Jak Się Wchodzi Polska? 04/09/2010Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures.
Tags: customs, eastern european trains, poland, Przemyśl, travel
The woman working behind the protective plexiglass of Tarnów’s train station thought Janice was an idiot for asking if they took credit cards in Przemyśl. According to the scratched and marred protective plexiglass here they gladly accepted any number, but the woman had death in her eyes when I tried to pay.
Into the dusty plaza withering under summer sun. The square is populated by a half-dozen money changers who stand outside smoking, waiting for a customer. Throngs of sightseeing visitors were conspicuous in their absence, failing to browse postcards or crowd the terraces of worn out cafés. A hotel lorded over everything, its optimism cracked and peering out from dark windows. I found an ATM by running across a street lacking a stoplight.
Our platform was not in the main station. Arrows led us through the subterranean wreckage of reconstruction, back up from the weak florescent murk, and around the back. Down a length of barbed wire containment sat an economically designed office and inside was a lone booth occupied by a lone uniform.
He liked Janice, who had not muttered her hello with enough conviction. Irish, ah. Ireland. Yes. My turn at the protective plexiglass did not warrant such niceties as hello. The customs agent flipped through my passport, compared my face to the picture, fed it into something highly technical which refused to beep. My face received closer scrutiny, then the pages were flipped more slowly. We got to the end, then retreated back one by one. The machine still wouldn’t beep. Let’s try looking at my face one more time. I handed Janice her suitcase while she fended off busybodies trying to encourage her to leave me.
“How did you enter Poland?” I flew in through Krakow a couple days ago. You have no stamp. I flew in from France. They did not stamp you? No, they didn’t stamp me. Nobody looked at your passport? No, I didn’t fly in from America, I was flying in from Paris. There wasn’t anyone at customs. There was nobody at customs? How did you get in? I flew in from France, they’re part of the Schengen Agreement. Nobody stamped your passport?
Once more through the pages. Nothing Polish had appeared during our conversation. He lingered at the last page which stared back empty and inviting. A moment’s angry pounding and my documents slid back through the little window. My thanks hung alone in the air.
Outside was a covered concrete patio with few benches and a drain for when they hosed everything down. The train was belching steam and trembling, but a gun-toting guy in an official Polish customs t-shirt refused to let anyone pass. Pallets of shrink-wrapped goods were ushered through and loaded into cars, thousands of rolls of paper towels and boxes of assorted bric-a-brac slowly being distributed while railway matrons chatted in clusters and smoked.
There were a couple kids, mostly with women. This was a pretty homogeneous crowd where Janice and I had trouble fitting in. An older Chinese couple in formal attire sat by themselves, painfully upright on a bench and not speaking. Women in olive green military dress passed through periodically but chose not to pause for any surreptitious photographs. People kept wandering in and out of the customs office but when I returned inside to throw something away most of the lights were off and none of the doors were open. More delays, more consumer goods disappeared on board, a mechanic attended to the engine’s undercarriage with a wrench.
After a couple false starts initiated by packs of loud blond women in pre-faded blue jeans they started letting us onto the platform. Everyone, every last single person, filed off to the far end of the train. Our car was up front, just beyond a pack of railway matrons gossiping and chain-smoking. Whomever was in charge took our tickets and explained she would hold them for us. Every online guide insists that you do not let anyone take your ticket lest they try to charge you again on board; she wasn’t even wearing a uniform. What could we say?