Terror on the Alpine Express

Vienna Travel Blog

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Sunny Bologna

(Another Travel Mis-Adventure) As a person who doesn’t drive and relies on public transportation I always thought that nothing was more romantic as a traveler than a good old fashioned overnight train journey. While one has never been portrayed as particularly comfortable, there was always some magical sense of adventure associated with it. Go to bed in one city and wake up in another, with the sound of the tracks lulling me to sleep. Maybe even share a bottle of wine with another passenger as we talk until dawn. Or at least arrive all rested and refreshed at my destination. That was the idea anyway. But time was running out I feared as this relic from a bygone era was disappearing thanks to the preponderance of budget airlines that can whisk one away cheaply and quickly throughout Europe.

Rainy Vienna
Trains can’t compete. However, airports are not as glorious as grand train stations and flight still lacks the ambience of train travel. After exploring Italy with my cousins, I decided to extend my trip to include a visit to my favorite city, Vienna. My final Italian base city was the historic, not as touristy, city of Bologna, city of renowned food and a good base to explore Ravenna and San Marino. The city also offered what was becoming a rarity, an overnight train journey to Vienna. I was so excited! I imagined myself in some old cold war noir movie. I wouldn’t be too far off! I went to the train station to book a sleeper car only to be informed that this train had no such luxury. I could either ride in a seat or get a 4 bunk berth. Obviously I opted for the latter as I wanted the real experience. My journey was the next evening and my berth was empty so I thought I would have it to myself. I arrived at the train station only to find that my romantic train actually could have been in an old noir movie! European mechanics need to be commended for keeping such an ancient relic functional, if not very comfortable. The other issue was that not every car was going to Vienna. At some point the train was being broken up. I had to find the right car number and destination. This is not something we do in America. Once I got in the right berth I had to do a double take. Inside there was an elderly Polish couple who had occupied all 4 bunks and had clothes hanging across the berth on some stick across the bunks. It looked more like a laundromat than a train berth. After verifying with the conductor that I was indeed in the right berth I tried to communicate with the couple, but we didn’t speak each other’s languages. We relied on the tried and true language of gestures and smiles. I think they were as surprised as I was to have company. In any case they packed up their stuff and stayed on their side’s 2 bunks. Just before we departed the station our final companion entered the berth. So much for a private one! He was an Italian professor of archeology who had a quirky sense of style, very bright clothes and a patchy blazer. Definitely gave him an eccentric look. He spoke fluent English and was a very nice guy, so we chatted for awhile before calling it a night. Before bed I went to the lavatory to brush my teeth and use the toilet. The sink didn’t work and the toilet was scary, basically in and out as fast as possible was the strategy. I went to other lavatories in the car but they were worse or completely non-functioning. When I returned to the berth I put a sheet on my bunk, took my shoes and shirt off and tried to sleep. This would be interesting as there were 3 strangers in very close proximity to me and my usual sleeping in the nude was not a possibility! Or maybe it was as the Professor walks into the berth from the lavatory in nothing but a thong! I thought the mature Polish Couple were going to pass out at the sight! It’s one thing to do that in a berth with strangers, more bizarre to walk through a train car like that! However as the berth was pretty hot with little ventilation maybe he was the smart one! We all went to our bunks and after awhile the clickety clack of the train lulled me to sleep. BANG BANG BANG!!! 2 German speaking officers bust open the door, shine a flashlight in our eyes and start screaming at us in German. As someone who does not speak that language nothing was scarier than being yelled at in German with a light shining in my face. Every East German stereotype entered my head, although these officers were Austrian. The Polish Couple started crying and shaking uncontrollably. Poor people. I imagined maybe it brought up some past experience from the old Communist Bloc. The officers ignored them and focused on me and the professor. I told them I was American and didn’t understand German. They demanded my passport, and that of the professor. He only had an EU Identification card. They demanded a passport. He very calmly explained since he was not leaving the EU he did not bring one. That explanation was not good enough for them. They then demanded that we stand up and get out of bed. When they saw the professor practically naked they asked what was wrong with him and escorted him out of the berth, with my passport! I was now very worried to be without my passport. I tried my best to calm the Polish couple down and they seemed to understand my efforts. We even lightheartedly poked fun of the professor’s sleepwear, or lack thereof, when one officer returned with my passport and demanded that I answer some questions. After the interrogation was over he left and the professor returned. Both officers then sat us down next to each other and asked us some more questions. Here I was traveling alone, looking for a classic travel experience, and I was seated very closely to a naked Italian stranger being interrogated by 2 German speaking officers, with a Polish audience. I guess I got my classic experience after all! Be careful what you wish for. Since going back to sleep was not going to happen anytime soon, the professor and I compared notes. He had much more information since he understood German. Apparently there were 2 men on the train vaguely fitting our description: dark haired olive skin guys, who were wanted by Austrian authorities. He thought they might be Bulgarian. He had some kind of Italian booze with him and asked if I wanted some. Normally, accepting a drink from a naked stranger is not something I make a habit of, but I really needed that drink and how much more bizarre could this get anyway?! I guess that drink helped as I was able to get back to sleep. The car was now chilly. We must have crossed the Alps into another climate zone. KNOCK KNOCK, "Cafe?" A train attendant awoke us with coffee and croissant. How very... normal and surreal. In the early daylight, it was as if the previous night’s events didn’t even happen! We all quietly ate our breakfast while looking out the window into the gray morning scenery. I was very groggy. Then the train stopped for a very long time at some Austrian town I had never heard of. An announcement in German eventually was made about the delay. I asked the professor, who then joined me in my bunk, to tell me what it said and it was about police activity. We then chatted about the night before and how maybe they finally found their men. When we arrived in Vienna it was chilly and rainy, quite the contrast to hot sunny Bologna. If I had had the journey I had imagined that would have been a magical contrast, but nothing more. Definitely not this epic story that I have gotten a lot of mileage from. The professor, now dressed, and I had a real breakfast together in Vienna before parting ways. I then walked to my accommodation knowing that my favorite city would give me the comfort I needed for a good late morning sleep after an evening on the terror train.

stacey72 says:
haha! I had similar ideas about this kind of journey. I'm glad I read your story, now I'll just still with the fantasy. :)
Posted on: Oct 20, 2017
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Sunny Bologna
Sunny Bologna
Rainy Vienna
Rainy Vienna
Vienna
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