I’m still not really sure what’s technically happening at each stage as we make this crossing. First the train stops at Terespol where they unhook the carriages, come on to check your papers and search the underneath of the train. Then the carriages get shunted very slowly about a mile over a big old bridge where you can see soldiers hiding in the darkness on each side. It then stops again and the Belarus customs and security get on and deal with the paperwork, including taking your passport away. Then a final trundle into the station at Brest without passport – but with security people still on board. Last year I got the full on “your papers might not be in order” treatment from a stern Major, but this year a rather lovely blonde lady Captain quickly dealt with the formalities with a smile. The Customs lady asked about my alcohol, so I showed her a rather fine bottle of Georgian red that I had picked up in Warsaw to have with my supper – she didn’t seem very impressed, and that was the end of my credibility as a serious alcohol bootlegger in her mind.
Then it all gets surreal. A bunch of babushkas are let on the train to sell food and drinks – so I’m having an unplanned picnic of beer and home made cheese stuffed blinis. Utterly delicious. One of them proved quite hard to make leave my compartment, and I’m not entirely sure about what she was selling – she had closed the door so it was just her and me in my cabin.
Whilst all this is going on the manly men in orange hi vis vests and ushankas (no hard hats here!) get on with the job of lifting each carriage and hammering off the bogies. If you are a train spotter you probably would not be able to contain your excitement at seeing this happen..
Its fairly quiet on the train now as passengers settle down for the evening. I have just had a quick lecture in keeping my door locked at night from the stewardess – at least I’m guessing that is what she said, as we don’t have more than a few words of German in common. Or maybe she was telling me to keep the chain on in future to keep stray babushkas out of my compartment?
I’m pretty confused by the timetable and guessing Belarus may have a time zone of its own that I didn’t know about, but its academic as the train finishes in Moscow tomorrow so I can’t miss my stop, at least, I don’t think I can…
Lots of tooting going on outside now and we have just crashed (sorry, shunted) into the next carriage – I think we will be back on the move soon.