We arrived at a grand station in Lviv but our concern was to change our 200H notes into something we could use on public transport. Lots of taxi hassle. We found a battered tram and immediately felt transported back 50 years as we shuddered through a grey and drizzling Lviv. Posters in the tram could have been from the 30s. A party of 30 schoolkids squeezed on to add to the atmosphere.
The Hotel George was nice in an old fashioned way. Apparently everyone has stayed here: Balzac, Brahms, Sartre, Emperor Franz-Josef, Gagarin. It’s very wet so we hide in the decorative arts museum which had a really good collection of furniture and carving. We skirt around the main square where the annual coffee festival was getting soggy. The weather has put the dampeners on nightlife, but the place is full of tourists; mainly Ukrainian, Russian and Polish. It’s full of bars and eating places. We end up in a beer and steak place next to the Armenian cathedral. A 300g ribeye steak for just £12. Really good meat; well-seasoned and properly cooked.
The next, sunnier day we breakfast in a cafe on cottage cheese pancakes and cappucino. If not quite as pretty as Prague or Krakow, the central square is lined with coffee shops and cake shops, there are plenty of bars featuring Georgian and Ukrainian wine and some surprisingly good food. There’s a full set of churches, trams and cobbled streets, an ornate opera house, a collection of gloriously obscure museums, and enough students to keep it lively.
We take a trolley bus a mile out and walk to the Folk Architecture and Rural Life Museum. Not as big as the one we see later in Kiev, but it’s set in a vast wood. So you walk though dense trees beginning their autumn changes and come across a village of wooden houses, or a church. In the little cottages the places are set, the rooms decorated with weavings and dried flowers and the caretakers will come over to tell you all about it. It felt prime fairy tale territory; houses hidden in the trees, red squirrels hopping around, wood smoke and stockades to keep out the wild animals.
Back in town we join the coffee festival. Lviv bills itself as a festival city with weekends of street theatre, film, cheese, acoustic music and puppets. (Not all at the same time.)
We take in the main market, the central hall is packed with farmers selling plums, medlars and berries, piles of home-dried sliced apples, vegetable and herbal cures, and piles and piles of wild mushrooms. Pickings in the meat hall featured salo; preserved pigs’ fat, a local speciality. Makes lardo seem quite effete. You eat this in thick slices with gherkins and piles of raw garlic. There’s even a museum/bar in Lviv devoted to the stuff.
We even got to the circus. One of the touring Moscow circuses was in town with a fine selection of performing animals. The Lviv circus gained some fame a few years back when one of its lion trainers was mauled during a show. This time they played a bit safe with trained dogs, sheep and a guanaco.