Actually, the Trans-Siberian is the name of the railway from Moscow to Vladivostok, 9,288 km of rails through Russia, and not one train in particular. So you can go to the counter of any train station and take a ticket in 1st, 2nd or 3rd class to any particular town on the line, which costs much less than buying a “Trans-siberian” ticket in a western europe agency. I much prefer the 3rd class or “platzkart” mainly for economic reasons but also social ones. The platzkart is a wagon with several open small compartments, each with four berths and two more berths parallel to the aisle. You can meet there many more people than in the second class compartments in which the four berths are closed. Plus, it is generally much warmer in the 2nd class. None of the train windows can be opened except in the small smoking compartment, and I enjoy this tiny window to take pictures of the landscape without hitting the dirty glass.
Whether on 2nd or 3rd class, I found the coach rather enjoyable! The toilets are relatively clean, there is always paper and soap, a hostess in each wagon is taking care of the passengers and serves tea or coffee in cute little cups. One can find an assortment of snacks and drinks if required but passengers generally prepared their victuals, often boxes of dried noodles to which they add hot water (which is self-service). So a smell of chicken noodle floats in the cars, mixed with a little something somewhat âcre, probably the scent of feet and sweat. As with everything, you get used to it pretty quickly, but my stomach always raises a little when enterring the coach.
The bunks have comfortable mattresses and fluffy pillows. The hostess provides sheets and towels in a plastic packaging proving their cleanliness. (You can, however, specify “no sheets” when purchasing the ticket to save a few rubles.) The trip goes slowly but surely, and to my taste, quite pleasantly. The train moves through long birches forests, sometimes pines, plains of yellowed grass and meets here and there small villages of wooden houses.
I always liked to be in motion, to be carried by it. I can see beyond the windows the clouds go by and I have plenty of time to think, to write, to feel my mind clearing. The Trans-Siberian is quite perfect for this.
So, what’s the coast? How to order the tickets?
For the moment … Moscow-Kazan in platzkart: 30 € / Kazan-Yekaterinburg in 2nd class: 54 € / Yekaterinburg-Nobosivisk in platzkart: 47 €. So 131 euros for 3370km.
It is possible, and even advised if you want to have the cheapest 3rd class ticket, to get your ticket online on the official website http://rzd.ru/. The English version does not work and you will need to register on the site, so it is best to seek help from your host, hotel staff or any English speaker! Order tickets through their credit card will save you bank charges, you can pay them back directly in cash. Normally, with an electronicly purchased ticket you can enter the train directly by showing your passport. That worked for me several times but it can also be tricky. Once, I was asked to go withdraw the ticket at the counter, and there was such a line that I missed my train. I then had to stand in line for 2 hours to get a refund, from which they took a 50% commission! It might be best to go to the station to buy a ticket way before departure (having taken care to write all the necessary infos or being accompanied by a host) or to buy it online and go withdraw a ticket at the ATM in the station with your reservation ID number and passport number.