The Train to Cheboksary
Young Russians in their train cabin
I decided to take the hardcore route to Cheboksary. Most of my Russian acquaintances suggested renting a limousine, private sedan, or flight from the local aerodrome. No Russian believes riding in a train suits a foreigner's need for luxury and total comfort. I approached the sales window with a few crumply rubles and some change. Before finishing my sentence, the ticket clerk punched in "Spetz Vagon" (luxury cabin) and barked "davai dengi" (gimme money). Chest high I retorted "Nyet, I will take the Platzkart" (steerage wagon). She looked flabbergasted, her fingers could barely manipulate the beads on the abacus that would calculate my fare of 300 rabbles ($10).
Real Russians can only be found on platzkart. Your bunk mates will be military draftees, construction workers, cleaning ladies, single moms, drunks, poker players, and flea market vendors. To understand the soul of Russia you must sit down with its hero workers and converse freely, on any topic, rolling from one subject to the next as the train wobbles towards Cheboksary. Ignore the first few minutes of your chat, which will always include three magic questions:
"Why the hell would you want to visit Russia?"
"Its that bad in America?"
"Skolko poluchaesh?" (How much money do you earn?)
There are no beds in the platzkart wagon, you sleep totally exposed to all those that neighbor you and any random psycho-hobo who decides to hop on the train during local stop offs.
My acquaintance Lena told me of a time when a semi-homeless passenger took a liking to her at the strike of midnight on the Cheboksary express. The grizzle faced, tar nailed muzhik just finished washing his hair and upper torso in the bathroom. He must of felt refreshed, handsome, and took to the cabin's aisles looking for a cute blonde to acquaint himself with. He used no suave pickup lines, and offered no box of chocolates. He simply sat down on Lena's bed and began touching her face and running his calloused fingers through her hair. She laid there aware of her secret admirer but was too terrified to speak, and allowed the petting session to continue like a helpless bunny. Luckily, moments into her hair grooming, a male friend saw their evening date unfolding and knocked out the creep.
The train ride from Moscow to Cheboksary takes approximately 18 hours. Ticket prices range from $10-$80 depending on the cabin class. Avoid the krutoi platzkart, and krutoi kupe, as they are no different than the obichni versions. Russian railways justifies the higher price by decorating the krutoi cabins with plastic flowers and recycled prison blankets that are sewn into carpeting.