THE BORDER BETWEEN ASIA AND EUROPE — Today is our last full day on the train — hurrah! — and since I’ve already told you about what we do and what we eat onboard, I thought today I’d tackle the question of what the digs are like.
For all of our train rides within Russia, we’ve been traveling platskartny, the lowest of three levels of sleeper car. There are two upper and two lower berths in each compartment, plus two more berths stacked along the opposite wall. There are no doors in platskartny — the corridor runs through the compartments.
In other respects, the service is just as good as it is in the higher classes. You get a package of clean sheets when you get on board, and each berth is equipped with a pillow and thick wool blanket. The provodnitsas — carriage attendants — are vigilant about cleanliness, regularly vacuuming the floors and using generous doses of bleach on the toilets. Plus, the openness of the carriages gives you a certain amount of safety through publicity.
Yet somehow, both of our guidebooks warn strenuously against the discomforts of platskartny. They recommend traveling kupe (coupe), which for twice the price gets you a four-berth compartment and a door that shuts.
We rode kupe for our two international legs, with mixed results. The seemingly brand-new kupe compartment that we occupied from China to Mongolia was admittedly a step up, with very effective air-conditioning and an electric . But our Mongolia-to-Russia compartment was stuffy, and as far as decor and comfort go, no better than platskartny.
I’ve traveled sleeper class in India and hard sleeper in Vietnam, and platskartny is nicer than either of those. If you’re on a budget or enjoy mingling with the locals, platskartny is your best bet — no matter what the guidebooks say.