18 Jun The night train….
The night train to Sofia – it sounded so romantic, exotic and adventurous as we sat at breakfast in Arlington Road one winter’s day sometime late 2013. We’ll take a couchette, the perfect way to get a decent night’s sleep. ‘Couchette’ – it has an alliterative quality somehow – cushiony, comfy. Anyway the prospect of this part of the trip, when the train journeys extend in inverse proportion to the distances we travel, or so it seems, was enticing. Adventurous? Well, you could certainly say so although some other adjectives spring to mind – romantic and exotic would not be among them.
What a hoot! How to describe this train. It’s the oldest and grubbiest I’ve ever seen let alone travelled in. A real mess: rusty steps, smeared windows, tacky floor. We have a compartment to ourselves – fortuitously, it turns out, one of the beds in our 4-berther is broken so that has seen off any potential cohabitees. Having been warned (in an exaggerated fashion, we feel) about security on these night journeys, we are relieved. The dirtiness of the compartment, indeed of the whole carriage, has that deeply ingrained quality, trodden in, handled and unwashed to achieve, over several years, a sort of patina of grime. Every handle of every door and window is greasy and sticky with the collected residue of other people’s touch. Are you getting the picture? This is a site of infinite biodiversity; at the microscopic level it must be literally teaming with species. Thoroughly revolting.
All this before I get onto describing the toilet cubicle. On second thoughts, maybe I won’t. Let’s just say that the absence of an electric light, whilst probably unintentional, was an example of excellent customer service. The smell would knock you out; I could do without seeing it as well!
Our guard has taken away our tickets but left us some sheets and a blanket each. The sheets have been laundered and pressed so often they have that unwholesome grey colour to which Farrow & Ball would attach some earnest name – pigeon poo, perhaps. I suspect bed bugs lurk in the blanket ready for a bit of a feast. Quite why he took away our tickets is unclear. Perhaps he thinks we may make a midnight bid to abscond into the Serbian hinterland? As if! The other possibility is that….. I’d rather not think about any other possibilities. He promises to return them in the morning – he had a sort of teasing look in his eye so I’m inclined to believe him.
The train is also possibly the slowest one I have ever travelled on, slower even than the steam train that chugs between Grosmont and Pickering of a summer’s weekend. We will travel about 250 miles and it will take 10 hours.
The only thing to do, then, is put the sheets on the bunk beds, shut the curtains and try and get some kip – which, astonishingly, we did in a fitful sort of way. And lo, at 6am we were checked out by the Serbian border guards and, about half an hour later, checked in by their Bulgarian equivalents. Another hour as the train made its ponderous way to Sofia and here we are.
Oh, boy, Sofia. More stories to tell in the next blog.