Ukraine smells like cigarettes, pickles and knockoff designer perfume even in Lviv, the crown jewel of Ukraine. This 12th-century North Western historic bohemian city is tucked 100 miles away from the beautiful Carpathian mountains that expand across Central and Eastern Europe.
There are prerequisites for integration into Ukrainian culture:
1. You must love cats.
2. You must stare at people.
3. You must love 1980s bands.
4. You must have clean shoes.
5. You must not smile.
This part of Ukraine was Polish territory many years ago; it was “The Crown of the Kingdom of Poland.” The heart of the city, its buildings and cobblestone roads, survived both Soviet and Nazi invasions. But it is a magnificent, renaissance city in shambles, and gives the impression that preservation has been on the back burner… forever.
Leopold von Sacher- Masoch, the man who coined the term masochism was born in Lemberg, modern day Lviv. I haven’t quite figured out how kinky this country is, but if Lviv has a restaurant and cafe devoted to this guy, then I am thinking this is just the tip of the iceberg.
The artsy city and its creative edge are both masked by the architecture and filth that covers the streets. Panhandling, yelling babushkas and women in fur coats with painted eyebrows absorb the most attention; their presence creates this nagging feeling of “Do I give these crazy grandmas money, or do I lick my thumb and try to wipe the horrid makeup off these women’s faces?”
In part, Lviv’s culture reminds me of the “sub” variety. What would you like: Light flogging, or a full-on ball-gag and binding? Leopold von Sacher- Masoch, the man who coined the term masochism was born in Lemberg, modern day Lviv. I haven’t quite figured out how kinky this country is, but if Lviv has a restaurant and cafe devoted to this guy, then I am thinking this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Eating: A Main Pastime
A weekend in this city is plenty. Cozy cafes with sort of a split-level feel are tucked into every nook and cranny.
Two restaurants stand out. The first, Masoch, is a sultry, erotic and tantalizing place and not only for your tastebuds. The interior is dark and musty. Braziers, and whips and chains are flung about with no seeming order. It’s hard to tell whether the bras are tokens given freely from previous guests, or if the guests had been ordered to remove them and told to place them amongst the rest. However, the whips and chains have a particular job: to whip and bind paying guests. The beating comes with alcohol and public humiliation. Ice down the pants and being blindfolded are just two of the options that you can choose.
After a few days in Lviv, the sights and smells become common and a homey feeling bubbles up from a childish heart.
The second, Kryjivka, which is a Soviet military vault stylized as a real partisan hideout. You must know the appropriate call and response to enter. The guard will yell, “Slava Ukraini!” which means “Glory to Ukraine” and you must reply, “Geroyam Slava!” which translates to “Glory to its heroes.”
The hitch here is once you enter you are at the mercy of the guards; drink too much vodka and you’ll get locked in a cell until one of your friends pleads to have you released. Not only do the guns, artillery, and other paraphernalia serve as decorations in the dining room, you can also get your daily quota of selfies in too. With typical Ukrainian food such as, vareniki, borscht, and honey vodka, the full delights of the country are located in this nice little package.
The Takeaway of Lviv
After a few days in Lviv, the sights and smells become common and a homey feeling bubbles up from a childish heart. When it is time to leave, it’s like leaving your favorite teddy bear on the train. You will never be truly happy until you see it again.
I’m not the typical traveler. I don’t generally go to all the tourist places; I go where I think I’ll have a unique experience. Traveling isn’t just about saying “I’ve been to Stonehenge or the Taj Mahal.” It’s about that warm feeling in your heart when you step off the train in a new city and you feel like you are home.