Being the adventurous gal that I am, I booked the 15 hour long train from Budapest, Hungary to Kiev, Ukraine. My global train pass covered me to the Hungarian border and I had to pay for a ticket once I got into Ukraine. The direct overnight train was fully booked which is why I booked the route that changed in Lviv, Ukraine. A definite “con” with the global pass is that I can’t book until I’m usually in the country. Once September rolls around and the summer vacation season is over with, things should slow down.
Advice: If you are not adventurous or don’t like it when something doesn’t go quite like you thought … go on the direct train!
The train departed Budapest-Nyugati station at 7:23 am and arrived in Lviv at 22:16 pm. There was a Starbucks at the terminal, but it didn’t open until 8:00 am. I was not anticipating that and missed my morning tea. I didn’t see another Starbucks until I got to Romania 9 days later.
Since the train ride was 15 hours, I splurged and paid a little bit extra for a single compartment all to myself from Budapest to Lviv. It was worth every cent!
I’m obsessed with the 80’s movie Terror Train. Doesn’t the long hallway down the carriage conjure up images of the movie for you? It does for me, especially when it’s dark outside. Going to the bathroom freaks me out because I remember the scene where somebody’s head got smashed into the mirror in the bathroom. Here’s the trailer … it’s worth a watch if you watched it in the 1980’s! Jamie Lee Curtis is in it 🙂 Love her.
There was a lady checking the tickets and I could not understand what she was asking me. She kept saying Zahony (this is where the train stops on the Hungary side of the border), Lviv and Budapest. There was an Italian guy in the compartment next to me and he was trying to assist. A guy from Amsterdam got on and he spoke both Russian and English and told me that she wanted the ticket from Budapest to Zahony and I only had one from Zahony to Lviv. The Budapest to Zahony portion was covered under my global pass, but she didn’t understand. Off we went to find the conductor and he okayed everything when he looked at my global pass. I was getting a little frustrated.
We finally got going. Next to my compartment were the Italian and Dutch guys. Next to them was a guy from Ontario who spoke Ukranian, but little English. He showed me his Ontario driver’s license, I showed him my Alberta driver’s license pointing out the Class 5 and 6 because I’m licensed to ride now!
We stopped at the Hungarian border in Zahony for a passport check. Hungarian officials got on the train and went from compartment to compartment checking passports and stamping them. The front engine car was also changed in Zahony.
We continued on, crossed the border into Ukraine and stopped at Chop.
The lady I had sort of argued with back in Budapest had changed into an uniform. She looked very official. I briefly thought I’d be going to jail for getting frustrated with her. I won’t do well in jail. I’m sure it won’t be like Bridget Jones dancing to Madonna and talking about push-up bras with her inmate friends.
Ukrainian officials came on board and took our passports while we remained in our compartments. More came through and checked the compartment and poked at the luggage asking what I had in there. After a little while, a hunky guard brought me back my passport and gave me a thumbs up.
The lady official indicated we had to get off the train. She locked my single compartment door and I got off with my purse and my iPad in my hand because I was reading. I assumed we just needed to do something else with passport control. The Amsterdam guy said we needed to wait a little while while they changed the bits & pieces underneath the train for the different train tracks. Apparently, the train tracks are different between some countries.
With railways, a break of gauge occurs where a line of one gauge meets a line of a different gauge. Trains and rolling stock cannot run through without some form of conversion between gauges, and freight and passengers must otherwise be transshipped.
Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania (1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in)) vs. Former Soviet Union countries: Russia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova (1,520 mm (4 ft 11 27⁄32 in)). Night trains are common, and they are often bogie-exchanged.
Bogie exchange is a system for operating railway wagons on two or more gauges to overcome difference in the track gauge. To perform a bogie exchange, a car is converted from one gauge to another by removing the bogies or trucks (the chassis containing the wheels and axles of the car) and installing a new bogie with differently spaced wheels.
A bogie exchange was done in Chop.
The guys that got off the train with me headed into town to get snacks. I figured I’d buy my ticket from Lviv to Kiev since I was now in Ukraine. The lady teller didn’t speak any English and I only know how to say thank-you so I was typing in my phone, translating it and passing her the phone. I debated many times about calling my sister-in-law and having her speak for me. I was told I needed 800 Ukrainian hryvnia and they didn’t take credit cards. I went out to find a bank. Once I was outside, I typed “bank” into my phone, translated it and held it up for people. A man pointed across the street and off I went and got some Ukrainian hryvnia.
I went back into the terminal and back to the ticket counter. There was another lady there now who could speak some English, but I couldn’t buy a ticket. She said the ticket was from Chop to Kiev and I couldn’t get a Lviv to Kiev ticket there. Did I want to go on the Chop to Kiev train? I said no I just got off the train from Budapest and would be getting right back on it and my bags were still on there. Everyone was shaking their heads at me so I gave up.
I sat down for a few minutes and it seemed that the entire place cleared out. A big empty cavern! I walked over to the terminal doors …
MARY MOTHER OF GOD! SWEET BABY JESUS! WHERE IS MY TRAIN AND MY SHOES AND MY BAGS AND MY LAPTOP AND MY CAMERA AND MY CLOTHES AND MY BAG OF CHIPS?
Panic, Panic, Panic!!!! Deep breath … in and out … in and out.
The guys came back and we waited assuming that the train was getting the undercarriage traded out. There wasn’t anyone around in the terminal to ask questions to. Eventually, the guards who came on the train when we got there came back through the terminal. We asked one of the female guards about the train from Budapest. She indicated about 5 pm. We had about a 4 hour wait before the train left again to Lviv. It was a very long wait not knowing where all my stuff was.
Finally at 5 o’clock a very long train came and the car we were on was attached to the end. My stuff was exactly where I left it. I will never, ever leave my belongings on the train again like that. If I need to get off for any reason, everything will get lugged off with me. Off we continued to Lviv and arrived after 10 pm.
Now if you remember, I didn’t have a ticket from Lviv to Kiev. I still needed to buy one. There were 2 trains leaving later that night for Kiev. The ticket desks were closed at the spot where I went into the terminal. I headed back up to the train platform and asked a gentlemen there where I could buy a ticket. He took me back down and around the corner from where I was. A blonde moment on my part and I felt like an idiot.
There was one counter where the teller spoke English and she told me there was only 1 business ticket left. I bought it, went back up the platform and got on the train. Note that there were no elevators and I was lugging my bag up and down the stairs repeatedly in this station. I’m getting some nice muscles.
I ended up sharing a 2 bunk cabin with a guy from Ukraine. He spoke English. I crashed, thought of Terror Train, but still managed to have a good sleep.
I got up in the morning, arrived in Kiev and headed to my apartment. What a trip that was! I absolutely loved Ukraine! If you ever have the opportunity to go and visit this beautiful country, do it!
Jackie is “Mom” to one amazing son, an IT professional and an obsessed traveller. She spends her time reading, golfing at Ladies League and implementing software projects. Jackie has travelled to all 7 continents and 93 countries and is always planning the next destination and adventure!