Добрий день, Украïна! My first ever trip to Ukraine was a quick 3 days in Lviv, one of the largest cities in western Ukraine. It’s been strange and awesome and weird and wonderful all wrapped up in one. I really wanted to share my first impressions of this city and country, since it’s just so different to the other European travels I’m typically used to! Here are 10 things that stuck out to me about my trip to Lviv:
1. I am so glad I studied Russian and can read the Cyrillic alphabet. I would be hopelessly lost without it. I don’t know any Ukrainian (with the exception of “thank you”), but I have managed to get by alright. I can read street signs, I can sound out menus, and I can have very (very, very) basic conversations since the languages are so similar. I seriously recommend learning Cyrillic before traveling to a country with this alphabet!
2. Ukraine is one of the cheapest countries I’ve ever visited—Zambia in Africa being the only other contender. A giant pizza (50 cm) that was bigger than my face for two people was $4. My bed in a 4-bed dorm in arguably Lviv’s nicest hostel was a little over $6. Beer is coming in at the low price of $0.90. A tram ride is about $0.08 (8 cents!!!). Things are ridiculously affordable for people with dollars, euros, pounds, or just about any western currency. I bought two scarves for 1000 UAH, about $38, and that’s almost more than everything else I have spent here over 3 days, including the hostel and food. I am loving the cheap prices.
3. I’ve been having major flashbacks to my Russia trip. Not just because of the language (which is similar) and the alphabet, but everything: the way people look, the way people dress, people standing around in the main square trying to convince tourists to join their excursions, the little old ladies who follow you around every room of a museum to turn the lights on and off for you. It’s been fascinating to see how this part of the world is similar across country borders.
4. Lviv has some of the most amazing churches. The Latin Cathedral, the Church of the Transfiguration, and the Peter and Paul Church are my top three. You think the exteriors are beautiful, and then you go inside and your jaw drops. I’ve loved visiting so many churches.
5. Another of my favorite places in Lviv has been the Lychakiv Cemetery. I went during a snowy day, and seeing the entire graveyard covered in a blanket of snow was so beautiful. I walked all around different paths, sometimes as the first one all day (which I could tell by the snow). Some of the graves were obviously of a group, and I wish I had been able to find out more information about them. It was such a magical experience with the snow!
6. On our first morning, Adam and I were buying sandwiches and the guy in the store didn’t speak English. He asked us something in Ukranian (which we didn’t understand), and then he called someone on the phone (who presumably spoke English). What was so important that this man went to all the trouble of calling someone to translate?! He asked us if we wanted our sandwiches reheated. What a guy! I would literally never do that and go to all that trouble. It was so sweet. Bless.
7. One of the coolest things I did in Lviv was the Kryjivka bar! It’s a Ukrainian Insurgent Army themed underground bar, which you need a password to visit. You find a door down a random hallway off the main square, where a guard in uniform (gun included) asks for the password, Slava Ukrainii / Слава Украïнi (Glory to Ukraine). He gave us half a shot of Ukrainian honey liqueur, and sent us to an awesome theme bar. I’ll be writing more on this later! But it was seriously awesome. Don’t miss this in Lviv!
8. I watched three guys steal a bathtub off the side of a street. First, a man showed up, walked past the bathtub, then took out a pipe and a box from inside the bathtub and walked away. Five minutes later, a van showed up and two more guys jumped out, threw the seats out of the back of the van, and the three of them hurriedly moved the bathtub into the back of the van, furtively looking around as they went. Then they put the seats back in and sped off. WHAT?!
9. It doesn’t come as a surprise, but there is a lot of anti-Putin sentiment here. Many Ukrainians (and many countries in general) see Putin’s annexation of the Crimea in spring of 2014 as an invasion, and as such there is a whole lot of anti-Putin merchandise available from all the souvenir shops. There’s Putin toilet paper, “Terrorist No. 1” t-shirts with Putin’s face on it, and Putin “dickhead” beer if you’re feeling thirsty. It’s not a shock, but I’m impressed at how cheeky the Ukrainian anti-Putin merch is!
10. Lviv is actually a beautiful and charming city, despite (or maybe because of) its former Soviet history. I was surprised at just how much I liked it! The Old Town has a lot of the same vibes as Prague and Krakow, but definitely more gritty like Budapest, and with an Eastern-European-twinge to it all. It has a lot of the rough-looking, tatty buildings like Venice, and some parts and buildings even reminded me of Paris. It is unique and definitely has its own atmosphere. Lviv is one place worth visiting!
Have you ever been to Lviv or Ukraine? What were your experiences like?!