All Posts by Edward

About the Author

After crisscrossing Europe for 6 years as a train conductor, I guide intrepid travellers roaming Europe by rail.

Italian train tickets
Jul 20

Avoid Long Queues and Pickpockets: Get Italian Local Train Tickets at the Bar

By Edward | Cheaper Tickets

Where to get Italian local train tickets?

So there you are at Roma Termini (Rome's main station). You need an Italian local train ticket to Orte. The queue at the ticket office is huge. Hey - why not use one of these ticket machines that are all over the place?

You find yourself a nice machine (one without sputum all over the touchscreen) and press the flag for English. It springs to life and blares:

"BEWARE OF PICKPOCKETS! IN CASE OF NEED, ASK ONLY TRENITALIA STAFF FOR MORE INFORMATION".

That was earsplitting. Your ears are still ringing as you look behind you.

You're blown sky-high. Assorted station pondlife is now looking at you. Wise to the fact that you are a sitting duck. A helpless victim. Already three men are offering to "help" you with the ticket machine.

Run. 

Didn't see that coming? Neither did I when tried to get Italian local train tickets from a ticket machine.

It doesn't have to be like this.

Italian ticket machines

Trenitalia ticket machines at Milano Centrale

A hidden way to get Italian local train tickets

For spontaneous tickets for local trains, three options spring to mind:

  • go to the ticket office, 
  • go to a ticket machine,
  • or buy online

Ticket office means queueing. Ticket machines: getting to grips with unknown software. Online: yet another account or app, yet another password, credit card numbers, CVCs, TANs, pick-up codes (so you still have to use a machine)... waaaaah!!!

However.

In Italy, there is a fourth option. Much easier, much more convenient. One that we tourists don't know about.

Buy Italian local train tickets with Sisal Pay 

I first noticed Sisal Pay while on holiday at Otranto. Passing a bookmaker's with a little girl over my shoulder (my little girl, obviously. As featured in my Nightjet post), this is what I saw:

Sisal Pay Trenitalia

What it says on this advertisement: "Enter a SisalPay point and you are already at the station. If your train is regional, your ticket office is all over Italy with SisalPay". I really admire this Italian pragmatism.

Sisal is a bookmaker. It was founded in 1946. People have been putting money on the horses and the football with Sisal for 70-odd years.

In 1995 Sisal started selling local train tickets and in 2002 they took up processing all sorts of payments with Sisal Pay. Now Italians pay for their gas and electricity with it, and use it to pay cash for things bought on Amazon. It is a useful service.

€10 on Napoli to score first, and a single to Domodossola please

Sisal Pay terminals are all over the place. In addition to the bookmakers, any bar, tobacconist or newsagent can attach itself to the Sisal Pay network by getting a Sisal terminal.

Any place that has a @SisalPay terminal can furnish you with local train tickets. There are 40,000 of them throughout Italy. And definitely one near you.

Click to Tweet

Great! So how do I get my tickets?

Sisal Pay

Look out for this logo

Keep your eyes peeled for the above logo. Any bookmaker and countless bars and tobacconists should have a sticker or a sign somewhere, indicating that they do Sisal Pay. 

At a newsagent's or tobacconist's, just queue up (it won't be a long queue). At a bar, make for the cashier and queue up there - in Italian bars you usually pay for what you want at the till, then take your receipt to the actual bar and order your drink. 

Sisal Pay Italian train tickets

This is what you might see at the entrance to a bar or newsagents

A packet of Marlboro Touch, a Grazia and a ticket to Civitavecchia

This only works for local trains. I've read the terms and conditions for you. Here is what you can get using Sisal Pay:

  • Tickets for regional trains (treni regionali) operated by Trenitalia, Trenord and Ferrovie del Sud Est for distances up to 600 km and across more than one region. 
  • season tickets up to 250 km of distance
Sisal Pay cannot get you tickets for mainline trains - Freccias, Intercity or night trains. Only the local trains in your region. This keeps things simple. But often, this is all you need. 

In practice you will only be using Sisal Pay for short trips on which you don't want to blow a Eurail/Interrail pass travel day.

There are some tiny local operators (Ferrovie Udine Cividale, say, and Circumvesuviana) that don't sell through Sisal Pay. But these companies still distribute tickets through newsagents and tobacconists.
local train Italy

More idyllic local train porn

Do I have to speak Italian?

Well, a little bit of ticket-Italian would help you a lot. Even Grazie (GRAH-tsee-ay - thank you) alone is a small courtesy that won't go unnoticed.

Proper ticket sellers are used to dealing with even the most incomprehensible foreigners. In bars and newsagents, they might be a little less experienced.

At the same time, English and Italian are similar enough that if you speak English and wave your arms for a while, you'll get what you need in the end.

Italian local trains

Tiny station on the line from Otranto to Maglie

Introducing the Italian Ticket Template

However, to save you the effort, I've designed an Italian ticket template in which you simply fill in the blanks.

Either download it and print it, or save it onto your tablet or phone and write on it with a photo editor.

The first half is for simple tickets, but I've also put in options for more advanced operations involving reservations and night trains.  In most cases, this will see you through - but if not, it will definitely get you started.

You can find the Italian ticket template in the e-guide library. It is free. Subscribe to my blog (that is, join the free Rail Guide Europe club) for the password. I've put a button below so you can do that now ❤️

Want free access to my e-guides?

Subscribe to my blog and get the password to my library. Be the first to know when I've managed to write a new thing. Unsubscribe anytime.

The easiest way to get local train tickets

While in Italy I tried this out several times. Once at a bookie, twice at my local bar.

Both times it was easy. I didn't have to wait at all and I had my tickets immediately. No commission was charged

Italian tickets from the bar

Though these stickers don't explicitly mention tickets, I did manage to get mine from this bar. All that matters is the Sisal Pay logo.

Is there a catch? Well, one tiny one: the ticket is only valid for the day you specify. If your plans change, you can exchange your ticket at a Sisal Pay point up until 23:59 before the day of travel. You just have to pay a €0.50 surcharge. 

The ticket is issued on Sisal's thermal paper - the same used for bets and lotteries. Keep it away from heat and try not to scrunch it up.

Sisal Pay Train Ticket

Local train ticket issued through Sisal Pay at a bar. Notice the arrows indicating where to validate your ticket

Now I'm sure some of you would prefer a real railway ticket from a proper Biglietteria etc. etc. But for the whatever-works gals out there, this is absolutely brilliant and saves much time and misery.

Buon viaggio and alla salute

So next time you are in Italy and need tickets for a local train, just look out for a bar with the Sisal logo.

  • Order yourself a lovely Cynar Spritz and your ticket.
  • Take a sip.
  • Say a little prayer for the poor people queueing at the station and doing battle at the ticket machine.

And for God's sake REMEMBER TO STAMP YOUR TICKET BEFORE YOU GET ONTO THE TRAIN!

