If you take a night train, you will look forward to the elegant train travel depicted in Hollywood movies of yore. You will expect to be treated like Grace Kelly in North by Northwest or have a spacious train car all to yourself like Nick and Nora in The Thin Man. You will wear a sleeping gown, your husband a crisply pressed pajama suit, and everyone will look like Cary Grant in the morning.
If you take a night train, and your train is not a movie set, you will instead share a compartment the size of a large closet, and you will probably sleep in whatever you happen to be wearing when you arrive. There is no room for a costume change on a night train. And if you take a night train, your dinner will not be fancy: you will drink your wine straight from the bottle and get sandwich crumbs in your bed, for there will be no dining car.
If you take a night train, from Prague to Krakow for example, it will be important to wear earplugs once it’s time for bed. You’ll want the good kind made of wax, the kind that mold to your ear’s shape, the kind that don’t fall out during the night and get lost among your sheets. These are the ear plugs you want, if you take a night train.
But if you take a night train, the noise won’t be your only problem. No, you will ride the rails and finally fully understand the phrase–a ride, indeed–because you’ll spend the night at the mercy of centrifugal force, white-knuckling your sheets for fear of falling off the bed.
When you arrive on your night train, I hope you remember to stow your bags on the luggage rack and not on the floor. You see, if you take a night train, the you on the top bunk will roast in the heat-that-rises and will need to move to the ground when it gets too hot to bear; this will be around 5:00am. The fear of falling off the bed will dissipate, but you will not be able to sleep on the floor either, not on the groaning-thunking-clacking floor, but at least you will stop sweating. If you take a night train, this will feel like victory.
But if you take a night train, you will save time and money. You will multitask by combining your lodging and your travel budgets into one cheap transaction, and when you “wake” in the morning, your car’s steward will greet you with a hot beverage of your choice and a croissant. You will find this all very civilized, and you will thank him–and mean it–when he takes your hand to help you off the train.
If you take a night train, you’ll arrive at your destination early, so early that you’ll be perfectly on time to see the town wake up. You will park yourself on a coffee shop patio on the main square and sip the world’s most welcome tea. From here, you will listen to horse hooves clop their way through cobblestone streets, watch vendors open their wooden stall windows, women wearing kerchiefs shake out their welcome mats. You will see the window at the very top of the church tower open and glimpse the golden bell of a trumpet, and then you will hear the trumpeter greet the morning with song. The square will fill with more and more people, weary backpackers, commuters, students on their way to class; nuns, tour guides, street performers setting up their spaces. What was an empty square will be vibrant and alive, and after you pay for your tea and walk off to join the throng, you will, for the first time, be glad you took the night train.