Travel's exciting because all the small things suddenly becomes a challenge
01.03.2013 - 01.03.2013 2 °C
How do you get by without talking the languish? It's a question I get a lot talking about these trips of mine to obscure places.
Normally going to the ticket window and ordering a train ticket is a fairly simple task – and should therefore be a nice example on how it's possible to get by without any thorough communication.
The official first languish in Belarus is Belorussian, but on the street everybody speaks Russian. So no bitching about them not learning a second languish… To ad a little to the challenge does train tickets in the former Soviet Union come with all kind of specifications: Train type; Class; Top or low bunk; beside the usual: time, date and destination. And of course the fact that the lady selling you the ticket is hiding behind the ticket window's thick glass.
Given a relative big amount of hassle when buying the domestic train tickets I tried to cheat the system a little bit. Just to get over that whole languish barrier thing: Instead of going through the usual mill I figured it would be easier to just order the train ticket between Minsk and Moscow via the Russian Railway’s homepage. It’s in Russian, but that can be translated at the hostel and at least they've got a homepage.
Piece of cake, I though, bed 20 in carriage no. 3 on night train no. 028 – done!
Not in Belarus I wasn’t… To lessen my coming pain, I'd for once been a little cleaver; instead of arriving at the train station last minute I went in the morning, to convert my e-ticket to an actual ticket. Something you still need to do at the ticket booth – but handling in a piece of paper seemed like a shortcut.
Little did I know, that the Belorussians doesn’t convert Russian e-tickets (they cooperate about everything else), that was what I figured from the poor girl in the booth pointing at the Russian logo and shaking her hear. And neither do they have an office anywhere in Minsk…
Back at the hostel we (mostly the guys running the hostel) did figure out that it’s possible to get a refund when cancelling a ticket and I got most of my money back. After having spend most of the afternoon on this, the easy thing seemed to just go to the train station, getting a new ticket and then burn the last few Belorussian Rubles I had left in the train station bar… Even though I felt that I really deserved some cheering up beers, the pits would undeniable have made it even more complicated to get the right ticket…
First of all, it’s not just getting the train to Moscow – there are about 20 daily(!) departures from Minsk, and at least four of these can be considered night trains. Schedules are posted different places at stations. Trains are divided into their destination, which means finding Москва (Moscow) is fairly easy. Hereafter six times are posted, from left to right: Departure time from initial station; Time of journey before arriving at Minsk; Arrival time at Minsk; Layover time at Minsk; Departure time from Minsk; Time of the journey after Minsk; and finally arriving time at the destination.
With a little luck you now have the departure time and number of the train you want. Then you need to find the right place to buy the ticket. There are different queues to different ticket windows depending on whether you are going with: local, region, inter-city or international trains; whether you’re going on 1st/2nd class or 3rd class; and for international trains different queues depending on where you’re going. Some are divided into former Soviet countries or Western Europe others are just ‘all trains east’, ‘all trains southwest, etc. You pretty much just have to ask random people “Москва?” and let them point you to the right queue…
So far so good, but somehow you still need to make clear through that glass window what class you want. One obvious option in the situation is just to scream “Плацкарт!” (platskart – 3rd class) at random point during the sale. But you have no way of knowing when the ticket seller is asking you about class (or anything else for that matter).
So far, the most viable solution I’ve been able to come up with is just to write all the information on a piece of paper (in Cyrillic if necessary) and showing that to the person selling you the ticket – that way they can type everything in, and you don’t need to worry about not getting what you want unless something is sold out. In that case, the person can point out what’s not available on your paper and with a little luck you have a backup suggestion you can write down on the spot.
This whole manoeuvre went pretty smooth, and in a masterpiece of life’s thick, brutal irony, I got my ticket, telling me: bed 20, in carriage no. 3, on night train no. 028 – the exact same spot as I’d had on my Russian ticket!
When you have your ticket – and learned to read it (which you’ll have after you’ve done it once or twice), just have a sit, wait for the train’s track and platform to be announced on the screens and off you go…
And that is how you buy a train ticket in Belarus - getting by without talking the languish!