Sunday, November 30, 2008

ROGUE TRAVEL STRATEGY: The geo-economics of Lviv, Ukraine

I have lived in Lviv, Ukraine for a few months now. It is one of the great cities of central Europe, having been a regional capital of the Austrian-Hapsburg empire. But due to the political situation in Ukraine it is still not part of the main stream travel circuit. In fact, most people I speak to from Western Europe or the States look at me as if I had suddenly sprouted horns when I tell them that this is where I live. Which is fine by me because over exposure is the last thing that is needed here. It is a prime location for rogue travelers. There are several reasons I chose Lviv as the base for my central and eastern European experience.

1. The architecture. Lviv's buildings exude that dreamy central European charm like few other cities. It is Prague before it was gentrified and invaded by tourists. Faded facades, shady hallways and deteriorating courtyards add to the romance of the city. The center itself is a UNESCO world heritage site.

2. The cost of living. I rent a cushy apartment in the city center with a room mate for 175 USD per month.

 1. 1 litre of local beer: 70 cents
2. fresh baked french baton: 50 cents
3. industrial size roll of Soviet toilet paper: 20 cents
4. 1 pack of Chesterfield Reds: 70 cents
5. 14" inch carry out pizza with extra cheese: 3.0 USD

3. Regional location and logistics. Western Ukraine borders Poland, Slovakia and Hungary. These countries are only hours by train. I book night trains to and from each destination to save on hotel expenses. Germany, Lithuania and Czech Republic are reasonable distances by rail. Soviet infrastructure is dated but cheap, extensive and reliable. And I didn't mention the Carpathian mountains...

4. Parallel histories. Ukraine is one of the last places in Europe where agrarian peoples still play an important role in an increasingly industrial and post-industrial society. For example, the following scene is typical: peasant farmers from local villages sell their vegetables on the corner in front of an internet cafe or call center, which is set up in a converted warehouse.

5. Rich historic past. Lviv has been a flash point between east and west for many centuries. The geo-political realities of this location are reflected in everything from the cafe menus to the musical background. But perhaps it is most clearly written in the architecture, which is a whirlwind tour of styles: the center of old town begins with its medieval Armenian and Jewish buildings, which radiate into Polish-Lithuanian, Austrian-Hapsburg, Polish and finally ends in a Soviet wasteland.


Thomas Austraila said...

this looks like a possible key to the region.

Jon said...

if you want to come to Lviv and explore the region, it is usually better the fly to Krakow first than to Kiev. Ukraine still has restrictions on incoming flights and it ends up costing more to fly direct.