“If you want tea and coffee, just ask.” If you use the toilet keep it clean and no smoking on the train.”
I thanked the Georgian guy who was sharing my carriage for the night as he kindly translated what the lady steward had said.
I looked out of the train window and watched as the city of Tbilisi passed by.
The no smoking phrase surprised me. Having been in Georgia for only a week, I had forgotten about the lack of the no smoking rule as I had walked into bars and even a sulphur bath with cigarette smoke engulfing the place. I had half-expected it on the overnight train.
I was travelling to Azerbaijan and I must admit that I had been a little apprehensive. Having taken an overnight train from Odessa to Kiev in Ukraine, I was dismayed at being assigned top bunk within a busy carriage.
The train had rocked all night and the man and woman who were assigned to the bunks below me had seemed to be putting the world to rights until a ridiculous hour in the morning despite my constant “sssshhh’ing.” I had low expectations for another overnight journey on an old Soviet-style train.
But as travelling should have already taught me, it’s sometimes the low expectations that make for the best experiences.
But I was still prepared. I was wearing leggings to sleep in, I had packed my ear plugs and sleep mask, I was wearing my sea bands (to prevent any travel sickness), and had already cleaned my teeth before getting to the station.
I had my favourite love songs uploaded onto my iPod to help drift me off to sleep and my Kindle was fully charged, just in case people were chatting until the early hours.
Stopping at the first border, I handed over my passport to the hunched over guard, greeting him in Russian before remembering that I was at the Georgian border.
After an hour we were off through what seemed as though a never-ending no man’s land, across the border to Azerbaijan with a few kangaroo jumps in-between.
So if you are planning an overnight train journey, always expect the unexpected.
A word of warning – if you are planning on going to Armenia and Azerbaijan on your trip, go to Azerbaijan first. This isn’t because the landscape is better, but because Azerbaijan don’t have a good relationship with Armenia.
So if they ask you if you have been to Armenia you can honestly answer “no.” Just smile sweetly and greet them with a “Salam” (“hello’) and you will have an easy ride through the border. It will make your life so much easier.
From Georgia to Azerbaijan
There are minibuses which will take you across the Georgian border into Azerbaijan. The overnight train is the best option if you want to head straight to Baku. It departs from Tbilisi Central Railway Station daily at 20.35 and arrives at approximately 09.00 in the morning.
The cost differs depending on what class you book and whether you request a lower bunk bed or an upper one. Tickets cost from £10 to £33. Carriages fit 4 people and you have to make your own bed with the sheets and pillows provided. Buy your ticket from the train station before you travel to ensure you have a seat/bed. Take your passport and cash with you to book the ticket. Find out more here
Accommodation in Georgia
Tbilisi – Hostel “Your Home”
In Tbilisi I definitely recommend this hostel. It’s called Hostel “Your Home” because it literally feels like a home away from home. The manager is so friendly and will help you with tours or transfers. There is a communal lounge where you can hang out and watch TV with the other guests on the comfy sofas. They often share meals too.
I stayed in the female-only dorm and practically had the whole dorm to myself. They provide towels for an extra charge and have a female-only bathroom too. Prices from £7 per night for a bed in a 6-bed dorm room
Accommodation in Azerbaijan
Baku – Sahil Hostel & Hotel
This hostel is really solo friendly. It’s in a great place and only a few minutes walk from the gorgeous Fountain Square with bars, restaurants, and cafes. If you like running, the boulevard is nearby too, as well as the metro. The dorm rooms are large and you have your own personal space with a curtain for your bed, as well as big lockers for your things.
You don’t have to worry about arriving late as there is a 24 hour front desk, and they can arrange an airport shuttle for you too. There is a 6 bed female-only dorm room too! Prices from £5 per night for a bed in a 10 bed mixed dorm