20,000 leagues under the sky, 2004- travel blog

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Through the star

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Slightly bullet riddled

Bug River

Where old trains die


It all went a bit Pete in Brest, if there is a more godforsaken city on the planet then I hope I don't find it. I slightly adjusted my plans to come here, mainly as I've sen photographs of the fortress before and been impressed enough to want to come and see it. I did have a slight fear about the limited train options out of here but thought I would find something to get me back on my intended route to L'viv and on to the Crimea. How wrong I was! I went back to the station after checking into my hotel last night. Incidentally the hotel is very good for £16 per night, the administrator wasn't going to give me a room because she didn't have any "with douche", I assured her that I'd be much happier in a showerless room than on a park bench so she checked me in. She was amazed that I wanted to stay two nights and now I know why. Back to the station, on checking the timetables I couldn't see anything I wanted but did spot a direct train to Budapest. I decided to go back to my room and check up on potential routes via Budapest and if I was happy with it to come back early in the morning and book it. At 8am this morning armed with my train number, date, time and destination written in Cyrillic, I trundled up to the station (in thick fog). There were no queues so I picked someone who looked like she might have a smattering of English and gave her my written request. She huffed and puffed trying to communicate and indicated that there as a train to Budapest at 8am not 14:40 which I'd written. I asked how much and she wrote down 266000 roubles which I thought was very steep and probably meant that it was only a first class carriage. I then asked about Warsaw (at times like this I'm glad I've learnt to write in Cyrillic as it didn't matter how I pronounced it she didn't get it until I wrote it down - Варшава). She proceeded to write down the 3 daily train times for Warsaw but whichever one I pointed to she wouldn't sell me a ticket. I revived plan A and said I would book the 8am to Budapest and would get the money out of the ATM which was 5 metres away. When I got back less than a minute later she had closed here booth, I thought that she had done this to wait for me but she now wanted to ignore me and told me that Budapest was not possible. I was furious as I'd just taken out what for Belarus is a huge sum of money and wanted to leave the country in less than 24 hours - by any means possible now.

I decided that the best plan of action was to leave it for a while, go and se the fortress and come back later, hopefully when someone else was working. I took a detour via the main street of Brest to check it out - it looks like Minsk during World War II, I guess they must be upgrading it but at the moment the whole street, which has to be a kilometre long has been dug up, with craters, potholes and piles of rubble everywhere. The walk to the Fortress was a lot further than the LP map indicted (good old LP maps never fail to unimpress me) all in freezing fog but I was looking forward to taking some mystical foggy photographs. Eventually I reached the main entrance of the pictures I've seen before, the huge concrete star. I think because of these photographs I've always envisaged a huge complex of Red Army bunkers and fortifications, however, the entrance gate is it really. The rest is just the ruins of a much earlier fort and a few walls, statues, 3 tanks and a dozen cannons.

The place entertained me for about an hour and much of that was watching the groundsmen lop a few trees.

So back to the station for visit number 3, thankfully my nemesis from earlier wasn't there and a new set had taken over. This time I just went straight for the Warsaw option as I just want to get out of this city and country. Again she gave me the same three train options, again I pointed at the 9:02 train, this time the woman behind the counter had the brains to write down today's date and 18:30 and point to here! Now I got it, booking for the trains to Warsaw (which are sleepers from Moscow or St Petersburg) only open after a certain time to allow people to book the full journey first. Why couldn't the first one make it so obvious?

18:30 was nearly 6 hours away and I was thoroughly bored with Brest so I came back to my room and had a few hours kip (I'm full of cold yet again - all say ahh) and watched some Belarusian TV. At 18:30 prompt I reappeared at the booking office and relief, the god one was still there, she remembered me and booked the ticket straight away, my sigh of relief was huge, I had visions of being stuck in Brest forever and having to commit some crime to get myself deported. Now I only have to face the problems of not having a customs declaration from coming in and this hotel not registering my visa, still I have a massive stash of Belarus Roubles to bribe my way out thanks to my train station friend earlier. I've got rid of some of it on a bottle of top quality vodka and a very nice bottle of wine for this evening.

I escaped unscathed this morning, I thought I might have problems with customs (no customs declaration form on entry) and problems with Immigration (no visa registration in Brest). My biggest problem was actually finding my wayto the platform for the train. With no English signs and no pictograms I had no idea how to even get to customs and immigration. I eventually picked a big double door that no-one else was going through and found one solitary official. He was possibly the first person I met in Belarus who spoke english. He told me that I'd found the right place but they weren't ready yet and give him 5 minutes. I gave him 10 then went back. They turned all of the lights on and a few people appeared. Customs was one guy behind a big wooden desk. He asked me if I spoke Russian - no, german -no, have dollars? - no, have pound? - no. Is eveything OK? - yes, on you go then. And that was that. Immigration spent 2 minutes checking that my visa wasn't a fake and then let me go too. 15 minutes later I was out of the country, 4 hours later back in beautiful Warsaw.



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