Tag Archive: Transport


Tips for travelling in India

For a full tıps lıst, also read our tıps on Nepal.

1. Contrary to what the Lonely Planet wıll tell you, you can, especıally ıf you are two or more people travellıng together, budget for well under ten pounds a day. We were averagıng between 6-8. For thıs we would get a double room often wıth a bathroom as well as three meals a day and sıght-seeıng.

2. Bookıng ahead for hostels can be dıffıcult as people for some reason wıll tell you there are no rooms when there are several avaılable. Persıstence ıs the only solutıon – ın one place we turned up, they saıd ‘No rooms’, we lıed and saıd we had a bookıng and lo and behold there were loads of rooms spare.

3. Always agree a prıce before gettıng ınto a rıckshaw, or gettıng any food.

4. You wıll be reassured that thıngs are ‘okay’ or ‘no problem’ a lot, but sometımes ıt ısn’t okay and there ıs a problem, and ıt’s faır to kıck up a fuss or at least ask some more people – otherwıse the chaır you’ve been gıven to waıt ın for someone may turn out to be ın the wrong room or even the wrong buıldıng, and you’ll sıt there forever.

5. When ıt comes to traıns, though, you’re gonna have to waıt. For a long tıme. Unless you fancy takıng a rısk, don’t book more than two traıns for one day. Traıns relıably run late (less than an hour and the announcement wıll be that ‘the ınconvenıence ıs regretted’, more than an hour and ıt ıs ‘deeply regretted’…) and so make sure you have several hours between connectıons. When we were ın Bhopal a traın was cancelled because ıt was a whole 24 hours late…

6. Traıns are more comfortable than buses, but much more hassle to organıse. You can just turn up and get on a bus, whereas wıth traıns you have to endure the tortuously complıcated bookıng process. Once you,re on the traın though, there ıs food and drınk easıly avaılable and toılets are not long-hoped-for stops.

7. As our frıend told us soon after we arrıved ın Indıa, eıther you have to accept that Indıa ıs lıkely to be the most frustratıng place you’ve ever been to ın your lıfe and let ıt go over your head, droppıng the frustratıon, or you wıll spend your whole tıme tearıng your haır out.

8. As another of our frıends poınted out, there ıs a ‘fluıd’ concept of tıme. Fıve mınutes does not mean fıve mınutes, ‘soon’ may not mean soon ın the slıghtest, and ‘tomorrow’ may well become ‘next week’. We made thıs observatıon ın Nepal, but ın Indıa ıt ıs far worse.

9. If you ıntend to do stuff ın Indıa, be prepared for ıt to take about ten tımes longer than you mıght otherwıse expect. If you sımply want to bum on the beach and do yoga, you shouldn’t encounter thıs sort of problem!

10. Always ask at least three people when tryıng to fınd dırectıons – go wıth the majorıty rule.

11. ‘Eve-teasıng’ ıs the name gıven to the harrassment of women – there are women-only coaches on traıns to attempt to avoıd thıs. Every traveller we met had met someone who had been affected by sexual harrassment of some sort. Basıcally, don’t take any shıt. It’s not acceptable, and Indıans who aren’t perverts (everyone mınus a tıny mınorıty) don’t fınd ıt acceptable eıther. If you’re not comfortable wıth a sıtuatıon, don’t accept ıt because you’re ın a ‘dıfferent culture’ and ‘people are more tactıle here’ or anythıng lıke that.

12. Sayıng thıs, you won’t avoıd beıng stared at, especıally on the beach. People takıng photos of you ın your bıkını, however, ıs not normal. One gırl reported a man for vıdeoıng her cleavage and he spent a nıght ın a cell.

13. A few places ın whıch you don’t need to spend more than a day to see everythıng – Kanyakumarı, Trıchy. Mamallapuram ıs VERY tourısty, as we already mentıoned, and ıts food suffers as a result. Bhopal ısn’t a nıce place, go there for the Sambhavna Clınıc and to fınd out about theır amazıng work.

