Lviv is authentic. The past is not preserved; the past just is. It crumbles around you in random constellations as it once did in Europe’s other great medieval cities, the Lisbons and Pragues of this world, before the tourists flooded in and beautification works commenced. Granted tourist dollars bring improved infrastructure, fancier restaurants and a wider selection of ‘sights’, but there’s more to any great city than that, or at least there should be.
In just one afternoon I puffed up the 300-plus steps of the City Hall tower for panoramic views across town to the wooded hills beyond; poked my nose in the gothic-style Latin Cathedral and the renaissance-style Dormition Cathedral, their proximity just off opposite sides of the main square neatly symbolising an intertwined yet uneasy relationship between Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions in Ukraine; and ghosted around the city history museum as its only guest, groping the walls of darkened exhibition rooms to turn on the lights myself, leaving a trail of somnambulant attendants in my wake.
Yet it took a couple of weeks to get under the city’s skin. I found less touristy coffee shops hidden down cobblestoned alleys – all serving coffee Lviv-style in a long-handled copper pot and often populated by colourful characters – where the hours passed swiftly whether buried in a book, writing or in silent contemplation. I came to understand that its people are not unfriendly, just reserved and cautious with outsiders, which is understandable given how their lands were fought over by successive foreign powers. I marvelled at the variety of the cuisine and came to rely on the bortsch soup as an antidote to endless cold, grey days. Yes, Lviv is authentic and so best absorbed not pursued.