After a quick night's sleep in Moscow, it was time to head to Kazansky Rail Station to continue my journey to the Olympics. The original plan was to take the new double-decker train to Sochi, but after arriving at the station I was informed the train was full. So, I waited for the standard train which wasn't scheduled to depart for about three hours. What to do in the meantime? I wanted to take photos of the station, but a guard immediately approached when he saw the camera and informed me no photography is allowed. I was able to speak to the Chief of the station, a very nice guy who spoke decent English. Because the station is undergoing a lot of construction, the Chief preferred that no photos be taken. However, he offered to give me rare access to the rooftop of Kazansky Rail Station and from there I saw some amazing views shortly before sunrise!
1. View of Leningradsky Rail Station, which sits right across the street. I arrived here the night before on the Sapsan train from St. Petersburg. There's a lot of foot traffic in this area, even in the early morning hours.
2. Snow-covered roof of Kazansky Rail Station, but weather in Moscow very warm for February!
4. Yaroslavsky Rail Station. Convenient to have three separate stations all clustered together in Moscow, though it leads to a lot of congestion at prime travel hours.
5. It was cool to view the rail station cluster from above! But now time to board the train for the long 26 hour journey to Sochi. Same procedure as the Sapsan. Rail attendant takes ticket, checks passport information, and guides you to your cabin.
6. I can't lie. The thought of being on a train for 26 hours initially scared me. I had never been on a long train ride before, and was nervous about the room, amenities and tight space. You immediately enter a narrow hallway when boarding the train, filled with doors to various compartments. The information on the train ticket was confusing and printed only in Russian. I had no idea where to go, but the attendant led me to the right room.
7. When I saw the living space, I was pleasantly surprised! Not so bad after all, though this is a first class compartment.
8. Plenty of space in here for two passengers, without feeling suffocated or cramped. Blue benches fold out into beds, and each passenger can go about their business. One can sleep, while the other can work or watch television. This room was equipped with a TV above the doorway entrance, but I never turned it on to view the programming. I assume it was only Russian language entertainment, though I can't be certain. Even the nice hotel I stayed at in Sochi had no English language channels (not even CNN International or other news programming), which is unusual. Luggage is stored under the benches.
9. In the first class compartment, all amenities are available at your fingertips. Warm blanket, towels, slippers, toothbrush, toothpaste, slippers..., and even thread and needle in case you have a wild night and rip your clothes! ;)
10. There are two restrooms at the end of each hall, and I never once had to wait in line for use. The bathroom is a decent size so it's easy to change clothes, wash face and clean up when you arrive at your destination the following morning. The only downside is that the restroom becomes quite stinky by the time morning rolls around. I guess that's why it's equipped with air freshener spray. Perhaps more passengers should use it. Overall, the restroom remained clean the entire ride.
11. I'm used to traveling alone and always exercise extreme caution as a female traveler. I felt completely safe on the train. It's possible to lock the door, and an access key is needed to enter from the outside. This is particularly important because I was traveling with two laptops and an expensive camera.
12. Of course, not all passengers travel in first class. Two other options exist: second and third class tickets. Second class gets you a seat in a room like this, with four bunks. It's possible you will room with strangers. I guess in this scenario you can make some new friends, or enemies, depending on the strangers with whom you bunk. I met a very nice guy who had the entire room to himself, so we sat and chatted for a bit, and I took a quick photo. In general, first class compartments are double the price of second class. I think most Russian passengers are traveling in these four bunk compartments on train journeys.
13. Cheapest ticket on the train is third class, which I equate to dormitory living. A big, open and crowded area full of a lot of passengers. Four bunks on each side of the aisle. On a 26 hour journey, you get to know your neighbors well.
14. Amenities appear limited in third class. I saw a lot of blankets, which I believe are provided free of charge.
15. I can't speak to the quality of the bunks in third class, but they didn't seem horrible. I should have climbed on one and tested it out. My bed in first class was comfortable and I slept peacefully through the night part of the journey. A rarity for me as I have constant insomnia and am generally a horrible sleeper.
16. A very diverse crowd in the third class cabin. A lot of students, older solo travelers and even some families with children. I found only one group of passengers who spoke English. Very friendly youngsters happy to practice their language skills. I'm constantly amazed by the dedication of some women to beauty. This woman in full make-up at 8 a.m. after an overnight train ride! I suppose in youth, females are more concerned with such matters.
