The Night Train

The news that many western European railways are abandoning their inter-country night sleeper services means yet another aspect of the glamour of rail travel between the European capitals dims.

In our unparalleled modern times, you can reach most places in less than a day by high speed train.  In many ways, rail holidays have become a smarter choice because you are delivered seamlessly and efficiently to your next destination.  In days gone by, however, a night on a European night train was an experience in itself.

Travelling across Europe on a sleeper has fed many imaginative mind, including, of course Agatha Christie’s.  Leaning heavily on her experiences as young woman travelling by train from London to Baghdad in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, Christie was able to create a world of intrigue aboard one of the world’s most famous sleeper trains.  The glamorous Orient Express still runs but is possibly shorn of its 30’s mystique, unless when recreated on film or TV.

One rail journey that I may not miss is the ‘Stendhal’ night sleeper train, named after the 19th Century French writer, that nightly connected Paris with Venice via Milan and Verona. More romantic destinations in Europe can’t be imagined. Unfortunately, my last  trip on it  was less than romantic.

Setting off from Venice in the setting sun, I tried to imagine all those who had gone before on this route, what stories they could tell, what events occurred in the compartments. That stretch of the imagination took me to Milan where at midnight we entered Mussolini’s great steel arched train shed silhouetted in the Italian moonlight and briefly glimpsed the sleeping baroque-fascist monumental architecture of the concourse.

Then the anticipation glamour and excitement of traversing the Alps in the Simplon tunnel simply disappeared. I wanted to go to the loo, and to my horror the door lock had jammed. The gentle swaying motion of the coach did nothing to assist my predicament. Call the attendant – press – press-and press again, but no response. Entombed for a most uncomfortable night the attendant finally showed up as we were speeding through countryside near Dijon whilst the misty sun was rising in the east creating a light that photographers would kill for. The attendant was most unsympathetic and shouted at us that there was nothing wrong with the lock!

Too stressed to argue, my need wasn’t to enjoy the aesthetics but to get like a bat out of hell to the fortunately unoccupied WC at the other end of the corridor. That took some of the polish off the experience, but I would do it again, but only if it were an en-suite compartment.

LOCO Journeys offers a terrific choice of rail holidays featuring overnight sleeper trains – we wish you a happier journey than the one our writer experienced!

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