The most practical way to travel throughout much of Ukraine and Russia is by train. I live in Sevastopol, and the train — while slow — is reliable, cheap and for the most part very comfortable. The only barbaric part of train travel is the bathrooms which would flunk even the most lenient bathroom inspection in the west.
When I say the trains are slow, I suspect they’re top speeds are probably 40 MPH or so. Add to that frequent stops, some of them for 30 minutes in the biggest cities, and it ends up taking a full 24 hours to cross Ukraine. But for $25 or so one way, you can get your own bed in a four-person sleeper car. So bring a book or your laptop, and make use of the downtime. If you’re really trying to save, you can do the dorm-style “plasskart”. Plasskart is an entire car unto itself, with room for a hundred or more. There are only benches and seats, often not even padded. It’susually hot, stuffy and loud. In a word, spend the extra $15 and get the sleep car.
The trains also have restaurant cars which serve good Ukrainian food for a fair price. If you can speak some Russian, or are learning Russian, it’s the place to hang out and mingle, too. Even if you know only English, people will be still try to talk to you. They rarely see foreigners on their trains and will be interested to hear your story. Buy a round of beers and you’ll make friends for life.
The trains are all non-smoking, by the way, which is a relief. Smokers have to go to certain open-winder areas between the cars. Or they just wait for the next stop to shuffle off the train and get their fix. Either way, you’ll never see someone smoking on the train itself; there’s a serious fine.
Besides the unpleasant bathrooms, the only other hard part of train travel for some people is the rattling of the train itself as you’re trying to sleep. My girlfriend loves it and sleeps like a baby, but the train often shakes me awake. The trick is to go to bed earlier than normal to account for the herky-jerky sleep pattern. The beds themselves are very narrow, but sufficient. I prefer the lower bunk, but that’s just a preference. A bonus is that if you lift up the bed itself, there’s a compartment for a carry-on-sized suitcase. It’s the best spot to stash your valuables at night.
There you have it. Train travel in Russia and Ukraine. Watch this video to see it for yourself…
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