The Trans Siberian. The Orient Express it isn't

Trip Start Jul 11, 2005
Trip End Apr 04, 2006

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Flag of Russian Federation  ,
Wednesday, February 22, 2006

It is almost axiomatic that the worst trains take you through magical places

- Paul Theroux

· Tyumen, Siberia, Russia
· Prague time +4hrs
· Days to get to Prague - 15

The Platskartny shock
So we eventually made it onto the train to Tyumen at the second time of asking. Or at least to the platform where the train stood. There we seemed to cause quite a bit of confusion when we tried to board the carriage that corresponded to our tickets. And the confusion was for no other reason than we being foreigners. I take it not many attempt to board this class? I was beginning to think, when standing on the platform having our ticket AND passport undergoing the prerequisite in-depth scan by the carriage attendant, that our cost-cutting move to travel in Russian 3rd class was a bad one. I had that feeling. The carriage attendant (more on him later) had obviously little experience with foreigners or their passports and the poor guy seem stumped as to weather he should let us on at all. Eventually, of course, he did and we got our first view of Russian 3rd class, called Platskartny in Russian. Oh boy. The initial shock was as severe as it was, I guess, due to the realisation that we wouldn't be enjoying the standard of digs, or the privacy, we had enjoyed up to now. And even though we knew when booking the 3rd class tickets what we may be getting ourselves into it was still a shock. Here is an excerpt I wrote from my diary later that night -

'Russian 3rd class is hot and stuffy, a far cry from 2nd class.'

Of course 2nd class, or Kupé class in Russian, is the way we had been use to travelling up to now. And we even had the added bonus of having our 2nd class compartments to ourselves (they normally hold 4). But this was an altogether different kettle. This is what says about where we found ourselves -

'Russian 3rd class - Platskartny
Open-plan dormitory cars. There are 54 bunks per coach, arranged in bays of 4 on one side of the aisle and bays of 2 along the coach wall on the other side of the aisle. Only recommended for the most budget-conscious and adventurous visitors.'

Well we certainly fitted into the former category and I'd like to think we fitted into the latter one as well. It wasn't long after finding our respective bunks, which to make matters worse were at opposite ends of the carriage, that I happened to remind myself that we were going to be spending almost two days (46 hours, give or take a few hours with time zone changes) in this carriage as we headed west to Tyumen. As mentioned before that would see us crossing three time zones and bring us a lot closer to European Russia. We could have purchased a ticket to go straight through to Moscow (4 days away) but we reckoned we'd break the journey along the way and even though we were short on time we calculated we could afford a day or two. So after sizing up our stop-over options we decided on Tyumen, the nearest stop on the Trans-Siberian to Tobolsk, our ultimate destination. But more on that later.

Sasha, our hero
Truth be told the standard of our digs wasn't all that bad; they grew on us very quickly and the 2 day trip, it seemed, passed just as quickly. That was thanks to the copy of the Da Vinci Code I had bought in Beijing, the numerous Russians we, or more accurately Henk, befriended and in no small measure to Sasha, the aforementioned carriage attendant who looked over us as he went about his daily chores. What a hero. We love you Sasha. Memories from tips like this are made by people like you. Have a look at the accompanying photos to get a better indication of what we got up to during our two days on the train. In hindsight the whole experience was quite eventful really, considering one would imagine there isn't much to do on a train. And looking back now I smile at our initial reactions when we first entered the carriage. What was all the fuss about?
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