There's, like, this cool church and stuff. It's very pretty in the early morning daylight. The city is kind of like a mix of Riga and Tallinn to my mind – more picturesque than Riga, and smaller, but more modern than Tallinn without being completely bereft of old buildings. It's really a very nice place.
Back to the flat on the stroke of 0815 and the Ands are already carting stuff outside. Arrangements have been made, via a phone call between Stoy and I, for where to pick up the other group. This may not be a popular choice but it's the one that got made. Our 9-seater minibus turns up, mercifully driven by an adult, but hang on – it looks a bit cosy. Turns out the 9 seats include the driver and a thin buddy seat in the front row. But, fuck it, this is the hand we've been dealt.
He doesn't speak much English but does Russian, which makes Andrei our mouthpiece. Less than 5 yards after we set off we stop in the middle of the street and the driver pegs it into the nearest building, which appears to be a Radisson hotel. No explanation is given for this behaviour either prior or subsequently. Tactical piss? Anyway, a couple of minutes later we're on our way to a petrol station where the others are standing on a grassy knoll waiting to be picked up.
The bags fit pretty well and the seats are surprisingly comfortable, despite initial appearances and worries about space. I'm in the middle seat on the third row, with no view of anything anywhere except John's head. We're on this bus for 4 hours. Oof.
I had been disappointed throughout the planning stage that "just popping over the border into Belarus" wasn't on the cards. British citizens can't currently enter with visa-on-arrival if coming in via any route except Minsk airport, so despite being just a few kilometres away (in fact, it would be faster if we could go through) we're not allowed into the country. Stupid border laws. Hopefully Brexit will fix this.
A stone's throw from the Lithuania/Poland border we stop at a Circle K, for a loo break, coke zero, and phallic hot dog preparation.
Onwards, without toasting the border, we're in Poland and thus an hour backwards in time. I want to open two pubs, one on other side, both of which close at midnight local time. Neck your last pint in Lithuania, walk a hundred yards, pub is still open for another hour. Finish your next last pint at 2359 and get home to your flat in Lithuania at 0100. Something like that anyway.
Our driver says fuck all throughout the whole journey. He does peg it though, unafraid of the bouncier parts of the road and certainly with no bloody patience for slow drivers judging by his overtaking manouevres. We arrive at Białystok on the stroke of midday, at the award winning "best station in Poland" or whatever it is.
Holy fuck, we are not looking forward to the rest of Poland if this is the best they have to offer. There's left luggage lockers which take złoty, of which we have none. The cash point is broken. The next nearest cash point is a 5 minute walk away and even then we need to buy something to get change. The loo costs 2zł for a piss. The queue for train tickets is enormous. It's quite bleak here. But we're good, we're seasoned pros, and before long everything is sorted out: Mark has currency, we're able to take a piss and store our bags, Mark and Stoy are going to hang at the station while the rest of us decide that 55 minutes is plenty of time to jump in two cabs to the town centre.
And lo, that's exactly what we do. To Multibrowar! This means "multibrewery" and it's a craft beer pub because, come on, you obviously knew we'd find a craft beer pub in the back end of fucking nowhere. Confusing the hell out of the barmaid, we order our beers by number while at the same time trying to use numbers to convey quantity. This leads to us buying beers we do not want, but never mind.
Small or large beer? Apparently small is 40cl, the biggest of the sizes available in Helsinki. Large is a litre, er, no thanks. But we each have 2x small beers and they are very nice. The barmaid calls us a couple of cabs and we're back at the station, except not quite – we need to get a few provisions from the shop. I almost fall over laughing at the SUPER CENA signs. Wrestling big around here is it?
Later in the day I learn that "cena" is Polish for "price", which means around here when WWE come on tour we're expected to be on the side of famed 5-moves-of-doom one dimensional all American hero "John Price". Ha.
Anyway. We're at Białystok and ready to get on our train to Warsawa. Albert is alive and active on Facebook messenger, for he is joining us at the capital. I've asked him to buy some mead, and he fails. Damn it!
There are 4 trains leaving in a short space of time and they all look very different. We're in the first class compartment of our IC. There is pisspoor wifi and mobile signal and Stoy doesn't have a ticket, but manages to fare dodge the whole bloody journey like an absolute boss. I mean, he was willing to pay and even tried to do so on the PKP website but it was having none of it, and when the conductor came through they just glanced at our reservations and assumed we had enough. Because of this I insist on calling him Stoyaway for the rest of the day.
Chef makes sandwiches and they are awesome, again. The bottle of dark beer I have is awful. The rest of the two hours is mostly filled with my insistance that the letter 'ł' is pronounced like a W and everyone else should stop fucking saying "Bee-alley-stock" for where we've just been. My protests fall on deaf ears.
Suddenly, we're at Warsaw, searching for the left luggage lockers and hey, there's Albert! Hi Albert. We have złoty for the machines and dump our bags and split up. Andrei, John and myself are heading to Tomasz's suggestion of Pawilony, this tiny district of back to back bars and eateries and the odd art gallery and stuff, all hip and young and boozy. The route there takes us past a few small buildings.
The beer is shit, which matches the message I receive from the aforementioned Tomasz when I jump on Slack and tell him which bar we're in. But it's a great little hidden away section of town and John in particular absolutely loves it. There doesn't appear to be good food though, however our route back to the station could, at a pinch, take in a craft beer place that does burgers. Let's do that!
Hello, first class sleeper train to Prague. What's going on here then? Oh, we seem to have virtually all the cabins in an entire carriage and all but one are single beds with sinks that double as desks; the lone double has en-suite facilities. At the end of the carriage is a loo with a shower. We have amenity kits - amenity kits! - and free soft drinks. This is fucking ace!