Lviv, Ukraine redux

Lviv is much different this time around. There is a familiarity that makes me feel comfortable. Perhaps I feel less anxious. I have no real agenda. I’m just here to enjoy myself.

I found a hotel outside the city center. My Airbnb host from April, Edward, was unavailable on such short notice. I was a bit disappointed because he and his wife were so great to me. And their infant daughter was too cute for words.

Instead, my hotel on the outskirts is sufficient. It actually boasts an indoor pool, a sauna and a Jacuzzi. There appears to be an indoor restaurant, too. However, I never see anyone use it.

Nobody at the restaurant speaks English. The receptionist at the main desk was able to croak out a few words, but that was it. After getting settled, I bought a Ukrainian SIM card and used the internet access from it to employ Google Translate for communication.

This hotel is down an unimproved road in Lviv. By unimproved I mean ruts six inches deep and two feet wide. The taxi driver from the airport had to drive gingerly to keep from rupturing a tire or screwing up his alignment.

We turned down a gravel road and came upon what looked like a fortress. The property was cordoned off by a ten-foot fence that didn’t allow anyone to see over it. The entrance fairly screamed “concentration camp”. However, once we drove through the gate, all was fine.

There were what I can best describe as “cabinettes” outside. Similar to a yurt, they were made of wood, open-aired and rented out to people for picnics. Many boasted fire pits, tables and chairs. Indeed, tonight as I sit here writing this blog, there are crowds outside drinking and noisily partying. They could give Americans a run for their money on their exuberance.

The outside of the hotel is quite nice. Painted a sunflower yellow, it features flower boxes in the windows on the bottom floor. Upon entering, the atmosphere was very spartan. Vending machines offered beer, Coke and Fanta. Everything was bland.

After checking in, an elderly woman showed me to my room on the third floor. With no elevators, we trudged up three flights. On the second flight I saw the restaurant, something I hope to try out—with the help of my handy Google Translate.

When we reached my floor, I was enchanted, in a severe, Soviet minimalist sort of way. The floors had what can best be described as a sort of indoor-outdoor-type of carpeting. The doors were wood as was the banister and the mouldings.

Initially, I was offered one room. However, I had barely opened my carry-on when the receptionist burst in and bade me follow her to a room at the end of the hall.

The newer room was the size of a master suite. It featured a bed, an art deco couch, a tiny television, two night tables, a coffee table and a desk and wardrobe, both made of particleboard.

The ceiling was slanted, reminding me of my apartment back in Italy, especially when I kept hitting myself in the head after standing up. Two skylights were covered to block out the sun. Fortunately, I was able to open them when it was warm.

The bathroom had a tiny shower with a shower curtain. No soap was provided although there were two large bath towels. There was no bidet. Lights in the room were also art deco in form and were affixed to the wall.

Despite my austere surroundings, I was a bit enchanted. While I admit that I’m a starving author and must watch my funds, I am quite content to “rough it”. This is why I also use Airbnb.

In my mind, I am getting a taste of life in Ukraine. A part of the former Soviet Union, Ukraine exhibits much of the grim existence that permeated society at the time. Void of color or mirth, life meant survival and something like hotels lacked any vestige of merriment.

I guess you could say that my hotel exhibits “Soviet severity chic”. Barely functional for a westerner, it was probably luxurious for its time. At least the bed is large and comfortable.

In choosing this hotel, I was unaware of how far it actually is to the central city, location of all the activity and points of interest. I walked the distance several times and found my shirt sticking to my back—even my tank top.

The sidewalks are, in many cases, cracked and broken. Most of the streets are paved with stones, which makes for an interesting walking experience. At day’s end one’s feet, calves and shins are hurting.

Eventually, I decided to take a taxi between the hotel and the city center. At 40 hryvnias (pronounced “GRIV nee ahs”), it comes out to roughly two dollars each way. I determined I can fit that into my budget.

I fully admit one of the things that I love, love, love about Ukraine is the price of things. Exquisite coffees average around fifty cents. I’m talking lattes, cappuccinos, espressos.

And Lviv is a city of coffees. As a former part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, coffee has been a staple of this are for over a hundred years. Cafes are virtually everywhere and one can order Hungarian coffee, Armenian coffee, Turkish coffee or Lviv coffee, among many others.

I am not ashamed to admit that I am going to push myself into an extreme coffee existence. If there is such a thing as caffeine coma, I’ll be there. Since this trip is more relaxed, I am going to revel in Lviv society, drink coffee by the barrel, eat pastries by the truckload, savor the architecture and see about attending some cultural events. Much to my chagrin, I found that the International Coffee Festival occurs after I leave for Tuscany. <sigh>

I have been able to connect with my former Airbnb host, Ed, a couple of times. I got to see his wife and his little girl. Ed and I went out to a favorite pub for a beer one night and got caught up.

Tonight I met up with him and his two current guests, two twenty-something males who live in Germany. We ate at Meat and Justice where a “beer tower” can be ordered to one’s table. Roughly three feet tall, this turret contains enough beer for eight large steins. Why don’t we see these in America?

I will be hooking up with my new relatives on Sunday. I hope to get back to Kuty to see my cousin, again, too. I have been in touch with a tour guide so I can visit Rozwaz, the hometown of my maternal grandmother. But, as I said, first I want to try and call the local church to see if there are any members of the Dlugosz family left in the dying little village.

Relaxing here in Lviv is also allowing me to do some job searching with a clear head. I’ve found a number of positions to pursue. I also finished an essay for he Portrait of an Adoption website. It will be published in November 2015. It was requested by the CEO of Portrait of an Adoption and I was surprised and flattered when she contacted me. It was an honor to write for her again.

Even though the writing thing didn’t take off while being here in Europe, I still got to contribute. Combined with the results of my search in Poland and Ukraine, I am quite content with the time I spent as an expatriate.


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