Travel Stories

A travel blog for a long-term expat, backpacker, traveler, ESL teacher, and photographer. 



The minibus that goes to the border and back

So I called the American Embassy two weeks ago about my expiring visa. They tell me that I have to physically leave Schengen/the EU to activate my 90 days tourist visa. FUN! So, what is the cheapest way to solve this problem when you're in Poland? Perfect! We have a border country that isn't in the EU - Ukraine!I've heard of this adventure before, many of my friends and fellow students have told me horror stories/adventure stories of the trip to Przemysl. I thought, "hmmm.. It can't be that bad." One person described it like a zoo. Some stories involved tears and groping. This is a blog of my adventure.


First off, the trains are timed retardedly. It is a 5 hour journey. It takes 2 and a half by car. Yeah Poland, update your infrastructure!! Being carless, I had to take the 6:50 AM train. Adventures, Adventures. Arriving around 12, I immediately panic because I didn't know my next step. Did I have to walk to the border? How far was it? WHAT DO I DO? I decided to call my friend who recently made the journey and he told me to find a minibus that said "Medica." Alas, outside the train station is the bus station, and he was right, the two zloty (.60 cent) buses are sitting there, ready for the border-hoppers!

The little village surrounding the border is unique in itself. It is filled with a mix of Ukrainians and Poles selling one bottle of alcohol and two packs of cigarettes. Yes, people go back and forth daily to make a profit off of cheap Ukrainian vodka and two packs of cigarettes. What a job, eh!? Of course, at first, I thought, hmm... if it is easy, why not?I follow the crowd down a pathway for pedestrians to Ukraine. Men are carrying big-screen TVs and bags from the cheap Polish grocery store at the border. (I guess I can understand that because they do have delicious cheese!)The first step is leaving Poland/the EU/Schengen on paper. I get stuck behind some guy who needs extra security so it takes a decent amount of time. The lady basically looks at my passport, says okay, and passes me through. Cool. That was easy. Now, as I walk through a fenced area, I realize I am in no-mans land. If I were to be killed here, I would be

virtually nowhere. That is a pretty cool concept, no? :P Next, I walk into the Ukrainian border office. Again, literally no line. The lady doesn't think I look like my passport photo and makes me stand aside so she can examine me. Luckily I have three visas with different pictures throughout the years so I look similar to them. She looks at me and says, "Why are you coming to Ukraine?" I decide to be honest and say, "Because the Polish police told me to leave the EU." She nods, says, "I understand" and flags me on. She says something about Americans to the other border guard and then chases after me and tells me I need to wait 10 minutes before returning to Poland.

Okay, fine, I can do that. HELLO UKRAINE, WE MEET AGAIN. I walked into the little border village. Realized nowhere accepted credit cards and there were no ATMs so I couldn't buy myself a souvenir of my adventure. Too bad!

After taking a touristy picture at the border, I head back to the EU! First, I have to leave Ukraine. Again, fast and easy and literally took 5 minutes - in fact, it was easier that I had the same border guard for some reason. After I am back in no-mans land, I see a herd of people. Yes, you heard me right. Not a herd of sheep. A herd of people. Fuck my life. My favorite signs pop up: "EU Citizens" and "All Passports" lines.-Whenever I travel between the UK and other non-Schengen countries in Europe, I love the All-Passports line because I am usually unique on my flights. I usually get to go through customs first because of the amount of EU citizens.-Not at the Ukrainian border. No-siree. I am on the same page as Ukrainians. The place where people are pushing and shoving and trying to race their way into Poland. Tom, who I was traveling with, has a passport from the UK so he gets to go to the empty EU line and walks right on through. After about 10 minutes and my on the edge of tears-ness comes out after realizing that this will probably take 5 hours and we won't make the train back to Krakow, a little old Ukrainian babcia (grandma) comes up to me and says some mumble jumble in Ukrainian. I figured she was asking about my passport and I say "America?" And no joke, it was like a movie, all the Ukrainians open up space for me in between their line and let me walk on over to the EU line. A few of them looking at me and mumbling, "American" "American." I get over to the EU line and show the straz (Polish security) my passport and they flag me on through.

YES! YES! The one place in the world where I am considered a person from the EU! Yeah bitches!

When I get into the customs room, another babcia comes up to be and says, "Polska?" (Asking if I am Polish). I told her in Polish that I was from America and she says, "Czy masz wódkę i papierosy?" (Do you have vodka and cigarettes) And she had a very mischievous facial expression like she felt like she was smuggling. lol. Some people had opened their passports while in line and you can see nothing but pages and pages of stamps from Ukraine in their books. lol.Anyways, so alas, I surprise Tom (because he had already prepared for a 5 hour wait in the grass) and we head back to Przemysl. We decided to take the 5 PM train so we could actually explore the town a bit. There was a castle and some beeeeeeautiful churches in the town. We decided to get an early dinner before the train and found a restaurant in the main square of the city. I thought to myself, hmm.. this will be expensive, it is in the main square! The menu came out and the most expensive thing on the menu was 3 dollars - clearly I am living in the wrong city in Poland, lol!Anyways, that about sums up my adventure. People herds, vodka smugglers, and border-hopping in Przemysl! Wheeeeee.

Check out my photos below to see what the actual old town of Przemysl looks like!