Bratislava, any given Friday, 10.50 pm
I prepare to say goodbye to a small group of old and new friends and board a worse-looking-than-I-had-imagined EuroNight train bound to Warsaw, that should be leaving now but is only halfway to arriving to the station. Goodbyes and farewells behind me, I find myself on a 6-seat cabin and surprisingly enough longing for the Ukrainian platzkarts – at least there are beds, after all. And there was no way a train in Ukraine would cost me 77 euros (almost my entire remaining budget), as this one just did.
Apart from the police rushing back and forth at some point during the night and being asked for my ticket for three times, the trip was rather smooth, and from 2 am onwards leaned over the remaining free seats and slept for most of the time, until 8 am, when the train arrived in Warszwa Gdanska station, my stop.
Warsaw, Saturday, ~8 am
I leave the train and as the numbness of being forced out of sleep vanishes, my mind starts wondering 'shouldn't I had already checked by now how should I go from here, wherever I am, to the airport?' followed by the immediate realization of how penniless I was: I had 100 euros before the last dinner in Bratislava. I had dinner, bought some cigarettes for the way, and then got financially smashed by having to pay 77 euros for the train I had just left. That left me with around 11 euros in coins. Euro coins. That and 1,20 in my bank account. The exchange office at the station was close and, even if it was open, I couldn't change euro coins for zloty anyway. My thoughts at that moment? 'Shiiit.'
While I smoked the cigarettes I had bought 10 hours before one after the other, I tried to figure out what to do. To freeride the metro was virtually impossible: I had to place myself right behind someone in order to catch the gates open and I had two bags with me. Never had I done it before and, clumsy as I am, it would work…disastrously wrong. Unless…unless I tried to get a metro ticket and pay by card. Yes, the one with 1,20 eur, why not at least try?
…And it worked. It worked and I felt blessed. So here I am, entering the subway and…wait, in which direction? I don't even know where to catch a bus to the airport! A search on my ever-low-battery phone tells me there is a bus number 188 and stops in Politechnika, one of the stops of the subway.
Arrived in Politechnika. I leave the station and ask the first Polish-looking (the criteria for that being mostly composed of despair). 'Excuse me, do you speak English?' 'Yes, sure' 'Do you know where can I find a bus to the air—' 'Mate I'm not from here either. I'm trying to find my way to my hostel as well' 'Oh, right. Well, good luck with that' aaand off to the next person I saw on the street. No English. The one after that told me to find on the end of the street to my right. 7-8 minutes after, I arrived there. I childishly giggled as I got closer and saw people with luggages at a bus stop. 188 was here!
Luckily the ticket was still valid – and if it wasn't, too bad, I was already in the damn bus.
Arrived in the airport. Next step: checking-in to Minsk. My ticket? Check. My visa? Ahm, an ice hockey world cup ticket. Seriously. (Really, seriously).
I must say I predicted this would raise some eyebrows at the airport. At the check-in, after the operator goes through my passport: 'Do you have any visa to enter Belarus?' I wear my best poker face and say 'yes, I have this ticket' – and hand him the ice hockey ticket for a Sweden vs Norway match. His face is indescribable. While he tried to act normally, he clearly didn't see this one coming. After three long seconds of staring at the paper, he hesitantly picked up the phone in front of him and called someone. 30 seconds and a lot of Polish words later, everything back to normal and he did what every single check-in operator insists in doing: drawing a circle around the number of the gate and reading me the number of the gate, like I didn't know what 'Gate 13' could mean.
Security check passed without any problems. Same for passport control. I sit near my gate and use as actively as I can the 30 minutes free wi-fi at Chopin Airport. One hour after, boarding starts. The visa question. Again. This time, though, I felt a bit more scared – maybe because the plane was right on the other side of the gate. One more phone call, though, and problem solved – is there any KGB (Belarus still has a 'secret' police, and it's still called KGB) officer whose only job is to answer Warsaw's airport phone calls or what is happening?
Anyway, managed to board the flight, landed in Belarus, went straight to passport control. The first thing I read in a piece of paper placed on the glass: something like 'Make sure not to enclose any money with your documents as this automatically implies an attempt of bribing and has legal implications'. Not these words exactly, but very close. She glanced with surprise at the ice hockey ticket but made a few questions to her colleague the next cabin and everything fine. Got the stamp, picked-up my luggage and…welcome to Belarus!
My next post will be about Minsk. That comes next week. Stay tuned!