Sunday, August 07, 2011

Day 6: Lovely Lviv

I got to the train station 3 hours early yesterday, which was, admittedly, excessive, but I was nervous about something going wrong and disaster ensuing. Anyway, the hostel helped me get a taxi and it was pretty cheap, so I whiled away the time sitting around outside, went in about an hour early and I think the platform was announced about 40 minutes in advance, so that was good. Everything went very smoothly getting to the train, which I had been really worried about, so all good. I had a 'luxury' compartment, which usually sleeps two, all to myself, so that was great. It was fine, the beds are small and close together though and the hollow compartment under the bed wasn't big enough to fit my suitcase in, which is not a problem for now, but makes me nervous for when I'm going to be in the 2nd-class 4-bed compartments, which I know will be at least 3/4 full since I couldn't get a lower bunk. That also means I won't be able to sleep on my valuables, although I suppose in the top bunk if I have them about my person they'll be pretty hard to steal anyway. Not really looking forward to the heat and noise and all the rest of it though, maybe I should have gone 1st class all the way.

Anyway, I thought I slept okay, but then I was exhausted this morning, so maybe not. Got in at 6.30 am and took a taxi to the hotel, where I elected to leave my bags until 10 rather than paying extra for an early check-in. Turns out nothing is open in Lviv at 7 on a Sunday morning, so I just wandered around the old town, particularly the central Rynok Square until after 8 when I found somewhere for breakfast. After ending up there later in the day, I was pretty pleased that things worked out so that I had the place more or less to myself - it's pretty touristy come midday, but very quiet at that time in the morning, so I could take photos to my heart's content.

Lviv is simply gorgeous, it seems like almost every building is an elegant, refined Belle Epoque townhouse or ornate Baroque creation, and there are all sorts of little architectural quirks to discover, particularly the many lions that feature everywhere, Lviv being derived from the word for lion. It's very different from Kiev, very classical, reminiscent of Prague in places and Vienna in others, since it was part of Poland and then the Hapsburg empire and Poland again, I think right up until the Nazi-Soviet pact which handed it to Stalin. So onion domes are in short supply, and the city even has a different feel about it, with much fewer stalls with random people selling random things, beggars etc. and nicely laid-out, well-labelled streets. I haven't drifted too far from the centre as yet, but it is definitely much more of a walking city than Kiev - smaller, of course, but also much less confusing.

Just before heading back to the hotel to check in, I tried my card in the ATM of the Ukrainian affiliate of my French bank, and was perturbed to get the message that I had insufficient funds in my account. I thought maybe that, since the interface was automatically in French and units weren't given, I was accidentally asking for 1000 euros, not 1000 hryvnia, and (even though I have more than that in my account) I had hit some sort of limit. So I tried lesser amounts, down to 100, when the transaction went through and 100 hryvnia popped out, the equivalent of about 5 euro. I was getting worried, and tried my card in another machine, which also rejected it. By this stage, I was really starting to fret, and went straight back to the hotel to check my bank on the internet. The good news is that it doesn't look like it's been touched (and also all my cheques to the agency for my new apartment have gone through, so at least in the I-really-hope-not event that someone has cleared out my account, I don't have to worry about those bouncing on top of it). However, it's a Sunday, and balances can be slow in updating, so I'm still nervous that tomorrow it will show up as empty. I'm trying to convince myself that it usually does show that a transaction is pending, even if it takes a while for the details to come through, so it should be okay. I'm hoping that what has happened is they've blocked my card, although then that doesn't really square with my being able to take a small amount of money out... If they have blocked it, obviously I'll be relieved to have my money still, but pissed off since I went to the bank and personally told them I was coming here and not to block me. The girl was all "oh it'll be fine" and I suspect she didn't make a note of it. Well, my first port of call tomorrow will be the bank here, who I hope can help me, because otherwise it will be a nightmare trying to deal with this over the phone to France. At least the last time I was stranded without cash or cards in a foreign country, I could deal with people in English. On the bright side though, I lost my whole wallet that time (although no money off my cards or accounts), so I really was penniless and trying to get from Prague to Russia within the next week or so! Trying not to worry too much right now, although it is in the back of my mind that my account could be getting even more cleaned out as we speak. I only used my card at a couple of ATMs, which looked legit, there were even pictures of what the card slot should look like, and nothing unusual happened while I was using them, so I don't really know what it could be other than bank error (fingers crossed, and that it gets sorted quickly).

Anyway, back to the rest of my day, I had a shower, then I have a little bit of money left, so I went and had some cake at a Viennese-style coffee house, which was very nice although perhaps ill-advised with the money sitch. I just felt tired and like I didn't want to do anything though, so it helped a bit. Then I had a nap, which I felt a bit bad about, but then I was out and about for 3 hours first thing, when I might otherwise have been sleeping, so it evens out. After my nap, I went back out to explore the city, mostly just wandering around, looking in a few churches and touring the opera house (only 90 cents!). Still feeling pretty tired, let's hope the bank goes okay and stuff gets sorted tomorrow, then I don't have any special plans, so will just see what the day brings me.

Luxury on the trains

My hotel, Hotel George, which has this amazing history - it was established in 1793, and guests have included Balzac, Sartre, Strauss, Liszt, Emperor Franz Josef I and Yuri Gargarin. And me! It's costing about 35 euros a night, so not much but a relative splurge, but who could resist?

Hotel lobby

Rynok Square:

The Black Mansion in Rynok Square

The Boim Chapel:

Detail of the façade

The Church of the Transfiguration:

The Kornyakt Tower/Church of the Assumption, a Ukranian Autocephalous Church, say that 3 times quickly...

The opera house:

Opera house interior

One of the halls in the opera house

May have gone slightly overboard with photos of myself at the opera house

I like this one mainly because it's taken in a mirror but it doesn't look mirror-ish somehow

Some nice buildings:

Statue of everyone's favourite Ukranian (or Ukranians' favourite Ukranian, at any rate) Taras Shevchenko, described in my guidebook as "Ukraine's national hero and eternal poet laureate"

The town hall in Rynok Square at night

Rynok Square at night

Rynok Square again

The Kornyak tower at night

Dominican Church at night

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