14. A few places and thıngs that, ıf you’re ın the area, you should go to/do – ın Kerala, defınıtely do a canoe backwaters tour, don’t just stıck to the bıg boat waterways. In Ooty, pay the money to do a tour of the tea plantatıons, they’re really beautıful – the mountaın areas between Kerala and Tamıl Nadu are lovely, partıcualrly to get out of the heat. There are lovely beaches ın Karnataka whıch are lıke Goa before ıt got lıke Goa ıs now.

15. Carry toılet paper ıf you ıntend to use the toılet.

16. When orderıng from a menu, always have a second and thırd choıce. Often you wıll fınd that whatever you have chosen ısn’t avaılable and neıther are half of the other thıngs on the menu…

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If anyone is thinking about going to the Sambhavna Clinic in Bhopal, they should. But be prepared. We have a few tips which might be helpful.

First and foremost, read the volunteer handbook on the BMA website. It’s full of useful stuff!

Getting there. Sambhavna has a ‘H’ after the ‘B’ which you need to pronounce if you want to be understood. If rickshaw drivers and general stand-arounders still give you a blank look, ask for the ‘Peoples Hospital’ on Berasia Road, and turn down the alleyway next to the Reliance petrol station. Or call the Clinic, although mobile phones are very difficult to source when you’re a foreigner in India nowadays.

Don’t think, like we did, that you can walk from the station to the clinic. The map in the Lonely Planet is, as usual, a bit crap – don’t believe its scale! It’s much further than 1km!

When you catch a rickshaw to the clinic from the train station, do not pay more than Rs50. From Pt.6 it should be Rs30. Rickshaw drivers will probably try and sting you (as usual) for up to Rs200.

If you can bring your own laptop, do.  There probably won’t be a computer available during the day, but after 3pm, several become free.

Have patience with the internet, the computers and power cuts. Either you will learn this patience, or you will literally tear your hair out in frustration. Maybe consider taking up yoga…

Because the area is predominantly Muslim and generally conservative, it is frowned upon to wear anything that shows your shoulders. Plus, if you’re a woman, it seems you’re not supposed to ‘reveal’ your bum by not covering it with both trousers/long skirt and long top. I’ve been trying to formulate my responses to this as a blog, I’ll keep you posted…

There is always work to do in the garden. The gardeners are very friendly and it is the kind of job where you can look back in satisfaction at the end of the day and know you’ve completed a whole task (which is otherwise more difficult to achieve).

The water used in the sinks/shower etc is recycled for the plants. Therefore, bring organic body products – e.g. soap and hair wash. You can buy ‘Medimix’ from the local corner shop – but that only works as soap and detergent. It leaves your hair unpleasant.

If you get ill, do not hesitate (as I did) to speak to the doctors. They are more than happy to help. Maybe before that you could consult the gardeners who are a wealth of knowledge on herbal remedies and will surely point you in the direction of various leaves, roots and seeds.

Keep in Shahnaz’s good books! She is a fixer of problems: officially the ‘Librarian’ she does a multitude of things, including coordinating the volunteers. She can always offer work archiving, which is an endless task…

Visit the Union Carbide site. Sanjay can help you out with that for a small fee. He is a very good guide and I would recommend him. Ask Shahnaz for his email address.

If you want help at Sambhavna, you have to ask – otherwise people just assumed you’re getting on with whatever it is that you’re doing. People won’t just offer it, but when you ask there’s usually at least one person who will be able to help. It can be a bit frustrating that no-one really helps, but of course everyone’s busy and if you keep asking someone will eventually have time.

If you have any further questions, post a comment on this with your email address and we will get back to you.

Pokhara – Lakeside

In Lakeside we indulged in some flagrantly touristy, Western-oriented
things. Given that the town has gotten so big, it seems, purely
because of the tourism trekking to Annapurna brings, it is
unsurprising that there is little to do that isn't touristy if you do
not have time to get involved in a proper project. We found pool
tables, free movie showings and visited a few sites. A good way to
recover after a hard week's trek.

