LOVE & DEATH: Travel-Friendly Touches Make Rail Trip Relaxing




Regardless of how you feel about the eternal rivalry between Moscow and St. Petersburg, there is much to be said for traveling between the two, if only because of the night trains. The Oktyabrsky Magistral is one of the seemingly few institutions in Russia that basically wasn't that bad in the first place but has nonetheless strived to scale new heights in customer-friendly rail travel. If the fates are with you, a night on one of these trains can be one of the nicest, or least bad, you have in Russia.


This promise of satisfaction hinges on several predetermined conditions, foremost of which is the propensity for propulsion-induced narcolepsy. If you're the type who falls asleep the minute you board a bus or get behind the wheel of a car, there's no reason to think your stay on the northbound 23:20 won't be a deeply restful experience.


Second in importance is a gambling spirit. It is an unspoken law of Russian train travel that no one trip is structurally like another, and the commuter who values consistency in performance is likely to find more anguish than joy in his railroad journeys. If, on the other hand, you begin to see and evaluate each trip in terms of its discrete parts, it is more than probable that your jaunts will become nostalgically etched in your memory as "the time I didn't have to pay for the sheets" or "the night they sold caviar sandwiches." People operating on such a qualitative system will rarely feel they've been dealt a bad hand.


I recently received a royal flush on the 23:35 southbound Nikolayevsky Express, one of the newest additions to the St. Pete-Moscow stable. Admittedly, this train is designed to dazzle, with toney, slate-blue wagon cars, liquid soap in the bathrooms and a thrilling application of pre-revolutionary brass lettering. Underneath, it's the same train as the rest, but its surfaces are very shiny f it even has its own signature line of Lomonosov Porcelain Factory coffee carafes (screaming, quite frankly, to be stolen). The train scored high marks in on-site amenities and reduced passenger-provodnitsa interaction. The beds were already made and paid for, the snack had processed cheese and crackers; even the red plastic lock was already on hand, hanging from its special pre-revolutionary hook.


The provodnitsa only knocked once, to deliver what may be the greatest innovation ever in train-travel history: disposable foam-rubber tapochki. They are made for people with two right feet, but no matter; passengers were proudly doffing their elegant new footwear and shuffling down to the bathroom in no time. (Unassembled, these slippers also fly better than Frisbees and make excellent scratching posts for cats.)


So leave your tapochki at home and make room in your bag for that coffee carafe instead. What will they think of next?