Trenitalia Ticket Stamper

Remember to stamp your ticket or you will pay horribly

FREE Access

Join my Rail Guide Europe Club FREE

Sign up now and gain instant access to:


  • The password to my Insider Rail Guides
  • My FREE Telegram help group
  • Ask me Anything status by email
Kraków Główny secret entrance
Apr 11

Kraków Główny Station Guide – Your Escape Plan

By Edward | Stations

Kraków Główny Station Escape Plan - or How not to Get Trapped in Cracow’s Main Station.


I see you. Yeah, you. I see you. Standing in front of those luggage lockers at Kraków Główny station. Yes, they DO only take Polish money. Coins, ffs.

Of course you haven't got any Polish money on you, much less 12 zloties in coins.

Kraków Główny Luggage lockers

The luggage lockers at Kraków Głównyonly take Coins. Polish coins.

That was me in September 2014, the first time I ended up at Cracow's new station, so I know the feeling. What happened then I don't want to describe. Let's just say when I returned in November 2014, I was prepared.

As you will be after reading this post and downloading my free e-guide.

FREE Access

Join my Rail Guide Europe Club FREE

Sign up now and gain instant access to:


  • The password to my Insider Rail Guides
  • My FREE Telegram help group
  • Ask me Anything status by email

Escape plan for Kraków Główny Station?

You heard me.

When you arrive at a strange station, in a strange country, it can all be a bit much. It takes you time to find your bearings, time in which you get lost and waste money.

Kraków Główny train station

Kraków Główny? Almost. This is the shopping centre you have to pass through to reach the trains.

This guide is to help you find your feet before you arrive at Kraków Główny Station. When you have read this guide you will know:

Everything you need to know when arriving at Kraków Główny Station

  • where to get money (and where you mustn't!),
  • where you can have a cup of tea and a think,
  • how the luggage lockers work,
  • how to find your way out,
  • what tram ticket to buy. If indeed you need one.

I've also got your back if you are leaving Kraków Główny Station

  • How to find your way in,
  • where to buy provisions,
  • where you can get souvenirs,
  • where to get tickets, if you haven’t got them yet,

History - Built by the Austrians

Kraków Główny railway station is in the centre of Kraków on the edge of the old town. It is ten minutes walk from the Rynek, or market square.

Kraków had a nice, classic station building, built by the Austrians in the 19th century. A station building, in front of it the platforms, a tunnel connecting them. Simple.

Kraków Główny old station

Kraków Główny's old station building, as used up until 2014. It now stands empty.

Layout - the biggest station you can’t see

This closed in 2014, and Kraków’s new station came online. All the station stuff - the halls, waiting rooms, ticket offices - is now underground. Underneath the platforms, which have remained above ground.

Immediately underneath the platforms is a wide underpass with shops and cafés. This underpass is open on one side and lets you into the cavernous station hall with all the necessities: ticket offices, luggage lockers, loos etc. The whole complex is 100 metres left of the old station.

On the west (Old Town) side Kraków Główny station is flanked by the Galeria Krakowska shopping centre. On the east side you’ve got Kraków coach station. Coaches go from here in all directions across Europe.

Welcome to Poland

First things first: do you want to jettison your luggage? OK. Have you got cash?

You can pay for everything with a card at Kraków Główny station. Except the the luggage lockers and the loos. 

There is also a left luggage office, but this also only takes cash. Means: if you want to leave your luggage, you need Polish money.

Bureau de Change at Kraków Główny

The only bureau de change at Kraków Główny. Next to it is the privately run left luggage office. 


Changing money at Kraków Główny station

One way to get Polish cash is to exchange a small amount at the Kantor near the main Galeria Krakowska exit. Don’t look any further, it is the only bureau de change in that area.

The exchange rate is bad, which is why you should only change enough for your immediate needs. Don’t change with someone hanging around in front of the Kantor offering a better rate. The rate may be better, but that is useless if they exchange your hard cash for old Belarusian roubles.

Kraków Główny station: the best ATMs 

AVOID the Euronet ATMs that infest Kraków Główny. These are not bank machines, they are unsuspecting-tourist-self-scamming machines. You might as well go out into the street and give your cash to one of the fake money changers.

Kraków Główny Euronet ATM

Unsuspecting Tourist Self-Scamming Machine

Here is a great video about the Euronet ATMs in Prague.


You need a bank machine from a real bank. The closest real ATM is at the threshold between the Galeria Krakowska and the station. It belongs to mBank. Or walk straight on, keeping left, and you’ll find an ING bank.

Both will give you money at a normal exchange rate. I usually take out 150-200 zlotys to get started.

The machine will ask you if you want your account debited in PLN (Zlotys) or your home currency - EUR, GBP, USD. Always ask for PLN.
Krakow station ATM

ING bank is in the Galeria Krakowska shopping centre.

That way, you get the open-market exchange rate. This is better than the “fixed” exchange rate which they will use to debit your account in euros or dollars. The ATM will go: “are you sure? Most people take the fixed rate”.

This is because most people don’t understand the difference. Decline the conversion.

Now you can take your money and head back to the station. Time for a treat. Or go straight to the section on How to get the feck out of here.

Your next move

If you are not in a hurry, you might as well sit down, connect to the FREE WIFI and plan your next move with a guide.

The In Your Pocket guide to Kraków is superb. I love and heartily recommend the In Your Pocket guides, as they are well written and brimming with useful knowledge. They are also free.

If you want a cup of tea and a think, here are the places I recommend:

Krakow Glowny station

Grycan is a good Polish ice cream parlour and café.

Keep the wolf from the door at Grycan

THE Polish ice cream chain (their slogan is “ice cream since generations”). Strong coffee, succulent cakes, luscious ice cream. For something traditional, try the “rurka z bitą smietaną” (say: ROOrkah zBEEtong shmyeTAnnong). This is a waffle filled with fresh whipped cream.

Krakow Glowny coffee

Rurka z bita smietana. A lovely light Polish snack.

Have a square meal at Polskie Smaki

Decent Polish food at decent prices. The Polish breakfast will set you up for the day ahead.

Pierogi are also nice - dumplings filled with potato and cheese, meat, or strawberries. Or try the sour rye soupurek). On early mornings after drinking the night away with the Australians in your couchette, you'll need Żurek. It is tart and has an egg floating in it. And lots of sausage.

Now you've fortified yourself - let's get the feck out of here.

Kraków Główny station luggage lockers

Now you are armed with zloties you can use the luggage lockers. There are lots of them. You can find the luggage lockers underneath almost every platform, at the lower of the two levels that make up the station hall.

Krakow Glowny Luggage Lockers

There are lots and lots of these luggage lockers

Then there are two left luggage offices with staff.

  • One is underneath platform five and takes 15zł/piece. It is station- run and staffed with grumpy men reading newspapers.
  • The other one is next to the Kantor and costs 13zł/piece. It is privately run and staffed with grumpy student girls bent over smartphones.
Krakow Glowny Left Luggage

Left Luggage Office at Kraków Główny, underneath platform 5. © Martin Pavlík

Kraków Główny station: how to get the feck out

After the new station opened, people were quick to point out that it is hard to find your way out of the station. And just as hard to find your way in.

