Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Easter in L'viv

Three of my friends and I rented a car for a 6 hour drive from Kyiv to Western Ukraine. I now have this memory to include in the library of "Family Road Trips." Little did I realize how sick I was of the concrete, ex-Soviet jungle that is my neighborhood until we reached the countryside and saw our first horse drawn cart. Ukraine suddenly felt homey and familiar.

And with this little guy to entertain us, the road trip was never dull! I love Rawly-pants.
Our destination for this Easter weekend was a town called L'viv. Our friend, Ira, is from this beautiful city and promised to take us everywhere. One thing about Ira is that she always keeps her promises! Ira and her husband, Johnny, were taking the train in and arrived at midnight. Saturday evening, after Rachel, Alyssa, Ken and I situated ourselves in the apartment we rented very close to the city center, we set out to find dinner and explore a bit of L'viv. The above picture is the opera house and the Easter Egg Square where Easter festivities were held. People were walking to the Orthodox churches with Easter baskets full of food usually held by the head of the family. They paraded by in bright colors and with beautiful cloths covering the baskets. I can't believe I didn't get a picture...
This tree spoke to me. It said, "Holly, don't worry. Spring is here in L'viv. It will soon come to Kyiv." Thank you, tree, for that lovely reminder!Sunday morning, we met our friends, the Ewalds, who were also staying in L'viv for the weekend, at this Baptist church. The Baptist church had enough room for the 9 members of their family (they had family members from Canada visiting and traveling with them) for a very, very reasonable price. I've never seen a church act as a hostel, but it struck me as an ingenious idea. We celebrated Easter and Christ's resurrection here at this church. The service was entirely in Ukrainian, but the music and singing were beautiful. They had a full choir and three pastors. The service was long. Two hours long, to be precise. Nevertheless, the story is the same, regardless of language, and I was happy to be celebrating with fellow believers.
After church, the four of us were hungry for lunch, so we set out to find some open restaurant. Being Easter, we were not having much luck, until we stepped out of the car and began walking through an old neighborhood. There was no sign of food, only a small cafe. Suddenly, we smelled wonderful smells and saw a balcony with people situated under umbrellas. A restaurant!
I love that we ate Easter lunch here! It made the day even more delightful. Our waiter, Mike, informed us that there were no prices on the menu and that we would have a chance to barter at the end of the meal. A lady began singing in Hebrew. Mike told us that she was singing to bring down the price...

The meal was absolutely delicious. The hummus was tasty and my steak salad was tender and flavorful. And the Israeli wine! What a pleasant surprise. Mike came and shared an outrageous price for the meal. We could accept the price, plus wonderful "gifts" or we could barter. I counter-bartered with an outrageously low price. After a few minutes I got him down to more than half the price, but we made sure to tip him well!

All dressed up for Easter...In the meantime, we raced back to the apartment to get ready for the next half of our Easter day. We met Ira, Johnny and the Ewalds at a tram stop and road to an outdoor folk museum. The museum had games, music and dancing. The game below was a kissing game. As far as I could tell, the teenager in the middle would yell out two numbers. The girl would try to get to the boy's spot without getting kissed.

Another game was much more familiar to Rachel, Jessica (the oldest Ewald girl), Ira, Johnny and me. We had played this game at the childrens' rehab center in Krivoi Rog a few weeks ago. (I promise a post about Krivoi Rog sometime in the future!). The version of the game we played was more of a tag game. Here, they played it with a belt.
Ready... aim...
Ira and Johnny dropped us off at this Ukrainian partisan restaurant before they went home to eat Easter dinner with Ira's family. We shared traditional Ukrainian dumplings and Ken, Rachel and I drank up!
The next day, we caravaned a few hours outside of the city to walk around some castles. This castle was closed for the day, but the guard let us walk around the grounds for a small fee. It was a beautiful, clear, spring day and walking around outside was just what I wanted to do. The pretty looking building was built long ago as the "Japanese Castle." The architect never visited Asia... This building is now an art gallery. The other, more sinister building was a one-time jail and torture chamber.
After the first castle visit, we went on to the next. The castle wasn't open either, but Ira, our fearless guide, read us a brief history of the castle. Most recently, it was used as a TB hospital, but it has a long history of being passed from Polish and Austrian-Hungarian hands.
Fire destroyed the castle, but it was refurnished. At least that's what Ira's informational paper said. We didn't see the inside. I love this above picture. It shows Levi and Rawly walking amongst the wild flowers. Those two boys, though years apart, are definite kindred spirits.
Several of us hiked the layers of the ground and found a road that led all the way down to the village. That would have been an interesting trip, but time was not on our side.
The Catholic church was built for the families in the castle.
We made it back to L'viv and went to Ira's favorite hot chocolate place. I forgot my camera and didn't get any pictures but let me assure you... this chocolate was heavenly. Dark, flavorful, thick... The chocolate factory was joined to the cafe. Some of us visited the upstairs chocolate shop and came back down to find four children and one adult soaked from head to toe. Monday was water day in Ukraine. I don't know anything about the tradition except it's a time to soak people with water bottles and toss people into fountains. Johnny and the four Ewald kids fully participated in this custom and had somehow landed themselves into a fountain after chasing some locals around the square. I got soaked twice after that incident by some local hooligans.

Alyssa and Ken were watching men in the park playing chess. It must have been an amazing game because a large group of gentlemen gathered to watch.After a quick dinner in the square, our small group walked up to the High Castle. It was a good walk to the edge of the historic district, then up a small hill. As dusk turned into night, the Chapmans headed back to our apartment to put Rawly to bed.
Rachel and I continued up these stairs expecting to find a castle. High Castle is a misleading name. It should be called High Look-Out Point.

I needed to be in a city like this. It was a refreshing weekend, and reminded me that there is beauty in Ukraine. I'm glad to be here another year and am eager for another weekend visit to L'viv.