Saturday, April 21, 2012

Sleeping With Strangers

If you ever make an appointment to meet somebody at noon in Leipzig and you're travelling from Galway, prepare for adventure. Well I guess only in my case, but thanks to the good old German railway having a 3 minute delay, all of my connections were gone, and given that everyone in Germany goes to bed at about 8pm, it was the last train that I'd missed. But hey, I'm a well seasoned traveller, and having  been half way around the world with a rucksack I knew I'd come up with something creative. So I wandered across the road to a nearby hotel and decided to check in and get going again next morning. A swarm of Asian gentleman and a perplex receptionist with one of those nasal sounding voices informed me that the Frankfurt fair was on and that not only were the rooms all booked out but that they cost €400 tonight. She gave me a further look as if to confirm that €400 was probably three times my life savings, and although the math wasn't too far off, I decided that I'd have to bite the bullet and find some grubby place to hand a fortune over to in order to eventually get to my appointment looking halfway human.
So then I get a brainwave. Of course - the night train. I only have to hang out in the station for about 4 hours and not only will I get to my destination, I will be taken there in my bed, aka a nice little couchette.
I go into the booking office and reserve a couchette, only to realise that I've left my laser card on the kitchen table back in Galway. I'm not that impressed with myself at the best of times, but bringing on a situation where I am now a homeless bag lady in Frankfurt station is not exactly impressive. I have about enough left to pay for the couchette, a soggy salami roll and a bottle of the cheap water, leaving me with a surplus of €13 which will have to get me to my location upon arrival and somehow pay the ticket to Berlin for 50 odd quid or so. But I decide to worry about that later, first I need to get to Leipzig, and let's face it, this is turning into quite some adventure, after all, I spent all of my teenage years wishing that I could be transported from my bedroom to school by means of someone taking me there in my bed. So wasn't this the nearest I'd ever get?
Couchette Land
It was exciting sitting there on the platform watching the goods trains go by. Well ok, the first dozen or so were interesting, but then the wind chill factor dropped and I was close to approaching one of the hobos and asking if I could share a blanket and would they maybe have the lend of a fiver? But the train pulled up and off I headed to carriage number 265, bed 131. It was a bottom bunk and there was a bloke in the bunk beside me. I wasn't quite sure how you greet a stranger who you are going to spend the night sharing a bedroom of sorts with, so I just mumbled something like 'sorry, I'm just going to turn on my torch for a sec' ( I wasn't going to explain that it was actually the light from my kindle and that I don't normally travel with torches when not expecting to share a couchette with a stranger), to which he replied 'no problem, are you going all the way?'
 'Excuse me?'
 'All the way to Prague?' Oh god, now there was a thought, but now that I've become a respectable woman with an appointment in Leipzig, I can confidently tell the stranger that no, I'm not going all the way. I'm definitely not changing plans on a whim now that it's my kids who will kill me when I get home and not my mammy.
We pull out of the station and I'm loving it. The shunting sounds, the screeching and just the excitement of thinking that I could go to bed in Frankfurt and wake up in Leipzig. I settle into my couchette which sounds so much like cosy and couch and all comfy things. In fact it is not much more than a plank with a fresh shroud, a blanket and a pillow. And these things are designed more for the anorexic than the rubenesque. I turn off my kindle light and take off my jeans. I wonder if he's the perv type trying to have a peek, or is he just your normal practical German who sees this adventure as nothing more than a practical way of getting from A to B. A short grunty snort gives me the answer. He is asleep and he is the quiet wheezy snoring type.  I like it, in a strange way I feel very at home. I'm delighted. I didn't want to be 'the one' who snores, and I lie there in the dark, happy to be thrown together with a travel companion who I tell myself will protect me if pirates try to take over this night train from Zurich to Prague. (I will admit here that the following night was also spent with a stranger upon my return to Dublin in more intimate circumstances and I was guilty of being the snoring partner, but I'm not giving anymore information on that one...)
Leipzig Train Station
Despite the long journey, I feel fresh and ready for the world when I get to Leipzig station at 6.30am. The station itself is about the same size as Galway and stretches over three floors. This was once the largest railway station in Germany and still has the most train tracks of any German station. I buy a latte with an extra shot of expresso, so I'm down to 11 quid at this stage. Then, upon lifting my cup and getting a whiff of my underarm, I realised that there was a piece missing in the jigsaw: I needed a shower.  Damn, could I really get away with going to a public toilet and scrubbing my underams with one of those teeny bars of soap? And what about my hair? Could I put it under the tap? You see, these are the things that we bag ladies have to deal with. In the end I spent half of all my money in the world on a shower facility at the station. At least afterwards I looked like a nice respectable lady with a holdall and plastic bag. I could walk around the station and nobody would know that I was a penniless vagrant.
It was almost noon. The stranger I shared the couchette with would be in Prague by now. A friend who I texted reminded me that I have a German bank account, and despite having no details of my account I did manage to get a few bob out of them. I was saved. I bought a glass of real orange juice in a posh cafe. My plan B of hitchhiking to my appointment was replaced by a taxi. I arrived on time.
'Good afternoon Frau Treanor, did you have a pleasant journey?' 'Very pleasant thank you', I replied.

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