Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sleeping on trains in Ukraine, summer 2006

While in Ukraine, we traveled by train 4 times. We went from Kyiv to Sevastopol, back to Kyiv a week later, from Kyiv to Lviv the next night, and back again the night after that. There might have been a night in between returning from Sevastopol and going to Lviv, a night spent sleeping on wood floors, but I am not so sure. Either way, we took a lot of train journeys, for a man who had never done so before in his memory.

The thing about train journeys that take anything more than a few hours in Ukraine is that they like to do them with sleep. The way Dick tells it, it is their custom to get on a train, go to bed, wake up, get off at their destination, and that's the way they like it. I can't say it's a bad idea, honestly, in terms of efficiency and making sense, but trains are not the easiest place to sleep, I found.

In first class, you have two beds per cabin. In second class, you have four beds per cabin. In third class, which Dick called "karnye platz", you have a whole lot of beds in a train-car and no security. He stressed that we, as foreigners, were not even considering traveling that way, period. We were okay with this. There were 9 of us, so sleeping arrangements were as follows: Randy, Nick, Kendyl & Nicole in one cabin; Linda, Adam, Paul & myself in the next; and Dick with some Ukrainians which we didn't know in the next. For the Lviv trip, we had Vera and Tanya with us, instead of Randy & Nick, so that was an easy sleeping situation to work out.

Cabins are small affairs, as you might expect, but you can cram a lot of people into those things. Thus, we were quite capable of fitting as many of ourselves all into one room if we really wanted to, and there was much Uno playing. Nick, who I guess was probably somewhere in elementary or middle school, I really can't tell, hung out with us, and Randy, Dick & Linda sat in the other room and talked about whatever it is that they wanted to talk about.

Food is available on the train, of course. On one of the trips, we ate dinner in a Dining Car, and I don't really remember what we ate, but it was okay. There was beer to be had, though I didn't have any. Randy, a Southern Baptist, definitely did not have any. I remember Dick telling us that he wasn't going to drink if Randy was in the room, out of respect, like Paul says to do with meat and vegetarians. So he waited til Randy left the room to order beers. But then Randy came back later, and Dick offered him some. So I have never quite known what to think about that. Also readily available was tea, and we had a lot of that. But the funniest thing I remember is eating breakfast. It's not like they had breakfast for us. But along the way to Sevastopol, there are a lot of stops to make at little train stations in other towns and cities. So what you do, after you're all woke up, is you get off the train real quick, buy some food from one of the vendors waiting to sell you your breakfast, and then jump back on. We had corn on the cob and some kind of melon for breakfast.

I know some of you are going to give me grief for talking about toilets, but it's an integral and unique part of the train experience. I'll try and make this quick. When you hit the flush lever, the metal bottom of the toilet opens up on a hinge, and your excrement falls away onto the tracks. Yes, that's right, the tracks. You can hold the lever down, thus holding the bottom of the toilet open, and look down and watch the tracks and gravel rushing by beneath the train. They lock the bathroom for some distance on either side of visiting a station, to prevent you from making the area around the station smell really awful.

Once night comes, you want to sleep, because you've walking all over a foreign country and not sleeping in comfortable places. So you fold down the top beds, put the sheets on all 4, and go to sleep. The thing is, it's really not all that easy to sleep, even then, at least not for me. These are not quiet, smooth trains. They're pretty bumpy, and go thunkity-thunk a lot, and I really did have a hard time getting some shut-eye. On the other hand, we were all pretty tired.

I never did mention how dishes were washed at camp, but it wasn't entirely satisfactory. It was just a series of tubs of water, with varying strengths of bleach in each, and some scrubbing. Maybe this worked okay for the first half of the dishes, but by the end of a meal that water was pretty disgusting and not very cleansing. The women-folk brought their own personal dishes, which they washed with their own cleaning cloths, but we men ate from the communal pile of bowls. We men also all got sick. Paul got sick in his stomach while at camp, Dick was sick in his bowels when we got back home, I was sick in my bowels (Yes, I mean more than is normal) when we got back home, but Adam was sick in his stomach on the train. I can not remember which train ride this was, probably the one back from Sevastopol. It is not easy to sleep when one of your friends keeps going to the bathroom to vomit, and then gets a little bit on your pillow. Just a really tiny bit though. I was so tired that I looked at it, noted that I should not move my head in that direction, and closed my eyes.

I want to close by just making sure that I say that I really liked the whole Train Experience. I would recommend it. I would do it again. But it wasn't easy or comfortable.

That is actually a remarkably accurate and good description for the entire Ukraine trip.

1 comment:

tumbleweed said...

look kinda crammed. hope you're not claustrophobic. these photos remind me of a train i took in scotland, where i was standing in a little space between cars for several hours with my backpack and camera gear.