Every international trip from Blagoveshchensk starts with a train ride to Khabarovsk. This isn’t because Blago doesn’t have an airport. It isn’t because there aren’t any international flights out of Blago. Rather, it’s because the flights that go out of Blago go to other destinations or must pass through Moscow, and flights from Blago to Khabarovsk are prohibitively expensive, especially when you consider the cost of the train.
Our trip to New Zealand was no different. My father-in-law arrived in the morning from a brutal overnight Moscow flight. (Those flights are always brutal.) Still, he piled in the car with my mother-in-law, and us. My brother-in-law was driving. It makes baggage so much easier to deal with because neither my BinL or FinL will allow me to carry the heaviest bags and people other than passengers are allowed on the train.
The overnight train is generally good. The cabins sleep four, so there’s always a chance that you’ll end up with someone who snores. If you don’t, then you’re the one who was snoring.
Each berth comes with the necessary sheets and pillows. Heavier blankets or duvets are available in the overhead storage compartment that extends over the corridor. This train had mattress toppers on top of the padded planks that served as beds.
Other amenities that come with the price include a packet with slippers, toothpaste and brush, a shoehorn (they are still a thing in Far East Russia), and a wet wipe. The slippers are necessary because no one wants to put their snow boots back on just to go to the bathroom. By the same token, no one wants to have wet socks as the result of a trip to the bathroom. From a business standpoint, I am guessing slippers dramatically reduce the wear and tear that shoes would cause if passengers were required to use them for trips down the corridor.
Dinner is also served as a part of the deal. The first part is a box that containers a small water bottle, a mint, a package of utensils, and some sort of dessert. This time it was a priyanik, which is a type of cookie, with jam in the middle. The next thing that arrives is a roll and a package of salami, which is generally pretty high quality. Then the main meal arrives. This time we could choose between noodles and chicken or rice and sausage. We got the noodles and chicken. It had a lot of butter and some carrots.
There are beverages available to order. Just don’t expect the menu to be accurate. We went for the cappuccino because there was no juice, green tea, or hot chocolate available.
The train itself was paneled with light wood. The colors were orange paint and auburn cushions. It felt very 1960s.
Jenya set up her bed and we spent the rest of the evening reading before falling asleep. Of course, here falling asleep is a continuous action that doesn’t necessarily mean that one reaches actual sleep. Even with Jenya and I the only in the cars, we still had to deal with the bumpy train ride and the squeaking, clicking, scratching, rubbing, noise.
Soon enough the sun was up, and we were close to Khabarovsk. The white birches outside the train have dropped their leaves by this time. Some stand tall. Some are scarred by fires past. Some are blown down, snapped in two with one part about a meter high out of the ground. Some have a parasitic plant like mistletoe growing atop their crowns. They rise above their deciduous companions with dark trunks who have stubbornly refused to release their brown, dried leaves. Trace amounts of snow dots the mostly barren ground, and creeks appear to be wholly frozen over betraying winter’s visits before she comes for the season.