I am currently trying to plan a weekend getaway to either Latvia or Estonia, depending on how far we want to drive and the weather. I could really use some time vegetating on a beach, but it seems my current location and those even further north aren’t yet conducive to comfortably meandering about in a bikini. The days are getting longer, with the sun rising long before 6 and setting around 11, but the temperature isn’t quite up there yet. There are some hot days, but they are quickly followed by rain and 50 degree weather. So, back to my trip, I could plan on driving south to warmer weather, but that leads me to Poland and the memories of a fiasco V and I endured in 2007.
Almost exactly two years ago, V and I packed up the German apartment we had inhabited for 9 ½ months and shoved the last of our belongings into a rented, purple hatchback. We had just bought a navigation system, so we felt prepared to make the drive from Germany to Lithuania. In the US, we drive comparable mileage quite often, but driving though Eastern Europe is completely different. The German Autobahn is, of course, rather awesome, so that portion of our trip passed quickly and without incidence. The border was backed up into Poland, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the fault of Germany. The difference between the German highway system and the Polish highway system was abrupt and shocking. The traffic merged from an efficient three lanes each direction to one lane. The roads were riddled with potholes and prostitutes (no joke). As the sun set, we continued north towards Lithuania. At about 1 am, we noticed a white kidnapper van following us too close for comfort. V pulled over onto the shoulder to let the van pass, but it slowed and pulled over too. We continued driving with the van continuing to follow. If we passed a car, it passed, if we stayed behind a slow moving vehicle, it stayed behind us. It was clearly interested in our car or what was in it. There was no civilization in sight. There were no stores, street lights, or homes with signs of life, and our cell phone had stopped working at the border crossing. I grabbed the TomTom and typed in police stations, hoping there would be one nearby. No luck. At this point we were about 100 km outside of Warsaw, and the van was getting more aggressive. It was swerving to the opposite lane and trying to nudge us off the road. V was worried that the van would call in reinforcements to barricade us once we got into the city. Finally, after about 45 minutes, we passed a hotel with a security guard out front. Without signaling or slowing down, V took a hard right turn, almost taking out the security kiosk. We explained what was going on, the security guard promised to watch our car, and we bought a hotel room for the night. The kidnapper van took the next available left turn and sat watching us until we unpacked almost everything and went inside.
The next morning, we again packed up our car and took off for what we thought would be the short leg of our trip. We passed Warsaw and looked to be home free. Upon finally reaching the border between Poland and Lithuania, we prepared our documents and passports. The Polish guard was pleased with our information and ushered us on to the Lithuanian guard. He, however, was not satisfied with our information. He wanted more documents on the car. We explained that it was a rental car, and hey, here, look at the rental agreement, but no luck. We were turned away at the border for possibly having a stolen car. V tried to reason with him-something like:
Hey, buddy, I just got done with a long basketball season, have driven 16 hours, was chased by a Polish van, and I’m 45 minutes from my house. I do not need to rip off anything, but if I did, my first choice would not be a bright purple, almost-go kart. I’m not much into vehicles that resemble jelly beans. Also, I’m 6’9″. My knees are up to my ears in this thing.
Still nothing. The guard suggested that we drive back to Germany and ask the rental company for more information. Yeah, no f’ing way. Instead, we drove 30 km out of our way, found an internet cafe, and contacted my family and V’s family for help. The rental company was, of course, completely dumbfounded and tried to call the border guards on our behalf, but no one would take their call. We knew that a new guard would check in at midnight, but the first guard had already warned us that we were on a “watch” list. We decided to risk it anyway. We hit up an ATM for 200 Euros and drove back to the border crossing. We parked our car and approached the guard by foot. We explained the situation to him, but he appeared stoic and unwilling to help. V then flashed the Euros. The guard’s eyes lit up, and he told us to come back in 30 minutes. We did, and the guard told us to put the money in our passports, and when we drove to the gate, he would check our documents, take the Euros, and let us through. Ahhh, bribery at its finest. It worked, and we arrived at V’s parents’ house at about 3 am.
And long story even longer, that is the reason I currently have no desire to take a road trip south of here.
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