profile profile

Bussing to the Baltics

Originally I'd planned to take the direct bus from Odesa to Tallinn. The flaw in this plan was that it goes through Belarus and getting a fully visa for a stretch on the bus is not practical or financially sensible. Hence the detour to Lviv.

I ended up with a change in Riga and an end destination of Tartu.

The Polish border is one hour out of Lviv. I was quite looking forward to a border crossing at a sensible time followed by an uninterrupted night of sleep. Hahaha no such luck. The bus was stuck at the border for a full six hours. Four in between Ukraine and Poland, pausing in lines of stopping altogether in carparks. We stopped at Duty Free for a while.

When border control came aboard and collected all the passports, half an hour or more later they were all returned except for mine. The bus driver looked worried and tracked it down for me pretty quick.

Eventually we progressed to entry to Poland, and the bus was fully unloaded. We hauled our luggage through customs and then.. the bus disappeared. A further two hours were spent perching on suitcases in the carpark outside Polish customs. Nobody had any idea what was going on. I wondered if this duration of delay was factored into the schedule, but figured I'd probably be missing my connection. At least it was still warm.

At 0230 the bus finally materialised and I got to sleep.

Around mid-morning the next day, it broke down. We waited for a couple of hours by a highway in Lithuania. Other buses stopped and picked up the passengers they could fit. I ended up on an Ecolines from Vilnius to Riga, sitting next to someone who was planning to make the same Tartu connection as me. This bus was scheduled to arrive shortly before the Tartu bus departs, and the latter often waited for it. Hope!

The back end of a yellow bus with an open compartment and a crowd of luggage carrying people A view from inside a bus of people standing on a grassy verge on a cloudy day A black bus pulls over on the side of a road while a truck passes behind it; a woman carrying bags runs towards the bus

And indeed I did make the connection with one minute to spare, and successfully got to Tartu. The funny part is that if the original bus hadn't broken down I probably wouldn't have made it.

I am struck by the attitudes of people in authority on public transport in different regions. The guy from Vilnius told me that even if you're late for a bus, usually they will wait for a while, and call you, and make every effort to see you aboard. In Western Europe I get the distinct impression that the rules matter far more than people; if you're late you miss it, and it's nobody's fault but your own. I once had to elbow my way through Victoria Coach Station with a minute to spare after a 3 hour delay on the District Line, and was technically on time for my bus and it hadn't actually left yet, but they almost didn't let me board because I wasn't 15 minutes early, and gave me a really hard time about it like I had done this on purpose. On the other hand, if you go much further east, they just sort of don't give a shit. They'd leave you at a service station because counting the passengers is too much like work. So maybe the Baltics is where one finds the peak of public transit customer service?

More photos from transit.

🏷 bus travel transit ukraine