20 August 2016

Our second day in Lviv was dedicated to visiting sights of Jewish relevance. We said goodbye to the Lviv Hostel. I can’t say that I loved sharing a room with strangers.

We read on the city’s Jewish history and planned out the day over breakfast.

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We started with a walking tour that I found online of the old Jewish quarter.

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Perhaps most significant were the ruins of the Golden Rose Synagogue, built in the 17th century.

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The abundance of Jewish sights and simultaneous absence of any substantial Jewish community was a constant reminder of the atrocities that took place in Lviv.

After the tour we sat down on a curb and plotted remaining sights Jewish relevance on our map.

We parked at the former home of renowned Yiddish poet ‘Shalom Aleichem’.

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From there we walked to the destroyed Jewish cemetery, where a few headstones lay in rubble.

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Across the street was the old Jewish ‘Rapport’ hospital.

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We briefly walked through a crowded market on the way to the Holocaust/Ghetto memorial.

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We sat down to lunch at what seemed to be a traditional restaurant, but I can’t say the food was great.

Our final step in Lviv was the Janowska concentration camp, just on the outskirts of town. It was disturbing just how close in proximity the camp was to city center- a reminder of the complicity by non-Jewish locals.

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Before hitting the road we picked up some snacks at a Lviv grocery. It was strikingly large.

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As we started our drive we also began what will likely stand to be the most terrifying experience of my life, and ultimately one of the most cherished and memorable. Our intended destination for the evening was a beautiful cottage in the village of Vorohkta. Our plan was to wake up the next morning to climb the Carpathian treasure of Mount Hoverla, the highest point in all of Ukraine with views into neighboring countries. When left Lviv around 4:00 the roads were smooth and spirits were high.

We eventually began to encounter potholes, but we enjoyed the challenge of weaving around them. This added a good amount of time to our journey; however, as the roads worsened the views only got more beautiful.

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The roads continued to worsen as the sun set, and ultimately, there was not road at all. The development from paved roads to utter abis was a gradual one. It is hard to convey the distress and fear that issued. The path eventually became mounds of hardened earth in the middle of complete wilderness. Between mounds were pools of water. We frequently parked the vehicle to check the depth, to make sure we would not get stuck our sink.

Still, the Apple Maps instructed us that we were on the correct path. Meanwhile, I was also afraid that our car would break down from all the damage we were clearly doing to the bottom, based on the loud bangs and creeks that we heard. The worst was yet to come.

After driving to the middle of nowhere in the complete dark of night, the outline of the trails slowly began to fade. These paths (if you can even call them that) had clearly not been driven on in decades. For some reason I kept driving. Chase was a faithful navigator all the while.

We finally hit the river. On the other side of it there were comforting lights in the distance. Unfortunately, where Maps said there would be a bridge, there was none. I was having an internal meltdown at this point, meanwhile Chase showed complete determination. After driving along the rocky banks of the river we considered attempting to drive across it, but eventually decided against it. We agreed to turn around and rive back to the nearest city.

By this point we had completely lost sight of the trail. Chase pulled up a compass on his phone, and I literally drove through fields of open wilderness in the direction of the nearest city, during which we constantly heard the clicks and bangs underneath the car of it’s complete destruction. When we finally hit the original ‘trail’ I prayed underneath my breath.

We slowly made our way back to the nearest city, at which point Chase was able to direct us along a new path to Vorohkta. Alas, just as the roads began to improve and our spirits began to rise, the oil light went on. We located the nearest gas station (around 10:40) and looked under the car to find a puddle of oil underneath.

As distressful as this new chapter in our despair was, I was truthfully just relieved to be alive and our of the wilderness. Unfortunately, the folks at the station did not speak any English, but I managed to get a hold of Tanya who was so kindly willing to translate for us.

It was not long after that a group of young men and women, seemingly close to our age, approached our car. One young man spoke English (Nazar) and with the assistance of his friends, he pushed our car to the nearby car repair shop.

When we heard the news that our car would not be fixed until Monday or Tuesday, we were devastated. Alas, there was nothing we could do, so no point in being upset.

The group of young Ukrainians offered to give us a ride to a hotel in town. Only after checking with three did we find a room. We met them downstairs about five minutes later. We offered to buy everyone drinks for the night. We stopped at a market where I met a student from West London University. She was in disbelief that there was an American in her small town.

From the market we drove to the home one of our new Ukrainian friends, Oleg. At Oleg’s sizable home we ate chocolate and drank cognac in his gazebo with the crew from the gas station. We used Google Translate to communicate. Thank God for Google Translate. Everyone was clearly very excited to be with two Americans. Our new friends were Nazar 1, Oleg, Micha, Roman, Igor, Oksana, Olga, and Nazar 2.

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It was a nice gathering, but I was still a bit anxious and uncomfortable with the situation. They asked to add us on Facebook, but we chose to tell them that we didn’t have, afraid they would rescind their hospitality after learning that we are Jewish and Chase is gay.

Before returning to the hotel we made plans for the next day. The name of the town was Nadvirna.

 

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