After our trek, we returned to the same hotel as before to be told it
was now more expensive. Excellent. The one good thing about getting
back was that because it was about 4 in the afternoon, the solar
heaters had gone to work on that day's water to produce luxuriously
hot showers. It was a the-smell-wafts-off-you-in-clouds situation
after seven days of trekking and only one freezing cold shower in that
period! Then we headed to Lumbini restaurant, a little
hole-in-the-wall where you can get amazing Middle Eastern food (!) -
we ate so much shakshuka, falafel and hummus in that week! Topped off
with ginger tea, what more could you want? A Palestinian man called
Mohammad whom we had met in Kathmandu bumped into us again in Pokhara
and introduced us to the place. He's also going to put us up in the
United Arab Emirates when we get there, which is very kind of him!

The lake is lovely to row across, and being rowed across it is even
better, particularly as the sun goes down, shafts of light break over
the hills, and the swallows (or swifts, I'm not sure) dip and swoop
around you catching bugs from the water's surface. On days when they
aren't wreathed in cloud, you can see the mountains totally clearly,
and often the sky around them is dotted with paragliders or hawks or
both. There is even a sport called 'parahawking' where a trained hawk
guides the glider to the best currents in the air! Nearer the water,
in the sunshine, brightly coloured butterflies flit above the surface.
I don't know what's in it for them, maybe they're incredibly vain,
looking at their own reflections. I know peacocks like to look at
themselves in windows, maybe it's similar for butterflies. Sadly it
seems that many butterflies get too close to their own reflections,
too enamoured to take personal safety into account, and end up
floating on the water, buffeted by the oars of passersby. As you
paddle, tiny whirlpools are created in the water, and Sean span us
around full circle just watching them swirl.

One of the most enjoyable bits of being in Pokhara was getting mopeds.
I was on the back of Josh's, and Sean had his own. We were fully
equipped with the half-face helmets that my stepdad has always warned
against - 'If you crash and hit the side of it, you can break your
neck in a second'. Pushing that to the back of my mind, we embarked on
manoeuvering our way through the manic Nepali traffic. We drove out to
a much less manic, more peaceful lake called Bagnas Tal, where we
walked around until we couldn't walk any further where we found
ourselves at a restaurant. It faced right onto the lake. We ordered
daal bhat with fish curry ('Is the fish fresh?' asks Josh.
'Obviously!' replies the owner, sounding offended), and it was
incredible. The man who runs the place (it's called Sanu Lake on D
Water), Rajan, studied Food and Beverage at university, so his
flavours are carefully studied. He wants his food to be different from
anyone else's - if he finds anyone using cumin with their spinach
he'll change the recipe - and it is all locally sourced. Even the rice
tastes different. Definitely recommended.

After that we wanted to put the 'peds to the greatest use, so we took
off towards the Tibetan refugee settlement. These people either left
Tibet in 1959 or later, or were born there to parents who left.
Tibetans really don't have a good time of it - I don't know what it's
like in India for those who escaped that far, but in Nepal they cannot
get official residence, so they cannot get jobs. Instead they are
confined to camps and the streets of Pokhara where they try to sell
their wares to tourists. We found a Tibetan flint-and-steel set for
Sean - you strike the metal attached to the ornate case against the
stones you keep inside. Unsurprisingly, the monastery at the
settlement was not as grand as some of those we have seen as it has
very little funding, but it was nonetheless filled with a thousand
statues of the Buddha.

After Sean left to go back to Kathmandu, Josh and I rowed over to the
path up to the World Peace Pagoda, and trekked up the hill to see it
up close. It was funded by a Japanese buddhist monk who met Mahatma
Gandhi and was inspired by the ideas of peace. He was appalled at the
bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima and decided to spread the message
of peace throughout the world by building pagodas in many different
countries, starting in Japan at the two bombing sites. Over eighty
have been built, and the Pokhara one was completed in the nineties
after some controversies over planning permission and a forcibly
terminated attempt in the eighties. There are several statues of the
Buddha, and awesome views

Our experience of China was…mixed. That is not to say there weren’t positives, but there were certainly negatives as well.

