Monday, March 26, 2012

2 days in Lviv

Hello Bloggers,

Today's post has nothing crafty in it.  This is just a long summary of my weekend in Lviv.  Stop back later this week for some stamping and card making goodness.  Today is just for family and friends that want an update on Lviv.  Read it if you are at all interested in Eastern Europe.  I won't mind if you skip it also.

It's good to be home.  I enjoy my business and personal travel, but no matter where I go, who I go with or how long I am gone, there is a real joy in returning home.  Ah, it is wonderful to sleep in my own bed, pet my dogs and get back into a normal routine!

So let me tell you about Lviv Ukraine.

1) Lviv has fabulous and interesting coffee shops.  They were EVERYWHERE and each one was unique and interesting.  There were big ones, small ones, fancy ones, modern ones, portable ones... every type.  They served mostly espresso and cappuccino and yes, it was good coffee. We only saw one coffee shop that was an American Brand.  You are thinking - of course - Starbucks - but no.  It was Gloria Jeans...  This is the Lviv Gloria Jeans.  I've never seen a more beautiful Gloria Jeans in all my life.    We had dinner there Friday night because Sarah was craving lettuce salad and they had a nice cafe menu.
2) Lviv streets and architecture were stunningly beautiful.  This was not a Disney World replica of old world Europe - this was the real thing.  Gorgeous churches, stunning government buildings, lovely museums and incredible opera houses filled the city.

3) Soviet Influence.  It is truly hard to believe that people my age would have lived more than half their life under soviet rule and that in this generation this entire country had to rebuild itself.  There was still a large soviet influence in many aspects of the city.  Most noticeable (to me) was the uniformed security in the city and airport. We had a large burly soviet looking man who sat on the couch in the hotel lobby 24/7.  At one point I was tempted to go down and get a coffee, but the thought of passing this man scared me away.  Keep in mind our hotel lobby was very tiny.  See below:
I was glad that this man was in casual clothes and not a uniform, but when I saw a uniformed Ukraine man, it was intimidating.    See below for the airport security uniform.  Very interesting and very different.  Great hat don't you think?
We had dinner at a favorite tourist site - it was called #14 market square.  There were no signs, you just knocked on a big wooden door under the #.  You had to give a password 'glory to Ukraine' to get in and it had all soviet era stuff everywhere.  There were guns that were attached to the wall via a cord that you could take out and have your photo taken with them.  There were soviets with guns (fake) wandering the restaurant and at one point when Sarah went to the rest room, a waiter screamed at her, get back in, it's not safe.  Not knowing what was going on, she retreated into the girls room for a moment only to realize it was part of the theatrical ambiance. 

4) Shopping:  Lviv has very interesting shopping.  We went to a pharmacy, convenience store and shopping mall.  All were very different from American Shopping.  When you go to the pharmacy and convenience store there is no browsing.  All items for purchase are behind the counter and you ask the clerk for what you need.  This is actually very inefficient because a line forms and the clerk can only wait on one person at a time.  Sarah wanted to buy conditioner for her hair and she asked questions about two products and the others behind us just had to wait while she decided and paid before they were helped.  The same was true when I bought a water bottle at the convenience store.   I could not take the water bottle out of the cooler.  The clerk got it for me and checked me out.  The shopping mall was interesting and fun.  There were no large dept stores.  Everything was small shops that specialized in one thing - maybe clothes, maybe just jeans, maybe shoes, maybe make-up.  It was not especially efficient and reminded me of a large indoor flea-market.

And oh my, the fashions in Ukraine.  Very urban and young and wild.  Tight is the way to go and lots of things had zippers or spandex.  All the shoes were heels and even in the end of March they were selling mostly boots - either high boots or ankle boots.  It seems boots are year round attire in Ukraine.  There were also some fun outdoor markets for tourists.  Lots of religious artwork, hand crafted linens and soviet era trinkets.  I got some fun hand painted eggs for our easter baskets.

5) Churches.  Lviv had some beautiful churches.  Gorgeous buildings with gold dome tops and ornate statues.  We didn't get a chance to really go inside, but they were everywhere -  mostly catholic (I'm guessing) and architecturally stunning.

This one (above) was the 'mall church.' It was made of wood and was right in front of the mall and very pretty.  The two below were in the heart of the city and very typical of the traditional, historic churches in Lviv.  Really, really pretty.

