2011 European trip
|In autumn 2011, I celebrated turning 61 by spending a
month in Europe, in the countries of Belarus, Poland, and
Germany, and in the city of Paris.
I arrived in Warsaw, Poland, by plane. I had expected to spend the night in a hotel in Warsaw, but there was "no room in the inn." The clock in Poland said 5 p.m., but my body was on Washington, D.C., time, so it was 11 a.m. for me. Having slept on the plane from D.C., I opted to continue traveling east. The first train got me to Biala Podlaska, and a second train took me to the Polish border town of Terespol. From Terespol, I rode the short border-crossing train across the Bug River into Brest, Belarus.
In 1939, my children's grandfather had been in Poland's "sacrifice army," stationed on the western front when Germans invaded Poland on September 1. After his unit was defeated, the survivors retreated east, surviving as they could. My children's grandfather walked east until he reached a train yard where he found an engineer who let him ride the freight train east, across the Bug River and into Brest. From Brest, he had another 100 miles to walk home. My September 2011 journey was much easier than the September 1939 journey of my children's grandfather.
It had been 10 p.m. Polish time when I left Terespol for Brest, Belarus. The border-crossing train is a seven-minute ride. However, because there's a one-hour difference between Poland and Belarus, it suddenly was 11:07 p.m. But for my body, it was 4:07 p.m.. I had left Washington, D.C., 16 hours earlier.
Next I went through customs at the Brest train station. A visa is required for Americans entering Belarus, and my visa was limited to eight days, as requested by a Belarusan tour business that had arranged for a guide for my first days in Belarus. There was a long line with the people from the border-crossing train, but it was routine: First, a woman in a glass-windowed booth looked at my passport, visa, and another form I'd had to complete. Then, a uniformed man standing behind a table asked me to open my suitcase. It was routine; he was polite, and there was no invasive searching. The check by the customs officer took less time than it took me to unlock the little padlock on my suitcase.
By then, the clock in Brest said it was midnight, but it was only 5 p.m. for my body. I waited in the train station for the early morning train east. By what for me was 9 p.m., I was in a luxury sleeper compartment on a train to Baranovichi. From Baranovichi, a local taxi driver took me to Novogrudok [off site link], an hour away, where a three-room suite at the Hotel Novogrudok awaited me for sleeping until my body adjusted to the change of time zones.
From Novogrudok, a private driver and hired guide took me to the villages of Morozovichi, Dubatovka, Osova, and Radziuki, and to the Mir Castle. After three days, the driver returned me to Baranovichi for a slow train ride to Pinsk. In Pinsk, I spent an evening walking along the Pina River, a day in a cemetery, and another day and night exploring the city area. After three nights in Pinsk, I took a train back to Brest.
At customs in Brest, I had to submit my "traveling papers" to show where I had been in Belarus. From Brest, I had a sleeper compartment on an "international train" to Warsaw, Poland. In Warsaw, I had dinner with my one-time next-door neighbors. After two nights in Warsaw, I took two trains to reach Gizycko, Poland, where I spent three nights. From Gizycko, it was two trains to Krakow where I spent seven nights. From Krakow, there was a direct (but slow) train to Wroclaw where I spent three nights.
From Wroclaw, I took a fast train to Dresden, Germany, where I walked along the Elbe River. After two nights in Dresden, I rented a car and drove through Germany. There was a night in Schwaigern and a day in Speyer walking along the Rhine River. I left Germany from Saarbrücken on a super-fast, non-stop train to Paris, France, where I walked along the Seine and spent three nights before flying out of Charles de Gaulle Airport.
Except for the hired guide and the hotel in Novogrudok, there was no pre-planning and no advance hotel reservation. My only other advance planning was that my return ticket to the USA was from Charles de Gaulle Airport. I was never part of any "tour group." I would awake in the morn and ask myself, "Do I want to spend another day and night in this town?" Krakow got the most votes. It has the flavor of the best of Paris on a smaller and more managable scale, and it has none of the "attitude" that Paris sometimes has.
I was 61, fat, walking with a cane, wearing tri-focals, able to speak only English, and I had the time of my life!
Check the links below for photos from my month in Europe: