Sunday, 31 July 2011

More about travelling by Polish night trains

The Polish night train experience demands a spirit of adventure from anyone prepared to put up with the hardships, especially during the summer holiday season

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.

To ensure you get a seat in a TLK train (TLK does not do 2nd class seat reservations, unlike InterCity), you need to board at the station from which the train departs. West- and southbound trains start at W-wa Wschodnia, while east- and northbound trains start at W-wa Zachodnia. So for example, the train that took Moni to Gdańsk this morning started from Zachodnia, while my train for Międzyzdroje started from Wschodnia. If you don't get on at the first station, your chances of a seat diminish. Fridays are the worst day to travel; almost all the seats are taken. My Thursday night train was looser; three other passengers in my compartment (for eight); at Poznań one got off so I could stretch out across all four seats. On long journeys, however, you can expect to be woken up several times by ticket inspectors.

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.

Above: waiting for the night train to Warsaw at Międzyzdroje, Friday evening. The 20:56 to Warsaw is the last train of the day from this station; the platform is crammed with people heading home. It is not going to be a comfortable night.


DG said...

You make travelling by train in Poland seem quite romantic. My experience is somewhat less so. A 9 hour journey across Poland in second class on a crowded train doesnt bear thinking about! You are a Saint!

Anonymous said...

My Mom and I used to go to Miedzyzdroje often, taking the night train from Warsaw, more as a necessity than a choice for adventure. The trains were crowded, the lucky ones had a reserved seat, others standing room only in the hallway, or sitting on their suitcases all night long. Not a romantic adventure at all.
Though Miedzyzdroje had some of the most beautiful beaches I remember and molo and deptak (boardwalk). Is deptak still there? We rented kwatery and were close to the beaches. I remember people walking the beaches and selling smoked eel or ogorki kiszone. Do they still do that? We also ate kurczak z rozna cooked and served outside. Wonder if they still do that too. I have great memories of my summer visits to Miedzyzdroje.
Michael, next time when visiting the Baltic Sea, go to Krynica Morska, Stegny and Jantar and tell me how that has changed.

Paddy said...

It's a good idea to go to either Wschodnia or Zachodnia to get a seat before the train goes through Centralna when the masses join.

Anonymous said...

Only the 25.50zl "cheap couchettes" (tania kuszetka) are without sheets.

You can usually book a standard couchette at 61zl (6-person compartment) or 71zl (4-person compartment) which do come with sheets, pillow, and blanket.

I've never understood the desire to have to travel with my own pillow and bedding to save a few zloty!