Sambir, Ukraine: Recipe for a Perfect Day Out
We have previously dwelt on the flamboyant geographical location that is Western Ukraine and its capital Lviv. So before you book your flights there, here’s a retrospective destination idea to make the most of your stay in Lviv and its vicinity.
Weather permitting, visit a town called Sambir on the river Dniester for a picnic out in the wilds. You will love walking down the quiet streets of this ‘provincial paradise’, alongside ‘doll houses’ with their lavish gardens and flower patches. Most homes have raspberry bushes lining their fences, so treat yourself to some berries, if you see any. That’s what I used to do when I was a kid on my family visits - this is where my father and his extended family came from.
Of all Western Ukrainian towns, Sambir is arguably the westernmost, just off the Polish border. It has a long Jewish history too, with the Old Jewish Cemetery dating back to 15th century. The cemetery is no longer open and is surrounded by a stone wall, which doesn’t, however, stop ‘black archaeologists’ from vandalising the site for valuable findings. This fact was even mentioned in the Russian TV-series Iskateli (‘The Searchers’) – episode 69 ‘One day with a Black Archaeologist’. (statehistory.ru/496/Odin-den-s-chernym-arkheologom).
Like Lviv, Sambir is multicultural and multi-confessional, with a number of Greek and Russian Orthodox churches, a mosque and a synagogue, each being an architectural gem.
Like Lviv, Sambir has an Old Town (Staryj Sambir) – a square-shaped promenade area with a Town Hall and lots of cafes and shops – like a mini place Vendomein Paris, but without being so posh.
A Blast From the Past
Hidden under a canopy of willows, next to the little train/bus station, are the remnants of what used to be a real hallmark of Sambir in the 1970s. This vast area was once an attraction park and had an open-air discoteque, all well-kept and full of happy faces dancing the night away in platform shoes and flared jeans. This was where my mother and her girlfriends went in between their lectures for an ice-cream, and where she was first asked for a dance.
Today, it is overgrown area where stray dogs roam, a perfect relaxation spot for all lovers of wild nature. A striking contrast that brings tears to my mum’s eyes each time we pass through the park. There is an air of abandonment about Sambir, which is only apparent to those who knew it in all its former glory. Sambir is, undoubtedly, one of the many post-USSR towns that saw better days under the Soviet sun.
AThrill-Seeker’s Dream Trip
There is one activity I mentioned earlier that is still on the agenda. Imagine you have seen and photographed Stare Misto, spent a few quid at the local food market and bored yourself witless. Now it is time for an adventure. Whether you are travelling alone, or in a group, the best fun you can have is a lunch on the banks of the river Dniester. And I hope my personal experience of it will help you enjoy the time with minimum risk.
Dniester, where it runs through the town, it is shallow and peaceful with a knee-high current on a pebbly bed. Crossing it may seem the easiest thing you have done, but you need to watch out. The water level is ever-changing and the current rises in the afternoon.
This happened exactly on the day we were out with my Sambir relatives. The remaining shashliki (Russian BBQ) sizzling away on a charcoal grill, drinks flowing (get real – no Russian/Ukrainian picnic is completely alcohol-free…), music in the air – you get the picture. The highlight, though, was still to come.
The way back involved two crossings of the river. As we were laden with bags and feeling somewhat relaxed from a good helping of oxygen, but as we were trying to cross back, the water began to flow swiftly. Surprisingly, it wasn’t panic that settled in amongst our merry crowd – it was laughter, wild laughter from watching everyone trying to walk in the raging water and looking like toddlers making their first steps. We were crossing in groups of two, holding hands and crying out jokes to those following in their wake. Needless to say, it was the toughest 10 minutes in our lives – crossing a flooding stream that would normally take seconds to do. Everyone made it across safely except me - I was busy taking pictures of the epic adventure and literally got swept off my feet. Had I not been rescued immediately, my camera would have departed this world, and the current would have probably driven me into Moldavian territorial waters. That will teach me! Within the family this picnic is now referred to as ‘Mission Sambir’ or ‘Assault Crossing of the Dniester’.
It may have become a tradition by now to conclude every travel piece by stressing the importance of local connections – your friends or relatives, who could host and show you around. This is especially true when you visit the post-Soviet space. An interactive map on your phone and a pocket phrase book are all good in Europe. But as you read this, you like travelling. So I am wishing you enough memorable adventures to start your own travel column in a national newspaper. Why not? Whatever your travel agenda in Sambir (should you venture out there), do mind how you go. And take this idiom literally!
1 GBP = 12.5040 UAH
Timezone – GMT +2
Getting there:Trains and intercity buses are running well, but the state of them may leave you in as shock. So best book a cab from Lviv.
Staying there:Hotel Imperial, Sambir- 4 Rynok Square
Eating there:Tastiest Ice Cream in town –‘Kafe Kazka’, 6 Sagaydachnogo St.
History and Religion:
The Church of Rizdva Bohorodytsiin Church St. is believed to contain part of the relics of St. Valentine, which made its way to Sambir in XVIII century AD. It is also home to the wonderworking icon of Our Lady of Sambir, made in XVI century AD.
A good resource on Sambir’s Jewish history: jewishgen.org/yizkor/sambor/SamI.html
Sambir’s answer to Westfield- Shopping Mall ‘PIT Stop’, Peremyshlycka St.
Entertainment Complex ‘Hostylny Dvir’, village Strylkovichi just outside Sambir. Featuring a modern motel, car park, sauna, banquet hall with live music, hippodrome (race track), and an ostrich farm (yes, you read it right– ostrich farm, courtesy of a local businessman). The farm is open to the public and admission is free.