s Coffee or something like that. It’s located underground and you’re given hard hats as you walk in. Their speciality coffee comes with a caramel and sugar topping which is annihilated by a bow torch before it’s ready to drink. Be sure to give it a few minutes before wrapping your paws around that steel mug.

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Obnoxiously noticeable things like this train all fit into part of the decor in this city. Everything is so unique, but part of the puzzle. The place strikes me as a city built for tourists, but it’s not; it’s simply a part of Europe that hasn’t been overridden by foreigners, yet. Sure, there are loads of places with English menus that are definitely constructed to appeal to visitors but the bulk of the clientele everywhere I went were locals.

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I had some other stuff going on which made me pretty moody so I suggested to my two Canadian pals that we go and shoot some guns. Fuck yea. Guns are good for letting off steam. We turned up at a range unannounced and for around $30 each, we all had a good go on four different weapons, including a Kalashnikov, a sniper rifle of some description, a revolver and an automatic shotgun. The place was manned by a couple of chilled out dudes who were only too happy to let us loose with their arsenal. Good times.

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After relieving some stress in the form of fast-paced lead, we had one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten at this medieval themed restaurant situated within a castle type complex. They have a guillotine for cutting huge chunks of meat and several torture devices around if you wish to use them. There’s an executioner who comes around and cuts your bill in half with an axe upon delivering it to the table. Just another one of the quirky establishments L’Viv has to offer!

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Last but not least, I had to try some of L’Vivs finest hand made chocolate. There’s a few of these places in town and the chocolate is fuckin’ awesome. You can get fat very easily in this city.

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I was sad to leave L’Viv, but I’m looking forward to visiting Poland. I write this as I’m on an overnight train to Krakow. We’ve just passed the border and I’m going to crash out for a few hours as it’s about 3am. The guard has just given me a sachet of instant coffee as validation for the $1 of bribe money that switched hands to be permitted to smoke between the carriages. Some things never change.

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