Friday, 5 April 2013

Day 311 – Cold cars and quirky cafes. (Ukraine)

As I’ve previously mentioned we were becoming pretty used to being cold by this point in the trip. Two or three pairs of socks was a general minimum, hat, scarf and gloves was a must, and huddling up inside our clothes had become second nature. Usually though we’d get in the car, run it on petrol (as we learned the hard way: Blog Day 290– When Trevor got cold) and after a bit of time we’d be able to switch the heaters on and warm up Trevor’s insides, even if only a little bit and not until several hours into the journey. The day on which we drove from Kiev to Lviv though was cold beyond any cold that we had yet experienced. As we chose a vehicle that is 20 years old and doesn’t have lots of extra electronics such as a temperature gauge we can’t be sure what the exact temperature was, but what we know is that we had experienced our fair share of -20°C, and this was well beyond that. Not only did the engine not heat up enough to unfreeze the LPG tank, the windscreen washing water, or the air blowing out of the vents (all of which were somewhat regular occurrences), but the entire inside of the car became frozen. At first we thought a layer of ice was forming on the outside of the windows and doors, then we realised that the ice was in fact condensation on the inside of the car which had frozen. And this wasn’t just a little layer of frost; this was a thick sheet of solid ice. Visibility became essentially non-existent through the solid coating that stuck to every window, and Denner who was driving on this occasion struggled to peer out of the small gap of windscreen that we managed to de-ice by blowing all the vents on it. Being surrounded by a car of ice didn’t do much for our personal body warmth either. I’ve always thought that the difference between -15°C and -30°C probably isn’t that noticeable; there’s a certain point it gets past, as with when it’s really hot on the other end of the spectrum, that the body just can’t tell the difference. But after this day in the car I can tell you that the body definitely does know the difference between these low temperatures. We have never been so relieved to reach our destination and be welcomed into the warm home of our host and her family, where we were showered with hot soup and delicious snacks.

Anyone who has travelled at all will know that there are certain things you come to miss when being away from home for an extended period of time: your own bed, sitting on a couch watching tellie, time spent with family and friends, and the longing for a home cooked meal. We had some great experiences through Couch Surfing where we had the opportunity to be part of a home and participate in activities such as eating or making home cooking, but Lviv was the only place other than Canakkale, Turkey (Blog Day 246 – Breakfast in Asia, Europe for lunch,and back to Asia for dinner) where we stayed with a family. It was lovely being part of a family and being treated to things like a packed lunch, and the fact that we couldn’t communicate in Ukrainian with our host’s parents didn’t take away from how hospitably we were accepted into their family.

Our host in Lviv was fantastic, not only welcoming us into her home, but taking us on an extensive custom tour of the city, giving us a fantastic snapshot of her home town. We climbed to the top of the clock tower, a tough ascent up 305 narrow and uncomfortably worn steps (even after the 4-storey elevator ride) which gave us a spectacular 360° view of snow-covered Lviv. We stopped by the Chapel of Boims on the corner of Market Square (the central square) on which rests one of the only two statues in the world depicting Christ sitting down. Although it is a small, relatively un-impressive building, apparently the inside is decorated glamorously with murals and the dome is covered in tiny mirrors, producing a bizarre optical illusion causing the church to look much larger from the inside. We tried on several occasions to go inside the church but even at times within the prescribed opening hours, disappointingly it always seemed to be closed.

We were also taken to a shop which our host/guide assured us we would love. We were a little apprehensive about this as none of us are hugely into shopping and were quite anxious about being taken to some sort of expensive speciality store where we’d feel like uncomfortable and awkward cheapskates. But we realised just how well our host had done at assessing our likes and wants when we were shown into a small boutique store selling a range of very unusual clothes and accessories that had been designed by unknown Ukrainian designers. Not only were the clothes really different and exciting, but the girls working in the shop were so happy to have us there, treating us like guests and humouring us as we tried on various hats and coats and what not. And the great thing about the designs was that each one had its own story. One particularly splendid hat for example was based on an ancient Ukrainian military uniform.

Lviv is known for its very active range of restaurants, bars and cafes. The streets are oozing with cool places to eat and drink and meet people, regardless of what you might consider to be cool. One aspect of this that stands out though is the quirky cafe culture that has emerged and Lviv is now home to a range of uniquely themed coffee shops and cafes. We by no means visited them all, but we made an effort to check out the ones that particularly grabbed our fancy. There’s the Trabant Cafe which is tall and skinny. There are only three or four tables on each floor and each one has a different theme such as space or dinosaurs. On the roof though is the cafe’s namesake and main attraction: a genuine Trabant mounted at the side of the roof. You can sit inside the car and with nothing directly below you it appears that the vehicle is suspended in midair, offering a great view over the rooftops. Their other claim to fame is a man sitting on top of a chimney on the roof of this cafe, which is the highest statue in Lviv.

We went searching for the Mason’s Cafe, but like the club that the cafe is depicting it is difficult to find, so we gave up and ate at a bakery which specialises in strudels, both savoury and sweet. What makes this place stand out though, aside from its traditional bakery decor, is the huge pots of delicious homemade sauces which the customer is allowed to ladle onto his/her plate ad lib. The Mining Cafe was our favourite out of the ones we went to. The ground level is a lovely coffee shop and gift shop, but down in the basement it is set up to look and feel like a mine. On arrival a man will hand you a hard hat, one of which per group will have a torch attached, and then you are asked to follow the corridor as it weaves through various mining scenes. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to check out the one where you need a password to get in, the cafe that is Harry Potter themed, the Masoch Cafe, or the dozens of other unique establishments.


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