This is a little off topic for twospanners.com but was part of our Birmingham to Azerbaijan adventure and maybe helpful to others.
If you are looking for the slowest way to get from Tbilisi, Georgia to Baku, Azerbaijan then the overnight train is the one for you.
The train takes 18hrs to reach Baku, which had us puzzled because its less than 300miles away, but all became clear.
Buying a ticket
You can get your ticket from the central train station which is reachable via the subway. We went to window 2, but I suspect you could go to any window. The clerk didn’t speak any english but as soon as i said Baku (written Baki) she understood. There is first & second class tickets, the only difference between the service is 2nd class has 4 bunks and 1st class has 2 bunks. We bought 1st class tickets for 107 Lari, or about £43 each. The train departs daily at 16:30 and arrives the next day around 10:00am in Baku.
Finding the train
There is no screens up telling you which platform the train goes from but it does say platform 6 on our tickets. Just beyond the ticket hall is a door on the left which leads into a corridor, off this corridor are steps down to each platform, of course there are no numbers so we counted platforms then just went down a set of stairs to take a look.
At the bottom of the stairs was the train we were looking for we knew this because of a sign in the carridge window.
The train station and the train is like something from the cold war era, it feels like we are on the film set for the new bond movie. The carriage although it looks old fashioned from the outside is quite modern on the inside, it has seperate cabins with two bunks in it a TV & air conditioning. Finding your carriage is fairly straight forward, just ask one of the carridge hosts and they will point you in the right direction. Each cabin has its bed numbers on the outside on a little white sign so you can just wonder along the carriage until you find yours.. The cabin has a TV and a bed/seat either side of a small table, its feels modern as if its just been refurbished. There are power sockets and air conditioning although we are later to find the air conditioning only works when the train is at full speed which almost never happens. There are toilets in each carriage which has a full seatnand running water, all in all its very comfortable.
Each carriage has an attendant, ours looked like a Russian shot putter who had just graduated from the gestapo school of charm. From the moment we got on she was shouting at us to get on the train, get in our cabin or stop doing something, all in Russian so we understood nothing but it sounds aggressive and lacked the customer service furness that you may expect.
The attendant takes your passports off you takes them to her little office then returns 10 minutes later with them, no idea why. The attendant comes around with a plastic bag which has some bedding in it and a small flannel. It’s key to note there is no food or drink on the train so you need to take enough to last the 18hrs.
About 1hr into the Journey you reach the Georgian border and the train stops and a border police person gets on and looks at our passports. The whole border process is a little bizzare and it feels like a scene from the Great Escape and its about to get even weirder. At about 8pm we pull into a station which I am convinced is a film set, but apparently this is the first station across the border in Azerbaijan.
It is now that the parade of characters from a movie come in to talk to us, we have a guy in an oversize hat and a military looking uniform come and ask for our passports. He asks for our visas which we give him in the form of a printed e-visa, he looks puzzled and wonders off. He comes back with other passenger passports and points to a visa sticker in theirs and asks again for our visas. We had electronic visa 147 and not sure they had seen one before so off he went again to call some people. Next we were individually taken to an empty cabin where we were interviewed by another person who ran our passports through a laptop suitcase, he then asked if we had visited Armenia (they don’t like each other). On return to our cabin two chaps in suits who were so obviously secret police it was a bit comical turned up and peared in. Finally we were visited by customes officers who looked through our bags. The whole process took about 45 minutes.
Why does it take 18hrs to do less than 300 miles, well this is the worlds slowest train at points we could have run along side the train. I did try and persuade Nick to get out and run up to the driver and ask him to put his foot down. I think the reason it runs so slow is the quality of the track is very low, its bumpy as hell, I imagine if it went above 45 mph it would just come off the tracks.
The lights were turned out at about 10pm automatically as we sat chatting at our table, I guess its time to go to sleep then. This train has all the customer service chararistics of a concetration camp. We decide to go to sleep, the next thing I remember is being shouted at by our attendant in Russian, I look up and she is gesturing me to get up. A little lost and disorientated I sit up and look at my phone to see its 8:00am, she continues to shout and gestures to me to wake Nick up, I indicate I will and she stomps off down the corridor, very bizzare. Two hours later we pull into Baku station and our 18 hours journey comes to a jolting halt, roll bond/great escape film credits.