Tag Archives: Tågskryt

Stage Five – Overnight Warsaw to Moscow – on the way overland UK to NZ

In which you shall learn a life lesson, like I did. What did I learn?

Still a few leaves in Belarus
Still a few leaves in Belarus

First overnight train! This is the Warsaw to Moscow Polonez as mentioned by the Man in Seat 61. Find Stage One of this travel saga or, if you’re brand new and want to read about the whys and wherefores in planning this trip, here’s Part I.

When I showed her my ticket as we boarded the train, the white-blonde compartment manager wearing a smart red beret held up one finger. She said, firmly and clearly, directly into my face, ‘One’. Gottcha. I clambered onboard with everyone else and wandered up to the end of the compartment to realise there was no number one. I went back to find the first compartment held three worried looking faces staring at me. I had place number 11. I guess she meant the first compartment.

I was very lucky to share a compartment with Tatiana, her daughter Maria, and colleague Ella. Tatiana and Ella are teachers at a select Secondary College and extremely clever people. Tatiana speaks excellent English as she spent her teens living in London with her parents. They gave me an introduction into life onboard a long distance train. First get into your comfy clothes because it’s warm inside. Then crack open the snacks and keep going. And keep hold of your keycard.

We had basic Russian lessons, compared teaching lives and enjoyed some simple jokes. Like the one about me going to spend 6 days, one hour and four minutes on the TransSiberian. They couldn’t stop giggling. ‘You’re going to live like this for a week?’

But, what was more hilarious, Tatiana and I both knew all the words to Donny and Marie’s sign out song! With gusto, everyone!

We were in a Russian train. It seemed new. It was certainly a solid heavy piece of equipment. There was no riketty racketty clicketty clackity here. This ironmongered beast was a smooth driving force.

Soon enough the Belarus police came to check our passports. The Russians got a stamp. I had to fill out a duplicate form. It took a good time for the officials to get through the train. Then a short trip to get our wheels changed. The rail gauge changed over the border. This also took considerable time. As we pulled in the men-power were getting into formation. There seemed to be about twenty blokes involved. They set about rolling a huge gantry thing overhead, connecting each carriage somehow to the side yellow pillars which must be a jack system. When the other train pulled in opposite I could see what must have just happened under our train. I didn’t feel any perceptible lifting of our carriage but it’s clear how high they have to go. I could see the folk in the carriage opposite going about their snacking and chatting. The others in my compartment had gone to sleep by now. We were not allowed out to watch. They have to physically move the wheels under each carriage. Three frail men sliding under the trains, heaving and pushing these enormous machines into place under the carcass of the carriage. There seemed to be mortal danger everywhere I looked. There was a far bit of smoko and wait and check the phone but the job got done.

How they manage without loosing a plate or a bolt or a wire in such dim lighting is astonishing. How much would a continual line of equal gauge cost between the two countries? Or is it better to keep decent men employed in an important and responsible position?

Changing the wheels in Brest - Warsaw to Moscow overnight
Changing the wheels in Brest – Warsaw to Moscow overnight
This is the hammer bench - the train opposite is about to get our wheels and visa versa
This is the hammer bench – the train opposite is about to get our wheels.
See the hammer on the right? (No sickle.)
Wheels rolling under the train opposite. See the elevation?
Wheels rolling under the train opposite. See the elevation? And the hammer?

After a short trip along to the station, customs officials came to call. They brought a cute dog that everyone along the corridor cooed at in turn. We had to get out of the carriage so they could take a good look. We were very serious and obedient.

Brest Railway station - Belarus customs check
Brest Railway station – Belarus customs check

Around two in the morning my bladder called, we argued, I lost. I slipped out of the compartment to go to the toilet. As the door clicked firmly shut I remembered Tatiana’s advice. ‘Keep your keycard with you.’

Uh oh.

Russian train toilet - clean and orderly
Russian train toilet – clean and orderly

After making use of the facilities I made my way slowly back down the corridor. A corridor lined with locked and shut doors. My locked and silent gate. I looked longingly at the empty manager’s chair as I passed but I could not invade that sacred space.

The compartment managers office
The compartment managers office

I went out to the doorway and sat in the stairwell. I had passed the sleeping manager but I did not think her temper would be improved by me waking her around 2:30 am. I came back and stared at my door. I figured my best place would be where either the manager or one of my ladies might go so I sat down and practiced my meditation skills just outside like a loyal canine companion.

