Trans-Sib to Taiwan: Part 2: Church Stretton to Moscow

The Journey to Moscow

December 12th 06.15: cold wind and frosty ground

Waiting for the train: an activity (or non-activity) that was to become commonplace.

We remain very unsure about what the conditions will be once we have left Moscow. Particular preparations are required:

“Journey” for a journey

To Crewe:

……and on to London, with breakfast.

Then, the usual over heated cattle shed that serves as a Eurostar departure lounge.

Changing in Brussels – an ICE train deposits us in Köln….. and a retrospective……

Köln I first visited in 1966 – and used the walkway attached to the railway bridge to reach the youth hostel. Travel as a student was only by hitch-hiking – no concessionary rail travel – and occasionally I would see the train to which was attached a carriage marked ‘Moscow’. A place not to be visited easily – the Cold War making any cross border (ie between communist ‘east’ and capitalist ‘west’) very difficult.

The water and the river freight movement continue now as then:

Whilst in the city a Christmas Market fills the streets.

Unexpected – but to become something of sub-theme.

and a way from the crowds, a lone piper

So – after wandering around Köln looking for a suitable (but essentially a basic) restaurant we end up in the only restaurant (that was not bar/restaurant) that we had seen. Fantastic place & provider of conversation both with staff (about the wine) and neighbouring diners – about election results, future of UK etc, we retire happy. It was interesting to see the response (I was almost embraced) from a German to a point I made about that whatever follows this election in Britain, the British continuing sense of arrogance regarding ‘the continent’ may in time be reduced.

I suspect (based on similar experiences elsewhere) that ‘politeness’ usually prevents individuals from expressing what they really feel about British attitudes.

The other comment received, when we discussing our journey, was where ‘home’ (in a general sense) is – and was told that undoubtedly Köln was a part our ‘home’ territory. Given the number of British voices we heard in the Christmas market I would agree – and in terms of our relationship with continental europe the ‘cat’ is already ‘out of the bag’. We can pretend to be separate but the reality is very different.

I’m writing this in Moscow where the evidence of Britain’s changed role in world affairs is very stark. Whilst in the C19th we were a major influential actor in ‘The Great Game’ with Russia we are no longer (unlike Russia) not even a minor player (and even the USA seems to have recognised that it is reduced to being a bystander).


Friday 13th December.

It was good to be absent from the country – it gave distance to whatever was happening (which, anyway, we regarded as hardly surprising).

We travel on from Köln to Poznań.

Our ICE train taking us to Berlin, then a ‘Eurocity’ to Poznań.

This train started at the impressively dramatic Hauptbahnhof.

In Poznań there is, for the obsessive railway observer an interesting development for suburban trains: as sort of ‘pay-as-you-go’:

New Train
New Payment system – no excuse for being on a train without a ticket.

…..and  another Christmas market

Most importantly, our unexpected extended visit in Poznan allowed us to share two evening with colleagues & friends.

Late in the evening we board the ‘Strizh’; A Russian, Spanish Talgo built, train operating between Berlin and Moscow.

We head through Warsaw – and lacking sleep we arrive, in the dark of an early morning, at Terespol

This is the end of the EU (of which at the time of writing the UK is still a full member)

Its dark but a light covering of snow is seen.

Out of curiosity I leave the compartment in which sleep had been only a rare event. Walk to the  water container and peer beyond into the next coach. On return I  seem to have become the object of much staring by the train staff and am commanded by an extremely well uniformed & very severe woman that I should….. 

Well… I didn’t understand what she said but by immediately re-entering my compartment I seem to have performed appropriate to her need.

Good order, we need good order.

The Provodnitsa provides that.

The train sits, we sit…. But the the Polish Border force walk the corridor checking – with one guy who was so well ‘kitted out’ with technical ‘kit’ strapped to his body (he scanned our passports with a device attached to his wrist –  action taken without any form of speech) that he seemed almost completely cybernetic (except that his boots were clearly well used, indicating that there was some real person who presumably put them on, took them off, & occasionally polished) them lurking behind the devices.

