Welcome back to the second article from our recent travels to Ukraine. After arriving and getting settled in our Airbnb in Lviv by early afternoon, we resisted the urge to take a nap since we’d been traveling nearly 24 hours. We were traveling with Daughter number 1 (hence forth known as The Eldest!) a very experienced world traveler. Since we were new to Ukraine and Lviv, she arranged for guide to take us on walking tour to acquaint ourselves to the central part of Lviv.
We met our tour guide across the street from the Green Door, referring to the entrance to the Airbnb where we were staying. Here’s a reminder from last week’s post.
Diana, the guide, told us to meet her at the Diana statue across the street from the Green Door. Diana, the statue, is the Roman goddess of the hunt, nature and the moon. Note the dogs at her feet. Behind the statue is a restaurant by the same name. We soon learned there is a statue on each of the four corners of Rynok Square.
Meet Diana, the guide. She has nearly 20 years of guiding experience, she speaks several languages in addition to her native Ukrainian and excellent English. This tour was booked through the website toursbylocals.com that matches tourists with vetted local guides.
We started our tour with a brief history of Lviv, Rynok Square and the four quarters we would be visiting on our three hour walk. Our first stop was at the window of the nearby strudel shop, where the baker was preparing another strudel for consumption. After watching for a few minutes and absorbing the smells of the baking strudels, we pledged to return for a sample. It was so good that we went there everyday during our stay! The strudel in this shop was sold by weight so customers could indicate the size of the serving. The Eldest and I sampled different flavors each visit while my traveling partner focused in on the cherry!
Down the street and around the corner, we came to this building, Boim (Boyim) Chapel, that was erected in the early 1600’s. It’s an excellent example of religious architecture and serves a mausoleum for the members of the Boim family, a wealthy area Catholic family. We bypassed paying the entry fee to be among dead people but apparently it has a quite beautiful interior. It was interesting to see that the operators are politically active by advocating for the release of political prisoners held by the Russians.
Nearby was this sign where kissing is permitted, funny I didn’t know it was restricted! This sign points to a nearby restaurant where apparently kissing is allowed and even encouraged! Still baffles me!
Across the street from the kissing sign is the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, once the main Roman Catholic church in Lviv. This church has a long history likely beginning in the 1300’s. The current building is in the Gothic style and was constructed in the 1700’s with renovations completed in the 1800’s and the most recent in the early 1900’s. It’s considered a important architectural monument to the long history of Lviv. Services continue here on a regular basis in Ukrainian, Polish, Latin, and English.
Pope John Paul II visited this church during his pilgrimage to Ukraine in 2001. A sculpture outside the church and an alter inside the church commemorate his visit.
Religion in Ukraine is complicated to say the least. People may profess allegiance to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church, the Armenian Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian Byzantine Rite Catholic Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Greek Catholic Church and maybe more. There is also a small smattering of Ukrainians that identify as Protestants and Jews. This complicated religious history has to do with the many countries that have ruled Ukraine over the centuries. Ukraine has been under the rule of Poland, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, Soviet Union, Russia and probably others! While under Soviet domination, religion was not prohibited but discouraged, if you wanted to be a member of the Communist Party, a requirement for good jobs, it was essential to disavow a religious belief. The church described above was one of three churches that were allowed to remain open during Soviet rule. Since independence in 1991, participation in religion has resurfaced with over 70% of the population stating they are believers.
Around the corner and down the block is what is called the Jesuit Church dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul. This church was used as a storage facility during Soviet times and fell into disrepair. Since independence it’s undergoing renovation and restoration. What was striking about this church was the display of materials and memorials to the victims of the current war with rebels (supported by the Russians) in the Donbass Region of southeast Ukraine. The photos of the young children are sons and daughters of those killed in this war.
Continuing on our walk, we came upon the Svobody (also Svoboda) Promenade, a long, narrow green space between two main roads traversing Lviv. Upon entering the park, I noticed and took a quick photo of this very tall sculptured relief of religious folk called the Wave. What I missed was the nearby statue of Taras Shevchenko, an Ukrainian artist, poet, and political figure, a gift of the Ukrainian diaspora in Argentina. He is said to be the founder of Ukrainian literature and modern Ukrainian language. He was thrown in prison by the Russians for writing in the Ukrainian language and promoting a independent Ukraine.
