5 top tips when travelling by sleeper trains
One week before leaving Russia, I finally decided to do the famous travel St. Petersburg-Moscow by sleeper train. I know that for Russian people this is a normal travel (as a matter of fact they consider these trains обычные поезда – normal trains), but I was so excited about doing this for the first time. “Why didn’t you travel by Сапсан (Sapsan) and enjoy a relaxing 4-hour trip?” you might ask me. Naaah, it would have been too much easy and I wouldn’t have written about my adventure.
My friend and I went to Maskovsky Vokzal (Moscow Station in St. Petersburg) 4 days before the departure to buy the train tickets: it was a bit hard for us to talk with the cashier but in the end, we bought the tickets for the open-plan dormitory (Platskartny – 3rd class) for the outward voyage and for the return trip we booked 2 banks in a 4-berth compartment (Kupé – 2nd class).
I was ready to have a sleepless night but I didn’t know what else could happened. Anyway, I came back alive and well and, after this experience, I can tell you some useful tips about travelling by sleeper trains. It won’t be that bad, I promise!!
1. Buy the tickets in advance
My friend and I wanted to stay in Moscow just for the weekend and we didn’t want to spend much for the train but, as we didn’t manage to book the bunks in advance, the total amount of the tickets was not as cheap as we expected. That’s why I suggest you buy the tickets at least few weeks before the departure, even if you’re planning to travel by sleeper trains.
2. Get ready to climb
If you decided to book the upper bed, then I hope you are a very good climber. Especially in the dormitory cars, it would be really difficult to get on it because there isn’t any bed ladder and the distance between the bed and the ceiling is really short (about 70 cm). Well, maybe it wouldn’t be the best place to sleep for claustrophobic people, but for those who want to try something different it will be an interesting experience. And remember, once you climb up, you probably won’t get down until the morning.
3. Ear plugs and an eye mask could be useful…
Sleeping in a train could be an exciting experience but remember that IT IS NOT the same as sleeping in your bed at home. There are no blinds to block out the light, and as you can imagine, a moving train is rather noisy! Bear in mind that fellow travellers may not be the quietest of sleepers (e.g. snoring non-stop for five hours). However, equipped with the right tools, you can survive the night. Ear plugs and an eye mask are indispensable if you want to be ready and raring to go the next day.
4. …and a change of clothes for the night
No matter how well you speak Russian, you will be easily identified as a foreigner. At a certain point during our trip by train, a woman in our coupé asked us if we need to change clothes for the night and I am sure that she immediately noticed that we were not Russian when we said no. Here there’s the explanation: most of the times Russians change their clothes before going to sleep, put on their slippers and go to the bathroom to brush their teeth. We were far too tired even to go to the bathroom and we decided to sleep just with our jeans and t-shirts.
5. Don’t wake up 2 minutes before you arrive
There is no way you can sleep after 5.30 am, not only because the staff will wake you up 30 minutes before you arrive, but also because Russians usually get up and have breakfast very early in the morning. So be prepared to hear people eating and getting ready for the arrival even before sunrise. Also, if you need to go to the toilet, try to go as soon as possible if you want to avoid the endless queue.
Would I take a sleeper train again? Yes, almost certainly. Even if I have moaned about the lack of sleep aboard, it’s only 1 night, and a lack of sleep can just as easily happen in any hostel dorm room. Taking an overnight train feels like an adventure, and I love that. And you? Are you going to try this experience at least once in a lifetime?