Kraków Główny exit

The easiest way out of Kraków Głowny

The biggest western exit leads you straight into the heart of the Galeria Krakowska. The next western exit also gets you into the Galeria. Only one western exit, at the south-western corner of the station comes out into the open.

A consumerist labyrinth

On the eastern side you come out at the two-deck bus station. The sight is not pretty, and definitely not what you came for.

Kraków Bus Station

If you need to get to Slovakia fast, don't tell anyone I told you it is quickest by bus. It just is. There are no daily train services from Kraków to Slovakia


Lets say you are in the underpass between the platforms.

If you want to go into the Old Town, make for the exit “Galeria Krakowska” and “Stare Miasto” and keep left. This will get you to the “secret” exit that saves you having to go through the shopping centre

Krakow Glowny exit

Kraków Główny underpass, facing the Galeria Krakowska. Bear left for the secret exit.

By Public Transport

Much depends on where you are staying. All I can do here is tell you which lines go where and what ticket you had best buy.

If you are staying in, say, Kazimierz, you wil want to go by tram.

Ditto if you are going to my favourite part of Kraków, Nowa Huta.

There are 20 minute, 40 minute, 60 minute tickets, two journey tickets and day tickets. For Kazimierz, a 20 minute ticket is fine. The same goes for Nowa Huta.

Departing Kraków Główny station - the easiest ways into the station

Getting in - through the mall or through the secret entrance

The intuitive way into the station is through the shopping centre. Walk into the Galeria Krakowska and follow the signs “Dworzec PKP”.

Krakow Glowny Galeria Krakowska

Follow the signs into the station section of this huge shopping centre

The direct entrance is hard to see unless you know how to look for it. Walk towards the old station building and keep left. Walk along the left wing of the old station building. You will find a colonnade that takes you to a flight of stairs that descend straight into the station.

Kraków Główny secret entrance

Secret entrance into Kraków Główny

Food for your journey and to take home

Carrefour

If you need provisions for your journey (let’s admit it, provisions are part of the fun) you have two supermarkets:

  • Firstly, Carrefour, just inside Galeria Krakowska at the exit into the station.
  • Secondly, Biedronka, which is in the station itself. I prefer Carrefour.
Krakow Glowny Galeria Krakowska

This Carrefour is just on the Galeria Krakowska side of the main threshold between the Galeria and the actual station

For water, if you like it still, go for Żywiec Zdrój. If you like it sparkling, go for Kryniczanka or Muszynianka.

Don’t waste time choosing beer. Stick to Żywiec or Tyskie, or try Perła if you want something more bitter. I've tried all the other Polish stuff, nothing is as good.

For chocolate, what is delicious is the Wawel Kasztankibar. This also makes a great souvenir.

Krakowski Kredens

Walk out of Carrefour and head straight ahead through the mall. Within a minute you’ll see a shop called Krakowski Kredens on the right hand side. Krakowski Kredens affects to be traditional and does it quite well.

You can get very good sausage and ham here. Also smoked and unsmoked platted Polish cheese strings (“Warkocz” - say VARkotch). These are perfect on a train, as very easy to handle. Krakowski Kredens have lovely bread as well.

Krakow Glowny Krakowski Kredens

Krakowski Kredens sells traditional Polish food in small packets. Not that cheap, but very good.

This shop sells other long lasting, transportable Polish goodies.

Organic food? Vegan in Poland?

If you want organic food, right next to Krakowski Kredens is an organic shop. I’ve got delicious kabanosy there. Also very nice is the Ciechan organic beer. Unpasteurised and very rich.

If you are vegan you will have noticed that the only vegan products in Poland are beer and cigarettes. But here you’ve got a bigger selection of stuff without anything animal in it.

The great thing about having a station in a mall

Of course it is ludicrous and distasteful planning the city's central station as the afterthought of YET ANOTHER SHOPPING CENTRE, but... you might as well benefit. You've got everything on hand for souvenirs


Polish books and music

When you enter Galeria Krakowska from the station square and descend the escalator, behind you will be a big shop called Empik. Empik has everything media, including CDs, books, magazines and posters. They also have postcards and pens.

Polish Fashion

In the 19th and early 20th century, Poland was famous for its fashion. Now it is returning. For lovely women’s fashion, look out for Wólczanka (not an affiliate). I got beautiful blouses for my wife there. For men’s clothing, look into Vistula (again, not an affiliate). I’m wearing my Vistula suit in my Nightjet goodie bag unboxing video.

Got your tickets yet?

For international tickets, especially for night trains, don't join the normal queue. Go straight to the COK - the centrum obsługi klienta, aka the passenger service centre. This office will also sell you tickets for the EIP pendolino trains, Polish Rail's premium train.

Krakow Glowny Pendolino Tickets

Go here for international and Express Intercity Premium tickets

For standard tickets within Poland, join the main queue. It is served by multiple windows. I've never had to wait long. 

Poland has been through a catastrophic railway-deregulation. The state operator PKP has been dismantled and only does intercity trains - PKP Intercity. The local trains have been split up into regional companies that are owned by the various Polish regions. The windows can sell you tickets for most operators, but not all.

If at some point in the future the Poles manage to sell you an entire itinerary with multiple operators on one ticket, it will be hailed as a miracle of IT and progress. In fact this was normal until Poland's car-crazy government screwed up the trains.

Krakow Glowny Ticket office

The main ticket queue for normal tickets within Poland

There are also ticket machines. I admit that I have never used one, simply because I've never bothered. These should also be able to give you tickets for most destinations in Poland. Here is a picture of one, as seen at Kraków Główny station.

Krakow Glowny Ticket Machine

If you can't face the queue (or the Polish ticket window), have a go on one of these machines


Understanding the Polish platform numbering system

• Kraków Główny has five platforms (“Peron” in Polish)

• Each platform has two tracks (“Tor” in Polish”)

• Each track is divided into sectors. These are not usually relevant.

• Trains are announced “arriving on track x at platform y”.

When you read the departure board, you will see which peron your train is leaving from. And always pay attention to what it says on the train before you get on.

Krakow Glowny

Train ready to leave Kraków Główny station. © Martin Pavlík

Download the e-guide with all the maps

I've put all this information into a nifty 20-page e-guide with lots of pictures and maps, so you can find your way more easily. If you join my free Rail Guide Europe club, you can find it among my other free Insider Rail Guides. 

FREE Access

Join my Rail Guide Europe Club FREE

Sign up now and gain instant access to:


  • The password to my Insider Rail Guides
  • My FREE Telegram help group
  • Ask me Anything status by email
Swiss Dining Car SBB Elvetino Restaurant Car
Jan 10

Review: The Restaurant Car on Swiss Trains

By Edward | Dining Cars

Before I begin: I digress

Before I get going on the Swiss railways' restaurant car, have I told you about the Edward Scale?

No, I haven't. The Edward Scale is my way of ranking restaurants.

