Cologne to Moscow
How strange it is to think that we have been away from home already ten days. Tomorrow we will say goodbye to Moscow and embark on our Trans-Siberian train to Mongolia. Traveling is very different from being at home – especially when one is an unseasoned traveller. So far our trip has been smooth and traveling by train has been a joy, but many things we were considering doing we have had to put on hold or simply let go of. For one thing, I imagined that I would have plenty of time to write and to keep this blog alive. Today is a day of rest and a time to fill you in on what we have been up to since leaving Cologne. Instead of writing a long post, I will cut it up in two or three parts. So, to start with, here is a short summary of our journey to Moscow.
Our train from Cologne to Berlin was more than half and hour late and due to engineering works our fast ICE train was replaced by an old-fashioned slower one. This was our first delay and, on a trip such as this, mostly likely not our last, but the delay meant that we would miss our connecting train to Warsaw. Before leaving we were told by our hosts that Germans like to organise things and it is true that our conductor did all she could to ensure that we got on board of our train to Warsaw even if it meant holding it up for few minutes in Berlin. She also assured us that Deutschebahn, the train company, would arrange a Hotel in Berlin if we missed it. We saw a large number of wind turbines on the way and it was as if the wind was on train’s side – the delay got shorter and shorter with every stations we passed by.
Finally, the train conductor told us to move to the head of the train and that we would need to get off one station earlier where our connecting train would be waiting for us just across the platform. Surely enough we just had the time to hop from one train to the other and we found ourselves in the coach we had reserved tickets for and our train left two minutes later than scheduled most likely thanks to that proactive German controller… making the boy in seat 61 happy.
We arrived around midnight. Our overnight stop in Warsaw was rather uneventful, we found ourselves in a young people hostel not far from the station. The hostel was located on the third floor of a rather soulless office building, and the corridors were covered with an eclectic collections of photos, many of which portrayed people smoking. The next morning, we just had time to buy food for our next train journey and spent our last Polish Zloty in an Italian restaurant. The district around the station was mostly ‘international style’ apart from the Palace of Culture and Science (originally named after Stalin) which was a mixture of Art Deco and Soviet realism. The giant clock tower gave us a pre-taste of Moscow.
We shared our sleeper carriage with an Australian traveller, Adam, who coincidentally was on a long overland journey from Dublin to Singapore using a very similar route to ours. He went on to St Petersburg to experience the white-nights festival but our path may cross again in Mongolia. We passed through rural landscapes and vast areas of forest. Our train slowed down before crossing a wide river – we had arrived at the Belarus border. Crossing the border was like entering the set of a film from the Soviet era with the barbwires, soldiers, dogs and strange uniforms. Passport control was relatively smooth although we were surprised when an officer asked us to get up and checked underneath our berth if anyone was hiding under. After passport control, a number of women came to each compartments to sell food and drinks. We bought some blueberries as we could not tell whether any of the hot food they were selling was vegetarian. In any case we had brought our own food on board.
One of the final highlights of that trip was also at the border, when our train went into a long hangar to have its wheels changed. All the carriages got separated, lifted from the ground on enormous jacks and a whole group of workers got busy dismantling one set of wheels and replacing them with another – the hooks that connected the carriages together were also replaced with heavy duty ones. I can imagine that if one were not aware of the fact that European and the Russian rail gauges were different, and one did not speak any russian, one would be in for a strange surprise at witnessing the scene. The technical term for this process is ‘Bogie exchange‘ and apparently we are to expect another such change at the Mongolian/Chinese border. We remained inside and got banged around a little while the workers went on with their business.
It is a very strange feeling to have the wheels taken away from under one’s feet but in a metaphorical sense it is what travelling is all about. We slept very well and arrived in Moscow the next morning not knowing what to expect.
Until next time…
Loic & Yoel