Wednesday, August 30, 2006

This is how close I got to Ukraine

Through a rainy window, I managed to snap this shot before Maciej could yell at me, telling me that the Ukranians are paranoid and would take my camera away.

And this is my favourite Ukranian whom I failed to see!

Wrap up

The reason why I haven't been updating recently is because I can never decide if I should write about any of my trips after August fourth. I think about what I want to write, and then I subsequently become overwhelmed with the volume that each travel story contains. And if I compressed my travel stories, then nothing funny or interesting would be left -- just the skeleton of what I did and with whom.

The entire summer was my most interesting and independent-lived summer. I lived alone. I spent my weekends with other Canadians travelling the area. I did spontaneous trips. I got lost in cities. I figured out train stations. I went anywhere I wanted anytime I wanted. I did things that I wouldn't do back home. Every time I travel, I become less afraid of what is around me, more confident to tackle things I want, and I feel much more control of everything around me. It seems as though my mind grows and expands with every trip I do. Honestly, you can't help but learn something useful when you travel, whether it be always have extra toilet paper with you or understanding certain people's behaviours. People fascinate, disgust, and amaze me anywhere I go.

I have many highlights of my time in Europe. I am hesitant to use the word "trip" at times because the purpose of my stay was working at the hotel for two months. Of course, I did travel on my days off (which could be called "weekend" or "day" trips), and I did have two weeks of solely travelling once I finished my job.

As my Itinerary did promise, I was supposed to find myself in Ukraine after a day spent in Poland. Maciej, Jarek, Paula, and I all clambered into Maciej's old, red car and drove over eight hours, passing through Warsaw, to the Ukraine border. This is where our trip started to turn sour. Naturally, we were all eager to quickly get through the border and arrive at our Ukranian city, especially after eight hours of nearly straight driving. The problem loomed ahead, as when we came about ten kilometres close of the border, we already saw the line of trucks waiting their turn to get into the country. This was one killer border. It took us three hours to simply get to the Ukrainian side of the border. For some reason, we had to pass through at least four different border-like stops. It was once we hit the very last border (Ukraine was a mere ten steps away) that we were turned away.

Conversation translated from a mix of broken Polish, good Polish, and Russian:

Border guard: I can't let you guys in.

Jarek: Why not?

Border guard: Maciej's car isn't registered under his name. How do I know that he didn't steal it?

Jarek: It's registered under his cousin's name, but it's his car.

Border guard: I don't know that. If you were to go over the border and were stopped by the police, there would be trouble. He would wonder why you are driving a car that doesn't belong to you, and then he would ask you who let you into the country. I would then have a ruined reputation, and most likely be expelled from my job. The thing is Jarek, I would most certainly let you guys into the country, but I can't let you in with that car.

And that was that.

What I find the most irritating about this entire explanation is that it is highly unlikely that a policeman would stop you, ask you for your registration, and then proceed to fire a border guard for letting you in. A more plausible situation would be that you would be stopped by a policeman, you would talk with him for a few minutes, and then you would inevitably end up paying him off for God knows what. That's the way things work. Anyway, we didn't even know the border guard's name to begin with, and even if we did, I doubt a policeman would even care.

After being turned away at the border, we most grudgingly turned around and made our way back. It took us another hour to get back to Poland, and I thought for a fleeting moment that we would be stuck in no-man's land and never allowed to go into either country. The worst part about it is that no-man's land had paying bathrooms, and I was surely to run out of money at some point.

Unfortunately, because it was a Sunday, there were no buses going to Ukraine that day, so, short of walking there, we couldn't even get into the country without the car! We finally accepted defeat. We then decided to drive to Southern Poland, back to our Canada World Youth community of Stoszowice. The drive there was about ten hours, so you can imagine how exhausted and utterly uncomfortable we were at the end of the trip. We started in North-West Poland, drove through Warsaw, got to the border, turned around, went South, passed through Krakow, and then finally made it to Stoszowice (which is about 60 kilometres from Wroclaw). We drove more than halfway around the country, but it felt like we drove more than halfway around Europe. We stayed with Paula's host family (including her very hospitable and fantastic of a cook host mother) for the three following nights, during which we rested, visited old CWY friends and places, and witnessed a somewhat serious flood. I had such a good time those few short days spent in Poland, and I'd even go as far to say that it was better than a few of my days spent in Poland back in 2004. I felt so much more relaxed and content this time around, not to mention that I was in superb company for the entirety of the trip.