How to rank restaurants on the Edward Scale

It is simple: a restaurant’s food should be better than its furnishings.

Good food is always good. Bad pizza does not become good pizza if you screw a Vespa to the wall and drape Italian flags everywhere.

A restaurant with a contrived interior doth protest too much. It is fur coat and no knickers.

Swiss restaurant car review

This restaurant doth protest too much

You give points from 1-10 for food, 10 being the best, and points from 1-10 for the interior - furnishing, decorating etc, 1 being the most basic, 10 being the most elaborate. Then you subtract the interior points from the food points to get your result on the Edward Scale. 

The best possible score is +10, the worst score is -10. Any restaurant that scores more than zero on the Edward Scale is worth visiting. Even zero on the Edward Scale is OK. Anything below zero, avoid.

The best-ranking restaurant on the Edward Scale

For a long time the place with the best result on the Edward Scale was a small Russian dumpling stand, Pelmeni Welt, in the square outside Berlin Ostbahnhof. 

Pelmeni Welt got a whopping 9 points on the Edward Scale: 9 points for its food (I grudgingly had to deduct one point because of the microwave) - minus 0 points for the interior.

Swiss Dining Car review

Pelmeni Welt at Berlin Ostbahnhof

It simply has no interior. Pelmeni Welt is a sort of shack, odd bits of wood nailed together and covered with a tarpaulin. There is a gas burner heating it and toddlers’ scribblings on the wall, possibly by the great-grandchildren of the 85-year-old Latvian proprietor, Vladimir Egozov.

Every time I make it to Berlin Ostbahnhof I pray that Vladimir is still alive and that the muddy early-90s post-communist reserve outside Berlin Ostbahnhof in which Pelmeni Welt stands hasn’t been bulldozed.

As my train pulls into Berlin Ostbahnhof I tremble as I open the train door. Then I dash down the stairs and out the north exit and into the square overlooked by what was once a Centrum Warenhaus, East Germany’s department store chain.

Five minutes later I sit hunched over a steaming, mismatched, chipped bowl of Pelmeni doused in broth and piled with fresh herbs, adjika (a hot, Georgian tomato-pepper sauce) and sour cream, as Vladimir tries to talk me into opening a franchise in Munich.

Swiss dining car restaurant car review

Pelmeni at Pelmeni Welt

The food is absolutely mind-blowing. The shack creaks in the wind and an old CRT television blares Russian music videos.

OK, OK, I’m digressing, but I want you to know about the Edward scale so that you can follow my future food reviews.

FREE Access

Join my Rail Guide Europe Club FREE

Sign up now and gain instant access to:


  • The password to my Insider Rail Guides
  • My FREE Telegram help group
  • Ask me Anything status by email

Meet the Swiss Restaurant Car

So this post is about the Swiss restaurant car usually found in international Swiss rail services and about Elvetino, the people who run it. Elvetino is the catering company owned by SBB for servicing their trains with food.

Swiss Restaurant car review SBB Elvetino

The Swiss restaurant car

In my case, I was on EuroCity 8, which runs from Zürich HB to Hamburg-Altona. Though most of its journey is in Germany, this service is run with nice SBB coaches.

To go on a Swiss train is to enter a world in which rail travel gets the devotion it deserves. Everything works. Especially the loos. There are power outlets. Everything is clean.

Me, I’m a compartment gal. I resent that all the SBB have to offer is saloon seating. Especially after dark, when the lighting comes on and you can’t see out the windows due to the bright strip lighting.

Swiss Restaurant car review SBB Elvetino

Fine during the day, but depressing at night: saloon seating in SBB Eurocity coaches. Is like a morgue. Best go to the restaurant car...

Ambience

What is gorgeous, though, is the SBB restaurant car, even at night. Especially at night.

Swiss Restaurant car review SBB Elvetino

Heavy black leather chairs, white table cloths, red walls. Same theme as the SBB livery

The overall atmosphere is restrained, elegant and discreet. It has heavy black, leather, movable chairs and plain white table cloths. Crockery and cutlery are china and metal respectively, and they feel opulent.

Warm, emmolient spotlights instead of the cold, morgue striplighting everywhere else on the train. All the tables are aligned with the windows. 

Everyone talks in murmurs. The waitress glides about like a vestal virgin, nodding her head at whispered orders. Germans come and are in awe. In such awe in fact that they pay €5.00 for a tin of insipid Feldschlösschen beer without complaining.

Menu

The menu is equally restrained and elegant, and surprisingly unpretentious. There is choice, but not too much.

Swiss Restaurant car review SBB Elvetino

The main courses on the menu in the Swiss restaurant car

All classic, salt-of-the-earth Swiss food, with meat, without, and even vegan. Not the ostentatious seitan vegan, where the worse it tastes the holier it makes you. Just food that happens to be vegan.

Some appetizers and salads, some main courses, some puddings. Some hot and cold drinks, and that is it.

My actual meal

I spent almost six hours in the SBB dining car. I got on at Koblenz, where I live at the moment, and stayed all the way to Hamburg.

Drink! Drink! Drink!

I kicked things off with some fancy beer from Ticino. Craft, artigianale and all that. Read: expensive. Apart from the permanent selection of beers Elvetino have a constantly changing offer of regional Swiss special beers. This is what I went for.

Swiss Restaurant car review SBB Elvetino

The Rhine as seem from my vantage point in the Swiss restaurant car

I had had this beer a couple of weeks before, had wanted to hate it but loved it. Afterwards I had opened the Ukrainian Obolon’ Zhihulivs’ke beer that I had brought with me - which I had wanted to love but hated. My days of drinking warm beer from 1 liter plastic bottles are over.

The standard beer in the SBB restaurant is Feldschlösschen from a 0.5l tin. Feldschlösschen tastes like Swedish supermarket beer - weak and bland. Better to pay a tiny bit more for much better beer.

FREE Access

Join my Rail Guide Europe Club FREE

Sign up now and gain instant access to:


  • The password to my Insider Rail Guides
  • My FREE Telegram help group
  • Ask me Anything status by email

I drank it slowly and soaked up the atmosphere as the train twisted along the Rhine. The sun was already setting, and it bathed the tables in shimmering orange light. Just before Cologne I decided to stay and have something to eat. I promised myself I would write a review for it on the blog, to justify the indulgence.

Swiss restaurant car review

The Swiss restaurant car

As a main course I ordered the Polenta with Ratatouille and another Ticino beer. The Vestal Virgin had made me pay straight away for my first bottle (which I resented), but now she saw I meant business and brought everything else I ordered and merely added it to my bill.

Hot through 

The Polenta took reassuringly long to come. I didn’t dare look to see if there was a microwave. Obviously, this stuff is cooked off the premises. It is not food, it is catering. But it is good. Most probably it was warmed up in a steamer. It was properly hot through and showed no tell-tale signs of having been microwaved. Fantastic.

