Friday, July 29, 2011

Pay Less, More Adventure! (Walking to Poland)

While in Lviv, I met a hyper, green-eyed Polish guy (Mikel) who found amusement in my use of “anal”. He took a Dutch guy and me out for beers to a bar where we had to knock on a window, give a secret password and play along on the charade that is still WW2 when everyone was busy hating the Russians. We gained entry after Mikel gave a few answers in Ukrainian. A massive uniformed guard poured us each a shot of red vodka and then opened the secret bookcase to the basement cellar, to safely party without the Russians finding us. Downstairs and through various rooms, we followed Mikel in search of a table. In the far back room, only one was open, as if reserved for us. He ordered us each a shot of vodka, a beer, and garlic lard with bread. Yes, garlic lard. I was internally debating vegetarian status of lard but then decided it was close enough to butter and I was not going to ruin the fun that had begun. It was not bad. I wouldn't get it again, but mostly garlic overpowered the lard. Of course I could not help but remember my horrification at the discovery that lard was sold on the shelf at the grocery store when I was 16, but I did not share that.

After sitting an hour or so, the lights all went out and an emergency light came on. It seemed a bit odd, though we’d been having a lot of storms and flickering power before so it was hard to know if it was real or staged. Everyone else was still laughing and talking and unconcerned, so I figured it was not the night I was going to die in a Ukrainian pub. I hoped anyway.

In the corner was a guy slouching with sunglasses on.

We kept talking and drinking beers. I was persistent in saying that I was a cheap drunk and insisted on sharing my vodka shot. I realized that I am actually afraid of shots, as in my heart races when I take them, because I know my tolerance, and it is not good.

A shot rang out.

Three guys rushed in with guns and shouting… in Ukrainian, so it was a bit of a
mystery. One little boy about four was answering some of their questions and appeared scared. I was a bit scared. Of course having no idea what is really happening is a curiousity itself.

The guards approached the man in the corner and dragged him out. I think leaving bruises on the way.

We stayed out til 2am, which Mikel said was crazy that we went to bed at respectable hours.

So that is Mikel.

He is the one who suggested I do the Polish Border Crossing. Now you know the back

The Polish Border Crossing Plan:
Take bus to train station.
Take bus (from train station) to the Ukrainian-Poland border.
Walk across.
Catch bus to train station.
Catch train to Warsaw.

Since the entry into Ukraine from Poland took nearly four hours at the border, I was willing to try for an adventure and see if I could save a little time, or at least spend less time sitting. I call it, “Pay Less for More Adventure.”

Mikel wrote the instructions in the back of my journal, with the town names and the train I would catch to Warsaw. He said, “Leave at noon, that should be early enough, well, maybe eleven.”

I left at 9AM.

The woman at the hostel pointed out on the map where to find bus 66 to the train station for 2HUT (20 cents), so I set off walking. I almost got there when the streets started turning around on me, and I could not find the place I was to go. I saw a bus 66 but it was going the wrong way. I tried to ask directions but no one understood English or German or knew where the street was that I was looking for. After several attempts (and kicking myself for not taking a taxi), I found a businessman who knew where I needed to go, though again did not speak any of my languages. He realized I was not going to find it and so walked me up the street and pointed. I was dubious, because I felt so swished up and nothing seemed like the right direction, even though I’d felt pretty comfortable with the city, but I did what he said.

I saw a bus 66 and I thought it was going the right way, so I flagged it down. I had no idea where the bus stop was and just hoped the driver would pity me. It worked and I crammed myself into the already full bus, seeing a younger blond girl and asking,”Train station?” She seemed to be answering in the affirmative even though in another language, so I stayed hoping it was right.

We didn’t appear to be going to city center, which seemed good.

Finally a large station appeared, and I’d looked up in my book how to say train station in Russian, and got another yes. The girl who I’d asked when I first got on happened to still be on the bus (the blonde bus angel). She saw my handwritten directions from Mikel and knew where I was going. She needed to change money so I followed her and then she walked me to my bus stop. It wasn’t there but showed up a few minutes later, with the town name on the front. I got on. 22HUT and 15 minutes later, we were off for the border. On the bus, I spoke to a 12 year old girl, asking a few questions and she would ask her mom, and then translate for me. She said it was two hours to the border.

