Monday, 5 January 2015

Things I don't do anymore: Traveling by train

The earlier posts in this series are: kite-flying, skiing, skating, fishing, archery, mushrooming, celebrating New Year, gambling, party games, knitting and baking.

Russia is a very big country, and when I was young few people had cars and air travel was expensive. Therefore if you wanted to get anywhere you had to go by train. Leningrad was the most common destination from Moscow, and the most extravagant way of travel was The Red Arrow, a train that left at five minutes to midnight and arrived at eight, allowing travellers a quiet, comfortable morning with a hot breakfast. The train had first-class carriages which at that time had bronse ornaments, soft velvet seats, and a bathroom shared by two compartments. 

At the other end of the spectrum you would either start at ten and arrive at five in the morning, or start long after midnight. You got a carriage number on your ticket, but no berth and had to fight through the crowd to claim a sleeping space on the luggage rack. 

I am glad I have the experience of both, for comparison.

Destinations such as Riga or Tallinn also took a night. But when we went to visit relatives in Northern Caucasus, it took twenty-eight hours. The day felt very long. We brought our own food, usually hardboiled eggs, roast chicken, bread and biscuits. The conductor offered tea several times a day. It cost four kopecks, and two more if you wanted extra sugar. At some stations local people sold pies – and who knows what they put into them! We always got out at stations to get fresh air. There wasn't much to do during the day except play cards. I liked to lie on the upper berth and watch the landscape.

Transcaucasus or Crimea was longer still. But when you went on holiday in those days it would be for three or four weeks, so a day of travel in each direction didn't matter.

The first few years I lived in Sweden I would take a ferry to Finland and then train to Moscow. The day at the station in Helsinki between the ferry and the train was awful, especially with small children. Eventually I started flying. It wasn't substantially more expensive.

I now live in a country with an excellent rail system (even if trains are sometimes delayed), but the longest I have travelled was five hours, with a change in London. It just isn't the same. 

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