July 27, 2005

Lost In Lviv


It was a cloudy overcast morning in Lviv, and I took to the streets with a rubbish map that had no cyrillic writing on it. Needless to say I was soon absolutely totally and completely lost, and obviously very far from the centre of town as there were no grandiose buildings anywhere to be seen.

The town was pretty bustling, but had a strange kind of atmosphere different from other European cities. It's quite a pleasant place, but has a kind of old, forgotten feel about it. Most of the streets are cobbled, and the people have a strange kind of fashion about them. There are lots of old petrol-smelling cars about, and every street seems to have at least three money-changing places on it.

The obligatory dress for women seems to be extremely tight stripey trousers, preferably in a garish, bright colour, along with very very long pointy shoes. Older men seem to like nice shirts, and trousers with black shiny shoes, and the younger ones, dirty jeans and a t-shirt with trainers.

Having arrrived with no kind of guide-book, language book, map or anything resembling helpful information, I had an enjoyable day in the midst of absolute confusion, not knowing where I was going, what I was eating, what I was looking at, or even what street I was on most of the time.

I started the day well, by purchasing an alarm clock from a woman on a stall. It cost 35p, so I don't expect it to last too long. After this transaction I spotted a woman selling pastry type things. I held up one finger and pointed while she babbled away. I gave her some money and tucked into my lovely pastry. I was marginally horrified to discover cabbage inside it. What kind of person puts cabbage inside a pastry? The pastries later redeemed themselves when I later recklessly bought four of them, and only one was cabbage (one was chicken, one was cheesy, one was heaven knows what, but I'm not dead yet)

I spent most of the day snacking on anything that I could point to. There is pretty much zero English spoken here, so if I can't point to it, I don't get to eat it. They do a nice line in hot dogs - I can order these without pointing now, as I discovered Ukrainian for hot dog is 'hot dog'.

After a few transactions, I began to think that the people here hated foreigners, as everyone who served me was an epitamy of rude surliness - service with a scowl. Later on, I noticed that this level of surliness was applied equally to everyone, and it was almost an unwritten bond of rudeness between customer and server. I quite liked this in the end, as it required less use of language - no pleases and thank yous. I soon mastered the art of the hot dog transaction like a native -

Me: Hot Dog. Coca Cola.
Them: Piec (or something like that - meaning five hryvnia (Ukraine currency)
Me: (Give them the money) No words.
Them: (Give me the drink and hot dog) No words.

Despite eating a lot of hot dogs, I was still lost outside the town centre, and took drastic action by walking up a giant hill to a radio mast, so I could see the town, and work out where the centre was. Not only did this plan work seamlessly, but the view from the top of the hill was pretty good too. I came down into town and ordered myself a cappuccino.

You would think that cappuccino means cappuccino even in Ukrainian, but the waitress asked me an awkward question which I didn't understand. A few words later she gave up on the miriad of languages that I couldn't speak, and ventured 'milk?' 'Erm yes', I replied, wondering what kind of cappuccino didn't come with milk. I received a regular coffee with a spot of milk. Not bad though.

Having at last found the centre, I discovered quite a few nice grand historic buildings and churches, and had a very pleasant afternoon wandering amongst them. There were a fair few other tourists around, but they all seemed to be speaking Polish or Russian.

It feels kind of surreal here, like a strange world where Europe meets Russia. Since the visa rules were lifted, it seems like a lot of Poles are coming over for a cheap holiday across the border - much like Western Europeans go to Czech, Poland or Hungary. Apparently Lviv is more westernised than Eastern Ukraine which still retains more Russian influence. It would be an interesting place to visit.

Meanwhile, it's time for another special Ukranian hot dog...

Posted by paul at July 27, 2005 02:33 PM