Saint Petersburg, Russia — Tuesday, November 21st

Russian trains

I spend a lot of time on the trains here in Russia, going from city to city — especially traveling between our two main centers in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. I'll take the overnight train to Moscow this evening, and on Thursday afternoon I'll take another train to Yaroslavl.

Long-distance trains in Russia have nine compartments per coach, and are divided into three different classes:

Myagkiy or Lyux (1st class)
Two-berth luxury compartments (eighteen persons per coach). Twice the price of the kupe, but twice the space per passenger.

Kupeyniy (2nd class)
Four-berth compartments (thirty-six persons per coach). Decent sleeping compartments with reasonably comfortable beds.

Platskartniy (3rd class)
Six spartan berths in an open compartment (fifty-four persons per coach). Plain and simple, often crowded, but cheap.

I have traveled in all three classes, but I must say that given a choice, I prefer to travel in the open platskartniy coach. The first class (lyux) is great, but it is too expensive, and since I generally sleep most of the way, I don't have time to appreciate the added luxury.

The second class (kupe) is quite comfortable (and I usually travel in this class) but I still prefer the no-frills platskartniy or open compartment because even though the kupe has lockable doors (and therefore a modicum of privacy), since I often only travel with one interpreter, I still have to share the tight confines of the compartment with two other strangers — and with my luck they always seem to be either inebriated or in need of a shower, or else they are women!

Of course, there is no privacy at all in the open compartment, but because there are no doors I don't feel so confined. Even though there are six beds per compartment — arranged like bunk beds, one on top of the other, with two on one side of the aisle and the other, lengthwise, on the other side of the aisle, above and below the window — if my interpreter and I get this seat by the window, we are separated from the others by the aisle, and thus feel like we have a little more space.

Also, it does not get nearly as hot and stuffy (none of the windows open) as the other compartments and any unpleasant odors are dissipated throughout the coach instead of limited to the close confines of a single compartment.

Russians are very friendly, and nobody ever seems to worry about security on the trains: people leave their luggage in a compartment full of strangers to go to the bathroom, and women traveling alone think nothing of sharing a compartment with three strange males...

There are two bathrooms in each coach, one at each end of each car. While the attendants — either a provodnik (male) or provodnitsa (female) — do try to keep them clean, since there are up to fifty-four people sharing these two bathrooms in the platskartniy coach, this can sometimes be a problem.

Still, if you are budget-conscious or just feeling a little adventurous, platskartniy class is a great way to travel.

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Layout by iMonk — November 21st, 2006.