Irkutsk Travel Blog› entry 4 of 37 › view all entries
As I boarded the train in Moscow, I don't think I quite knew what I was getting myself into. Normally tourists travel in first or second class, with nice cabins shared by a couple other people. I had an unwieldy bike box and I was hesitant to put it in the baggage car so I bought a ticket for third class, where I heard there was more luggage storage room in the carriage (cheap too! 4 nights on the train and 5 time zones for less than $100). Third class, called platzcart by the Russians, is absolutely packed. There are 54 beds per wagon and everywhere you look there are people sitting, lying, hanging on the beds. The beds also double as seats for eating. If you're unlucky enough to have a bottom bed, you have to put up with people sitting on your bed eating their dinner while you are in it.
I was extremely lucky because when I boarded the train, two young Russian guys appeared who not only helped me pack my awkward bike into the overhead luggage space, but they also spoke English! I ended up spending 3 days hanging out with Sergey and Alexei, chatting late into the night (the train passes through five time zones past Moscow, but I was still on Toronto time, so it wasn't hard to stay up late). We played chess, ate endless sunflower seeds and talked about life in Russia and in Canada. It was very difficult to explain why I am a vegetarian to them, but I'm glad they took an interest. It was also nice to have them around to help explain to my neighbours what I was doing with a bike on a Russian train.
People came and went as we passed through the monotonous Russian countryside and the train stopped at main stations for half an hour so we could get out, stretch our legs, and sample the options from the local vendors.