Let me preface: I have not and do not plan to ever slap babies. For any purpose.
However, the man behind me on my flight to Lviv, Ukraine, needs to quell his baby slapping ways. Essentially, a Ukrainian woman behind me lost control of her rambunctious son who decided to start messing around and making noise. The man behind her, “educating himself” in some textbook, lost his patience and “slammed down the window shade”, inadvertently slapping the baby. What ensued was a brawl of words, a slew of “You go fuck you, bitch” and other lexical maladies which eventually roped in the tired and overworked low-cost airline staff who defused the incident as best they could while the rest of the plane counted down the minutes to landing. How’s that for a Ukrainian welcome?
My mind and body are completely fluid and I am a being of ethereal light, or so is my saying whenever I dream up these long-winded nonsensical adventures throughout the globe. I’m currently in between paths and will experience an end to my Danish visa at the end of 2019, so rather than spend a month in cold wet Denmark I decided to go around to squeeze all of the juice left in the voluminous grapefruit that is Europe. So why not take a cheap flight to Ukraine for the day? My thoughts exactly.
Here’s how to spend a perfect day in Lviv.
First: Find a Couchsurfing host. This is the first step to any good stay anywhere. My host was a young man starting out in a consultancy firm while running his own NGO on the side. Rather than move out to Germany or elsewhere, which he could easily do with his credentials, he runs an NGO that supports business growth and internship opportunities in Lviv. Rather than move out and make a life for himself elsewhere, he wants to make his city and country a better place for everybody. Well done.
I arrived pretty late into Lviv and didn’t have enough time to walk around, but my host took me back to his Soviet-era flat that hasn’t been renovated since Gorbachev held office. He reveled in my lack of knowledge of the Ukrainian-Russian conflict and took full responsibility of learning me a few lessons on the war going on between the two countries. What really surprised me was how he would talk about Europe. It wasn’t so different from how a small-town Minnesotan would describe Paris as a site of exotic allure. For him, Europe is just as difficult, if not more difficult, than it is for someone like me from a whole other continent. Even though Lviv is pretty much closer to Warsaw than Kyiv, Europe is just as off-limits.
Lviv has been pushed back and forth between this border between Eastern pariah and Western extravagance for quite a while. Lviv has seen rulers from Mongols to Poles to Habsburgs to the Soviets. This resulting confusion of identity has lead to a markable feeling of Europeanness over Eastern-ness. The city feels a lot more like Krakow or Poznan in neighboring Poland than a city one would attribute to Moscow or Minsk.
My host told me that even today, tourists that cannot get a visa into Europe come to Lviv to ‘Visit Europe’. I can see why with cookie coated and sugar-glazed grandiose buildings akin to those Baroque delights of Vienna and Krakow.
Before venturing out into a deep dive of the narrow streets of Lviv, I suggest stopping in Virmenka coffeehouse for a brew from “the first coffeehouse in Europe”. As the story goes, a cossack was hired by the Ottomans to do some dirty deeds. When he was done, the Ottomans paid him in bags of black caffeinated beans rather than gold. These days, that’d be like writing code for a startup and being compensated in cocaine. He came back to his native Lviv and started up a shop, where they still make thick syrupy coffee in hot sand as the Ottomans have for centuries. I’m not even exaggerating when I say it’s one of the best goddamn coffees I’ve ever had in my life. Mustached hipsters from Brooklyn to Melbourne take note: these guys make your belabored and contrived pour-overs look like lukewarm diarrhea in a paper cup.
If one gets hungry in the city, I recommend Chas Poisty for an authentic Polish Milk Bar style buffet for cheap and hearty eats. After a sufficient caffeine and borscht fix, a wander around the city is the most excellent way to spend a day. There is a wealth of beautiful churches to explore, but I would recommend heading up to the top of castle hill for a birds-eye view. I was just lucky enough to have arrived when a portrait artist was blasting “Final Countdown” so I could have my 80’s montage moment on top of a Ukrainian hill.
Now let’s get to the fun stuff: Drinks. Let’s be honest, what else is there to do in December other than get your drink on? Especially out in the East.
Stop 1: the Drunk Cherry for a glass of fortified hot drunkenness in a cup to warm and mummify you. This pretty much did me in.
Stop 2: Beer Theater for a frothy mug of “Obama”, their take on an American Porter.
Stop 3: Try to find a Soviet bar where the bouncer asks for the secret password to which you shout “Slava Ukraini” (Long Live Ukraine) and enter with a warming shot. Knock on some random door, only to have an old mustached man in a bathrobe come to answer the door interrupted from dropping potato skins into a cage containing a drugged white rabbit. He lets you in any way, and you enter into a restaurant that has made you lose your entire sense of reality.
Stop 4: Realize that the bar with the “Slava Ukraini” password is downstairs, knock on the door and shout patriotic slang to a man with a gun who gives you a shot and enter into the decrepit touristy underbelly of an idealistic yet cozy bar. Order delicious beers, borscht, and Salo (half a pigs worth of fat served on fresh bread with onions).
Final stop: Meet up with your couchsurfer, who offers you a glass of tea while you play with his two-month-old kitten before drifting off into a beautiful slumber.
Lviv has been a great starting point on my long haul month of December adventures. The next month will involve a lot of stops that will make you, my dear lovely readers, most likely say “Huh? Why?” and to that, I say:
For the Ramble!