Category Archives for "Eastern Europe"

Oct 16

Nightjet + Eurail Pass: How to Book Online

By Edward | Eastern Europe , Night Trains , Western Europe

First off: For "Eurail", read "Eurail or Interrail". I can't be bothered to keep naming the two individually. For the purposes of this post, Eurail and Interrail are the same. Both are rail passes. Interrail is issued to people who live in Europe, Eurail is issued to people who don't live in Europe.

If you have a Eurail pass, your life just got much easier.

Recently Austrian Railways made possible for Eurail pass holders to book Nightjet supplements (seat reservations, or couchette or sleeper berths) online through their online booking engine. Several Euronight connections are also available.

Before then pass holders could only book by phone or on the ground at the ticket office. A terrible hassle it was, especially if you lived in Paraguay.

So it is thrilling news that you can at last book Nightjet berths in advance from the veranda of your Estancia as you sip Mate and watch your cows graze.

Nightjet + Eurail / Interrail Pass: 3 steps to your berth

1.

First of all, open up your browser and navigate to ÖBB's ticket website. Start the search with your date and directions. 

ÖBB Tickets Online

Start by entering your travel date and time. At this stage you have nowhere to declare your rail pass. Don't let this stop you.

You will see a selection of prices. Normal prices that is.

Nightjet + Eurail Interrail

This is what you see. Now comes the time to add your discount.

2.

Now if you look at “Adult” there will be a little link saying “Change”. Click it.


After the first search, notice on the right the new field "Who is Going", which shows "1 x adult" by default. Click "Change"


Now you can choose from a range of concessions. “Interrail / Eurail” comes last, when you have already given up hope. Select that concession.

Nightjet + Eurail

To make things easy for you, ÖBB has hidden "Interrail / Eurail - Globalpass" at the bottom of a pile of irrelevant niche discounts

3.

Now search again. You will be shown much lower prices.

Nightjet + Eurail Interrail

And here you see your options after setting the discount to Interrail / Eurail Globalpass

After that you go on to select the berth you prefer.

Nightjet + Eurail Interrail

Add the €14 basic supplement to your basket, then go on to choose your berth

Other European Night Trains + Eurail / Interrail Pass

You can follow the same procedure for several other Euronight night trains with a shred of Austrian involvement: 


  • Berlin-Przemyśl 
  • Vienna-Bucharest
  • Munich-Zagreb
  • Zürich-Budapest
  • Vienna-Kiev (see below)

Eurail Travel days and Night Trains: How to get it right

While we are at it, let me just mention how to manifest night trains on your Eurail pass.


An overnight train starts its journey on the evening of one day and finishes it on the next day. Does that mean that a night train needs two Eurail pass travel days?


No, it doesn't.

When using a night train with a Eurail pass, you only fill out one travel day: the day of departure. You get the morning after thrown in. Bam. Forget anything anyone ever told you about any 7 pm rule. The 7 pm rule is obsolete.

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    Ukraine by Eurail / Interrail pass


    Many night trains leave Vienna every night. One goes to Ukraine - one of Europe’s most interesting countries. There is a daily sleeper train from Vienna via Budapest to L’viv and Kiev. 


    The bad news is that Ukraine is not a Eurail country.


    Thanks to the tireless work of dedicated ÖBB managers (see @vorortanleiter on Twitter), it is now possible to book the Vienna-Kiev sleeper online and get your Eurail pass counted up to the Ukrainian border.


    Combining your Eurail pass with a standard ticket into Ukraine used to be an ordeal. Ticket-wise it was a yoga-position into which only the best ticket sellers could wrench themselves. You needed time and patience to coax your ticket out of them.

    Lviv Opera house

    I took this picture of L'viv Opera House on my Un-Interrail trip to Ukraine when I was 20. Oh man. That was 140 years ago. Things were all in sepia then.


    Not anymore. Now you can book the whole thing online with ÖBB. And can make an elegant incursion into Ukraine to see L’viv or even Kiev.


    L’viv is a gorgeous central European city with cobbles and trams and coffee houses, while Kiev is the ancient capital of Kievan Rus’, the Mother of Russian cities and now the sizzling centre of independent Ukraine. No Eurotrip should miss this exciting European country.

    Ukraine with your Eurail Pass: 3 steps to your berth

    1.

    Navigate to ÖBBs ticket website. Enter the details for your query.

    Vienna Lviv Eurail

    So go and enter Wien - Lviv. Up comes this price.

