Midnight Train to Munich

Actually – it was the 12:15.  And for someone who’s had at least a little travel experience, the trip was one rooky mistake after another.

The goal was to meet friends in Munich on May 10th.  My first thought was to fly. I only needed to go TO Munich since we were all driving back together, so I looked at non-stop 1-way tickets.  The figure was over $800!!  A more experienced friend suggested looking at round trip tickets – and indeed, the price was around $200.  Problem #1 was that I didn’t want to end up with my car at the airport, and problem #2 was that if I went by plane, it would require 2 trains in Italy – Orvieto to Rome and then Rome to the airport – and another from the Munich airport into the city.

But a train to Munich seemed like THE perfect solution, since I could park my car in the free parking lot at Orvieto’s station, and on the other end, I’d arrive in the center of town, across the street from our hotel.  How could this possibly be a bad plan?

I tried the internet and was shocked at how little information there was. While I was encouraged to find that there was a direct train, when I went to see availability and price, it said:  “Online prices are currently unavailable for the selected route.  We apologize for any inconvenience.”

So I hit the travel agent.  After getting the same heartfelt apology from her website, she called them.  They told her that because the train went through Austria, they could hold up ticketing for Italy until they were sure no Austrians wanted to fill those seats.  A friend got into a different website that said there might be construction on the line, which could be the reason it was impossible to get any details.  While these excuses might have seemed plausible for getting between remote outposts in the 3rd world, I would expect a bit more from trains in Italy, Austria and Germany.  And by the way — I just looked again today and the website is still apologizing.

The travel agent could, however, get information about the NON-direct train – the 12:15, getting into Trento in northern Italy at 7 a.m., where I would enjoy a 3-hour wait for the train to Munich.  This did not seem ideal, but the price was right:  $90.  True – I’d have to sit up on the 12:15, but I sleep very well sitting up in all modes of transportation.  I was quite pleased with my decision….

…..Until I talked to another much more experienced friend who, after asking the price, then asked the important follow-up question that I had failed to ask:  Is that 1st or 2nd class.  I’m sure you can guess what I found when I looked at the tickets.  I tried to get them changed, but the 12:15 was a TOTALLY 2nd class train, and the agent said that since the 2nd train was “only 4 hours”, it shouldn’t be a problem.

So – the night came and I parked my car in the lot, dragged my 2-weeks worth of clothes to the escalator and found that not only did the first one not work, but neither did the 2nd.  I got my over-packed suitcase up the 40 steps one slow lift at a time.  There was only 1 other person in the waiting room, which was only slightly less creepy than if I’d been there alone.

I remember seeing old movies where people boarded European trains with the hall on one side and compartments on the other.  I always thought it was romantic.  Unfortunately, this particular train looked like the exact one from those old movies and time had not been its friend.  It might have helped if the night had been a bit less humid, the train a bit less full and my suitcase lighter and smaller.  Finally, I found my compartment and seat.

The compartment seating was 3 on each side.  My seat, it goes without saying, was in the middle – 5 men and me.  None of us was particularly tall, but leg room was so tight that we all had to work to position our knees so as not to annoy each other.  This was not a compartment for basketball players.  The most gallant of my fellow travelers offered to put my suitcase above my seat, but he immediately realized that it was impossible to lift and I just left it out in the walkway, blocking anyone foolish enough to want to get from one end of the car to the other.  The air circulation system had long ago stopped working, making the compartment stuffy, and because it was after midnight, the lights were off.

And did I mention that the day before I had started with a mild clearing of throat, which at this point was turning into a somewhat hacking cough?

On the plus side – no one had eaten garlic for dinner and everyone’s deodorant seemed to be working.

A mere 7 cramped hours later we arrived in Trento, where I got to spend 3 hours waiting in a drafty waiting room for my next 2nd class train adventure.

This train, however, was definitely not Italian.  It looked like it had been washed recently, and when I entered the car, there were rows of seats rather than compartments, and the air was fresh.  There were plenty of spaces for luggage.  Life was looking up…..until the officious conductor came along and pointed out that I was in seat #65 in the 1st class car, instead of seat #65 in 2nd class……5 cars back.  As my one act of defiance for the trip, I left my suitcase in the 1st class car so I wouldn’t have to drag it back to steerage.

My real seat turned out to be in another 6-person compartment, but it had been cleaned regularly, the air system worked, I could see out the windows, and unlike the first train, it was definitely not from between the wars. True, there was a bit of confusion at the end when I had to buck traffic for 5 cars to get back to my luggage in 1st class, but I eventually got there.

As billed, the Munich train station was right across from our hotel, so even though I was greeted with wind and pouring rain, I didn’t have far to get wet.  And since I’ve now learned my lesson to always take a 1st class train, I’d have to say that all in all, the episode turned out to be a good one……except for my blossoming cold.  But that’s another story.

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8 thoughts on “Midnight Train to Munich

  1. Another great article Susan. You really have a gift for writing humorously. I wish we had had a chance to see you guys this visit but obviously you’ve been hither & yonmaybe you can come out for olive picking in the fall? Have a great summer & we hope to see you in November.

  2. I’ve been hearing rave reviews about Italo, the new, private Italian train service. Of course, no service outside of Italy, but it looks like a nice option for long-distance travel within the country.

  3. This was penny wise, time foolish! And, wow, am I going to give you a remedial packing/fashion lesson so you will never be caught with a big bag and a broken escalator! But you did in a Nora Efron way make me feel better about our American trains.

  4. I can so picture all of this. I made these mistakes back in the day before rollaboards, about the same time the trains were put into service.

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