Here’s a couple of photos as we walked through the park. Note the likeness of the Statue of Liberty in the second photo.
I couldn’t resist stopping to photograph these guys playing chess on a park bench. Nearby there was a group of older men playing some kind of card game, likely involving wagers!
The most prominent building on the Promenade is the Lviv Opera House, a source of immense civic pride. This theatre was built in the classical style around the turn of the 20th century. It’s well used and the prices for the performances are kept reasonable so that everyone has the opportunity to attend.
This group of school age kids was having their photo taken in front of the Opera House before entering to watch a performance.
You can see from the bill board that there are a lot of operatic performances as well as ballets and plays. Singers and actors are notoriously low paid, even the more accomplished performers. They supplement their meager income by singing, dancing or performing in clubs and restaurants.
As we were weaving through the cobblestone streets, we came across a small market where a few vendors were selling their wares. Since it rained earlier, there were fewer than usual in this park. This fellow had some old photos laid out so I stopped to take a look at them. This led to quite the engagement since I didn’t want Soviet era photos he was offering. What he did have was a photo of Ukrainians in German military uniforms. Western Ukraine was occupied by Germany during WWII while Eastern Ukraine was occupied by Russia. The Ukrainians in the western part at the time considered the Germans as liberators after being under Soviet rule so many Ukrainians joined the German Army. That didn’t last long as the Nazis began to round up the Jewish citizens of Lviv and sent them to concentration camps where many of them perished. In addition, the Nazis began to execute college professors and those promoting a free and independent Ukraine. There are stories about how local Lvivans helped and hid thousands of Jews at the risk of their own lives. With that background, I purchased the photo and an Ukrainian military emblem. The merchant then threw in a pin and then proceeded to show us a video on his phone of him acting in a movie. He was a fun guy to be around and a big thanks to Diana for translating!
The next stop on our walk was in the Armenian Quarter and the last remaining Armenian Catholic Church in Lviv. Established in the 1300’s by Armenian merchants, the church and community thrived until the Soviets decided to annihilate the Armenian Church in Lviv. This church was closed and used for storage. After the fall of the Soviet Union, this church was granted back to the small remaining Armenian community and reestablished. It continues to be renovated with assistance from the Polish government.
We made it just time (6 PM) to the front of Lviv City Hall to hear the trumpet player give his daily rendition of “the day is done” from a third floor window. Here’s a video to give you a taste of what we heard.
After this musical interlude we continued our walk past this small park where a group of young people were hanging out. The stone monuments commemorate lives lost in the most recent war with Russia.
As we made our back towards Rynok Square and the end of our tour, we came across this sculpture in a park near the last church we were visiting. I can’t recall the name and purpose but I do remember that it’s good luck to rub his finger. That I did, for the most part I’ve been pretty lucky since then!
The last church we viewed had a service in progress so we quietly entered and watched as all the participants stood near a side alter, we figured it was time for vespers or the evening prayer. This was once the Dominican Church, now the Church of the Blessed Eucharist under the auspices of the Greek Catholic Church. Built in the mid 1700’s in the Baroque style, it served it’s members well until the Soviets took over. It then became ironically the Museum of Atheism!
As we neared the end of our tour, Diana pointed out the restaurant with an image of Mozart and then a few minutes later, the one with cats, not on the menu but to play with! I’ll pass!
We ended the tour at the Green Door that now had a green Soviet style truck parked on the sidewalk. I guess they were doing some renovating. I thought worth a photo.
It was great three hours with Diana, lots of history, lots of churches, and lots of recommendations of other things to see and do while in Lviv. She also clued us into the best coffee houses and restaurants in the area.
We ended the day with a slice of strudel and then off to bed for some well deserved sleep. Join me next week as we travel to the Ukrainian countryside to look for my traveling partners ancestors.
Until then, happy travels!