Roughing it, and not: Moscow to St. Petersburg, tuda i obratno.
posted by Amanda Getty
posted on 10.01.2012
My wonderful whirlwind – and decidedly last‐minute – weekend trip to Russia’s “northern capital” was, as so many things here are, born of the fortuitous confluence of coincidence and circumstance. This is not my first stint in Moscow, nor my longest to date, and it surely won’t be my last; one technique I learned long ago to ensure my happiness here is to welcome spontaneity, to keep my eyes and mind open all the time, and to suspend my expectations that things will be as I imagine them to be. They never are.Return to List
Some longtime friends of mine, Moscow journalists with whom I worked several years ago, were headed to St. Petersburg for a long work weekend and suggested I come up to meet them. After hemming and hawing for days about the price of the train fare (two months in this city certainly strains this graduate student’s budget!), I decided finally that, having not yet experienced the relatively new bullet train service between the cities, and having never seen Piter’s famous White Nights for myself, I should take advantage of the cheap lodging arrangements and shell out for the tickets. My delaying had left me with few travel options for this weekend at the height of tourist season; there were no seats left on the high-speed Sapsan train on Thursday night, and the only seats available for the return trip were considerably more expensive than I’d imagined. To justify spending the money on the Sunday ticket I booked a 3rd class platskart ticket on the overnight train on Thursday night (I’d traveled domestically in Russia before in a 2nd class sleeper car, but platskart would be another first for me!) The woman at the ticket window laughed at me, and then explained to me with a quiet smile that she rarely sells a platskart fare (roughly $32) and a Sapsan fare (roughly $180) in the same transaction.
On Thursday night—rather, at 2am on Friday morning—I departed Moscow. The train was loud and slow and smelly and the stuffy dormitory‐style platskart carriage (chipping paint, threadbare carpets) was cramped and uncomfortable. My poputchiki (fellow travelers) were unfazed by the total lack of personal space and privacy, and I tried to mimic their tough‐but‐tired body language and dispassionate facial expressions. I was sweaty and my head ached. Though a broken window somewhere did let in fresh air throughout the night, I got little sleep on the 9‐hour journey, as I was shaken awake every few minutes by the train’s lurching or by the sharp sounds and smells of economy class. I met my friends at the hotel exhausted and with sore shoulders; I forewent the luxury of a taxi ride in favor of the (much more economical) St. Petersburg metro and a 20‐minute walk.
After (a delightful) 48 hours up north, following a Sunday spent marching about the rainy city on my own (my friends had taken an earlier train back down south that morning,) I returned to the train station with sore feet in wet shoes to meet the much‐anticipated Sapsan that would take me home. I realized within seconds of boarding that this was a different animal entirely. The (climate controlled!) carriage was spacious, clean and tastefully appointed. Smartly dressed attendants cheerfully directed me to my seat, which was plush, ergonomically designed and positioned next to an enormous picture window. I was offered reading materials. The reason for this train ticket’s astronomical price quickly became clear: I had (accidentally) booked business class!
The four‐hour journey was smooth and quiet. Dinner and drinks were served on china with silver and glassware. The countryside, somehow simultaneously quaint and majestic, sped by in a blur of deep green, peppered by clusters of cozy if ramshackle dachas so unlike the gaudy suburban mansions outside of the capital. The ceaseless and inane babble emanating from the inordinately loud American sitting a few rows ahead of me notwithstanding, I couldn’t have planned a more comfortable trip.
Upon arriving in Moscow, I took the metro home.