Swiss Rail Dining Car Restaurant Car Review Elvetino

My polenta looking great

It tasted great. The polenta was nice and maizey, soft but grainy, and the Ratatouille was sweet and tomatoey. The whole thing was well balanced and very satisfying. The beer went very well with it.

I lose control

I don’t remember what happened then, but what I do know is that I must have read the menu again and ordered the “panna cotta with raspberry coulis”.

Somehow, the Swiss manage to use French without sounding pretentious.

Anyway, I couldn’t resist it. I had an espresso to go with it and it came in a proper china cup and was also just right. Strong and smokey and not at all bitter.

Swiss Restaurant car review SBB Elvetino

Panna cotta and raspberry coulis and espresso

By now it was past 9 PM and the waitress had shut up shop. So I still sat in the empty dining car and watched the darkness whirl past the window.

Cheaper than a psychologist

Well, it was hardly going to be cheap, was it? I hear you already:  Yeah, Eddie, tell us, what was the damage?

Swiss Restaurant Car review SBB Elvetino

What I paid

Well, I blew all 30 of my Swiss franks and then parted with some euros as well. But if you compare it with real restaurants in Switzerland, the price is OK. It isn’t cheap, but it is exquisite, so on balance, you get your money’s worth. I think.

Expect to pay between €30-€50 per person for food, drink, pudding and coffee.

Verdict

First, the Edward Scale. The Swiss restaurant car gets 4 points on the Edward Scale.

The food gets seven points. Remember this is not freshly cooked, it is warmed up. But it is the best warmed up food I've ever had on a train.

SBB Swiss Restaurant Car Review Elvetino

The interior gets three points - it is tables, chairs, table cloths and cutlery. Only the necessities, but Elvetino don't skimp. They have the best necessities. Otherwise the decorations are restricted to red panelling and vague mountain scenery.

So we subtract three interior points from seven food points to get four points on the Edward Scale.

Overall experience

Imagine this: you spend one or two hours (in my case five or six) in a sumptuous atmosphere, sitting very comfortably and watching the scenery flit by. Everyone is nice to everyone else, no one is in a hurry. It is so civilised

A visit to the Swiss restaurant car is like a little holiday - a holiday from austerity. It is like a sojourn to some older Europe in which the small things still matter and haven't been sacrificed to efficiency and the bottom line. 

Swiss Restaurant Car review SBB Elvetino


I left feeling mellow, relaxed and civilised. I had been feeling depressed about the impending five days away from home, battling with broken heatings and loos on the Flixtrain. This made me feel better than any psychologist could have done.

As I wrote in my rapturous tweet, you feel like you are in a more glamorous, exciting version of your own life. 

So, next time on a Swiss train, plan for the restaurant car. Factor it in to your budget.

Have a look at their current menu right here.

It may not be cheap, but it is worth it. 

FREE Access

Join my Rail Guide Europe Club FREE

Sign up now and gain instant access to:


  • The password to my Insider Rail Guides
  • My FREE Telegram help group
  • Ask me Anything status by email
ICE 4 Review
Oct 24

Review: You call this a Window Seat?!? Deutsche Bahn’s new ICE 4

By Edward | Day Trains

​My first encounter with​ the ICE 4

​Imagine this.

replicas relojes are very perfect in our online store.

You are at Munich station picking someone up from a train about to arrive. Perhaps your wife and baby. Behind you, a brand new ICE 4, the smell of new train wafting out the doors. A futuristic bleeping sets in, the doors close in a flurry of flashing LED lights .

​So this is the future, and I’m in it. Wow. With a subtle, soothing sigh the breaks release and the train noiselessly sets itself in motion, gliding majestically out into the sunlight.

You scratch your armpit and adjust your shopping bag. They should be here any moment.

ICE 4 review

View from the entrance into an ICE 4 carriage

​Suddenly. a text message

​Suddenly, a text message:

we can’t get into our platform. It is blocked by a broken down train.

You look up from your phone, up the line, and there you see it: that vision of things to come, the ICE4, speadeagled across the points of four platforms, grinning like an oblivious python. 45 minutes later it draws back to the platform it left and expels its passengers. It only made it 100 yards towards Hamburg.

excellent cheap orologi replica under $60 extra attractive.

You take your wife and baby home an hour late to a lunch of warm beer and cold chicken.

​The Story of the ICE 4

The ICE 4s are the biggest order ever placed by Deutsche Bahn. For more than €5 bn they ordered 130 of these trains, with a contract in place for 300. This train is set to become the backbone of German fast rail transport.

​A present for German Industry

As Deutsche Bahn is owned by the German state, it was important that German manufacturers got a slice of this lovely cake. In this case it was Siemens and Bombardier.

ICE 4 review

The Fliegende Hamburger came from the same factory as today’s ICE 4 coaches – Görlitz

The carriages are made by Bombardier in Görlitz, a city that has been making trains for 160 years, while all the electrical stuff is supplied by Siemens from all over its engineering empire.

rolex replique montre achieves a wonderful balance of straight line and camber line which are arduous in structure. OK, I get it. Enough background.

​Enough Background. What ​is the ICE 4 like?

After the unfortunate first meeting, things got much better. I’ve been on the ICE 4 several times and can now tell you what it is like.

On my first trip I got on at 5:55 AM and saw the LED-lighting in action. Apparently it adjusts to the time of day in all sorts of colours. All I saw was orange in the morning and white as the day progressed. I loved the orange light.

Since then all I’ve seen is white – presumably it is controlled manually and whoever controls it forgets about it. It would be interesting if there was a light setting for crowd control, for calming down mutinous passengers on an overcrowded, delayed ICE.

ICE 4 Review

Soothing orange light early in the morning

The ICE 4: General Description

The ICE 4 is formed of twelve extra-long coaches. It is painted in the usual white with a red line along its side. The train has three first class carriages, a restaurant car that has some first class seating as well as the compartment for parents with toddlers, and nine second class carriages.

The carriage numbers are painted on – Deutsche Bahn has learnt the hard way that nothing beats good old analogue.

ICE 4 review

Outside of an ICE 4 carriage. Notice the painted on carriage number in addition to the LED display

diamond art is a form of mosaic art where you.

All of the carriages are open plan seating. The only actual ​compartment is the one for parents with toddlers​​​.

Its top speed is 250km/h. Though not as fast as the first generation ICE (280km/h) or the ICE 3 (330 km/h), this is ample. On a network plagued by engineering (or the lack of it), trains rarely attain their top speed. A faster train would have cost more with no benefit whatsoever.

As the carriages are very long, they have to be correspondingly narrow to remain within the German loading gauge. The reduced diameter is noticeable. This is also why the ICE 4 has little gangways that roll out to bridge the yawning gap between the train and the platform.

Second class on the ICE 4

​The second class comes with standard 2+2 seating (that is, two seats each side of the aisle).

​Though some of the ​chairs are arranged in blocs of four grouped around a table, most are arranged two-by-two behind each other, always facing the middle of the carriage. 

Thus whichever direction the train is travelling, half of the seats are facing backwards, half forwards.