While there was no fresh tap water, there was hot water everywhere. As this water had been boiled it meant that you could get free drinking water almost everywhere, including train and bus stations, hotels and shops. In England there are many places where drinking water is not available, but is an alternative usually provided? Also, hot water is much more useful than cold – although we’d thought we would never look at another pot noodle again, they’re pretty handy train food.

Due probably to the fact the people piss everywhere, there are free public toilets everywhere. You can’t go more than 200m without finding one (at least in the big towns – in the small ones there are simply walls that people seem to go behind). The condition of them is another matter, but at least they are there. However, this doesn’t stop children from pissing and shitting everywhere including train stations. Parents put their children on their knees and away they go…

Once you are outside of Beijing the landscape is generally incredible. “From another planet” as Lucie described it in Quiko. There is a lovely combination of mountains, rivers and greenery. It was a bit odd to get used to the fact that Xining sits against a backdrop of stunning mountains (this happened more and more as we entered Tibet). However, the locals don’t seem to appreciate what they have as far too much of it is being used as a landfill – the beautiful hillsides are often scarred by streams of rubbish.

While Beijing would certainly fall into one of the cons in our experience (although many of the people we met thought it was great), the underground there is amazing. Its reliable, fast and cheap. Plus, since the Olympics were held in China’s capital they re-vamped the entire thing. The stops are announced in English, and there is even a light to signify which side of the train you should get off at! ‘Where’s the fun in this?’ Asked a Dutch guy we met at our hostel. After the bonkers Metro in Moscow (this was incredible for different reasons, as we’ve mentioned), this was amazing. On the flip side, everyone else seems to have also realised this and therefore it is always busy, but nonetheless a positive.

Unfortunately, the negatives outweigh the positives and the rest of this blog, will be devoted to the negatives.

Spitting is incredibly prevalent. Everyone spits, everywhere. In the major cities its not that surprising given the amount of pollution, but this does not detract from how disgusting this habit is.

In Xining we were reassured that not only do you have to have a licence, but you have to pass a test to get it in order to drive in China. Before that, we hadn’t been so sure. Lanes don’t seem to mean anything and neither do red lights. Honking seems obligatory.  As we have written previously, pedestrians have no rights.

The generally shared mentality that, as a Londonite who has lived in China for the past eight years put it, ‘if you get there first you win’, makes a lot of everyday experiences more stressful. This covers the driving (and the tendency for people to simply overtake on roads if someone slows down in front of them, which led to complete gridlock one day when four lanes of traffic were all facing in the same direction – the police had to come and encourage the cars onto the right hand side of the road…), the queuing (which does happen as a standard practice, but it is just as standard to find that someone slips in front of you just as you reach your destination) and the dash for the trains at every station (the queue starts half an hour before the gates open, and then people literally run for their seats. The only reason we could fathom as to why this could be rational is to get there when there is still space in luggage racks). Occasionally people were exceedingly friendly – a man went totally out of his way to help us onto our bus, writing things on a clip board as he understood written English better than spoken, and on the sleeper bus to Xi’an the man in front of us kept offering his food, insisting we partake in cakes, gum and bananas, but these were the exceptions to the rule.

Staring and lack of non-verbal communication have already been discussed and certainly form a negative.

The negative consequences of smoking don’t seem to have reached Chinese lands yet – at least not for men. No women smoke, and all the men smoke. Again, they do this everywhere. Buses, trains, restaurants… Makes you become all nostalgic for those days in the past when we went into pubs when the smoking ban had begun!

Neither of us are keen to go back to China in the forseeable future, but we’re both glad we’ve been. We’ve even gained a T-shirt with pandas doing martial arts. Awesome.

