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Lviv - Odessa - a journey on Ukrainian railways

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Warning: There are about 50 pictures in this thread.

 

It has always been my dream to take the Transsiberian Rail. Unfortunately, the costs are quite high – not necessarily just the ticket, but to get to Russia, one needs a rather expensive visa and transportation there is not the cheapest either. So, I decided to get my first flavor of the former Soviet Union train rides in Ukraine.

 

I planned a 5 day trip to Ukraine with a friend from Poland. As I am from Lublin, a city 50 miles away from the Ukrainian border, and I spend most of my summers here, it was easy enough to get to the nearest big city, Lviv, which used to be Polish until 1945. So, we took a bus which cost 20 USD round trip and made a 100 mile, 6 hour trip to Lviv. There, we spent a few days and also took a one day trip to Odessa, a Black Sea resort. Here is the report from this train trip.

 

We bought tickets online. Tickets go on sale 45 days before departure for all trains in most of the former USSR. Because of the war in the east of Ukraine, the local currency, hryvna, went down tremendously. Becuase of that, the tickets were ridicuolously cheap. For a 550 mile, 12 hour trip in 2nd class (kupe, 4 berth shared sleeper) we paid 11 USD. The return trip was in the lowest, 3rd class (plackartniy, open car sleepers) we paid only 7.30 USD! This also included a serving of tea...

 

So here we go

 

First, here’s the map of the trip and the route with stations:

 

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And here’s our return ticket:

 

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I mentioned that we bought the tickets online. The way the system works is that for some trains, you can do electronic tickets, but on others, you must go to the train station anywhere in Ukraine and get it printed out. It’s already paid for, but it has to be printed out on a regular ticket paper. So our trip to Odessa was on an eTicket, but return was like this.

 

Here’s a roundabout with a road which leads to the train station. This is the view towards city center, particularly old town.

 

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Edited by Barciur

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And here’s the view towards the main station building, which is considered to be one of the most important architectual pearls of Polish architecture from before World War One.

 

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The station building in all of its glory:

 

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Inside the building, with a view towards ticket offices.

 

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The map of UZ connections (incl. suspended connections to Crimea)

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A corridor which leads to the bathrooms (paid, 2 UAH which is a few cents) and waiting room (cost for the waiting room is 10 UAH which is 45 US cents)

 

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And here’s platform 1 with a train to Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital.

 

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A view towards the station from outside:

 

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View outwards from the outdoor platform:

 

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Departing train to Kyiv, which carried about 13 cars.

 

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And behind that train, hiding was our train, Karpaty, headed to Odessa.

 

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Here’s the empty platform 1:

 

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We’re now headed to platform 2, our train departs at 20:40.

 

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Platform 2 is getting crowded with passengers headed towards the Black Sea.

 

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At every door there is a provodnik or provodnica – car attendant – which checks your tickets and ID. We had to show our passports to enter the train.

 

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Inside the 2nd class corridor

 

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You can see stylish curtains, which are rather characteristic of the eastern train travel.

 

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Our compartment. We had the upper bunks.

 

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View from the window at the Lviv station:

 

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Inside the compartment, this time with some more light. The beds are not made – everybody has to make their own bed. In the morning, you have to return everything to the attendant.

 

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View down from the upper bunk:

 

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The tea has been served. Typically for the east, in glasses rather than mugs or cups.

 

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If you are interested, here’s the video of the departure as seen from the corridor of our car.

 

https://youtu.be/x78JCYajlps

 

And now some views from the windows:

 

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Arriving at a station:

 

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Not sure what this was, but it looks like the manual of the water heater..

 

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This is the sink in the bathroom:

 

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And the toilet:

 

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As gross as it looks, it actually has something… weird. It has an automatically moving seat cover.. You can either wave your hand and it moves or push the button. That way it’s supposed to be hygienic.

 

IbHJQwtl.jpg

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There is a timetable of this train on the toilet door with more important stations.

