Through Belarus

Sunday, August 18th 2002

I'd only meant to spend a couple of days in Moscow at first, but it had held on to me for six days and I really wanted to stay longer. But I was still almost two thousand miles from home and I had to be back at work in just over a week, so I bought a ticket for a train to Warsaw, via Belarus, and reluctantly left Russia.

Compared to the epic crossing of the vastness of Siberia, I thought the journey might seem quite quick, and it did. We left Moscow at 3pm, and it seemed like about five minutes later that we reached Smolensk. The Russian border was somewhere soon after Smolensk, but we didn't stop. It seemed that Belarus and Russia were only nominally separate countries.

One thing this journey lacked was food. All throughout Siberia there had been home-made food being sold on station platforms, and it was delicious. In western Russia no-one was selling, except for a woman with a box of ice creams on Vyazma station, three hours out of Moscow. One ice cream is not an adequate dinner, and I would have eaten something more filling in the restaurant car, except this train didn't have a restaurant car. The only other food available was a free croissant in the sleeping cabin.

We entered Belarus at sunset. I was sad not to be seeing any of this enigmatic country, but I only had a transit visa so I couldn't stop off. I woke up in the middle of the night when we stopped at Minsk station, and got off the train to stretch my legs. I was feeling quite adventurous, being in what is always described as Europe's last communist dictatorship, and a country with isolationist tendencies of almost North Korean proportions, but this feeling was shattered when I noticed a McDonalds in the station building.

I slept again until the border with Poland, which we reached at dawn. We stopped first at Brest, where everyone piled off the train into duty free and stocked up on booze. Vodka and toblerone were the only things on sale in the station shop. By now I was starving beyond belief, but didn't fancy toblerone for breakfast, so I stayed hungry until we finally rolled into Warszawa Centralna station at 9.45 in the morning.

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