Beijing…the dark side

Where to begin. I think I should start by apologising to the Polish. While at first the Polish car and road system seems rather shabby, compared to the Chinese (or at least Beijing’s) system it’s a pedestrian’s paradise. Apparently tens of thousands of people die on Chinese roads every year, and when you experience them for yourself, you’ll understand why. Trotsky’s theory of uneven and combined development is of clear pertinence when considering the Beijing car system: 15 years ago there were still very few cars in Beijing or China at all, with the majority of people getting around by bike. In the last 15 years there has been a massive boom in car production and use, which is in part directly linked to the growing middle-class. However, while Beijing now has more cars than any other city, they do not seem to have the regulations to go with them. Regardless of the colour of the light, cars speed by. All a green man means is that you might have an extra couple of seconds to get out the way before the car mows you down.

Instead of safety and regulations, they honk their horns – constantly. Not in any meaningful or useful way. They just do it almost out of boredom. No seems seems stressed when they do it, and they are certainly not alerting anyone to danger – in fact more danger is probably created by them honking. Some motorbikes seems to have the horn buttons glued down.

On top of the horns, there is also the pollution. You can see it everywhere. Or to be more precise, the pollution means you can’t see at all. The tops of buildings are hidden by the smog and at night, what appears to be a mist floating around the car headlights is actually smog. Then there’s the effect it has on you. Your eyes and lungs hurt and your skin feels horrible.

At least you can descend to the metro, which is amazing. Unfortunately everyone else seems to have also had this idea, as the two levels of busyness it has is ‘busy’ and ‘very busy’. At first we thought their rush-hour must be at a different time, then we went into the metro at what I would consider rush-hour and we realised that this was also their rush-hour… Apart from this, the metro is amazing though. Oh, other than the adverts on the tube. Not only do they have adverts in the tube, but as you are travelling along there are moving adverts outside of the tube – on the inside of tunnel walls as the tube is moving!

Queuing, or lack of it, is also something i had not realised would be like it is. I know that Britain has the label of somewhere where “everyone loves a queue”, but Beijing isn’t a place where no-one queues, instead you just get people all the time who jump in front of you. You will queue for 30mins and as you get to the front, some bastard will try and get to the ticket desk before you. Most people don’t seem to mind about this, which I find even more odd.

Attempting to communicate with people who don’t speak English is also proving more troublesome than anywhere else. Of course there is no reason why people should speak English and if anything I should speak one of the many Chinese languages, but there are other ways to communicate and there is also common-sense – both of which have been missing from most the people that we have attempting to get directions or information from. One such example. We were at the train station, which similarly to Poland is built in an amazingly stupid way, and we couldn’t find the ticket desk. We followed the signs to the ticket desk and when we got there were moved across the hall to another ticket desk. This wasn’t the place either. Our attempted signs as to where it was proved useless. All the women could say was “Bushi” (means No). So we walked down the stairs and were pointed to waiting room 7, which upon arriving there was simply a waiting room – no ticket desk or anything else other than being a room for waiting in. Eventually we found the ticket office outside of the station where we queued for 30 mins (see above). This was made even more exasperating by the people working in the ticket office all simultaneously going for a 10 minute break when there were several very long queues. Great idea! Another good example demonstrates how inclined many people are simply to say “Yes”. We were asking for directions from someone who worked in a hostel and spoke English. After a long chat we I pointed right and she replied “Yes”, Lucie then thinking it was in the other direction pointed left and she said…”Yes”. We repeated this farcical interaction a few times, before we worked it our for ourselves.

Then of course there are the scams. Locals generally don’t seem that inclined to talk to you or be helpful other than when they are trying to scam you or sell you something massively over-priced. The moment we arrived were greeted by a man asking where we were going and whether we needed a lift. We told him where and asked how much. “Y150,” came the reply. “Y150?!!” I replied, “Y25!”. “No, you joke.” Luckily, I already knew that the trip to the hostel should cost no more than Y30. We ended up getting in an official taxi which cost Y21. This twat not only wanted to scam us, but when I gave him a totally normal price he walked away. He wasn’t going to work unless he was scamming you. Funnier is how the hostels con you. Everywhere in the hostel are signs saying ‘Don’t be scammed’ which then explain how people might try and get extortionate amounts of money out of you. What they miss out, is how they will scam you. There signs ought to read ‘Don’t be scammed otherwise you will have less money for us to do it to you’. Their tours constitute the best way they wring the yuan from your pockets…

