Common Home on Wheels or How to Live on a Russian Train

In the boundless expanses of Russia, modern airports can only be found in major cities, and the roads have had an infamous reputation for quite some time. Trains are the most‘Russian’ mode of transportation. A one night’s journey here is considered to be a short distance, and sometimes a train carriage becomes a passenger’s home for several days. This ‘home’ has its own etiquette.
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Russian trains usually have train carriages that are only for sitting, but these trains usually only travel for short distances. For a long-distance journey, people usually prefer either the lockable 4-person compartment (kupe) or economy class (platscart), where there are no walls between the corridors and the berths, and where, in addition to the 4 main berths, another 2 side berths have been added. In both cases, each passenger is given an individual package that includes sheets, a blanket, a pillow and pillow case, and he/she gets the bed ready before bedtime, and then gives the package back to the train conductor before they get off at their station. The 4-person compartment (kupe) is noticeably more comfortable, but economy class (platscart) is the genuine Russian national mode of transportation.
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The views outside the train window are rather monotonous, and mobile Internet may disappear for several hours while the train passes through areas with no major settlements. For this reason, the main amusements for passengers are food and communication with their fellow passengers.

The train always has a dining car. But the food in the dining car is usually unjustifiably expensive, so it is more commonly used by passengers as a place where they can legally drink alcohol. In the sleeping cars, they drink tea, which is served in faceted glasses that are placed in beautiful, intricate, lace-patterned metal tea glass holders.
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A peculiar heir to the Russian samovar is the titanium, industrial-looking hot water tank at the end of the train car, from which you can dispense boiling water at any time. Recently, this boiling water is not only used to make tea, but also to prepare instant products, such as noodles, mashed potatoes, or soup. This is the new generation of train carriage food. However, many passengers prefer a more traditional diet.
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The classic food package that a Russian passenger takes on the train includes smoked or boiled chicken, home-made cutlets or fish preserves, boiled eggs, boiled potatoes with herbs, fresh cucumbers or pickles, tomatoes, bread, smoked sausage, processed cheese, fruits (usually apples, mandarin oranges, or bananas), cookies or waffles, salt, sugar, and tea bags. A newspaper, which replaces a tablecloth, is often placed on the table that’s located between the two lower berths.
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Another element of railway life is trading on the railway platform. In recent times, this trading has considerably diminished since many stations no longer let traders onto the platform, leaving passengers only with kiosks that offer an identical assortment of products across the entire country. An assortment that, nonetheless, often includes fresh pastries filled with meat, potatoes, or cabbage. Traders offer passengers home-made food: in Siberia and in the north—smoked fish and pastries filled with berries, in the south—fresh fruits. Many stations have their own culinary ‘brands’: Tula is famous for its gingerbreads (pryaniki), at Slyudyanka station they sell omul fish straight from Lake Baikal, and the Astrakhan region is renowned for its watermelons. The main problem with platform trading is the lack of quality control, and although most traders are conscientious, there is still a small risk that you will regret your purchase.
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Besides food, souvenirs are also sold on the platforms, such as crystal in the Vladimir region or handcrafted gemstone items in the Urals. It is the reverse situation at the remote stations in the north. The train transports food products and packages, and the locals travel from their back-of-beyond villages to get their items at the station on all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles, and some even arrive on sleds pulled by reindeer teams.

With such distances, it’s no small wonder that passengers prefer to take a large supply of food with them on the train. Therefore, they eagerly treat their fellow passengers. Sometimes, a boring route turns into a feast for everyone. The long road draws people together, so passengers engage in conversation like old friends, but then get off at their stations, often without even finding out their fellow passengers’ names.
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