My train to Istanbul left at 7:50 the next day, and I prepared myself for the (likely more than) 24 hours of travel in a six-bed couchette. I was fortunate enough to be sharing my compartment with three other travelers about my age: an Austrian, a German and a Polish-American.
Patti Smith – Trampin’
We were not so fortunate in our neighbors, though: four Serbian teenagers who were obviously on their first trip alone. They yelled out the windows at old ladies standing on the side of the road and waved a Serbian flag that said “Crazy Serbs.” In between, they partook in their favorite activity, which seemed to be “pounding on the walls.”
Five hours later, they opened their first beers, and I was reminded of babysitting and hoping the children would exhaust themselves to an early bedtime. When they discovered I was an American they openly expressed their dislike of the U.S. and said they never wanted to visit. (I told them I never wanted them to visit it either, it took them a few seconds to catch on.)
Pepi Ginsburg – East Is East
We arrived in Sofia, Bulgaria in the early evening, and a few of us jumped off the train to go on a beer run. I experienced a brief moment of utter terror as the train pulled away from the station (“Oh, this is bad,” said the German girl, Juliane, as we ran down the platform after the train, which was getting smaller and smaller.) A track worker saw our panic and indicated that it was just changing tracks, so we waited for it to come back, feeling foolish and relieved.
Our relief was doubled when we reentered our car, laden with beer, to discover that the Serbian teenagers had indeed fallen asleep at about 8 p.m. (They would not wake until 8 a.m. the next day.) And they ended up missing the real party, because everyone else in the car was now opening their beers. Our Turkish conductor rambled up and down the halls, wearing less of his uniform the more he drank until he only wore his undershirt and was sharing with us some postcards he was apparently supposed to deliver.
Drinking was obviously the best way to deal with no ventilation, cramped beds and the 2 a.m. border crossings with their associated passport controls. It was not, however, the best way to deal with the dirty pit toilet at the end of the car. Luckily enough, I had the courage (or sleep-deprived lunacy) to go searching for a public restroom after getting my visa at the Turkish border. I somehow found one, clean and empty and glowing with welcome, and despite narrowly avoiding missing the departure, everyone was jealous.