Welcome to a new series of posts on our recent trip to Ukraine with a few day stopover in London on our way back to the US. Please bear with me, these posts will take most of the summer, I have a lot to show and share! Hope you enjoy and please provide some feedback on the good, bad and the downright ugly.
We left on a Monday and it was my birthday, I’ve had quite a few and a lot of practice celebrating them so this was just another day in the life of a vagabond! And as a bonus, my birthday only lasted about 18 hours since by about 6 pm or so we were crossing the Atlantic into the next day! My traveling partner treated me to a birthday lunch in Terminal 1 at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. Since it was mid afternoon already, beer was allowed! Little did I know that this was going to be my last salad for the next 12 days or so with the tap water in Ukraine being of some concern to travelers.
Let me back up a bit, we made the 2.5 hour trip from Madison to O’Hare by way of Van Galder/Coach USA bus. It’s a nice way to get there without the hassles of driving and parking and much less expensive than a plane ticket. If only the drivers weren’t so cranky!
After we were dropped off at Terminal 1, our first challenge was to find the Lufthansa check in desk(s), they only have two way back in the corner and no self service kiosks! Plus two full flights for Germany leaving within 15 minutes of each other. Fortunately, we had printed our boarding passes at home and were directed to the shortest line, albeit just as slow moving. All the German efficiency and precision I’ve heard so much about was not evident in this experience! The staff did exhibit their German directness, complaining that United has cancelled some European flights and shoved some passengers off on Lufthansa hence the long lines for boarding passes.
After finally making our way to the check in desk, depositing our checked luggage, we quickly cleared security thanks to TSA Pre-check, it was time for the aforementioned birthday lunch and the wait for our departure. After boarding and the usual safety briefing, the flight to Munich was mostly uneventful.
I watched a movie (Green Book), had a passable airline dinner and another birthday beer even though it was in a completely different time zone! My only annoyance was the guy in front of me torqued his seat back as far as it would go, could almost whisper in his ear! My seat didn’t recline so I was stuck in an upright posture for most of the eight hour flight.
We arrived in Munich on time at 7:20 AM the next morning. While it was early in the day, the thing we noticed in all the European airports was how quiet they are, something we should emulate here in the US. Since we had a connecting flight to Lviv, Ukraine (also known in Polish as Lemberg) we didn’t have to clear immigration in Munich so made our way to the next gate to meet up with daughter number 1. Her flight from Dulles was a little late but she made it with enough time to use the restroom before boarding. We would spend the next couple of weeks traveling with her and her husband who would join us in Kyiv.
Our 1.5 hour flight from Munich to Lviv was uneventful and we were excited to finally arrive in the country of my traveling partners ancestors. There was some drizzle coming down and the temps were in the upper 50’s. There’s a joke told by the locals that Lviv was founded in 1216 and it’s rained everyday since!
We quickly cleared immigration and customs, probably the easiest to any country we’ve ever entered. After collecting our bags, we met the driver our daughter prearranged for the ride to the center of Lviv to our Airbnb. Many of the streets are closed in the central city so we had to make our way to #12 Rynok Square where we met our host at the green iron gates. These doors opened to an alley that served as the entrance to a number of apartment buildings. Also in this alley was a dentist office, hence the tooth below the number 12. This would be our resting place for the next three nights.
Our apartment was near all the action in the city center that was designated a World Heritage Site in 1998. Across the street was the Lviv City Hall and there were lots of restaurants and shops nearby. Lviv is located in Western Ukraine roughly 50 miles (75 kilometers) east of the border with Poland. The city has a population of about 800,000 people (7th largest in Ukraine) and is considered one of the leading cultural centers in the country. Tourism is a main industry as are banking and financial services, manufacturing, food processing and distribution, and information technology. It is also home to Lviv University, one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in Central Europe. There are also other universities and technical schools, attracting a lot of young people to the city for education.
I took this panorama of the street in front of our apartment with my iPhone, hence the distortion. I can attest that the trolly tracks are straight as an arrow! And the street cars rumble by every few minutes. They are usually packed with people. Public transportation is inexpensive, the equivalent of about $0.10 to ride one way.
Next to the green door is a place that sells cherry liqueur, commonly known as drunken cherry, the drink of choice for those living in and visiting Lviv. There seemed to always be a crowd regardless of the time of day. We were told by someone that many Ukrainians need to drink to get through the day. Their economy is weak, unemployment high, and wages are low but for a little more than the equivalent of $1.25, one can have a glass of drunken cherry (17.5% alcohol) like the young woman is holding in the second photo to brighten the day!
Nearby the cherry liqueur bar were a couple of very old women selling bouquets of flowers, they were there every day rain or shine, early until late. Apparently, Ukraine has some sort of social security equivalent but it’s not enough to live on. So you see lots of people in the informal economy selling flowers, produce, meat, milk, and etc. on the streets and sidewalks to earn enough for food and lodging. They do have a state run health care system that reportedly works ok. Anyway, whenever we walked by these women which was several times, I was on the lookout for some good photos. I especially like the juxtaposition in the third photo.
Her neighbor was equally as fascinating but more elusive. You have to remember these women have lived most of their lives under the thumb of the Poles, Nazis, and the Soviet Union. So if she saw me coming by, she would hold the flowers in front of her face. After the first time she did that, I refrained from photographing her again. The one thing I regret is not buying any flowers from either of these women.
On the other side of the green door was this shop that sold stuff to tourists. I never did figure out the battery thing at the door.
Well that enough for the starter post in this series. Join me again next week when we take a walking tour of Lviv with Diana.
Until next week, happy travels!