Overnight Train - Budapest to Munich
"...what thrills me about trains is not their size or their equipment but the fact that they are moving, that they embody a connection between unseen places."
- Marianne Wiggins
When we left Budapest, we boarded an overnight train to Munich for the first leg of our journey to Ireland. Before this, my only experience with an overnight train was at the tender age of ten. I went from Washington state to Nebraska with my siblings to visit family. What I most remember about that trip was going down to the dining car a million times to chat with the staff who gave me free ice cream every time I showed up. I showed up often.
My son and I decided an overnight train was something we wanted to experience on this trip. It would be a first for both of us in the sense that we would ride in a sleeper car. I slept sitting straight-up in a coach seat when I was ten but, hey, a ten-year-old can sleep anywhere and feel no pain. My son and I were excited about doing something we had never done before. We are fortunate to be very compatible in our sense of adventure. As my son jokingly said, the overnight train could end up being a great idea or a terrible one, but we should do it. One thing we have learned on our trip is that all experiences are great in the end. Some of the things that have happened on our trip that seemed bad or unpleasant in the moment now give us some of our biggest laughs or remind us of our strength or courage.
While we were waiting for our train in Budapest, I noticed that they played a beautiful musical tone each time they made an announcement. We made a little video of it so you could hear it.
Our train, almost ready for boarding...
The train looked a bit worn from the outside but was immaculate on the inside. The sleeper compartment had all the room we needed for an overnight trip. The beds were stacked on one wall and could be lowered for sleeping or the upper bunk could be folded up and the lower one converted to a couch. We also had a small sink where we could brush our teeth or wash our hands.
Since our train departure time was almost 11:00 pm, we both went to bed within 20 minutes of departure. Neither of us slept much. There was quite a lot of movement and sound, and there were stops at several stations throughout the night. We stayed in our beds all night and tried to sleep but not much luck for either of us. No fault of the train at all, just our being unaccustomed to it and our room was right over the wheels so we may have had more bumps and braking sounds than others.
John was finally able to drift off at about 1:30 am and I eventually drifted off about 3:00 am. The train was due to arrive in Munich at 6:00 am so we would have had little sleep even with that; however, to make the night even shorter, the Munich Police came knocking on everyone's door to check passports at 4:00 am, two hours before our scheduled arrival. We tried to go back to sleep for an hour after they left but after the bright lights being on and chatting with them, we were not able to sleep again.
Thank goodness our hotel was right across the street from the train station (I'll blog about the hotel itself in a separate post). Arriving at a hotel before 6:30 am is not a super brilliant idea when you have been up all night. With sleep it would not have been a problem for they will gladly hold your luggage while you go out and explore the town. We were too exhausted to explore anything so we asked for a room as soon as possible so we could take a nap and survive the rest of the day. Unfortunately, they were fully booked the night before so they had no rooms available until after the 10:00 am check out and cleaning.
We had some breakfast and coffee in their restaurant and then sat on one of their many sofas in the lobby and tried to look halfway normal and awake. I don't think we were super successful at it. John tried to stay awake but eventually couldn't take it anymore and passed out on the sofa. We were sitting in the back corner and no one looked at us too sideways, though I'm not sure we would have cared if they did since we were only semi-conscious. I managed to stay awake by spending my time praying someone would get a sudden, overwhelming urge to check out early. When we finally got a room, a little after 11:00 am, we both went straight to sleep for a few hours. It felt so good to be in real beds!
We were glad we took the train. Even though we didn't sleep well, it was a great experience. If we ever decide to take another overnight train, we will bring earplugs and some herbal sleep aid.
Marianne Wiggins, quoted above, is the author of seven fiction books, the recepient of an NEA grant, the Whiting Writers' Award, the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize and was a National Book Award and Publiizer Prize finalist.