Staying at Panorama Hotel was really advantageous. It's close to both the main bus and train stations so all we needed to do was just walk, sparing us the hassle of taking a taxi with our big bags. This time we were taking the train to our next destination. Surprisingly, train tickets can't be booked online. We bought ours at the train station first thing on our arrival in Vilnius.
The ticket agent don't speak English so we wrote down our destination clearly for her to understand - we surely don't want to end in some remote outpost of Lithuania. We paid 81 litas (or about 30 US dollars) for our Second Class seats. When she handed us the tickets, we took a long look at it, trying to decipher the words all written in Lithuanian. Our destination was written as Warszawa.
me: "is this for Warsaw?"
agent: " (whatever) ... Warsaw" (while nodding)
me: "Hmmm...I see. But why two tickets for each of us?"
agent: "Vilnius ... (whatever) ... Sestokai ...(whatever) ... Warsaw ... (whatever) ..."
She finally pulls something from her table - a small sheet of photocopied paper and there written in English was our route. It shows we are going to Warsaw via Sestokai. We are taking two trains, from Vilnius to Sestokai and from Sestokai to Warsaw, thus the two tickets.
|Waiting for our train . . .|
|. . . going to Sestokus (or Sestokai)|
We could have flown on a airplane but it's expensive and it will deny us the views that only we could get from terra firma. Then there's also the much cheaper overnight bus but then I could hardly sleep in a moving bus unless they have the same "beds" as the super cama bus in Argentina. The train takes almost nine hours, leaving Vilnius at 12 PM and arriving in Warsaw at half past 8 PM.
With our remaining Lithuanian money, we grabbed take-away meals at a nearby McDonalds and waited for the train at our designated platform. As soon as the train pulled into the station, we hopped onboard, found our seats and realized the train's not airconditioned. Windows at least were partially opened to allow ventilation.
Sitting with us was Arnas, a Lithuanian from Vilnius on his way to visit family members at one of the stops. Talking with a local is always a great way to learn more beyond the guide books and Arnas, like most of the younger Lithuanians, is thankfully conversant in English. The three of us talked for the most part of the journey until we reached his stop. We ate our Big Macs for lunch and gulped them down with soda.
Our train arrived in Sestokai about five minutes late. We got worried that we might miss the connecting train to Warsaw but as we found out, these two trains were actually meant to wait for each other. And we didn't even have to transfer platforms. All we did was just walk to the next train.
However, we couldn't find the Second Class compartment that we've booked. No conductor was in sight so we settled in the first empty compartment we saw. Big mistake: it was First Class. But we honestly didn't know. All compartments have the same size and look similar. The only difference between First and Second Class is the number of seats in each compartment: there are 6 seats in First and 8 seats in Second Class.
|Changing trains in Sestokai|
As expected, we got evicted by a Polish train conductor who motioned with his lips to where we should go. We moved to the next car with our bags while the train gently swayed on the tracks. This time, we carefully looked at the compartments and managed to ask one younger passenger who spoke English, confirming that we're on the right car. But to our surprise, the seats allocated to us were already occupied by a family. One guy spoke to us in English: "just get any vacant seat, that's how it is".
We luckily found one empty compartment. It was stifling inside even with the window partially opened. At the next stop, an elderly woman joined us but she obviously wanted to get herself busy with her Soduku than engage in any conversation (Or she just doesn't speak English perhaps). But as soon as I saw her with her big bottle of water, I realized we haven't bought any. It's barely 4 PM and we have no water and no food! This train unfortunately don't sell anything onboard so I trembled at the thought of having nothing at least to drink before our expected evening arrival in Warsaw.
More passengers got in at the next stops. Our compartment was now almost full with 6 adults. It's hot so I stood outside on the corridor where it was more airy, trying not to think of anything that will make me thirsty. As if to taunt me, a group in the next compartment was having a "mini party" with food and drinks. I looked the other way, into the beautiful views of Polish countryside that was glistening in the afternoon sun.
Erwin himself was uneasy from the heat and thirst. While we had a longer stop than usual at one bigger town, Erwin stepped out and ran to a nearby store only to come back empty handed: we're now officially in Poland but they won't accept US dollars or Euros and we don't have Polish currency with us yet. He asked a fellow passenger who willingly exchanged 20 euros for whatever it's worth - we don't even know - and he ran back to the store in time to buy ourselves drinks and food before the train started moving again.
Ahhh . . . .the cool drink going down our parched throat was such a welcome relief. We were revitalized instantly. We thank the guy for the money exchange, a Polish physician who fluently speaks English. Somewhere in the outskirts of Warsaw, the train halts to a stop. Over the PA system, announcements were made in Polish. The doctor translated for us but it wasn't good news: due to major track renovations, delays were unavoidable and our arrival won't be at 8:30 PM as scheduled.
The train didn't move again until almost an hour later. Then it took several more minutes before the train finally pulled into Warsaw's Central Train Station. Feeling haggard after a 10-hour train ride, we stumbled out of the station and into the urban madness of Poland's capital city. We're tired, hungry and smelly but we wanted to find our hotel first.