My first memories of the city of Lviv in Ukraine are connected to grandmother, who leads me by the for a stroll in Kosciusko Park. Immense old trees, shady paths, and cast-iron benches that at some point in time have been occupied by charming ladies in elegant long dresses with small dogs on their laps.
Since childhood, Lviv always seemed to be a place from another universe, a city where everything is somehow different, where people are smiling cordially and sometimes even bow to each other just like the old times, where the saleswoman in a store politely asks “How can I assist you?”, where on Sundays the churches are filled with worshipers of all ages, a city where the Bolsheviks never seized the whole power, but I did not think about the latter as a child…
My grandmother lived practically in the center of the city and I’ve never visited the new Lviv but wandered steadily along the narrow streets of the old one. Oh, how I liked to hop on cobbled hexagonal tiles – it was great to step on them instead of dull gray cracked asphalt. And the paving stones on the roads that shine so wonderful after a rain, the openwork lattices of balconies, various Caryatids and bas-reliefs with semi-erased Latin letters and forgotten emblems.
When I reached my school age, my parents moved to Kyiv. Therefore, I came to Lviv only on vacation or with a school tour. I remember how having read Dostoevsky, schoolmates peeped into the gates, looking for a-la Raskolnikov courtyards. We found a few where time seemed to stop. As if the same people occupied tiny apartments, the same smells lingered in the air, the same old clothes dried on lines as in the XIX century. As well, we toured churches, cathedrals trying to figure out which movie was shot here.
I recollect how we were looking for St. George’s Cathedral for a long time, not daring to ask for directions in our far from perfect Ukrainian. When completely tired and desperate, we stopped some intelligent-looking man, he answered in pure Russian and even escorted us part of the way.
It seems that time has no power over the city. The same, colorful houses surround the Market Square, perhaps a little more dilapidated since my childhood. Behind iron gates, they hide magical courtyards with wooden galleries. Sometimes you enter it from one street and exit to another.
I dearly cherish the calm and dreamy feel of the historic city with passersby who, seeing a big DSLR camera, stop and politely ask which magazine you may present. But let’s continue and climb steep Town Hall Tower and keenly enjoy red roofs and cathedrals spires.
High Castle ruins, which used to be strategically located on the fortified hill, also provide a birds-eye view of Lviv historical center.
One may enjoy unique Lviv weather, when at any odd moment it can start raining steadily. The next moment, a dull gray day may change suddenly, the glorious sun will peek out of gloomy clouds and only wet pavement merely reminds about recent rain.
Lviv could very well set the world record by the sheer number of magnificent lions on its picturesque streets.
The city was established in the mid-13th century by King Danylo Halytskyi, who named it after his beloved son Lev, which in Ukrainian means “Lion”. Since then, many lions have occupied Lviv. They are pretty much everywhere.
This winged lion gently holding Bible represents the evangelist St. Mark and is a symbol of Venice. It adorns the building where the embassy of Venice long ago was in Lviv’s central square.
Completely tired, I sat down at a small café and enjoyed as always in Lviv traditional Viennese coffee and observed passers-by. On one occasion, I ordered a double espresso in a local café; this was the only way to get a decent drink in Kyiv. And the barista said in evident amazement — “Well, it is not coffee, but black oil.” Coffee has always been brewed remarkably well in Lviv. After that, it is impossible to refuse some chocolate delicacy or a hot, hearty sandwich.
So, with a cup in hands and the taste of coffee on lips, sitting at a tiny table and watching how the sun goes down over the old Town Hall and gilded the roof tiles, I want to remember the eternal city of Lviv – the home of a thousand lions, a little Paris. Or maybe Paris is a big Lviv…