ICE 4 review

Second class on the ICE 4

What is wise of DB is to have generous, easily accessible luggage racks.

ICE 4 review

Generous baggage rack on the ICE 4

All in all this is a fairly pleasant second class experience, much nicer and more spaceous than the rather cramped second class on the ÖBB Railjet with its frozen-spinach coloured seats and linoleum floor or, God help us, the smartie-coloured man-trap that is SNCF’s TGV Duplex.

The infamous ICE 4 seats: I think they are great.

There have been many complaints, in fact mass hysteria about the new model of seats Deutsche Bahn has installed in the ICE 4. People have been saying they are torture chairs from hell.

ICE 4 review

Second class seats on the ICE 4. The head rests are very comfortable

Perhaps there is something wrong with my back (I did do ballroom dancing for ten years) but I find them superbly comfortable.

They have a nice high head and proper ears that support your head nicely as you snooze. They do not recline, instead the bottom bit slips forward, pulling the back rest after it. The benefit is that a reclining seat doesn’t invade your space, thus preventing aircraft-style brawls.

I also like the little displays on the head-rests, showing from where to where the seat is reserved. This is easy to see and to read.

ICE 4 review

See yourself on the map – Georgian Railways already had this ten years ago

The free Wifi works well enough wherever there is a decent LTE signal. This isn’t everywhere, but that is hardly Deutsche Bahn’s fault. In the second class each device is allowed 200MB of data volume

First class

The first class comes with 2+1 seating and leather chairs. Apart from being made of leather and spaced a bit further apart, they follow the same design pattern as those in the second class. They aren’t more comfortable.

ICE 4 review

First class seating on the ICE 4. The seats are the same, just leather and spaced further apart

The carpet is the same and so is the Wifi signal. The only difference here is unlimited data volume per device.

Why go first class? It’s breathing space and elbow room more than the seats that make first class more pleasant on the ICE 4.

Travelling with a baby?

Have you got a baby? I have, these days, and I love that Deutsche Bahn has a nice separate compartment in which you can let it run around. Or breastfeed.

ICE 4 review

Seats in the toddler’s compartment on the ICE 4

Sometimes people with nowhere to sit will find their way into the toddler’s compartment, but they cannot complain. And if you roll up with a baby, you can make them move.

This is something Deutsche Bahn has solved very well: the toddler’s compartment is next to the guard’s van, so there is always someone to help you, the restaurant car is next door, and there is a nice toilet with a changing mat. It is all very well done, on all ICE and Intercity trains.

The bicycle section

Until the ICE 4 was introduced, it was dogma that no bicycles are allowed on ICEs. The German bicycle club never stopped lobbying for this to be changed.

Now that many Intercities are being replaced with ICEs, DB has grudgingly accepted that the ICE 4 has to transport bicycles. So it has a small section with eight slots for bikes. These have to be reserved at the cost of €9. 

ICE 4 review

Bicycle section in carriage 1 on the ICE 4

Some smart people think that if they have their bicycle in a bag or a cardboard box it can go free as baggage.

Wrong. The other day on my Flixtrain, running at full capacity, I found a man blocking six seats with his bicycle in a nylon holdall. I went mad. I made him put it where it belonged and charged him the full bicycle price – the alternative being he pay for six seats.

The only bikes that can go free are the truly collapsable ones that fold into a small carrier bag.

Anyway, I haven’t tried to load a bicycle into the ICE 4, but the set up looks usable. Just remember: carriage 1 is for bicycles and you need a reservation. As many older ICEs don’t take bikes, it is wise to book as far in advance as you can.

You call this a Window Seat?!?

Now for my one big complaint. A preposterous amount of seats on this train have no window, or a tiny sliver of one. Since trains have started to be measured in price per seat and kilometre travelled, window seats have gone out the window. This is one of many symptoms of the bottom-line doing the designing on the ICE 4.

ICE 4 review

This isn’t even one of the worst examples. And it is in the first class.

Now, when booking a seat on an ICE, if the train you are dealing with is an ICE 4, you are likely to specify a window seat and find yourself next to the wall. At the same time, the spacious and desperately needed baggage racks afford your suitcase a fantastic view right next to the window.

This is just really cack-handed design, an example of DB’s bean counters shitting on us passengers. It could have been avoided, but all that mattered was cost. Bizarrely, the first class is just as bad as the second class.

The things I do for you

I go to great lengths for you, my readers. One of these lengths is to walk from end to end on the ICE 4 with a furrowed brow, muttering to myself, writing stuff down. I even had to explain myself to the guard.

I have compiled a list of all the seats that have no window. And believe me, it is long. You can find the list of all the unwindow-seats as a handy download in the e-guide library. If you subscribe to my email list you have free, life-long access to my e-guide-library – even if you unsubscribe.

 

I digress: Business Administrators

ICE 4 review

When I went to university,  nearly everyone I met was starting a degree in Business Administration (me, I enrolled in Russian Linguistics). Wherever I went, everyone was studying this thing. They still are. “Why?” I asked. “Well,” they said, “you can do anything afterwards, and work for anyone”.

ICE 4 review

Bean counters downsizing window seats

Business Administration is neither a science nor a humanity. It is an ideology. As a university subject it is as divorced from science as Marxism-Leninism was in East Germany. Business Administration’s central premise is scarcity. There is never enough of anything, especially money, so it has to be saved. You have to cut costs and close your factories. 

ICE 4 review

What about some more seats here?

Now this vast army of Business Administrators has been let loose on the world and is saving money everywhere, meaning that everyone has less and works more.

The brightest Business Administrators work for PwC, Accenture and Roland Berger, the Angels of Downsizing. The dull, stupid ones end up working for Deutsche Bahn, laying waste to everything they can cross out with their red pencils. Night trains, for instance.

Business Administrators shift the focus from making quality products to making money. They have destroyed Cadbury’s, they have smashed Wedgwood, and they’ve got their teeth deep into Marks and Spencer’s.

At Deutsche Bahn their influence is ever more noticeable, and the ICE 4 is a good example.

ICE 4 review

But I digress.

Restaurant car

The restaurant car is very nice, with both a bar area and a proper seated restaurant section. They have nice Bitburger beer on tap and an astounding variety of quite tasty, reasonably priced food.

ICE 4 review

The restaurant car on the ICE 4

Of course it is all warmed up, but real food has long disappeared from Western trains, and as it goes, this is quite good. It is much better than the hospital food DON serves on the Railjet these days, but it cannot compare with a Polish or Slovak restaurant car, where your food is still cooked to order.

Unfortunately even in the restaurant car the windows and seating are not on speaking terms. Sip your coffee and admire the beam between the windows.

The secret section: the best seats on the ICE 4

At the very front and at the very rear (carriages 1 and 14), if you get on through the door nearest to the driving cab and then turn towards the driving cab, you enter a small section of eight seats in second class or six seats in first class which feels nicely closed off from the rest of the train and where the seats are perfectly aligned with the windows.

