The Train from Ukraine

The poor blog is so far behind, I have lost the will to get it caught up. I visited 10 different countries between the months of August and November, and saw so many wonderful places that I don’t want to forget any of them. So one day, I hope to get my mojo back. Meanwhile, there is one that keeps nagging at me…the tenth country on my itinerary…Ukraine.

I am sickened by what is happening in Ukraine right now. Imagine the horror these poor people are undergoing, having to flee their homes in fear. Worse yet, having to leave their husbands, boyfriends, and sons behind to fight a senseless war to defend themselves and their homeland against a power-hungry thug gone mad. It’s no doubt terrifying. I think back to my own childhood, and I can still remember the practice drills of crawling under our desks during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Imagine what trauma those memories would hold if there had been bombs and bullets involved…bombs so destructive they are banned by 110 countries.

But there’s little we as onlookers can do to help. There are the usual worthy recipients of donations such as the Red Cross and the High Commission for Refugees. If you want to help, but are not sure where to contribute, CNN has compiled a list here. But also smaller causes such as Kviv Independent and José Andrés World Central Kitchen which I have personally supported.  Otherwise, posting on Facebook or changing my profile picture feels like “slactivism,” (taking a stand on social media, but doing nothing to support the cause in real life.) Still, the desire to share my brief encounter with Ukrainian people on my own tiny corner of the internet brings me back to the blog…

I visited Lviv, Ukraine on All Saints Day weekend, the last weekend of October this past fall via train from Krakow, Poland. I had been traveling throughout the European Union since August, and was running out of days on the 90 day visa necessary to visit within the Schengen Zone (the majority of the European Union countries.) I needed to leave the EU to stop the clock, as I was not yet ready to leave the continent.

I was having dinner with a former colleague and his partner in Estonia, when the topic came up of “What’s your favorite European city?” My response was “Paris!” but then I was accused of being a cliché. 😉 One of our friends began to talk about Lviv, Ukraine, just 43 miles from the Polish border. He said it was a UNESCO World Heritage site, and what “Old World Europe” used to be.

Since I was headed for Poland anyway, I decided I would take a side trip to Lviv with the intent on doing a bit of reconnaissance to see if it was a place I would like to stay put for a few days. After all, every day outside the Schengen Zone was one day longer I could stay in Europe.’

It’s not far from Krakow to Lviv, however getting there is a bit of a challenge. The two rail lines are different gauge, and if you take the train all the way through, one must wait while the trains under-carriages are switched out, which can take eight hours. By changing trains in Przemyśl, Poland near the border (where refugees are currently seeking safe shelter and Chef José Andrés is helping feed the masses) it only takes about four hours.

I only stayed three days in Lviv.  By this time, the COVID Delta variant was surging, and I was starting to feel like I was pressing my luck. I had become accustomed to vaccination certificates being required to enter restaurants and events, but this check was not in place in Lviv, nor was mask compliance mandated. Though I found the city to be beautiful, I was becoming weary of worrying about the virus, even taking to holding my breath as I met passersby on the street. As the scale tipped from pleasure to paranoia, I decided to return to Poland where the mandates were more heavily enforced.

I feel compelled to share some photos of Lviv, now one of the main escape routes for refugees fleeing from Ukraine. While I typically strive to capture pictures without people passing through, I now look at these photos again after the Russian invasion, and it’s the people I see. Innocent people, going about their normal lives, celebrating a three day weekend marking All Saints Day, drinking, laughing, and enjoying the company of friends.

The beautiful Lviv train station where CNN’s Erin Burnett stood broadcasting was the exact spot where I waited for my brief, air conditioned train ride back to Poland. News footage now shows 10 children wedged into a single berth where I, being the privileged American that I am, booked a First Class seat, just for “a little extra room” just four short months ago.

It’s difficult to imagine what these people are going through now.  Even more difficult to imagine what their future holds at the hands of one man gone so mad as to put the whole of humanity on alert…

Lviv railway is one of the oldest in Ukraine. The first train arrived in Lviv on 4 November 1861. The station was built in 1904, and was considered one of the best in Europe from both the architectural and the technical aspects.

My room in the lovely Saint Feder Boutique Hotel.

My room rate included breakfast, served in this elegant dining room at the top of the hotel with this wonderful view.

One of the small bars serving Pyana Vishnya (aka Drunk Cherry) Lviv’s traditional cherry liquor, Good for the throat. 😉

Lviv has many small, unique cafes lining the pedestrian streets.

A mural in the old Jewish Quarter. I wish I knew the story behind it.

Lots of pedestrian only lanes that wind through the historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Mural on the old brick wall is map of the Kingdom of Galicia, part of the Habsburg Empire that Lviv (along with Krakow and Przemysl, Poland) were a part. Names are written in Cyrillic alphabet.

There are many passageways in Old Town Lviv, all decorated with old world style murals and modern-day graffiti.

Most of the writing in Lviv is in the Cyrillic alphabet, but some of the buildings such as the top of the Museum of Ethnography and Crafts, you will see written in Polish, “Galicyjska Kasa Oszczędnościowa” (“Galician Savings Bank.”)

Lviv is known as a centre of art, literature, music and theatre with more than 100 festivals annually, 60 museums, and 10 theatres.

All these people are lined up, waiting for the Opera House doors to open. I stopped to ask one man what opera was playing. He said he did not care, he just wanted to go to the opera!

It doesn’t take long to be charmed by the old town.

I regret not having gone for a ride in this taxi. 😉

St. George’s Cathedral, a baroque-rococo cathedral constructed between 1744-1760 on a hill overlooking the city.

The interior of St George’s church is magnificent.

One of the main reasons to visit Lviv is the beautiful architecture. This example is the Church of Transfiguration, built between 1703 and 1731.

This church has a beautiful Baroque interior.

Traditional folk costumes sold in the square.

Lviv also has its share of some pretty unique street performers.

Market (Rynok) Square

The market square is a busy hub of the old town.

In the 13th and early 14th centuries, Lviv was a wooden city, except for its several stone churches.

The tram system is extensive throughout the city.

The Cyrillic alphabet makes it challenging to tell if it’s a cafe, bar, or coffee shop.

Lots of alleyways to explore.

The Armenian church was built during the 16th-17th century. The interior is beautifully painted with wall murals.

Hotel George, the oldest hotel in Lviv, opened in 1901. Lots of important people have stayed here. I wonder if this is where Anderson Cooper is staying.

An outdoor cafe in the Old Jewish Quarter.

So many beautiful churches, I lost track…

All have equally stunning interiors as exteriors.

While my thoughts turn to the people of Ukraine at this impossible time, I also pray for the preservation of the beauty of the historical old city of Lviv.

“No one in the world will forgive you for the murder of peaceful Ukrainian people. This is Ukraine. This is Europe. This is the year 2022” ~ President Volodymyr Zelensky