Lviv-ing It Up (Part 1): 15 Culture Tips from Lviv, Ukraine

In this post, I’ll start on my foray into Ukraine, a huge country with lots to see – and I hope next time I’ll get to visit Chernivtsvi, Odessa, and Kiev as well!

Lviv is a beautiful, very West-leaning city with a lot of sophisticated European-style restaurants and cafés though it happens to be in eastern Europe. Top left: a glass-mosaic symbolizing Lviv. Top right: the beautiful, open, clean square packed with museums and shops. Bottom right: an amazing and cheap meal I had at Puzata Chata.

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I was only in Lviv for four days. It’s not enough time to really learn about Ukrainian culture, but there are a few things I picked up about the culture in Lviv.

1 The people are nice and helpful… but we spoke mostly in Polish, not English. Czech was only marginally useful here, and Russian would have been useful but frowned upon.

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2 There is a Gothic-Renaissance history for buildings and churches (which range from Gothic to Baroque). Walking around here feels like you’re going back in time…

Left: Gigantic and gorgeous St. George’s Cathedral. Top right: the Lviv main square, which is full of historical buildings, many of which have been turned into a museum of Ukrainian history. Bottom right: the Italian courtyard, found in the 16th-century Korniakt House where there is now a café and museum.

…which also means you will be falling everywhere on the cobblestone streets.

3 People cross the street anywhere they damn well please (like New Yorkers!)

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From this picture, it looks kinda like Prague!

This picture isn’t a good example since the stones were nice and smooth, but trust me. You will fall in Prague, and you will fall in Lviv.

4 The old Soviet buses and trams will also make you feel like you are stepping back in time. 

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5 Still, they find a way to merge old and new.

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And thank goodness for those French-inspired macarons and eclairs.

6 Widespread religiosity means that the church-heavy city clashes with more recent ideas…

Renaissance-style mausoleums for your wife and family on the one hand, pigs dancing in the street and advertising new restaurants on the other hand. [Boyim Chapel, a 17th-century chapel constructed by a Hungarian merchant.]

7 There are gorgeous parks and fall foliage. People clearly value their nature and relax time.

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8 Though people don’t like it, Russia is in the back of everyone’s minds. And I’ve heard that the Russian influence gets stronger and stronger the more east you go.

9 Western Ukrainians are not big fans of Putin. To say the least.

10 But they are fans of vodka and fruit-flavored liqueurs!

11 Markets, markets everywhere.

From fall-themed markets selling candy, any and everything related to bees and honey, winter jackets and boots, knitted socks, and Ukrainian crafts,

to informal street markets, where older women in headscarves brought their garden produce (and even freshly-killed chickens…) to be sold on a crowded walkway (where I was pushed more than once),

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to more organized markets where farmers and stall-keepers wait for people to admire their vegetables, fruit, meats, cheeses, and more…

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Though I didn’t get a photo myself, I was shocked to see some of the sellers using old weights like this:

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Sorry about the stock photo, but it’s the best I can find!

Unlike Mahane Yehuda in Jerusalem, 12 the sellers here are not loud, pushy, or intimidating. They wait until you approach them, they don’t yell competitively about what they have, and they don’t try to rush you so they can get to the next customer. This was true even in souvenir shops – no one pushes you to buy anything! My shy self appreciates it.

13 They are very patriotic about Ukrainian writers and literary figures.

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A statue represents Taras Shevchenko and a wave of his literary characters.

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There I am with my coffee! Ivan Fyodorov was a 16th-century father of printing in Ukraine and Russia. There is a secondhand book sale here where I got a 1960s Kiev copy of To Kill a Mockingbird for 30 crowns!

14 You have to take off your shoes or have clean ones, just like in Czech Republic!

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If you want to see the Museum of Palace Treasures, you better believe you are putting these grandma slippers over your boots so you don’t scratch or dirty the hardwood floors.

I also had to wear slippers in my hostel!

Thanks to 4 Rooms Hostel, a small but very clean and comfortable place to stay.

Top left: courtyard of the hostel building. Bottom left: view of the hostel building from across the street – it was bordered by a Polytechnic University and a beautiful park. Right: my room and bed in the hostel.

15 The Jewish history has all but been erased.

I had said I wanted to visit Jewish Galicia. Unfortunately, there’s not many signs of it left here. There were some memorials where synagogues were demolished by the Nazis, like by the Golden Rose synagogue. And there’s still a small community of Jews there, but the synagogue is new, outside of the center, and I didn’t have the chance to meet anyone. 😦

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Memorial to the Golden Rose synagogue with quotes from Jewish survivors.

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It was still a wonderful trip. And look at that gorgeous St. George’s.

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