Following the destruction of our raft and the sad demise of The Pirates of the Danube, we four pirates were left in a situation that we hadn’t expected… we had no raft and we were in Budapest. What to do? The whole world lay before us.
Fortunately, we had thinking time and with friends old and new, returned to one of my favourite places in Europe: the green bridge in Budapest. There we ate food, drank wine, and relaxed after a couple of weeks living on the river.
From Budapest, one pirate headed to Turkey, one to Romania (on the old bike) and the remaining two of us decided to explore more of eastern Europe. We begun by hitchhiking to Kraków and spending a couple of great days with a very good friend. In Kraków, I finally gave up my beloved pirate jacket and left it on the floor of a hostel where I hope that it may find a more loving home.
With temperatures falling fast and the desire to head east, there was only one thing that I could do… buy warm clothes. In Poland, they have amazing second hand shops where you pay for clothes by the kilo. I kitted myself up with a winter jacket that appears to be made from the outside of a sheep, a pair of leather boots that make my heels bleed, some purply-red jeans (because I’ve always wanted some), and two belts for a grand total of twenty-something pounds. The belts were actually used as straps on my new-old backpack because I broke the old leather ones. Sporting my new clothes, we once again stuck out our thumbs and headed towards Ukraine.
Due to wonderful company in Poland, we didn’t start hitchhiking until after seven at night and arrived on the outskirts of Kraków in total darkness. We had a tent with us, so weren’t too worried about finding somewhere to sleep (as long as we didn’t get arrested again) and our sleeping bags would help to keep us warm. Looking at the road we aimed to hitch on, we saw three lanes of traffic and realised that we had a problem. We hiked along the side of the only three lane road I’ve ever seen in Poland and my boots ripped my feet to shreds. Then we saw the dreaded motorway sign. Never before have I seen a motorway sign in Poland. And it’s dreaded because you can’t hitchhike past it. We chucked our bags on the floor, stuck our thumbs out for all of two minutes, then a car whizzed past and slammed on the brakes. We ran down the road, throw in our bags and head in whichever direction they choose to take us… they then invited us back to their house, offered us a huge dinner, warm beds, breakfast, and a ride towards the Ukrainian border early the next morning. They served as a little reminder of how great people can be. Once again, Poland appears to be the best country in the world for hitchhiking.
A guy then picked us up, drove us to the border and we found a queue of cars longer than I have ever seen at any border in my travels. He spun a 180 and raced off to another border, ditching his license plates in a rubbish bin along the way. I wanted to ask why he did such a thing, but decided to let him keep his secrets. At the next border, the queue was about half the size, but still huge. The guy then proceeded to hit a kerb and damage his wheel badly.
Racing on, he skipped the whole queue and drove through border control without stopping. We then got chased down by a very young female border guard who’s constant shouting decreased from her what otherwise would have been an attractive appearance. I was not particularly pleased when she shouted at me for stepping out of the car. Over the next couple of hours, our driver changed his front wheel, had shouting matches with several other border guards, explained to us that the Polish are f****** idiots, then received a €200 fine for changing his tyre at the border control.
Leaving us at the edge of Lviv, we struggled to find out how to reach the city… then boarded the worst bus of my life. The minivan was crammed full with over thirty people. There was little need to hold onto anything because we were simply wedged between everyone. It took two hours to traverse the fifteen kilometres into the city and we both promised that we would never board such transport again. Along the journey, we got shouted at by several old Ukrainians for having bags and when we tried to get off the bus, people pushed back and we were stuck. A stop or two later, we fought free from the bus and felt our welcome to Ukraine was not a good one.
Then we met two lovely CSers, had a great night and Ukraine was wonderful. Since then, we have been shouted at by more old Ukrainians for taking a photo of their market stand, ripped off by a taxi driver, ignored by bus ticket sellers (arriving twenty-five minutes early at the train station seemed enough, but sadly we missed our train because upon reaching the front of the queue, the lady ignored me, then closed the window), got given free flowers (because it was ‘tourist day’), and got shouted at by more old people for walking into a cafe that wasn’t open.
We also found a butterfly exhibit where giant butterflies crawled all over us. I rather love butterflies and this somewhat made my day.
Thus far, I like Ukraine very much. It’s old, it’s pretty, the young people look good and they are super friendly. My only problem is that the old people keep shouting at me and ripping me off. Is this how it is supposed to be?
Next stop: a village in the Carpathian mountains where we hope to camp outside and see what it’s like to be in rural Ukraine. I’m excited.
And here’s a puzzler for you: why did I take a picture of this sign? Hint: I couldn’t stop laughing when I read the English name.