2016 Trip to Asia Has Begun!

Hey All! It’s been a while.

2016 marks yet another amazing trip for me (and my girlfriend). On February 1st we left Montreal and landed in Singapore. We will be traveling through South East Asia for the next 4 months.

Unfortunately I will not be able to update this blog as I have way too many projects going on at the moment. I simply don’t have the time to produce goof content for this blog.

HOWEVER!

Elizabeth started an awesome Youtube channel and you should definitely check it out, watch videos and subscribe!

Here is the channel link: Elizabeth Travels

 

 

 

Balkan Spirit in Montreal

I’ve been back home to Montreal for a while now and I really miss being on the move. Most importantly I really miss the Balkans, the people, the food the music.

Luckily I live in one of the most multicultural cities of North America: Montréal. Just this past week-end I had the chance to attend a few shows (thanks to Mundial Montreal) and once again, I’ve felt the spirit of the Balkans.

I have seen the Lemon Bucket Orkestra in concert more than a few times, but their show on November 21st 2014 at Club Soda was probably one of their biggest shows in the province of Quebec. I also brought the camera with me so I could record a few of their songs and share it with you.

So, without further ado, the Lemon Bucket Orkestra!
 

 

 

Visiting Lviv in the Evening

Lviv offers a variety of things to do and see in the evening. In the previous post I wrote about visiting Lviv mostly during the day. However, once the sun goes down and you leave the High Castle you should probably find a place for a drink.

There is a chain of bars and restaurants in Lviv owned by “Lokal” group and I must admit these guys are making the city’s nightlife a lot more attractive. They run many themed establishments and you should try to check out at least some of them. If possible, get a Lokal loyalty card which will offer some perks and rebates.

Kryjivka

Kryjivka restaurant

Inside Kryjivka, photo from www.fest.lviv.ua

Kryjivka is the last hiding place of Ukrainian Insurgent Army left from the times of the World War II. Designed as a bunker, this restaurant offers a very unique experience. First of all, the queue might be long as this place accepts over 1 million visitors per year. Once you get to the unmarked door and knock on it, you’ll be asked for a password (“Slava Ukraini”). Then you will be greeted by a man with machine gun who will offer you a shot of vodka. Once they show you to your table, take your time to look around. The decorations are awesome and you really do feel like you’re in the 40’s.

The food is okay, nothing spectacular. We ordered dark beer but it was flat and tasted more like bad cider. I sent it back, although the waitress tried to persuade me that this beer is exactly the way it’s suppose to be. The thing is that earlier we went to another establishment and got the same exactly beer which was great. Our friend (couchsurfing host in Lviv) admitted that she woudn’t send it back – because it’s not something people do in Ukraine. Anyways, they changed our dark beer to light without arguing, which surprised me.

Conclusion: Kryjivka is a must see, it might not have the best food but the place is really special and memorable.

Find it at: Rynok square, 14

 

House of Legends (Дiм Легенд)

Dim Legend Lviv

House of Legends, Lviv

This building has many different rooms and each room offers a different theme. In one of the rooms you can lock yourself in a cage, in the library room you can read pick any book and read it. In the summer time there is also a cool terrace on the roof of the building which offers a great view on the old town. You can also go sit in a Trabant and take some photos. Now, I wouldn’t recommend getting a table on the terrace because the whole night you’ll have people coming up to the roof to take some photos. I got a feeling that the people at the table were starting to be bothered of all the people walking around them, pushing their chairs and constantly throwing coins.

The 4L Beer at House of Legends

The 4L Beer at House of Legends

We ordered a 4-liter beer and a cheese plate, which was great but I cannot tell you about the rest of the food. The service was not the fastest but we weren’t in a hurry. All in all great experience and well worth the visit.

Find it at: 48 Staroevreiska Str.

 

Mazoch-Cafe (Мазох Кафе)

Leopold Masoch

Leopold Masoch

Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, a famous erotica writer, was born in Lviv. The term “masochism” derived from his name. Not really my scene but it is very unique and special. Chains, candle wax, whipping and a lot more is on the menu. For some reason the atmosphere in the cafe made me think of the Korova Milk Bar in “Clockwork Orange”… it doesn’t look the same but it has some similar vibes, at least that’s how I saw it. All the drinks and food have “sexy” names such as “Almost orgasm”, “Not a virgin” and many others. We decided to keep things simple and went with Dark Zenik (their own beer brand, found in most “Lokal” establishments).

