the logical thing to do, at this point, would have been to cross the street and wait for the bus in the other direction. alas, we were not being logical, and i apparently had some steam to walk off, so we just started walking back in the direction from which the bus had come. this required heading up a very steep hill, dragging a small but noisy suitcase, and my angry but determined mom. i’m not actually sure either of us was thinking at that point, there was just movement towards a destination and some grumpiness and the idea that we were at least off of the constant stream of buses, for a little while. it was almost 5 pm. we had crossed the border almost 6 hours earlier. we were in drohobyć. we didn’t know where the hotel was, but we were pretty sure of where the bus had gone after the stop we were supposed to have gotten off at, and that was something.
in front of us on the hill was a young woman with small child, pushing a stroller. we bickered for the sake of bickering until the small child realized our presence and told his mom to make room for us to pass.
at this point i realized we may have to ask directions anyway, because even if we made it back to the stop for the center of town, we still didn’t know where the hotel was. i had the name of the hotel written in latin and in cyrillic, as well as the cheat sheet of ukrainian phrases that brendan and i had printed out for our trip to kiev over a year before. i pulled out the sheets and desperately tried to find the pronunciation for the word for “hotel” while my mom suggested that we ask the mother. i told her she seemed to have enough to worry about.
shortly after a gentleman passed us going in the other direction. i want to stress the fact that he had been walking AWAY from the center of town when we stopped him to ask for directions. the other important fact at this juncture is that the ukrainian pronunciation of the “h” in “hotel” is closer to to a guttural “g” sound. my mom had stopped the man before i could find the exact piece of paper that contained the pronunciation for “hotel” so there we were, the three of us on the sidewalk, my mom having completely forgotten all of her ukrainian and russian at this point, asking the man in polish for the hotel tustan. he smiled and spread his arms in the international signal of “i have no idea” seconds before i found the sheet with the pronunciation and blurted out something that sounded like “gotel! gotel!” his benevolent smile became a benevolent expression of understanding as he said, “ah!” and decided that he would walk us there.
he abandoned his earlier trajectory and headed back towards the center of town. we quickly passed the stop where we should have gotten off the bus, and i gave quiet thanks that the next stop was really so close to the center. thus began a ten minute walk where my mom tried to talk with this smiling older gentleman and i tried to understand what either of them was saying as we headed into the town proper.
the main square of drohobyć is on a small hill, so we had to walk uphill again to get to the rynek. the man excitedly told my mother about his family in Poland while both of us wished we had learned more ukrainian. i could tell he was telling us his family’s intricate Polish/Ukrainian history, but there was so much that i couldn’t make out. my mom asked him questions but also seemed to be periodically at a loss. he pointed out a church on the cusp of the hill that would become the market square, but neither or us seemed sure, later, what he had said about it. i just kept thinking that the man seemed like a professor, which turned out to be the case. we walked through the main market square, and down another hill, through outdoor market stalls, the man telling us about himself the whole time. i was half listening to him and half marking the route to get back to the market square, as it started to become clear that the sandwiches we had eaten on the train that morning were definitely not enough food for continued existence. we passed tables full of hats and socks and tights and gloves, to the side a small car parked on the grass with the skinniest dog ever either sleeping or dead in front of the driver’s side door. we turned at the possibly dead dog, down a short path, and another left turn into a square dominated by a statue to the right side, a scary grey building to the left.
this is where our third angel of the day pointed to a door and told us we had arrived. he hugged us and kissed us each on the cheeks and wished us a pleasant rest, and then was gone before i could even get a picture.
there was no name on the hotel, but there were the latin letters “hotel,” so we were sure we had arrived. we went up the steps and into a hallway, into another doorway to the right, and then more confusion. there seemed to be a few kiosk-type businesses inside the main hotel, one of which seemed to be an internet cafe of sorts, though that interpretation was not evident right away. we paused in confusion and then continued farther into the building, up a few more steps. there we found another window, one that looked more like a hotel check-in. i don’t know how long this confusion lasted, but it feels like a full 10 minutes in my memory before we finally decided that this was the right window. we approached tentatively, and eventually a woman sat up visible behind the glass and told us that, yes, she did in fact speak a little Polish.
thank fucking god.
we asked for a room, and the woman was glad to oblige. she showed us the price list, and the price that sofia had quoted us was on the botton of the spectrum. the equivalent of $20 american for one night, two people, no problem. my mom took the opportunity to tell her all about our family search, the village we were looking for, everything. the woman was happy to help us, but she had never heard of the village we were looking for. this had happened earlier with sofia, but we had just assumed that maybe sofia didn’t know the village. with a second rejection we started to worry, but it was not a priority at the time. the priorities were quickly becoming putting our stuff down and getting some food.
the woman gave us a key and said she would be up in a minute to bring us something. we were directed even farther into the building to the staircase. no elevator for my mom ‘s hips. so up we went
the stairs were on a far end of the building, with windows onto a side street. the first floor had closed doors off the stairwell, covered in notices, and the second floor also had closed doors, but without notices. it later became clear that the first floor consisted of shops, the rest of hotel rooms. we had to go up the third floor, european style (fourth floor american style). the doors were also closed, so we were nervous about opening them. when we finally did, we found ourselves in a large lounge-type room full of couches and tables and dead plants. two hallways stretched off this room, to the right and to the left. our room was to the right, all the way down.
we opened the door to a simple room with two beds and one of the most decrepit bathrooms i have ever encountered. we had just put our things down when the woman from the desk came bustling in with a space heater, explaining that we may need it. it was true. the dankness of the room was palpable.
once she had gone, we got our bearings for a minute, let the space heater do its thing for a minute, and then stashed the only thing we had with us that was worth anything, my mom’s computer, in some piece of furniture before deciding to head out onto the town again to find some fucking food.