An Unexpected Detour in Brest Belarus
My young son and daughter decided it would be a fun adventure to travel from London to Moscow and St. Petersburg by train. My daughter visualized an elegant, Orient Express type train ride, but that wasn’t exactly our experience…
We picked up the Eurostar train at St. Pancras Station, London to Brussels, Belgium. The sleek and super-fast train was everything we expected. The attendant brought us a delicious meal in our first-class compartment. The two-hour trip to Brussels flew by very quickly as we dined and watched the scenery outside the window.
We stayed overnight in Brussels with just enough time to run around the city on a chocolate tasting tour. The next leg of our journey was to Cologne, Germany. The trip was pretty as we passed through the countryside.
We arrived in Cologne just long enough to photograph the giant Cologne Cathedral and have a delicious dinner at the elegant Hanse-Stube Restaurant in the Excelsior Hotel Ernst. Our journey changed at this point.
The customs officers summarily ejected us from the train in Belarus with strict instructions to take a taxi directly to the police station to pay a fine.
The train from Cologne to Moscow was dated in a not-so-positive way. The narrow overnight berth had murky green blankets. There was one communal bathroom down the hall, which became beyond disgusting, as the favorite activity on the train seemed to be playing loud music and drinking beer.
The train stopped in Belarus to change the undercarriage of the train. We required a transit visa for Belarus, despite the fact that we never left the train’s platform. Our visa was supposed to be for two, one-way transits, but the visa company’s error wasn’t apparent until the Belarus Customs Officer noticed it on our return train ride from Russia to Germany.
The customs officers summarily ejected us from the train in Belarus with strict instructions to take a taxi directly to the police station to pay a fine. It seemed odd that they didn’t accompany us, but where would we have gone? Other passengers told me to pay the train conductor a bribe, but as a retired attorney, I decided to follow proper protocol and go to the police station. But, not before I called Amex’s Platinum Concierge service so that at least somebody knew where we were in case the police threw us in jail…
Now, imagine traveling with two young children (aged ten and fourteen) to the police station in Brest, Belarus! This nightmare occurred shortly before the political climate changed. The country’s issues were not on anyone’s radar, but they were very apparent to us as we pulled our expensive Tumi luggage though ripped up streets. The police and the local people were very helpful to us as we exchanged our money and paid the fine. For some unknown reason, there was an ATM that dispensed American dollars, so I withdrew enough to pay the fine. The police station, of course, did not take credit cards.
At the time, the entire experience was harrowing, but it is now just a funny story.