Night train primer

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The Kasztan will take you from Berlin to Novosibersk via Warsaw. Video by .

It some 40 years since I travelled ‘on the cushions’ in a night train with no more than the space that I was sitting in to spend the night. It was a desperately cold winter and the couchette coaches for the Hoek van Holland – Moscow Express (via Berlin and Warsaw) had not turned up at Hook of Holland for their return journey to Moscow. It was a long, hard night. However, I continue to patronise night trains. And having sampled night trains in various European countries, I can vouch that Polish sleeping cars compare very favourably – in facilities, cleanliness and customer service – with what is available elsewhere.

A week ago Michael Dembinski, who publishes one of Poland’s best blogs, W-wa Jeziorki, wrote a primer about using Polish night trains. It is excellent and I republish a slightly abridged version here for all BTWT readers who do not regularly visit his blog. Do click the link below if you want to read the original version. By the way, there is much of railway interest on W-wa Jeziorki. What is the link between Euston Station and PKP? See today’s post to find out.

There are three forms of night train accommodation. You can (as I did) buy a basic ticket, which entitles you to no more than your seat. If you are unlucky, and you board an overcrowded train – as is standard on Fridays in summer, you won’t even have a seat. You will stand all the way, or sit on your suitcases in the corridor. Standing up for nine hours – all night long – is not pleasant. Booking a 1st class ticket gives you six people rather than eight to the compartment, the higher price means that fewer people are likely to go for it, so it’s likely that there won’t be a full complement of six in your compartment. First class from Warsaw to Międzyzdroje costs 99 złotys as opposed to 66.

Next up from a seat is the kuszetka (couchette). In a compartment, there are six bunk beds, three on one side, three on the other side, of a narrow passage, and a step ladder to reach the middle and top bunks. For a 25.50 złotys supplement, you are assured a lie-down and you’ll not be bothered by the guard once you’re in your compartment (he’ll wake you up ten minutes before reaching your destination). There are no sheets or blankets; you are expected to take off your shoes and lie down in your clothes, covered with a jacket or coat. The couchette and sleeper carriages are sealed off from the rest of the train, for the passengers’ security. And the toilets are cleaner than in the normal carriages, especially after nine hours of travel.

The most luxurious form is the sleeper carriage (wagon sypialny). The compartments are for two or three people; bedding is provided. You need a second class ticket plus an supplementary payment of 70 złotys (three-person compartment) or 130 złotys (two-person compartment) per person for the wagon sypialny. This pushes up the price of a return trip to the seaside quite considerably; I think the kuszetka is the optimal price/comfort trade-off.

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