6) Food.  Ukrainian food was different, but tasty.  I was glad that I had Sarah there to help me order.  I would have had no clue.  One thing I would not have ordered that we saw on the menu (more than once) was fried lard.  Yuck.  The foods I did enjoy were crepes (for breakfast), potato pancakes (for lunch), borsch (with dinner), meat dumplings (also with dinner), and Apple Strudel (yummy dessert.)  We also enjoyed hot mulled wine, cold sangria and beer.
Sarah was craving western food, so we also had Asian food (sushi for me, stir-fry for Sarah) and lettuce salads.  So, I only had a few Ukrainian meals this trip which was just fine with me.

7) Prices.  Sarah was outraged at how expensive things were in the city, but I found everything very affordable.  For instance, a 20 minute taxi ride to the airport was 45 hryvnia.  A 75 minute hair cut and style at a nice salon was 200 hryvnia.  So that was a $5.00 taxi ride and a $25.00 haircut.  Keep in mind that there is no tipping, so that makes it really affordable in my book.  At one point I ordered an entree for lunch that was 80 hryvnia.  Sarah was like - that is so expensive.  I can't believe you spent 80 hryvnia on that.  I was like - that is 10.00 bucks.  I spend ten bucks at Panera bread and don't really think of that as expensive and my entree was at a nice restaurant with table service.  Everything is relative, but I was happy to boost the Ukraine economy with my business.  Surprisingly clothes and shoes were not inexpensive. Unlike America there are no sales and discounts except for rare cases of out of season merchandise.  Keep in mind that black is a year - round color and they wear boots year round so these were not on sale when we went looking.  Sarah found a nice pair of pants, but they were 500 hryvnia - which is like $50.00.  As you all know in the US, you can hit a Kohl's sale and get a nice pair of pants for much less than that.  In Ukraine, all the stores had similar prices, just different styles and $50.00 was the going rate for pants and jeans.  Boots were similarly priced also.  Below is Sarah wearing her new pants that she bought with the birthday money her grandmother sent over.
8) People.  The people of Ukraine were wonderfully friendly and hospitable.  They were also beautiful,  thin and  fashionable.  Everywhere we went and we interacted with people they went out of the way to help us and ask us about where we were from and why we were here.  The store keeper in the mall where Sarah got her pants was very chatty, telling us about his girls and his family.  The maid in the public rest room was also very chatty as was anyone we conversed with. The women (both young and middle-aged) were beautiful.  The culture certainly emphasizes hair styling, make-up and fashion.  They were stunningly beautiful, most with long styled hair (yes, many with wide bangs), tight black pants and beautiful high heeled boots.  Below is very representative of how the average 20 something would dress - except the girls we saw had fashion scarfs around their necks to stay warm.  This time of year there wasn't a lot of skin showing - even though the weather was warm.  Sarah says they dress warm for fear of getting sick.  America could learn a lesson about this. How many of us have seen young people with shorts on in January when it's snowing out!

The older women had their own fasions.  They were plain, didn't do themselves up at all, but they were charming and beautiful too, just in a very different way.  There were lots of these Babushka - widowed grandmother types with scarfs on their heads and more peasant clothes.  They were all over the city selling flowers or trinkets on the streets.
As for men, they were handsome, often burly and big, mostly with short hair.  They don't smile in photos, nor was their typical expression smiley.  I generally found them to be scary, but I rarely found myself interacting with them.  I'm sure if I got to know them, they would be wonderful.
9) Transportation. Oh. My. Word.  What an interesting and unusual airport Lviv has.  Let me first clarify that a new airport is almost done.  So this charming and entertaining airport will soon be just a thing of the past.  It was adorable, cute and crazy.  Not like any other airports I've been in, but even with it's old fashioned characteristics, it seemed quite secure and regulated so no worries there.  Can you believe they weighed my luggage on an old fashioned scale?

The first picture is the outside of the front of the building.  When the taxi pulled up I almost asked him, are you sure you understood that I wanted to go the airport?  Doesn't this look like a library or museum?  It's the airport!
Below is the inside of the main terminal.  Pretty quiet in this picture, but when I flew in on Friday afternoon, it was packed.  Don't you love those old fashioned counters and the columns?  The ceiling was super cool too.

Remember how I said they weighed my luggage on an old fashioned scale?  Below is the check in counter.  Do you see the blue thing on the right side?  That was the scale.  They took my bags over, put them on that and that was their weight system.

Below is the actual gate where we waited until it was time to board the plane.  It was small, cramped and crowded, but everyone was friendly and it was fine.

 And this is the duty free shop.  They didn't miss the opportunity to make some money, even if the facilities were small.
This picture is the terminal from the 'back.'  The gate had us take a shuttle to board the plane on the runway.  I took this picture as we drove past the terminal.  Can you see air traffic control tower above the columned building?  Luckily there are only a few flights in and out each day so air traffic control is probably a pretty cushy job at this airport.
In this photo below, I am about to board the plane, but you can see the new airport in the background.  It looks 10 times bigger than the current one with glass everywhere.  They are working hard to finish it so all the crazy football fans can fly in for the big Euro 2012 games that will be held in Poland and Ukraine starting in June.  It looks a long way from being done, but I'm sure they'll finish it in time.

