Peace Corps Ukraine: Train Travel
Seeing as how I have taken two 12 hour train rides, I'd consider myself an expert on Ukrainian train car travel. Okay, that isn't true. I've only taken an overnight slow train, and I've only stayed in coupe. However, I can offer insight into what a train ride is like from Kiev to Chernivtsi in coupe(2nd) class.
I feel lucky that my oblast is pretty saturated with volunteers. In the past volunteers were met by their counterparts and escorted to sight. This time we were to make the journey alone and meet them on the other side. Seeing as how I had never traveled overnight by train and never traveled without a Ukrainian in Ukraine I was very glad to have 7 other PCVs with me.
Our regional manager walked us to the train station and we went directly onto the tracks. Our train was on track one so we didn't have to go through the station. Each train car has a conductor who stands at the door. You hand him your ticket and some form of id. In our case that was our newly minted Peace Corps Passports.
We boarded the train and were in a corridor. I instantly felt like I was headed to a budget version of Hogwarts.
On the Train
On our trip to Chernivtsi most of us were in the car with one other volunteer and had the top bunks. One of the seven of us slept alone. Dillon and I were together on the first trip down and we had a sweet older couple on the bunks below us. We were pretty excited to speak Ukrainian to them, or at least attempt to practice the phrases we knew. The husband of the couple looked at us super confused after a few minutes of us trying to explain about ourselves and then communicates that he is from Rome and speaks Italian. It took another few hours before the wife finally spoke up that she in fact speaks Ukrainian. I don't know how that got lost in translation in the beginning because Dillon and I were definitely saying the right things but in the end we were able to communicate with them. I'd say we got pretty lucky with out first train pairing because they were so sweet.
On our trip back we had the bottom bunks, people are more likely to switch with your if you have a bottom bunk so we ended up offering the two people with the top bunks in the car with two PCVs our bottom bunks so that 4 of us could be together. The second three PCVs got on a few hours down the line and were in their own car.
Each coupe looks like the one above. I am not looking forward to taking a train in the summer because there is no air conditioning that I have felt in these cars and the windows do not open. Our first train ride out was okay but on the way back I was glad I knew all the other people in my cabin because it got hot. Pro tip: as much as people talk about others drinking on the train it is actually not allowed. Although expect people to bring picnics worth of food.
Storing your luggage.
One thing I was really worried about was where I would put my things and how safe they would be. If you are on the bottom bunk they lift up and there is a compartment below that will fit a suitcase. If you are on the top bunk there is an opening that fits over the door that stores the thick blankets where you can store your stuff.
There are also hooks and hangers for jackets. The lower bunks have a small towel rod near the door for the hand towel you get. The upper bunks have a small towel rod with a mesh shelf. This is in place of being able to put things on the table like they lower berth is able to. I stored my shoes and my phone on that.
The car comes with 4 rolled up "mattress pad" and a pillow stacked on the upper bunks. Then stacked on the table are 4 bags with two sheets a pillow case and a hand towel. The mattress pad does not give you much padding but it is better than sleeping on just the seat.
How a lot of people navigate the cars is everyone sits on the lower bunk chatting and eating until they want to go to sleep. If you have the lower bunk this could cause you to have to wait for the upper bunk to go to bed.
Both times I had the upper bunk. They aren't very wide. We did find out that the upper bunk on the left as you walk in is wider than that on the right. Dillon and I switched sides on the trip back and both remarked that we had more and less space respectively. We were also both worried about falling off. Thankfully that didn't happen to either of us or anyone in our party.
I have not yet successfully mastered making a train bed. The women in our first car was so disappointed with Dillon's attempt that she redid his. I copied her technique and took my first sheet and tucked in half under the mattress pad and half over to function like a fitted sheet. I then draped the other sheet on top. Making your bed if you don't know the people below you... or at least don't communicate with them. can get a little awkward. It was a lot easier for me to stand on their bed to make mine.
First of all sorry Mom for my bed being in shambles. As you can see from the picture they bed isn't very wide. As well as it isn't super long. I am only 5'5" and if I lay flat on my back my feet touch the diagonal bar (which can be seen in the picture of the upper bunk storage.) (you can also see the little towel bar in the above picture)
Not going to lie, on our way back my sheets coming out of the package were a little damp. I kept telling myself it was because they put them fresh out of the wash into the sterile bag.
About an hour before your stop ( at least for us because we were the last stop) the conductor will come in and make sure your are awake. You have like 20 minutes after that to strip your bead and wash your face before he collects all your linens.
Before our first train, my region went to he Peace Corps office to kill time. We met some current volunteers who (maybe for the best) terrified me about what the train bathroom would be like. They were like it is worse than a port-o-potty at the end of a festival. They were definitely over reacting. It is by no means great but it is pretty standard for a transportation bathroom. Think airplane bathroom but subject to a little more rocking.
I would suggest always wearing your shoes inside, and to bring your own toilet paper. They have some sometimes but it is always better to be safe than sorry in that regard.
The bathroom does clothes some times. From what I was able to observe it closes before long stops. At some of the stations the train stops for longer than at others and that was when we noticed the bathroom got locked. It also locks about 30 to 45 minutes before the last stop. On the train ride down some of our group didn't know that and missed out on being able to use it before we got off.
Other Train Facts:
It is customary to leave the train car when someone else needs to change into their sleeping clothes or disembarking clothes. They will close the door and you just stand in the hall looking out the window until they open the door again signaling that it is okay for you to come back in. Some important verbs for this activity are.
переодягатися :to change clothes
одягнутися: To get dressed
Another thing is that they don't turn on the power until the train starts moving. This means that the lights inside your car won't turn on until the train leaves. Sometimes the lights will work in your car but if it is parked at the station and the lights are off they won't come on until the train starts moving. There are outlets in the hall way but they never worked. I would suggest bringing a battery power pack to ensure that your phone is charged.
They do serve tea and coffee. When we were taking the train it was 7 hyrvinas. I heard tell that there was a dining car but I never found it nor did I really look for it. At one point Emily Taylor and I were in our car and Dillon was gone for a bout an hour and he had manged to find his way to the 3rd class car and met some English speaking friends.
There was no wifi on our train, I heard that some of the newer high speed trains have it but the over night ones do not.
When we got off all of our counterparts were waiting in a semi circle outside the train car door. That was the second time while here I have felt like a puppy trying to get adopted from the pound. They looked so excited to see us all!