Small Dictionary of Russian Trains: Russian for travelling
Travelling by Russian trains has always been a popular and cheap way to travel in Russia, and many do not think anything of journeys which last several days when venturing far. As a foreigner, travelling out of Moscow or Petersburg by train is a definite must-do. Not only do you get to explore outside the city where you are studying, but you will inevitably meet friendly and curious travel companions will who want to know all about you, while being eager to help if you struggle with anything. There are many options to travel around Russia beyond the famous Trans-Siberian railway and every journey on the night train provides a unique experience. Here are some of mine:
Russian trains from Moscow to Kazan
A man sitting opposite us introduced himself as Yuri, and chatted to us the whole evening. He had Tatar origins and intermingled his language with Tatar words which he somehow expected us to understand. He invited us to visit his dacha outside of Kazan, where he said we could eat shashlik and use the sauna. We politely declined, saying we already had plans. About midway through this interchange, a woman called Tanya broke off from calling various relatives to inform them that she was on the train, to interrupt and tell him to leave us alone. She wanted to know all about us: what we were doing in Russia, how long we’d been learning Russian. When I wanted to get dressed in the morning, she lovingly flung me into the corridor outside the main compartment and told me she would stop anyone going past her so I’d have privacy. When we pulled into Kazan, she showed us the main sights from the window.
Russian trains from Kazan to Ekaterinburg
A woman opposite us helped us with our bedding, which we’d managed to get ourselves in a muddle over. She introduced herself as Svetlana, a French teacher from Yoshkar-Ola who was visiting her parents. She intermittently chatted with us for the duration of the journey, telling us about her childhood, her passion for French culture and asking us about our families back home. At the end of the journey, she asked for our names so she could tell her French class about us when she went back.
These unique glimpses into what ordinary Russians are like are what makes travelling by train worth it.
Useful vocabulary for Russian trains
The best way to check times and fares for journeys is the official RZD website – the fact that it is all in Russian may seem intimidating, but the websites in English usually include a substantial mark-up to benefit from tourists.
Your tickets and passport are checked upon entering the train so have them ready, and your ticket is sometimes taken by the conductor for the duration of the journey and returned to you at the end.
Попутчик – the Russian word for ‘travel companion’, to mean people who are travelling in the same direction together and who may not have known each other before the journey.
Плацкарт – the railway car with open berths rather than separate compartments. This is how the majority of people travel as it is the cheaper option, and the more sociable.
Купе – a separate compartment in a train wagon for up to four people, allows you more privacy but is more expensive.
Спальный (вагон) – 2-berth compartments which are usually about twice the price of a купе, but allows you extra privacy, space and closer proximity to washrooms.
Тамбур – the corridor space before you enter the common space in the compartment, which people use to smoke out the window or (as the case may be) get changed.
Койка – berth
Travelling alone can be a daunting experience, but it is very safe and if you’re not keen on the prospect of 16 odd hours without human interaction, here are some useful phrases to help start a conversation with your neighbour:
Вам не помешает… (моя сумка)? As someone who constantly feels the need to apologise for my existence, asking someone if your bag (or anything else) is in their way is a good introduction to show your neighbour that you do not want to infringe on their space, and want them to have a comfortable journey.
Далеко ли едете? Are you travelling far? Most trains will have several stops in between their start and end points, and everyone will have different travel times based on this – varying from a few hours to a whole week – so it is always interesting to find out what your neighbour’s final destination is and what they are doing there.
Часто ездите к родственникам? Do you often travel to see your relatives? This obviously only makes sense if they’ve told you that is why they are going somewhere – but it is a nice follow-up question, and it is the usual motivator to get people to travel such long distances.
Чем занимаетесь? What do you do? If you are keen to get to know your neighbour better, this is a handy way of finding out whether someone works or studies and will usually be followed up by where/ for how long.
Happy travelling with Russian trains!
This post was written by Claire, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz.