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Riding Platzkart on the Train from Murmansk to Saint Petersburg

Posted by on July 12, 2011

Russian sleeping trains are divided into three classes (well, sorta, I’ll return to that at some point). Luxury class, which I’ve yet to explerience, Kupe or cabin class, with two double bunks in an area half the size of a walk-in closet, and platzkart, the communal carriage with 54 short bunk beds. Each ‘section’ of the carriage has 2 double bunks next to each other, and 2 on the wall opposite, like two bunks on each line of the letter ‘H’, but with the cross-bar at the top instead. As a result you are all very close to each other, and any snoring, kids crying or talking certainly carries.

River just out of Murmansk

River just out of Murmansk


Every carriage has a provodnik (or provodnitsa) is the guard / attendant that looks after your carriage, checks your tickets and so on – and a few minutes after locating my bed (a top bunk) she brought me my sheets. Each bunk has a mattress and pillow that is reused, much like a hostel, and you get fresh, clean linen each time. I made my bunk, and still feeling a bit ill, settled in.
View from the top bunk in platzkart

View from the top bunk in platzkart


I had my netbook so could do some stuff on that for a few hours, but eventually its battery died. I’d given Anna my books to take back to London from Tallinn at her kind suggestion, so I couldn’t even read the programming book that even in Tallinn I’d decided I’d never get a chance to read it while travelling. This would have been that time!!
Lakes south of Murmansk

Lakes south of Murmansk


I wandered around down the train to look for a food carriage, but the direction it was last time I eventually just hit the engine. For some reason it didn’t occur to me to go in the other direction – I’d find out when I disembarked where it was… Similarly, last time there were power points along the carriage, but this time there was only one by the toilets, and it looked suspiciously like ones for razors. I returned and tried to nap some more.
Several small villages have train stops

Several small villages have train stops


Finally at night we made another scheduled stop, and I was ready for it this time. By the providnitsa’s office, there’s a handy sign with a list of all the stations, the time you arrive and how long the train stops for – something we’d not noticed on the 52 hour journey in Siberia until towards the end. Experience counts for a lot!
The single corridor of a platzkart carriage - usally with feet sticking out

The single corridor of a platzkart carriage - usally with feet sticking out


I hopped off and was greeted with the usual flurry of locals coming to sell food to the train. That and it was a welcome opportunity to stretch my legs. I got a drink, and picked up … well I don’t know what it was called, but I got three of them, and back on the train it appearead to be some sort of bread with curry inside it. Why anyone thought this was a good idea for train food, I wasn’t sure, but by now it’d been three days since I’d had a meal, not counting those peanuts, and although oddly still not hungry, I forced a couple of them down. I wasn’t sure why I wasn’t hungry – I just felt tired, and perhaps the heat didn’t help.

The scenery was great, far nicer than when on the train in Siberia. The huge rivers and lakes were followed closely by the route, and while I had my first night a while, it was very short and certainly wasn’t dark, making for good photos at all hours of the day/’night’. Time drifts, and you spend hours at a time just staring out the window, or thinking with your eyes closed, or just listening to the sounds of the train and the people around you.

Beautiful lakes even in the middle of the night

Beautiful lakes even in the middle of the night


It’s also very hot onboard the trains. It’s probably quite good in winter, but in summer the heat rises, and this makes the top bunks almost unbearably hot at night. During the day the bottom bunk is usually counted as seats, and you’re perfectly entitled to sit on your bunkmate’s ‘bed’ all day, in fact it’d be strange if you didn’t, especially as the table is between the lower two bunks (the two beds at the side have their bottom bunk split in half, converting into two chairs and a table).
Fantastic scenery

Fantastic scenery


Being so hot meant that night was very intermittent sleep, but eventually the next day around 11am people start packing, and just after midday we’d made it to St Petersburg. 27 hours and still on time to the minute, just like the 52 hour train in Siberia, fantastic (looks judgingly at South West Trains in the UK).

Next – St Petersburg…

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2 Responses to Riding Platzkart on the Train from Murmansk to Saint Petersburg

  1. Medea

    I made friends with someone working on Russian trains like this one, on the same route. 😀 She even promised to give me a private guided tour of her city when I get there. Just how often does this happen?

    • Mark Mayo

      It’s amazing how friendly people are. I had a person invite me to their house on a train in Uzbekistan, and I slept there as well as being fed dinner. Most people everywhere are hospitable and friendly people who are happy to meet new people and share experiences – it’s a great part of travelling! Glad you had a good time!

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