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Lviv

Mysterious, edgy and architecturally adorable, Lviv boasts that its Ukraines least Soviet city. It may have a point! The citys 1999 Unesco World Heritage listed centre, was built like a rich layer-cake of neoclassical architecture upon rococo, baroque, Renaissance and Gothic styles. Theres hardly a concrete Soviet apartment block in sight (in the centre, at least), and it has a deep-rooted coffee-house culture that is oh-so-central European.

Lviv was once described as an undiscovered pearl of Europe. It has a very long history reflected in its architecture and way of life. Unlike many other cities of Ukraine, Lviv survived almost unscathed in WW2 and was spared by the Soviet government that left and preserved numerous architectural landmarks in the city. Not to forget, that Lviv has entirely retained its pure medieval look, and when arriving to this town, one is sinking into a faraway past.

This old city combines the flavours of mysterious East with the sounds of the romantic West that so perfectly interweave with Southern expression and Northern tranquility. Both in the past and nowadays, Lviv is viewed as one of the most political, economical and cultural concentrations of Ukraine, and indeed the entire Central-Eastern Europe region.

This place is full of legends, like no other city in Ukraine. Visiting Lviv at least for one day is already a rewarding experience, just to immerse oneself in the streams of either spring or autumn rain, to dance with the leaves of the Striyskiy Park or find your way to a winter fairytale on Castle Hill (Zamkova Gora). Indulge yourself in  Lviv with coffee and cake, at one of this former Habsburg citys many Austrian-style cafes and keep your ears open to fanciful sounds of a magic city. Soaking up the wonderful atmosphere of central Lviv, wandering its uneven cobbled streets between magnificent churches and historic buildings makes one believe to be a part of some strange charming fairytale.

Only in Lviv will one be amazed with over 50 percent of all architectural monuments of the country of Ukraine in one place. It takes no more than 100 steps to witness an Armenian lot straight after a Catholic one, afterwards to Ukrainian, and finally to the narrow micro world of Jewish street. No wonder, visitors call Lviv little Rome, and Lviv residents claim it to be Lviv the Great.

During its almost 750 yrs. official history, Lviv has endured many difficult political times. Ukrainian, Polish, Austrian, German and Soviet Union governorships have tried to change the citys look one by one. Yet Lviv does retain a whiff of Sovietness which only broadens its appeal. Weathered babushkas sell pickled vegetables and honey at the citys Krakivsky Market. Theres still the odd gastronom (food store), Volga and dodgy neon-lit slot machine parlors scattered about. Opera tickets and tram rides are still priced for the people, at the equivalent of $10 and $1, respectively.

While Lviv has more tourist infrastructure than most former Soviet cities (including gasp a tourist information centre), English signage is rare and there are only a handful of high-standard restaurants and hotels. On balance, this may be a good thing as it has prevented huge Krakow -sized crowds from materializing on this ancient wonderland.

Youll want to do most of your exploring on foot, dropping into the occasional museum, plopping down at the odd cafe and stopping to gawk at the myriad churches with their varied cupolas. Walk up to the citys highest point, Castle Hill (Zamkova Hora), for a birds-eye view of those cupolas. Lviv is nicknamed the Florence of the east and from here its clear why.