 

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And one more look at the corridor at night:

 

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Now after a very comfortable night of sleep, some views from the window nearing Odessa:

 

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Having arrived at Odessa, this is the view of the platform and the train station:

 

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The gorgeous station building up close…

 

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… and inside:

 

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The stairs lead to the waiting room, which also costs 10 UAH, just like in Lviv.

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And the train station on the city side:

 

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In the city of Odessa, we’ve seen interesting things. One example of that is a cat sleeping at a kiosk ;)

 

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And the beautiful Opera building:

 

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Also, my first sighting of the Black Sea. I loved it.

 

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Now on the way back, the station building during sunset:

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The view on the platforms:

cCmTUmIl.jpg

 

And finally, our long train back to Lviv:

 

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This time, we were in the plackarta, which is the 3rd and lowest class on long distance trains in the east. The cool thing is that on those trains EVERYBODY gets a bed. There is no seated long distance trains as there is in the west. I think this is really THE best possible solution for long distance coach, hands down. This is how it looks inside:

 

A view from my bunk: the seats at the bottom will be made into a bed.

 

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A view down the corridor:

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A view onto my bed from a friend’s bunk:

 

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This is the bed that makes itself into two seats with a small table

 

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This set up is great. There are 4 beds on one side of the corridor and two beds on the other in a “compartment”, which really isn’t a compartment, because there is no doors, just a thin wall. The bottom beds open up and have storage room beneath them, so there is no luggage issues. The upper beds in plackarta do not have them, but in Kupe, 2nd class, there is a lot of room as well. So, in general, this is a way I could definitely travel from New York to San Francisco, no problem. It’s so so so so so so soooo much better than sitting in coach.

 

Now some views from the window of rural western Ukraine:

 

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The train on a curve:

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And back at Lviv station:

 

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One extra thing: recorded train announcements in Ukrainian and English. I think they are beautiful!

https://onedrive.live.com/?id=18AFF59C55598510!40779&cid=18AFF59C55598510&group=0&parId=18AFF59C55598510!32411&authkey=!AAaPz3_q1dGk9eY&o=OneUp

 

 

This was definitely one of my most memorable train trips so far. The “bad” thing is that these trains sell out, so we were lucky to get 2nd class one way but we were forced into plackarta on the way back. You really need to be on top to make sure to get a seat, as 2 weeks out they will be sold out. But that’s similar to some of the trains in the US, so no biggy there, but for someone from Poland that was a shock. The really cool thing is as I mentioned that there is no seats – everybody will sleep, so even the most economic travels are in a dignified way. 12 hour sleep in perfect times and it felt like sleeping in a hotel really – no comparison. This really is the best way to travel in my opinion and I am definitely looking forward to going back for more – maybe in Russia next time, or the same trip next year? Who knows!

 

Thanks for your time!

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Nice trip, thanks for sharing!

 

The curtains in the passageway is very much Eastern Europe as is the moving toliet seat!( the men's room in the Chicago Metro Lounge used to have this also!)

 

Pay toliets are a reminder of the 50s and 60s here in the US, but the charge for the Waiting Room is a new one for me!( I have been places where you paid a small fee for platform access)

Edited by jimhudson

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Nice report! Sure makes any cutback in Amtrak's sleeper still seem luxurious!

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Amtrak does not have the equivalent of second class sleeper any more. At least in Russia first class sleeper is very much at par with Amtrak and the supplied bedding actually more elaborate. At least that was my experience on the Leo Tolstoy from Helsinki to Moskva and back.

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Nice report! Sure makes any cutback in Amtrak's sleeper still seem luxurious!

Sure, but keep in mind that you can do 1st class on a 12 hour train for $20 ;)

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I like the train, especially for that price! Looks like lovely scenery and architecture too. Very interesting, thank you!

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Nice report! Sure makes any cutback in Amtrak's sleeper still seem luxurious!

