Sightseeing in a gorgeous, Eastern European town
07/20/2015 - 07/20/2015 79 °F
Rynok Plaza, Lviv's central square, in the morning
This might be my one and only day to see the sights of Lviv, Ukraine's most Westernized city. I lost day one due to the late flight. Day 3 was a Carpathian hiking tour, and Day 4 was unplanned, as yet. The thunder I heard rumbling as I dozed early that morning was accompanied by occasional flashes of lightning. Would I get rained on for the first time on this trip? As it turned out, no. The sky was overcast as I left my excellent hotel, Premier Dnister, and walked through the park towards the center of the city ("Bitterman, take me through the park...you know how I love the park!). It would steadily clear up all day, and end as another gorgeous sunny afternoon and evening.
a fancier example of Lviv's architectural decorations on their buildings
I was expecting Lviv to be a lot like Prague or Kraków, two popular tourist destinations in Eastern Europe. So, I wasn't surprised by the cool architectural flourishes they gave their buildings. First up was a door frame held up by twin Atlas statues. I decided to photograph the best ones and would end up taking pictures of fish, Egyptian guards, leering faces -- quite the imagination and variety. I made my way towards Rynok Square, which was quiet because it was so early. I made my way around all four sides, taking pictures. I particularly liked how each corner had a Roman God or Goddess presiding over it. The pastel colors of the three to four story buildings were muted in the overcast dawn. I would see them again later in the afternoon, though, when the sun struck fire to their colors.
The Goddess Diana guards one corner of Rynok Plaza
I decided to begin by climbing to the top of the tower attached to the city hall building. I paid the 10 Hrivna entry (50 cents) and broke a good sweat climbing the wooden staircase. Outside it was breezy, and there were only a few other tourists present. I pulled out my city map and began to line it up with the panorama below. I saw the big green expanse of Ivan Franko Park, with my 20 storey hotel looming behind it. More importantly, I picked out the sights I was planning on seeing. The rain looked to be holding off, so I mentally mapped out a route. I took a lot of pictures, of pictures course, before clomping down the 312 stairs to the 4th storey entrance.
The Gothic style Latin Cathedral seen from the tower, high above
I walked the short distance to the Latin Cathedral, next. The Gothic influences were especially noticeable inside. The pillars soared upwards towards the frescoed ceiling. I paced around quietly, as there was a service going on and quite a few worshippers were seated in the pews. I found the side chapel honoring Pope John Paul II, and tried to take pictures. The dusky interior made it difficult, though. Thankfully, pictures were allowed here, but with the rule of no flash. I took out my mini-tripod and tried with that. The elderly attendant was freaked out by the blinking auto focus light, but I assured her there was no flash. It wasn't equal to Kiev's incredible St. Sophia, which I saw on my last day in Kiev, but haven't blogged about yet. That church's 1,000 year old mosaics and frescoes were stunning, and gave me the impression of having stepped back in time to a medieval, Byzantine cathedral. Lviv's Latin Cathedral had a nice, smoky glow, but it was no St. Sophia.
The Dominican Church and its large dome
The day's only disappointment was that the Armenian Cathedral was closed for renovation. I peeked my head through the bars and recognized some Caucasus decorations, but wishing I could have gone inside. The Dominican Church was next,and it's massive dome dominated the small square it is located in. The words, "Soli Deo Honor et Gloria" are inscribed high and clear on the stone facade. This proclaims the Dominican order's focus on God's glory and honor. A rope was strung across the inside of the church, restricting visitors to the entrance. It was disappointing to not be able to wander around its vast interior, but it was fairly well lit -- and pictures were permitted!
A row if armor worn by Polish knights known as winged hussars
I indulged my interest in military history with a visit to the Arsenal Museum ("Susan, you're such an Arsenal!"). The displays made it loud and clear that this museum's focus is on weapons from the past. Dozens of dimly-lit glass cases displayed weapons from Middle Ages through the late 1800s. Although it began with Medieval Europe -- and a handful of two-handed swords from the later period -- it gradually got more and more exotic. Japanese samurai armor, an Indonesian Kris, yataghans, tulwars, Islamic Persian turbaned helmets, and Zulu stabbing spears all competed for space. My favorite was downstairs and the row of about a dozen full sets of armor from Polish winged hussars. The feather on the wooden wings protruding from the backplates of the armor were looking a little worn, but the armor gleamed as if freshly polished. I'd paid the $1 add-on to the 50-cent entrance fee to be allowed to take pictures. The dark museum and glass cases precluded flash, so I did my best. I was surprised how crowded it was. Maybe sightseeing in Lviv get people in a historical mood!
