Back in 2006 I travelled from Moscow to St Petersburg on the overnight train. It was a sleeper, with 4 bunks per room and about 8 rooms per carriage. The rooms were heavily air-conditioned to the point of being cold, the corridor was heated to the point of being sweaty and the toilets don’t need describing. Despite all that the company made it great fun, but I’ve no intention of doing it again.
Ten years later, with a lower tolerance for discomfort that comes with having a higher budget we had the choice between a brief flight and a 4-hour high speed train. The price is about the same once you’ve messed around getting from the town centre to the airport, so we decided to go with the train for simplicity. I then ruined the price comparison by booking us in the business class carriage…
Navigating the St Petersburg rail station was a little haphazard, with multiple layers of security and bag checks somehow leading me in a circular route so I ended up back outside the station. Our second attempt was more successful, so we stocked up on snacks at the platform shops. The shops could be improved, so I’d suggest getting your snacks before you arrive at the station.
It turned out there was food on offer in business class – the meal choice was hot fish or cold fish. We had one of each and I think the difference was about 90 seconds in the microwave, but it was tasty enough. The onboard Wifi was broken, but we did get unlimited drinks as compensation so the extra £6 each for business was a decently priced upgrade.
Our carriage was quite empty but the man opposite us had come prepared for a party. For the four hour journey he had a bottle of vodka, a bottle of cognac, a large bar of chocolate, bacon crisps, a bread roll and a tray of candied lemons.
When the steward came round he immediately asked for more vodka.
I can list exactly what he’d brought as he offered me a bite or swig of everything, whilst telling me about Russian hospitality and his life. He forlornly told his slightly unwilling audience he was a soldier in the Russian army, on the way back from Ukraine, for which he was very sorry.
The loud mention of Russian soldiers in Ukraine piqued the interest of a tall man a couple of rows ahead, who jumped up and physically restrained the soldier with surprising ease then dragged him to the area between carriages. Neither came back to their seat and the last we saw of him he was being led firmly along the platform by the tall man.
Sapsan Rail Tips
As we approached Moscow the WiFi started working again, but required a Russian SIM card to register, so wasn’t much use to us.
Higher seat numbers are closer to the toilet for that car. Useful if you’re planning on drinking two bottles of spirits.
Trains are maintained at a comfortable 22°C, so you don’t need thermals on board.