Misadventure by Rail


Clawing my way gradually up from the depths of sleep, I awaken to find the cabin bathed in an eerie, orange Sodium glow. I'd been lulled to sleep by the rhythmic sway of the train as it sped its way through the night, but we are now motionless and the clickety-clack of the rails is silenced.

Lying there, drowsy, I slowly become aware of a distant commotion outside in the hallway. Shockingly, there is a loud hammering on our locked door and a brusque male voice shouts out something undecipherable. At this point I realize, by her stealthy movements in the bottom bunk, that my friend Wendy, is also awake but remaining silent. Heart hammering, I lie there waiting for her to answer the door. This seems logical as I'm not eager to leap from the top bunk into the dark unknown. It quickly becomes apparent that this isn't about to happen. Apparently we've made a silent pact to be unresponsive.
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Months before, when planning our trip, Wendy (who's a travel agent) had regaled me with stories of clients who'd had misadventures while traveling on European railways. The stories included details of thefts that occurred, mainly when the clients were sleeping. All in all, she figures it's a good idea to watch out for any dodgy characters. As we are off to Prague and Budapest - areas where there are plenty of enterprising Romany - we are determined to travel smart. Although I do feel that wearing my money-belt to bed is going a bit far. Wendy, however, declares that not only do we have to wear them to bed, we have to sleep with them underneath us!
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As I lie here in my bunk, I visualize where I can hide my valuables in our tiny cabin. Wendy later confesses, "I wondered if I could force myself to swallow my rings, to keep them safe."

So many things flash through my brain as I wonder how long it will take them to break into our room. 'Have I seen my husband and kids for the last time?' 'Will they murder us, or merely rob us?' 'Are we stupid to be taking an overnight train?'

Eventually the hammering and shouting stops and I heave a huge sigh of relief. Maybe the danger has passed and someone has told the crazy people that they have to get off the train?
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Our steward greets us as we board the train in Prague, "Good evening ladies. My name is ****. I will look after you tonight. If you need anything, please let me know."

As we climb the steps he manfully slings our luggage from the platform into the carriage. Before we know it, we are off down the corridor to our cabin, along with all of our belongings.

As he shows us around our cabin he makes a point of showing us how to lock the door. He leaves us with strict instructions, "Do NOT open your door for anyone during the night! You only open your door to me." That helps push our stress-metre up a notch, for sure.

Exhausted from days of roaming cobbled streets and exploring castles and cathedrals, we quickly succumb to the rocking cradles of our bunks.
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Within minutes the knocking starts again and there are voices outside our room. This time we hear our steward, "Ladies, open your door! This is **** and you need to unlock your door."

This brings an immediate reaction from Wendy and she is up and at the door before I can even swing my legs over the side of my bunk. Fumbling in the dark, she manages to turn the lock and fling open the door. There is our steward and another burly man in uniform.

"Why would you not open your door? Hungarian Customs need to see your passports!" Shaking his head, rolling his eyes and muttering about crazy women, he storms off down the passageway - probably to assist with some other befuddled passenger. We sheepishly produce our papers. After a quick look and a stamp in our passports the customs officer leaves and we relock our door. Falling into bed, too embarrassed to speak, we lie there until the train leaves the station and the familiar rocking soon lulls us back to sleep.

It is only the next day that we discuss our adventure and dissolve into fits of laughter at what fools we are.



P Awmack

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