How to survive a long-haul Russian train journey

Passengers sitting inside the train that started daily service on the route Moscow - Simferopol through the Kerch ferry passage; the ride takes almost 2 days (42 hours).

Passengers sitting inside the train that started daily service on the route Moscow - Simferopol through the Kerch ferry passage; the ride takes almost 2 days (42 hours).

Kirill Kallinikov/RIA Novosti
If you want to learn about real Russia, a journey by train is perfect for you. This trip will take a lot of time, but you will have the chance to understand why Russians are who they are. But before you get on the Moscow-Vladivostok train, take careful note of the following…

1. In Russia we’re not used to measuring the length of the trip in hours – here the scales are different, and people measure trips in days. Of course, there are high-speed trains, for example, the Sapsan (the trip from Moscow to St. Petersburg takes just four hours by bullet train). But the Sapsan is a business-class train, and the majority of Russians, saving money, prefer to travel on ordinary trains. If you travel not for business, but to see Russia, download some movies and books onto your tablet, sit back, and enjoy the ride.

2. Be prepared – it is unlikely that there’ll be a Wi-Fi connection on the train, and sockets can be found only in the corridor. Yes, Russian Railways has promised to equip all trains with Wi-Fi hotspots but nobody knows when it will happen. So it’s better to send any important e-mails in advance. And these aren’t the only difficulties that might occur: as soon as you get out of reach of a city, you are likely to lose your cellphone connection.


3. Most compartments in Russian trains are for four people, so it’s better to travel in a foursome if you can. In this case you won’t need to worry who your fellow travelers will be. For example, I once encountered a drunk woman on the Sochi-Moscow train who claimed that she was my sister.

4. In addition to second-class sleeping carriages (kupe) there are also third-class sleeping carriages (platskart) in Russia. They differ by the absence of walls and doors. A ticket in economy class is much cheaper, but it is recommended only to fans of extreme sports: You will meet crying babies, football fans, soldiers and noisy groups of students – so forget about a quiet night on the train.

5. On the other hand, your fellow traveler is your chance to understand what Russia is like. He wants to have a heart-to-heart talk with you. Don't be surprised and don't resist: Revelations on the train are a phenomenon of Russian culture. Probably your fellow traveler's wife has left him, he has got fired from his job, his cat has died, nobody likes him, he’s depressed or has taken to the booze. A European or American in his place might go to a shrink. A Russian gets on the train, takes a shot and opens his heart to an innocent fellow passenger. The fact that he will never see him again only enhances the degree of sincerity.

Alexander Shcherbak/TASSAlexander Shcherbak/TASS

6. In addition to heart-to-heart talks, in Russian compartments there’s no way of avoiding treats. The price-to-quality ratio in the dining cars often leaves much to be desired, so Russians prefer to stock up with food in advance. The standard passenger lunch is boiled chicken and eggs. Everyone starts eating as soon as the train leaves. It's nothing to do with hunger – it's just tradition. If someone invites you to dig in, don’t refuse, otherwise you may offend your fellow passenger.

7. If in Europe the train is solely a means of transportation, in Russia, because of the duration of travel, in some way it’s like home. So don't be surprised if even before departure your fellow traveler, with a detached air, fishes some sweat pants and flip flops out of a bag and begins to change. In Russia, we like to travel in comfort.

Sergeyi Karpov / TASSSergeyi Karpov / TASS

8. Earlier, when smoking was allowed in the vestibule (the passage between cars), people not only smoked there, but would indulge in debates on the fate of Russia and play the guitar. Recently smoking has been forbidden in public spaces, but if your fellow-passenger leaves the compartment and does not return, most likely you will find them in the vestibule.

9. It’s also worth mentioning tea cups and cup holders. In terms of recognition in Russian culture, these accessories are somewhere between Red Square and (Malevich’s) Black Square. Yes, when the train is in motion, they clink. But imagine that these are tiny bells, and you'll understand why in Russia so many people say that they love trains. After all, it's nothing if not romantic – the chime of cup holders, a drunken and heartbroken neighbor, five-minute stops for a cigarette break, and wide open spaces outside the window.

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