How does one begin an epic train journey? I wasn’t sure, but I was fairly confident that it shouldn’t begin on an aeroplane. Consequently, May the 7th found me on a Eurostar train from London to Paris, an experience that mostly went smoothly. I spent most of the journey quietly working and trying not to accidentally kick the feet of the guy sitting opposite me. The Eurostar deposited me in a balmy Paris, with plenty of time to stroll from Gare du Nord to Gare de l’Est and grab a bite of supper before boarding my next train, a CNL sleeper to Berlin.
The sleeper compartment of the CNL was a six-berth effort, familiar to me thanks to a trip to Rome with some friends earlier in the year. I’d scored a middle bunk, which I wasn’t thrilled about, but my fellow passengers for the night were a genial and chatty bunch so I felt it could have been worse. Introductions were made and travelling stories were compared – including the obligatory “Oh you’re going to X? I was there when it was cool.” comments – before we all settled down for the night. My middle bunk was more comfortable (and less squeaky) than I feared it would be, so I snuggled down to get some almost-sleep, only to be disturbed by a loud banging on the compartment door. The German police had decided to do a spot-check of passports at 2am. Thankfully, I’d curled up around my valuables and managed to fumble out my passport while only half-conscious. One torch beam in the face later and apparently they were happy – with us, anyway. Just down the passage I could hear two officers violently shaking a compartment door to wake the occupants. It was a little tricky to settle down again after that, but eventually I did, and we arrived safely (if slightly late) in Berlin. I’d received some good-natured ribbing from my fellow passengers about not spending any time in Berlin, so I made a silent promise to the city that I would come back and see properly one day. As it was, I had just about enough time to sort out some funds and a bit of breakfast and lunch before it was time to track down my next train
The direct EC train to Krakow left Berlin promptly, and I settled into my seat for the 10 hour journey, alternating between reading my Russian guidebook, working, watching the scenery and snoozing to make up for the previous night’s lack of sleep. Much of the landscape around the Germany/Poland border seemed to be rolling farmland interspersed with birch and pine woods, with scatterings of houses here and there. It was all very charming. As the train chugged steadily into more populated areas, I peered into peoples’ gardens, admired church spires and stared in fascination at various examples of urban and industrial decay alongside the tracks. It was a largely uneventful journey, but I think I would have enjoyed it more with more sleep.
After arriving slightly late in Krakow, I made a beeline for the Krakow Galleria next to the station to secure further funds and get change for buying tickets. This was a simple task compared with locating the bus and tram stops. My hostel had thoughtfully emailed me a set of directions and a map, but tiredness and being in a new city late in the evening caused me more problems than I anticipated. After going to the wrong bus station and playing hide-and-seek with Krakow’s trams and buses, I took what appeared to be the right tram the requisite number of stops, only to find I had no idea where I was and none of the road signs matched my map. It was late and I was in no mood to be lost any more, so I gritted my teeth and found a taxi, which delivered me to the hostel safely. Assuming he wasn’t taking the piss and just driving around town to inflate the fare, I was a long way from where I should have been! [He wasn’t – I really was a good way from where I should have been. It seemed that the route of the tram had been changed, but I only discovered this the next day when I saw a sign in Polish on the tram stops.] However, I’d found my hostel and was made welcome by the staff member who was waiting for me. Too tired to go out again, I ate a snack supper of nuts and a liquorice bar, did some washing, had a shower and collapsed into bed. Will figure out what I did wrong with the trams tomorrow…