Before I leave the topic of transportation, let's talk about cars, buses and trolleys.  The streets are all cobblestone in the city.  All of them.  That made for a beautiful sight, but a bumpy cab ride.  Below is a photo of the street near our hotel.  Most of the cars (including cabs) were very old.

The intersections were treacherous.  As you can see from the above picture they have these 5 way intersections with no rotary, but traffic lights.  The trolley lines run through here also as you can see from the tracks and the wires.  There was some beeping and yielding and a little confusion here - often but no accidents.  At least not on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

The buses were fine.  They were cheap, reliable and crowded.  Sarah and I decided to do a bus trip from the mall to the city instead of a cab. It was fun, but I don't do it every day.  Lots of people were on the bus and we toured the suburban neighborhoods dropping people and picking them up along the way.

10) So, I've been talking a lot about Lviv and the city and the sights, but let's talk for about my reason for being in Ukraine in the first place.  Let's talk about my darling daughter Sarah.  It was so good to see her.  I cried when I hugged her in the airport, and I cried harder when I left, but it's all good.  It's just emotions coming out.  We had some nice time to talk and hang out and it was great.  She is doing so well.  I am so proud of the beautiful woman she is becoming.  She is already different (in a good way from when she left.)  She is confident, strong, expressive, thoughtful and compassionate.  I'm so happy she is learning, growing and helping the world be a better place.  She reluctantly allowed me to spoil her a bit, which was easy since the prices were low by my standards.  She hadn't had a haircut in a long time so I took her to a salon.  She finished with 'movie star' hair.

Above is the start... Below is the finished product.  It was a little 'big' at first.
 As the day went on it settled down nicely.

She's still a little homesick, but she's made friends, both locals in her village and with other peace corp volunteers in neighboring towns.  She's making plans to tour for a week this summer in Europe to see Budapest, Vienna and Prague.  How cool is that for her?  She's really got a good grasp of the language and she continues to work at it.  I was amazed that she was able to talk to everyone and anyone in Ukraine and they all seemed to understand her very well.  I was impressed.  She'll be quite proficient at it by the time she leaves.

We had a fun, but busy time together and I'm so thankful I got to see her.  Thanks for stopping by today and reading about my trip.  Leave a comment if you know how.


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful weekend! It sounds like so much fun and I can definitely understand the tears at beginning and end! SaRAH LOOKS GREAT. FUN AND PRETTY HAIRCUT. Linda looks pretty happy too!
It sounds like a beautiful city to visit.
I hope we'll be able to see some of the Ukraine this summer with Sarah!
Love you both! Mom

Kimberly Gajewski said...

I'm all teary eyed reading your last part of the post! I'm so glad that you had such a beautiful time! No wonder Sarah is turning into such a strong and confident woman...look at her Mum! Glad you are home! Can't wait to talk with you! Hugs!! :D

Karen said...

I just love traveling along with you - it's fun to tag along and see through your eyes. It sounds like you had a great trip and a wonderful visit with Sarah. I'm so glad to know that she has settled in, and that she has become proficient with the language - the last I read in her blog she was feeling a bit overwhelmed by it. I'm sure you felt reassured to see Sarah feeling happy and confident.

Thanks for sharing your very interesting journey!

Anonymous said...

What an interesting & informative blog. Sarah looks wonderful, so beautiful & confident. I can't believe how much you packed into a weekend. It must have made you feel much more positive about Sarah's life now having seen her in person she looks so happy. Love to all. Mom & Dad

Sarah Kate Monroe said...

Mom, you actually did a great job representing Ukraine here! I was a little nervous because you only spent 3 days in Lviv, but you described everything very accurately and in an understandable way. You're really quite observant :) I was SO happy to see you last weekend and I'm already really missing you, counting down the days until you and Dad can come to see my village in July! Thanks for sharing a piece of Ukraine with the world--simply talking about it helps to spread good word about it and that helps the cause! Love you so much <3

Scott said...

Linda, that's a pretty fabulous posting, thank you. Loved seeing the pictures of Sarah. - Scott

The_Heart_Beet said...

Nice hair, дівчинка!

Wanda G (stampcat) said...

WOW! What a cool post! Thanks so much for posting all those awesome pictures and the neat information. I enjoyed reading all of it. Your daughter is beautiful!! Looks like a great trip.