Buses, Borders, and Babcias.

So at the time of writing, I’ve just about recovered from my delightful journey to Ukraine. It was well worth it but travelling there was enough of an experience that I thought it might be best to write a bit about it to help anyone else considering it!

Now the trip didn’t start so well. I’m not designed for heat and Kraków being located in a valley means that it tends to attract a lot of it. Added to that, the bus was late. I get edgy at the best of times, this was making my hair go gray.

I should have trusted Prykarpatskyi Express, in fairness they did show up. A horde of chain-smokers escaped the bus to get their fix while us new passengers battered our way through the crowd to try and stuff our bags in. Of course with so many stops, the drivers do try to put some control on the chaos.

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A pure deascent Ukrainian bus. Home for the night and morning.

From the tumult of conversation around me, I gathered that most of my fellow passengers were Ukrainian. Being quite hungover, I let myself pass out asleep until my neighbour elbowed me in the ribs for dozing atop her. Just as well she did though because we stopped after for the first of many smoke breaks.

The chain-smoking brigade tended to consist of large, burly individuals built like proverbial brick shithouse so when the massive lad next to me muttered something to me in Ukrainian and proffered me a fag, I felt obliged to mumble a dyakuyoo and accept it.

I dozed on and off till the border, we passed through Rzeszow and Przemyśl (good luck trying to pronounce those) before hitting the main checkpoint. It’s a bit scary to be honest, the Polish and Ukrainian border guards tend to go for a military look, with either green uniforms or camo.  One thing they both share appears to be a regulation of no smiles at all. The Polish guard were particularly angry, barking questions at most of my fellow passengers, wanting to know about their visas and so on, two men were taken off my bus for more questioning.

By contrast, the Ukrainians were a lot more relaxed, though my passport got a bit more scrutiny. The fact that the guard was carrying a Kalashnikov made me quite amenable though. I was a bit edgy about my passport being taken off me but my neighbour Olga assured me that this was routine. She was a Ukrainian working in Silesia like me and spoke excellent Polish. Olga was a mine of information for the next few hours and was delighted to be able to lecture me at length on Ukraine. It definitely helped speed along the three and a half hours at the border, and several more after that.

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My first stop on Ukrainian soil. These petrol stations are depressing.

It’s odd those long journeys. The hours crawl by and you start to feel a bit of solidarity with your fellow passengers. After a few hours and stops, you start to exchange companionable nods and greetings with each other when hopping on and off. Hearing my atrocious accent in Polish, Sergiy and Aleksandra (seated in front of us) butted into our conversation, curious why a foreigner was headed to Ukraine. They were from Lviv (the best city in Ukraine so they said) and happily shared some of their food with myself and Olga. It was a bit of craic since my Polish is average at best and theirs wasn’t fantastic either, they’d only been in Poland a few months. Trying to understand each other at times was hilarious.

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Another stop, another station. I did see my first Soviet car here though.

The roads in Ukraine are…..interesting. It reminded me of Ireland though so after a while the constant potholes and bumps began to take on a soothing aspect. The cities and stops became a blur. Kalush, Ivano-Frankivsk, Kolomyya. Being absolutely knackered is a bit like being drunk. You’re not sure what’s happening, who you are, or what you’re doing. The tv blaring the Russian sitcom Кухня started me questioning my sanity.

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Arrival in Kolomyya. The station was fairly packed for 7 in the morning.

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My first glimpse of a marshrutka! 

Unfortunately all good things come to an end. That said, if you’re lucky, so will bad things. I felt like a VIP when I arrived in Chernivtsi, there was about three of us left on the bus so the driver and dispatcher were in a chatty mood. My contribution consisted of much smiling and nodding with the occasional Da or Ya ne ponemayu. 

I have to say that despite the nightmarish nature of the bus, most of the passengers were dead sound. The amount of free food and fags I got was something else. They could be blunt and direct but they definitely helped the journey go a bit faster. Point to Ukraine.

Still it was worth it to make it to the Carpathians. I’ve realised this has been mostly me whinging so I’ll actually include a couple of travel tips for those of you who punished yourselves by reading this far.

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Home for seven weeks or so.

Firstly, for anyone considering buying an international bus ticket in Europe, I recommend using http://www.infobus.eu/lang/en/. It’s a ticket middleman but it saves you the hassle of grappling with a multitude of different tongues and currencies by doing to the direct seat. I’d had enough issues trying to buy my ticket off a Ukrainian bus company till I stumbled across this. Print off the ticket or if you’re not stuck in the 20th century like me, use your smartphone.

Secondly, don’t sit near the old women. Not if you want to sleep.The babcias or babushkas in Poland and Ukraine are formidable women. They survived communism, the older ones survived the last World War. Even if you don’t speak their language, it won’t deter them. They will torment you. They will incessantly complain (about everything from my limited understanding), enjoy airing their feet in the cramped confines of the bus or nag you constantly. I’ve probably lost a combined week of sleep or so from them during my travels, even the nice ones don’t let up. There’s only so much of looking at pictures of grandchildren you can take before your sanity cracks.

Thirdly, I know appearances aren’t everything but pick your seat neighbour carefully. You’re going to be stuck with them for God knows how long.

Lastly, if the option is there and you’re considering hopping on a bus for sixteen or so hours. Don’t. Be nice to yourself. Have a stopover in between, enjoy life. Live a little. Otherwise you’ll find yourself in a warped version of The Canterbury Tales or contemplating flinging yourself from the emergency exit.

I’m done whinging. Thanks for reading.

Slán.

 

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About Ropaire

Dia daoibh agus fáilte go dtí mo bhlag! My name's Fearghal and you can find my musings and ramblings split over www.ropaire.wordpress.com and www.ceitherne.wordpress.com. I hope you enjoy it.
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