After Poland, I headed off to Vienna, as I had originally planned. Not many interesting stories can be pulled out of that trip, as I was in good hands and well-rested the entire time. Wacky stories seldom happen when things are well in order and go as planned.

Coming back to Canada felt as sweet as ever, even though customs in Montreal was a little hectic. I didn't fill in my customs form right, so I was invited into The Room for further questioning. Nobody knows what happened in that room, except for myself, and let me tell you, those scary looking men in uniforms are not swayed by delectable Polish chocolate. And yes, I even did try to pull out the extra-rich, German brand, which I purchased in Berlin, but even that did not sway the custom officers. Right away they spotted my weaknesses, and they tied me to a chair. I knew, from watching movies, that flailing my arms would do no good. They roughly held up my head with my hair and shone a bright light, which bore right into my eyes. They told me what I had to do. No no, please! Anything but that! I pleaded. But, they would not hear my cries. They gave me the telephone and stood over and watched me as I dialed the wretched restaurant's number...

In the meantime, feel free to check out my pictures in aisle four. As of now, I have my pictures from Munich's beer garden up, and more pictures are slated to come in the next few days.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The yummy cut-up pancake look-alike


"... and then we had something, of which I forget the name of, which resembles cut-up pancakes, but it is sweeter and doesn't have such a mushy texture as pancakes do. The first part of the word is "Kaiser", and all you German speakers out there should be able to remind me what the heck this lovely dish is called."

Kaiserschmarrn, that's what it is called! And the best part about it is that Mom has promised to make it for us upon my return!

A bomb, but not on the bus

On a breezy Tuesday evening at around eight o'clock, Marie and I line up to go up the Dome, Berlin's parliament - the Reichstag. Entry is free, so there is always a large crowd queuing up. It doesn't really matter, however, since the line moves relatively quickly, as they are able to fit large groups into the building.

As soon as we entered the building, we saw that there was a security check. It was not all that surprising, since in most government buildings, you must pass a certain level of security. We realize that they must be at least kind of serious with this security business, since when we took a silly face photo of us, a thin security guy through a glass wall tapped on it and shook his head, as he pointed at our camera. That gave me an urge to snap a picture of him. Marie convinced me otherwise. Anyway, everyone was lining up, and we slowly started to pass through the metal detector.

When we were just about to put our bags on the conveyor belt and pass through the metal detector, Marie just realized that she had scissors and a pair of tweezers in her bag, that had been earlier confiscated at the Canadian Embassy. That made me think of my small Swiss Army knife that I carry around on my purse. We realized that we should have taken out our "weapons" earlier, but oh well, we were already at the detector. We would have to leave them at the door with the security guards.

Marie and I pass through the metal detector without beeping, but we know we will get asked about our bags. Miraculously, they hand back my bag (containing the purse which carried my knife) without any comments. Strange. Marie's bag, however, they take off of the conveyor belt and look at her with a stern eye. The security guards exchange looks with each other. Uh oh.

The first security guard looks at her seriously and demands, "Spray."


He points to her bag, motioning her to open it and says "Spray" again. He looks at the other security guars with the look of: she may be carrying a certain kind of bomb.

Marie is confused. She unzips one of the pockets and uncertainly takes out a tube of Deodorant spray. Do they mean this?

They take it from her, examine it, shrug, and hand it back to her. They give her back her bag, and her and I are off on our merry way.

Well, then! We can carry knives, scissors, and tweezers, but deodorant sprays -- now, ladies and gentlemen, who knows what that can contain! We couldn't stop laughing about her deodorant, so we took a picture of her proudly holding it inside the Dome.

So, word to the wise -- Do your hygiene at home and leave all deodorant bombs at home. Who knows the commotion you may cause.