10 June 2012

A Rough Road to Zaloz’e Russia

A locomotive arrives at Peno on its way to St Petersburg, 5 Sep 2010.


Most people have no idea just how empty Russia is.  An expat friend, a former Marine pilot in Vietnam, was amazed at how little he could spot from the air when flying from Turkey to St Petersburg. 

If you come to Russia don’t expect to see many gas stations along rural highways or motels conveniently spaced at modern highway exits.  What you are more likely to see are two lane paved or dirt roads, often poorly constructed and in bad shape.

Leaving our building close to midnight...

The fastest way to St Petersburg’s Moskovsky Station is by autobus and subway.  But at our ages 66 and 69 it’s too difficult to heft seven pieces of luggage on stairs and  escalators.  Our first challenge was to get everything from our 10th floor apartment to the taxi. 

Our son-in-law loaded the elevator and got us to the taxi in the courtyard.  We can count on him at summer’s end to be waiting for us at the train station.

How taxis operate in St Petersburg...

Most taxis are supplied by drivers who need money for car payments and gas.  These unmarked cars usually have GPS, and are linked through a dispatcher.  Larissa gave our cabbie 450 rubles and a 50 ruble tip, close to $13.50.

We arrived 50 minutes early as we had allowed time for a traffic jam, a пробка (pronounced  probka) like the one that had nearly caused us to miss the train in 2011.

The story of the No-ceel-cheek, the Pro-vod-neek... and the Ticket...

Cars were crushed around the front of the station. The cabbie could get no closer than a small paved island near the entrance.  I guarded our things while Larissa found a носильщик, (pronounced no-ceel-chееk), baggage man, who seemed sober and helpful. 

The smart wife negotiated that he would push five bags, and put them in our train compartment. The final payment of 1000 rubles included a 200 ruble tip, for a total of $33

The проводник (pronounced pro-vod-neek, conductor, refused to let me board because one of the many numbers on my ticket was wrong. The noceelcheek was waiting to put our bags on board, so he joined the argument and she relented.  A bureaucratic refusal often means a request for extra money, this time unsuccessful.

Night train!

At 1230 our train left and the provodneek brought each of us a package with a sheet, pillow case, and towel.  Larissa made our bunks.  We had lower beds which saved climbing and also our bunks closed over two secure luggage holders.

The conductor brought a glass of water for me, and tea (20 rubles) for Larissa.  We shared the compartment with a woman.  [Travel Safety Tip!] After putting out the lights, I locked the door with a special catch on the frame to the sliding door’s upper left that allows it to stay open an inch for ventilation.

Russian trains are one of my favorite things.  They have extensive routes and, compared to Amtrak, are economical.  We paid 1415.8 rubles each for the trip in an overnight sleeping coupe, a total 2832, or $86.50 for both of us. .Now Russian Rail has cut back this route, and, for the first time,  we had to get off in Ashtashkov, well before Peno.

A dangerous ride from Ostashkov to Peno

Ostashkov is northeast of Peno. The roads connecting the towns are poor, sometimes treacherous.  The necessary taxi route now is Ashtashkov via Peno to Zaloz’e, which cost 1,800 rubles, around $55.

We are used to bad roads from Peno to Zaloz’e, where the driver swerves around potholes, driving on the shoulder at times to maintain what he thinks is necessary speed. 

Now, on the bad section of the Ashtashkov Peno road, he also sometimes drove into the left lane, facing on-coming traffic till the last possible seconds, and then swerving back to our side.  The bumping and fearful driving gave Larissa a headache.

Greetings, Shopping, and a Car Trailer

We stopped in Peno so I could get my USB mobile broadband  connection set up at Beeline while Larissa shopped.  Her cousin Olona, a doctor, always makes us welcome with food, news and a place to rest until we leave for the trip to Zaloz’e. 

From Peno we added another passenger, Olona’s son, as well as tomato seedling flats for her farmer mother. Her son and the seedlings were too delicate to ride in the uncovered trailer, so instead our luggage got the ground-in dirt that resulted.  A good time to accept the situation as it seemed unavoidable.

Ironically the dirt road to Zaloz’e is in good condition... recently graded.  The villages which use the road, as well as a holiday camp, were assessed 1000 rubles a house to fix the bridge and grade the road.

A shortened train and poor roads made for a challenging trip.

It’s wonderful to get out of the city, get away from the White Nights, and be part of a friendly country community.  The fresh air, increased appetite, and coziness of cabin living make the travel effort worthwhile.  Soon I’ll be reading under my favorite apple tree and all will seem right with the world!

Comments Appreciated!

How do the prices for taxis and train compare with the place you live in?

What may be the reasons that Russia has such bad roads?

Have you had experience with a mobile broadband attachment for internet reception?




  1. thanks for the post, i can sense your excitement in heading out of the busy city and into the countryside. what a relief it probably is!
    a cab ride in nyc from laguardia to manhattan is ~40 $ these days. and a 3.5 hr train ride from penn station to d.c starts at 80$.
    Enjoy the dacha,


    1. Hello JR,

      Thanks for commenting! Yes, leaving for the village gives me the same feeling I had more than 50 years ago when school closed for the summer!

      Thanks for the prices in the US. Thinking about it, it seems a shame that we paid double for the baggage handler compared to the cabbie.

      We just found out that although the railroad cut our route short they also added trains in September and one in early October... so we're happy to contemplate staying later this year.


  2. I loved your line - "Soon I’ll be reading under my favorite apple tree and all will seem right with the world!" Enjoy.
    Here (Southern Spain)Taxis are expensive - it can cost more to travel 50km from Alicante airport than the flight costs from London to Alicante!
    Spain has the AVE high speed trains - which are becoming the envy of the world (I have written articles) but they are not cheap.
    Accessing the net via a dongle thing with a SIM card has become cheaper, faster and more reliable. But internet is still expensive - furtunately competition is bring prices down (or is it the crisis and people are using it less?)
    Enjoy your summer break.

    1. Thanks Rob,

      What a crazy world where a 50 km taxi ride costs more than a flight UK to Spain! I recall trains in Spain in the 60s where people got on through the windows in 3rd class, and all shared food and drink.

      Russians are slow to reduce prices for Internet or much else.

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