We were all up early in the morning and we were in the lounge having breakfast as soon as they opened the doors. Kodi and I were eating as though we were facing the next three weeks without food, and by half past six we’d eaten enough to feed an army; even Jess was putting away a not inconsiderable amount of food and for her breakfast usually only consists a bowl of cereal.
“I’ve booked a taxi to take us to the station. We’ve got about an hour to finish eating, so you two can stop inhaling your food and chew it first,” my dad said.
“Sorry Dad. I didn’t realise we had that much time. You said we had to leave early, and I though you meant half past six early.” Both Kodi and I slowed down eating, and we began enjoying our breakfast, Jessica stopped eating long enough to get herself another glass of orange juice and three slices of toast, and our parents went about getting their own breakfasts; even my dad got himself some food to go with his cup of coffee.
Once everyone had brought their plates back to the table, and Kodi and I had refilled our plates for the third time, we began discussing the next leg of our holiday; the sleeper journey to Moscow.
“You know, this trip is going to feel a little weird to me,” said Richard Waughrin. “I used to travel around Europe a lot before we had the Schengen Zone, and I can’t believe we are going to be crossing four international borders, but only having to undergo two official border checks. I used to hate crossing international borders by train because it would add hours to a journey.”
“I’ve never heard of the Schengen Zone,” said Kodi.
“I’m not surprised, Kodi,” I said. “Very few tourists these days really even think about it, but you do know about it. It’s the reason why we can now cross from one country to another without needing our passports; at least amongst the member countries. Before the Schengen Zone came into effect in the middle of the 1990s, there were formal checks at all international borders.
“So, the train we’re catching to Moscow which crosses four borders would, before the Schengen Zone came onto effect, have been subject to customs and immigration checks six times, instead of just the twice it will be. The only formal border controls are when we leave Poland, and then again when we enter Belarus; all other border controls have long since been withdrawn.
“Before the Schengen Zone was created, there used to be border controls upon exit from France, entry and exit from Germany, entry and exit from Poland and the last border check being upon entry into Belarus. Since there has never been formal border checks when travelling between Belarus and Russia, that is one less international border to worry about.”
“Now, this is a sleeper train and this particular train actually has one carriage with four luxury compartments, and I’ve booked all four of them for us,” my dad said. “Kodi and Kyle will share one of the compartments, Janet and Jess will share one, Clare and I will share one, which means that Richard will have the fourth one all to himself.
“The big advantages with these luxury compartments are that we’ll have a private en suite toilet and shower and there is also a TV and DVD player; also the carriage has its own small lounge area.”
“Stuart, how long will the journey to Moscow take us?” asked Kodi.
“Go on and have a guess, Kodi,”
“Well, since it’s a sleeper train, I’ll say twenty eight hours; that should be more than enough time to reach Russia.”
“Actually Kodi,” my dad said, “it will take about thirty seven and a half hours.”
Kodi’s jaw dropped and a small piece of fried egg fell out of my own wide open mouth. Jess whined, “A day and a half on a train! Dear God, I’ll die of boredom.”
I glanced over at Kodi. The smirk on his face and the raising of his eyebrows, told me he was thinking the exact same that I was; we definitely weren’t going to be bored. Thirty seven and a half hours in our own private little world, I just hope that the walls of the compartments won’t be thin enough for our parents to hear us; God that would just be so embarrassing.
Kodi and I grabbed one last glass of juice each, and Dad grabbed another cup of coffee.
“Kyle, how on earth can you drink grapefruit juice? It’s the most disgusting thing God ever invented.”
“I like it. Besides, you’re one to talk; you love apple juice.”
After we had finished stuffing ourselves, Kodi and I went back to our room. We did one last sweep of the room to make sure we had left nothing behind; we pulled out drawers, checked the backs of the wardrobes, checked our bedside tables and rechecked the in room safe. Once we were certain we had everything with us, we met our parents by the lifts.
We just about managed to get all of the luggage down to the reception area, but we ended up filling three lifts doing it; which didn’t please other people who were also trying to use the lifts.
Dad completed the checking out process, and we sat in the reception area and waited for our taxi. We only ended up waiting a couple of minutes as the pre-booked taxi to take all of us to the Gare de l’Est arrived right on schedule at twenty five minutes past seven.
In spite of the morning traffic that was beginning to build up, and the start of what looked to be a horrendous traffic jam forming on the Rue la Fayette, we arrived at the Gare de l’Est a few minutes before eight o’clock; the train to Moscow was due to leave at twenty eight minutes past eight.
