Archive for August 20th, 2013

Tall Tales about Toad, or…

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

No trains to Vilnius


Vilnius railway station, Warsaw – St. Petersburg Railway. Photo Arz.

(Click on image to see original on Wikipedia and for details of licensing.)

Of all of my extraordinary friends Ropucha is the most eccentric. He once bought a waterworks with a view of turning its underground reservoir into a contemporary version of Bilbo Baggins’s home.

His enormous Warsaw flat is decorated in the minimalist style of Andy Warhol’s New York Studio. Yet not everything is simple. The huge bath, large enough to accommodate a dinner party, is worked by a TV-like remote. One press and a stream of apparently red-coloured hot water starts to fill the bath, another press and blue cold water spurts out, a third button projects Debbie Harry singing Heart of Glass on the back wall. Ropucha hardly ever visits Warsaw.

Ropucha recently bought a yellow sports car, but when I suggested that he might like to give it a quick run on the brand-new motorway and pop in to see me, he replied that it was having an oil change.

A couple of days ago he rang me and asked me how I felt about  the Baltic States. I got very excited, assuming that he was asking me to come as a co-driver for a quick dash in his shiny new toy to Vilnius, Tallinn and Riga, but in fact was buttering me up to check out some international train services.

It seems Mrs Ropucha rather fancies a visit to Saint Petersburg and not wanting to risk his yellow peril on the trip, Ropucha wanted some advice in putting together an interesting rail journey. Perhaps Warsaw – Saint Petersburg – Moscow – Warsaw or even a leisurely return run through the Baltic States? Would I conduct some preliminary research?


Warsaw – St. Petersburg services. Timetable T K Telekom.

(Click to expand.)

A little bit of work on the T K Telekom on-line timetable revealed an every second day train service running direct from Warsaw to Saint Petersburg complete with a romantic sleeping compartments. Just the thing, I thought!

But hold on a minute my friend Kret completed the train to China, but opted to do the first leg: Warsaw – Moscow by plane. I rang him and asked him why he had avoided the comforts of the Warsaw – Moscow sleeping cars. There’s nothing wrong with the train he assured me, but he end his wife baulked at paying the transit visa fee of £50 each for the privilege of travelling through Belarus.

Setting up the Warsaw – Saint Petersburg journey on Google Maps shows that the shortest route from Warsaw is through Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Surely the train journey is routed the same way?

Well, it is not. A further check on T K Telekom shows that the train runs through Belarus. Now Ropucha, although quite well off, hates paying the going price for anything, so I could see that he might baulk at paying £200 for four sets of Belarus visas.

Perhaps it might be possible to reach Saint Petersburg via the Baltic States? All three countries are Poland’s near neighbours and are in the EU.

A short session on Google maps revealed that there is one railway line that connects Poland and Lithuania without crossing the Kaliningrad enclave. However, zooming in on the line shaded as distinctly overgrown especially in Lithuania, while in Poland a road appears to have been built over some of the railway track.

I phoned Prezes who knows about all of these things. Is it true that the only direct rail connection between Poland and Lithuania is disused I asked. No, he answered, there is a daily train connection but it does involve two train changes in Lithuania.


Warsaw – Vilnius by rail? Timetable T K Telekom.

Alas no longer! A last visit to T K Telekom sure that the actual border crossing between Poland and Lithuania is carried out by coach. I find this is really amazing. Two neighbouring countries: both members of the EU, with a great deal of common culture and history, and many families living in both countries; yet their capitals – only some 400 km apart – have no direct rail services!

Surely providing such a connection should be an EU priority? It is extraordinary that it is easier to travel by rail from Warsaw to Moscow than between Warsaw and Vilnius.