Fresh off of the night train from Moscow, our first task in Kiev is to buy tickets for that night’s train to Krakow. There is a building with a bell tower to our left. This building is useless. The building to the right has ticket windows. The different ticket windows will give you conflicting reasons why you should not be at their window and go to another window. And so we go across the cavernous hall, to the other room of ticket windows with fast food stands in the middle. And so we go back across, and then we go back into the hall, and then we ask the lady at the information desk. She points up.
On the second floor two long corridors lead to the train tracks, and past these train tracks, past the kiosks and money exchanges and waiting areas stacked with the indigent and ice cream vendors is – another train station. A new, shiny, completely different train station. The one where you can buy international train tickets.
Mister Chen buys tickets to Krakow from the International ticket window. Platzky class. “At least I’m pretty sure I got tickets to Krakow,” he says. We look at the ticket. It says “XapKiB.” Cyrillic. Of course. We pay at a desk in the basement for two tokens and use the first to lock our bags in a locker. Eight hours later we are back to spend the other token.
Hurrying to the departures board, bags on our backs, we spend our last Hryvnia on food and bottles of beer. And then we wait. The display alternates between Cyrillic and Roman letters. XapKiB to Kiev, KNiB to Kharkiv. We wait for the platform number. Then a new train appears, the train an hour later than ours. The display changes. That train is going to Krakow.
We run to the international ticket window. Above the window a television displays the number of tickets remaining on all departing trains. We stand in line. Tickets on the train to Krakow = 0. At the front the lady in the window instructs us to stand on the other line for a refund on our tickets to Kharkiv, and then stand on this line again so she can sell us tickets on the next available train to Krakow. Understand my use of “said” to mean she was speaking in Ukrainian and gesturing and we were speaking in English and panicking.
There is a tall man with a shaved head and small beard standing on the other line, and he now comes to our aid. He speaks to the lady in Ukrainian. Yes, we can get our tickets to Krakow here, and THEN get a refund. Where are you from? He asks. Brooklyn. Oh, he says. I live in Astoria.
We thank him. We buy our tickets. When does the next available train to Krakow leave?