Between Places

Night Train to Lviv

August 9th, 2016

We certainly didn’t expect a country so close to Arctic Circle yet so friendly. (Are Russians friendly too?)

Ukrainians were so friendly to us. First day in Kyiv with big backpacks in front of an apartment trying to figure out how the buzzer works, a stranger approached us to offer help. He even took out his cell phone and started to call the hostel inside.

Even if they didn’t speak English all the time, they gave us directions anyway. Ukrainian adored our girls and gave them sweets and all kinds of goodies all the time.

One day I looked online and found that one bedroom apartment in this city cost about $35,000. For $50,000 you get a remodeled apartment in a good area. I don’t remember who used to say, the most amazing and dangerous moment in travel is when you find yourself just lingering and don’t want to move on anymore.

Kyiv certainly gave us this feeling.

For exactly the same reason, we bought the train ticket for Lviv, a western Ukrainian city that’s rumored to have even more appeal, elegance and western European liberal people than Kyiv.

We took a taxi to the train station. The Airbnb host called this taxi for us. It cost $1.75. Once we saw the taxi, the reality set in. It had a big hole on the back and the suspension had long passed their service life. The driver was a big guy with 2 cell phones in hand, simultaneously driving, texting and talking to people.

After all this was a developing country, GDP per capita half of China’s.

The railway station was huge. We asked around and everyone told us that you have to listen to the broadcast in order to know which platform your train leaves. They didn’t seem to worry that some people don’t actually speak Ukrainian and/or don’t even read Cyrillic alphabets.

So I set out to walk the whole station in order to find our train number. Well that’s the only thing I can read anyway. When we finally found our train though, we met again enthusiastic Ukrainian family asking us where we were from and attempted to give us tips for Lviv. This particular mom went to Seoul to study English – a rather weird combination as the Korean we met in South Korea seldom spoke English themselves.

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When we woke up in the morning, Lviv opened herself to us. First the train station. It was old, grand and in style. Then the tram, the major public transportation in and around the city center.

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By the time we located the apartment we were going to stay, we’ve fallen in love with this city. The morning air was crisp and clean. Our host waited for us at the street corner. She led us into a building that’s at least one hundred years old and then renovated. All the floors and other buildings created a central courtyard, where people sit down on their balcony to talk or smoke.

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Compare to barren Mongolia, this was heaven. (Mongolian appeal was another kind, the rough, tough kind.) Flowers, music from street performers, cobble stone streets, horses and their carriages, coffee shops, restaurants, churches and opera house, all added to Lviv’s appeal.

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 We walked the streets and circled the city. We took the tram and played in the playground. We easily spent over 10 days in this small city and couldn’t have enough of it.

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One day we decided to hike the High Castle Hill to see Lviv from a little bit of distance and altitude, The hike was not difficult, taking us a little more than half an hour. The view was spectacular.

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Another day we took it to the Museum of Folk Architecture and Rural Life, which actually occupied the better part of a hill. You’d have to first hike up the hill and then pay for the admission ($0.80 per person) in order to just get in. Once inside, we get to see the traditional Ukrainian housing and their tools for daily life, most of them handcrafted from wood. There were also a playground, a church, and everything from making clothes to taking honey from beehives.

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