July 26, 2005

Long Way to Lviv


At about 7pm on Sunday night I waved goodbye to Catheryn as she got on the S-train to the airport in Berlin. My destination was Lviv in Ukraine, and the first step was to get to Lichtenburg station on the east side of Berlin.

You would think that this would be one of the easier sections of the journey, but first of all there was engineering on the train line, and I had to find a bus to the station. This I did quite naturally, because being from Britain it is quite a common occurence to have to take a bus because there is engineering on the train line.

Next, I arrived at the train station and found that the ticket office was closed. It closed at 6pm on Sundays! I don't know about Germans, but I quite often want to buy a ticket on a Sunday evening.

It turns out that in Germany you can buy a ticket on the train for the same price anyway, so they feel entitled to close the ticket office whenever they like. With this in mind, I duly waited for the 21:45 Berlin - Kiev sleeper.

My original plan was to take this train, change in Poland a couple of times and thus end up in Lviv. I became very excited when I found out that there was a wagon on the train that split off and went directly to Lviv.

My dreams were shattered when the train arrived, and the supposed wagon was nowhere to be seen whatsoever. The best explanation I could get was 'Zee wagon is not here.'

The train itself was from Ukraine. I could tell by the fact that it had funny writing all over the side, and that my entry to the train was blocked by a woman in a blue uniform with a big list. It seemed that this woman spoke German, Polish , Ukrainian and Russian. You would think that with a choice of four langauges I would have a fighting chance, but not with these four - I had no idea what was going on. This was a recurring theme during my journey to Lviv.

After some protracted negotiation, I ended up with a bed number and 70 euros less in my pocket. I was in a cabin with a bloke and his mum who were Russian but lived in Germany. The bloke was amused that I had tried to get the train without a ticket and reservation, and suggested that the money would now be 'in her pocket.'

Twelve hours later, I got off the train in a town called Lublin in Poland, ready for the next stage of the journey which was to get to some place called Przmysl near the Ukrainian border. This part of the journey didn't quite go to plan, as the first train was late by two hours, leading me to get on a different train, and very quickly get off again, as I discovered that it went to the wrong place entirely.

Blessing my good fortune, I proceeded to get the right train, which for some unknown reason to me, arrived at a station, and then went out again the same way it came. As I looked out the window wondering what was going on, the conductor woman came in, looked at my ticket, and managed to communicate that I was now in fact heading to Warsaw, and should have got off and changed trains.

This rather exciting news had me a bit worried, and I got off at the next stop to endeavour to get a train in the right direction. An hour later spent on the one and only platform of a place called Lancut, I was back going in the right direction, but on the slowest train in Poland which stopped at every random shed in the countryside with a station name above it.

All this exciting train activity gave me a lot of time to take in the sights and sounds of Eastern Poland, which seems to be full of nuns, people smoking, and neo-nazis (judging by the large amounts of dodgy graffitti)

I finally arrived at the Polish border town that starts with 'Prz' in time to just miss my connection. Luckily there was one more train to Ukraine that day, and I found myself once more on a sleeper to Kiev. This train had a special ticket office and a special platform which helpfully was called 'platform 4', for international trains.

This train was staffed by surly Russian blokes who made faces at me, and kept asking to see my ticket. I didn't like them, they scowled all the time, and made me nervous. The train was quite empty except for some Polish border guards drinking beer and being rowdy. They got off the train just before the border, and they were carrying passport checking machines. No harm in a few beers before work I guess...

At the border we spent half a century or so, while various police, soldiers, guys with sniffer dogs, and passport control came on the train. If this was what it took to get out of the EU, I began to worry about how long it would take me to get back in.

My passport was checked by a nice lady. She didn't really speak any English, so she made up for it by looking at my passport and every page in it for about 10 minutes. She looked at the arrival card I had filled in, and said 'Hotel JeeorJee?'

'Yes, Hotel George', I replied.
'Why you write Hotel JeeorJee, is Hotel Jorj', she said.
Not wishing to explain to her the complexities of English spelling, I just said OK.

By now it was approaching 11pm, and I was quite frankly - exhausted. The train arrived at midnight, and I took a taxi straight to the Hotel JeeorJee.

Posted by paul at July 26, 2005 05:52 PM


So is Lviv worth the trouble? I'm going to be flying there in November, staying for two days, and then I'll take the train to Krakow. Is this going to be a terrible experience? And how is the Hotel George?

Posted by: D.H. at September 17, 2005 12:37 AM

I reckon it's worth the trouble. It's an interesting place. Take a guidebook of some kind with the cyrillic words/placenames you might need and it will make your life a lot easier. Almost no-one speaks any English (they do at the hotel receptions though). Buying the train ticket may be a trying experience though :-)

The George is a really grandiose old-fashioned kind of place. It's pretty good really, they have a full range of rooms depending on what your budget is, and you can fill in a booking form and book it on their website.

Posted by: Angry Beaton at September 18, 2005 05:39 PM