July 28, 2005

Leaving Lviv


My last day in Lviv was upon me, and it started badly with the hot water in the hotel disappearing. This was soon followed by the cold water disappearing. I narrowly missed being stuck covered in shampoo with no water to wash it off. This is a terrible fate, and I am grateful for my escape.

I decided I had better go up to the train station, to check on what kind of time I could get out of Lviv. As I entered the station, I was struck with horror at the sight before me of an absolutely rammed ticket hall - with lines stretching for miles in all directions. Some obscene swear words left my lips, and I prepared myself for a marathon ticket-buying task.

I studied the 16 or so ticket windows, which had queues wildly varying in length, and different writing on the top. This lead me to believe that different windows were for different tickets. I chose the shortest queue, and waited patiently with my pre-written in cyrllic Lvov-Budapest piece of paper.

Some time later, I reached the front, and the woman scowled and stuck two fingers up at me. 'Kassa dwa' she shouted. I took this along with the two fingers to mean 'Please go to window number two for your ticket.' Off I went to window number 2, which I found closed for lunch.

The intervening period, I spent talking to a woman from Singapore. 'It is so difficult. They are not nice. They are very rude,' was her assessment of the situation. Finally after about 3 hours, I had an overnight ticket for Budapest. I danced with joy, and drank coke to celebrate.

Just as I was leaving, I noticed a bloke at the front of the queue trying to talk to the witch (erm, I mean woman) behind the counter. He had a large map of Europe that he was pointing at, and she was shaking her head and trying to get him out of the way. The bloke left the window, and went over to the corner of the station. He spread his map in front of him, and looked over it with sheer misery on his face. I decided to go over and investigate.

He turned out to be a 20 year old painter from France. He wanted to go to Romania, but the woman wouldn't let him. He had arrived last night, spent the night in the station, had a quick look around and was trying to leave. He looked up at the board. 'Where can I go? I don't understand. I can't get a ticket...' He was not very happy.

He was even less prepared than me, and had no cyrillic writing anywhere about his person. I told him that he could go to Budapest, and that there was a train tonight. He started to look less miserable. I handed him my Budapest piece of paper like a secret ancient scroll. 'With this, young man, you can defeat the power of the witch, and she will sell you a train ticket...' He was very pleased. I wished him luck against the witch, and took my leave of the station.

I was starting to get hungry now, and the novelty of hot dogs and cabbage filled pastries was wearing thin. I had tried a couple of restaurants, but they lacked English speakers or English menus. I took drastic action and headed for the Hotel Grand, poshest hotel in town. They came up with the goods, and I had Ukrainian salad (eggs, meat and some other unknown things) and Borsch. It rocked.

Several hours later, I was on the Moscow - Belgrade overnighter, which usefully stopped in Lviv to pick me up, and Budapest to drop me off. My French friend Alex was on the train, so he had managed to defeat the evil ticket witch.

It was a pleasant journey except that the border crossing takes three hours and is in the middle of the night from 2am till 5am. Two sets of passport officers and two sets of customs come through - not to mention all the shunting backwards and forwards while they change the wheels on the train. (Russian train tracks are a different width to the rest of Europe) The Ukranian customs man had only three questions -

1) Do you have any weapons, drugs, or munitions? (NO)
2) Do you have any cultural artifacts? (NO)
3) How much currency do you have? (150 euros)

(My answers in brackets...)

My compartment buddy was an old man of about 70 or so, called Ivan. He lived in Hungary, but was Ukrainian (I think - there was a lot of hand gestures going on.) He gave me a cake, and I carried his bag for him when he got off the train. He was cool, and I taught him English for 'nine o' clock' (the time that the train was arriving). He seemed very pleased with this new knowledge. He must have made this journey a lot because the woman in control of the carriage (each sleeper wagon has a woman in charge. She gives you bedding, makes tea, and scowls and frowns at you) seemed to know him. By the end of the journey the carriage woman was even smiling, although maybe that was because I gave her a big tip for her tea-making.

The train arrived on time in Budapest, I waved goodbye to Ivan and Alex, and the days of the Ukraine Blog were over.

Posted by paul at July 28, 2005 11:44 AM