Arriving at the bus terminal, I turned right back around and got on the Portliner train to try and get as close to the ship as possible. Having not traveled with my passport, and knowing the insanely tight restrictions on boarding, I knew there was no chance of talking my way on as a nostalgic alumna. As I rolled closer, I snapped pic after pic of increasingly higher quality until I found myself face-to-bow with my former nautical home. There are many reasons why SASers develop a lifelong love of the program and the vessel. For me, Semester at Sea changed the whole course of my life. I don’t know who I would have become without my round-the-world voyage in 2007. I certainly wouldn’t have met Garrett and Alexis, wouldn’t have felt strong enough to take my Big Journey, wouldn’t have aspired for the STA internship, and wouldn’t have landed in Japan today with my job at THINK Global School.Read More
Game plan review: we want to go to Krakow. We've got gobs of time. It's hard to go direct from Eger. Where should we go en route? More mountains? Ukraine? ...wait...the Ukraine?!? Where did this choice come from? We first move closer to both options in Kosice, Slovakia, where we stop to make some Slovakian memories. We were not expecting such a darling town with an impressive church at its heart and a musical fountain nearby with "local color." Little boys dared each other to stand in the middle of shooting water jets, fully clothed and toting their backpacks-o-fun. Music blared through surrounding boulders or from a bell sculpture, all synced to the visual orchestra of gravity-defying H2O. A flutter of white out of the corner of my eye and there goes a wedding party, taking pictures of the new couple in front of city monuments. And another bride...and, yup, one more. I was a witness to multiple nuptials except the one I should have been at in Terre Haute, Indiana. The universe kept rubbing it in my face. It sort of made the 7th of June a hard day to enjoy with the constant reminder of my two polar lives. It's amazing how much of a stronghold time and money have on my present condition. Ah, semi-deep thoughts flow in and out...
Flip a coin. Heads is L'viv, Ukraine. Tails is the Tatra mountains because these here on the back of the €1 look like hills. ¤clink clink cla-clink¤ the Ukraine it is! Oh boy. We better bring some vodka.
Normally our limited knowledge of local public transportation gets us by as we traverse the globe, but there are the few instances when we fail to ask little questions that later are pivotal OR we rely far too much on the sometimes faulty word of our friends at Lonely Planet. Our 'sleeper bus' across China is an example. These moments when we expect one thing and experience something quite different often present more difficulties and ALWAYS produce fantastic stories. In this instance, we thought we were taking a night train to the Ukraine. Let's see how this goes...
We board train #1...it's not too shabby, standard for Eastern Europe. Two people can sleep on the benches and one on a mat across the floor. Perfect! Now we can let loose. Ah, but no...our new conductor friend informs us to pack it up because this isn't our only train this evening. Oh crap.
Already becoming sleepy, we left our 'sleeper train' around 11pm only to wait in the rain for the next one. All conductors left for the night, and our stop didn't have a sign or a nearby city. Our only instructions were to follow three other people waiting at the stop. We followed without question, even after we watched them load at least twenty bicycles onto the train, this most pitiful excuse of a train. And I'm not kidding, this train could have killed us Final Destination style. If someone sat down on the holed leather seat, the entire bench would fall to the floor, causing the cabin walls to shake down the asbestos in the broken ceiling. Exposed insulation would rain down from above and cover said unsuspecting victim with bits of itchy fiber, which they would immediately attempt to avoid by jumping up and grabbing the non-existent table, then the rusty trash bin, and finally the exposed electrical wiring, shocking them senseless and sending their wrecked body out the crooked window to the unknown world outside. At least it made a fun setting for a few documentary videos. And to top off all this fun, I sat in gum.
Accepting our fate, Garrett took to the restrooms only to return smellier than when he left, while Alexis and I tried to sleep on the tottering benches. Forty-five minutes later, we arrived in Chop, Ukraine for immigration. The power blondes were out this midnight hour, and they meant some business. Half-awake and draped with our sleep bags, we attempted to face the bereted blondes with purpose and wobbled into the main station area, where we suddenly stepped into an old propaganda film. The large open room was made of imposing stone, blocky and plain as can be, except for a massive mural depicting hard working civilians under the hammer and sickle regime. We had definitely crossed over.
This is where we could have panicked. We couldn't read the time table, which was written in Russian alphabet. Our tickets could no longer take us to L'viv, and the unhappy ticket clerk didn't appreciate my attempts to speak in Russian. Ukrainians are quite proud and not so much hospitable. A night chocked full of dilemmas; we could have lost our lids. Instead, we got excited...OUR FIRST ADVENTURE!!! Garrett and I ventured downstairs, past the old bomb shelter/raccoon den and bonded with the baggage holder, who was surprisingly nice for living in a room with no windows that hadn't been dusted since the birth of Communism. As he stuffed our bags in the corner of an empty room big enough for a thousand bags, my favorite song came on the radio, and this recognition and subsequent sing-a-long was a bonding moment between all of us. Our new friend, What's-his-whatever, held our bags for three hours as we went into Chop for the cheapest beers to date. How does $2 a liter sound to you. Sounds like great success to me. After we had to peel Alexis away from a homeless, blind puppy wandering around town, we booked it to our 3:30am train to L'viv, at last!
Don't sigh yet; more from the Ukrainian urban jungle to come.