After three days of tripping through Venice, the Alps and Munich I was headed back to the U.K. as Kelly and Wendy moved on to Mannheim and a Pink concert.
The trip ain’t over though ’til it’s over.
I had never slept horizontally on a train before — only upright in a seat heading west in Canada, which I don’t recommend. On arranging this trip I was glad to see that a sleeper train left Munich late at night, arriving in Paris early the next morning. I could travel and save accommodation costs at the same time. I could have hours in Paris before I boarded the Eurostar back to London. From the invaluable website The Man in Seat 61, I garnered the information I needed and booked my bed-for-the-night.
With hindsight and first-hand experience I can now recommend that spending a little more money on train accommodations is hopefully worth it, because taking the cheapest option — the couchette — is not recommended: not if you have sleep in mind.
I was a little sad to say goodbye to Kelly and Wendy through the train window as I surveyed my tiny block for the night. I had splurged an extra 10 euros for a four-berth instead of a six-berth and even this was pretty tight. There was little more than a foot of space between the bunks. I am not a big person and I found it a challenge to climb the ladder to my top bunk and place my one piece of baggage at the foot of my cot. I didn’t know which way to face, so decided that I would feel safer looking towards the door with my head at the window. Only later did I find out that this is backwards from the way the train is laid out, with the nightlight at the other end. I don’t know if this would have made a difference regarding the physical comfort of the ride.
I do know that it made a difference regarding the emotional comfort of the ride. I realized my mistake when one of my sleeper comrades joined the train. Fortunately, he was a handsome, bookish German in his 30s who had travelled in the sleepers often enroute to living in Paris, and fortunately he spoke English. He set up in the assigned bunk across from me, only half-an-arm’s length away, with his feet at the window, across from my head. I was glad I was facing towards him, because the awkwardness of turning around in your sleep and seeing a total stranger’s face only a foot away would have been distressing.
It was past 11 p.m. when I boarded the train and probably half an hour later we began to move away from Munich. There is no club car on the City Night Line, and it was late, so after the conductor came through it was lights out. The conductor spoke in German and when he left my cabinmate explained, thankfully, how to unlock the door if needed, and that the travellers filling the two lower bunks would be getting on in Stuttgart in about three hours.
I had assumed, but never checked, that the train was direct. It wasn’t. Every time I began to drift off to sleep I would awaken with the motion of the train slowing as it came into a station. It slowed down and started at least four times before we reached Stuttgart when the conductor turned on the cabin lights to full brightness and let in the remaining two travellers.
The train rolled and pitched, cool air blew on my head from a fan or vent, and once, upon rolling over without thought, I whacked my arm against the ceiling. When the announcer came on in the early morning as we approached Paris, I was just looking forward to sitting or standing upright. I can’t say I’ll never travel this way again — I think there are probably ways to make it better. I love train travel. Sleeping with my head towards the centre of the train might make a difference. I know that travelling in a group of friends or family would be a great comfort and ease as you could rent the whole cabin and even use a berth for storage. Upgrading to a cabin with your own toilet and washbasin would be a luxury.
So, I was in Paris … for the second time in my life. The sleeper train arrived at Gare de l’Est shortly after 9 a.m. and the Eurostar left from Gare du Nord in mid-afternoon. The two stations are conveniently only blocks from each other, so I left my luggage in a locker at Gare de l’Est and headed outside into a grey, cloudy Paris.
My plan was to visit the former home of Victor Hugo, a free museum, in the Place des Vosges, a famous square I hadn’t seen on my first trip to Paris. I was hungry though and my first stop was a bench outside the train station where I ate half my made-in-Germany sandwich that I had packed the night before.
I was also pretty tired and of two minds as to whether I really wanted to walk anywhere or just sit in a cafe. But I was in Paris and it seemed a crime to just sit, even in a cafe. I walked for about twenty minutes and found a little park where I ate the rest of my breakfast. The Square Emile Chautemps, with its formal lines and greyness, seemed coldly formal after the green expanse of Munich’s open parklands and I remembered a British gardener, Monty Don, who spoke on T.V. about the French love of lines. A few Asian tourists or residents talked at the far end of the garden and a child played in the structured playground as I sat on a bench by a carved fountain.
A lady tried to sell me a bouquet of drooping lilacs as I wandered to the Place des Vosges, getting a little lost along the way among real streets of Paris, rather than the touristy trails. When I arrived, unfortunately underimpressed with this larger, very formal garden, I decided to leave the Victor Hugo home until another time when I could do it justice and realized that what I really wanted to do before catching the Eurotrain in a few hours was to enjoy a meal in a cafe.
Heading back along different streets I made my way to the train stations and found a cafe bustling with local people — university students and business people at lunch. Ordering the plat du jour off a small blackboard on my table, I had my first taste of ratatouille (very, very good) and a tasty fish. Food as art! Excellent!
After my Parisian lunch it was time to collect my luggage and head for my Eurostar connection. An hour and a half after boarding I was in London on my way to my coach ride back to Cardiff.
Four memorable days with more memories in the making.