    Prices for the Ukrainian train are always the same. They include the berth in a sleeping car. You can choose between T3, Double or Single. See my Nightjet post for what this means.

    2.

    Now if you look at “Adult” there will be a little link saying “Change”. Click it.

    VIenna Lviv Eurail

    In the bit about "Who is going" click "change".

    Up pops the mask in which you can choose your relevant discount. Interrail/Eurail Globalpass is at the very bottom of a very long list. Type "Inter" in the search field, then it comes up straight away.

    Nightjet + Eurail

    To make things easy for you, ÖBB has hidden "Interrail / Eurail - Globalpass" at the bottom of a pile of irrelevant niche discounts

    3.

    The system recalculates the prices. Because you have a Eurail pass, you already have a ticket for the Austro-Hungarian section of your journey. What you still have to pay for is your sleeper berth and the Ukrainian section. 

    Vienna Lviv Eurail

    After adding the Interrail / Eurail Globalpass you get a much more humane price. This is for a T3 sleeper

    Add to your basket, decide if you want T3, Double or Single and proceed to checkout. ÖBB has the brains to show you the following friendly reminder:

    Vienna Lviv Eurail

    ÖBB make it clear you have to print out your ticket at a ticket machine or counter IN AUSTRIA

    This is crucial. It means that if you book, say, L'viv-Vienna, you have to print out your ticket at an ÖBB ticket machine or counter.

    Why do I need a sleeper?

    The Vienna-Kiev train is in fact one or two Ukrainian sleeping cars that are attached to a series of trains heading east. This is why you have to book a sleeping car berth. There is no couchette or seated car option. On the up side, it is not expensive and you get a proper bed. 

    You may have realised I love Ukraine. While my school pals went on an Interrail tour, I spent three weeks on Ukrainian trains between L’viv, the Crimea and Odessa. Check out my fellow blogger Megan Starr for in-depth work on Ukraine, Eastern Europe and the Nordic countries.


    Further reading


    If you want to read more about night trains in general, check out my Nightjet post or my Astra Trans Carpatic post. Or join 500 other smart rail travellers and subscribe to my blog to download my free e-guides.

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    Get the password to my free e-guide library and irregular updates

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      Kraków Główny secret entrance
      Apr 11

      Kraków Głowny Station Guide

      By Edward | Eastern Europe , Stations

      Kraków Główny 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.

      Escape plan for Cracow 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 Cracow station. When you have read this guide you will know:

      Everything you need to know when arriving at Kraków Główny

      • 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

      • 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

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

      Cracow 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 Cracow’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 is flanked by the Galeria Krakowska shopping centre. On the east side you’ve got Krakow Bus 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 Cracow 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

      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: the best ATMs 

      AVOID the Euronet ATMs that infest Cracow station. 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. 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 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: 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 Cracow, 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 Cracow - 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.

      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.

      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. You can download it and have it at your disposal always, without having to rely on the internet. If you join my free Rail Guide Europe club, you get the password for my free e-guide library.

      Free Rail Guide Europe club

      Join 260 other rail travellers in my free Rail Guide Europe club. You get:


      1. Money saving emails about how to get the cheapest tickets
      2. Inside information from someone who works on trains
      3. The password to my ever-expanding free e-guide library with useful stuff you can download
      4. Alerts when I publish a new post
      5. My email address and Telegram handle, so you can ask me anything, anytime
      Krakow Glowny

      Train ready to leave Kraków Główny. © Martin Pavlík

      Astra Transcarpatic Review
      Jul 09

      Review: Astra Trans Carpatic’s Overnight Service

      By Edward | Eastern Europe , Night Trains

      ​Astra Trans Carpatic: a New Night Train in Europe

      ​I know what you’re thinking, and no:

      I paid for my ticket and travelled as a normal passenger.

      Astra Trans Carpatic didn’t know I was coming, and if they ​did, so what? I’m not a famous blogger or influencer. I’m just a weirdo dragging his wife and baby across Eastern Europe by train, because train bloggers don’t go by plane ever.

      Astra Transcarpatic Review

      Astra Trans Carpatic is a Romanian train operator that belongs to Astra Vagoane, who make trains. In February 2017 they started running an overnight service between Arad on Romania’s western border and Bucharest, using their own carriages.

      In the summer months the ​service is extended from Bucharest to the Black Sea port of ​Constanța, making it possible to traverse the whole of Romania - from the Puszta through the Carpathians to the ​shores of the Black Sea - in thirteen hours.

