the drama of ticket-purchasing

As you may remember, one of the biggest things I have had on my mind is travel. This includes the plane to Moscow and back as well as the train from Moscow to Ukhta. SPOILER: all ticket purchases have been successful. I have a way to get from my home to Ukhta. So no need to get too caught up in the suspense of the story.

Plane tickets– how do you decide what airline to take? What carriers via that airline? What kind of layovers?

I figured out not too far into my investigation that most transatlantic flights I could afford were connected either to Delta or United. While neither of these carriers get awesome reviews, I’ve also flown both and never ended up crashed into a mountain somewhere. It’s a start. So I decided that my best bet would be to buy my ticket via one of these airlines, since I would then get the miles credited usefully, and I would be dealing with an American company.

After that it just came down to price and carriers. I ended up buying a flight via United that would send me on Swiss Air and Austrian Air for parts of the time. Also, I made sure to have a comfortable layover time at each stop. If there’s barely enough time for you to get from one gate to another, your luggage will also struggle to arrive on time. I aimed for at least an hour and a half layover, but no more than four.

The air travel will probably not be very much fun regardless, but I never expected it to be. Plus, I managed to book my round trip for about $1,000, which, while more than I’ve ever spent at one go on anything, is pretty good for an international round trip.

Then the trains.

Guys, there’s just something about Russian trains. I’ve ridden on an elektrichka (like a commuter train), and I’ve done a 6-hour overnight train in platzkart (third-class sleeper train with barracks-style bunks), but I’ve never really done a Russian train experience. I think you have to spend actual waking hours on it for it to count. I will be doing that– 31 hours total, in fact, most of which will be spent awake.

This time, I went for kupe, the second-class option. If I were traveling alone, I would probably have opted for the more open environment of platzkart (easier to get away from creepy people), but I’m not traveling alone! Vickie, the other Fulbright ETA going to Ukhta, will be riding with me. It’ll be fun, I think. We also managed to get a zhenskoe kupe, a women’s compartment, so we should be safe from creepy people.

A kupe train compartment, via russiantrain.com

So those are my plans, but getting to them, now that’s a story. I started off in russiantrain.com. Great, user-friendly, etc. But darned expensive. They rip you off, like a lot, like at least 25%. Don’t do it. So then I went to rzd.ru, the official site. With a moderately working knowledge of Russian, it’s pretty navigable. Unfortunately, I got to the end of the process, and… debit card denied. Okay, I’ll try my other card. Other card denied. Some internet research revealed that this is common. It also pointed me to what turned out to be my salvation in the end…

Friends, tutu.ru. SO easy to use. More forthcoming with ticket prices than the official Russian train site. And it takes PayPal. I got our tickets for about $37 apiece, and there was a service charge of about $5 on top of each. Still, a $42 ticket for the vast expanse of territory I’ll cover on that train… it’s amazing. A train from DC to Norfolk goes for twice that amount. I don’t want to bore you with my joyful frugality, but… Russia has got something right here. America needs to step up the public transportation game.

So now I’m set to get to Ukhta, and I’ve had some practice, as Vickie said, “Adulting! Yay!” –and in Russian, for that matter 😉

Now, because I can, a song I’ve enjoyed a lot recently, with the most gorgeous video. I may just have to visit the steppe sometime while I’m in Russia, so that I can run around barefoot in a long skirt and sing this to myself. (Link goes to downloadable mp3 by one of my favorite groups, Golosa.)

Oh you steppe, wide and expansive.
Oh, Mother Volga, free Volga!
Oh, it is not a steppe eagle rising –
It is the river burlak wandering!
Oh, do not fly, eagle, close to the ground,
Oh, do not walk, Burlak, close to the riverbank!
Oh you steppe, wide and expansive.
Oh, Mother Volga, free Volga!

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