Ukraine Part 4: Lviv…much better (2008)

After all that happened in Kiev, I just wanted a few days to decompress and relax and Lviv was the place to be.  Every traveler I have met has loved Lviv – not so much for seeing so many sights, but for a wonderful smaller town with a great hostel and this is just what I found.

Arriving at 8am, I found my hostel after taking a little tram through town and I think I got in around 9:30am (as I stopped at the train station for an hour of Internet and glad I did as that friend I made really helped us later on).  Talk about a lazy day…I seriously didn`t leave the hostel until 7:30pm as I just relaxed and there were so many fun people that came in and out that I was able to talk to.  Plus I was able to fix some of the financial issues I needed to and make arrangements for new items to come meet with the following week when Steph met me in Poland.  So a wonderful day.

I met Michael and Suzie who are both peace corp volunteers and they invited me out for a drink.  Michael had signed up for a group called couch surfers where you can meet people while traveling and stay at their home for free.  I thought about it, but don`t think it`s something I want or need to do, but you can also meet locals for a drink if you want.  So the three of us girls headed out to meet a 38 year old – Scott.  I guess he thought it was a date, and he brought a friend as well since Suzie was the 2nd.  They didn`t know I was a third, so I guess I was a 5th wheel on that date and Michael and Suzie were thrilled as Scott was a total tool!  I tried every trick I knew to get us out of it and reasons for us to leave, but neither of them picked up until afterwards which was funny.  Oh well, it was nice to be out in the town and the friend that Scott brought was a local so it was nice to chat with him for a while.

The rest of my time in Lviv was just a fun time.  I met a bunch of fun people from the states that all met teaching English in Hungary for the past 6 months and for the next 3 days, we all ate, drank and saw the city.  Both nights I was there, we were up till 4 or 5 in the morning drinking and playing games and just having a fun time.

The big adventure was trying to buy a train ticket.  I didn`t know where I was going to go, and Cari and Nina were telling me that Budapest is so different in the summer (as I was there in November 2007 with Amanda).  I noticed there weren`t many direct trains to places that I could connect to Krakow, Poland a few days later, so Budapest was my next stop.  Plus Samantha was due in soon and so was Christine and friends so I figured I would be able to meet up with them for fun in Budapest.  Back to the train ticket.  It was difficult as no one spoke English.  One woman spoke a little and was trying to tell  us of a special window 2 stories up but Nina, Cari and I walked all over the train station, up stairs and in and out of any door we could find and nothing.  Finally I remembered there was a nice guy that was working at the Internet cafe and he spoke very good English, so I thought lets go see if he`s here and could help.  Lucky day as he was there and was so helpful asking where to go for our tickets, then helping us find it and he had no idea where the place was either.  Funny part…when we found this secret lounge to buy a ticket at, we had to buy a ticket to enter the lounge to then buy our train tickets.  Our Internet friend saved the day and the three of us had our tickets.  Yea!

So if you ask what I saw in Lviv – not too much.  There is a main square that we were at each day, we walked around both days and saw amazing architecture and cute streets, but no major sites.  Our nights started watching whatever futbol game was on as it was getting down to the quarterfinals and everyone in town was cheering for or against the Russians in each game.  Such strong feelings one way or the other.  A group of 8 of us went out drinks, Ukrainian snacks (salty fish – not too good but I tried it), and then had one of the best dinners.  Afterwards – more drinking on the streets with futbol on large screen TV`s.  It`s what the whole town was doing.

The big excitement in Lviv came in the last few hours.  It started off as a glorious sunny day and I was finally able to wear a tank top.  Nina, Cari, Jenny and I all decided to head to a market for some shopping and see more of the city – maybe hike to the top of town to see a castle and view.  As we were shopping, the sky turned dark very quickly and started to rain, then pour, then lighting, thunder, massive wind and it was almost what I imagine a hurricane to be.  Large pieces of metal were flying in the air, garbage cans were up in the air, all the shopping stalls we were in had things falling, and the lights were flickering and off.  It actually was very scary.  I didn`t like where we were standing as it was a large metal structure, but I also know not to be in wooded areas during lighting.  So like everyone else, we tried to get some shelter and ride the storm out . I think the entire storm lasted about 30-45 minutes and finally when it slowed a bit, we decided to make a run for it and get out of there as it didn`t seem too safe and we`d rather get wet and somewhere else.

What we didn`t realize until we got out was how much rain had fallen in that short time.  Take a look at the photos I took and you can see the flooding levels, fallen trees and many uprooted trees.  What was interesting is all the power was out in town, all the stores were closed so no food, no trams were running and Nina, Cari and I had a train to catch in a couple hours to Budapest.  We were hoping the trains were still running and grabbed a cab (as locals weren`t using them as they are expensive – but the 3 of us were happy to share it).

So end of the day, we got our train, it was delayed but we made it.  We were sitting waiting for the train and a nice man came to talk to us.  He worked for United Nations and said he heard us talking and wanted to know how our time was and couldn`t believe we got through the Ukraine without speaking the language.  He told us we couldn`t sit on the train platform as police would think we are bums and would harass us, but we are allowed to sit on our luggage as that shows we own it and aren`t bums.  Interesting….

One the 13 hour train ride, we were stopped at the border at 3am as they had to change the wheels on the train.  I guess when the train tracks were built years ago, Russia used one style and the rest of Europe used another.  So every time a train crosses, it takes a couple hours to jack up the train, change the wheels and move across the border.  Plus they kept checking out passports as I think we crossed 2-3 borders.  At one point, the customs people came into our rooms and they unscrew the ceilings to make sure there aren`t any stowaways or drugs.  Our United Nations friend warned us of this, but I guess the customs people didn`t think we looked scary and didn`t do it, but they were holding all the tools to open it up.  Crazy!

So I got to Budapest and already felt at home as I knew where I was and how to get around and people speak a lot of English here, plus Cari and Nina were able to help be get to the metro and off on my way (Thanks again!).

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