Lviv or Lvov as it is called is a beautiful and ancient city in the far western part of Ukraine. It actually shares a border with Poland and in my short visit there, I encountered a couple of Polish people. In a nutshell, I would say that Lviv is a relatively historic and visually satisfying city. Before the trip, I had made connections with some people via the web; firstly, Sasha, who would later relocate to Kyiv and was still an aspiring Journalist here, and Maria, who was an actual Chemical Engineer and a bit older than Sasha. Luckily, I was able to see the two of them in the space of a few days.
For me, a big part of traveling is the transportation; I will always choose rail when given the option. I enjoy the entire experience just as much as the new place I am visiting. When it came to intercity travel, that was where the real excitement was for me. I especially love the Ukrainian old-fashioned cabins, where there are four people to a compartment; with two bunks on each side. If you stayed up, you had to keep your baggage in the upper chambers, but if you were below, the designated space for your belongings was under your bunk. I always preferred staying on top as that was where the sockets were, consequently, charging your devices was easier, but I also did because it literally felt cooler up there. Numerous memories of me sitting up there and eating some pastries I had gotten from the train metro station shortly before the journey commenced while I played with my tablet, pop to my mind right now. I also cherished the views of the vegetation, farmlands, and rural communities that one gets to see as the train moves through different regions and cities. This was easier to see while staring through the windows on the corridor.
And so, essentially, I had gone on trips in this cabin format numerous times, at least three times before this particular quest. At the time of this expedition, I could communicate fairly well in Russian and even though my conversation with the ticket vendor went quite well, it was particularly unique in that I did not comprehend one specific word that she said. Poor marks to me however, for not immediately revealing my shortcomings to her, and unfortunately for me, when that became evident, it would be way too late as will be revealed to you in the next couple of paragraphs.
So, I asked for a Купе – coupe (the four-person cabin I was familiar with), but apparently, none were available and the lady told me that I could only get Пласкарт tickets. I agreed to buy them even though she asked me twice if I was sure that that was the option I preferred. I just assumed it would be another form of their trains and didn’t sense any danger in trying it. Kharkiv to Lviv is quite the distance and so it was understandable for not as many trains to frequent that route. You can’t compare it to more busier routes like the Kharkiv-Kyiv one which hosts trains every few hours.
During the day of my journey, I hoisted my belongings and made my way nonchalantly to the Вокзал (Vokzal – Train station) even though I was filled with excitement on the inside. I even bought these little snacks we used to buy whenever we traveled (tasty-delicious-flour-baked-shapes) as they were sold in some metros but majorly the one at the train station; so, in that sense you could say they were kind of a travel-mood-booster (at least, that’s the way I viewed them). There were four options; they either had cheese, beef, chicken, or sausage inside them. I wouldn’t be surprised if I also picked up some snacks from Kulinichi (a popular small store filtered around Kharkiv city where essentially much larger sizes of the aforementioned snacks were sold in addition to coffee, mini-cakes and some beverages). They also had a permanent kiosk at the Вокзал.
Traveling is a wonderful time and one always feels elated and confident as you walk past and stare at the fountains and many benches filled with anticipating passengers in front of the Kharkiv train station, that is until you get to the frustrating flight of steps before the entrance. Dragging my box carefully as I moved, I made my way up the steps, and then went through the regular ticket confirmation routine which as usual, ended up with me waiting somewhere until it was close to my train’s take off time. I did all of that and was ushered to my coach into which I climbed.
The most strenuous part of the routine was dragging your boxes, especially when you had to lift them over some stairs. It was just as tedious lifting them into the train as the train entrance was always a few feet above the ground. Usually, you needed some assistance and the best way was to jump into the cabin first and then lift your bags or boxes with the aid of anybody nearby as you backed into the train.
So, I did that as well and got my box in. Phew! Finally, my journey was going to begin soon. I couldn’t wait to get into my bed so I could do all the fun things I loved doing during train trips, but first of all, I needed to put my box in its proper compartment. As I turned ‘round however, and to my enormous surprise, I saw about fifty or more people all seated on white chairs and staring directly at me. Seated? ‘That can’t be right’, I thought. There were no cabins or compartments to be found. What was going on?
Apparently, the reason the tickets were much cheaper was that Пласкарт meant a seated-style train. ‘Plaskart’ was just a fancy word for ‘third-class’. Besides the unforgiving language deficit, the other way that I could have suspected something was fishy was the ticket price. However, that would also have been difficult for me to decipher since that was my first journey to Lviv. And when I say seated-style, it wasn’t even like the usual intra-city metros where there were comfortable leather seats; instead, people were cramped up like ants on metal chairs. There was barely any personal space, even walking was difficult.
Shaken and confused, I immediately brought out my ticket and turned to the official in-situ, requesting if I was inside the right train. He confirmed it and directed me to the seat with my number. I made my way to my metal chair thinking to myself, ‘What kind of bloody mistake have I made?’. This was going to be the most uncomfortable train ride in my life. No foreigner in sight, wow. Worse still, the journey was for fourteen hours at least. How was I going to sleep seated down?
A photo I once took at the center of my town. I titled it, ‘The Obvious and the Non’. The building is called Kharkiv Palace hotel.
In an interesting turn of events, the train commute turned out fairly better than I anticipated. After maybe an hour or two of tensioned looks and uneasiness in the atmosphere, I began communicating with the people around me; I remember making an acquaintance or two as well as sharing some of my foodstuffs with kids from another family. It wasn’t exactly comfortable but it was still one for the memoir.
When I got to Lviv, I unpacked in an apartment I had rented somewhere close to the center. I met Sasha first and she took me on a photographic adventure around the city. We visited the theater of opera and ballet, Rynok square, and a couple of other interesting places. I also remember passing through a very fascinating open market. We took various pictures with her impressive camera while she related to me the history of the city. She was also into photography.
At the time, Ukraine was preparing to host the Euros with Poland against the year 2012; an event that I missed as I opted to travel home instead, during the summer holidays.
One important thing about Lviv though is that they speak the Ukrainian language there; I came from Kharkov (Eastern Ukraine) where the predominant language is Russian. Unlike the other half where citizens are more tolerable of the Ukrainian language, the Ukrainians living in the Western side of Ukraine do not like perceiving the Russian language. It irks them. I guess since I was a foreigner, they were a bit more lenient with me. I did get a lot of stern looks, though.
I later met Maria a day or so before I left and even though I was quite exhausted, she was insistent on taking me on a mini-tour, as that was part of our virtual agreement before I came. We visited a few notable places; I honestly can’t remember their names but there was this chocolate factory that was supposed to be quite famous. Apparently, all their products were hand-made or something like that.
We also went ice-skating for what happened to be my first time; although, throughout the session, I wasn’t on my feet for up to five minutes. Needless to say, I didn’t try ice skating till about two years after and never again since the second occasion. A story for another day. All in all, Lvov is a wonderful city, and the whole unpredictability of the situation made it an unforgettable journey and memory for me.. If you ever visit Ukraine, please make sure to stop by. For those of you single gents, use #harnadivchina as your password to get things started. Thank me later. Maria also got me some lovely souvenirs which I still cherish till today.
The Story is from a chapter of my Journeys through Ukraine, as a foreigner..
On returning to Kharkiv, I absolutely made sure I got a Купе this time; I was also on the upper bunk, subsequently, I had ample time to relax and reflect about my journey. It was a much more enjoyable ride than the antecedent one; a mother and her two teenagers completed the compartment I was in. I recall playing several games with them using my new Lviv souvenir cards.
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