So what exactly happens at this place? I think the name says it all… and in case you’re still wondering, here is video from Youtube to give you an idea:

Before entering the cafe you will also see a life-size statue of Leopold Masoch in front of the door. Don’t be shy, put your hand in his left pocket and tell me what you find :)

Find it at: 7 Serbska Str.

 

Charles Bukowski Pub

This pub does not belong to “Lokal” which makes it very attractive for the residents of the city. Prices are very low (beer for less than a $1) and they also serve food! You can play pool, enjoy your drink and a cigarette and simply relax. One late night, in the middle of the week where most bars were closed, we decided to check out the Bukowski pub. Our friend told us it’s rather filthy and not touristy – so we got really excited about it! In a basement, the pub plays rock music and is often referred to as Lviv’s backstage. Many musicians have been spotted there after their shows in the city.

The music is loud, it’s full of cigarette smoke and once again, the alcohol is cheap – I guess a real pub. I could compare it to Montreal’s “Foufounes Électriques” where most rock/punk crowd hangs out.

Find it at: Ivana Franka 3.

 

There are many other cool places in Lviv, unfortunately I do not remember the names of many of them. There are clubs as well but I never managed to make it there, I didn’t really want to either. The point is that Lviv offers a pretty interesting and various nightlife, from bars to clubs, passing through pubs and restaurants. Mind that the municipal law does not allow stores to sell alcohol after 10pm, however you can easily find place that will gladly sell booze at any time of the day or night, you just have to look for them.

food in lviv

Best hot dog I ever had

If you get hungry after an evening of drinking, I would highly suggest trying one of Lviv’s hot dogs (many hot dog joints are open 24 hours). For $0.70 you will get a big hot dog, loaded with sauses, corn and many other ingredients. Unhealthy, tasty and cheap!

Questions? Suggestions? Comment below!

Discovering Lviv – The Hidden Gem of Ukraine

I lived in Ukraine for the first 14 years of my life. I went to school in Kyiv, I went to the seaside during summers and I’ve spent a fair share of time in the Carpathian mountains as a kid but somehow I never went to Lviv, the city of lions.

Lviv Opera

In front of Lviv Opera, photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

In 2010 I drove through Lviv but I got so annoyed with the confusing streets and never ending cobble stones that I decided to not stop in the city. In 2014 I ended up in Ukraine once again. I was going from Warsaw to Kyiv and decided to stop in Lviv for a day so I could meet a local entrepreneur/travel blogger.

Little did I know that one day stop would make me fall in love with this beautiful city. Since I didn’t come by car the streets appeared as very cute and historical. The cobble stones made me think of old medieval towns and the whole city just had a very welcoming vibe. I spent the whole day walking around Lviv even though there was a pretty serious rain storm outside. I made a promise to myself to come back to Lviv and spend more than a day there.

One month later, after visiting Kyiv I went back to Lviv for a few days. Just 3-4 hours before arriving to Lviv I sent out a few CouchSurfing requests and surprisingly enough got a reply almost instantly, from Liliia. We took a tram from the train station to the center of the city and our awesome host. Liliia turned out to be not only a great host but also a great guide who showed us the city, introduced us to her friends and all in all helped us have a great experience.

First of all, Lviv is really different from all the other Ukrainian cities. Ukraine could have probably been like Lviv but the huge influence of the USSR made it different. Most ex-Soviet cities have the cold square architecture that looks quite boring. Lviv, however, perserved an interesting mix of Ukrainian, Polish,Armenian, Jewish, German and Austrian cultures. Somehow the city survived two World Wars and now offers us its architecture in the original form. In 1998 Lviv’s historic center became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

One of Lviv's Cathedrals,  photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

One of Lviv’s Cathedrals,
photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

I can keep on going about the old historical facts but you can find this info on wikipedia. Now let’s talk about what I have seen and liked in that city and what I recommend seeing when you visit Lviv, Ukraine.

 

Walking around Lviv

Right next to the Lviv’s Opera House (which you can’t miss) there is Lesi Ukrainky street where you can find a small market with loads of cool souvenirs: magnets, Ukrainian traditional clothing, paintings and a lot more. I couldn’t resist buying a t-shirt there. Remember that you can haggle with the vendors for a more authentic bazaar experience.

