Our Three Night Platzkartny Experience
Trip Start May 02, 2007
71Trip End Ongoing
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Our Trans-Siberian handbook mentions to not even consider riding platzkartny for the entire journey from Moscow to Beijing. Well, this was only about half our journey, so we figured we were fine. The first day or so wasn't bad. In fact it was a little exciting. We were with "the people". And when I say we were with the people, we were WITH the people! There is zero privacy and everyone is always walking around, back and forth to the toilets and the "samovar" (a large kettle of boiling water at the end of the carriage). Also, traders constantly stop by trying to sell their goods be it toys, clothes, souvenirs, religious icons, blankets, or magazines. Being the only foreigners on board we were the obvious objects of curiosity. The young guy in the upper bunk across from us was a little aggressive, brash and loud. He seemed to think that the louder and longer he spoke to us in Russian the more we were going begin to understand him. The young lady in the lower bunk across us was much quieter and polite than him, to say the least. During the trip we engaged in small conversations, with the help of our Russian phrase book. We were able to learn she was a 26-year old police officer with one son who is four years old (at first we thought she had four sons! But we straightened that out - she had a good laugh about that one) and was on her way to Bratsk. Her name was Anya and she had a 29 year old husband named Dmitri. The guy, on the other hand, was an 18-year old (or so he claimed, but he looked older) unemployed, skin-headed buffoon (we figured the latter part on our own part-way through the trip). He was actually very creepy, always staring from his top bunk. Not a "I'm curious, let's see what they do next" kind of stare, but a "what is the best way to cook their brains?" kind of stare. He always did annoying things, like turning on the communal radio loud and then putting on his headphones or leaving, and whenever he ate he made these loud sucking sounds after. We figured he didn't brush his teeth so he was just sucked 'em clean (sounded like he was trying to suck his cavities out). He had a friend a few bunks over that he went and smoked with so parts of the ride he wasn't around, which was great and relieving. But his friend got off the train a day before us, and then another of his friends, a young soldier fully decked out in camouflage, who had a bunk across the corridor from us, and who until this point had been polite and silent for 48 hours, all of a sudden got rambunctious and very talkative with El Creepo.
But before we get into that, a little about the train ride: our journey through central Russia and Siberia passed through marshland with tall grass and trees of yellows and greens. We also passed several tiny villages with their small wooden houses looking onto the railway tracks. The sky was a dark gray ensuring that the landscape looked as inhospitable as possible. At 1777 km from Moscow we passed the small stone obelisk that marks the division between continental Europe and Asia. Overnight, during the second night, we crossed the boundary into Siberia at the 2102 km mark. While sitting on the rocky, bumpy and slow ride (averaging just over 60 km/h over 4000+ km) in a hot, stuffy train car with 53 other people (some more smelly than others) and sleeping on little shelves hanging off the wall, I couldn't help but think what a funny way to travel these days. It is the year 2007. Fifteen years ago everyone seemed to think we'd have colonized the moon and be flying around in jet packs by now.
Anyway, back to our story... most of our time was spent reading, napping, or staring out the window at the vast open plains of central Siberia in relative peace. But on the last of our nights - when we had to wake up at 6 AM the next morning - El Creepo and GI Joe talked loudly until 3:00 AM, disturbing the entire carriage (we couldn't believe that not one person said a damn thing!). At one point, during a brief period where we were able to fall asleep, Yvonne woke up to find the two hovering near her head. She got startled and they must have enjoyed her reaction, because they laughed and then continued to tease her by mock-scaring her. She had enough and yelled at them (the only words they surely understood was f**k and f**king) and came and lied with me on the bottom bunk. El Creepo clambered up to his bunk and leaned over and stared at us for minutes at a time, talking with GI Joe about us (we understood the word "tourists" used several times). The small hunting knife he used to cut his salami and cheese also put us a little on edge about the guy. After they fell asleep I went to the top bunk and got a few winks of shuteye but Yvonne wasn't able to get anything decent in. In the morning, we packed our stuff in silence, trying our best to avoid ay kind of confrontation. We let them leave ahead of us, then departed the train.
Even without the experience of El Creepo, platzkartny would not be for everyone. It is not a bad option if you are on a really tight budget and don't mind the extra attention in the fully open layout. And it wasn't all bad. Given the amount of people in our cart is was relatively quiet and even the kids were well-behaved. Also, we never felt in danger of having anything stolen (although reading books and forums they tend to make you paranoid about that stuff). But still, three nights was a little too much for our tastes and we definitely understand why our book says don't consider it for the entire trip. We tried, we survived, we learned what it was like, and we saved a bundle of money! Our promise to ourselves for the remaining legs of our Trans-Siberian journey: no more platzkartny!