Day one – unconsidered version
This was a tricky trip to organise and book, originally what I thought would be a simpler option than the exciting London to Istanbul train trip so well described by the man in seat 61. Each country’s rail system had different amounts of time that you can book ahead ending up with a precarious set of bookings for hotels and train journeys that depend on an earlier leg being available. Finally just about ten days before departure I had booked all the parts, save a couple of short day time trips that I think can be done on the day at the station.
The trip starts from St Pancras and goes via Paris to Munich to Budapest on the night train, then a further night train to Brasov in Transylvania then on to Bucharest, back to Belgrade over night, then down to Lubljana, then finally the night train to Zurich, on to Geneva then a flight home.
Travelling on Eurostar is so easy, easy to book and to turn up, have a coffee and croissant and get on board. Before you know it you are in the tunnel then in Paris Gare du Nord.
You get out on to the street and it is busy and of course slightly overwhelming even though you know from the map it’s a very short walk to Gare deL’Est.
With about an hour and a half to spare we squeezed into a small supermarket with our backpacks and other bags and emerged with wine (not very drinkable as it turned out) and hugely smelly cheese that we carried around all the way to Budapest making me wonder why everywhere smelt of drains. Baguettes and squashed fruit tarts (not bought squashed) we found somewhere else.
We made reservations on the top deck of the ICE train to Munich from Paris, accompanied by Germans who all left at Stuttgart.
After there we plunged through the valleys, rain and thunderstorms through Ulm, arriving at Munich station at twenty to nine well after dark in the company of a music student carrying a cello asking a large fellow to turn down his stereo.
As someone who expects disasters at every turn, the journey was predictable and easy, the night train arriving at platform 12 half an hour before its departure time of twenty to midnight.
This is where the excitement began, sitting on a rather forlorn platform late at night with a growing number but never very many fellow night travellers. I wonder who it is that travels by train overnight nowadays as it’s usually easier to either fly or travel during the day at a fraction of the price.
Our compartment had the beds ready made though the top bunk was hugely high and demanded extreme dexterity to climb from the ladder round to the bed, especially once moving and in the dark. Decor was definitely 1960s, maybe a bit later with a large mirror making up one whole wall, giving an impression of space in this narrow cabin.
As we boarded, the guard asked us if we wanted tea or coffee for breakfast. We eagerly said coffee but then later wondered whether it came to us, and if so, exactly when. With these slight ambiguities in our heads we climbed into our very narrow beds and tried to get some sleep. Of course what the man in seat 61 doesn’t mention is that it’s almost impossible to sleep on these trains with constant and irregular jarring and swaying from side to side then from front to back as the brakes are applied. I found if I wedged myself against the wall I could avoid the feelings that I’d fall off the top bunk. It was dark when we left and after Munich the view was much blackness. These night trains stop surprisingly often, sometimes for stations but sometimes, more often in fact, for no apparent reason. Track sides are bleak places, especially at night in foreign places.