17. When moving between cars, be prepared to be enveloped in cigarette smoke! I'm sure the smokers are grateful there's a place for them to indulge in their habit during the long ride. For me, it was necessary to close my eyes and cover my nose when passing through these areas as I'm extremely sensitive to cigarette smoke and smell.
18. Now let's move on to one of our favorite topics - food! In the hallway by my cabin there were drinks, candies and other food. I wasn't sure if they were free or paid? I tried to ask one of the attendants, but none of them spoke English so communication was difficult.
19. Dinner served in our room. Appetizer was cucumbers, red peppers and tomatoes. Free juice was provided.
20. Main dish was some type of beef in rich gravy over mashed potatoes. Edible, but not great.
21. The saving grace for me on this long train ride was the dining car, open to all passengers. Great place to escape and take a break from your travel companion. Here the food was very good, but of course it's necessary to pay extra for it. The menu was in both Russian and English.
22. I ate this tasty, creamy cheese soup with crunchy croutons.
23. Soup a popular choice in the dining car. It's a skill on the standard train to eat without spilling something as the train frequently jerks without notice. Definitely not as smooth as the Sapsan ride.
24. Later I returned for a snack - coffee and cookies. After a few minutes, half of the coffee had spilled over on the holding plate but these shortbread cookies were delicious. Even cookie packaging branded with references to the Sochi Games.
25. Nice booths, but not many of them and at one point I shared my table with a stranger.
26. Young lady passing away the hours, listening to music and drinking beer. Again on this train I saw Wifi signs, but there was no way to connect. Even using my SIM card, Internet access was sparse, going in and out the whole time.
27. Later in the evening, these bar stools were completely full. Drinking - a favorite past time of train travelers.
28. Snacks and water available for purchase. I didn't check the prices, but the cost for my meal was as follows: cheese soup 180RUB, cookies 50RUB, tea 100RUB, water 60RUB. I didn't write the coffee price down, but I think it was around 80RUB.
29. My waitress. Not very friendly, but efficient as I didn't have to wait a long time for service or food.
30. View from dining car window. On occasion, another Russian Railways train passed but overall the route from Moscow to Sochi isn't scenic until you get close to the destination point.
31. The train stops numerous times on the long route. This station - Rjazan - 2
32. Typical, depressive Russian town. Old, colorless and grey.
33. Sometimes signs of life on the tracks.
34. When you awake after the overnight part of the journey, you're almost in Sochi. The scenery changes as you quickly approach Southern Russia. The shiny Black Sea suddenly appears through the train windows and passengers crowd around to take a look.
35. Passengers in awe over the blue skies and sun. Nice but nothing new or exciting for me. The ocean is a very short drive from my hometown and in Virginia we have a mild winter climate. Personally, it was very strange for me that the winter Games were held in a climate where it's possible to get a sunburn during the day.
36. Most passengers exit at the Sochi station. At first, I couldn't understand why when Adler is much closer to the Olympic Games. Upon arrival in Adler, I completely understood why. It's impossible to bring any liquids through the Adler Station. Because most women travel with hair products, creams, soaps, etc. Sochi is a better option because the security measures aren't as stringent. Excellent rail infrastructure now exists in Sochi as a result of the Games. Modern stations and trains, everything duplicated in English, etc. I'll show you this in tomorrow's post.
37. Winter Games with palm tress? In Sochi, yes!
38. After most passengers departed at the Sochi Station, the train crew immediately began cleaning the cabins. Amazing how fast the beds were made, towels thrown into laundry bags, etc. My train was very full, and the route appeared to be a popular transit option for Olympic guests. What will happen now that the Games are over?
39. 26 hours later and I finally made it to the Adler Station, on my way to the Olympics! I'll tell you more about the Games and Sochi in my next post.
40. Here I immediately encountered a reminder of home! A cute Uki wearing a "Califuckinfornia" shirt. :))
So now I can say I've been on an overnight train - in Russia! Truth is I enjoyed the long journey. Completely comfortable for me, and much better than expected. Maybe next time I'll go on a longer route to Siberia and see if my impressions of Russian Railways changes for the worse. So far, all experiences with the rails have been good. How about you? What's the longest train ride you've ever taken, and did you meet any interesting people on the ride? Share your train tales if you wish!
Tomorrow I'll tell you all about my Olympic experience!
Sapsan Train from St. Petersburg to Moscow