Greetings from almost home: last time the train stopped, I was 1171 km from London!
I took a normal night train to St. Petersberg to make the most of my time. It wasn’t a great night of sleep because the train only took 7 hours or so, but it was enough. Upon arriving, I saw a few "Sapsan" trains on the platform. These are used on the new high speed service between Moscow and St. Petersberg, and they look a lot like the CRH3 "Hexie" trains I took in China! This led me to do a bit of research.. it turns out both trains are made by Siemens and are basically a commercialisation of the German ICE trains. This leaves me even less impressed with Chinese high speed rail. So you buy a few dozen German trains, paint them to look like Japanese trains, and run them short distances from Beijing. OK, you win the sound of one hand clapping. Well, it’s better than Canada, where we have NO intercity electric trains, let alone high speed ones!
St. Petersberg was great – it’s a beautiful city, full of nifty buildings. I also took an afternoon trip to Petrovordets, which is full of… fountains, over 100 of them!
On my last full night in Russia, I discovered a chain of fast food restaurants called Tepemok (pronounced Teremok) that serves meal-sized crÃªpes! Awesome! I tried to go on my last night.. they had a stand across from the train station, but it closed 10 minutes before I got there :( One of the guys at the hostel wants to introduce it to America but under the name Crazy Ivan’s. So watch for it!
The train to Berlin was weird. I couldn’t figure out who made the carriages but they weren’t Russian. Russian carriages are too wide to be used on German railways, and these were a much different design: narrow compartments with 3 beds in each, stacked above each other. They changed the bogies in Brest (Belarus) and also the couplings! Russian trains have bad couplings that jerk the carriages when the train starts and stops.
So then Berlin… it’s a great city, and one I’ve visited several times. The main thing I did was a bike tour of nearby Potsdam. It’s 50km away, and the tour normally takes the train out and back, but I persuaded them to give me the bike the night before and got up early enough to meet the tour at the station in Potsdam. This made for a long day and I was too tired to head to the hostel bar in the evening, where I was hoping to drink a boot of beer. This is probably a good thing because the boots are 2 litre glasses!
And now onto Amsterdam, my last big stop before home!