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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

SAY WHAT? :Platzkart Train Travel Not for Fainthearted




Three months ago, this paper ran a column about night train rides between St. Petersburg and Moscow. The column called the travel "customer-friendly," praising disposable foam-rubber slippers and Lomonosov Porcelain Factory coffee carafes provided by the provodnitsa.


That was in March. In June, things are different.


Inspired by Freudian tales of bridges raising their imperial joints at nightfall, and determined to steal that famed romantic 1 a.m. kiss beneath the midnight sun in the Venice of the North during the famous White Nights, thousands of pilgrims wipe the ticket offices clean of tickets weeks in advance. By Monday, there are no plane tickets to St. Petersburg for the Saturday to come. By Tuesday, the only way for car-deprived travelers to spend the following weekend inthe country's second capital is to hop on the top bunk of a platzkart coach.


I have traveled platzkart only once before, and that was four years ago. The memories, however, are still quite fresh, and when the courier handed me my train tickets last week, I felt a dizzying sensation in my stomach. I may have been sitting at my neat desk in The Moscow Times newsroom, but the air around me was immediately saturated with the odor of several dozen dirty socks, combined with the smell resulting from 50 people being unable to get a steady aim at the toilet.


Once I was on the train, I realized that my memory had not betrayed me. The sock smell was there, all right, as was the toilet smell. Then there was also the vodka smell and the vomit smell from the couple around the wall that separated the semi-compartments in the coach (I figured they were not making the trip for the sake of a kiss). The toilets' floors were marshy. The tambur, the entry area at the ends of each car where smokers can indulge in their favorite habit, was so filled with smoke that there was no need to light a cigarette to get a nicotine fix. Foam-rubber slippers were out of the question.


There were two Scotch terriers in my semi-compartment, Katya and Tigra. Katya spent the night deciding whether she should sleep with her owner f a young woman sporting a red and yellow Pedigree jacket, matching Pedigree sweat pants and holding a Pedigree bag pack f or with me.


Tigra, however, spent the night in his dog cage. As soon as he was allowed out of the cage in the morning, Tigra, whose digestive system must have been weakened by the trip, immediately defecated on the wall. (The walls, judging by some obscene ink-pen graffiti just above my pillow dated "1999," were rarely washed, if at all.)


To counteract this assault on my olfactory senses, I buried my nose in a Robert Stone book and started breathing only when my head began to spin with asphyxiation.


In the March column dedicated to the night train rides from Moscow to St. Petersburg, the author urged travelers intending to take the trip to leave their slippers at home and to make room in their bags for the coffee carafes that "scream to be stolen." I would like to contribute to those traveling instructions. Attention to readers who have wound up with platzkart tickets:


-Sell your tickets and take a rain check on your trip;


-If you really think the midnight kiss under a drawn bridge is worth it, remember this: There will be no coffee carafes on the train, and no coffee, either. But it shouldn't matter since the sock smell does not exactly encourage consumption of hot beverages;


-And, yes, leave your slippers at home. Because if you can't avoid the trip to the bathroom, you'll be better off pulling on a pair of rubber boots.