Well, wonders of wonders, I made it on to the Ukrainian train. I almost didn’t, what with 1) the necessary ticket agent being “asleep” (at 9pm) and 2) the train leaving 25 minutes earlier than I had anticipated according to that German website. But I got lucky in a few ways:
1) The ticket agent who told me that I couldn’t buy the ticket and would have to pay the conductor (OMG sketchy, unofficial, etc..) was doing do in stunted English that was slightly better than my Polkranian.
2) The Ukrainian service man at the front of the first Ukrainian-bound car pretended not to understand me, but I had impromptu translation assistance yet again. Fifty dollars. Go to car five. Will 150zł do? Probably.
3) I only had 140 left (and wouldn’t have had that but for a last-second trip to the PKO machine), but the carriageman let it go.
4) My cabinmate can speak English! We’ve been having a blast so far. His presence really put me at ease. His name is Max.
Max is a Russian-Ukrainian currently working in Germany who is visiting family in Dnipropetrovsk. He was born in Magadan of all places. Magadan! I couldn’t believe it. For those who don’t know, Magadan is a city in the Russian Far East that makes Churchill, Manitoba seem downright accessible.
Max and I talked about language, politics, girls… not to mention that he had a gigantic bottle of Scotch. Owwww. I got away with four sips. It’s a good thing it was a gift for his brother (“but for good friends, it’s okay, he won’t mind…”), otherwise I’d be dangling off of the back of the last car spewing a trail of vomit all the way to the Ukrainian border from Warsaw. (Actually, and perhaps because the stuff was damn good and I was careful, I didn’t get sick.)
Speaking of which, we should be at the border soon. I’m not so scared now as I was; what with getting on the train being such a providential occurrence, any foreseeable passport suspicions seem to be a downright minor issue.
But now I know why CWY doesn’t let their participants leave the host country. And fortune favors the prepared – if I had done even one thing foolish such as look for food before buying my tickets, I’d be in Warsaw now arguing with a ticket agent. I mean, provided he or she wasn’t “sleeping.”
We’ve got a cabin to ourselves – it’s really sweet. There were a few tense moments; at one point a homely girl came in drunk and crying (even bawling) – that was weird. Max didn’t even know what she wanted. But our carriageman spirited her away.
Max tells me I ought to visit Saint Petersburg, where he met his wife who was studying Finnish at the time (I know, “people study Finnish?!?!”) – to go there myself is a tempting idea because I’m fast discovering I can convert my Polish and Ukrainian* into just about any Slavic language (maybe not Bulgarian) after a couple of hours with a phrasebook. I exaggerate, but with only moderate effort, Saint Petersburg as well as hitherto off-limits Ukrainian cities such as Dnipropetrovsk and Kharkiv will be open to me. At least I don’t have to worry about deciphering Cyrillic!
* - Max maintains that this is a merely a dialect of Russian, prompting a few good-humoured debates.
[The next update, “Warsaw to Kyiv to Canada,” which I wrote on the plane, probably will be posted late(r?) tonight.]