December 15, 2015

The Berlin-Warszawa Express

Well I’m having an interesting day in the office. Things started out well, I managed to get myself onto platform 11 of Berlin Hbf with plenty of time to spare. The temperature is just warm enough to sit outside without getting too cold. Today I’m on the EC 43 service, destination Warsaw. The train is run by PKP – the Polish state owned railway company. Right on cue a weirdly pink locomotive pulled in to the platform. At the front of the train was carriage 272, my first class home for the day. I had a “fenster” again, thanks to the usual attention to detail in booking my tickets from my friends at Real Russia.

The rum news was that the carriage next to mine – 271 – was missing. I say this not because I felt sorry for passengers hoping to get a seat on board carriage 271, but because it’s main purpose was to serve me my breakfast. They had forgotten to add the restaurant carriage. I had really been looking forward to this meal, as PKP chefs make a wicked ham and scrambled egg dish coupled with having excellent barista skills. Perhaps even worse was that I had no emergency rations (or even water) in my bag. It would be a day of fasting. The journey takes about 5 hours, so not the end of the world, but a useful lesson to me not to take it for granted where the next meal is coming from.

We chugged out of Hbf about 5 minutes late and navigated slowly through the maze of tracks east of Berlin. I actually managed to get some sleep for an hour or so, until we arrived at Frankfurt (Oder) – the Polish border. I continued to snooze, but after half an hour I noticed we had not yet moved. Out on the platform a few people were smoking and not looking like they were going anywhere in a hurry so I got out to investigate. I found a conductor (actually a conductress) who spoke some English, and the news wasn’t good. The train was due a crew change, but the crew had not turned up. We could be here for some time. I thought about this for a while, and decided to break the cardinal rule of long distance rail travel – never leave a train out of sight with your luggage still on board..

My plan was to take advantage of the delayed train and run a local foraging expedition to make up for the lack of scrambled eggs on board. Knowing I was about to undertake a high risk mission I explained my predicament to the conductor. She thought about it, and seemed to take quite a while considering how long she thought we might be here for without being very conclusive. I finished up by saying “You promise you won’t leave without me?” She smiled, looked at me with kind but I thought quite professional eyes, and said “For sure”.

So with a sense of schoolboy excitement that I was breaking my own rules, I found a cafe at the far end of the station and scored some fresh coffee and rations to last the day. In hindsight I need not have hurried, but it’s human nature not to want to be stranded – these are after all exactly the sort of railway events that I sometimes have nightmares about!

We got on the move again after a couple of hours. I could have actually enjoyed a full course lunch had I known. The new crew is Polish, and a bit like my crossing from Holland the other day, it would seem the crews to stick to their native country on the train, not crossing the border. The new conductorski spent quite a long time explaining or apologising on the PA system for why we were so late and hungry. I could not really understand a word, as we have now moved from announcements in three languages, to just in Polish.

The seriousness of the situation became clear a few minutes later when a nice Polish girl appeared with some PKP emergency supplies. Prince Polo wafer biscuits are standard first class fare, but this time a chocolate almond and a raisin cookie. Things must be really bad!

As the light faded we crossed the increasingly misty and frozen Polish countryside. I think I’m pretty much crossing the line of permanent snow now until I head south again in China. It’s not that cold here, but just enough to keep snow on the ground.

I’m hoping to arrive in Warsaw Centralina just an hour and half late this evening. It’s not been the perfect day on the rails, but it’s good to have a few things not quite work out. I feel this tests my confidence and resolve to stay positive in the event of a more serious problem.

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