We had to vacate our Airbnb in Kyiv by 11:00, which was unfortunate because our train didn't leave for L'viv until about 12 hours later. Despite our best attempts to pack lightly, at least two out of the three of us decided to bring with them enough clothes to start a new life over here. I'll let you guess which two out of the three are guilty by smelling us.
I thought the best option might be to wander to the hostel down the street and ask them if we could just pay a little to store our bags for the day. I should have been deterred by the hundreds of google reviews that warned me of the five-flight stair climb and very average Eastern European customer service. But I wasn't. And when I entered the place and asked my simple question I was met with several eye rolls and half a dozen phone calls to Stalin-knows-where, during which the hostel employees attempted to negotiate an international peace treaty for the foreign travelers in front of them.
When homegirl got off the phone she informed me that we would have to rent a room for the day, which was $10, but then she warned me that she wouldn't dare leave anything whatsoever at that hostel because "it's more dangerous than prison in this place."
I asked her to repeat herself several times, sure that there had been a miscommunication. But each time she did, the warning became starker, finally ending with "I don't even bring my wallet to work."
We were referred to the train station, which supposedly had lockers somewhere. I was skeptical about this, but 25 minutes later we were in the basement of the place, which exists exactly in the year 1955, handing our bags over to a man with gold teeth and cigarette-stained fingers. I'm not sure whether it was a miracle that our bags were still there when we returned around 10:00 PM, but I said a few gratitude prayers to Santa just in case.
I had booked an overnight train to L'viv, which ride was scheduled to last six hours, but somehow ended up being more like seven. The delay may have been the cause of the grumpiness of our train attendant who refused to be entertained by Skylar's repeated attempts to ask her if we could resolve the airflow problem through his use of basic Spanish, sound effects, and some admittedly-confusing sign language.
The train bounced along for the entirety of the evening, jolting me from my dozy stupor every couple of seconds as I repeatedly thought we had derailed.
We arrived in L'viv around 6:00 AM.
Our hotel told us that we couldn't check in until noon, but I lied in my translation to Skylar and Krishelle, informing them that "we can totally get in by probably like 10:00 or 11:00" because I like to give good news to people, even if it's not true. It's a short-sighted popularity plan that usually only works for con-artists and pilots but which I've never been able to shake despite probably being neither.
The hotel did offer to let us check in early for a small fee but I declined this without consulting my companions because CHEAP.
We wandered town like zombies for several hours before finally returning to the hotel lobby to sit. It was nearly 11:00 by this point and I had "translated" the "good and bad news" that the room wasn't quite ready yet but "it totally should be any minute."
Then I headed back to the street to walk some more because I couldn't handle the pressure of disappointment anymore. I found out later that Skylar and Krishelle had walked to the front desk and thrown all of their money at someone the moment I departed so they could just check in early and wash the sin of overnight train from their bodies.
I headed up a hill to a building that used to be a Mormon church when I was a missionary in mumble mumble 03.
Crap. I mumbled through the wrong part.
Whatever. I'm old now.
I hadn't set foot in the place in nearly 15 years. The Mormons had sold it just after I left Ukraine, which felt a little like selling my childhood home without consulting me or offering me some time to come and collect all of my memories of sitting inside dreading going out into the snow or, and you know this is true, lying on the floor screaming "just let me die" while someone called a taxi to take me to a hospital in the middle of a forest to probably perform emergency surgery on me.
The building is now a bank, and I guess I was feeling bold, so I wandered inside and made myself at home, climbing a spiral staircase to the second floor, which housed some offices that were definitely not supposed to be open to the public.
A woman looked up from a desk and asked if she could help me. I explained to her that I was on a memories quest, fully expecting her to not even remotely care. But to my surprise, she remembered that the building was once a church and she very sweetly talked to me for 10 or 15 minutes, telling me at one point, "you must have done a good job here because every day I come to work in this building and feel peace in my soul."
By the end of the conversation, during which we shared memories and our undying mutual love for L'viv, we were both teary-eyed and hugging and before I left we exchanged positive affirmations like we were old friends who had both just gone through breakups.
Just before I walked out the door she called out to me, "I knew your soul was special the moment you walked in because my soul can sense these things."
I love her.
Also, this was easily the most positive experience I've ever had inside a bank.
For the remainder of the day we wandered this magnificently gorgeous city, stopping in churches and quaint shops and occasionally just sitting down to enjoy the street performers and life passing by.
We saw some things in L'viv that we also saw in Kyiv--reminders that this country is currently fighting a very sad war on its own soil against pure evil. A few of the churches have erected makeshift memorials, including tributes to the hundred or so "Maidan Angels" who lost their lives at the hands of the murderous president's special forces in Kyiv's main square in 2014. And, more devastatingly, we've seen walls and walls and walls of photos of the now-tens-of-thousands of people, some young enough to be my child and others old enough to be my grandpa, who have died fighting Putin's genocidal Russia since 2014 near the Eastern border.
"The Angels of Maidan"
I've been overwhelmed a few times seeing the pictures and reading the stories. One wall in a L'viv church gave a face to the children of deceased soldiers, including an offering from the below three-year-old.
His quote says "my Daddy flew to the heavens and became a star, and sometimes he visits the Earth to see us."