Lviv Opera Theater

Lviv Theater of Opera,
photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

From the market walk back to the theater and enjoy a relaxing walk through the Svobody avenue all the way down to Mitskevycha square. On your way you can grab some ice cream and enjoy it on of the numerous benches, if they aren’t taking up by a group of old men playing chess. Now you can head to Rynok Square (Market Square)  to see more beautiful buildings, street performers, cute shops and a lot more. You can easily spend 2-3 days just walking around the old town.

 

What to visit in Lviv

Lychakiv Cemetery is a must-see in Lviv. This cemetery is like nothing I have ever seen before.

Lychakivske Cemetery

Lychakivske Cemetery,
photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

Lychakiv Cemetery, Lviv, photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

Lychakiv Cemetery, Lviv,
photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

The Lychakiv Cemetery (Lychakivs’kyi tsvyntar) is one of Europe’s oldest and most famous cemeteries. Along the regular tombstones you will find grand monuments and even small chapels. The place has a unique feel to it and you could spend hours there, wondering around and reading writings in Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, Latin, Hebrew and some other languages.

Lychakiv Cenetery Lviv

Chapel,Lychakiv Cemetery,
photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

This is the only cemetery (in my experience) that charges an entry fee, unless you have relatives buried there. I think the fee is a couple of euros, although we went in for free. If you go through the main entrance, you will pay the fee. If you go through a different side, you might get in without paying.

Lviv High Castle

Right before the sunset you should start climbing up the High Castle (Vysokyi zamok). The hike to the top might make you sweat so bring a bottle of water with you. Most people get a little disappointed once they reach the High Castle since there is no castle… Once upon a time there was a castle but it was destroyed by different wars. The city considered reconstructing the castle but it isn’t possible at the moment (and I am sure it would be crazy expensive). This place is the highest point of the city and offers a great view, especially during early evening.

High Castle in Lviv, Ukraine

Lviv High Castle
photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

When we got to the High Castle there were a lot of people, taking photos, enjoying the weather and even launching candle powered light balloons. This is another “must-see” place in Lviv.

Lviv has in incredible coffee culture. You can get a cup of coffee anywhere and everywhere. Besides coffee shops I’d highly suggest trying out Ukrainian food. There is no shortage of restaurants in the city. For a very unique coffee experience I would highly recommend the Lviv Coffee Mining Manufacture (Львівська копальня кави) located near the main square, Lemkivska Street 15a. If you are not in the mood for a coffee I still suggest going to his place and checking out their basement. Before going “to the mine” you’ll be handed an old metal helmet (for obvious reasons). Take a tour of the underground cafe, find a table in one of the poorly lit corners and enjoy the ambiance.

Lvivske Museum of Beer & Brewing  is very affordable and interesting. For $2 you get 2 freshly brewed beers and access to the museum. You can visit the museum by yourself, however a guided visit is a lot more interesting. You should contact the museum in advance to find out about their tours in English. The exhibition was cool, the short documentary about Lvivske beer was interesting and the beer was amazing. I don’t remember the last time I tasted such fresh beer.

Pharmacy Museum

Pharmacy Museum, Lviv,
photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

Pharmacy Museum, Lviv,  photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

Pharmacy Museum, Lviv,
photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

There is also a “Pharmacy Museum” which is pretty unique, loads of gorgeous churches, cathedrals and other historical monuments, even the main Post Office is worth walking into! I am sure I’m forgetting a lot of details and places, so Lviv is yours to discover. I am still surprised (but happy) that Lviv is not more known abroad. The city is simply amazing, a lot to see and do and prices are incredibly low, especially for Western travelers. There is a huge demand for cities like Lviv and I think now is the right time to visit, before the city gets ruined by the tourists and turns into another Prague…

"Something Interesting" gift shop in Lviv,  photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

“Something Interesting” gift shop in Lviv,
photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

Besides the landmarks, restaurants and coffee shops Lviv offers a lively and interesting night life which you should not miss. More on that in the next post.

Have you ever been to Lviv? Would you like to go there? Let me know in the comments!

– Alex

Photo of The Day – 2

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No… it’s a an abandoned monument. In the 1960’s and 1970’s ex-Yugoslavian president Tito decided to build 25 monuments to commemorates the sites of WWII battles. Millions of people visited these monuments, not only to remember their heroes but to also reassure themselves that communism is good, powerful and… big. After the fall of the Yugoslavian Republic these huge monuments were completely abandoned and forgotten.

