For me I enjoyed breakfasts with Gladys – she would cook me bacon sandwiches, fried in lard and tastier for it! She always claimed to be happy to have someone to cook for and someone to talk to in the early hours of the day. We were all looking forward to seeing Gladys when we got to the UK so there was no question as to whether we would attend her funeral. There was however a question for us to answer in regard to getting to it…………would we have to fly?
Knowing that we had about 7 days, we figured we could get a night train from St Petersburg and then take opportunity transport from Lithuania onwards and see how we went. Of course if we got close to the date and still had many miles to go, we could fly but we were confident we could stay out of the air.
So in preparation of our exit from Russia, we rested in our Hotel restaurant after a busy day walking around St Petersburg. 1 bottle of wine became 2 and then we were off to the station. At the station we got our bags on and then found some cool beers to keep us hydrated through the night. We had no idea what time we would clear Russian immigration but we did know that it could be painful, particularly if they wanted to do a full customs check of currencies and packs. Best to have a clear head for these things…………..
So turning in just after midnight, all beers finished and a vague headache from the earlier bottles of wine already present, I was kind of hoping that things would go smoothly……….and they did for the next 3 hours as we traveled South and then West through Russia. And then a nice Russian lady wanted our passports, disappearing with them with barely a glance at Molly and Julia sleeping in their bunks.
Before the passports were returned, a customs lady came knocking at the door and wanted to know where our luggage was. I pointed at the under bed trunk under Molly’s bed – clearly the little sleeping angel was too beautiful to disturb so the customs officer just waved her hand and left. It was only the next morning that I realised I was supposed to surrender our entry declarations – despite many warnings online and in books, it appears that nice families like us are not subject to rigorous border checks and customs formalities!
The Latvian lady queried where Molly and my visas were and was then told by her friend that we Aussies don’t need them and before you could say “Welcome to Latvia, a former Baltic state of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics but now a card carrying member of the European Union” – we were in the EU.
So back to sleep and wake up in Lithuania, arriving in Vilnius at about 9.00am local time.
At Vilnius station the first thing we noticed were signs in English – lots of them. They were ably supported by several information booths with English speaking staff and a very orderly system of ordering onward train tickets, including tickets to international destinations.
We chose Warsaw where we hoped to get an onward train to Vienna. The train would leave at midday and we would have to change to a bus then another train during the afternoon, arriving in Poland’s capital at about 8.00pm.
With 3 hours to fill we wandered around the old town of Vilnius. Cobblestone streets, beautiful churches and community buildings, and a very relaxed pace of life. We grabbed some Euro currency, had a morning snack at McDonalds and just enjoyed being a little bit closer to what we consider normalcy.
Of course we ran a little late to get back to the train, particularly as Julia had to buy some travel snacks at the station market and managed to get held up in the queue…………….so we didn’t get to sit together at first but after a couple of small stops we were together and on our way!
Our first train was more of a commuter carriage but after a change to a bus and then rejoining the line an hour later, we found a carriage with cabins, each with 8 seats. So we jumped in, closed up and made the cabin look full and busy, before enjoying the evening run to Warsaw.
Warsaw at dusk wasn’t too pretty but we quickly realised that with luck we could get a train out of there within 30 minutes of arriving. First hurdle was the currency – the Polish decided to keep their own so we had nothing to buy tickets with except plastic – bless it! So I queued at the wrong window, waited for ever for some guy to ask 20 questions about trains to anywhere and then I managed to get tickets to Vienna with about 4 minutes to spare. As it turned out, our mad rush onto the train was fortuitous as we scored a fairly empty carriage at the bottom of the stairwell we ran down and then walked straight into a private compartment.
The compartments are a bit disappointing compared to Asian and Russian trains and as we would further discover in Germany, there are various options classes, seating arrangements and for reserving seats. We were told that our seats converted to beds and that you could book the whole compartment of 6 seats by paying the on-board conductor. We chose to just take our chances and Julia and Molly converted their seats to beds whilst I sat next to the compartment door looking unfriendly to discourage other passengers from joining us! Actually I was by now quite accepting of the idea of having to share but as it turned out we didn’t have to as the train never got that full.
We left Warsaw within a couple of minutes of getting on and had a quiet ride through the Czech Republic to Austria. At about 4am it was getting light and we all ended up watching the sun rise over the fields whilst Austrian police came through and did random checks of passengers – well, random if you consider targeting Muslims and dark skinned people random! It must be the EU way……….
We arrived at Vienna before anything was open and after struggling to get change for the left luggage lockers we found a McDonalds so that we could do some more internet research on our next options. We were tired and knew we could catch up with Julia’s sister in Vienna so decided we had enough time to stay a day and night in Vienna.