BELARUS: It shouldn't happen to a foreign correspondent.

What should have been a relatively straight forward overnight trip from Moscow to the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius to meet students and academic staff at the European Humanities University - the Belarusian university in exile - turned into an embarrassing impromptu stop over at a remote rural border crossing.

Squeezing a day's assignment in Vilnius between reporting for other papers on Moscow's preparations for the Eufa champions league final between British football clubs Chelsea and Manchester United, and jetting off to the Cannes Film Festival, I reckoned the train from the local Moscow railway station was just the ticket.

A day in beautiful Vilnius with the stimulating company of young Belarusians whose dedication to academic freedom forced them to study away from home after their Minsk-based institution was shut down by Belarusian authorities in 2004, bracketed by two genteel and civilised nights each way in an old-fashioned coupe wagon seemed perfect - just the sort of assignment a veteran Moscow and Eastern European hand likes.

All had been arranged: students briefed to meet the UWN man at their campus the morning after I departed Moscow and the vice chancellor waiting for me in the afternoon. Everything went swimmingly until the 6am arrival at Gudogai, a tiny rural border post that marks the boundary between the European Union and - er, Belarus - not Russia, which does not have a border with Lithuania, unless that is, you are entering from the Russian Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad.

The penny began to drop in my foggy brain when I noted my mobile phone had switched from Russia's Beeline to the Belarusian service run by Telecom and that an odd red and green flag was fluttering over the Belpochta post office...

The young woman border guard was all smiles when I proffered my British passport, politely handing back my Russian visa (a separate green document) before asking where my transit visa was. The game was up. I had to admit my incompetence under the curious gaze of my fellow sleeping-wagon travellers.

A senior border guards' officer, Eduard Vladimirovich, escorted me off the train and into a small steel-plated, timber-lined cabinet where he patiently filled out volumes of paperwork after accepting my explanation that it was all an innocent mistake.

With no consular official available and Minsk three hours away, early hopes I would be able to buy an emergency transit visa evaporated. Relieved to find the border service distinctly more professional than their reputation would allow - a poster declaring `Corruption - the Enemy!' with a resolute hand held up palm forward refusing a proffered bunch of US dollar bills, was on prominent display - I eventually settled in for a 13-hour wait for the return direct train to Moscow, for which I already had a ticket.

It was a mostly warm spring day and despite the fact I was forbidden to go further than a couple of hundred metres from the border post, I enjoyed watching a pair of magnificent storks build their nest high atop an old lime tree, the swallows swoop and soar, and failing miserably to engage the station's pretty young cashier in anything other than monosyllabic conversation: "Excuse me, could you kindly tell me when the village shop opens?" "Nine o'clock."

The unexpected break in a busy routine finally came to an end and I was escorted to my return train clutching a copy of an administrative caution for failing to have a visa. "Next time you come through Gudogai do stop to say hello," another young border guard who had taken pity on me said. "But, please, get a visa if you do." A feature on the European Humanities University will run in University World News later - visa issuance permitting....