11 July 2005
11 July 2005

Leaving on a Midnight Train to Moscow



After two days of seeing the sights in St. Petersburg, I (along with about 70 other Semester at Sea kids) jumped on a night train to Moscow. The train itself was 20 cars long, featuring private berths of 2 or 4 beds depending on what class you’re in. I signed up for 1st class, not wanting to test secondary status in the Russian train system. As it turned out, even in 1st class (which wasn’t much different from 2nd), getting to Moscow rested, healthy, and sane is quite an accomplishment.

Allow me to introduce my first piece of evidence, a photo of the “facilities”:

The toilet was maybe 6 inches off the ground, which would have made things difficult for girls on the trip, had they even had the courage to enter the ominous room. The motif was stainless steel, with a rotten egg scent, and toilet paper resembling a cross between tissue paper and sand paper (provided, I suppose more as an incentive not to use the facilities than a hygienic necessity).

The bunk itself wasn’t too bad – they provided a potted fake flower and reading material (in Russian, of course). The beds were sofa-like, though quite small; I had to sleep on my side so that one of my shoulders wouldn’t be hanging off. They provided blankets and pillowcases for us; the blanket I reluctantly made use of, while happily substituting my shirt (those Gap T-shirts did come in handy), for a pillowcase.

The train departed right at midnight, and rolled into Moscow at 6:30. I spent the first hour or so of the train ride playing the quintessential long-train ride card game: Hearts. After a while, we decided to try and get some sleep, but between the small bed, and noisy train, it wasn’t easy to fall asleep. The scene reminded me of a 7th grade sleepover, where my roommate would ask me if I’m still up, at which point we would talk for a bit until we ran out of things to say and try to sleep, only to repeat the process again. I did manage to fall asleep, until I awoke to the strangely soothing voice of our Russian conductor telling us we were almost in Moscow.

On the way back, the train, though not physically much nicer than the first, provided much better amenities including a boxed breakfast with such delicacies as yogurt (apparently the Russians don’t like their produce refrigerated…), rolls (with the texture of a hacky-sack), dried salami and chocolate. They also provided, caring about our hygiene, a bag filled with wet-wipes, a comb, a mini-shoe horn, and my favorite, a small toothbrush and tiny tube of toothpaste, with the brand “toothpaste” on the side.

After one night of practice on a night train, the second night I actually got a few hours of sleep. We awoke when they turned on the radio over the intercom which was playing some Russian hip-hop. In the course of 5 hours, our train had switched from a night-train to the soul-train.

The time spent in-between sideways naps on the train was fantastic. If I get a chance before we get to Poland (i.e. tomorrow), I’ll share some more stories of my time there. In the meantime, here are some photos of the Russian seat of power:

Inside the Moscow Metro. Each stop has incredible artwork displayed inside, often in the form of murals or mosaics. This is in the Ukrania stop, which features images of the country of Ukraine and work by its people.

The famous church in red square, right by the tomb of Lenin.

My favorite sign in all of Russia: apparently it’s a warning that if you walk up the hill you’ll be decapitated.

One of the many churches inside the Kremlin.

The Moscow skyline, and a statue on the right with an interesting story. It was originally a statue to honor Christopher Columbus. Peter the Great, however, didn’t like the idea of a prominent statue like that not featuring him, so he ordered Christopher’s head removed, and his own head replaced on top of a memorial clearly meant for the explorer, not the Peter.

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