The journey, the thugs and the border
Trip Start Sep 12, 2006
100Trip End Sep 08, 2008
After meal at Maska and beer at John Bull in Opole's rynek, Chris and I went to the train station to catch the 23:09 train bound for Przemsyl, a small city located close to the border with Ukraine. Lviv (or Lwow in Polish) was our destination, a city I had heard a little about from the few people I'd met who'd been there, although as I boarded the train it was the last thing on my mind.
Even before I'd left Australia, I'd heard enough about Polish trains to know they weren't regarded as the safest of places to be, especially at night
Giving up we got our own compartment, and rued the fact we were on a cold, noisy train in the middle of the night when on any other Friday we'd be meeting some friendly locals at one of Opole's pubs or clubs. Wishing we'd come a little more prepared with beer and snacks, 'the pivo dude' boarded the train at just the right moment. The week before, a dirty scruffy looking man approached us on the train to Katowice, and sold us some beer at a pretty cheap price. The 'Biedronka' beer, produced by a dodgy Polish supermarket chain was pretty ordinary, but better than nothing on an otherwise boring train journey. Coincidentally, the same man from the week before was on our train again, selling the same ordinary beer, and we happily bought some from him again. It was to be our downfall though, as twice during the journey some police officers poked their heads in our compartment and mumbled a lot of incomprehensible Polish to us before finishing with the stern words "Beer, No!" It was pretty obviously that they weren't being serious though, as once they told us beer was not allowed they motioned us to hide it under our coats when inspectors came by.
We weren't alone in our compartment for more than an hour before a bunch of Polish guys came in
We had a little time before our 7.30am bus to Lviv, so we decided to go for a wander around the city. It certainly was a surprising little town, with a landscape quite different to any other Polish town I'd seen. The city centre was located on the side of a hill, and a small mountain range could be seen on the other side of the gently sloping valley, through which the trains ran. There were a few pedestrian only streets running through the city, and the rynek was more a park than a town square, with grassy sections and trees. There was virtually no one about, except a lone skinhead thug standing with the pigeons. I guess he'd had a big night or something, but from the quick glance I took at him I decided that I really didn't need to find out that information. We wandered up the hill to see some of the huge churches before heading back to the station for our bus, but only after we were stopped by two more police officers, this time for attempting to use a path that crossed the tracks.
It was a quick twenty minute journey to the border, where our bus stopped and a Polish customs officer came on board to check our passports
I'm not sure how long he was gone, as I fell asleep at some point, but he returned and the bus continued onto the entry point for Ukraine. I was using my Maltese passport as EU citizens don't require a visa for Ukraine, whereas Australians do, and I had been too busy in previous weeks to even go to the toilet let alone contact the Ukraine consulate in Warsaw to organise a visa. Perhaps it wouldn't have been a bad idea, as about fifteen minutes after the surprisingly attractive female Ukrainian customs officer collected everyone's passport our bus driver came back on board and shouted at everyone. I only understood one word, but it was enough to make me cringe. It was something like "grzprzemyziskiegosMALTAgrzscoski" followed by a hand signal indicating that the person he was talking about needed to leave the bus immediately. Chris and I both got up and grabbed our bags as we left the bus and went into the customs office. The female officer from before asked a few questions in Polish about who we were, and asked me to produce more ID, as if to confirm that I was the person pictured on my Maltese passport. Without wanting to cause further hassles by producing my Australian passport, I showed her my Australian driver's license, at which she carefully studied both photos again with the odd glance in my direction, slowly saying "Wiiiiiiliiaaaaam Aaaaaaaaaldeeeeertooon" before telling us to get back on the bus.
It had gone half nine. We'd been at the border for over two hours, although the young Polish girl seated in front of us still turned around with a smile as Chris and looked out the window and said "We're in Ukraine!"