A shiver of hope came when the manager’s little alarm went off. Something was about to happen. Soon enough the train slowed and came to a station. She moved around quickly, putting on her uniform and attending to things in her office. Then she noticed me and without a hint of surprise indicated the door. Oh, yes, spasibo! And I was back in my comfy welcoming bed just after 3 am. I was so pleased to straighten out!

My bunk - plenty of room underneath for luggage for both up and down bunks
My bunk – plenty of room underneath for luggage for both up and down bunks

It was after 8:30 when I became aware that our breakfasts had been delivered and our door was clicked open. New day!

Russian 4 berth cabin. Tatiana staring out the window
Russian 4 berth cabin made in Austria. Tatiana staring out the window
Tatiana demonstrating morning happiness
Tatiana demonstrating morning happiness – we did remake the beds into the seating arrangement immediately after I took the photo. Honest.
Contents of Russian breakfast - tea and coffee vegan
Contents of Russian breakfast – tea and coffee were vegan

Bread bun thing I will not name with a French word beginning with C, biscuits, tea/coffee/sugar, napkin, salt and pepper and a refreshing towel. What more could a train traveller want?

On our Russian train, Maria has breakfast while manager is at work
Maria has breakfast while manager is at work

Taking careful turns with the available space, we managed to get the packing done we managed to get going with the day.

We had a twenty minute stop to change the engine – one of those thunderously big machines. It reminded me of the old iron lawnmower we’d inherited on moving in to one of our houses. Incredibly heavy and incredibly effective. The wooden roller tamed the grass and, once sharpened, the heavy blades made short work of the greenery. The train was built to last. Possibly your grandmother’s sewing machine would also share that permanence and purpose?

Our compartment manager and her carriage
Our compartment manager and her carriage waiting for the new engine
Information screen inside Russian train
Information screen inside Russian train – it’s warm inside
Engine change three hours away from Moscow
Engine change three hours away from Moscow
Autumn came to Russia already
Autumn came and went in Russia
Angel Ella who brought me to Moscow (Mockba)
Angel Ella who brought me to Moscow (Mockba) and introduced me to the Metro, even buying my ticket. Spasibo!
Belorussky Railway Station, Moscow - my entry point
Belorussky Railway Station, Moscow – my entry point – don’t think I’ve done it justice. The Metro is nearby and I’m so grateful I had Ella to help.

There will be more about the Metro in Stage Six – Moscow – but for now, I’m getting ready to start that hilarious six day TransSiberian jaunt. Not sure when I’ll get email again.

But trust me, I’ll soon be back and let you know more of my tågskryt journey!

And guess what lesson I will endeavour to remember just as hard as I can?

Stage Four – Warsaw – on the way overland and sea UK to NZ

If you’re new to my journey across the world, see Stage One. Or you could start way back with Part I of planning.

The first thing you see when you get out of Warsaw Central train station
What is the first thing you see when you get out of Warsaw Central train station?

On the train (Tågskryt!) from Berlin into Warsaw I sat next to Simon. He lived in Berlin and was not a DJ. Proof that not everyone in Berlin is a DJ. (See previous post or if you’re brand new and want to read about planning this trip, here’s Part I ) He was editing music on his laptop, working on songs to play with his new band, the Soft Boyz, chill electro-jazz, so watch out for them in the future. Simon comes from Warsaw and loves to spend time with his family – he speaks to his mother EVERY DAY. He is saving up to travel through South America next year. He told me the best things to do in Warsaw are to visit the Polin Museum and to take a walk through Praga (no, not the city, silly) the artist’s side of Warsaw.

Kind Simon actually walked me out of the underground maze and pointed me in the right direction. It doesn’t take long to get familiar with a place but those initial first few minutes … Do you remember those 3D hidden picture puzzles? That’s how I feel when I stare at a map of a new city until it comes into focus. Takes a day, normally. I was very grateful to the first citizen of Warsaw, Simon. I hope his travels in South America find him many kind and helpful people in return.

When I asked my Airbnb host, Alicja, she said, ‘Oh, no, don’t go to Praga, it’s dirty and violent.’ So I didn’t. (Actually I ran out of time!)

View from Airbnb kitchen Warsaw
View from Airbnb kitchen Warsaw
View from Airbnb bedroom Warsaw
View from Airbnb bedroom Warsaw
view inside my Warsaw Airbnb
View inside my Warsaw Airbnb

But, Alicja could name three vegan restaurants within five minutes walking. Cake for dinner!

The next morning I trekked in to the Central station to see if I could catch my Moscow train from there rather than out in the suburbs.

