You aren’t in Moscow on business when your boss tells you he wants a person in Kiev by Monday. Fast, what do you do? In the U. S., you would log on to some travel search engine and locate the best flight. The train wouldn’t even register as an option. But here in the Former Soviet Union (F. S. U. ), the teach is usually the first (and often the only) consideration for long-distance travel. A few take a closer look at both choices.
Most major cities in The ussr and Ukraine have airports, and many major airlines serve them. In-country air travel is modern and – as expected – relatively inexpensive. Thankfully, even on purely Russian airlines such as Aeroflot, announcements are made both in Russian and English. Equally easy, all important airport signs are also composed in English. The main difference between Western air travel and Russian is the peripheral infrastructure. Don’t expect Starbucks. Rather, be thankful if there’s a café at all. Bring your own toilet papers (a rule that actually applies to any kind of mode of travel throughout the F. S. U. ), and brace yourself for barbaric bathroom situations.
Step through the gate and civilization returns. Nowadays, passengers on Russian airlines are better fed than their American counterparts who are lucky if they get a packet of pretzels tossed their way. The various Slavic airlines which serve the Farrenheit. S. U. are reminiscent of the range of Western budget airlines like South west: Professional, reliable, and no-frills. They have comparable safety records, as well. Though you’ll probably do most of your long-distance travel in the F. S. Circumstance. with the airlines, you shouldn’t rule out train travel.
Buying a train ticket is simple enough, even if you speak no European. At the ticket counter, say the name of your destination as you hand the lady a slip of paper with the travel date written on it. Just be sure you use the European system: Day then month. It’s easy, and tickets are cheap. You can cross nearly the entire expanse of Ukraine – the largest country in mainland Europe – for a whopping ten dollars.
But it won’t be in style. A ten dollar ticket buys you passage via a barracks-style wagon called ‘plaskart’. I don’t know what the word means, but can only assume it’s Russian for “suffering. ” Winter or even summer, it’s always too hot plus too crowded. Although the communal heart of traveling ‘plaskart’ style could be appealing – imagine sharing beer and dried fish with total strangers – the communal noise and odors quickly take their own toll. Traveling in the great cows wagon of the Russian train strategy is best experienced vicariously.
That was the particular ten dollar ticket. For $15 or so, you can go first class. Called ‘kupe’ (pronounced ‘koo-PEH’), this is a personal, four-person sleeping car. Your own bed, your own luggage compartment. There’s even a lady who comes to bring you herbal tea. Some trains have an even more distinctive option: Written C. B., it can pronounced ‘Ess-Veh’ and stands for ‘Super Wagon. ‘ A spot in one of such two-person rooms will cost about $35. But no matter how comfortable your personal compartment is, there’s no hiding from the noise of the train itself. My partner finds the constant clattering relaxing, yet as I try to sleep, it sounds like it’s Hammer & Anvil Day at the metal works next door. The advice: Bring ear-plugs.
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Still, vacationing by train across the great Motherland is an amazing experience. Make your path to the restaurant car, sit at a table by the window, and enjoy a surprisingly tasty dinner as you watch the countryside roll by. Nor words nor photos can exhibit the marvel of passing the particular unending fields of sunflowers in the south of Ukraine. Is there that much yellow in all the world?