Friday, September 23, 2011

Train-ing across Ukraine

Last weekend, we took the train to Odessa.

Riding the train is something my team and I did a LOT of during the summer of 2008.  When we went to a new town/city, some part of our journey to or from the city would include being dropped off at the train station, riding the train, and/or being picked up at the train station.  Sometimes Cliff would drive us, but most of the time, we rode the train.

I really enjoyed the train rides, and still do.  There's just something about being in a compartment with friends and/or strangers, talking, maybe playing cards, looking out the window and enjoying the fresh air, and sleeping on narrow bunks -- which outweighs the stuffiness, the chance of traveling with smelly men or drunk people, and the toilet you have to hover over.

During these summer train rides, when the sun hadn't set by 9 pm, I enjoyed looking out the window at the scenery.  Sometimes the scenery was only a forest, but other times you got glimpses of village life.  Old people might be herding their cows or sheep in the grassy area near the tracks. Seeing small garden plots, people walking down the road, and small settlements were all just so serene and peaceful compared to life in the city.
Unknown village and river in Ukraine, 2008
How to Ride the Train in Ukraine:
1.  Arrive at the station 30 minutes before your train departs, to find the correct track, wagon, and place.  Otherwise one of your traveling companions might have to pull the emergency "стоп кран" lever.

Wagon #2 of the Odesa-Kiev train (#124)
2.  Place your things in the storage areas -- under the bottom bunks, on the shelves, or in the space over the passageway.

Coupe with under-bench storage area visible
3.  Sit in your coupe, look out the window, talk with friends, maybe eat a picnic dinner.  The conductor will come by at some point to check and take your tickets.
Our group going to Chernivtsi in January 2010
4.  If you are sleeping in a top bunk, climb up and unroll your bed.  Make your bed using the provided sheets and pillowcase -- they're clean!

5.  You may need the wool blanket provided, sometimes even when the weather's nice outside.
Wool blankets on shelf, reading light, and bedrolls on the top bunk
6.  When you are ready to go to bed, or to change your clothes, close the door to your compartment.  There is also a mirror for your convenience.

The storage area is in the background above the doorway, and you can also see coathooks and hand rails.
7.  The bathroom is at the end of this hallway, and is locked when the train stops at stations.  This is because when the flusher-pedal is pushed, you can see the tracks passing beneath the train car.

8.  In the morning, about 30-60 minutes before arriving at your destination, the conductor might come by and wake you up.  Otherwise, you need to un-make your bed, roll up the mattress, and pack up your things.  When you return your sheets to the conductor, he/she will return your voided tickets.

Odesa Train Station, early in the morning -- 2009
Special Situations
*Sometimes you might need to change trains part of the way through your journey.  Sometimes, that means you sit at a train station from 3 am to 8 am, dozing off while trying to keep an eye on your group's luggage.
Waiting area -- "bufet" -- in the train station
Remember not to speak English too loudly, and if a babushka sells you vareniki and gives you plastic forks she wipes off with napkins she found in her bag, just "wash" your hands with hand sanitizer and eat with your fingers.

Zhmerinka, 2008, where we stayed for 5 hours one night.
*If you are a young female or two females traveling "alone", the best coupe situation is to be with other women.  However, since you cannot choose your traveling companions unless you are buying your tickets together, you just have to hope for the best.  When you DO have 2 other female companions, look at each other in relief.  (Praise God that this past weekend Amy and I traveled with 2 other women both times!)

Last week, despite the logistics of getting to the train station after our Parent Teacher Fellowship, and the logistics of getting to school on time on Monday morning, our train travels were uneventful!  Having women coupe-mates both trips (especially since this was Amy's first time traveling via overnight train) was definitely a blessing from God!  I can't wait for more train rides across Ukraine this year! :)

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