Beautiful aromatic walk through a block and a half of flower stalls next to the market.

the flower walk outside the market
The flower walk outside the market
More than one market in this market
This market goes back three buildings and offers a fancy food hall at the rear
Modern Warsaw
Modern Warsaw on a beautiful day
Central train station
That’s me on the right – striding out – not really

As I marched up to the station a man appeared at my elbow and said, ‘Passport?’ He kept saying ‘Passport? Passport?’ and then added, ‘Australian?’ and I said ‘Yes’, but even as I pulled my passport wallet out to show him (regular readers will know I’m not holding an Australian passport but I am a citizen) he indicated I should follow him and I did because he also added, ‘Police’. I would follow this man to the end of the earth. This is Warsaw. Round the station and out the back and into a twisty office section and he flung open the door and announced to the ladies inside, ‘Passport! Australian!’ One of the ladies rose to her feet with a sympathetic and worried look. She found a small handbag, fished out a passport, opened it to reveal a wad of cash, and the police officer grabbed it and thrust it towards me. I felt, one, relief, I wasn’t in trouble and two, tremendous pity for the poor woman who had lost her passport. I spent the rest of the day looking for her. My friend Nadine lost her passport in Canada. When she reported to the police, they opened a drawer full of other passports, so it must be common. Keep a hold of your identity, people.

High on this feeling of relief, I went to Information and, with minimal mime and clowning, managed to extract the information my train could be easily caught from platform two the following day.

On to the next thing, a walking tour, a mere short walk away. Only, the map of Warsaw is a bit bigger than it looks! The walk went through parks and streets and took a long time.

One of those ubiquitious scooters and cool park bench
One of those ubiquitious scooters and cool park bench
Autumn colour in the Saxony Gardens
Autumn colour in the Saxon Gardens

Just made it to the Palace and the Sigismund memorial to hear that Warsaw had been obliterated by Nazi bombing, particularly the centre, up to 84% of the city was laid waste. Poland was invaded from two sides. The Allies refused to help Poland. They were on their own and after the Warsaw Uprising the Nazis stamped on them hard for trying to resist. But the citizens of Warsaw were determined to rebuild and the old town in the centre is now finished. With such an devastating history, Warsaw is filled with monuments.

Marie Curie memorial for her first science lecture
Marie Curie memorial for her first science lecture attended as a teen

The Polish White House
The Polish White House where round-table negotiations
brought a peaceful revolution and Solidarity.

No sign of Extinction Rebellion. Regular debates and free speakers gather outside the White House to express their thoughts. This is where they would be. Should be.

The poets you didnt know you didnt know
Known as Poland’s greatest poet, Adama Mickiewicza certainly has the biggest memorial
Not repairing bullet damage is a memorial too
Not repairing bullet damage is a memorial too
Changing of the guard at tomb of unknown soldier
Changing of the guard at Tomb of Unknown Soldier – with another memorial offering of flowers BG

Behind the square you can just see the Opera House – the third biggest stage in the world after Moscow and Beijing.

Tomb of the unknown soldier Warsaw
Tomb of the unknown soldier Warsaw – the remaining columns of the grand Saxony Palace

Warsaw citizens still debate what to do with the site of the Saxony Palace. Many wish it to be left open, with the Tomb a sombre reminder of the waste of war. Some, including a local lady in our group, suggested that it could be rebuilt and used to house the Polish National Museum. It turned out almost half of our group, with that opinionated lady, was from a business that supports International Workers arriving in Poland with their visas and guide them through the myriad legal requirements. They were out for a team building exercise which was fun for them but meant our guide was often tested and gently reminded of her facts. Sometimes they offered the punchline of her story without waiting for her build up. She remained admirably calm in the face of this intense scrutiny from the senior female cohort and they had a good time, looking at their city from a different perspective. Sometimes.

Musical chairs play different Chopin pieces along the Royal Walk
Musical chairs (benches) play different Chopin pieces along the Royal Walk
Copernicus guards a museum
Copernicus guards the Polish Academy of Sciences
Not repairing bullet damage is a memorial too
Not repairing bullet damage is a memorial too
The rebuilt Prudential building, now a fancy hotel
The rebuilt Prudential building, now a fancy hotel – pretty sure that’s not Napoleon – was blown up by the Nazis. Because it held pride of place in their hearts as once the tallest building, Warsaw residents insisted it be rebuilt and revered.
Beautiful mural in back streets of Warsaw
Beautiful mural in back streets of Warsaw. Risk seemed to be a dress shop
Warsaws growth flanks memorial mural
Warsaws growth flanks another Memorial mural
The Palace of and Culture and Science, Warsaw
The Palace of and Culture and Science, Warsaw – Remind you of anything?