Right, I think that is the end of that rant. Beijing is not a place that I want to come back to, but there are many nice things as well as all that is rubbish about it – though right now I can’t think of what those things might be…

Booking the train
Before we left we had a massive dilemma as to how to book the train. Should we book it when we get there or through an agent? If we book it through an agent, what agency should we use? The advantage of booking at the station is that it’s cheaper – potentially a lot cheaper. The disadvantage is the language barrier and the potential that the tickets will be sold out. In the end we went through a travel agency called Svezhy Veter, who are a Russian travel agent and (as travel agents go) are quite cheap. The man at Seat61 suggests RealRussia, but they were more expensive. Retrospectively if we could have overcome the language barrier, we would definitely have booked our tickets at the station. So if you are travelling in the off-peak period we would suggest booking once you arrive in Moscow (probably with some written help from your hostel) as it will be so much cheaper.

Food
The singular most important thing to remember when planning is that there is constant free hot water. With this in mind, you should consider more than we did how hot water can be used in various different ways within a six day period (if you don’t get on and off the train but head straight through to Beijing as we did). Do not fall into the Pot Noodle Trap, as it is a harrowing and flavourless experience. When you start to enjoy the taste of unspecified-flavour instant noodles, you know you are nearing the end of your tether… Your thoughts will be as good as, or probably better than, ours on what would be good – various different tea bags (there is no drinking water that is not boiling and mugs are provided for free), couscous and accompaniments such as pesto… A lot of this stuff isn’t readily available in Russia, so you need to think ahead!

Local people often meet the train at the station (more often in the smaller towns where there are no kiosks) offering a variety of different foods including bread, Russian cabbage-filled doughnut things, sausage, dumplings (so many dumplings) and ocasionally even fresh vegetables and salads. However, the food isn’t amazing – the fabled ‘ignore vegetarianism for this fish’ Lake Baikal fish sadly made no appearance for us… Also, definitely haggle with these people as they will obvously try to charge a massively increaded rate as they know they’re the last stop for another half day.

Food on the train is really expensive for those on a budget – about 8 pounds per meal which are not big nor particularly tasty. However, when you enter China (after 4 HOURS of crossing the border and changing the wheels [the ‘bogies’] from Russian size to standard size!) you are given free breakfast and lunch tickets – most likely so that they don’t have to rush you straight to hospital due to malnutrition when you arrive in Beijing…

Entertainment
The reputation that the Trans-Siberian has as a ‘party train’ does not come to the fore in October, it seems. For the first three days there were only eight people in our whole carriage out of a possible thirty two! Half of them formed a little impenetrable clique of Scandinavians, so our vodka reached the end of the journey largely untouched. We relied mainly on chatting to a few people, playing cards, listening to a few Podcasts and ploughing our way through books. For anyone who either believes or wishes to refute the claim that the turn of the twentieth century was the ‘Golden Age’ must read Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Troused Philanthropists, anyone desiring a whistle-stop tour of the radical developments of the fifties, sixties and early seventies should try Granny Made Me an Anarchist by Stuart Christie (or Anarchists Ate My Granny, as Josh’s mum brilliantly calls it), and for those steeled to face the brutalities of the creation of Israel, check out Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine.

Scenery
We took the Trans-Mongolian route (route 4), for those considering the Trans-Manchurian or the others…

The first few days in terms of scenery, until you get close to the border of Russia/Mongolia, is nothing to write home about. There are lots of silver birches. However, from there until you arrive is breathtaking. The train skirts around Lake Baikal, which was formed by a rift in tectonic plates. The two plates are gradually separating and will apparently eventually become the world’s fifth ocean. Until then it’s the world’s deepest lake – 1637 meters – containing one-fifth of the world’s fresh unfrozen water. There we found stunning views both of natural beauty and of ramshackle villages – corrugated iron rooves, cows wandering the dirt roads or on long pieces of rope attatched to a post, and satellite dishes (obviously…)! Within Mongolia there is of course the Gobi Desert. While ‘Once you’e seen it for two minutes, you’ve seen it for two days’ is basically true, that doesn’t detract from the awe-inspiring vastness of it. Plus we saw a whole bunch of camels at one point, which was pretty good. The scenery changes dramatically once again as you enter China – from the flat, dry expanse of the Gobi Desert you are now surrounded by the immense lushness of the mountains. The views are sporadically interspered with periods of darkness as the train passes through those same mountains!

