What vandalism it would represent to dilute this magnificent city presence with the humdrum and the regimented!
-Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities
Cliche as it sounds, I arrived in Lviv on a cold, rainy night, later than expected thanks to train delays from Kiev. After dealing with some taxi issues, Mango and I finally got to our apartment at 10:00 PM, only to be turned away by the host. ("No English, no reservation!" the lady spit out before abruptly hanging up on me; despite calling beforehand to notify the host of my travel plans, I had missed the check-in window.) We were both cold and hadn't eaten since breakfast, and all I wanted to do was sit on my suitcase and cry, but we managed to find a hostel nearby that took in our vagrant selves, and for a mere $8 we were allowed to share a bunk with a chain-smoking pregnant woman. Welcome to Lviv.
The funny thing is that, despite such a horrible first impression, I still managed to fall in love with Lviv.
I ended up with a fabulously spacious apartment in one of those old buildings with high ceilings in the city center, and the price couldn't be better. I was a few minutes away from Lviv's historic city center, a cream puff of an old town that resembles a miniature Vienna without the tourists. So for dollars a day, I visited stunning sights and ate like a queen, thoroughly enjoying this small city full of culture and beauty in an era when most worthwhile destinations feel like saturated tourist traps. (Despite enjoying Kiev, I liked Lviv much more thanks to its intimate and charming car-free old town.)
People seemed much friendlier and relaxed in Lviv, and I was almost sad to leave after a few weeks. When I found myself at the airport for my 6:00 AM flight to Zagreb and was told it had been unexpectedly cancelled, after the initial panic attack wore off I was perfectly happy to return the next morning for the only available flight. An extra day to spend in Lviv! Here I come, opera house tour and vegan restaurant I thought I had missed. Because even travel disasters are powerless to the enchanting spell the beauty of Lviv casts over its visitors.
Yard of lost toys
Almost hiding in plain sight is this melancholy little enclave of stray toys, mostly plush animals lost or discarded over recent decades and looking for a new home. Puffy, is that you?? Story has it that a resident of a nearby apartment block stumbled upon a few lost toys and left them on a ledge in the building's shared courtyard, in case the owner returned to collect them. When the toys' owner never came back, this "unlikely shrine to lost things" was born, and today it continues to collect an assortment of worn out toys quietly living out their twilight years. When Mango and I visited, days of heavy rain lent a particularly crusty air to the spread of toys, and I scarcely wanted to touch the grimy, matted plushies much less adopt one (Mango, on the other hand, thoroughly enjoyed sticking his nose in every musty crevice). In the twenty or so minutes I was in the yard of lost toys, I watched a fellow tourist taking pictures, some local girls sharing secrets on the swing, and a young couple shyly making small talk; like Ukraine's other unexpected and self-governing public spaces, this was quite the gathering spot.