Musings - Day 02
Day 2 – 28th December 2019
Firstly a massive thank you for all the messages of support – they really help – brilliant!
The Hauptbahnhof (Central station) is a huge glass affair, that fronts Europlatz 1, Berlin. It was opened in 2006, built on two levels, neither of which were designed for sleeping, dozing, or any form of progressive zedding. Through lack of the aforementioned sleep my visage must have looked like my eyelids have been stitched into place by an apprentice butcher. During the night I had been moved on a couple of times, presumably for imitating a vagrant, so I was as worn out as my grannies doormat. One time I had drifted off, upright on a bench gripping my assets, into a lovely place where Berliners were leaping six feet into the air. They were wearing pale blue sheep onesies with black elongated ears, making bleating noises, as they leapt … A siren wailed within a few metres. I was suddenly awakened, startled and back in the room, or station as it turned out! An internal polishing vehicle had forewarned people who weren’t asleep of its presence. Having spent four hours overnight killing time, killing space, and killing all thoughts of a comfortable bed, my train arrived rather irritably precisely on time – well what else would you expect! I harboured a churlish desire for the train to be late, just to record such a rare thing, but as we all know efficiency is a German buzzword. That made me nebulously pontificate “Do bees have a buzzword?” That trivial digression snapped me quickly back to the journey in hand.
In the early hours of the Brandenburg morning I am hurtling my way towards Polands capital city, Warsaw, via the urban backcloth of Poznan. Poland is a land that proudly boasts 168 varieties of sausage, and is most certainly the first country heading east that represents the start of the Vodka belt. The Poles love their vodka, attempting to make it from a variety of sources. In fact, if it stays still for long enough the Poles can make a vodka out of it! Maybe that is why everyone is walking so quickly around the capital, because they’re worried about the possibility of fermenting. The old town of Warsaw was completely rebuilt after it was levelled during the second world conflict, keeping all the historical features of the old buildings, that had been damaged.
Content with only a small local vodka (for research purposes) and just one of the one hundred and sixty eight varieties of sausage, (also for research purposes,) I lumber hastily through the main station concourse. The connection I was going to make had been cancelled! What the Fireman's helmet do I do now? So I get the map out and resort to plan 116 B. I board the 12:50 train out of Centralna to Bialystok (remember the name of Max Bialystok from Mel Brookes film ‘The Producers?’ )
Rather luckily, I had found a table with four seats to myself on this leg, which allowed me to put my kit on the next seat and splay my MacBook and other electronic chattels on the table. Feeling quite comfortable with the table to myself, the train was idling stationary waiting for departure. You will just have to imagine my irritation, dear reader, when the following sentence wafted like a drunk mosquito over my left shoulder. “Would you mind if I join you, young man?” – now at 65 you dismiss the compliment as worthless! There stood over my shoulder, an upright matronly figure clad in a den of mink. Before I could answer, she had assumed my acceptance and was in a half stoop position lowering herself into the seats opposite. Without a breath of hesitation she continued, “And would you mind putting that suitcase (pronounced syooootcase) behind the seat for me, it is so cumbersome?” Dutifully I did as I was bade, before she went on to tell me that she knew I was from the U.K. Apparently reading the sponsors name on my coat. She was probably in her mid to late eighties, Scottish, from Arbroath with only the faintest of accents, and she turned out to be, the most interesting of temporary travel companions. Her name was Jeanie. (no surname proffered) She was going to spend the New year with her son who lived in Bialystok and meet her brand new six week old, great grandson for the first time. She told me that the literal translation of Bialystok was White Slope (a quiz question in the making.) Her son, Polish daughter in law, (whom I was very reliably informed, he’d met at Edinburgh University) and grandchildren therein, had lived in Poland for thirty plus years. She enlightened me with the history of her deceased husband, who had been a military man together with her own father, and that travel had been her backbone since childhood. She fervently reminisced a longing for Sunday morning smoked haddock, that her father used to bring home for the family, wherever they were living at the time. She acceded that in some remote places they’d resided, there may not have always been haddock available, but as a child that’s how she recollected them. The veritable Arbroath Smokie was indeed a cherished memory for her. A cornucopia of subjects were covered, completely preoccupied and therein oblivious to the rolling countryside flying past the train windows. An extraordinarily agreeable, stately, erudite lady, with not a care in the world that her outer garment bore the evidence of at least a dozen slayed members of the family Mustelidae. When Jeanie alighted for Bialystok she held out her hand accompanied by a vice-like grip and delivered a hearty “Cheery bye” in the broadest faux accent. In essence, having a couple of coffees and a delightful chat over the past hours, was the best experience of the train. I really quite enjoyed the exchange making the journey time vaporise, like a fragment of dust in sunlight. Hopefully this would be the first of many transitory companions that I will interact with over the coming weeks. it made me completely forget where I was and what was the immediate job in hand.
I was casually looking out the train window, when I noticed an overwrought ticket inspector hastily walking towards me. At this point I was rather disturbed to note that I was the only person left in the carriage. (strange?) The red faced ticket inspector asked me if I had heard the announcement? I replied that I hadn’t because I don’t understand Polish. I was tempted to ask "Have you not got the Urdu version?" But I didn't. The train had terminated here without me noticing. When I had boarded earlier I knew that I had to make a change at Bialystok. (Oh dear plan number 412 option 6 might be required.) Luckily there was an onward connection in fifty minutes, with a bus in two hours if that failed. I boarded the train with only two minutes to spare because I didn’t believe that it was mine because it only had two carriages. Kaunas was not listed as one the stops on its display board. I boarded with two Austrian students who had made the same wrong assumption as I had. We laughed about how close we had been to missing the only train that day. Their names were Julia and Nina and they were heading all the way up to Helsinki to continue their studies for six months. They were delightful young ladies who said their goodbyes and good luck wishes on the platform in Kaunas, to go on to Vilnius.
My overnight stop was Kaunas, the former capital of Lithuania. Arriving more or less on time after the train swap traumas I trudged to my chosen local billet. Selected for its price and great location by the bus station ready for tomorrow.
The streets were cold and frosty underfoot leading to my warm lodgings and I knew that for tonight, sleep would be my best pal.
Position: 54°53'20” N 23°55'34” E – Miles completed: 01437
Location: Kaunas, Lithuania 22:46 - 28th December 2019 - Journey 1 day 20 hours