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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


RZD Launches Luxury Service on Moscow-Helsinki Route
Text and photos by John Bonar

Comfortable hotel room on rails

The famed Tolstoy Express, leaving Moscows Leningradsky mainline station at 22.50 every night bound for Helsinki, rolls into the city center of Helsinki at 11.20 the next morning. Now the Tolstoy Express has added a business class wagon. With only four compartments it sleeps a maximum of eight in modern comfort.

Each compartment has its own en-suite shower and toilet. There is individual air conditioning, a remote controlled DVD player and a Phillips plasma screen. The DVD library and MPEG4 disks available in the bar library are limited to Russian language movies or aging music titles heavily favoring punk rock and heavy metal. A Jesus Christ Superstar (2001 re-make) was a welcome exception, however.

The blue upholstery and gold colored curtains which frame a window discreetly covered with a slatted blind which can be angled to let in light or shut it out completely, can also be raised for an unobstructed view of the unfolding countryside. This is more like an upscale hotel room than a typical Russian train.

The abundance of fluffy towels, bathrobes and free toiletries reinforce this impression. A good flow of hot and cold water in the shower cubicle and porcelain wash basin reinforced the excellent decision of upgrading from the traditional wagons next door. The lower bed, which doubles as a sofa, folds out to comfortably sleep two. The upper bunk sleeping one, folds out from its recessed position.

Well provided with toiletries in the en-suite shower room

One end of the car houses a compact bar, with seating for six and a range of drinks priced at standard RZD prices: 80 rubles or 2 euro for a 500ml can of Baltika or Holsten beer, for example. Cognac, gin, vodka, and Whisky are also available. Wine on display in the bar was limited to Liebfraumilch.

To save you walking through swaying first and second class compartments to the restaurant cars the two cabin attendants, who double as barmen, will take your restaurant order from the same menu used in the restaurant car and serve it in the bar or in your compartment.

The whole train is operated by Russian Railways, RZD, and tickets are sold from the International Ticket sales booth on the second floor of the Leningradsky Terminal. One way single tickets cost 11,552 rubles; a double costs 15,000 rubles.

This compares with a first class fare on the same route for 5,008 rubles (two to a compartment) and 2,504 for second class (four to a compartment).

The passengers on a Friday run from Helsinki to Moscow included Russian, Finnish and German executives.

The train leaves Helsinki at 17:42 arriving Moscow the next morning at 08:25.

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