It is a great pleasure to introduce to you the first post in the “Travels” cycle. I hope that you will enjoy not only this post, but also the entire cycle, which, as far as possible, will be enriched by another smaller or larger trips. I hope you will have a nice reading!
The whole idea of the trip to Ukraine came up spontaneously, as well as our many other decisions in 2013. Although the whole idea went off half-cooked, it was not a problem to join forces with two of our good friends, who are also in love with traveling.
We started planning our trip two months in advance. One may consider this to be too late, others far too early and protective, but I would like to emphasize one thing – this trip was planned by a party of four, so we were able to arrange everything in a timely manner. One should also take into account the time of our trip, which is April – month out of the tourist season. As a result we had no problems with accommodation, we looked for it when needed, and we’ve found, not without obstacles, places to sleep. Nevertheless, tickets for public transport such as trains or plains should be booked early enough, because even outside the tourist season some connections may be significantly overloaded. If you would like to learn more about how to generally prepare for any journey, you are welcome to check this page.
Main Train Station in Wroclaw, source: Mapy e-Holiday, by Marek Glibowski
The start of our trip took place on April 1st, 2013 in Wroclaw, in a flat on Kosciuszko street, where we gathered to go on a night train to Krakow. We are proud to say that the Polish PKP did not disappoint us – our compartment, as well as the wagon, were unheated. In Krakow we changed to the train to Przemysl – also in this train the PKP reached the “appropriate” levels of service: the seats were covered with a substantial amount of yellow dog fur. I ought to mention, that this is not a Polish standard of service – we were just quite unlucky, however, these things happen on a daily basis in Poland.
It was the first time I visited Przemysl. I regret two things: that I did not have the time to explore the city, and that I visited it in early spring which has taken its toll on the city’s charm. It is also the only city in the eastern Poland (not including the capital), which I had the opportunity to visit, and which confirmed the stereotype of poor eastern Poland. It’s hard not to admit, that the train station is beautifully restored, but the houses around were gray and dirty, and people modestly dressed. At this point it struck me, that with my green jacket and a red backpack I am very different from the crowd. Unfortunately, it was too late to change it – till the end of the Ukrainian trip I had to survive with my looks of a naive tourist (the details will be revealed in future posts).
But coming back to Przemysl – after returning from a trip I did a little online search and discovered that the city, although in some places it is neglected, it has its own unique charm. To all who are interested I recommend looking here, and to check the city’s beauty personally in the future.
After reaching Przemysl, our next objective was to cross the border at the Medyka crossing. To get there we got into a shabby minibus at the railway station in which we had the first contact with the local folk. The minibus was extremely cheap (PLN 2 per person). Nonetheless, I wondered who gave the driver the permission for its use, because (in my opinion), the minibus should have “retired” a long time ago. In addition, it departed when filled up with passengers. We were lucky that it was just the middle of the day, so we didn’t have to wait long for our exciting ride.
The area of the border crossing in Medyka is crowded by Ukrainians and Ukrainian women. Some of them tried to sell to visitors Ukrainian cognac and cigarettes, other shopped in Biedronka and transported bought goods to their native country in giant green eco-bags.
The queue at the border inspection was very long. Occasionally, someone pushed his way through indicating that he has the right to be served first due to his disability, even though it did not look as if it were true. Time is money. It could have been sensed that the crossing point is so loaded every day. Moreover, our appearance there caused some chaos because the guard had to move from one desk to another, where he examined the documents of the European Union citizens. After passport control we received an Ukrainian visa and easily crossed the border.
A few hundred meters after the crossing we found a small bus station, from which departed yellow marshrutkas, including those going in our direction – to Lviv. It is worth noting that if one buys a ticket for a bus or minibus at the station, it should be done at the cash desk. Only if one gets in the marshrutkas or buses on the route, s/he can buy a ticket from the driver.
Bravado in the streets of Lviv
Marshrutka is a minibus which has unlimited capacity and unlimited capabilities. Perhaps it is at least an abstract, and certainly an overexaggerated statement, but our group’s observations clearly confirm it. Marshrutkas have designated stops, but drivers take from the road all those who want to get inside. We have never seen a situation where a potential passenger did not fit inside of the marshrutka. Many times we have experienced the unimaginable overcrowding that exceeds cramped trams in the morning on a weekday when everyone is hurrying to work, school, shopping, or wherever. Everybody is packing themselves up so that everyone can get in, plus everyone is polite, there are no unhappy people – all passengers are filled with joy because they can get to their destination. And what is the most interesting – nobody looks to be in a hurry.
Another interesting thing is the way of buying tickets. If someone enters the marshrutka through the back door, s/he gives the passenger in front of him/her the destination and money, and both of them are given to the next person at the front until the money with the information reach the driver. The driver gives back the change, which is again transported the same way back to the person who paid for the ride. Nothing is lost on the way, everyone helps each other.
For marshrutka and its driver everything is possible. Many times while traveling by marshrutka the driver has one hand on the steering wheel, or even none. Also when avoiding road obstacles marshrutka is equal to Jeeps and Land Rowers, though often during these maneuvers, I was wondering if its not about time to say goodbye to my precious life. Additionally, on highways marshrutka overtook Audis and BMWs, which was a big surprise for me.
It is worth highlighting that according to Ukrainian law, marshrutkas and buses should only transport seating passengers. At this point, it is essential to add that almost no one obeys this regulation.
While sitting in the marshrutka, I had the opportunity to admire the local architecture. Houses, though modest and often shabby, had fancy window niches and other decorations, and colorful façades – usually green or blue. I also learned from my friends that the eastern Polish architecture is similar.
Almost every household bred chickens, goats, only a few had a horse. Near many households there were still used wells, though I have no confirmation as to whether residents have access to a water supply system. Often an Orthodox dome towered above the village – the more distinctive in landscape that painted in bright colors or gold, and with clean, renovated walls.
After 3 hours of ride for 10 PLN per person, rich in new experiences, we reached our first major stop – Lviv. What I saw there and what captivated me – I will reveal in the next post dedicated to our trip to Ukraine. Enjoy!