Today I’m relaxing after a train trip to Tyumen 5.5 hours east of Yekaterinburg, which was my first time on a Russian train (hooray) and also my first time organizing accommodation via airbnb, so here are my impressions.
I had heard and read quite a bit about Russian trains, how to buy and read a train ticket, etc. Lonely planet dedicates 6 pages to it which are definitely worth the read and during the Russian summer school somebody had given a presentation about her trips on parts of the Trans-Siberian Railway, both of which were valuable sources of information.
For more details check the section “trains” in this article: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/russia/transport/getting-around/local-transport
Buying the train ticket
Reading time tables seems to be a whole different chapter that I skipped by checking the available departure times online. Then I went to the train station a day before to buy the ticket to avoid any rush before the departure and to be sure there are seats left. I could have bought it online, printed it out and exchanged it at the train station, but I don’t have a printer. So I went to the service center to buy the tickets with a friend who also came on the trip. There is a little extra charge in the service center, but supposedly they are more helpful according to what I have read, which seems to be true. The lady explained where the seats we selected were located, whereas on the way back we went to a normal ticket window and didn’t realize that it would have been a lot cheaper to simply book one top and one lower bunk, instead of two lower bunks (if booking in a 4 person compartment; the other option would be booking the top and lower bunk in the open area, called platzkart). The top bunks are cheaper because there is not enough space to sit upright on them. However, if you’re not planning to sleep and you are two people you can simply sit with your travel companion on his/her lower bunk that is spacious enough for several people to sit on. Even if the two other spaces in the compartment are taken you’re sure you can sit and enjoy the view, and you save some money. On the way there we had the space next to the door leading to the toilet that you should avoid if you want to sleep, because people come and go a lot, but we were travelling during the day and didn’t care.
Reading the train ticket
I kept double checking against the explanations in lonely planet because even if I read Cyrillic I wasn’t quite sure which section on the ticket refers to what, it was really helpful and we didn’t have any problem finding the right train and wagon. The assistant double checks carefully when you enter the train that everything matches the train and the passport, which is a really good idea before boarding a train that doesn’t stop for the next 5 and a half hours!
On the train
We were well equipped and I must say that it’s not exaggerated to say that a train ride in Russia is a whole different experience from train rides in other countries I’ve been to. Just make sure you get some of the following before you board the train!
-Bring noodles in a pot, tea bags or instant hot chocolate/coffee, and a spork of course, because hot water is available for free on the train. If you don’t have a cup just buy a cup of tea first and then you can keep filling it up.
-Bring loooads of food, just because it will be more fun and you can share with other passengers. I didn’t get much of the whole atmosphere you get when you travel over a longer stretch of time and people share food with you, but in any case it keeps you busy to munch on cookies, fruit, …
-As on any trip, it’s a good idea to bring wet wipes, just in case the bathroom runs out of water and/or toilet paper (guess what, it did happen in one of the bathrooms).
Another thing that I liked besides the free hot water is that you get bedlinen no matter if you travel during the day or during the night. Even if you don’t sleep it’s really comfy to have a pillow. Some people sit on the blankets when not sleeping. You also get a towel, but since the only way to wash is over the sink (no showers) I would gladly skip any trip that is longer than a day, no matter how much several people told me they loved it.
The train assistant kept trying to sell me stuff and there were some really nice souvenirs and travel gadgets, but they ran out of the eye masks I wanted. In the end I only bought a fridge magnet from Chita, which is where the train we were travelling on had departed – “only” a two and a half days trip to Yekaterinburg, or 4 days for the whole trip from Chita to Moscow!
Luckily our trip only lasted five hours and the time never had passed by as quickly as on this trip, even if the landscape was the same all the time: birches, cute wooden houses and fields the whole way. It must have been the food or the conversations, who knows. I had a conversation in Russian for an hour or so with a nice lady who shared the compartment with us (I think I have never spoken Russian for such an extended period of time) and she gave some advice what to see in Tyumen. She also gave me the phone number for the same taxi company I use in Yekaterinburg, very handy because you get a text message indicating the price beforehand. This way I could order a taxi right away when we got off the train.
I had found an apartment for a really good price on airbnb, but I didn’t know at all what to expect since we only had seen pictures of a different, already booked apartment that was advertised by the same person. Just in case we reserved a room in a hotel in the same street, you never know what you get into! It turned out that the place I found on airbnb is a hotel called Aurora that rents out rooms as well as apartments. The suspense was rising when we opened the door to the apartment, because when checking in we hadn’t asked to see the place before paying and we had no idea what was it was going to be like. The effect that came next was the same as when you’re entering a 5 star hotel room for the first time in your life. Just wow! There were two spacious bedrooms with two double beds each, a kitchen, balcony and the bathroom. From the balcony you could see the train station. We started bombarding our friends with pictures, the whole place just costs 26€ for a night/2 persons (any hotel we saw online was about double that price).
After the first good surprise came the second one. We went to the restaurant Schaste, which means happiness and that name isn’t exaggerated. The restaurant serves Georgian specialities and it has the same symbol as one of my favorite bars in Ireland! It’s a blue birdie, just like in Birdie Bar in Cork, with the difference that they do have two birds that are happily chirping. I like bar and restaurant interiors in general in Russia, but this was really exceptional. The food was great besides some hidden coriander pieces in the starter. Since I had never encountered it in 4 weeks here I wasn’t wearing my “I hate coriander”-Tshirt. I don’t know what the best part was besides the food, maybe the couches that make it hard to leave or the fact that the bill came in a Minion-Matrioshka!
Even if it was hard to get away from the comfortable couches in the restaurant there was some time left to see Tyumen by night. There are loads of wonderful wooden houses and even if it was late I really wanted to go to the riverside to get the view of the Monastery, because the lady in the train had told me that it’s illuminated at night. Not only was the view spectacular from the place next to the Civil War Monument, just next to it there is an illuminated fountain with a map of the region which looks great at night time.
The plan for the next day was to buy the train ticket back, visit the monastery and then see whatever fits into the schedule before the departure in the afternoon. We weren’t too lucky with the weather, but I found out the double function of my rain gear now: wear it in orthodox churches and you’re fine! No need to get one of the skirts and head scarf at the entrance.
By the way, never trust the impression that something is close when you see it from a high building, the train station actually was a 20 minute walk away from the apartment we stayed in.
Here are some pictures of what I really loved:
The trip back went really fast as well, but this time listening to Arabic music while speaking Spanish on a train in Russia 🙂
My next trip will be to St. Petersburg on Thursday, this time by plane, but I’m looking forward to taking the train again, probably when I’ll go to Moscow in a few weeks.