Sunday, 20 February 2011

Beyond Europe? (16/02 – 17/02)

I was right when I thought that after Vienna I was going to take an important step ahead, facts showed it to me next day.

I woke up at the hostel some minutes before my clock alarm rang due to other guests’ noises, and I had to quickly pack everything again after remaining two days at the same place, and after having breakfast I ran to the near train station of Bratislava Hlavna Stanica.

My eastbound train was departing at 9:24, I was first going to the train hub of that area, Kosice, and then taking another train to the easternmost town in Slovakia: Cierna nad Tisou.

Without surprises the train to Kosice arrived at 14:20 on time, and I went directly to the platform of the train to Cierna nad Tisou, which departed at 14:40.

The train to Kosice was a very comfy and modern one, and it was quite empty. I had a four-seats piece just for myself, including a big table in front of me, and an electrical plug for my computer.

I took my time to write some texts and even watched a movie. It was a 5 hours long delightful journey.

The train to Cierna nad Tisou had definitely a much more local flavour. Seats were old but at least cushion-like and most places were taken (it was unnumbered). Many travellers were high school students returning to their little border towns.

I arrived to my final destination few kilometers shy of the Ukrainian border at 16:40.

I had read on an internet forum that the best option was going to the border first, then crossing it to Chop and then taking a train from Chop to Lviv (sometimes spelled Lvov).

But I wasn’t lucky that day.

When I arrived to the train station of Cierna nad Tisou I found out that there was no train crossing the border till 23:00.

I did my best to pass the time in that distant, old and empty station with remnants of the Soviet era (a mural displayed the liberation of Prague), and oddly enough, two palm-trees. Some Gypsy children were running around.

I first bought a ticket to Chop, because I thought no trains were running further away, but I was obviously wrong, so when I realized it I bought a ticket from Cierna nad Tisou to Lviv. The ticket officer told me that there were no beds available on this train, but that I could buy a second class ticket. Alright.

As I had been progressively going eastwards inside Slovakia snow was more and more frequent, so this town was totally snow-covered.

After buying some snacks to trick my need for real food, I decided to have a look around. The town was kind of desolate and I couldn’t find anything interesting at look. Nondescript. One street leaded out of the station, and some others equally dull ones crossed it. No restaurants, no hotels. Just one supermarket, one bet-house, one bank and a pharmacy.

In the end time passed quite fast, and finally I got on board. 2nd class wagon, all empty and unlightened.

Seats were red and made of hard plastic.

In just 10 minutes we got to the Slovakian side of the border. A first round of two policemen checked that my wagon was empty apart from me and looked everywhere inside.

Second round of two (Slovakian) policemen asked me my passport and were surprised to learn that I was travelling by train to Russia. The looked at me suspiciously and amused at the same time when they asked me when I was returning home and I told them that in many months.

They just didn’t know what I was doing there, but as a citizen of the European Union I had the right to leave it.

And I left it, and if I succeed I won’t return to the EU till the end of this year.

My worst nightmare came alive when they kicked me out of the 2nd class wagon at the train station of Chop (Ukraine).

Apparently I was the only one who had to get out of the train and then go to the border control and custom house. But not only that, they informed me then that my 2nd class ticket to Lviv was not valid because there was no 2nd class wagon going to Lviv actually; my wagon’s trip ended in Chop.

The train’s officer wasn’t friendful and shouted me in a bad mood to get out of the train and not to come back.

Ukrainian female police officers leaded me to the passport control room of the station.Thanksfully, they spoke English.

No problems. I got my passport stamped and they just checked my instruments’s case (even made me play the alboka to prove it was a musical instrument).

Some friendly military old man tried to explain to me in broken English that I had to pay for a bed in a wagon going to Lviv.

That was when I saw my former train from Cierna nad Tisou leaving the station.

They tried to reassure me: you will have a train to Lviv in 3 hours. It was almost 2 in the morning already.

The station’s interior was in twilight and kind of cold. All ticket offices were closed.

I was alone and didn’t know what I was expected to do then.

I left my backpack on a bench and sat beside it.

I tried to sleep slouching onto my backpack, gloves, hat, scarf, coat and everything on, but it didn’t work.

After a while I saw people chatting at the information desk.

“Gavaritie pa-angliskiy? I want a ticket to Lviv.”

Unhappy female ticket sellers told me to go to desk nº 5 in 5 minutes.

In the meanwhile I changed my mind and decided to go directly to Kiev, instead of Lviv.

Sometimes one has to take fast decisions in this kind of trip while being very tired. That was what happened. I thought that having no CS host or contact whatsoever with anyone there, and besides, having no travelling guide of Ukraine either it wasn’t worth it going to Lviv. Aaand I thought I was going to arrive there pretty early in the morning, because there were only 280 km between Chop and Lviv, and I took for granted that the train ride will only last about 3 or 4 hours, and I needed much more sleep. That’s why I decided “to the hell with Lviv, I will travel to Kiev so I will have more time to rest”.

In the end, and after getting out of the station twice looking for an ATM that provided Ukrainian currency ("grivnas"), I got my sleeping-wagon ticket to Kiev.

My first real and authentic “transsiberian”-like experience started when I got on to this new wagon. It wouldn’t depart till one hour yet, but lots of people were sleeping in the dark inside. It was the Bratislava – Moscow line.

When I got inside there was a warm smell of sleeping bodies, breathing, snoring, and some of them stinking, but I got quickly used to this.

I found my couchette inside in the darkness (nº 20), it was an open compartment wagon, with dozens of people sharing the same space.

I climbed on to my bed (it was an upper couchette) and as far as I can tell, I got asleep after a long day.

It turned out that the train was arriving to Lviv at 11:00 am, when I woke up greatly refreshed (but I didn’t know that that stop was Lviv).

The train was going to arrive to Kiev 9 hours later, after crossing most of Ukraine.

Far more rest than what I needed, so now I regret not having visited Lviv.

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