We had toyed with the idea of flying to Moscow but it felt right to keep to the train all the way. Jenny gave us a lift to Sherborne Station - engineering works on the line from Dorchester South might have cut things a bit fine. The springtime English countywide on the way to Waterloo looked fresh and lush. It was the first of what were to be many varied and fascinating views from trains over the next 2 weeks.
Having safely traversed London to St Pancras, we were on the Eurostar bound for Brussels then Cologne. There, we had several hours to kill before catching the night-train to Warsaw. We found a brauhaus not far from the station with traditional German food and beers. We were sitting next to an English couple who were fascinated to hear of our adventure. Despite our protests, they insisted in paying for our bill at the end of the meal - how generous was that!
Peter's Brauhaus, Cologne
Safely aboard our 2-berth compartment, we settled down for the first of our sleeper trains. There's something magical about overnight train journeys. The gentle rocking, especially after a few drinks, soon lulls you off to sleep. You wake in excited anticipation the next morning and invariably open the blind on a fascinating scene quite different from the one you left behind. In this case, it was attractive Polish countryside, farmland interspersed with small towns and early morning mist over the rivers and streams. By midday we were in Warsaw Central Station.
We had four hours in Warsaw before catching the next overnight train to Moscow. We headed for the old town, destroyed by the Nazis but reconstructed in exactly the same way after the war. We had a lovely lunch in the main square and watched the world go by before slowly making our way back to the station for the 16.15 departure to Moscow. There was time for a coffee before looking for the platform number. But on the departure board, the 16.15 train listed wasn't for Moscow. Panic set in. We had difficulty making ourselves understood at the Information Desk. They inferred that the train was going from another Warsaw station several miles away. By this time, it was too late to get there in time. There were no other trains following on that day to the border with Belarus where we might have been able to catch up with it. Aaaaaaagh !
I had previously checked on the internet which station the Moscow train left from - Warsaw Central. What I had failed to notice in the small print was that for 6 weeks only in April/May 2014, it was switched to Warsaw Gdansk Station. Some of you will know that I have a track-record for this sort of thing - arriving at Bournemouth Airport for a flight that was leaving from Bristol? You'd have thought I'd have learnt by now! Pete was very forgiving, saying that things could have been worse. We would still be able to catch the once-a-week Trans-Siberian train because we had built in the buffer of a night in Moscow.
So it was after an unscheduled night in Warsaw that we made sure we were at Warsaw Gdansk Station in plenty of time the next day! It was several hours before we got to the Polish border with Belarus. The gauge of the railway track from here and throughout Russia is wider than in Europe and so the bogies on all 16 carriages have to be changed. Having been disconnected from their bogies, the carriages with passengers still inside are hoisted up by hydraulic jacks. The old bogies are wheeled out and the new ones wheeled in underneath. After several hours, we were on our way again into the night, across Belarus and into Russia.
We finally arrived in Moscow just over 48 hours after leaving home. We had time to explore the amazingly ornate Metro stations built by Stalin to inspire communist patriotism. Red Square was closed for military rehearsals for May Day but we managed to get in to see the Kremlin with its elaborate buildings.