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Overland by train from Warsaw, Poland to Minsk, Belarus

Phespirit reports - May 2009

The Plan

The Journey

Thursday evening, Warsaw Central: the 8:50pm to Minsk arrived ten minutes before scheduled departure; Phespirit was there to witness it. He boarded carriage one at the rear of the train, where his ticket entitled him to spend the night on berth 42, one of four long red leather seats - two up, two down - in a small second class cabin. As the carriage filled up it emerged he would be sharing with three other middle-aged men. Near-simultaneous boarding made the initial stowing of bags a cramped, bumpy affair. Phespirit was second man in, on one of the lower bunks, so he settled down out of the way as quickly as he could manage. The train departed dead on 8:50pm to the strains of Europop playing over the on-board radio out in the corridor. Although not especially loud, Phespirit dearly hoped it would cease sooner rather than later as he feared he wouldn't be answerable for his actions if it continued throughout the full ten hours of his journey.

A diminutive, spiky mullet-haired female cabin attendant passed through the carriage to collect tickets and hand out Belarus entry forms. The first stop came after just ten minutes, somewhere on the eastern outskirts of Warsaw. It was followed by further stops at 9:30pm and 9:45pm. Around the middle of these the Europop must have cut out, and Phespirit hadn't even noticed. After the latter stop, he decided it was time to prepare his bedding. He was pleased by the entirely fortunate nonchalance with which he caused his mattress and pillow to fall correctly into place in a single act of unfurling. Only his sheets were left to be unpacked from their plastic wrapping and tucked around. A stop at 10:07pm was the first that Phespirit recognised from the timetable - if all was going to plan it would be Siedlce, exactly to schedule. Reassured, Phespirit got his head down for some sleep.

The diminutive, spiky mullet-haired female cabin attendant returned to provide a wake-up call at five past midnight, presumably for some border action. The train had been due to arrive at Terespol, the last major stop in Poland, at 12:03am. Phespirit wasn't sure if it was still due or whether he had slept through it a couple of minutes before. The cabin was steaming hot and he felt rough. When the train eventually came to a halt at a quarter past, Phespirit couldn't tell the exact location. There didn't seem to be much activity or noise outside so he doubted it was Terespol. He could only lay back and wait .....

He did not have to wait too long. Within a couple of minutes a stocky young male border guard cast the door open and switched on the light. Phespirit studied his khaki uniform for clues to nationality and found only one: a small silver Polish eagle on his cap. The guard scanned and stamped the passports handed over by the gentlemen on the upper berths - Phespirit guessed they were Belarusian - and merely flicked through the passports of Phespirit and the Pole on the lower berth opposite. He closed the door behind him as he left but within five minutes a different guard arrived, cast it open again, and promptly disappeared up the corridor.

The cool air that wafted in through the open door was most welcome. With a lull in proceedings, Phespirit stepped out of the cabin to look at the timetable in the corridor, and to peer through the windows. Although he could see no signs on the platforms outside, it appeared that the train was indeed at Terespol and would be due to leave at 12:36am. First stop across the border would be at "ПАРК БУГ" (Park Bug?) from 1:44am to 2:14am. The first major town then ought to be Brest from 2:22am to 4:10am. Time would tell. Phespirit couldn't imagine feeling thrillingly alive when it came. Duly at 0:37 the train made its move into lands (for Phespirit at least) unknown.

The door remained open and the light remained on, but nobody seemed concerned enough to do anything about it for the sake of an hour's sleep. Ah! Except it wasn't an hour. In his sleep-deprived state, Phespirit had forgotten that Belarus is an hour ahead of Poland. The train came to a halt in a matter of minutes - the action of which caused the cabin door to slam shut of its own accord. This was now Belarus. A dauntingly-huge woman hauled the door open and looked around for stowed baggage, but without actually wanting to open up and rummage through any of it. Hot on her heels was a slightly weary-looking man who gathered in all the passports. After a couple of minutes another woman came by asking questions that Phespirit could not understand. He guessed she was asking whether anyone in the cabin was smuggling anything, so he shook his head and she quickly moved on.

All was quiet now except for the sounds of passports being stamped some way up the corridor, and birds singing outside. Birds singing? Did they not know what time it was? A little after two o'clock (Belarus time) passports were returned with a minimum of fuss, and five minutes later the train set off early. Phespirit slammed the door shut. Time at last for some proper sleep? Not immediately as there was too much violent clunking and shunting. This carried on for twenty to thirty minutes, but then Phespirit drifted into deepest unconsciousness.

He regained his senses at around seven in the morning, just in time for train tickets to be returned at 7:10am. Outside his window the land was a lush green, heavily wooded, and the sky a chilly white. After the warm sunshine of Poland, Phespirit sensed he would have to re-acclimatise and would not have much time in which to do it. The train arrived in Minsk pretty much exactly on schedule at 8:02am.

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