Sleeping on a train

It seems like using the Internet in some parts of Eastern Europe is like sending data in short, and very slow, bursts. That means going to an “Internet Cafe” and it is small, often crowded and the connections are slow.

Given the arrests in the USA of a Russian spy cell perhaps I shouldn’t be writing about short data bursts, but living life on the safe side of the street is pretty boring. We’ll cover that story more fully soon.

So we’ll pick some imaginary questions our faithful readers might ask and provide some answers about life on the train ride from Moscow to the Black Sea.

Q: Is it best to stay in a resort?

There are some nice ones here, but its better to stay in an apartment near the beach.

Q: Is is less expensive to travel by train instead of via airplane?

Not that much less expensive, however there is so much to see and experience via train travel that is simply passed over in flight.

Q: How long is the trip?

The first leg is from Moscow’s famous Kievskaya train station, train #59 which travels to Bucharest in Romania. That is a almost 2 days, with stops along the way in Kyiv (Kiev, Ukraine), and Vicsani and Suceava as well.

The next leg is on a connecting train to Bulgaria, headed to Varna and then our destination just outside Bourgas. The most major stop is Sofia, the fascinating capital of Bulgaria.

Q: Sometimes the city/region is spelled as Bourgas and other times as simply Burgas. Which is correct?

That is a hard question because both transliterations come from the Cyrillic name,  Бургас which letter-for-letter is B-u-r-g-a-s.

Translations are never letter-for-letter perfect. The Cyrillic letter у is not a pure “u” but more of a “ou” while the letter Ю carries more of the pure “Yu” sound. That the Cyrillic spelling uses the letter у (ou) might lend weight to the Bourgas spelling is a factor, but considering that highly respected language experts are divided on the question, we just go with whatever seems “cool” at the moment.

What can a traveler do to pass the time on a train?

Good question! The train can be very relaxing. Talk, sleep, play chess, take photographs, play checkers, read, and sleep some more are immediate top of mind suggestions. The scenery is incredible and ever-changing. The places and things you see, and the people you meet, represent a life never experienced on an airplane.

Bring some good books. VOGUE is only interesting for a short time.

Q: There are photos of some train food, but not the sleeping accommodations. Why not?

Well, there are several different kinds of trains from which to choose. Express trains are not necessarily for sleeping but do have wide and comfortable seating which reclines to a degree. Electric trains usually travel just within a region. Then the “normal” passenger train, and there is so much variety that “normal” is hard to define, usually has first class, second class and coach arrangements.

Choose coach if you need constant interaction with strangers.

It's an excellent way to meet new friends, but not so great for stress-free relaxation.

However in “coach” there is absolutely no privacy. A first class berth is a better option for family travel.

While we've experienced nicer "first class" berths than the one pictured, we've also seen many that are not as "fancy" so it's best to accept and enjoy the level of comfort available. It still beats being cramped in an airline seat with no room to stretch out or walk around.

What are train toilets like?

Just like the wagon accommodations, standards of comfort and modernization vary widely from region to region and country to country.

Taken from inside a Russian train, this one is clean at the beginning of a trip. After a few days rolling along the countryside, well...

Toilets generally empty directly onto the tracks below so for sanitary reasons the trains lock the toilets when approaching a city. You need to time your needs carefully because if the doors are locked and it’s still a half hour before the next stop–you are in trouble.

Q: Considering that Moscow is the biggest city in Europe and seeing the type of cramped accommodations from trains to smaller apartments and smaller cars, can one ever get to experience any sense of privacy at all?

The concept of privacy from West to the Eastern world is very different. Most Westerners don’t realize that although Russia is the largest country in the world (1/6 of the earth’s surface) covering almost 49% of the European continent and over 51% of Asia, Eastern Europe really is oriented to the EAST in culture and world-view.

The ideas that constitute “privacy” are often foreign to each of our cultures. Family and community are of highest importance here, and that is completely opposite of the god of Western individualism. The term Soviet which means “committee” or group in Russia was a part of this culture long before communism came along and molded the term for political use.

Family members, extended family, often travel together. This is perfectly typical in this culture, not because mother-in-laws tag along everywhere as a 3rd wheel, but because a small family unit is it’s own version of “privacy” when compared to the millions of people living in Moscow.

Sometimes a different way of thinking just takes some getting used too.