ICE 4 review

My favourite seats on the ICE 4

It is a dead end, so you don’t get any confused people barrelling backwards and forwards bellowing the place down. Only drivers pass through. Though open to anyone, people seem to avoid it.

Sadly, you can’t see into the driving cab, since you ask. DB has done away with that.

How to use this train

I have tried to put myself into the shoes of various travellers and work out where I can recommend who sits. Here is what I have come up with:

Solo travellers / couples

You are fine almost everywhere. Most of the seats are two-by-two. Consider going first-class if there is a good deal. If you want to ensure you have a window, download my guide to the un-window seats on the ICE 4 and reserve yourself something nice. I would probably get myself something not too far from the restaurant car.

ICE 4 review

Two toilets at the end of nearly every carriage

Groups

As a group between four and eight people I would try and snaffle the secret area in carriage No. 1, about which I waxed lyrical earlier. Bring your own food and drink and forget about the distant restaurant car. 

Whenever I’ve tried to reserve a seat in the secret area outright it has been unreservable, yet when I got on the train, nothing was reserved. It is possible that these seats are always unreserved.

Families

Book yourself the toddler’s compartment if you can – you have to be travelling with a child under six to get it. 

I cannot emphasise enough how great the toddlers’ compartment is. The so-called “family area” is just the same as everywhere else, only that it is noisy and smells of sausage and hard-boiled eggs.

ICE 4 review

Toddler’s compartment on the ICE 4

If you cannot get the toddler’s compartment, try and get yourself somewhere else, anywhere else, with a table, or the secret section in carriage No. 1. If travelling with a baby and there is no space in the toddler’s compartment, make for the secret section, as it is peaceful.

Interrailers and Eurailers

Germany is one of the rail-pass friendly countries. There are no compulsory reservations on any DB trains. So you can use all ICE trains without paying a penny extra.

If you are in a group, the same advice applies as for any other group. If your are tired and want to sleep, make for the secret section in carriage No. 1. 

ICE 4 review

These seats have at least half a window

If you want to spread out on the floor and picnic, again, carriage No. 1 is best for you, provided the bicycle area is empty.

Big warning: on one of my trips, the WiFi signal barely reached the secret section. If you value WiFi, best go somewhere else.

What I like about the ICE 4

Having been on the ICE 4 several times I have discovered that I like the infamous seats. They are comfortable and have the best headrests I know of in German rail.

I like the toddler’s compartment and I think the restaurant is a very pleasant place to be with its new, discreet colour scheme and its bar area.

What I really like is the two secret, quiet compartments at the front and the back of the train. Another good thing is that they seem to have installed lots of toilets that are easy to find.

Also well done is the ample space for luggage. I resent that it blocks windows, but the benefit is you can have your luggage near where you are sitting.

ICE 4 review

Baggage rack on the ICE 4

What I don’t like about the ICE 4

What is really bad is the window/seat situation. This never used to be a problem, why does technical progress mean window seats with no windows?  It is just sloppy can’t-be-fuckedness.

When I go to the restaurant car from my lair in carriage 1, I have to go through nine or ten coaches that look exactly the same, and are very long and rather narrow.

After the third carriage this gets rather unsettling. As most people are wearing their DB-faces they all look the same as well. I lose track of where I am as I stumble through winter upon winter of discontent.

Conclusion

The first ICE was devised at the end of the 1980s to reclaim the elites for rail travel. It was a luxury train from the start. No expense was spared.

No redesign has been able to banish the feeling of comfort and luxury from the ICE 1. If an arm-chair could be a train, this would be it.

ICE 4 review

The world from which the ICE 1 hails

The ICE 4 is from a world light-years away – a clinical, hyper-optimised, homogenised dystopia. The elusive “elite”, even elite Deutsche Bahn staff, goes everywhere by air, even within Germany – this is not their train.

ICE 4 review

The world for which the ICE 4 is made

From its very inception the ICE 4 was supposed to be cheap and to transport as many homogenised consumers as possible, ensconced unspeaking in their virtual realities, plugs in ears, eyes on screens. Maybe this is why they haven’t troubled to align the windows with the seats. Our windows are on our screens.

Don’t let this happen. Travel, don’t be transported. A train trip is something to be experienced and savoured. Looking out the window, with the landscape drifting by, lost in thoughts you might not have had otherwise. It is possible, even on this train. I hope now you know how.

Nightjet; Night Train; EuroNight
Jun 01

10 Exciting European Night trains and How to Use Them like a Pro @Amateur Traveler Podcast

By Edward | Night Trains

10 Exciting European Night trains and How to Use Them like a Pro – Inside Tips from a Night Train Worker

 

A whole day up in smoke

Is this you?

You’re on a eurotrip. You’ve been up since 4 AM to get this plane, having only just caught it because a taxi happened along. You’ve coughed up three times your air fare to take your suitcase with you. 

Now it turns out that this airport “Munich West” is very far west of Munich indeed – more than 70 miles. 

Thank God there’s a coach service, for which you duly pay twice your air fare. At 2 PM you finally reach your hotel and flop down and go to sleep. 

At 6 PM you’re finally on the Marienplatz, waiting to watch the clock dancers twirling. One day almost wasted.

It doesn’t have to be like this. 

Click here to read the full post on Amateur Traveler Podcast.

The Ultimate Guide to Russian Trains
Apr 06

The Ultimate Guide to Russian Trains @Misstourist.com

By Edward | Night Trains

Imagine this.

You have been on this train for ten hours and still have twelve hours to go. You’ve never been on a train this long.

Your coach is swaying and clanking through forests teeming with nameless streams under the expanse of the Russian sky. Just now you passed through a city with golden domes glittering in the sun.

Time is somewhere else. You are beyond the realm of time. You are drinking your thirteenth glass of tea and discussing fate and eternity with strangers – even though you can’t speak Russian.

A train journey is a must-do in Russia, like going on a gondola in Venice – except for the price of half an hour of Venetian gondola you get seven time-zones of Russian train.

The train is the cheapest, safest and most comfortable way to travel Russia. When you’ve finished this guide, you shall know all you need to know to make the most of your Russian train journey…

Click here to read my guest post on Miss Tourist’s blog.

Apr 06

Two Tweaks that can Slash your German Rail Fare by 50%

By Edward | Cheaper Tickets

Forget the BahnCard.

These two subtle, often overlooked tweaks are an effortless way to find cheaper German rail tickets when searching for connections on Deutsche Bahn's website www.bahn.de. 

The two blunt instruments for getting cheap fares are to book as far as possible in advance and to pick a day when fewer people are travelling. I like Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

But once you've done that, or if your date is non-negotiable, try these two tweaks which can halve your train fare.

FREE Access

Join my Rail Guide Europe Club FREE

Sign up now and gain instant access to:


  • The password to my Insider Rail Guides
  • My FREE Telegram help group
  • Ask me Anything status by email

How most people search

I've got a search here from Munich to St. Goar on the Rhine - a longish trip involving changes. St. Goar is where Loreley is. 

