Today was to be a travel day. The best laid plans as they say. No, I don’t mean we didn’t travel, because we did. We even got to our destination, with no mishaps, well nothing major or damaging in any real way.
We went walking around Białystok in the morning, after breakfast, since we had a couple of hours before we needed to leave, and before Julia, our Belarus researcher needed to catch a bus back home. Julia had met us in Białystok the previous day.
The big excitement of the morning was the hot air balloon parked on the pedestrian mall, and about to take off. I’ve never seen the process close up – just previously on TV or in movies. The balloon was enormous and it seemed to take forever to get aloft. But fly away it did.
I found a bookstore and purchased a couple of children’s books in Polish as gifts. Of course, neither of the children for whom I purchased them, nor their parents know Polish, but I figure that it’s never to early to start acquiring language skills.
We finished packing and by now the process of packing the van goes very smoothly – each bag has a space and we can do this quickly. We got on the road, knowing that we would only be making a couple of brief stops, lunch would be one of them. I was excited because the way we were driving to cross the border to Ukraine would take us through the fabled town of Chelm. I had grown up with Chelm stories and indulged myself when I worked at synagogues, by reading these stories to the children in the Hebrew schools.
The day was pleasant and the drive was easy. After a couple of hours on the road, we came to a town that was sizable enough for restaurants and shops and we stopped. There were several pizza places on a pedestrian mall, and we randomly chose one. We ordered pizza and salads. The first pizza arrived – a vegie pizza covered with arugala on top of mushrooms and peppers. The second pizza (these were 22cm individual pies) – also vegie but without the arugala. About 10 minutes later a plate with arugala arrived. Every 10 minutes or so another dish arrived. There were 5 of us, so just the arrival of the food took a long time. It was over half an hour after we first ordered that the first dish showed up. Poor Lina. She ordered the simplest thing – a salad with chicken. It arrived about half an hour after the last of the 4! It was barely edible. Good thing we stock the van with chocolate bars and cookies.
We got back in the car. It’s a good thing we didn’t know what the rest of the day had in store for us, otherwise, perhaps we would have just gone back to Białystok!
Our phones were set to google maps for directions and we often had directions in both Polish and English depending on how many phones still had battery time. There were two different directions, one was an hour shorter than the other, so of course, we opted for that. I was slightly bummed because the directions took us near but not through Chelm. There must be a Chelm story just waiting to be told about that.
It turned out that the hour difference had to do with the border crossing, and it probably saved over 5 hours, not just one. We followed the twists and turns of the route and found ourselves facing the longest line of cars and trucks any of us had seen. We found ourselves, however, near the front of the line, so we did what any sensible people would do – we took the first opening and got on the line behind a big truck, and when it started to move, we did too.
So did a Border Guard. She came over to us to find out how we got to the front of the line. Marek tried explaining about the directions from google maps. She in turn explained that the only way we could short cut the trip was with a diplomatic pass or if we had children in the car younger than 3. Marek asked if a pregnant woman fell into the category, and she said sure, but wanted to know which of the 4 women in the car was pregnant. We all laughed, and thankfully she didn’t look too closely – two of us were clearly too old, and the other two were way too thin. She waved us through. We thought “wow, this was easy.” Yeah, right. This was only the first of what would turn to be 5 check points – two on the Polish side and 3 on the Ukraine side.
We had arrived at the first point at 5:30 PM, then our clocks adjusted themselves to 6:30 – Poland and Ukraine are in two different time zones. By the time we got through the last check point, it was after 9:30 PM. We understand that there was a 15 hour wait for the trucks to get through and that some of the cars would be waiting over 8 hours. Since our trip was supposed to include another entry into Ukraine next week, we started examining our options – after all, we had 3 hours to do this on line, and another 2 hours until we reached our destination for the evening in Kovel.
We finally decided. We would not chance another border crossing into Ukraine. After we leave Iasi, Romania next week, we will drive further east in Romania and stay in Bestritsa, Romania for one night, then travel to Debrecen, Hungary, and drive through Slovakia to get back into Poland. We frantically scrambled trying to find reservations for the two nights in hotels – we needed 5 rooms each night, which is not the easiest to do, but we prevailed!
We finally got to Kovel, really hungry, checked into our rooms and went, at close to midnight, in search of food. An all night supermarket was a short walk and we bought a huge bag of food for $9! The exchange rate is incredible. I decided that ice cream would be perfect and opted for something called black ice which I thought was chocolate. Don’t ever buy something called black ice to eat unless you are attempting to disguise yourself as the walking dead for Halloween. Whatever the ice cream touched turned black. Not a pretty sight.
Tomorrow, onward to Kiev!