      The ​tidings of a new overnight service in Europe reached me ​between sobs in the office I had ​washed up in after Deutsche Bahn axed its ​CityNightLines and with them my ​job. After decades of night trains being ​closed down, this was a lovely bit of good news and I have ​wanted to pay Astra Trans Carpatic a visit ever since.

      Astra Trans Carpatic review

      Astra Trans Carpatic, ready to leave Arad

      ​Astra Trans Carpatic's Timetable

      ​As mentioned above, the Astra Trans Carpatic ​traverses Romania from East to West and West to East over night and over the Carpathians. Here is their eastbound timetable, as of summer 2018:

      Astra Trans Carpatic Timetable

      Astra Trans Carpatic's route and timetable, eastbound

      ​05:​28 is not a nice time to wake up and ​arrive at Bucharest Gara de Nord, but everything is open and you can have breakfast at McDonald's. What is wonderful is to watch the rest of Bucharest stir and come to life.

      Astra Trans Carpatic Review

      Rays of the morning sun creeping down the facade of Bucharest Gara de Nord

      But 08:35 is a very civilised time to arrive at ​Constanța.

      Here is the westward timetable, as of summer 2018:

      Astra Trans Carpatic Timetable

      Astra Trans Carpatic route and timetable, westbound

      ​The westbound service has perfect timing in every way.

      What are the carriages like?

      ​The carriages are built to standard European specifications (for the nerds: UIC-Z, essentially Eurofima from the 1970s and 1980s), meaning they can be used almost anywhere on the Continent - good for when Astra Trans Carpatic goes international, or if they give up and sell the coaches.

      They are painted in a wonderfully cheerful yellow-green livery which makes them immediately recognisable.

      Astra Trans Carpatic Review

      The yellow-green livery of Astra Trans Carpatic

      ​Seated coach

      Astra Transcarpatic Review

      The seated coach on the Astra Trans Carpatic

      Last time I travelled overnight sitting up (from Košice to Bratislava, about seven years ago) my companions were a group of ​gypsies munching bread and sausage​ in the dark and scowling at me, followed by a friendly drunk who looked like Asterix in a communist polyester suit ​and ended up embracing and kissing me and giving me slivovitz.

      Also, since working on the night trains and regularly seeing what ​goes on in seated cars at night, I've come to avoid ​them. But if I had to, Astra Trans Carpatic's car is one I could imagine travelling in.

      ​Astra’s 2nd class seated car is probably one of the nicest in Romania - it is ​worlds ​better than the 2nd class on the ICE or the Railjet, simply because Astra has taken the trouble to align the seats with the windows. On newer Deutsche Bahn trains you may ask for a window seat and find yourself ​staring at a wall.

      Carpeted floor, 2+2 seating, leather seats, functioning air conditioning, sockets for every seat - Astra has done well. Some seats are arranged in sets of four around a decently-sized table.

      Astra Transcarpatic Review

      Leather seats, a decent fold-out table, sockets underneath

      ​The Couchettes

      ​Astra only does 4-berth couchettes. This is a good thing. 4-berth is much more civilised than 6-berth, better for air-quality and space to move.

      The bunks have proper mattresses, a big pillow and a real duvet. You make your bed yourself with linen provided. Thus, though sold as a couchette, it is more like a 4-berth sleeper. Each berth has a power outlet next to the night light. There is a shower at the end of the corridor.

      Astra Transcarpatic Review Couchette

      An upper couchette bunk on the Astra Trans Carpatic

      ​One of the nicest couchettes I’ve ever seen, on par with the Russian 4-berth sleeper running on the Moscow-Nice and Moscow-Paris services.

      Astra Transcarpatic Review

      Astra Trans Carpatic Couchette

      ​The Sleeping Cars

      ​Now for the sleepers. Each sleeper carriage has ten compartments with two berths each - Astra doesn’t do T3 berths. Two is the maximum amount of people in a compartment.

      This is much higher welfare than the CityNightLine and Nightjet Comfortline carriages that squeeze two more compartments with three berths into the same ​26.4 meters of length.

      Astra Transcarpatic Review

      Astra Trans Carpatic sleeping car

      ​The compartment is carpeted and the walls are clad with faux-walnut. Anything not in faux-walnut is painted a similar ochre colour. The duvets are nice and long, so your feet are covered, and the pillows are a decent size.

