Be nice to border gaurds...

Trip Start Dec 30, 2006
Trip End Jul 27, 2007

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Flag of Poland  ,
Monday, March 26, 2007

Looking at a map it is hard to believe the distance between Krakow and L'viv is very far. The one direct train a day took just over 9 hours though!  Looking into it a bit I found the train sits for more than two hours at the border while changing wheels as the track gauge is different between Poland and Ukraine.

Not wanting to take so long and not a big fan of the time of the train, I looked on the internet and found the fastest (although maybe not the safest) route was to take a train to Przemsyl, a small border town, which goes every two hours and takes about three hours then grab a local minibus to the border, walk over and grab another bus on the Ukraine side for the 80km into L'viv. Total time around 4 to 5 hours, depending on waits at the border. Also, this method should cost about half vs a direct train.

I grabbed the 3:30 train, which showed up closer to 4pm - got into Przemsyl just after 7pm. Being a small border town, they don't see too many tourists around here. Despite walking in the wrong direction, which landed me a few minutes with a couple of Przemsyls finest officers who found my passport fascinating, I eventually found my way to the bus depot. I missed one bus due to my conversation with the cops and waited about 40 minutes for the next bus to show up. Bus eventually filled up...and when I mean filled up...there was no room to move. Capacity was probably 20 on this mini bus and I think we got over 30 crammed in somehow.

15 minutes or so later I was standing by a small shanty village set up on the Poland side of the border. Smuggling cigarettes from the Ukraine side is big business and this is one of the main routes. Organized crime pays Ukraine people to walk across cigarettes from Ukraine where they set up staging areas on the Poland side to fill up trucks that go to Germany and other EU countries to be sold on the black market for large profits...(for organized crime of course...the locals crossing the border taking the risks get very little). It was fascinating to see this in the open going on.

Got through Polish border control fast - too fast. Hundreds of people going back and forth in the 700m or so "no mans land" fenced off area between the two countries checkpoints. Some very subtle and most very overt about what they where doing - all under the watchful eyes of the Ukraine border guards and military.

I got in line for the Ukraine border behind about 400 people in a line that didn't seem to be moving very fast. My first instinct was "this cant be very good".

My first interaction with a Ukraine official occurred about five minutes later when a tall, very young guy, in military gear, started yelling at our section of the line. Whatever he said caused some consternation of the line but everyone started backing up - I figured it would be best to follow suit - to make room for some group to go in front of us. Angry whispering in Ukrainian ensued around me.

Around two hours later a group of younger girls had budged forward to where I was at. When the realized I was a foreigner they pushed me forward, past about 100 people to the front of the line. Apparently, tourists have a special VIP line as when a soldier watching the lineup saw my passport he waved me forward past the rest of the line. Signage would have been nice. Lack of signage, plus the fact that I was literally the only english speaking tourist crossing the border at this time had me assuming I should stand in what was the ONLY line heading to the ONLY border guard booth leading to the Ukraine side. Silly me.
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