Compact and a little bit courageous couchette
It was with some trepidation that I boarded my night train in Zurich bound for Ljubljlana, Slovenia. Not only was I travelling on my own, I was in a mixed 4-berth couchette for the 12 hour duration. Who would my fellow couchettees be; male or female, would I be able to communicate with them, both in terms of language and behavior or worst case scenario, might the whole journey be spent in silence, awkwardly edging around each other in a weird and uncomfortable game of twister?
There was a fair amount of kerfuffle as people were boarding the train. For quite some time I was the sole occupant of my compartment, just long enough for the possibility of my fellow travellers having bailed out becoming an enticing possibility.
Yet with a few minutes to go, three lads came striding down the carriage, making a beeline for my little would-have-been sanctuary.
Their backpacks stowed away, next up was our conductor/comedian who swiftly disappeared with my interrail pass. If this happens to you, don’t worry – it is normal procedure for them to hold your pass overnight. I know this after questioning him and becoming an unwitting part of his comedy act. I suppose the job might get just a little bit dull without the fun of teasing travellers on the way....
Fortunately for me, my fellow passengers turned out to be three very polite, 20-something Swiss-German guys, friends since school, off on a beach holiday in Croatia. Their manners were impeccable and sharing our combined picnics, including a few glasses of wine, we slid through Switzerland and smoothly into sleeptime in friendly conversation. They even defended me against an overzealous border-guard who decided to interrogate me. The whole thing felt like having three brothers, a novel experience for me with my only sibling a sister.
Heights being one of my least favourite things, I had ensured from the booking stage that the bottom bunk was mine. Seeing the reality I was supremely pleased with my decision! For people with no fear of heights the set up is no doubt fine, but having to climb a ladder and insert myself into a narrow bunk, held in only by two seat belt straps is not my idea of a good time, let alone a good night’s sleep. Add to that doing it on a train in motion.... Forget it!
I however, slept surprisingly well in my bottom bunk. This was despite the slips of cloth pretending to be the top and bottom sheet, combined with a woolly blanket. Our compartment had a unanimous vote, deciding that the aim of the game was to avoid skin contact directly with a) the bunk and b) the blanket. This proved difficult with the slivers of cloth provided, so a piece of of advice is to follow:
Wear loose clothing that you can sleep in! This minimizes the worry of the “sheets” slipping, which they undoubtedly will if you move, or even breathe. It also means you have less need for the blanket and don’t have to undress. Why bother – roughing it for the night isn’t so bad if you’re prepared and if you have a hotel booked for the other end you can shower and change there.
Verdict – I arrived in one piece, relatively well rested. I must admit that I did have a sneaky nap during the day but all in all I would say the experience gets the thumbs up!