Secret Tram maps and stations
10.06.2011 - 10.06.2011 23 °C
Warsaw, Poland - Vilnius, Lithuania
Our day long train ride to Vilnius will take us through such unknown Polish towns as Bialystok and Suwalki to the Lithuanian border town of Seštokaji and finally Vilnius. Our slow 11 hour journey through the countryside (for the journey is only some 200 miles, as the crow flies) is delayed further by a medical emergency, on the train, that requires an ambulance to hurtle at breakneck speed down the tracks. Yet it is only thanks to our own good fortune that we are even on this train.
Unusually, for Poland Warsaw central station does have a timetable of trains available. However, this is not listed by destination. It is listed by time of departure. As such it takes some time to ascertain that there are no trains listed to Vilnius (as we must change to a Lithuanian train at Seštokaji).
This has been typical (and frustrating) with all of our experiences of public transport in Poland. Whilst we have been able to figure our trams, buses and trains it has not been made easy. Tourist maps do not show tram or bus routes. The one Tram map we did find in Krakow has no reference to the physical location of tram stops, whilst Tram and Bus maps for Warsaw appear none existent. When one does locate an actual Tram or Bus Stop rarely do they contain any form of map. The ones that do bear little resemblance to the physical maps of the area so without knowing the name of the Tram or Bus Stop you wish to disembark from determining a destination and correct route is extremely problematic.
For the average tourist who is able to navigate through this almost paranoid anti-tourist public transport planning system the question of ticket purchasing then arises. A few Tram stops do have ticket machines. However, most allow the traveler to purchase tickets onboard the Tram. Once the correct ticket has been requested, in Polish, they only accept exact change. Happy to pay a few cents over the requested ticket price our overpayment was firmly rejected, leaving us little choice but to travel the few stops we wanted to go illegally, as fare dodgers. The authorities do not appear to want tourists on their public transport but if the odd tourist does make it onboard they are not too worried about having them pay for their journey!
Arriving at the largest Train station in Warsaw, this morning, our opinions were, once again, confirmed. With domestic and international trains departing to all corners of the region departure and arrival information was imparted on a couple of widescreen TVs that would not look out of place in the average Living Room. We never found out the reasons for this lack of information on Public Transport. However, it is clearly an area that the Polish Transport Authorities which to keep secret and available to only those ‘in the know’.
This passion for secrets continued as we passed through nameless station after station. Usually, the only notification of which station we were at resided on the station building – not that helpful to those at the rear of the train who only passed the station building as the train was leaving! Clearly, signs on the extremities of each platform are beyond the budget of Polish rail.
Fortunately, our train terminated at our destination so the lack of signage was not an issue for us. By the time we left the last stop in Poland, Suwalki, our carriage was empty apart from ourselves and two Americans travelling to Kaunas to see never before visited family. This distant link to Lithuania had seen one of our fellow travelers attend Lithuanian school, every Saturday morning, for 12 years, learning both the language and history of this often troubled country. A remarkable feat but one that would, for the first time in her life, be of practical benefit. Her excitement at being able to use her linguistic talents were obvious.
We crossed the border into Lithuania without any formalities, discernible border or signage. Yet, whilst both sides of the border are arable the different farming practices are very apparent. Unlike Poland, in Lithuania we saw hay being collected on carts pulled by horses and a predominance of young girls working the fields by hand. Whilst we might consider farming practices in Poland, basic, they are even more so in Lithuania.
As we are told is typical the Lithuanian train which we connected with in Seštokaji had waited for us, despite out medical emergency induced delay and so we arrived just a little late into Vilnius, the capital of our first Baltic State. Unlike previously our accommodation in Vilnius was a small apartment at the top of a typical town house in the Old Town. With a full kitchen we looked for to making our own simple breakfast.
Exploring Old Town in search of necessary supplies we find an excellent little restaurant in a small courtyard just off the main shopping street of Vokiečių gatvė, called Žemaiçių Smuklė. Serving typical Lithuanian delicacies Trey opted for cepelinai (zeppelins – meat encased with grated potato , boiled and then coated in sour cream and bacon – guaranteed to satisfy the most extreme of hungers!) whilst I partook of an excellent Wild Boar stew that was more than sufficient for two. With limited time we took a gentle, walk around Old Town but would leave exploring of this new city until the following day.