And this is what it comes up with:

Search result in standard search

So far, so underwhelming, no?

The first tweak for lower fares

The first thing to do is uncheck the box Prefer fast connections. Few people understand that this makes a difference. The search engine will now show you slightly slower, less direct connections which most people haven't found because they haven't noticed the box.

As Deutsche Bahn's long-distance pricing varies depending on how full a given ICE or IC train is, you will automatically be shown emptier and thus cheaper trains. 

While the improvement in this case is not huge, it does give you more choice. But this is only the first step on our way to 

The second tweak for lower fares

The second tweak is to chuck out ICE trains. On many lines in Germany the ICEs go no faster than other trains. The Munich-Paris TGV service, capable of 200 mph in France, hobbles from Ulm to Stuttgart at 70 mph because the tracks allow no faster.

The only connections where this severely lengthens your journey are where you cover great distances on high-speed tracks.

Once you have taken out the ICE trains you get quite different results, as ICEs are the backbone of German long-distance rail travel. This brings up the Intercitys, which many people are not aware of as a cheaper alternative - one that often is hardly slower.

Much cheaper tickets, and only a slightly longer journey

I always try these simple tweaks when searching for tickets. There are many variables, and depending on where you are going these tricks can yield both better and worse results than the ones we have achieved here.

By unticking two little boxes on bahn.de you can cut your rail fare by 50%.

Click to Tweet

I hope this helps you on your next trip to Germany. Let me know in the comments how much you saved!

FREE Access

Join my Rail Guide Europe Club FREE

Sign up now and gain instant access to:


  • The password to my Insider Rail Guides
  • My FREE Telegram help group
  • Ask me Anything status by email
11 Soundtracks for your Russian Train Journey
Mar 20

11 Soundtracks for Your Russian Train Journey

By Edward | Uncategorized

11 Soundtracks for your Russian Train Journey

So you are now on a Russian train.

Had enough of all the talking and eating and listening? Perhaps time for some you-time, yes?

This is something I hadn't the cojones to put into my guest post on Miss Tourist.

I wanted to have a chapter with lots of different Russian music for you to listen to on your journey, as you travel from city to city, to help immerse you in Russian culture. Well here it is. For each Russia 2018 host city I have chosen something for you to listen to.

You are unlikely to like all of it - I've deliberately delved into old and new music, some of it more arcane, some of it less so. I've also striven to reflect that there are other nations in Russia apart from the Russians.

Moscow

Let's ease ourselves into this with some light Mussorgsky. Dawn on the Moskva River is the introduction to Mussorgsky's opera Khovanshchina. When Mussorgsky died, this opera was an unfinished heap of papers that had to be straightened out and completed by his friend and mentor Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

Kazan

Kazan is the ancient capital of the Tatars, originally a nomadic tribe from Central Asia. They were feared throughout Eastern Europe during the Middle Ages, when they made it as far as Poland.

The Tatar language is related to Turkish and the Tatars are mainly Muslim. Famous Russian ballet dancers Rudolf Nureyev and Irek Mukhamedov are Tatars. Here is a Tatar pop song by Guzelem and Salavat Minnekhanov, in Tatar.

Saint Petersburg

Imagine the Russian aristocrats dancing to these waltzes in the salons of Petrograd, unaware of their imminent fate.

Standard waltzes of the Strauss and Lehár kind have several happy themes with one sad one embedded - Russian waltzes are the other way round: unhappy themes with one happy moment. 

My favourite, Autumn Dream, (49'20") is actually by an Englishman, Archibald Joyce. In England no one knows this piece any more, but in Russia every schoolchild can whistle it. 

Volgograd

Time for a war song. This is one of the most famous. It makes my eyes sweat terribly. It is the song of a lonely soldier in a dark night, listening to the whistling of bullets and longing for the tenderness of his wife. Here is a full translation. Volgograd is the erstwhile Stalingrad, the battle of which was the turning point of the Second World War.

Soviet war songs are nearly all about individual suffering. I cannot think of one that celebrates how great war is.

Rostov-on-Don

Rostov-on-Don is in southern Russia, near Ukraine. This is Cossack territory. The Cossacks are a people that drew mainly on eastern Slavic stock in the Russian Empire's southern borderlands. They also absorbed elements from the mountain cultures of the Caucasus. 

It shows in this song by Otava Yo, in which they use a beat that many of the tiny Caucasus nations use in their music. Otava Yo are a bizarre group that make wildly gripping music and wonderfully imaginative videos. Do look at their other videos.

Sochi

Sochi is even further south on the Black Sea. I thought for ages about what to put here and settled on some Circassians or Adiga dancing the dzhegu, more commonly called the lezginka in Russian.

In the 1860s, while in America the Indians were being driven off their land and the British were plundering India, the Russians were busy ethnically cleansing the Circassians from the Sochi area. To this day there are Circassians all over the world, mainly in Turkey, but also in the Balkans, and even in America. 

Now the Circassians have their own autonomous Republic of Adigeya within Russia.

Nizhny Novgorod

One of the host cities on the Volga river. The Volga is an integral part of Russia and Russianness, soul and artery at the same time. There are countless songs and poems celebrating the Volga. Here is one of them, sung by Lyudmila Zykina. This video also shows admirably what music videos were like in the 1960s in the Soviet Union.

Kaliningrad

For Kaliningrad I've chosen music from Sergei Eisenstein's 1938 film Alexander Nevsky, written by Sergei Prokofiev. Both men had recently returned to the Soviet Union after emigrating and now had to produce something that pleased Stalin. Both succeeded. Not only did Stalin love it, but to this day the co-operation of Eisenstein and Prokofiev is considered a milestone both in cinematic and musical history.

Alexander Nevsky tells of the war of Novgorod against the Teutonic order, a state of German crusader knights that dominated the Baltic in the Middle Ages. Königsberg, today's Kaliningrad, was once their capital.

Ekaterinburg

Ekaterinburg is the only Russia 2018 host city in Asia - just across the Urals. To reflect the nearby mountains and its former seclusion as a closed city, plus its history of making ICBMs, for Ekaterinburg I've chosen some electronic music from 1980, Morning in the Mountains by Vladimir Martynov. It sounds like the soundtrack of a nuclear winter. What people got up to with a synthesiser under communism, with only state- but no market censorship, was insane. I don't do electronic music, but this I love.

Saransk

I looked hard for something interesting in Mordovian, the language of the Republic of Mordovia of which Saransk is the capital, but found nothing that fits. Instead I have found something lovely played on the gusli, an ancient instrument more Russian than the balalaika and native to Russians and Finno-Ugric nations like the Mordvins.

Samara

Another Volga city, and the last of the Russia 2018 host cities. I'm going to let you go with the famous Song of the Volga Boatmen, sung by the Red Army Choir. 

I've really enjoyed compiling this post. When you go on a Russian train, I hope some of this music will accompany you and become part of the memory.

If you haven't got plans for going on a Russian train, I hope these soundtracks give you a bit of the feeling.

>