The possible end of third-class train travel in Russia provoked an outpouring of memories from the RBTH audience. Here are a few of their stories and comments.
Giovanni Farias My first time was in 2011 from Krasnodar to Sochi, about a five hour ride. I was given one of the upper level beds but I am a big dude and could not manage to climb up into the cramped space. My wife and I burst into laughter and luckily I switched to a lower level sleeper.
Calli Gray Kalinyuk We went from Moscow Russia to Kivertsi, Ukraine. Met a ton of people and also got to learn some great things. Getting off the train for some pelemini, vareniki and kvas. Just an awesome experience.
Kris Tina And don't forget homemade pirozhki from babushkas at long 30-minutes stops at large cities. And occasional passengers not making it back to the train in time followed by the whole car of passengers curiously doing inventory of their luggage in the steward's cabin.
Zachary Holland Golden I'd be very sad to see platzkart go. It's an experience that's inseparable to Russia for me. People bumping your feet is just part of the charm!
Devin Mitchell There are several classes of train travel in Russia and platzkart is basically the “hostel carriage” – it's an open plan carriage full of short, uncomfortable beds for which you have to pay extra for the privilege of receiving linens, but overall super cheap. It’s often seen as a last resort for cash-strapped travelers, but my one experience in platzkart was an unimaginable luxury.
When I lived in St. Petersburg, I once took the train down to Moscow for a day trip with a guy I barely knew to see the Foo Fighters in concert at Olympic Stadium. The plan was to take the overnight train down, arriving at 7:30am and spend all day kicking around Moscow before the concert.
After the show, we had to rush back to the station to get the next overnight train back to St. Petersburg. Moscow accommodations are expensive and hostels weren’t available back then, so at that time this was the best way for students to get one long day in Moscow without having to splash out for a hotel.
So we met at the train station in St. Petersburg and started our adventure. This guy and I were actually such broke students that we had fourth-class ‘sidyachii’ (upright sitting) tickets for the 7-hour overnight train trip down.
Shortly after we boarded, our cabin attendant approached us to offer an upgrade to platzkart for 600 rubles apiece ($22), but we had to save our money for Moscow, so we declined. What a mistake!!!
The sidyachii carriage was quite rowdy, full of rough graveyard shifters who sat up all night drinking, arguing, eating smelly food and drinking some more. For a fleeting moment I considered trying to stretch out on the floor beneath the seats, but it was too nasty and I didn't have a change of clothes.
There were a few other fellow sleepers like us, but there was no solidarity to be found with them – we were completely alone. I hadn’t brought earplugs or anything resembling a blanket. All I had in my purse were all my travel documents, deodorant and a Moscow metro map.
My emergency cash was tucked in the right cup of my bra – I wasn’t taking any chances in sidyachii. Sitting upright in an uncomfortable train seat all night and then facing a 15-hour day of walking around Moscow was extremely hard to do, even in my younger days (ha!).
The Foo Fighters show was amazing - completely worth the trip - but as midnight approached on our return to the train station, I could barely hold my head up. The thought of getting back into the same uncomfortable seats in the sidyachii carriage on the way back to St. Petersburg was too much for me to bear.
I told my traveling companion that I didn’t know about him, but I was going to dig 600 rubles out of my bra and splurge on platzkart on the way home. I would find ways to make the money back, but I needed platzkart tonight…for the sake of my sanity!
He followed me into platzkart, but we ended up in different sections of the carriage. There’s a quote attributed to Nelson Mandela: “where you stand depends on where you sit.” Well in my case on this particular evening, where I slept depended on where I SAT the night before.
And sleeping in platzkart after the previous rough night in sidyachii felt like being laid down in a cradle of angora with a memory foam base…if you can imagine that! And the other people in the cabin were so lovely – they didn’t shout or drink too much, and they even shared their homemade food with me when I finally woke up, all the while interrogating me in a friendly way about life as a foreigner in Russia.
I arrived in St. Petersburg the next morning completely refreshed and stuffed with pickles and vareniki. It is because of this experience that I will never hear a bad word about platzkart! Platzkart is a pleasant cabin of comfort and camaraderie and anyone who says otherwise has probably never spent a night in sidyachii.