The building in the photo at the top of this post and here, the Palace of Culture and Science was given to the people of Warsaw by Stalin. It is a copy of one of his Seven Sisters of Moscow. Apparently most older people in Warsaw hate it. They wish it had been destroyed along with other Russian edifices in the ’90s. But the younger generation are more practical. They believe as it’s made its mark on the city, it’s iconic and there’s a couple of cool bars inside.

And the walking tour finished directly opposite a cool vegan restaurant, Nancy Lee! Truly delicious soup.

Finding strength for more exploration I went in search of the Museum of Modern Art’s Architectual Exhibition at the Zodiac Gallery. It was called Pomnikomania – Monumentomania – Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw. There was a lot of art-speak but as Warsaw contains so many monuments the young artists’ responses varied from absurd to offensive. I liked a video piece I didn’t understand but it was a ritual performed next to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Monument to monuments from Pomniko Mania at Museum of Modern Art
Monument to monuments from Pomniko Mania at Museum of Modern Art
Sculpt from Pomniko Mania at Museum of Modern Art
Selected words from Pomniko Mania at Museum of Modern Art

The next day dawned bright and early. After washing and organisation, Alicja let me leave my luggage for the day. I would seek the Copernicus museum down at the river’s edge. It’s right by the Modern Art Museum. Glorious day. Off I marched once more to discover that map really is too small. I walked FOR AGES to get to the river.

Thought Id made it to the river. False bridge
Thought I had made it to the river. False bridge.

When I passed the underground I relaxed, I’d certainly be able to get back in time for Alicja. Continued to walk under the bridge, passing enterprising stallholders displaying freshly picked mushrooms, great grey platters of sunflower seedheads, homemade pickles and jams. Finally reached the shores of the great Vistula. Across the river is the enormous sports arena.

Korean food on one side, Polish sport heaven on the other
Korean food on one side, Polish sport heaven on the other

I was reminded of my visit to Merida, in Spain, and the remains of Roman civilisation visible there. What will citizens of the future find here?

Take me to the Vistula
Take me to the Vistula, drop me in the water …

Amazing how fast I calmed down as I walked by the river, looking out at the wilderness preserved opposite. This side is for smooth paths, museums and cafes. The other is the famed and ‘dangerous’ arty Praha. There are bicycle paths that run through wild areas left for animals and even eagles have been spotted there. Our guide lived there and spoke rapturously of her interesting environment. Alicja, you have to make a visit. In the daytime, you’ll be safe. Certainly, the Warsaw I visited so very briefly was clean and under development. It is a modern city like most, however, it is in Poland!

The Warsaw Mermaid on the Vistula River
The Warsaw Mermaid on the Vistula River. Do you think she looks like she is about to cut through the net of that bridge?

I couldn’t find a good vantage point to photograph either the Copernicus or Modern Art buildings so I turned away and found this lookout. Oooooh.

University of Warsaw Library
University of Warsaw Library lookout point. I had to get up there!

It’s not easy to work out, two innocent bystanders pointing up, over and around things for me, and finally I walked through a gate and then up into a wonderfully peaceful garden over the roof of the University. Given the proximity of Copernicus and Modern Art, this garden is surely worth a visit should you have a day to spare in Warsaw. Leave time, though. It’s all a lot closer on the map!

University of Warsaw Library dome
University of Warsaw Library dome
University of Warsaw Library dome and roof
University of Warsaw Library dome and roof garden

The metro from Kopernicus was clean, fast and easy to work out. Once I’d worked it out. I had minutes to spare before my Airbnb deadline so I raced back through the supermarket, bought some mandarins and a bread roll for the trip. Back at Alicja’s, made sandwich from leftover dinner, left most of the fruit for weight, got act together and went to one of her recommendations, Cafe Miasto, for lunch. So busy! But, as I waited, I saw the library of exchange books and decided to ditch the one I’d been carrying around recently. Sped through last three chapters and plonked it on the shelf. This made up for the newly added weight of mini shampoo and biodegradeable baby wipes. Had to speed through my meal as well but it was extremely tasty.

cool ad
Not sure how advanced Lidl is into Polish territory.
I didn’t see this ad in UK, Spain or Germany where there are many Lidl
but, as far as ads go, I like it!

That was it. I jumped on the tram straight down the line back to the station. I was ready for the big train journey ahead. My first overnight experience. What would it be like? How would I cope? Locked in a compartment for nineteen hours with three others? On to Mother Russia!