      Astra Transcarpatic Review

      Interior of Astra Transcarpatic sleeper compartment

      ​Three of the compartments have a futuristic en-suite bathroom with a loo, a shower and a sink. Mine was spotless. Here’s one fun Eastern European hack Astra has done: Install an upside-down handdryer as a hairdryer​.

      The shower was fabulous. Both hot and cold water at decent pressure, cool lighting, no funny smells. Obviously the equipment is new, but I hope they manage to ​maintain this standard.

      Astra Transcarpatic Review

      Astra Trans Carpatic deluxe sleeper compartment with en-suite bathroom door ajar

      ​What I particularly like is the lighting. There is an array of switches over the door that controls them. Next to your pillow there are also light switches.

      If you turn all the lights off you have true darkness, which is great - in most sleepers you are still left with some sort of LED shining in your face. The Nightjet sleeper has a little white button I feel compelled to cover, and PKP's new and refurbished sleepers have an appalling blue LED blaring all night.

      Astra Trans Carpatic Review

      Clever: the hair dryer in the Astra Trans Carpatic shower

      ​How Astra Trans Carpatic treats you

      ​Having described the train itself, we shall now have a look at the service concept on Astra Trans Carpatic.

      Astra Trans Carpatic review

      Corridor on the Astra Trans Carpatic Sleeper

      ​In the Evening

      ​After the train sets off the attendant knocks and wants to see your ticket. In my case it was a QR code on my smartphone. All the attendant did was look at it cursorily. No scanning, nothing. Of course, if you are in your compartment and no one else lays claim to it, and they have you on their list, there is no reason to go scanning QRs or looking at ID cards.

      One thing I missed on both my trips was complementary water. I think a bottle of water should definitely be included in the price of one's berth.

      ​On both my trips there were no towels ready in the compartment, but when I asked for them (​proSOP, vâ rog)​ the attendant gave me some straight away.​

      Astra Trans Carpatic shower

      The shower in a deluxe compartment on the Astra Trans Carpatic

      ​In the Morning

      ​In the morning ​they wake you with a knock on the door. On my arrival in Bucharest there was no breakfast - maybe because it was impossibly early (05:28 AM) or maybe because the attendant had forgotten.

      On my arrival at Arad, on my return journey, there was ​weapons-grade instant coffee and a plastic-wrapped submarine sandwich with chicken and red pepper in it. I don't know what it tasted like.

      ​I digress

      ​As ​a sleeping car attendant who has made thousands of night train breakfasts and thrown away almost as many, I think breakfasts are a waste of workers' time, the punters' money and precious food. 

      What people need is a hot drink and a small, energising snack to ​keep the wolf from the door as they drag themselves home or to the next bar. ​Wagon Slovakia, who do the night trains in Slovakia, get it right with their cup of coffee and waffle bar. No fuss, you drink your coffee lying down and eat or don't eat your waffle bar, or you take it with you for later.

      ​Sleeping car people can afford not only to go in the sleeping car. They can also afford food allergies and paleo diets. Then there are vegans. There is no lowest common food denominator a rail company can fall back to, so it is better to keep breakfast as low-key as possible. The Russians don't do it at all.

      On my ​CityNightLines ​so much food was wasted. ​And it went everywhere as people ​​​​​​scrabbled about getting their mobile phones, neck cushions and babies' favourite blankets together.​​​

      ​But I digress.

      Breakfast on the Astra Trans Carpatic

      Breakfast on the Astra Trans Carpatic

      The ​Minibar

      ​The train is not long - only four carriages - and so it doesn’t have the length to support a restaurant car, sadly.

      There is a minibar with all the usual stuff on sale - "drinks and light refreshments" is the technical term, I believe. I'd brought my own, so I didn't use it. Once I tried to get water, but couldn't chase down the attendant and lost interest.

      Astra Trans Carpatic Corridor

      My daughter tries to escape

      ​Lost Property

      ​As a blogger in the service of my readers I am prepared to go to extraordinary lengths. One of these lengths is to forget ​a mobile phone, a neck cushion and a baby’s favourite blanket on the train.

      A shunter found me wandering around the sidings of Arad station. I explained in my ​best Romanian that I had lost my phone. He made some phone calls and asked my to wait by the ​casa de bilete.

