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Overland by train from Minsk, Belarus to Warsaw, Poland

Phespirit reports - May 2009

The Plan

The Journey

The 8:40pm for Warsaw had departed from Minsk as near as dammit on time. Phespirit was settled on a lower berth in a second class cabin for four, but it appeared he would have just one travelling companion - a young woman, seen off from Minsk station by a burly gentleman acquaintance. Phespirit now wished he hadn't eaten all that garlic cake as an appetiser with his last meal. He probably wouldn't have been so considerate in a carriage full of smelly men, but in these circumstances he suddenly felt conspicuously ungallant. All too late, though. After the inobtrusive female cabin attendant had taken the train tickets, he stepped out into the corridor and made a note of the timetable. Below is the Polish translation; the original was in Cyrillic:

The sequence of activities had become familiar. Phespirit made up his bed and settled down to reading Henry Fielding's 'Shamela'. At around ten o'clock he decided to turn it in and get his head down. Falling asleep wasn't easy, though, as grey light permeated the cabin through thin curtains. Phespirit lay awake long enough to notice the first stop was on schedule, but drifted off some time thereafter. It was a rough awakening when the attendant gave a knock at half twelve and opened the door to announce it was time for "documents". The train came to a halt, and within a couple of minutes the first visitor arrived. A middle-aged woman in uniform looked at Phespirit's passport and asked in English: "where have you been?"; "private visit?"; "do you have anything to declare?" - "Minsk"; "tourist visit"; "no", were the satisfactory answers returned. A weathered-looking male soldier then passed along the corridor harvesting passports.

After about ten minutes in total, the train started moving slowly, only to stop again in the shed of a railway yard for some almighty shunting backwards and forwards that could only signify a change of engines or a change of wheels or a change of just about everything exterior to Phespirit's cabin. Such was the persistent violence of it all. The shuddering din persisted for some time, and subsequent tapping, hissing, to-ing and fro-ing carried on even longer. At 1:30am the train left its shed for some al fresco manoeuvring, punctuated by periods of deceptive silence.

The door was shut and the lights were out but sleep did not come at all. Passports were eventually returned at 2:30am. The cold efficiency of Belarusian state apparatus did not prevent the wrong passport being returned to Phespirit's cabin mate. She complained, and the matter was quickly resolved with no small amount of self-conscious chortling. At last the train was away at 2:40am sharp. It paused for about a minute at two forty-five, bidding a final farewell to Belarus, and then stopped at Terespol for what would be another rigorous bout of border formalities. Phespirit turned his watch back to 1:55am and consoled himself that it potentially represented extra precious sleep.

After five minutes it was lights-on and the show resumed. A bored middle-aged woman asked the usual customs-type questions. Then a dynamic young man in a black bomber jacket, camouflage trousers and big army boots leaped on to the top bunks and proceeded to open the ceiling panels and prise apart the walls, presumably checking for stowaways. Interestingly he did not ask for the lower bunks to be lifted to check inside the luggage boxes - perhaps that's just a bit too obvious. Phespirit waited about ten minutes after he'd gone and then got up to use the toilet. No sooner had he turned the lock than there was a knock on the door and an order for him to return to his cabin for passport control. This he did, whereupon a uniformed man checked his passport, and Phespirit promptly returned to the lav.

Off again at 2:50am. Even with the change in time zone, not much remained of the night for sleep before the 6:00am scheduled arrival at Warsaw Central. Phespirit was woken from the deepest of sleeps at 5:00am sharp. Not for any official call, but by his cabin-mate opening the door to go and freshen up. To her credit she had succeeded in quietly getting out of bed, changing and readying herself without a sound, but the door latch was one noisy obstacle too far. As Phespirit would soon have to do some readying of own, he resisted his body's screams to return to sleep. Stops at 5:08am and 5:21am told him the train was still running to timetable.

Tickets were returned a little after half five. Glorious blue skies and sunshine outside made it a welcome return to Poland. Leaving it a bit late, the cabin attendant came around offering a choice of tea or coffee at quarter to six. Phespirit declined. A mere fifteen minutes later he was on the platform at Warsaw.

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