Friday, 7 May 2010

Koln-Moscow Sleeper diary gleanings, Part 2

It is now a little after 10 am, and we are rocketing through Poland.

Many of the concrete shoebox appartment blocks (presumably communist leftovers) have been painted with bright coloured patterns.

In Warsaw, we had a wait of about 3 hours, being periodically shunted back and forth.
The railway lines around Luków are similar to those near Crewe, albeit with more flowers growing in between them, but the buildings could be in France! It is a bit stifling in the train, although the temperature's ok. The train trundles on and on and on... it's bizarre to think that I will be on it for another 24 hours! Outside the train, Poland seems to have a lot of space, and what little air I can glean through the toilet window smells of fresh hay. Outside the train the landscape changes. My internal landscape also changes. The compartment stays the same, but I am feeling more at home there. I have actually been very lucky: I have a 3-person compartment to myself, which is just as well, as I have a tendency to spread myself out in my space:

The Polish passport control officer at Teresepol saw the €10 note I had tucked in my passport case, and warned me to keep it hidden from his Belarussian counterparts on the other side of the border. Was he simply less trusting of his counterparts over the border, or is there a good reason for his warning?
Over the border, there is a marked change in architecture: we pass a cluster of closely packed low wooden buildings looking almost like a shanty town. This must be the edge of брест.

The train pulls briefly into a station-like area without a name, and several ladies get on, carrying shopping bags full of goods. For half an hour or so, they wander up and down the corridors: even as we are being shunted around the yard, they get on and off the train, selling a variety of beverages and edibles. Beer and chicken (presumably fried) seem to be the most popular seller, but when I express no interest in these, I am offered a bottle of mineral water, a strange box of unidentified сок with a picture of a catkin on the box, a big bunch of radishes, and a box of what may be milk, which I am promised is delicious.

A man selling big baskets that he claims are from the Ukraine doesn't seem to be having much luck.

The mineral water tastes strange: sweetish, almost fruity, but it is a life-saver on this stifling train. The сок is still mysterious after tasting: it is a clear, sweet drink, with the slightly syrupy density of unshaken pineapple juice. (I have since realized that it is probably based on the sap of whatever tree bears the catkin depicted on the box.) The radishes are pleasant and refreshing, although I have never eaten so many in 24 hours. The milk turns out to be drinking yoghurt which is, indeed, creamy and delicious. Had I known how good it would be, I would have bought two. (Update from Japan, over a month later: I have since searched in vain for a drinking yoghurt that comes anywhere close.)

Just before we are shunted into a large railway shed all the remaining ladies get off the train.
In the shed, the carriages are treated like a commodity on a production line: we are separated, raised up on big yellow jacks, and we spend some time standing on air while the wheels are taken from under us, and replaced with a set that will fit the rails from here to Mongolia.

It seems amazing that while the workmen who perform this transformation stay here and perform a similar feat on every train that passes through, those of us on the train are being whisked across continents to distant lands.

Although the wheel change itself takes less than an hour, we then wait around in sidings for an hour or two. I spend the time walking the length of the train and get very confused, since the majority of the carriages look identical to mine. We are eventually shunted to the main station platform, given a new engine, and sent off towards Russia, passing ladies with shopping bags as they make their way home alongside the tracks.

Time starts to take on a strange shape. My alarm clock, still set to UK time, reads 20:20, but it seems much darker outside than it should be. I am pretty sure that local time is either 22:20 or 23:20, but I am not sure which. No matter, though, because the only time that will matter from now on (as far as the trains are concerned) is Moscow Time.

The train thunders into the night, and the track is neither as smooth nor as straight as those in Western Europe.

In the middle of the night, the train stops and I wake up. From the window, I see that we are in минск - the capital of Belarus. The station is huge: the buildings are as rectangular as shoe boxes, towering into the night sky.

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