Sure, but keep in mind that you can do 1st class on a 12 hour train for $20 ;)

 

Yeah not a fan of the whole communal couchette sleeping quarters. On Amtrak you guy the whole room, but the European system of only buying one bed and sharing does not work for me. Then again, culturally the whole someone coming and sitting at your table if there is an empty seat just does not work for me either. But based on this video:

Not sure if it really is First Class. Is first class also communal?

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Yes, this is first class. It is also communal, although I'm not sure if you could buy out a second berth and have it for yourself. In Poland the sleeper cars can be sold in three berths, two and one, so you could have a single there, but in Ukraine, Russia etc. I believe first class will only be 2 berths so nothing private.

 

I can understand and respect your views on communal sleeping etc. To each their own, of course. I think ideally though you could have a compromise - keep first class in Amtrak as it is and have couchette wagons for 4 people in a room as a cheaper sleeper alternative. I think it could sell - esp. with the younger generation, although who knows. Maybe I'm totally way off.

 

Personally, I've only ever booked a hotel room once - in Milwaukee, because there was no hostels in the city at all, which I found aggravating. Everywhere else I stay, I stay in a shared set up and I like it, it's good. No problems, cheap, can meet people etc.To each their own and it's perfectly fine :)

 

 

And to everyone commenting - thanks for the nice words :)

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At least on the Leo Tolstoy I could buy an entire 2 berth compartment for myself for an extra fee. I don't know if that is a special for international service only.

 

But generally I agree almost all accommodation is communal in Europe and Asia, except in unusually expensive foreign tourist targeted services that very few locals use.

 

The reason for this is perpetual capacity crunch on railways that are used as primary means of transportation by all, and not as an also ran mode of transportation like in the US.

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Fantastic trip report! Almost like being there.

Can you give us any of your feelings or strategies for personal safety and security of possessions? Any concerns in that regard?

And I know you got a great nite's sleep. Would a light sleeper fare as well? Thanks!

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Great trip report. I'm surprised how similar your trip was to the ones I made on Soviet trains 25 years ago. The sleeper accommodations look identical.

 

In those days, I almost always managed to avoid platskartnyi klass, but rarely saw the advantage in booking an SV (1st class) ticket over kupe (2nd class). I was younger and thinner then, and didn't mind taking an upper bunk. The biggest downside I found at that time to the communal compartment was that often my compartment mates wanted to Drink with the American. It made for some unpleasant morning arrivals, especially when Ukrainian samogon (moonshine) was involved.

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Fantastic trip report! Almost like being there.

Can you give us any of your feelings or strategies for personal safety and security of possessions? Any concerns in that regard?

 

The bright side of things is that in kupe (2nd class with compartments) if you're on the bottom, the bunks open up to make up a storage place, so you're sleeping on the opening to your things. Up top, there is a big space that you would need to go up on the bed to reach. So if you're really paranoid about your personal belongings, you make sure to pick a bottom bunk and put your things underneath you. On AMTRAK, things are openly available to anyone so I'd have more cause for concern there than keeping them with me.

 

As for personal safety, I didn't have any concerns. People seemed friendly and there was no issues. There is a car attendant so I suppose if there was an issue, someone would be there. Also there would be a lot of people around.

 

 

Would a light sleeper fare as well?

Good question. I think in the second and first class, you'd sleep as well as you can on amtrak. Plackartnyi (the open set up that I used on the return) could probably be less favorable for a light sleeper.

 

 

ften my compartment mates wanted to Drink with the American

I heard those stories online, even about plackartnyi, but our compartment mates were a married couple with a young child headed for vacation, so not much interaction took place.

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I loved this trip report, the trains look great... The open 3rd class reminded me of the set up on Indian trains for sleeping. I have no problems with these open sleeping berths, especially at the cheap prices.

What language did you use in Ukraine, is English much understood?

On the need for booking ahead, I am currently finding some trains in India are already sold out... that is for October!

 

I am adding this ride to my wish list... Hmm, now, can I fit it in before India... :)

 

Cheers,

 

Eddie. :cool:

Edited by caravanman

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