When we finally made it to L’viv, I was thrilled to be back in the land of the familiar. We were in Ukraine again, back on my home turf, where I could speak and be understood and cross the language barrier. At the train station I could ask for directions, on the streets I could understand the signs, and at the cafes I could read the menus and know what we were ordering! At the hostel Tori and I got a discount because Peace Corps Volunteers are pretty well known in Ukraine, and it was nice a transition, going from being just another tourist to having a useful role in society. Being a tourist gets old, despite how much I love traveling : )
Our first order of business was meeting up with my friend Natalia, as we had left a huge suitcase in her care while we were on our Euro-trip. Tori had quite the task of repacking ahead of her, trying to fit all of our souvenirs in her bag, and redistributing weight from my suitcase into her backpack so it would be under 50 pounds. We met up with Natalia for a lovely coffee date at her favorite cafe in L’viv, and then headed back to her place to retrieve the monster suitcase. I knew Natalia was a saint after teaching me and my cluster-mates Ukrainian for three months when we first arrived in Ukraine, but it was so wonderful of her to take care of us in L’viv too, two years later! She’s a gem, and a true friend 🙂
The next day we devoted to souvenir shopping. We had bought many souvenirs along the way, but Tori had a few more gaps on her list and we dedicated our time to scoping out the craft stalls and the outdoor souvenir bazaar. We even found a few souvenirs for ourselves ; ) We avoided touristy things, but did enjoy the old-city feel of L’viv. This city was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then part of Poland, and it managed to retain an old-European flair that has been untouched by war and the process of urbanization.
One of my favorite memories from L’viv was Tori trying to get a picture of these two girls. Its their job to wander around in these beautiful period-costumes, selling suckers. My Peace Corps friends and I refer to them as “cock suckers” (the candy they are selling, not the girls!). And I’m not trying to be dirty here, that’s what it translates to! Their baskets are full of suckers in the shape of roosters, or cocks, whichever word floats your boat. I guess you could call it a “rooster sucker,” but that doesn’t sound right either. Tori had to buy a cock sucker before they would pose for a picture. We had a fun time deciding who should get this souvenir back in the US 😉
Our hostel was located near the central square in L’viv, just up the street from this huge statue of Taras Shevchenko. He is probably the most famous historical figure in (Western) Ukraine, best known for his nationalist poetry written in the Ukrainian language. He was the first well-known poet to write in Ukrainian (instead of Russian), so he is seen as a patriotic figure in the West. While you see statues to Lenin in Eastern Ukraine, Shevchenko rules the West, and every self-respecting town or city has their own Shevchenko monument. (Even my tiny town of 10,00 has a bust of Shevchenko in the park!). As L’viv is the cultural capital of Ukraine, and the center of Ukrainian patriotism, its only fitting that their Shevchenko monument be appropriately sized; hence this full-body, giant statue located in the middle of the aptly named Shevchenko Square.
Once we had finished our site-seeing and souvenir-shopping, it was back to the hostel for a final repacking. For Tori’s last night in Ukraine, we planned a special dinner, and my friend Erin, who Tori met in Crimea (and again in Sokyriany!) came to L’viv to join us and say goodbye (and console me after Tori had gone!). I had planned on taking them to this fun Jewish restaurant that I went to my first time in L’viv, where the food is excellent and you get to barter for the price at the end of the meal. Unfortunately, I got us lost, and we ended up eating outside in the remains of an old fortress which today is an Italian restaurant. The food turned out to be amazing, and Erin and Tori weren’t at all disappointed with the Italian food instead of the Jewish place ; )
The next morning, another dear friend arrived. Tammela was in L’viv for a few hours before flying to Germany to visit her boyfriend, and she came to the hostel to have a farewell breakfast with Tori, Erin, and myself. I wanted to make Tori’s last morning memorable, so I wrote her a nice long letter she could read on the plane, and planned a yummy breakfast of scrambled eggs and crepes, complete with her favorite Ukrainian spread called “Nusa” (a mix of chocolate and vanilla icing!).
While Tori was packing and getting ready, I ran out to do some errands, and bought her a surprise–-15 of her favorite Ukrainian dark-chocolate, fruit-and-nut-filled bars. I wanted her to have something to remember Ukraine by ; ) The lady at the store looked at me like I was crazy, but Tori’s excitement was so worth it! I also stopped and bought her a flash-drive, and as soon as I got back to the hostel I set it to copying all of our summer pictures so she could take them home with her. It wasn’t finished by the time we needed to leave for the airport, so I had to carry the laptop open on my lap as we took a bus across town, while it finished copying everything! We definitely got a few strange looks on the bus, but neither of us wanted to face our mother if Tori came home with no pictures to share! 😉
At the airport, Tori’s luggage was somehow within the weight limits, and soon enough her tickets were printed and it was time to say goodbye. It was kind of anticlimactic, after six weeks together, but it was also an easy goodbye, knowing we’d see each other again soon. I’m finished with my Peace Corps service in November, so we knew the goodbye was temporary; we’ll be seeing each other soon for Thanksgiving! So after a big hug, I sent her on her way back to America. I was sad to see her go, but I know she was excited to see our parents and embark on the next chapter of her life–college!
After Tori left, I had two days in L’viv to spend with Erin. She’s been my neighbor in Ukraine for the last year, living in the village closest to Sokyriany. I’ve come to love her and value her companionship so much, and this time together in L’viv was no exception. She always knows the right thing to say, and after telling her all the highs and lows of my summer, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted. We spent our time together relaxing, stopping in cafes to watch the Olympics when the weather got too hot, shopping when something caught our attention, and even hiking to Castle Hill at the top of L’viv when an ambitious mood took us. We also ran into other volunteers in L’viv, because Peace Corps Ukraine is a small world and you’ll always run into volunteers who you’re somehow connected to :
Finally the time came for our departure; we had a train to catch back to Chernivtsi, and from there a bus home to Romankivtsi (her village) and Sokyriany (my town). After all the crazy adventures, I was finally on my way home to Sokyriany! Thus officially concludes the most epic summer adventure of my life.