Having traveled much of Western Europe, I was left in Poland with not much of a plan. I knew something would turn up and searched for days for the answer. Soon enough, it was found. A language school in Ukraine was looking for English teachers in exchange for a place to stay and Russian lessons. A few emails with the director, a Skype interview, and I was set to go! After traveling through the Czech Republic and Poland, I was set off to Ukraine for a month or so. I had no idea what to expect, but that’s standard these days and I kept an open mind, ready for whatever would greet me down the road.
With a few extra days to spare and over 600 kilometers to cover between Warsaw and Khmelnetskyi, I thought two nights across the Ukrainian border in Lviv would give me a quick taste of the Ukrainian lifestyle before settling down for a while. I booked a hostel near Old Town, wished safe travels to my great friend and host in Warsaw, and boarded a bus to Lviv, Ukraine.
I am not a sound sleeper per-say, but am lucky in that I am a sound rester. Even if I fall asleep and wake up multiple times throughout the night, I often have no recollection of the time in between when I sit down and when I truly wake up. Border crossing into Ukraine can be hellish, often adding hours to a one-way journey and sometimes resulting in a bribe paid by foreigners as a plead to pass “Go”. It was my first time leaving the Schengen area via land transportation and I hadn’t set aside any time or energy for such bribes. Instead, I’d thrown a hood on my head, a scarf over my body, and called it a night.
I groggily woke to someone asking for my passport as we crossed the border leaving Poland. Passing it over, I was back in Dreamland moments later. More than an hour passed before it was handed back to me. Not waking long enough to comprehend where we were or what was going on, I took back the passport, held it under my sweatshirt, and got ready to turn it over to another authority on the Ukrainian side of the border. Once we’d travelled a few meters into Ukrainian territory, I was called off the bus along with three others. The only travelers from neither Ukraine nor Poland, we were asked to check in at the border control station to let them know what our intent of visitation was. “Tourist-a” I quietly said to the uniformed man through a hole in the glass barrier separating us. By adding an “a” at the end of the pronoun, I felt it made me stand out less from other nationalities and from listening ears. After a few glances between my glazed gaze and the smiling face reflected in my passport photo, the uniformed man passed back the blue booklet and nodded his head. I was in! No money was needed, no pleading my case, I simply passed in and out of consciousness and soon enough found myself in the same bus seat as before, this time in Ukraine rather than Poland. How simple.
I then hit the snooze button with full force and woke up just as we rounded the final corner into Lviv’s bus station. From there, I withdrew (more than) a few dollars from an ATM, spent 20 cents on a cup of coffee, and waited for the 5 cent trolley ride into town. Online travel sites advised to look for number 3A and prepared me for a lengthy trip to the city center. “It’s approximately twenty minutes out of town” they’d warned. I found trolley number 3A and boarded along with 5 tourists from Poland and many other locals. We all sat down and made our way north to Old Town Lviv. Twenty minutes came and went. Soon it had been an hour, and hour and a half… nearly two hours passed and still the six of us sat, watching locals hop on and off at each stop. All of our minds were misty from the previous night’s bus ride but we finally began to realize that perhaps we had been misled. I checked the map on my phone and saw we were headed in the right direction, but were going there in a fashion similar to that of a ping pong ball rather than a bullet.
Ahead of me was a couple from Poland who sat just as perplexed as I. The woman spoke English and her husband held a map written in Polish and Ukrainian. Together with the moving point on Google Maps, the three of us decided to try our hand at self-navigation and passed through the doors of trolleybus 3A onto the streets of Lviv. They pointed me in the right direction, exchanged quick hugs and we each went our separate ways without exchanging information and without expecting to see each other again.
Yet two days later, while walking near Lviv’s book market, I heard a man yelling “Miss! Miss!” Thinking it was someone trying to sell me some Stalin Toilet Paper or a pin from the Communist era, I ignored and kept moving. Then a woman’s voice followed, even louder, “Miss!”
I turned and there they were, the Polish couple who’d led me through Lviv’s rumbly crumbly streets. With an apology, I ran up to them and we walked for a bit through the market. We’d come so far together, why not share a few more moments together enjoying the city?