      Half an hour later an Astra Trans Carpatic worker appeared with all of the things I'd left. ​

      Astra Trans Carpatic Review

      The sink in the en-suite bathroom on the Astra Trans Carpatic Sleeper

      ​Why use this train?

      ​On the whole, most people on their way to ​Romania will opt for the Euronight 473 ​Ister ​from Budapest to Bucharest, or the Euronight 347 ​Dacia ​from Vienna to Bucharest.​​​​​​

      ​My reasons for going on Astra Trans Carpatic were as follows:

      1. I wanted to ​review it for the blog

      2. Unlike the Euronights, it got me to Bucharest with ample spare time to change onto my onward train to Varna at 12:45 PM - to be precise, at 05:​​28. The ​Dacia ​arrives at 15:05, which ​is too late, and the ​Ister ​at 12:05 PM. Only ​mad dogs and bahn.de think 40 minutes are enough ​to change onto a once-daily service

      3. It was easy to book online.

      Astra Transcarpatic Review

      The shuttered art nouveau casino on the Constanța sea front

      ​​Pros of using this train

      ​1. It is the only overnight train from the West that gets you to Bucharest with enough time to change onto the southbound 12:45 PM ​​Romania ​service to Bulgaria and Turkey​​​

      2. ​​Astra Trans Carpatic is a new, open-access operator, and like on Italo in Italy and Westbahn in Austria, ​it shows with the staff: they are exceptionally polite and motivated

      3. It has brand-new, luxurious carriages

      4. It is competitively priced

      ​5. As mentioned above, it gets you all the way from the Puszta to the Black Sea without changing. Get on at Arad at 19:08, arrive Constanța at 08:35 the next morning.

      Astra Trans Carpatic Review

      CFR Steam Engine in front of Arad station

      ​Cons of using this train

      ​1. You have to get yourself to Arad first. Currently, the latest train that gets you from Budapest to Arad in time for the Astra Trans Carpatic is the IC 75 ​Transylvania, ​leaving Budapest at 09:10 and arriving at Arad at 14:34

      2. You then spend four hours waiting at Arad. However, I found time passed quickly. Lunch, a walk along the river and a small shop. People who like trams: Arad has ​second-hand trams from all over Europe ​plying its huge tram network. It's like a tram zoo out there.

      Also, the time is well spent getting acclimatised to Romania, Romanian and Romania's plastic ​bank notes.

      3. You can't use Interrail or Eurail on Astra Trans Carpatic, or indeed any long distance international train tickets.

      Astra Trans Carpatic Review

      Arad is ideal for acclimatising oneself to Romania

      ​How to work the Astra Trans Carpatic into your itinerary​, eastwards and westwards

      ​Eastbound

      ​Going east towards Bucharest, you'll want to join the Astra Trans Carpatic either at Arad, like I did, or at ​​Timișoara, the next station up the line. ​​Timișoara is a bigger town with more ​for ​the tourist to see. There are no more trains from Belgrade to ​​Timișoara, so one must always come from Hungary.

      I have played around with the timetables and always end up with the IC 75 ​Transsylvania​ that leaves Budapest at 09:10 and Szolnok at 10:32.​ ​​​It reaches Arad at 14:34, and if you want to wait at ​​Timișoara you change here onto the 14:44 R 2606 for ​​Timișoara. Wherever you decide to wait, it will be four hours.

      When you reach Bucharest the next morning at 05:28, you can get any number of onward trains​.

      Astra Trans Carpatic Review

      Outside Arad station is this building belonging to Astra Vagoane with a communist mosaic on it, celebrating Romanian-Soviet friendship - these are rare in Romania, due to ​​Conducător Nicolae Ceau​șescu's fitful relationship with the USSR.

      ​Westbound

      ​Coming from Bucharest on your way west you have two options:

      1. Get off at 07:13 at ​​Timișoara and ​catch the IC 78 ​Körös, ​departing ​​Timișoara at 07:30. For me, that is ​too narrow a squeak, but anyone in a hurry could consider ​risking this. The Astra Trans Carpatic is let out of ​​Timișoara ​after ​the ​Körös ​but arrives at ​​Timișoara before it leaves, so there is a window in the timetable at ​​Timișoara that the lucky and well-organised can slip through.​​​​​​ I had a pram to assemble​, so I watched the ​Körös ​leave from my bang-on-time Astra.​​​

      2. Get off at 08:25 at Arad and get the IC 74 ​Transsylvania ​from Arad at 14:20​​​. ​There is a posh shopping centre next to Arad station in which ​you can hole up in a ​café, or ​​​you can go into town.