While driving through the winding mountain roads of Bosnia and Herzegovina we stumbled upon one of these monuments in Tjentište, a village in the municipality of Foča. For a long time we couldn’t understand what this monument was and most importantly why it was in the middle of nowhere. But yeah, there it was. Cold. Abandoned. Communist.

Abandoned Monument Bosnia

photo by Elizabeth Viatkin

Feel free to visit the Balkans and find all 25 monuments :)

– Alex

2014 Hitchhiking Tour Through the Balkans

As I was planning the travels through the Balkans I got this “crazy” idea of hitchhiking all along. Most of my friends and family weren’t aware of my plans. I am sure that if I told people in advance, they would simply try to talk me out of it. “Oh it’s too dangerous”… It’s rather “Oh it’s too adventurous“.

Hitchhiking to Sarajevo

Hitchhiking to Sarajevo

I always wanted to try hitchhiking and as I am not getting any younger, I thought this could be my last opportunity to hitchhike great distances. Before starting this journey I have met quite a few people who had a hitchhiking experience and they all loved it and recommended it. Well, it was my turn to try the good-old-hippy way of traveling.

Why the Balkans?

For some years I’ve been intrigued with the whole ex-Yugoslavia and the Balkan region. I like ćevapi, I wanted to try real rakia and I was curious about turbo-folk. The Balkans are not limited to these three items, however the region is known for it. There are many more obvious reasons to travel the Balkans now. First of all, many of these countries are still underrated and aren’t extremely touristy. The prices are low for the most part, people are friendly, history is rich.

Schengen Area Issue

It’s worth mentioning that one of my main reasons for visiting the Balkans: most Balkan countries are not in the Schengen zone yet! Most European Union countries are part of the Schengen zone. Countries in this zone abolished the borders and passport control between themselves and strengthened the border control with countries excluded from Schengen. All the countries in these zone are now acting as one single country. This poses a problem for many travelers. As a Canadian I don’t need visas to visit most countries however there are some limitation. For example I am only allowed to stay in Schengen zone for a maximum of 90 days within a 180 days period. If you get caught overstaying the allowed period – you become a subject to a hefty fine and a ban from entering the EU for a year or two.

Alex Traveling

Well, I stayed in Poland for 83 days or so and decided to move on to Ukraine in order to leave the Schengen area. This is when I also decided to travel through the Balkans. Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia are all in the European Union but they haven’t signed the Schengen agreement yet. Yey for me!

So, Let’s Travel!

While in Poland for almost 3 months, I got a chance to live in Warsaw, visit Krakow, Gdansk and Sopot. I also made sure to visit Berlin, Germany for a week or so since it’s so close to Poland. Eventually I decided to go to Ukraine. I was born in Ukraine and I still have many relatives there, including my father. On June 1st I traveled from Warsaw to Lviv and then on to Kyiv. I strayed in Ukraine for a few weeks, awaiting my girlfriend’s arrival while she was finishing up some studies at a university in Poland.

From Kyiv we made it back to Lviv and decided to stay in that amazing city for a week. We met Liliia, an awesome couchsurfer who hosted us and helped us explore the city. Lviv deserves its own blog post, which I will do later. From Lviv we took a train to Solotvyno which is located at the border with Romania. We crossed the Ukrainian/Romanian border by foot and started hitchhiking for the very first time in our lives.

Our Hitchhiking Map for Balkans 2014

Our Hitchhiking Map for Balkans 2014

It all started at Sighetu Marmației, Romania. Here is a list of some of the cities that we visited on this hitchhiking trip:

  • Bucharest, Romania
  • Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria
  • Sofia, Bulgaria
  • Belgrade, Serbia
  • Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Podgorica, Montenegro
  • Budva, Montenegro
  • Shkoder, Albania
  • Tirana, Albania
  • Herceg Novi, Montenegro
  • Dubrovnik, Croatia
  • Zagreb, Croatia
  • Ljubljana, Slovenia

We were dropped off in many other cities however it was more of a transit, not really a visit. The cities I listed are actually the ones we got a chance to stay at. Unfortunately we didn’t stay enough in some of them and some other ones should have been crossed out of the list since they were not worth visiting.

Anyways, in the upcoming months I will be sharing details of the trip, sharing experiences from specific places and sharing tips on visiting the countries listed above.

If you have any questions about these countries, cities, traveling or hitchhiking – please DO comment below 😉

 

Alex