All Aboard! An Unexpected Train Adventure

by Kathryn Blanco / Feb 14, 2014 / 0 comments

When my family and I thought “overnight train ride,” visions of Orient Express-like train cars danced in our heads. We were unpleasantly surprised.

To our dismay, we boarded the train from Venice to Paris to find gray plastic rather than wood paneling, thick, smudgy plexiglass instead of glass windows, and some sort of synthetic, fuzzy, blue fabric rather than fine upholstery. Each tiny compartment was equipped with four bunks, one on top of the other, two on each wall, with only the straps allowing them to fold out preventing an unfortunate passenger from tumbling straight down to the fuzzy blue carpet in the middle of the night. My mom, the history buff, had especially been looking forward to a more glamorous, historical, experience. So much for old world charm, we thought dolefully. Well, times had changed. At least we were still on a train to Paris, on a grand adventure for a relatively small fee. And, as we had paid extra for it, we had two compartments to ourselves.


All Aboard! An Unexpected Train Adventure

Flickr cc: Jose and Roxanne


Then our fellow travelers boarded. A young woman by the name of Sophie and a young man by the name of Owen, traveling separately, seemed to also have tickets directing them to those two compartments. It must be a mistake, we thought. Confused, my parents explained our situation to the conductor. “I might be able to work something out,” he offered helpfully in smooth, accented English, “for a little extra.” Unwilling to bribe the man, we opted to instead deal with spending the night in the company of two complete strangers. Finally, we had separated ourselves into a girls compartment and a boys compartment, and the train lurched into motion. 

I was perched contentedly on the top bunk with my feet dangling as I happily looked down on my compartment companions, swinging my legs. While my mom struggled to set up the bed sheets, fighting the rumbling of the train, my grandma struck up a conversation with Sophie. “Oh, yes, it’s perfectly normal for passengers to be paired with strangers on overnight rides. It happens all the time,” she informed us nonchalantly. Apparently, the travel agent my parents had employed could learn a thing or two from experienced Sophie. “I am on my way back to Paris, where I live and work,” Sophie explained. “My parents own a house right outside Venice. I go to spend weekends with my family often.” I wondered what it would be like, traveling with frequency and ease between two cities so many people could only dream of visiting.

At the same time, a similar conversation was going on in the boys’ compartment next door. The male half of our family spent the evening playing cards and discussing British TV and obscure composers with a viola-playing chemistry student returning from an orchestra recital in Venice.

Settled into our compartments, just one issue remained – where was the private bathroom we had been promised? My grandma and I set out in search of it, both out of curiosity and necessity. It was clear there was no door in this cubicle. Was it in a neighboring compartment, then? Nope. This may have been a bit more amusing if it weren’t for the prospect of a 13 hour train ride without anywhere to pee. We finally gave up our quest and consulted Sophie, who kindly directed us toward the very end of the train car. We then came upon it, the “private bathroom.” Apparently, private meant “private for you and also the entire train car.” Disappointed, my mother, grandmother, and I relayed this dismaying news to my brother, father, and grandfather.

I set out to at least take advantage of this facility before the other passengers got to it. Upon entering, I noticed a flaw. The surprisingly spacious gray room was equipped with a sink, a mirror, and a small table. There was just one thing missing – a toilet. I whirled around, circling the room, sure I must somehow be missing something. A hole in the floor, maybe? Did they do that in Italy? But as I scanned the gray walls and floor, it became apparent that I was not missing anything. Finally, I returned to the compartment in defeat. “Grandma,” I said, “There’s no toilet in the bathroom.” She doubled over with laughter at my expense. “Kathryn, I’m sure there’s a toilet somewhere.” She reassured me. “Let’s go look.” We returned, but still could find no toilet. Either we were both going crazy, or somebody responsible for the construction of this train had made a serious oversight. We laughed until our stomachs ached. Anyone passing by would probably have shaken their heads at the crazy foreigners howling in the bathroom. The fact that I had been right did nothing to diminish my need for a toilet, though. After several minutes of trekking up and down the train car, we finally came upon a secret second bathroom around the corner, this one with all of the necessary facilities. Hallelujah!


All Aboard! An Unexpected Train Adventure

Flickr cc: Kecko


The next morning, we arrived safely in Paris. No one had plummeted to their death during the night, the real bathroom was perfectly serviceable, and our cabin mates were not ax murderers, so all in all everything went well. The trip may not have been what my family expected, but how else would we have gotten to share a hysterical memory over something like a bathroom trip? How else would we have gotten to meet a lovely, trilingual, French businesswoman who regularly commutes between Venice and Paris; or a viola-playing, chess-loving student from England? How else would we have gotten to fall asleep in one beautiful country and wake up in another, without ever leaving land? Despite the hitches, when it was time fold up the bunks and exit the train car, we were glad to have shared our overnight train experience, and would gladly do it again – this time armed with knowledge, experience, and toilet location.   





Kathryn Blanco is a member of the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program