Monday, August 08, 2011

Day 7: Wasting time in Lviv

So I spent all morning trying to deal with the bank issue. First port of call, the local bank that's associated with my bank - no-one there spoke English, and the first woman I talked to made me go to a different window to speak Russian. Uh yeah, because my high-faluting "I have problem. ATM say no money, but is money." Russian is bound to be incomprehensible to anyone who's not 100% fluent in Russian... The second lady spoke far too quickly (they're up there with the French in not understanding that saying difficult things very fast to someone who clearly speaks the language at a very basic level is not the way forward) but I gathered that she was somehow magically able to give me money at a 3% commission, but couldn't help me with anything to do with my card.

So, back to the hotel where I asked them how best to phone France. The receptionist assured me that using the phone in my room would be no dearer than anywhere else, which I doubted, but I thought at least I would have a quiet spot to make the call from, which is important when dealing with French On The Phone, so I went up to my room to try. Rotary phone. Tried about 5 different numbers for the bank, most of which trapped me in a "press 1 for information about your account, press 2..." hell, and didn't even have the grace to put you through to a real person if you pressed nothing, just went through the menu 3 times then hung up on you. French customer service people love hanging up on you so much that they even build the feature in to their automated systems. The other two numbers, where I miraculously got straight through to real people, just wouldn't help me, telling me that I was on the wrong line. I tried to explain to one woman who wanted to give me the international number that I'd already rung it and couldn't get anywhere, but this was one of these situations where I honestly think the fault wasn't that I wasn't communicating well, it was that they just damn well weren't trying. Okay, I didn't know the word for 'rotary phone' but she could have figured it out when I said "I'm on an old telephone without keys, when it asks me to press 1 I can't press 1" but she was all like "you can't call us? But you're talking to me right now". Biatch. So I went to the trouble of purchasing Skype credit - first woman said I needed a different number and hung up before I could reply, second time round I waited for 10 minutes, used most of my credit, and then got hung up on instantly because I don't think she could hear me.

By this stage, I was pretty fricking sick of these issues. I tried emailing my consultant, at first there was a system problem and it wouldn't send, eventually it did get through but I decided knowing the French and their emails I probably couldn't rely on them dealing with it in a timely fashion, which was a good call since the system shows it hasn't even been read yet, let alone replied to. So went down to reception and told them my problem with the phone, they dialed for me from their phone, but she must have been doing something wrong, because it went through to some Ukrainian dude three times. Finally, she suggested I try calling from an internet cafe, possibly to get rid of me since I was pretty teary by this stage. Once I found the place, I told the guy I only had 100 hrivna, about 8 euros, and he said no problem. I waited on the line for another 10 minutes, and then just after I got through to someone, the call cut off. I thought at this stage that I'd spent all the money I had, and burst into tears in the phone booth (which smelt so bad by the way, how sweaty can you get making phone calls?). I went to pay and was astounded when the guy told me I owed only 7 hrivna. Turns out the system just reset for some reason and cut me off. So back I went into the booth, waited another 10 minutes, and then amazingly got through to someone who was efficient, easy to understand, and dealt with the problem right away. Turns out my card is blocked for withdrawing 500 euros in a week, which is the limit. This seriously never even crossed my mind, you would think in this day and age they could send an automated email to tell you that, but that would be asking too much, right? Honestly though, I'm too relieved that no-one nicked my money and I still have access to my account to really worry. The bad news is, I have to wait till Wednesday before the limit gets raised, and that's IF it gets done properly. The good news is, I can use my card in shops (well, most places I want to spend my money like cafes or kiosks or whatever are cash-only, but still) and was able to pay for the hotel. Plus I was able to draw out a small amount which should see me to Wednesday with no problems. Today I managed to spend only the equivalent of about 5.50 euros, which included dining out for lunch and dinner, the phone calls, buying several bottles of water, and visiting a cathedral (although I have yet to find out how much the calls from my room are going to set me back, boo). Obviously I've been watching my expenditure, but it definitely seems cheaper here than Kiev, plus I haven't really been going into tourist sites, mostly just wandering around the place admiring the buildings and churches. Paying for my accommodation in Chernivtsi might be a problem though, if I can't access my cash first thing on Wednesday, because I'm pretty sure they don't take cards and will want payment upfront since I'm only there overnight.

Sorry to go on about that for so long, but I don't think a brief account would have shown how bloody difficult it was and how long it took to sort out! By the time I was done, it was already about 1.30, so I had some lunch (borsch and varenniki - dumplings, stuffed in this case with mashed potato, yum!) for about 2 euros and then I walked up to the 'old castle' on a hill overlooking Lviv. There is no longer any trace of the castle whatsoever, but the steep climb in hot, humid weather was worth it for the great 360 degree views. Turns out Lviv isn't one of those really stunning cities from above - I stick to my assertion that a city needs a significant body of water to look good from on high - but it was still a great view.

My amazingly professional video of the view from the top:

Views of Lviv:

Me on the hill. Okay, you can't actually see anything of the view, but still...

After that, I walked back to the city and checked out the Armenian cathedral, which has some very striking frescoes, very different. Not sure if it was the specific artist or an Armenian thing, but they are a mix of the sort of thing you would find in an illustrated edition of the Lord of the Rings and some really intense-looking figures.

Inside the Armenian church

The nave? I think? Not up on church vocab. The altar bit anyway

The ceiling

Some of the frescoes:

I think that dude in the middle is "the sexy priest"

Details of the frescoes. See what I mean about intense?

So yeah, that's about all I did today, other than have dinner, again for about 2.50. I tried Moldovan red wine, which I actually liked, pity it came in the smallest serving size known to man, looked like someone had already drunk 3/4 of my glass. Can't really complain when it costs about 60 centimes though, if I'd known it cost so little I would have ordered some more. Dining out alone is probably my least favourite thing about travelling by myself, and it is even more riddled with pitfalls in Ukraine. Understanding the menus - they are often only in Ukrainian, even in very touristy areas (most tourists that I have seen seem to be Russian or possibly from other parts of the Ukraine, or I suppose Poland in this part of the country) - and then reading the items out are the least of my worries. You're often expected to build your meal yourself, so to speak, especially in the low-end places - so if it says 'chicken', it's JUST chicken. You want chips, salad, bread, even sauce? Order it separately. And then there's the whole thing of selling things by the gram. Half the time, they'll quote a price per 100g, or some other quantity that takes their fancy, but they don't tell you approximately how many grams they're going to give you, so what at first seems very reasonably priced could end up way more than you bargained for, especially after adding on all the aforementioned extras. It's not just meat they do this with either, I've had the aforementioned varenniki, cake, and even icecream by the gram. Oh and this evening I compounded my gaucherie by managing to stick my arm in a pot of sour cream while ordering. Ohhhhh manus :(


  1. Salut!!

    I found your blog through the TAPIF assistant forum and I really like it! I'm going to be an assistant this year in l'academie de Créteil, but I will live inside Paris.

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  2. Cheers mate, good luck with the assistantship! I'll check your blog out once I get back from holiday and have a bit more time :)


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