Hands Off my Stuff!
At the beginning of our trip through South America, a fellow traveler warned us that if we don’t get robbed in South America, then we haven’t really been to South America. Miraculously though, we survived six months of extensive South America travel with only one pitiful pick-pocketing attempt. Ironically, people were already taking our belongings after only a day into our Europe travels. We tried to be budget-conscious in pricey Finland by buying groceries instead of dining out, and some people in our hostel stole our food! (I don’t know where they were from). It was of course the principle that was most upsetting, and not the actual food. Although it is disappointing to go to make a sandwich and find your grocery bag empty.
Again, a thief struck in our hostel in Budapest and stole my wet towel! It might not seem like a big deal but it really got me riled. It was a fancy, travel quick-dry towel that Father Waugh had given me. When all of your belongings for nearly nine months fit into a 44-liter backpack, it’s frustrating when one of your most-used items is stolen. We learned the hard way that we need to start locking absolutely everything up. Apparently, we can’t even leave damp towels out to dry because of the few bad eggs who break the trust among hostel travelers. We even lock our groceries up now. We continue to be amazed by other travelers who leave their computers, cameras, cash, and other valuables lying all over hostels unattended. I wish all travelers were good and honest, but unfortunately this is not always the case. Take our word for it – lock all your things up in hostels!
Europe to Ukraine
Until now, all our border crossings in Leg #2 have been nothing. Within the European Union there aren’t even border controls, so you don’t usually stop. Ukraine, however, is a different story. It took hours, in the middle of the night, for our train to cross the border from Hungary into Ukraine. Cabin attendants kept coming through and knocking on the doors to make sure we were awake. An hour later, several different customs officers would come through. No one spoke English and the customs forms weren’t in English so no one really knew what to do with us. Meanwhile, Bryan was fascinated by what was going on outside (and we know our friend and Harbour View neighbor Ernie will appreciate this, too). Our entire train (all cars at once) was lifted off it’s wheels and placed on another set of wheels. Train tracks in the Ukraine and Russia are a different width than those in Europe. So whenever a train crosses out of Europe into these countries, the entire train has to be placed on new wheels (bogies). This process is tedious work for the railway employees in the wee hours of the morning.
Oopps. . . A Bit of a Detour
We spent two days in Lviv, Ukraine. There’s nothing wrong with the city. We just found it rather uninspiring after the other places we’ve been to recently, although maybe it’s not fair to compare. The weather was unseasonably chilly and rainy while we were there. Lviv has plenty of attractive buildings and definitely doesn’t have a touristy feel to it. The locals were incredibly friendly and helpful, often offering to go out of their way to show us directions. They expected nothing in return for their help. They were just curious about us and where we were from.
So maybe we’ve jinxed ourselves lately, bragging about how great our timing has been during our Europe travels so far. Things were going so smoothly, until we hit a major roadblock during our travels in Ukraine.
While in Lviv, we purchased a few sets of train tickets around Ukraine and booked a hostel in Kyiv with the plan to visit Chernobyl (the site of the worst nuclear accident in history). This was of special interest to Bryan after his 10 years of working on nuclear aircraft carriers. Unfortunately, the laws recently changed and now you are required to book a tour 11 days in advance so that you can obtain a permit to enter Chernobyl. Our time in Europe is filling up quickly with plans and we really don’t have 11 days to wait in Ukraine for our permits. So we decided to save our trip to Kyiv for another time when we’re able to visit Chernobyl.
With our plans of further travel through Ukraine scratched, we spent a frantic three hours in the train station in Lviv, trying to return our tickets without losing all the money and trying to find any available train seats for that night to get us heading south. Thanks to some last-minute cancellations, we were finally able to score a sleeper cabin on a 24-hour train BACK to Budapest and on to Belgrade, Serbia. I was looking forward to some peace, quiet, and privacy in our own sleeper cabin. I wanted to catch up on my sleep and blogging. I eagerly boarded the train in search of our private cabin. The train attendant took our tickets and forced us into a tiny, disheveled cabin with an older Russian man. We tried to tell her that we were in the empty (and clean) cabin next door and our tickets that she took showed that cabin’s number. But she refused and even ripped the numbers off the wall, switched them, and angrily pointed us into our “new” cabin. Twenty- four hours in a tiny, messy cabin with a Russian stranger? Are you kidding me?!? The cabin was smaller than my closet in our house in Suffolk. And they expected Bryan, the Russian man, and I (along with all of our belongings) to spend the next 24 hours in there together and sleep in triple-stacked bunk beds! Bryan went to the bathroom for just a few minutes and it turned out our Russian cabin-mate did know a bit of English. He asked me, “How do you do?” and told me he loved me. I thanked him, smiled politely, and was relieved when Bryan returned. No doubt, this was going to be the longest day of my life.
Just when I was losing all hope of sanity, a miracle happened. An hour after we boarded, our new Russian friend got off the train at his final destination. We bid him farewell and he gave us a pen as a gift – excitedly telling us that the pen was made in Japan. Luckily, we had the cabin to ourselves for the remaining 23 hours (through all of the border patrols, customs officers, and wheel changes again).
Although our plans for Ukraine didn’t quite work out, we are looking forward to continuing on to Serbia and Bosnia. After growing up seeing these two countries constantly in news headlines, we’re not sure what to expect!