Day 23 – Strangers on a train

Today is a big one! This is more incidental than a planned thing, but it was part of a bigger adventure full of new things.

Late last year I booked a trip to Budapest with my mum and sister for this weekend, planning to meet up at the airport. However, when I thought about it, I realised I could extend my trip a little bit, have a bit of adventure, and get the overnight train there. I had a great experience on an overnight train to Rome with James last year: we felt like such explorers and it was totally out of our comfort zone; I couldn’t wait to repeat it. It only cost a little bit more money, and actually worked out cheaper than my mum and sister’s flights.

I have such Romantic notions of train travel: Murder on the Orient Express, restaurant cars, bars with a piano player. OK, maybe the Agatha Christie book is more like a reason not to travel by train, but you get the idea. I obviously know that train travel isn’t like this anymore, but for me, nothing beats the train. The gentle rocking of the carriage whilst you read/listen to music/stare out of the window, plus the idea of seeing so much before you arrive in your final destination – which happens to be in the middle of the city, not an hours travel away – is far more appealing than flying. The environmental factor is the other major factor for me (and Greta!). There’s no denying the aviation industry has a huge impact on the environment, and if I can do my little bit by flying less and enjoying a comfortable train journey than I’m all for it. I know it isn’t for everyone, and I’m very fortunate to be in a position where I can afford the extra time and cost it takes to do this.

In order to get the overnight train, I first travelled to Berlin which is about 4 hours away from Frankfurt. Germany’s ICE trains are so comfortable and smooth that this was such a pleasant journey: I didn’t want to get off. Once I tore myself away from my seat in Berlin, I had a few hours to play with, so went on a little jaunt to do some sightseeing. Even though I’ve been to Berlin many times before, I still enjoy having a walk into the city.

Brandenberg Tor

So, in my previous overnight train experience, I was in a sleeper carriage where the beds were comfy, and I only shared the room and bathroom with James. This time, it was in a 4-berth couchette, where the seats fold down into beds, and there is one toilet at the end of the carraige. I was going to share with strangers. *NEW THING ALERT*

I slept up top. Sheets were provided, but I can’t say it was the most comfortable bed I’ve had.

I was sure I’d booked a same-sex cabin, so I was incredibly surprised when a tall Hungarian man walked in and put his stuff on the bed opposite. As I think most females unused to this situation would feel, I was initially a bit uncomfortable to be sharing such close quarters with an unknown man. Actually though, as soon as we started talking (in English), I was instantly at ease: he was just a genuine, nice, guy, on his way to visit family. Part of the reason I wanted to book a couchette was for the opportunity to meet some new and interesting people, or at least get a good story out of it, and this guy absolutely delivered. I keep calling him ‘this guy’ as we were so busy chatting about anything and everything that we forgot to introduce ourselves. He really was a gem, and made the journey go by so quickly, plus he went to bed early and didn’t snore – an absolute winner! I told him about my challenge and he gave me some suggestions.

I’m a bit hesitant to share the next bit as it sounds so braggadocious, but it really made me feel good.

He was quiet for a while and then told me that his life was ruled by routine, and he was just doing the same thing day after day. He’d been quite inspired by my challenge and had decided to make a list of his own. I can’t describe the feeling I had; a swelling of pride perhaps? It made me feel really warm and happy that some silly little thing I’d decided to do had made an impact on this stranger. It gave me such a boost.

Even though I didn’t sleep much, I feel incredibly grateful that I got to meet such an interesting, open person, and to be able to share a connection with a stranger, however small. I will without a doubt repeat this experience again.

*For those curious, my round trip was Frankfurt – Berlin (4hrs), Berlin – Budapest (approx. 14hrs), Budapest – Vienna (3hrs), Vienna – Frankfurt (7hrs), and cost €180 all in. I used The Man in Seat 61 for all my information, and booked it through trainline.

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