Published: September 17th 2009September 17th 2009
Lucky and the mushrooms
So what's the yellow one?
- A Chanterelle mushroom - or Lucky the Duckling!
Burley - Hull - Zeebrugge - Belgium
We were on the slow way to Poland taking the overnight ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge. It was good to chill out on the boat. Next day we got the bus link to Bruges and had breakfast at the station. Our train was signed on the platform, so we hurried on the train, and then I noticed the train went seemingly two minutes early. My suspicions gave way to dismay when a ship appeared on the horizon and we were back on the coast at Ostend! Oops - wrong train!
We set off again, on the Inter City to Eupen - fortunately, these run very regularly. We went all the way to Eupen because there was a gap in the connection to Aachen. Eupen is an interesting final destination for a twelve coach intercity train. An unremarkable small town save for its German language, which is very much a minority in Belgium. We got off, there was not much of a platform, and headed off for the bus stop where the number 14 bus goes every half hour in Aachen (I am sad/cunning enough to notice this bus on previous jaunt
For Paul, some nice tubs!
Germany to Poland
The money we saved going on this tortuous route was spent in the spa baths in Aachen where a myriad of pools and sauna rooms are available. So after a few hours there we emerged pretty chilled out for our night train from Köln (Cologne) to Warsaw.
The sleeper train experience was a bit different this time. In the morning we went down to the shower room, and each time found the water too hot. We mentioned this to the attendant who thought we couldn’t handle the tap right. Then a little later there were shouts of fire, the train came to a halt and smoke filled the corridor! The attendant had put out the blaze with an extinguisher but I am glad this happened at 8am rather than 3am.
So we pulled into Warsaw only a little late, and met our friend Radek for a coffee, before the last leg of the journey north east to Białystok. In Białystok we stayed for the week at Kasia's sisters. We went out for a trip to the Knyszyn Forest the next day, and managed to find plenty of mushrooms on
Despite the promise of coffee and croissants, Marks & Sparks crisps were too tempting for Kasia!
the way. We had some business in town to sort out too, and a chance to discover how much the city is being redesigned for the car. More and more dual carriageways are being built within residential areas, more pedestrian barriers erected, more cars on the pavements, just like in Britain in the 1970s (perhaps not so much cars on the pavements).
The great Białowieża Forest
So we were pretty keen to get out of the city - this time down to Europe's greatest primeval forest - Białowieża. This huge forest straddles the eastern border with Belarus. A bus ride to Hajnówka via the sleepy backwaters of Podlasie was the start. It was a nice trip, very scenic, with pretty villages, with pristine multi-coloured bus shelters to spot on the way!
We decided to start our trip in Hajnówka, an industrial town that seems to have hit hard times, but is also getting European cash to smarten up the roundabouts. We started along one of the marked trails, in the forest passing by a mass grave marked by tall crosses as a monument - hundreds of the local population had been murdered there by the
Memorial to the Nazi massacre
In the forest close to Hajnowka
Nazis in World War Two.
Going further into the forest we passed a short time along the road to Białowieża village, used as a race track by most motorists. We were glad to get off it and follow the little narrow gauge railway line that runs through the trees. At a clearing we sat down for lunch and a little train passed, running empty. We set off and as we entered a reserve, another one full of passenger past us, on a pleasure trip on the line (the train runs 3 days a week so long as more than 40 passengers book).
The forest changes from the deciduous trees of the reserves to the more coniferous and commercial sections - where the mushrooms were better, or at least, more recognizable to Kasia. We kept off the funny green ones. We stayed overnight in a hamlet called Czerlonka. There was an offer to see the animals of the forest by getting up at 4am, but we were too lazy/tired. Instead we got up at a more sedate 7.30, and finding out that breakfast would be late, opted to walk around the woodland surrounding us. We didn’t go very far
the line to Topilo
off the track before we came across wild boars snuffling about for food!
The day was warm as we went along the tracks, eastwards towards Białowieża, passing almost no one save the odd forester, the odd car and a coach parked in the middle of the forest on a track - presumably taking a load of folk to the mushrooms! We lunched at the zoo, seeing the wolves, lynx and elk there before pressing on. The last section was through wilder, more old growth forest much along duck boards. Emerging out on the edge of Białowieża village the full heat of the day hit me - I was not used to high summerlike temperatures (in England it had mostly been wet and cool this summer) - particularly with a rucksack that was a bit heavy, with water and a big jar of honey bought in Czerlonka.
We saw a skansen (open air museum) dedicated to the original settlers of the area of Ruthenian origin. Then we took a route into town that passed by the buildings of the old palace (now restored as the National Park's HQ) and the lake. There was an exhibition on Climate Change there,
Very good to eat!
being run by the Ministry of Environment. The advice on cutting emissions seemed a bit lacking, but there were some smashing photos there. I said hello and told them about the 10:10 campaign in the UK, which get people to sign up to cut their own emissions by 10% next year - the 10:10 website
shows how easy that is.
We made our way into the village and found some drinks, but no public loo - which is a bit poor considering that Białowieża is an international tourist destination, and potentially uncomfortable with the prospect of two hours on a bus. So we commissioned the local council office's facilities.
The bus trundled back through the forest to Hajnówka, then via Bielsk Podlaski this time. The bus spent some time there, giving the bus driver's wife ample opportunity to harangue him about something before we left town - again lots of European Union money seems to have been spenton tarting things up. The bus despite outward appearances (one of the the ubiquitous Autosan models, bus spotters) made good progress on the road up to Białystok. We staggered back to Kasia's sisters and Kasia prepared the fantastic Parasol
mushrooms into a very tasty schnitzel type experience by coating them in breadcrumbs and frying.
Next day we were packing, and as we left Lucky got left behind - we could not find the duckling! So we felt a bit subdued as we left on our long trip home. We met a friend we had not seen for over fifteen years in Warsaw, it was really great to catch up - (funny who you can find on this Facebook website!). We left on the night train to Koln again, this time with no pyrotechnic mishaps, though I was getting a cold and felt grim as we had a 5.30am start.
After changing train, we got connections in Aachen and Waelkenradt (French speaking part of Belgium this time) to Brussels. With an hour of two before our Eurostar to London, we mooched round the streets before finding the old town and a really nice café. Despite two coffees, I was still over tired. Fortunately, the journey onwards was easy - a stroll across the road from St. Pancras to Kings Cross, and a short wait for the Leeds train. In Leeds, instead of catching the 16 bus to manky
Harehills we could get the train to our new home! With a bit of time to wait, we called in at a good pub where Kasia's cousin happens to live. So we got a pint of Timothy Taylor's, which did wonders for my head before the last short stretch up the branch to Burley!
Postscript… Thursday Lucky arrived in the post from Białystok! Three days, nearly as quick as us!
There are more photos below