• Date and Time: Tuesday 12th September, 2007. 06:55
  • Location: Bed 32, Train 11 from Moscow to Cologne. Currently in outskirts of Moscow, 20 minutes into 32 hour journey
  • Diese zug ist nicht ‘gut’. Diese zug ist SEHR gut!

    or something like that. I tell you, this train is something else. This is train travel how it’s meant to be. This is what it’s all about! This is the most perfect near-ending for this trip halfway around the world in 28 days!

    I arrived with plenty of time to spare at Moscow Belarsussky station last night – two hours in fact. That gave me the opportunity to spend the last of my roubles on vital supplies of chocolate, and stand around getting very cold. Finally, the platform is announced, and a few seconds later the train slowly reverses into the station.

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    The first thing that strikes me is that it’s a very long train. Quite where my carriage is I don’t know – in the section of the ticket where the carriage number is usually noted it simply states ‘256’. Odd, I think. Whilst this train may be pretty long, surely it can’t be that long!

    Things do not bode well as I approach the train. For a start, the scruffy sign in the window of the first carriage has ‘Minsk’ written in Russian – I want to go a long way beyond the Belarus capital – does this mean that I’m going to have to change after all? Then, looking through the window I see that these are platzkart carriages, and ancient ones at that. Prehistoric cracked leather bunks that look about as comfortable as beds of nails hang down from the walls – that train I took from Krasnoyarsk was luxury compared to this! Whilst not expecting any first-class treatment, I can’t help but feel disappointed that I have to spend another 32 hours trying not to fall off the top bunk.

    The Ost-West Express

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    I continue to walk, now in search of a member of staff – the one thing you are unlikely to find at Russian railway stations. Interesting, I note that the carriages change completely about a third of the way up the train. Now they say they’re going to Warsaw – and inside they look even worse than those going to Belarus! This must be the Polish section then. The Russian electric water boilers at the end of each carriage have been replaced by coal fires. This is clear not only from the smell of the smoke pouring from the little chimney, but by the lumps of runaway coal that litter the vestibule area. I dread to think what the toilet looks like.

    I continue to walk – I’m nearing the front of the train now, and starting to despair. Perhaps, because my ticket was last minute, I don’t have an assigned seat. Perhaps there’s an open carriage within which I’ll have to fight for a place to sit. Perhaps. But I don’t despair – everything will work out just as it was to meant to, whatever that might mean.

    And you know what? It does, in the most luxuriously spectacular way I would never even have dreamed of. When I reached the penultimate carriage I noted that its destination was Frankfurt. This sounded hopeful – it was at least the right country! And what’s this? Ah, yes, below the destination is printed ‘256’, the only other remaining carriage being ‘257’. This must be it.

    From the outside, these two carriages differed significantly from the others. They were taller, squarer, and had clean shiney paintwork. Somewhat modern I thought. I’m greeted by a very polite German-speaking Russian wearing a very smart navy-blue suit and a peaked hat. He checks to find out which language I would like to use (I opt for German!) takes my ticket and welcomes me aboard.

    I make my way down the corridor looking for berth 32. Odd, I think, there’s only three numbers per cabin, not the usual four (or six). Finally locating mine, I open the door, and within seconds am almost jumping for joy! OOOOoooooohhhhh the luxury! On one side of this miniature cabin is a row of three very comfy-looking seats. The beds were actually in the wall so you couldn’t bang your head on them, and as I found later when the attendant came to lower mine, when it folds out, you find your bedding strapped to the top of it, ready to go! After weeks on Chinese, Mongolian and Russian trains this struck me as very sci-fi!

    The most comfy bed in the whole world

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    In the corner is a little table, and as I only discovered this morning, if you fold the table top back you’ll find your own private sink below! There’s a bathroom cabinet above: open the door and there’s your mirror, a decanter of sorts and two glasses. On the wall a thermometer, and next to that the temperature control knob – yes, a TEMPERATURE CONTROL KNOB! “Can life get any better than this?!” I ask myself. On the wall behind the door is a rack to dry your towel on, and hanging from it 3 high-class wooden coathangers with gold-plated bits attached. The door is completely lockable, and even has one of those security chains on if you only want to open it a bit – perfect to keep those bothersome immigration officials out of your personal space! Every bed (of which only one is in use of course – it would seem I have this cabin all to myself, which is nice – I can always be social a bit later by visting some of the other folks down the corridor) has it’s own little light and button to call the attendant, making this the first time I’ve had room service on a train!

    Pepé gives the sink a go

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    I must say, I am utterly blown away by this luxury! What style to spend my last overnight trip in! Anyone would think I was travelling first class.

    My personal bathroom cabinet

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    You see, I knew there was a reason I missed that first train yesterday…