Crossing The Border From Poland To Lviv, Ukraine

Crossing Into Lviv

Here are the WikiTravel instructions for traveling from Poland across the border to Lviv, Ukraine:

“From Przemysl, take a bus to the border (granitsa in Polish)…

“When you exit the final border control, walk straight ahead and you will come out on to a street which cars use to cross back in to Poland. Follow this street up past the shops and money exchanges, and take your first left. About 50 meters down on the left hand side is the new bus terminal where buses run regularly to Lviv for approximately 23 UAH [hryvni]. Get your ticket from the driver.

“Whether to [choose this crossing]depends on your stress tolerance, Polish language skills, and ability to push and shove at the border.”

Simple. Vicki and I crossed easily at midmorning, without any pushing or shoving, without anyone else around.

We jumped on the bus to Lviv just as it pulled out. We settled into seats, but bags and people blocked my way to the driver. How to pay? I pulled out 60 hryvni (about US$5), held up the bills, and looked at the guy next to me. He took the money, passed it to the woman seated in front of him, and so on up to the driver. Back came my change. No ticket. No receipt. I guess that’s the way Ukraine works.

Three years ago, my friend Dag and I crossed out of a different Ukraine border and faced long lines. We were told smugglers lined up to transport goods from Ukraine (non-EU) to Europe (high, fixed prices). While waiting in line, I pulled out a book and started reading. An immigration officer saw me, came over, grabbed the book from my hands, and studied it. Once he determined I was reading in English, he waved Dag and I to the head of the line. I guess that, in this part of the world, smugglers don’t speak English.

This trip I packed a book in my daypack for the Lviv crossing, figuring it might come in handy. But, as I said, we hurried right through.

I first became interested in Lviv decades ago, while talking to a friend’s grandfather in Buenos Aires. Grandpa told me he was a Russian Jew. I asked if he’d been born in Russia.

“I was born and grew up in the same place,” he told me. “But that same place changed countries over and over.”

He was talking about Lviv. In medieval times, Lviv was included in a Polish Lithuanian kingdom. By the time Grandpa was born, the Hapsburgs had taken control and were running the region from Vienna. Lviv was the capital of the Austro-Hungarian province called Galicia, which included much of southern Poland.

After Grandpa’s birth, the Russians invaded, then the Nazis, then the Soviets. In 1989, the Soviet Union disappeared, and Lviv wound up as part of Ukraine.

Even the name Lviv seems to change. When I inquired at the border if we were on the right bus, I called it Lviv. But those who could answer called it Lvov—its name in both Polish and Russian. Maybe they were Poles or Russians, or maybe they simply adopted the name that was in common use during most of my lifetime. Austrians called the place Lemberg when they installed here.

Lviv, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, impressed us right away. Much of the city center stays closed to traffic, so we could walk around and enjoy the magnificent architecture without someone honking at us. Churches, the opera house, parks, markets, streetcars, and food shops all ooze with character and charm.

And then there were prices. A half-liter mug of beer costs 75 cents, a plate of sausages maybe twice that. For Vicki, a scrumptious meal at a new vegetarian restaurant cost just US$2.30. We stayed in a luxury room at the Hotel Lviv, in the heart of the old town, for a special weekly rate of US$280 (US$40 a night). That price included a bountiful buffet breakfast and all taxes. The Hotel Lviv offers cheaper rooms, and other hotels much cheaper rooms, especially outside the center.

Our main reason for coming to Lviv, besides Grandpa’s tales of yesteryear, was that we might use Lviv as a temporary European base. Six international borders surround Lviv, all within 200 kilometers or so. We figure we could set up shop here and travel from Lviv to those six countries and then to all of Eastern Europe.

We found several Lviv housing options, including a city-center studio apartment for US$320 a month. I’ll follow up with more on basing out of Lviv soon…

Paul Terhorst

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