Train travel between cities is definitely one of the best experiences you can have while visiting Russia. I dont mean that the accommodations are the most comfortable, or the trains are fast and efficient, but using ground transportation to cover the vast distances between cities makes obvious the reality of being somewhere so different from home. Romantic and un-Western, train travel will give you glimpses of rural countryside as you sip tea made from the samovar. You can watch untouched terrain slip by and not see any signs of humanity for hours. The rhythm from the tracks is comforting as you play cards with your traveling companions or read a book. Train travel is great because you are immersed in Russian culture . . . without having to extend any extra effort.
As in every case, make sure you have your passport, money, and tickets with you before boarding the train. There is a lot of checking and re-checking to make sure your identification matches your tickets before getting on the train. Put your tickets somewhere you can reach them easily after you boarddo not misplace them; someone will come around to check your tickets once again to make sure you are a paying passenger and in the correct seat and car.
This is who you will go to if you have questions or problems. She is who you address when you need to get sheets for your bunk and who you will pay when you rent the sheets. She will probably be stern and business-like. She is not a flight-attendant; she is someone who does what she has to do and will otherwise leave you alone. That is, unless you break the rulesand then she will be the first to scold you for your mistake!
Travelers are not permitted to bring alcohol on the train. The restaurant car usually sells a low quality product, but the prices are inflated. Despite this, it is not uncommon to see other (native) travelers with bottles of alcohol. However, as a foreigner, you should not tempt the provodnitsa. You do not want her to find any reason to leave you at a small station in the middle of nowhere.
During long train trips, it is advisable to bring snacks for yourself and to share. Fruit, crackers, tea, juices, as well as bread and cheese are easy to transport and good for sharing. Any food left by the train staff on the table in the compartments is there to tempt youit works like a hotel mini bar, so you pay inflated prices for whatever you eat.
There is usually a samovar in each car that will provide hot water for drinks and soups. Tea and foods on trains is a long-standing Russian tradition. Be careful, thoughthe water in the samovar is hot! If you arent used to the movement of the train it is easy to slosh hot water everywhere and burn yourself.
There may or may not be toilet paper in the lavatories on the train. Be prepared and bring your own. If the train ride is a long one, you will also want to have necessary toiletries stored in an easy-to-get-to bag so that you wont have to fumble for them when the toilet is not in use.
Toilets are locked before the train stops as well as when it is unmoving. This is because the toilets empty out onto the tracks.
Its true that one of the greatest things about traveling through Eastern Europe is the opportunities to make new friends. You can get to know quite a bit about someone on a 14-hour train ride from St. Petersburg to Moscow. Its quite possible that youll find yourself in the middle of a card game or laughing at some bawdy Russian jokes. However, it is best to watch your back as well as your belongings. The regular native traveler might be simply interested in where you come from and where you are going. Just remember, as in all situations in which locals have the upper hand, to be cautious.
There are two locks on your compartment door. One will lock the door, and the other one will allow the door to be opened only a little for ventilation. The only one who will be able to open your door is the provodnitsa.
When getting up to use the toilet or visit the restaurant car, dont leave belongings in plain site. You may want to have one person in your group stay behind with all the belongings as a precaution. Also be wary of inviting strangers into your compartment.
One of the quirky things about the train is the sound system. You may, or may not, be able to turn the radio off in your compartment, depending upon the train. There will be a volume dial in your compartment that you can adjust.
Overall, you should fine the train experience fun, interesting, and relaxing. Use the time to catch up on your personal travel journal or to reflect upon the people you have encountered and the things you have seen. You will be well-rested and ready to resume your adventures once you reach the next city.