Several months ago, when we were planning our trip to Europe, we deliberated over travel options to get from Tuscany to Paris. We had a rental car to return, which meant that we needed to pass through Florence to drop it off. Driving all the way to Paris would have taken too long, so that left flying or taking the train. We've taken Eurorail trains before and had wonderful experiences each time. We looked into availability and as it turned out, the only train offered was a sleeper train leaving Florence at about 9:00pm and arriving in Paris at 9:00am. Great! How fun! The kids will love it! We' ll sip aperitifs in the dimly lit dining car as we whiz over the Alps!
Oh my dears, how sadly naive we were… The following story is true, nothing (unfortunately) was made up.
Our train arrived and we – along with many others – mostly families, made our way to our assigned car. As we were waiting to board, a woman behind me says to her husband, "This is definitely not the First Class Car! We must be in the wrong line." Hmmm. There was a First Class option? I watched them as they ran down the platform to another car – a shiny, newer looking car and climbed aboard. I feel a flash of panic.
We boarded the train and found our cells rooms. Two identical connecting 'rooms' – each about 4' x 6' with a bunk bed spanning the length of each with a ladder hooked in front of the hazy, scratched window. There was a small sink and a shelf with a mirror above. The beds appeared to have remained 'used' by the previous occupants, which left no sanitary place to sit, let alone sleep. I thought to myself, well this room is probably just for sleeping, I'm sure the regular seats will be where we'll spend the majority of time, maybe even sleep. After a few minutes, the warden conductor came to get our tickets. He was quite brusque, especially when I started to ask him where the other places to hang out were. He responded over his shoulder in perfect, no-accent English, "I don't speak English." Ok. "Excusez-moi, Monsieur…" No response – he just kept walking.
A few minutes later he came back. Relief – now we'd get the low-down! Instead, he told us he had forgotten to mention that we needed to keep our doors closed and LOCKED at all times, and to never leave the rooms unattended, not even to go to the bathroom…
At this point reality had hit us all and I knew my job – jolly everyone out of their bad moods and try to make the space we were to spend the next 12 hours as livable as possible. My daughter and I headed to the restroom leaving my husband and son to batten down the hatches in our absence. I will not horrify you with the gory details (and we had only just left the station!), but suffice it to say, if I had a choice between that bathroom and a bathroom in a gas station in a third world country, I would choose the latter. As we made our way back, I happened to spot a closet -the door opened a just a crack… I walked my daughter back to the room, made sure she was locked in securely and headed back in the direction of the closet. I looked around – all clear – and then in the spirit of all great train stories, I committed a teensy 'offense'… I grabbed a stack of (still warm) clean sheets and towels and boogied back as fast as I could. I knocked on the door. No answer. I then proceeded to bang on it with my fist – I mean, where could they be – the rooms are 4' x 6'??? Finally, my husband opened the door. "Where were you?!" I shrieked behind the huge stack of linens. "I was in the kids bunk with them and didn't hear you. What is all that?" "I raided the linen closet," I said proudly as I covered virtually every surface that would come into contact with our bodies. Then I told everyone that there was no eating or drinking allowed until we got to Paris.
Feeling pretty good about tackling the cleanliness issue, I made comfortable places to sit on our bunk beds to look out the window. We had arrived at another station – a train going the opposite direction slowly passing us. I could see inside – the people like sardines crammed into small metal rooms, florescent lights flickering, miserable faces everywhere – Oh my gosh, how sad – it's a train full of prisoners! As I let this thought sink in for a second or two, it hit me… Those aren't prisoners, it's the same train as ours, just going the other way!
Finally, it was time to go to sleep, after playing musical bunks we ended up with my daughter and I sharing a room, she in the upper bunk, me below. Ditto in my husband/son's room. All was quiet and for some reason, the Metallica song that goes "Sleep with one eye open, gripping your pillow tight…" came into my head. I know it's not what you'd expect me to listen to, but hey, it comes with the territory! As I turned over in my bunk, song in head, I noticed a full size mirror above me. Pondering the logic of if it's positioning, plus the sheets draped everywhere, plus the jerking around of the train (probably as we were going over the Alps!) just got me laughing.
After TWELVE sleepless hours we arrived in beautiful Paris. We made it out alive!
I realize this story is a bit off topic, but I felt it was my duty to share it, just in case anyone out there is considering the same thing!
Happy Bastille Day!