Lviv and let live
The UNESCO World Heritage List is straightforward in its praise: "In its urban fabric and its architecture, Lviv is an outstanding example of the fusion of the architectural and artistic traditions of Eastern Europe with those of Italy and Germany. The political and commercial role of Lviv attracted to it a number of ethnic groups with different cultural and religious traditions, who established separate yet interdependent communities within the city, evidence for which is still discernible in the modern townscape."
The best thing about Lviv (or Lvov in Russian, Lwow in Polish, Lemberg in German, Lemberik in Yiddish) is the unique and pleasant way that it mixes different cultures and styles to create one harmonic union. With a predominantly Ukrainian population that is notorious for its Ukrainian nationalists, the city has always been a cause for controversy and disagreement between Russia, Ukraine, Austria-Hungary, Poland and Lit huania - their continuously changing alliances leading to new influences on the town's development.
Lviv is not just a simple list of sights to see. This is a city to feel, strolling up and down narrow cobblestone streets (no spiked high heels will endure this for long), peeping into cozy yards and relaxing in small homey coffee houses. Prepare for your visit to Lviv as if you were visiting an art gallery: familiarize yourself with a few facts, get to know several historical dates, look through some boring encyclopedia entries (which is absolutely correct, but at the same time pointless) and then plunge into exploring the city, letting it speak for itself.
Just a few anchor points to know. First go to Rynok Square, the heart and soul of the city. The name literally means "market," but it is sometimes said to originate from German "ring," in the sense of a closed space, which would be fitting given that it is lined with houses. Note that most houses are only three windows wide, which is thanks to a rule that was enforced by city's administration because so many landlords wanted to build on the square. Italians, Ger mans, Russians, Poles, Armenians and Jews worked at different times to form this ensemble, which is the true face of today's Lviv.
As many as eight streets meet at Rynok Square, compared to the usual three in most medieval towns.
A 16th-century Renaissance-style house with a black facade (the so called Chernaya Kamenitsa) is now occupied by a historical museum. There is a simple reason for the unusual colour of its walls. The house was clad with sandstone, which absorbs dust and soot, quickly making for a less-than-pristine appearance. Scru pulous cleaning only made things worse until one owner came up with the idea of painting the whole house black, which it still remains today.
Drop into the old pharmacy museum, also situated on Rynok Square, to check out its vintage scales and Gothic basement atmosphere. Take a break in one of the numerous cafes or, better yet, visit Kryivka restaurant, which has a true Ukrainian nationalist atmosphere: They'll greet you with a frightening "Are there Yids or Moskals [Russians] among you?" - but nonetheless they'll give you a warm welcome in interiors decorated with Ukrainian World War II posters.
After a short (or prolonged) meal, take a 320-step climb up the Town Hall tower that stands in the center of the square, and enjoy the panoramic view of the whole city. Return down the stairs and head for the huge Latin Cathedral nearby. Construction began in the mid-14th century, but the building has since had numerous reconstructions and additions. It now sports many baroque elements, although it remains the only building in Lviv that has retained much of its initial Gothic appearance. Don't miss the adjoining Kaplitsa Boimov, the family shrine of Boim family, richly decorated with pictures depicting Bible scenes. Its dome is topped with a unique statue of a sitting Jesus.
Stroll farther to see the magnificent Bernardine monastery and church in Cathedral Square nearby. Take a slow promenade further along Svobody Prospect up to the Lviv Theater of Opera and Ballet. Completed in 1900, it instantly became one of the most splendid theaters in Europe. Continue wandering through the dense maze of side streets admiring churches and old houses while heading toward Vysoki Zamok or High Castle park. Here, twisted paths lead to the top of a 400-meter-high hill, where you can enjoy another panoramic view of Lviv's rooftops with church towers dominating the city's landscape.
Getting to Lviv is easy and quite affordable, but takes time. Regular trains take about 24 hours to reach Lviv from Moscow. Many air carriers have regular flights to Kiev, but only UTair seems to have direct flights at the moment that take about three hours. S7, Aeroflot and some European carriers fly there, but their rates are not inexpensive and the journey may take up to a day, with a change of planes somewhere in Europe. Ukrainian Aerosvit offers a Moscow-Kiev-Lviv (and vice versa) flight taking about six hours and costing 14,000-18,000 rubles for a round trip.
Lviv has enough good lodging on offer, although it is recommended to book in advance especially in high season. Booking via the Internet is possible through dom.lviv.ua (Russian, Ukrainian) and www.inlviv.info (English and German).
Renting an apartment instead of a hotel room is recommended as it is cheaper, but in this case check that all modern conveniences (hot water, heating, etc.) are functioning properly.
The Moscow News