      Astra Trans Carpatic Review

      IC 75 "Transsylvania" at the Romanian border station of Curtici, waiting to depart for Arad


      ​Yeah, great, but where do I get my tickets from?

      ​You can only get the tickets from Astra Trans Carpatic. Normal ticket offices run by Deutsche Bahn or ÖBB​ do not sell them (to say nothing of SNCF). In fact, ​Astra Trans Carpatic doesn't even appear on Deutsche Bahn's bahn.de online timetables, though it ​is ​mentioned in the European Rail Timetable.​​​​​​

      At Arad and at Bucharest Gara de Nord Astra Trans Carpatic has its own ticket offices (casa de bilete). You can also just buy your ticket on the train with no surcharge.

      I got my tickets online in advance. Unfortunately the ticket buying section is in Romanian only. Fortunately Romanian is one of the easier languages ​for winging it, especially if you know some French and Italian. Also, if you use the Google Chrome browser, you can have it translate everything quite accurately.

      If you need help getting Astra Trans Carpatic tickets online​ subscribe to my blog to reach me by email or on Telegram, then I can talk you through it.

      How much do​es it cost?

      Astra Trans Carpatic has a very simple pricing system. Your fare consists of kilometers travelled plus the class of accomodation you want. Tickets always cost the same whenever you buy them.

      Pricing is in the Romanian currency, the leu (RON), which at the time of writing (July 2018) exchanges at €1 = 4.66 RON, £1 = 5.27 RON and $1 = 3.96 RON.

      Astra Trans Carpatic Review

      Astra Trans Carpatic's pricing system is refreshingly simple

      Thus Arad-Bucharest in a seat or couchette is 600km second class (88 lei / €18) plus 3.60 lei (​80 cents) for a seat or 45 lei (€10) for a couchette - so altogether €19 sitting up or €28 lying down in a couchette, all the way from Arad to Bucharest.

      In a sleeper its is 600 km first class​ plus the ​supplement for a double or single sleeper or a double or single sleeper deluxe (with the en-suite bathroom)​​​. That is 136 lei (€29) for the distance plus 60 lei (€12) for a double, 80 lei (€17) for a double deluxe, 120 lei (€24) for a single or 160 lei (€34) for a single deluxe.

      I paid 432 lei (€92) for the double deluxe for my wife and me. The baby went free of charge. I think that is a fantastic deal. My wife said it was the best train she had ever been on.

      ​So what's the ride like?

      ​I'm glad you ask.

      ​It was great. The train goes quite slowly, first across the plains to ​Timișoara, then up into the South Carpathian mountains and through Wallachia.

      I didn't see much, to be honest, as it was dark and I slept. But ​at times I awoke and peered out the window ​into nameless ​ravines clanking underneath bridges we were ​crossing, before drifting off again to the clatter of the wheels.

      Astra Trans Carpatic Review


      The attendant had switched off the air conditioning for the night, so I opened the window and in rushed lush Carpathian air.

      Much of Romania's tracks are still screwed rather than welded together, so you spend ​much of the journey immersed in this hypnoti​c ​haze of metallic rumbling that is great for sleeping.

      ​Conclusion

      ​Astra Trans Carpatic have done something brave in starting up a night train service in this age of budget airlines and ​coaches. The European Union is still very much in love with planes, global warming be damned.

      That is why it is so fantastic that there are people setting out to make money with trains, and indeed overnight trains.

      Astra Trans Carpatic have a service that is very nice, reasonably priced and well thought out. I ​love their higher-welfare couchettes and sleepers with only four and two berths respectively.

      People on their way to Romania from abroad are more likely to use the established Euronights simply because they are more convenient, but those who make the effort to get to Arad are rewarded with a great train service.

      There is talk of extending the service to Budapest or even Vienna and I hope ​Astra Trans Carpatic ​take that plunge.​​​

      Astra Transcarpatic Review

      The Astra Transcarpatic ready to leave Bucharest Gara de Nord

      The Ultimate Guide to Russian Trains
      Apr 06

      The Ultimate Guide to Russian Trains @Misstourist.com

      By Edward | Eastern Europe

      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 the my guest post on Miss Tourist’s blog.

      11 Soundtracks for your Russian Train Journey
      Mar 20

      11 Soundtracks for Your Russian Train Journey

      By Edward | Eastern Europe , 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.

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