A Train Ride to Remember

SEPT. 6 – PARMA – Michelle and I experienced a bit of a language barrier in Paris, but my two years of college French got us by well enough. We had no major problems -- until we left the city. We had visited the train station ahead of time to reserve our spot on an overnight train to Italy, and had specifically requested (we thought) a private sleeper car. When we actually boarded the train, however, we found that we had paid for a "couchette," or co-ed, shared sleeping cabin. Whether it was a simple mistake, or a misunderstanding due to language between us and the clerk who had sold us the ticket, we'll never know (interestingly, this was the only time I specifically asked to talk to someone in English, rather than attempting French).

In any case, all of the private cabins were full by the time we discovered the mistake, so we were stuck with our two other cabin mates, an Indian textile salesman who apparently hadn't bathed in a week, and a quirky Frenchman who boarded at Dijon in the middle of the night. Gone were our plans for a romantic train ride, watching the sunset over wine and cheese. Instead, we were cramped into our bunks, surrounded by boxes and boxes of textiles. Michelle was skeptical to begin with about her chances of being able to sleep on a moving train, and our two new roommates didn't help matters much. One decided to have a picnic at two o'clock in the morning, and the other got up two hours later to pray to Allah.

We arrived at our destination not long after, at six o'clock in the morning. The city was only just beginning to wake up. We found our hotel easily enough, and were able to get into our room fairly early. After breakfast and a long nap, we were able to laugh about the events of the previous night. If nothing else, it was an experience to remember, and after all, isn't that what a trip to Europe is supposed to be about?

[Note: In case you're wondering why we even bothered with an overnight train, we originally planned to do so because we had heard the hotels in Riomaggiore were prone to give away your hotel room if you arrived late. However, when we elected to extend our stay in Paris and skip Riomaggiore, I was too stupid to change our itinerary to a day train. You live, you learn.]

Next: "Dirty Socks," It's Not

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