The view from Castle Hill
Next, I began the 20-30 minute climb to Castle Hill. This highly popular scenic vantage point allows a 360 degree view of Lviv and surrounding areas. I joined the throng spiraling upwards on the metal walkway and cobblestone path that circles ever higher. The wind was whipping as expected, and selfies were being snapped a mile a minute up here. Sometimes places like the suffer from being too high up. I feel this was the case here. You could pick out a few sites, but the houses and other buildings seemed to blend together too much to really make the view stand out.
Sheltered amidst groves of trees, Lychakivske Cemetery is a wonderful place to pass the time
The highlight of the day was next. My guidebook had urged that no visit to Lviv was complete without visiting Lychakivske Cemetery. I'd noticed that one of the tram lines stopped right outside its gates. My map had all the tram stops listed, so I navigated to the closest stop for the #7 line, making sure I was on the right side of the street so I'd head in the right direction. Trams are those Soviet era electric train cars that run on rails throughout town. I asked for some help in buying tickets, and was soon headed on my way.
Many of the graves feature moving statues, like this angel mourning
Without a doubt, this was the coolest, most fascinating and moving cemetery I have ever visited. They say it is Europe's oldest, and the range of styles in tombstones, mausoleums, and the graves definitely seems to range through the centuries. There were Roman-looking ones with the family depicted in togas. There were statues depicting angels, Mary, mythological figures, and the people themselves. Tears welled up in my eyes numerous times when I saw statues carved of family members throwing themselves upon the tombstone in grief, their heartache coming to life in stone. In America, grief is often such a formal, stylized affair. Our tombstones list names, dates, and the fact they will be missed. Here in Lychakivske, wives, sons, and other friends or family members pour out their heart before passers by for eternity. I openly sobbed when I got to a special section of the cemetery for soldiers who have given their lives fighting Russian, neo-Soviet aggression. The graves are merely mounds of Earth. They are festooned with flowers and floral wreaths that almost completely hide the ground, though. Framed pictures look back at you from each grave. Some are innocently and naively smiling. Others look grim or worried. Still others show steely determination -- not at all cowed by the fate they knew awaited them. I left Lychakivske sad, but in a way, uplifted. This is one of the ways we are who we are. We're humans. We mourn when we lose somebody dear to us. And the way Ukrainians mourned in this cemetery struck a note inside me.
These flower-heaped graves honor those who have died recently fighting Russian aggression
I used my newfound familiarity with the trams to ride #7 to the closest stop near my hotel. My feet had taken a pounding every day in Ukraine, so far. I needed a rest, and I needed to plan the rest of my afternoon. First item of business was to change rooms. My air conditioner -- essentially a dehumidifier with pretensions -- could not keep up. The Premier Hotel Dnister moved me to a new room with more modern AC. I love this hotel -- 4-star for less than $30 a night. Good location, awesome views overlooking the town. Heck, I'd come here just to hang out and relax! Reception even tried to telephone the next item on my list: Lvivske Brewery Museum and Brewery Tours. I'd read somewhere they were closed while remodeling, and sadly, this proved true. So, I spent about an hour trying to nail down an excursion for my final day in Lviv. I was unsuccessful, so decided I'd head down to the main square. I'd seen some excursion agencies there in my morning explorations. I was unsuccessful in booking anything, but I did find a place called the Beer Theater. Finally, theater up I can get into...! Seriously, it is a microbrewery and restaurant right on the main square. I chatted with the bartender/salesman, and picked out a rich and tasty dark beer to sample a pint. I will have to make it back for dinner here before I leave!
Lviv's slight fading, but beautiful architecture
My dinner for this evening was a little bit of failure paired with some spontaneity. I intended to check out an expat-owned (and hangout) Tex-Mex place. I managed to get completely turned around navigating my way there. I whipped out the cellphone with Apple Maps and was stilled uncharacteristicly wrong-footed. Honestly, I have a good sense of direction. I love maps, and am skilled at using them. Downtown Lviv threw a few Kryptonite weapons at me, though. Diagonal streets are my nemesis. Streets that change their name every couple blocks are also a challenge. My newest weakness in navigation is oddly shaped squares. Lviv has all three in spades and stripped me of my navigational superpowers. Every instinct was wrong, left was right in my guesses, and I was reduced to a novice traveller, a sidekick at best. Oh, and the restaurant I was looking for..? Closed for Monday when I finally got there!!!
More architectural decorations in Lviv
So, how did I end my day in Lviv? On my way back to my hotel, grumbling and stewing with that comic book dark cloud hovering over me, I saw a little Mom & Pop Doner Kebab place. I love Middle Eastern food, I was fed up with walking around town, and most of all, hungry. I've already tried Ukrainian food a few times, so I took the expedient option and ended my day in a delicious way. I would need every bit of fuel for tomorrow's hike in the Carpathian Mountains...