Hygiene
Given that you are on a train for 6 days the state of the train is quite good, though your own body might not be. There are no showers, but there is a drain in the floor of every toilet. The level of hygiene you wish to maintain given these restrictions is up to you. Lucie devised a system of washing and drying each limb individually so as not to get cold. If you bring a flannel or a sponge it’s much easier. Sandals or flip-flops are a really good idea, as going into the toilets with bare feet is not something to be desired (the same applies to most night trains in Russia).

Remember to bring quite a lot of drinking water. As mentioned ealier there is a constant stream of hot water, but no safe cold water.

Money
The obvious really applies here. In Russia they accept Russian money, in Mongolia, Mongolian money and in China, Chinese money. They also accept dollars anywhere, but remember to bring low denominations. The exchange rate offered by people who board the train at the borders is rubbish so avoid this if you can. In the six days that we were on the train we spent around 40 pounds between us.

 

Shit, we’re now in China…! We got on a train in Europe and now we’re in China!

Polish Transport sucks

There were many lovely things about Poland, including Wroclaw and our couch surfing host in Warsaw. However, my last memory of it is one of a ridiculous, irrational and often inaccessible transport system. So that is what this blog will be about. Feel free to save yourself for our next blog if you don’t fancy a rant about the Polish transport system.

Let’s start where we started: the always-constant battle between cars and pedestrians, which in Poland the cars are seriously winning. As a pedestrian you are not allowed to cross the road unless there is a ‘green person’ allowing you to. In other words, jaywalking is illegal. On its own this is highly annoying, but my temper was further enhanced by the fact that cars are allowed to skip traffic lights so long as there aren’t people crossing. Not even about to cross, but actually crossing. Basically, this translates as ‘cars have absolute rights’, while pedestrians have very few if any. This of course ends up placing the power even more firmly in the hands of drivers, with pedestrians increasingly marginalised and made second class. A driver can’t generally be blamed for running an individual over, because the individual shouldn’t have been crossing the road in the first place. All power to the car!

On top of this, bicycles are allowed to cycle on the pavement, which while not nearly as annoying as the cars, isn’t hugely convient. But given the state of driving in Poland (and also the state of the pothole-riddled, rickety roads themselves), you begin to understand it…

Then there is the trams. Even before you board the tram you encounter the problem that there is nowhere to buy your ticket. The best method I found to work out where the ticket place would be was to think of every rational place to put the ticket booth and then look somewhere else. That normally worked. Once you had your ticket and were waiting for the tram, you then had to run, often across a road, for the tram as the drivers seemed to make a point of not stopping at the station. Finally, if you ever made it onto the tram, you had the bizarre situation of noticing that there was enough space down the middle of the tram to let a wheel barrow with a really fat person in it pass, but there is virtually no seating on either side. There were only single seats down the side and so logically the vast majority of people had to stand.

All of this was topped by utter irrationality of the train stations. Despite all the aesthetic flaws of Soviet architecture, one thing that normally could be said for them was that the buildings were highly functional. Clearly no-one told this to the person who designed the Polish train stations. Instead, the designer scores full marks in highlighting the bureaucracy of the Soviet system. There was no main hall, central departure/arrival board or as there are in virtually every other European country, nor for that matter any signs. Instead there is just a maze of platforms. Buying tickets is no easier. For each different type of journey you have to go to a different ticket office. In other words, each different private company has its own ticket office. Plus, once  you’re finally on the train, I recommend that you bring a good and long read. Our journey from Warsaw to Vilnius is just over 450km, yet took us…wait for it…10 hours. This is an average of 45km/h (about 30mph)!

I think that is my rant over for now.