Lviv, Ukraine

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In and out of Lviv twice in two weeks, soon to be a third time, after a week in the high country of the Ukrainian Karpaty.  Lviv is a city that has waved many flags through the centuries, evident in the architecture.  The city looks some part Polish, some like Vienna, and only a little like other Ukrainian cities.  As a result, Ukrainians and Russians visit Lviv to experience a European city, especially those that cannot travel further west.  Western Europeans visit Lviv to see a version of Ukraine with narrow streets, museums, forested parks, and statues celebrating Ukrainian cultural heroes.  Most evident in Lviv, compared to other Ukrainian cities, is a softer presence of Russian in the language and fewer Soviet-era structures.  To some, Lviv is a very Ukrainian city.  Today, Lviv is a modern place, more engaged to itself than to foreign visitors.  On an early September day, the streets bustle with families in Sunday dress and schoolchildren preparing for their first day of school. Lviv, like the rest of Ukraine, will soon change.  It is a good time to visit Ukraine.

We first arrived in Lviv several weeks ago, riding from the Polish border.  A contact from Warmshowers.org helped arrange a place to store our bikes while we toured the country with my family.  We returned after ten days aboard trains, buses, hired cars, and our own feet.  Arriving by train at 6AM on a Sunday morning, we experience the city rising from sleep.  Without our bikes for one last day, we walk and discover.    

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Train stations and churches in Ukraine are beautiful.

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Lviv is full of activity– markets of various kinds, outdoor dining, pedestrian spaces, festivals, and a history of crafting beer, chocolate, and coffee.  This is not a typical Ukrainian city. 

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This church recently re-opened to the public after gathering dust for many years in the hands of the city library department.  It is shown in unrestored condition.

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Art nouveau architecture pinpoints a period of wealth in Lviv.  French words are also scattered through the Slavic languages.  France, and Parisian culture, were once dominant amongst the eastern aristocracy.

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Veiled by stucco, this advertisement signals a period of Polish rule.  The western border of Ukraine has been in flux for centuries, not officially grafted onto the modern Ukrainian nation until after WWII.

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Parks, statues, and a university commemorate Ivan Franko, one of the three most important cultural figures in Ukrainian history.  The names of Taras Shevchenko and Lesia Ukrainka are found all over the city.

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Festivals occur throughout the summer.  LvivKlezFest celebrates the region’s Jewish population and klezmer music,  a unique blend of ancient sounds fused with the essence of jazz that originated amongst Jewish populations in Eastern Europe during the first half of the 20th century.  It is lively stuff.

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More modern flavors are found throughout the city, including a proliferation of European-style sidewalk cafes.  This modern art exhibit and nightclub celebrates salo– unrendered pork fat.  Salo is frequently served with meals in Ukaine, especially with horilka (vodka).  It is so ubiquitous that most Ukrainians have a sense of humor about it.  Inside, you can view a rendition of a human heart made of pork fat, about 50 times the scale of a real heart.

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Markets are found throughout the city selling old books, cameras, coins and pins, as well as traditional Ukrainian crafts, including finely embroidered shirts.

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Sounding out words in Cyrillic uncovers some amusing titles, including Lawrence Hilton Jacobs and Peter Gabriel.

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And Steven King, the two on the bottom left.

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Negotiation is standard whenever prices are not displayed.  I have just enough facility with the language to strike a deal.

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Lael now regrets not getting this one.  We send a few home for later, including one for my mom.  Finding a company that will ship to the US is not easy.  

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Lviv is a great pedestrian city!

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Lviv is also a great place to buy maps for any region in Ukraine, especially hard to find detailed maps for the Karpaty Mountains or the Crimean peninsula.

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We encounter a familiar face in the city.  Przemek has spent the last two weeks familiarizing himself with the mountains, in some soggy conditions.  In lieu of crossing into Romania by himself, he jumped a series of trains to meet us in Lviv.  We are a traveling trio once again– three riders, four 29×2.4″ Maxxis Ardent tires, three Olympus cameras, lightweight bikepacking luggage from four different companies– these are some of the more curious stats of our group.  We speak four languages fluently, and can work with at least another five tongues, including some Ukrainian.

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Lviv is also a good place to buy disc brake pads, 29 inch tires, and some proper bicycle chain lube, to replace that stuff you bought in Poland that is meant for sewing machines, locks, and chain saws.  Action Bike is well stocked, and happily strored our bikes for us while we were away.  Car ownership in Ukraine is still relatively low, although it is expected to rise as the country grows wings.  Hopefully, bicycles will remain part of the fabric of Ukrainian life.  Bicycles outnumber cars in rural villages.

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Bicycles are most frequently called velocipedy, although the word rover is used nearer to Poland.  Bicyclette, or some variant, is also in limited use.  In English, a velocipede best describes a two-wheeled machine in use before the development of the chain-drive and pneumatic tires, c. 1875.

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Shipping a box to the US is challenging, but possible through a company called Meest Express.  The Carradice Camper Longflap doesn’t flinch with such a voluminous load.

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A train starts us out of the city, and toward the Karpaty Mountains.  We plan to ride from the foothills into some of the higher peaks in the range, nearing 2000m.

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If you don’t pay, a hefty fine is in order.  More troublesome would be the experience of dealing with the surly train attendants– these woman strike fear in my eyes.  Technically, you are not required to buy a baggage ticket to board a train with a bicycle, although many attendants do not know this.  Be prepared to argue, or just buy a ticket.  On local trains, the baggage fee is usually less than $1.

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A preview of riding in the Karpaty:

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