After catching international trains in various countries I can now confidently say that the Eurostar is extremely official and well organised. With its own section in St. Pancras and a recognisable logo all over the place, even those with no grasp of English would find the correct train reasonably easily. The same cannot be said for the remainder of the trains we caught.
In ‘Brussels Midi’ we had two and a half hours to look around. Unfortunately the station appears to be in the middle of nowhere, and a fairly rough and dirty nowhere at that. So we had to settle with a drink at a chain restaurant by the station in which I ate a very substandard Belgium waffle. This was quite disappointing.
The Belgium station was reasonably easy to find our way around and we were soon on an hour long train to Liege Guillemins which was a much more impressive station. Our first slight hitch to the journey occurred here in which the tickets we had purchased from ‘Rail Europe’ weren’t valid for the journeys they had claimed, as one of them was a high speed train. Luckily there was a way of getting to Cologne in time for the overnight train by transferring in Aachen but it meant sacrificing any time we would have had to explore in Cologne, or to eat a proper meal.
We grabbed ourselves a sandwich from a local shop, which was altogether a nicer and more bustling area than in Brussels and caught the smallest oldest train I’ve been on to Aachen. The views from the window this time were quite satisfying, with rolling hills and deep forest. Arriving in Aachen we found our next train to be 15 minutes delayed, thus making our next changeover uncomfortably tight. The train was due to depart at around 9 o’clock and was mainly being used by people going for a night out in Cologne and Dusseldorf, everyone was drinking beer on the train.
We arrived in Cologne with 20 minutes to find the overnight train to Warsaw, found the ticket desk and was met by an uninterested, unhelpful man. Our main confusion being that the train we thought should be ours was listed as Copenhagen, after asking around on the station with other people who looked like they were waiting for the same train we realised that the train heads to about 5 destinations and the carriages get split up in different directions during the night.
My first ever sleeper train consisted of a cabin of 6 people on hard sleeper mattresses. A middle aged couple from Liverpool who had done a similar journey to us that day, and a middle aged couple from the Netherlands, in which the woman was Polish. They were friendly, quiet and civilised. Perfect. In the morning the English couple had left at an earlier stop. The Polish lady had a big rant at us about Russia and Russians and how we should never trust a Russian because even if he seems nice he will know someone who would kill you. This was my first experience of the internal racism that I am beginning to get familiar with, as it appears to be there between so many races throughout the world. For example a Russian girl we met, although generally liberal, had no time of day for either Polish or Chinese.
Our time in Warsaw was escorted along by torrential rain so we had little option than to stay inside a mall to eat and rest. I was also faced with the realisation that Poland doesn’t use the Euro, so we had very little idea what the meal we bought actually cost. Warsaw station is the most confusing I’ve been to so far. There were two platform 2’s and the ‘next train’ board didn’t change until 5 minutes before the train arrived, the train staying for only two minutes despite having over 100 needing to get on. It was a little crazy and when the train did arrive at the station it was a huge bulk of metal straight from the soviet period. Our cabin for this train was just three people, us two and a Russian man. This proved extremely useful when the immigration was asking us questions and we had our own personal translator. He was an interesting man who had seen lots of the world on motorbike, he had taken a sleeper train to Warsaw, walked around for five hours and was taking the sleeper back to Moscow. He made us seem very sane.
The journey was pretty much plain sailing except for the interesting hour in which the train was lifted and it’s wheels changed to fit the size of the Russian/Belarusian tracks. We arrived at Moscow dead on time and in sweltering heat. I hope to never again use a toilet as bad as the one on the Warsaw to Moscow train…