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Lviv, Ukraine 
May 27

Today was a travel day from Kamyanets-Podilsky to Lviv in Ukraine ... a long four-leg travel day by bus ... made easier by two young gentlemen we met along the way. The first was Sergey Sugonyako who was on his way to a party in celebration of his wifeís grandparentís fiftieth wedding anniversary. Sergey is in his late twenties and works with computers, so it was natural that he would, during the long journey, pull out his laptop to show us pictures of his family. One set of pictures was taken on a autumn picnic in the woods. He, his wife, two sons (about four and two) and another couple with their son had built a campfire then prepared and roasted potatoes in tin foil. The photographs were beautiful in their simplicity of theme. He carries that photographerís vision in many of his other shots as well, seeing beauty in everyday things and events. Before leaving us to continue on the next leg of our dayís journey, Sergey, made sure we acquired the right tickets without confusion and saw us off at the bus dock after exchanging email addresses.

The second gentleman, Alexander, we met on a trolley in Lviv. We asked him in which direction the hotel was. He did more than point, he took us there. We said our "thank you"s and "goodbye"s and shook hands (he has a great handshake).

The hotel did not have room for us so we ventured back out on the street where several large groups of seniors were singing. The sound was beautiful. Alexander was still there and again helped by using his cell phone. We offered to pay for the time used but he explained that he had unlimited use and then gave us a business card should we need any further help ... he is a regional manager for one of the many cell phone companies in Eastern Europe. Cell phone stores in Eastern Europe are as plentiful as pubs in Ireland.

Again "thank you"s were said and goodbyes exchanged. We stood for awhile on the wide and long Prosp Svobody Ė a pedestrian walkway and park running through the centre of the city and listened to the singing.

One fellow spoke to us and we explained that we were Canadian. Another fellow, with a grey crew cut, approached us and we too explained to him we were from Canada and did not understand. He didnít understand or mind for he continued to talk. Again we tried to say we did not understand but he was determined to tell us what he thought we should hear. After some time the first fellow said, we imagine, "you old fool, they donít understand you. They are from Canada and only speak English." We really didnít understand the words but did recognise "Canada" and "English". The second fellow now understood for sure, but continued to talk to us even as we waved goodbye.

We walked up the hill along side a park to the Hotel Dnister. Itís a Soviet-built block building with the colouring of a bumble bee. The lobby was modern but our room which had a pleasant view over the park and beyond to the cityís roof lines, needed some cosmetic work. Even a good wall wash-down would help a lot. We found it odd that there are so many employees standing around, when there was so much that could be accomplished.

After settling in for our three night stay, we had a light meal in the bar, toasted our son Stephenís birthday and called it a day.

May 28

We spent the day in Lviv, starting with a walk through the park. It was a holiday Monday. A religious holiday someone told us, "Trinity Day. There are a lot of Ukraine holidays in May." The park was busy with parents, children, teens and grandparents. One father sat on the grass reading his newspaper beside a buggy. Toddlers played on the grass. Other people walked buggies, strollers, dogs and a little girl using inline skates for the first time. Some just visited.

There was a walking tour suggested in our tour book, but it was mostly going from one church to another, so we closed the cover and wandered the streets in one of our "getting-lost-tours". It seems in Lviv all roads eventually turn up on the main pedestrian street, so getting lost ... really lost ... is neigh impossible. We walked past fancy art nouveau buildings, big government buildings and statues. We notice a lot of European cities host a statue of St. George slaying something with a long tail ... sometimes a mythical dragon, others look like oversized lizards, while in Lviv it was a snake. Religious statues were getting special treatment today with bouquets of flowers.

A statue of a man with a book in his left hand, had his other hand outstretched as if to say, "Come. Come and see what these book sellers have to offer today."

We glanced at the boxes of books at his feet and around the small square below him. On the edges tables of books melted from only books into plastic gewgaws.

We passed the town hall looking for the Tourist Information Centre which has been playing musical buildings for the past two years. Our search started out as a bit of a treasure hunt and then just became frustrating. Donít blame the travel books if you canít find it ... even tourist companies in town donít know for sure.

We took a tram ride to the train station to purchase tickets for our departure. We stood in the line-up at the information window. When we reached the person on the other side of the glass and requested two tickets to our destination, she held up two fingers. "Yes," we said and nodded and held up two fingers, "for two people." She shook her head, again held up two fingers and pointed to another wall of the train station. Ah, she wants us to go to ticket window "2". We went and stood in the line-up at ticket window "2". Just as we got to the window the girl inside turned off the light and pointed to the sign which indicated she was already three minutes late for her lunch break and would be back in one hour.

