I am feeling a bit like I just got out of a 48 spin cycle of the “travel washing machine.” Tired, beat down, but in the end, freshly washed and lucky — the story of my travel life.
Well, the lucky part, not always the freshly washed part.
The last few days have not gone as planned.
I decided to do a northern route, from Germany through Poland and the Baltics, and from there, over to Moscow to meet Jeannie and Nora. The girls were coming from Prague and Budapest, up through Ukraine, and frankly, I just wanted to take a different route than them. I enjoy being different.
But I had heard some rumblings that this part of the world didn’t have the most reliable train connections and that there might be some problems navigating my way over here. So unlike my usual complete lack of planning method, this time I actually did a bit of research to make sure this route was even possible.
The feedback on the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forum was that I could do it — Warsaw, to Vilnius to a little town in Latvia and over to Russia. Some other bloggers I know also told me that the trains were fine over here and there wouldn’t be any problems.
So two days ago, I hopped on a train from Berlin to Warsaw. Got off and spent the night there. Up the next morning to take the train to Vilnius. Easy as pie.
Except when the train got to the small little station at the Poland/Lithuania border, I got off the train and the people there said “no train… bus,” pointing at a bus parked in the parking lot. This town was small. The train station was a two-track station. It was about 5 p.m. at night, no one spoke English, and I had to make a quick choice.
So I got on the bus and figured my quest to make it from Lisbon to Saigon, all by trains, was over.
O’ yea, and did I mention that when I was getting off the train, I felt a pop in my calf muscle and could barely walk? Yea, good timing for a pulled muscle.
So I took the bus, rain started to pour down, and my mood was washing right away with the crappy weather. I hate failure.
The bus driver was nice enough to drop me off near a hostel that I had looked up, which was full of course. They gave me a map and directed me to another one “about a 15 minute walk away,” which took me more like an hour in my pathetic state.
I got there and quickly fell asleep brooding over my fate. When I woke up in the morning, I had resolved to find a way to correct this. I asked the people at the hostel to call the train station and see if there were any problems on the track I had taken yesterday (thinking that the train might have been cancelled for track repairs and not because we were late in arriving). Supposedly everything was OK, so I set off to amend the errors of the day before.
As I ordered my train ticket at the station, I could only imagine the confusion of the woman that was selling it to me. “You want ticket to Sestokai, but then back. Right away? Same day?”
“Yep. Down to there and take the same exact train back here 15 minutes later.”
“OK” (As she thinks to herself… crazy American).
So I took a six hour roundtrip to make up for the train miles I had missed.
But that was only Part One of my little 48 hours of trouble.
I also asked the woman at the train station about buying a ticket for the next day to Latvia, so I could then go to Russia from there. Turns out there aren’t any trains that run up there, only buses. So my route was screwed. I had to go through Belarus to get to Russia.
I didn’t have a Belarus visa.
I did some quick email work with the folks at Real Russia, who are handing our Moscow to Bejing route and are amazingly knowledgable about this region. They got back to me immediately and told me that I should be able to get a Belarus transit visa fairly quickly here in Vilnius.
So that was my quest today. Cab over to the Belarus embassy to fill out my form for a transit visa. I thought I had forgotten an extra passport photo when they asked for one, but it turned out I had an extra in my travel pouch, thank goodness. The person I dealt with at the embassy was amazingly nice and made me temporarily forget how much I dislike most border/immigration/embassy workers. And after a couple hours, I got my transit visa.
So, now I can take the night train tonight from Vilnius to Moscow, through Belarus.
Monetarily, it was also a slight glitch. The cost for a Belarus transit visa? 140 Euros. Just to go through the damn country. The cost for my train ticket tonight? About $150 or so.
I miss my Eurail.com pass.