Have you ever had to suffer the trials of an overnight train journey? ‘Travel while you sleep.’ They say. But sleep, hah!

We were so excited, Europe by train, no greater adventure had surely ever been undertaken by man or beast. Carriages of steel and lightning belting across the vast expanses of the old world. Machines that cross seas and mountains without once changing course, marvels of modern society.

And surely, most romantic of all, the overnight train, beds swaying gently as your carriage coursed through the night, charging towards a dawn that heralds new places, new friends and new adventures.

It was perfect. A short journey, Barcelona to Cerbere, a beautiful little town on the coast, overshadowed by a long forgotten hotel that had once received travellers by the boatload. Now left to wither as flight replaced foot. But still, as it had for such a long, long, time, this was where the train started its journey. A beautiful creature, too long, too powerful to be contained by the old, tired towns station. Stretching outwards it dared us to find a compartment to call ours for a night.

We knew as soon as we saw it, a room, glorious, four bunks already made up, a trolley with delights trundling near to us. Then the voice, ‘Billetes, por favour.’ Smiling we handed them over, bought in another country, another life, before we were seasoned at this.

No smile was given in return, just broken English. ‘These, they are not for this train.’

But, no! Surely, we had paid so much, a ticket for every train, in all of the countries, perhaps it had been too much to ask. ‘You must leave my train now, yes?’

No! Please no, we had seen the hotel, old and broken, would someone even be in there, would beds even be in there? We weren’t to be condemned to this town, condemned to stay off this train.

‘Perhaps there is a way.’ Ah. Here it was, another foreigner looking at us and thinking, money. Money for me. ‘Ten Euros charge and your ticket will get you on my train.’

Well, what can you do, it was not our train, it was his, as he had so nicely mentioned. And surely, ten euros each here for a bed, and such a bed. A deal was struck and we sat down, sighed and began to stow our bags. ..

‘You come with me now.’

What? We had paid, whether it had been a bribe or a legitimate transaction why did we need to follow him, perhaps we had to stay in a different room, perhaps that was it.

Further and further we travelled, through an endless parade of carriages, each with rooms growing ever smaller, ever more cramped until finally a door opened, with a smile. The last carriage, and what do you see. Seats. Rows and rows of them, people happily using the train to commute home from work, to see friends for an evening.

None who were in there now would leave the carriage with us in Paris. But so many would join the carriage along the way, a parade of new nightmares to interrupt the minutes of strained sleep.

But still, eventually, we were there. Free from the shackles of our non-beds, free from the train that had held such empty promise and there she was. Paris, oh beautiful Paris, here we would rest, here no one would surely be so rude as to wake us up at three in the morning and ask if the seat next to us was free.

Oh Paris mi amour. And then, then, a giant Parisian bastard punched me in the face.

L Southan

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