Thursday, April 12, 2012

Minsk-Budapest

We are riding in tired Soviet opulence, in a first-class compartment of a train car built so long ago that nobody remembers. We rode much better earlier today, starting out in a Belarusian car hitched onto the daily Moscow-Prague train. I should have photographed the fresh upholstery and the gleaming fixtures. I should have even photographed our very pretty conductor. But I didn’t, because I expected that the next train, the Chopin, would be even better.

The Chopin is picturesque, but not in a good way. Our compartment is furnished in wood-grain Formica on flimsy particle board. The bunks look like little sand boxes with padding where the sand belongs. My feet will hang off the end of the bed, and possibly out the window. I’m not using the pillow they offered me either. It’s filled with cubes of worn-out foam rubber. Or maybe it’s filled with wrinkled-up plastic bags. I can’t be sure, though I certainly wouldn’t like to investigate. I’ll just sleep on my jacket. Fortunately Alla’s pillow is fairly normal, though a little small.

The conductor reminded us three times to lock our door while we sleep, emphasizing that it’s really important. I would have locked it anyway, but his concern adds to the quaint ambiance.

We enjoyed ourselves more easily during the rest of the day. Our friend Irina saw us off at the station in Minsk with fresh, warm, homemade cabbage pirogi. We thought we’d save them for lunch but couldn’t wait that long. We wanted to taste them while they were still warm, and couldn’t stop after the first bites. We consumed all three right away, and then we read while we rode and passed pleasant hours getting to Eastern Warsaw. At that station the railroad disassembles the train and sends the various cars off to various locations. The process takes a long time, so we slipped onto a local train going immediately to Central Warsaw. I think we saved about 45 minutes with that trick, and we ended up with three hours to walk around downtown and explore.

Last time we stopped in Warsaw we headed in the wrong direction and didn’t get a very good impression of the city. This time we started off much more successfully and we thoroughly enjoyed our little tour. I’d be happy to do that again, but perhaps not at the expense of riding in another tired and crummy train car. The Minsk airport is a little far from town, but now I remember why people fly.

[As I post this from Budapest, I have to say that we both slept well and we don't have any lingering complaints about our night in the old train car. Still, new ones are better!]

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