We arrived at the border 2 hours to the minute from when we left Lviv.

I followed the other passengers who were walking towards the border patrols, along sidewalks and behind buildings. It was pretty easy. The Ukranian side took about 3 minutes. He asked where I went, I said Lviv, and then I got my second orange passport stamp.

I walked on, to the Polish side where it did not look so friendly. There was a crowd, crammed in to a carrel-like area, smashed in there like they were trying to touch a rock star on a concert stage.

Inside there was a chute, where people were standing in line. No one appeared to be moving. After 20 minutes there was still no movement. I was wondering if four hours would be enough to catch my train.

I tried to sneak up on the side a bit and get in, trying to act like I didn’t realize what I was doing. I stood there a bit, and a woman asked if I had cigarettes with me. I said yes. (I didn’t.)

I looked back and people were feeding bags back and forth through the fence (from the Ukrainian to the Polish side). About ten bags went through and people were coming and going and acting all nonchalant until finally a Polish border guard came running and some people were yelled at and tracked down and carried away.

The line in the chute had cleared. A female guard was poised to open the gate and refill the chute. Everyone waited in anticipation. The gate opened and people rushed forward, like a river nearing a narrow spot. People yelling, getting forced off into the mud, and general fun. I managed to secure a spot on the sidewalk near the entry to the corral, hoping I might get in the next time.

The border line picked up and they were soon letting a second group in.

I got squeezed into the corral but not through the gate, nearly leaving my right arm behind me along with my messenger bag. Advice: Hold on tight to your belongings and keep your arms next to your body. No floating arms!

Smashed between a fat lady with red hair and an old man of about 70, I started to laugh at the disorder, the smuggling through the wall, the cigarettes and all. Then I started to sing myself Radiohead’s”High and Dry,” which is always the song that enters my mind when things are tense.

Shortly after the gate opened again, and we entered the chute. She let everyone enter this time, and they crammed in like sardines. I kind of missed the orderly German lines, but this was entertaining.

Inside, I got a green-eyed customs guy, who saw my surname and asked if I spoke German. He had me open my bags but I don’t think he really cared, and then spoke German to me, saying Gute Reisen and Tschus and more… I sort of knew he was going to be like that when I saw him.

The border agent asked a few more questions but I got my passport stamped and walked out after a few minutes.

The whole border crossing took about one hour and fifteen minutes, almost three hours less than on the bus.

I changed money just a ways down the road before the bus for the train station, which was very easy to find. I boarded after getting the nod from the driver, and immediately saw two boys who walked through the border with me. I said, “You guys are here too!” I had not spoken to them before but it just came out, like we were old friends. They were college students and the one with green eyes was very kind and good with English. It was their first trip to Lviv. He was studying Economics and his friend, History.

He said, “We wanted to talk to you all along because we knew you didn’t know what was going on.” I had wondered why this woman had pushed them to the front and gotten them through the border. They had smuggled some cigarettes for her.

They chatted with me all the way to the station, which took about 30 minutes.Then showed me the way to the train and wished me luck.

I saw a schedule on the wall and it looked like the Warsaw train was leaving in only seven minutes so I hurried to find a ticket counter. There was a white wooden booth which looked like it might be a ticket booth. I tried to ask for a ticket to Warsaw but the two ladies didn’t understand. I asked, “Kannst du Deutsch?” No. “Warshawa?” Light turns on! She writes down the time and price (52Zl). I say yes and nod. And then today’s date. Yes and nod. I show my Visa card. That was ok too. So I get the ticket. I had time to spare! And then discovered there was a one hour time difference, so I even had more time. If I would have been 15 minutes earlier I could have caught the 1:07 train instead of the 15:43 train, but it was not a problem. I was just happy it all went so well.

Optometrist thought: I can’t help but wonder what the incidence of green eyes is in Poland.


Dee J. said...

What was the shot? Were the men with guns after the sloucher? When you say shoot do you mean chute (as in a lot of people in a packed pathway like cattle chute???) love you lots! RL County 1954 Spelling Champion

Sara said...

I fixed it.

I think it was a fake gun. They took out the sloucher.

Eemergency light said...

I loved you post because if I hadn't read 'Bolesno Grinje', I would have been misled. You are so right in all the points you raised. staggered was cruelty masqueraded as tradition.