48 Hours — Train Travel Tribulations


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.

departure sign in train station

I wish I'd have been in a place with this many options

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.

real russia train company logo

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.

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About Michael Hodson

overland adventure traveler

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29 Responses to 48 Hours — Train Travel Tribulations

  1. Bret Love September 14, 2011 at 1:17 pm #

    On the one hand, pain and misery. On the other hand, great stories to share. Funny how the Universe finds a way to balance everything out, ain’t it? Keep on truckin’, brother!

    • Michael Hodson September 15, 2011 at 2:45 pm #

      I will always take a (slight) bit of misery for a good story.

  2. Ayngelina September 14, 2011 at 1:24 pm #

    Wow that was fast, you are so lucky you’re working with them because when you told me about the problem I thought you would need to back track.
    Ayngelina recently posted..A taste of Nova Scotia

    • Michael Hodson September 15, 2011 at 2:45 pm #

      Yea, Real Russia has been really good to work with. I got lucky that Belarus is such a quick visa from here… though not lucky on cost.

  3. Pete September 14, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    Ouch that’s a costly transit visa… I’m the same way that I hate failure and would have done the same. Best of luck getting to Moscow :)
    Pete recently posted..Spooky Edinburgh

    • Michael Hodson September 15, 2011 at 2:47 pm #

      Correctable failure is fine… I don’t wish for the other kind, ever.

  4. Adventurous Kate September 14, 2011 at 2:30 pm #

    Just wanted to say…YOU CAN DO IT, MICHAEL!!! MAKE THIS CHALLENGE YOUR BITCH!!

    A lesser person would have given up. Keep up your persistence!
    Adventurous Kate recently posted..Happy I-Quit-My-Jobaversary!

  5. Anjuli September 14, 2011 at 2:42 pm #

    Oh my goodness- but somehow you did make it back on track (pun not intended) I do hope to read about how you reached Moscow safely- and hopefully – pulled muscle free! :)
    Anjuli recently posted..One Size Fits All

    • Michael Hodson September 15, 2011 at 2:48 pm #

      I did reach Moscow, but go check out my other site (www.GoSeeWrite.com) for an update RIGHT after I wrote this post. Let’s say police and bribery and leave it at that…

  6. Kelly September 14, 2011 at 3:38 pm #

    HA! Classic traveler’s tale. Good on ya for sticking to the rules and not cutting corners via a bus! Pretty hilarious, pretty awesome! Good luck!
    Kelly recently posted..Watch Your Bags: Staying Safe on Ecuadorian Buses

    • Michael Hodson September 15, 2011 at 2:49 pm #

      I do love the buses, but on this trip… verboten!

  7. Dyanne@TravelnLass September 14, 2011 at 5:46 pm #

    “The last few days have not gone as planned.”

    Ah yes, and isn’t that the best part of traveling? ;)

    And good for you – for backtracking to make it “right” (after all, I uh, think that’s why they dubbed it the “The Ultimate Train CHALLENGE”, yes?
    Dyanne@TravelnLass recently posted..10 Years Later – a Soothing Glimpse of Beauty

    • Michael Hodson September 15, 2011 at 2:49 pm #

      It can be the best part… as long as things don’t go WAY too bad. This ended up a slight hick-up, so I am happy for it.

  8. Phil September 14, 2011 at 5:54 pm #

    Dude, it’s awesome how dedicated you are. Way to get shit done. And props to Real Russia for helping out like that.
    Phil recently posted..Find me a Country with More Pride

    • Michael Hodson September 15, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

      They have been a great sponsor. We are lucky. And thanks for the support, Phil. It is much appreciated.

  9. Ali September 15, 2011 at 11:31 am #

    I love that you back tracked to get the train miles. I’m sure the trip is stressful but it’s definitely making for some interesting stories & I’m enjoying reading. Good luck on the next leg!
    Ali recently posted..Tomatina – Part 2

  10. Nomadic Samuel September 15, 2011 at 11:33 am #

    Wow! What an ordeal but you’re obviously determined and that’s more important than anything!
    Nomadic Samuel recently posted..Iguazu Falls |Argentina & Brazil | Part 2| Travel Video

    • Michael Hodson September 15, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

      If that is the worst on this trip, I shall be a happy man. Tired, but happy.

  11. katie September 15, 2011 at 11:56 am #

    Ah! wish i hadnt been so internet deprived the last few days. I have been researching transport in the Baltics a ton for my trip and couldve told you there’s no train Vilnius to Riga and saved you some trouble. Still sounds like quite the adventure and good to know the Belarus visa was so quick to get in Vilnius because thats where I was planning to get mine.

    • Michael Hodson September 15, 2011 at 2:51 pm #

      Yea, I am a little annoyed by that. Was told by a bunch of people that route was possible. But worked out in the end (though expensive). And yea, you just go there and pick it up while you wait. Bring a magazine. Won’t take an hour.

  12. Linda September 15, 2011 at 1:04 pm #

    Seems to me they could do with someone like you at the White House! or even the UN!!

    Might have been ‘orrible for you, but it makes good reading for the rest of us! Even so, wishing you easier travels ahead!
    Linda recently posted..La Librea de Tegueste: Tenerife Tradition gets Disneyfied

    • Michael Hodson September 15, 2011 at 2:52 pm #

      I am not sure I’d want to work in either spot, but if they are up for a “roving consultant,” I am game for that ;)

  13. Baron's September 16, 2011 at 10:15 am #

    I am truly enjoying the UTC accounts…and must say you have a very entertaining writing style….love your style and will follow the trip all the way till the end…sorry to hear about the mishaps you encountered
    doesn’t what you did here break the rules… “You want ticket to Sestokai, but then back. Right away? Same day?”
    Baron’s recently posted..Mechanics like to deal with women

  14. Matthew Karsten September 16, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    Don’t you love when things don’t go as planned? It may suck in the moment, but that’s the stuff you’ll always remember years later. :)
    Matthew Karsten recently posted..Tiger Heron in Corcovado [PHOTO]

  15. Stephanie - The Travel Chica September 16, 2011 at 6:48 pm #

    How exactly does one pull a calf muscle getting off a train?
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..Best Restaurants in Columbus: The Liz Lessner Empire

  16. Jason Castellani September 20, 2011 at 1:02 am #

    This is ending up to be an incredible journey Michael, not that we expected anything less. It’s a lot of fun following the rails through your posts. Way to conquer that missed leg of train track!
    Jason Castellani recently posted..Travel Blog Success is On Sale Now!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. » Mid-Point of the Ultimate Train Challenge, #UTC11 Update and Plea for Help » Go, See, Write - overland travel adventures - November 21, 2011

    [...] the Ultimate Train Challenge website, either by looking at our fancy map there, or by just reading my latest post on the blog, you know that I have been taking the northern route to Jeannie and Nora’s southern plan. And [...]

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