Tuesday, 17 August 2010

How long is too long on a train? St Petersburg to Berlin, 36 hours, 1,450km

To be honest I don’t know the answer to the question I’ve posed above. I’ve taken plenty of journeys of 20, 24 and even 36 hours and have always been a bit sorry to step off the train at my destination. My longerst journey (52 hours) was a pleasure from start to finish and I didn’t want it to end.

There is something delicious about the enforced idleness of train travel; a rare thing is this busy life. A train has everything you need: a comfy bed, regular meals, occasional forays into the world outside during the longer stops and a constantly changing panorama outside your windows. You sleep, eat, sleep, watch the scenery, doze, eat, read, write, eat, sleep and that’s about it. Frankly it’s bliss and I’m not entirely sure how I’ll cope when I’m back in real life again.

That’s why I’m making the most of every second of my last long journey from St Petersburg to Berlin: two nights of gently rocking sleep and one last day of train life.

Outside the windows it’s midsummer as we cross from Russia into Belarus. Wheat fields, burnt gold or just harvested and sporting conical hay stacks, roll along on either side of the tracks.

We stop at Orcha for two hours. It's warm, 30c, and I buy dumplings and fresh apples from the babushkas on the platform then sit with the rest of the passengers under a tree near the carriages.

When we get back on board the air conditioning stops working. The heat in the carriage builds and I start to consider that there are times when a train journey can be too long. I doze on my bed then stand in the corridor and stick my head out the window to catch some of the breeze. Eventually I decide to try the restaurant car, where for some reason the air conditioning is still working.

In the dining room, they’re playing Cossack tunes on the stereo: dalitza, dalitza, dalitza, da. I order an ice cold beer and take a big gulp and look out the window; a voyeur, albeit briefly, on lives unknown. The sun is moving towards the horizon and small villages surrounded by newly harvested wheat fields shine golden in the evening sunshine. We cross a bridge over a shallow river – the whole village is bathing or picnicking on its banks; 100 people or more splashing in water or sitting in the sunshine, legs stretched out. A man works a plough in a field and wipes his hat across his forehead as he watches the train go by. Deep yellow sunflowers stand tall against the pale blue wall of a village home and a white horse gallops beside the railway tracks, tossing its head in the summer sunshine.

Before long I realise that I’m back to where I started: there really is no train journey that’s too long to take.


  1. On a train, i agree – NEVER too long. Really looking forward to catching up with you when you get back. xx

  2. hello trish, what happened on the last trip? we are all so curious...
    it was so good to see you. big hugs, tati