St. Petersburg, 15th to 17th of May

After acquiring some roubles and managing to escape Vitebsky station via St. Petersburg’s rather lovely metro system, I headed off to find my hostel, which was not far from Moskovsky station and the top of Nevsky Prospekt. My host for the next few days would be Natalia, and she wasted no time making me feel at home – I was whisked in, fed breakfast, provided with maps and helped with train times and instructions for the next stage of my journey. Natalia also agreed to register my Russian visa for me once I explained my Moscow and trans-Siberian plans to her. Once I’d settled all my stuff in my dorm, I had a very welcome shower, put some laundry on to wash and headed out to investigate the city. Continue reading St. Petersburg, 15th to 17th of May

Vilnius to St. Petersburg, 14th to 15th of May

I had a little while to wait in Vilnius station, so I used the time to grab a snack and a drink for the journey, using up most of the last few litas that were burning a hole in my pocket in the process. Then I sat in the waiting room, alternately reading and watching the departures board. While I did so, a lady with a clipboard approached me – she didn’t seem to speak a word of English, but I grasped that she was doing some kind of tourism survey and would I mind answering some questions? Continue reading Vilnius to St. Petersburg, 14th to 15th of May

Warsaw and Vilnius, 12th to 14th of May

Warsaw old town
Walking towards the old part of Warsaw.

Unfortunately I didn’t have very much time in Warsaw at all; I arrived at about 4.30pm and was due to be leaving again at 7.25am the next morning. My first priority on arrival was to navigate through Warsaw central station to the International Ticket office to buy my ticket to Vilnius, a simple enough transaction but one I knew I wouldn’t want to be doing just before having to catch the train in question! Continue reading Warsaw and Vilnius, 12th to 14th of May

Krakow, 10th to 12th of May

My trip to Auschwitz had spanned the middle of the day and taken a good five or six hours, including getting there and back, but it hadn’t really involved lunch. I should have been starving, but the heat had sapped my appetite. I needed something, however, so I headed off to a restaurant that promised Polish food and beer. I settled in and ordered soup and a beef pancake with mushroom sauce, and a Tyskie beer to wash it all down. ‘Large or small beer?’ the waiter asked. ‘Ooo, large please,’ I replied, thinking cosily of the “large” half-litre beers in Germany. Then I looked at the menu and realised I’d accidentally ordered a litre of beer. Oh well, if there’s one thing I’ve learnt in Germany, it’s how to behave in the presence of a lot of beer. Continue reading Krakow, 10th to 12th of May

Auschwitz, 10th of May

Arbeit macht frei
The infamous sign over the gates of Auschwitz read ‘Work gives freedom’. This is a replacement – the original was stolen a couple of years ago and although it was recovered it was too badly damaged to be put back up.

Today I visited Auschwitz. It was extremely incongruous to see such a place on a sunny summer’s day, and the sheer scale of the events that occurred there are overwhelming. I’m not sure I can easily describe the experience – the data is available for anyone to look up, but seeing where such things happened is a different matter. Even after seeing Auschwitz and Birkenau in person, it’s hard to grasp the extent of what happened there. Continue reading Auschwitz, 10th of May

Krakow, 9th of May

Some people come to Krakow for the history, others for the party scene. Me? I come for the dentistry. A nagging pain had started up in one of my teeth in the last 48 or so hours and, having alarmed myself with visions of dental abscesses and root canals in Mongolia, I resolved to deal with it first thing in the morning. Thus, after some much-needed sleep, I tootled off to the Tourist Info to ask them about dentists and vaccinations. Well, I do try to be original. The lady recommended a dentist just around the corner, while the chap did a quick Google and gave me the address of a clinic that supposedly did travel vaccinations. I decided to do the tooth thing first to get it out of the way. Continue reading Krakow, 9th of May

London to Krakow, 7th to 8th of May

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. Continue reading London to Krakow, 7th to 8th of May