We headed for one of the shops and quickly purchased a vast quantity of supplies to last us for the journey; of course, there would be food provided on the train, but I for one was not sure how much of it I would like. I’d never really eaten eastern European food before; I’ve had goulash, but that’s about as adventurous as I’ve ever gotten. I will give it all a fair try, but I’d like to know I’ve got some regular foodstuffs in reserve just in case.
In the end we all bought cans of drink, bottles of water, bags of crisps and nuts, baguettes, packets of sweets, and on my dad’s insistence we had bought a supply of tea, coffee and pot noodle-type snacks. When I asked my dad why he told us to buy these things, he said that there would be a samovar containing hot water on the train, which Russian railways always provide free of charge.
We checked the departure board for our train and after locating, what rather unsurprisingly, was the only departure to Moscow, we trotted in the direction of the indicated platform. Our carriage turned out to be right at the front of the train, so we ended up walking nearly the entire length of the platform; I’m so glad our suitcases had wheels on them, because my arms would probably have fallen off.
We were greeted by a rather short Russian woman, whose jet black hair was pulled into a really tight bun; she was the provodnitsa, or carriage attendant. I had heard stories that they reign over their carriage with an iron fist, and this lady certainly didn’t look like someone to antagonise. For some reason, she reminded me of those matryoshka or babushka dolls; the ones where you open it up and there’s a smaller one inside it, and when you open that one, there’s a smaller one inside that, and you go on finding smaller and smaller dolls until there’s this teeny weeny one in the middle. After confirming that we were going to be boarding the right train, she allowed us to start taking our luggage on board.
“Welcome aboard. You are all one family?” She spoke flawless English, just with a very thick Russian accent.
“Yes, we are,” my dad said.
“Well, you have the entire carriage to yourselves then. Are you going all the way to Moscow?”
“Yes. We’re going to be spending a couple of days in Moscow and then we’re going on one of the Transiberian train tours,” Kodi informed her.
She checked her watch and said, “It is nearly departure time. You can pick whatever compartments you want. I will be along shortly to carry out ticket and passport checks. I wish you a happy trip to Moscow. By the way, my name is Galina, and if there is anything you need during the journey just let me know.”
“Thank you, Galina,” I said.
Kodi and I got ourselves settled into our compartment. After we had taken what we would need out of our suitcases, we put them in the corner of our compartment so that they would be out of the way. We put our reading material on the small table that was provided, put our toiletries in the small private shower, and relaxed.
We heard an announcement of some description coming from the platform in French, followed by a shrill whistle, and then the entire train lurched forward. Kodi and I could have just looked out of our compartment’s large window, but we went out into the carriage and watched as the Gare de l’Est slowly passed by, as we pulled out of the station.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” a voice, with a mild Russian accent, said over the speaker system, “on behalf of Russian Railways welcome aboard the Trans European Express to Moscow, we wish you all a safe and pleasant journey.
“A reminder that all passengers travelling to Belarus are required to have a visa in their passport, all passengers travelling to Russia are required to have both a visa for Russia and a transit visa for Belarus, and those passengers leaving the train before we depart Terespol do not require visas. A word of warning, those passengers who do not have the required visas will be thrown off the train at the Belarusian border by immigration officials; it will, and does, happen.
“We are due to arrive at Moscow Belorusskaya station at fifty eight minutes past eleven tomorrow night. Our first station stop will be Metz Ville in a little over three and a quarter hours time at forty seven minutes past eleven.”
Kodi and I watched the scenery go by for a little bit longer, before returning to our compartment. We closed the door and I pulled Kodi into me. “Come here you,” I said, and kissed him on the lips.
I slowly licked his lips before slipping my tongue into his mouth. I pulled him top of me and on to the sofa, and I gave his butt cheeks a firm squeeze. Just as Kodi let out a small yelp of surprise, there was a knock on the compartment door.
We both suppressed a giggle as I opened the door on Galina. “Hello boys. I am just doing the passport and ticket checks.”
“Sure.” I stepped aside and allowed her to enter. I handed her mine and Kodi’s passports along with our train tickets.
She checked our ticket, and both our Russian and Belarusian visas. “Everything is in order boys. Just to let you know that there will be no formal passport control checks until we leave Poland, which be about half past six tomorrow morning. There is nothing to worry about, but you may want to be together with your parents when it happens, as quite often the border officers are armed and it can seem a little scary.”
“Thank you for the advice Galina.”
“You are welcome boys. Enjoy your train ride.”
We closed the door and Kodi said to me, “Now where we before we were interrupted?”
I lay back down on the sofa and said, “Well I think I was laying here, you were definitely on top of me, and I seem to recall having one of your butt cheeks in each hand.”