 

We went outside and waited. Itís funny what you notice when you and your mind are not busy doing other things. For example, in Lviv the number one choice of luggage is a plastic bag. Top of the plastic line is a squarish looking model, usually plaid, with two handles and a zip closure top ... when the zipper is working. There were so many of these plaid plastic numbers, what we would consider a normal suitcase was a real rarity. The second overall choice, of both men and women, was a large black Hugo Boss shopping bag. They were everywhere, some quite new looking while others had greyed with creases and age.

Terry was first in line when the girl turned the light back on precisely one hour later Ė three minutes past the hour on the clock. He secured our reservation and we headed back to town now noticing all the plaid plastic bags and black Hugo Boss bags everywhere we went.

Back on the long pedestrian square we sat at an outdoor cafť (with cover), had a drink and did some people watching. Just in time too ... for it started to rain ... hard. People scurried for shelter in cafes, under eaves or trees. In a short time it was over and Lviv had a fresh spring feel. Activities on the pedestrian boulevard resumed and we joined the walkers, as men went back to their chess games (though some diehards didnít budge through the rain), checker games and circles of singers.

Lviv surprised us. The central core was more Western European than we had expected ... more of what we had experienced in Krakow, Poland and Prague, Czech Republic. We liked it.

For dinner we went to a milk bar. These are another Soviet leftover Ė cafeterias (this one called Puzata Khata) which serve up Ukraine "home-cooking" staples for a fraction of the money one would spend at a tourist restaurant signed "menus in English" ... and bonus ... we get to eat where the locals eat. For those concerned about not being able to read the menus ... we just point and get. The Puzata Khata was even made easier since the selection counters were divided into categories - salads, soups, meat, deserts. Vegetables? ... best to return to the salad department.

It started to rain lightly as we made our way back to the hotel through the park but any serious downfall held off until we were safely in our room. After sunset and the sky had darkened a tall tower on a high city hill lit up like a skinny Eiffel Tower. It was one of several towers we have seen in Ukraine that, until not so long ago, were used to scramble broadcasts from the likes of Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. Today these same towers are used for cell phones and other broadcasts.

       

May 29

It was a day off. We used up a good portion of the morning with hotel staff regarding internet use.  They told us they had WiFi internet connection in each room. It didnít work. They explained we would have to buy a card for limited time access. It didnít work. They told us that we were on the left side of the hotel and internet access only worked on the right side so we could go to the bar to use it. It didnít work. The fellow in the bar said we were in the wrong place in the bar and showed us to another area. It didnít work.

We went to the business centre because we were told it would work there. It didnít work. A fellow was brought in because we werenít doing it right. He couldnít make it work, and said "this has happened before" and assured us we would get our money back. He wanted to try something else. It didnít work. We said, "thatís okay, just give us our money back and we will be on our way. We want to see your city." "Just wait a minute," was the response. We waited five. He came back and said it was not their fault, it was a problem in our computer. We didnít buy into that bogus theory. We asked for our money back. They finally said sure and took us to the reception desk to explain. Reception said, "No problem, we will pay you tomorrow." We are going to be leaving very early in the morning and didnít want to have to explain this to new morning staff. "No problem?" Terry asked. "No problem," they responded. "Well if there is no problem we will take our money now." One of the reception staff had to go behind a smoke glass door finally emerging to process the credit.

The day was warm and partly sunny. We didnít bother with the day bag which usually holds water bottles, Ted and our rain coats. We again spent most of our time strolling the wide main pedestrian boulevard from one end where children were driving little electric cars ... through the chess and checker players ... down to the other end where a policeman had to reprimand two young boys for using a curved area of one of the statues as a roller-blade and scooter ramp.

For dinner we returned to the Puzata Khata milk bar. It started to rain. "No problem," we thought, "it will be over by the time we finished dinner." We watched a car being hoisted up on the back of a truck Ė their method of towing away illegally parked cars ...and we watched the rain ... which was falling harder. Dinner was finished and still it came down ... hard. We had no choice but to head out, dipping into doorways with others taking shelter. Once we reached the park there were no shelters left and we just had to accept getting wet. By the time we reached the hotel we were soaked. Sherrie rang her hair out before going inside and we laughed at ourselves.

The evening was spent trying to get things dry and packing for an early morning departure.

May 30

You just canít count on a travel day to be boring. We left Ukraine with nothing more than a passport check and a walk through the train cars with sniff dogs. We were in the second to last compartment in the end car so the two dogs and their handlers sat outside our door until the border officials had finished their business.

 

click here to continue May 30  and trip to Warsaw, Poland ... 


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