I also try, again, to connect to the trains wi-fi system…. And fail.

As we are confined to bunks (sic) we  I cannot go to the restaurant and ask the English speaking waiter how to make connection.

Eventually, after approximately 40 minutes, we move and  are told to prepare for the ‘border and customs check’…. Goodbye EU

An aside:
‘Send me a report every day’: this was the first enthusiastic response of a friend to the news that we would be travelling to Beijing by train from Church Stretton. Other similar requests were made – and the easiest way to satisfy the curiosity was to create a blog. Though why a series of pictures of birch trees, railway engines and a variety of meals (of varying quality) would be of interest to anyone, rather escapers me. We are travelling – and in the process very little of real life is actually seen or witnessed.

Matters are much as expected – smart fast trains in Germany, improved trains further east and ultimately trains roughly equivalent to those operating on in the North of England and Welsh valleys (though we now learn that Mr Johnson is to be a ‘Redeemer of Fortunes’ for the poor and dispossessed of the northern wastelands. A veritable Father Christmas.)

So – a blog is attempted….. but is, at the time of writing (in Moscow), the surprising loss of reasonable internet speed (which here is consistently more available, faster and better than in UK) has resulted in an exceptionally slow uploading of  pictures (of whizzing birch trees, somewhat tired looking railway engines engaged in what is known as ‘hump shunting’ & (sic) consistently high quality food.

Will any of the above ever appear?

Yessssss….. the above picture, of a road in Belarus, has failed to load for over a day….. but here we are (now in Siberia) and it works first time…. can I add more…..?

Computer seems to be saying ‘No’

But then it says ‘Yes’.

For some reason the connection is better – as is, the rail track on which we travel…. now very smooth… presumably part of the general investment that seems too be occurring with Russian Railways.

The Talgo trains are a major part of that process.

The above pictures are from the Belarussian part of the journey from Poznan to Moscow Belarusskya station.

The ‘ride’ of the train was curious – sometimes it seemed to bounce, then to feel as if it was on cobbles (not good for sleep!) and in Belarus there were all manner of variations from smooth (on suctions of modern track, to a near bone-shaking banging as if riding on rocks (max speed over such track was around 100 kms

Matters did not improve in Russia…. We rattled and swayed across a now darkened landscape with had evidence of slightly thicker snow.

So – for today, 15th December we began early at 06.00)…. Which became in an instant 08.++ as we cross into Belarus…. All in darkness. The daylight lasted until around 16.++ – but had almost disappeared by the time we left Belarus and entered Russia.

This situation is going to become normal – darkness, to be a major feature of the whole journey.

The last stop in Belarus was at Orsha

where there was a ‘retired’ locomotive

… and we were pestered by the “Apple Hustlers’…. selling bags of apples

In the early stages (days 1,2,3) we had time in cities after or before a journey…. From Moscow (arrival approx 21.30) we will be more or less confined to the single train for 6 days.

Travelling on the Strizh has been a very good introduction too what will follow…. We’ve had a friendly modern restaurant in which we’ve spent most of our time (room service is available)… fellow passengers have been reasonably affluent (the train has no basic accommodation…. Fully western standards)…. Yet it has been a new experience in travel …. For Russians lengthy train travel (ie over at least a night and full day) is probably not unusual – and it seems that for many they have ways of adapting to this…. Shorts, loose tracksuits, slippers…. Very informal….. Comfortable clothing… even though outside the weather is cold with snow covered ground.

We had a last meal in the restaurant but everything seems to be winding down…. 1 & half hours before arrival?

Feels like that – passengers have disappeared into their burrows (its a Talgo – that is what you get for a compartment)

Everyone who tried to order seemed to be/was eating sausage (Jacqui managed  sprats…. Maybe they are less popular than chicken Kiev)

At the end as we travelled into Moscow, we had a farewell to our very helpful restaurant attendants

The journey continues:

A Winter Journey to Taiwan: Part Three

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close