Lara and I, and other bag-totting lookalikes, stepped off the water taxi at Venezia Lucia Station. All eyes lifted to the arrivals screen. What! The sleeper train to Paris had been cancelled. “Information Office,” I shouted and a mob ran with us the length of the platform.
“It says cancelled. But it’s not,” the official snorted, making a shooing action as if we were flies. “Keep watching the screen.” And thank you too, I muttered.
Try holding two shoulder bags, nailing a big case with a foot while nibbling pizza from a paper bag and holding your eyes on a screen. “It’s arriving,” a backpacker yelled an hour later, and we stampeded down the platform like fleeing refugees.
“At least we’re booked First Class,” I said, as we juggled luggage along the narrow and stinking hot corridor, seeing a cabin oasis in my head. Some passengers were already hanging out windows while others fanned themselves with folded newspapers.
“We made it!” I said, flopping on a bunk as Lara opened and shut doors.
“There’s no shower Mum.”
Okay, so this wasn’t shaping up to be an Orient Express experience, but there was a hand basin. We could wash at least.
Lara passed me a menu and we squashed together on the bottom bunk, eagerly ticking off our food choices for dinner and breakfast. A rap on the door: a guard, to pick up our passports.
“Do we give you these? We asked, handing him the menus. A slow shake of the head, followed by – “There is no dining car. That is why the train was cancelled. And then not cancelled. We lost the dining car.”
“How can you lose a dining car?” I asked, before Lara pinched me. “What about dinner?”
“There’s no food. You have some with you?”
I did so want to wave the card I held in front of his nose, which stated: it is forbidden to eat food not purchased on the train.
“There’s water,” the guard said.
“Don’t worry. We have some.”
“Oh Mum.” Lara said, after he’d gone. “How terribly disappointing. I know how much you looked forward to this journey: arriving in Paris early morning and showing me around…”
“Look my darling. This was all about you and me having time with each other, wasn’t it?” Lara laughed. “Lucky you packed the leftovers.”
I groaned. There were seven cracker biscuits and a lump of hard cheese.
“Plenty of time for Skip Bo then.”
“Let’s get your bunk set up, and I’ll think about it.”
No easy matter but we did it. I changed into my floral dressing gown, lay down on the bottom bunk and shrieked. Lara’s head appeared over the edge of hers. “Oh My God!” she said, looking down at me.
“You look weird,” I said.
“I look weird?”
“What do people get up to in here?” I said, leering at myself in the full-length mirror just inches above my head.
Lara’s legs appeared, and next her camera. “You better not post these on Facebook,” I said.
“Can you open the window, it’s stifling.”
“Jeez, what’s that stink?”
We sniffed the putrid air. “Hopefully it’s silage,” I said, as Lara slammed the window shut.
Then hysteria hit us, and we cackled like laying hens until I had to make a dash to the toilet, which was further up the corridor. To my utter pleasure it was unoccupied, clean, and equipped with a full roll of toilet paper!
“Time for Skip Bo,” Lara said on my re-appearance, waving the pack of cards. I groaned. I hate cards and well she knows it. I prefer scrabble, or crosswords. But cards it had been in Lake Como and Venice, and now the Paris train it seemed. She sat opposite me with legs crossed and started dealing. I opened the cheese and crackers and we ate ‘dinner’ as I laboured through the game.
“You love it Ma. Confess.”
“Tonight darling, I almost think I do.”
We slept fitfully in our crabbed spaces, aware of every lurch, every squeal, every roll of the train. And my hoping the mirror wouldn’t fall on me. We dressed hours before arrival, repacked our bags and stepped out into the corridor. Our next-door neighbor leaned heavily on his folded arms head against the glass.
“Sleep well?” I enquired.
“Do I look like it?”
“Well, at least we arrived.”
“Something to be thankful for,” Lara said, and held my elbow.
“And we got our passports back. It’s not all bad.”
The air was cooler in the corridor, the train was slowing, and there was Paris under soft pink skies. “We’re here.” I said, and my daughter hugged me. Who could wish for more? Oh, maybe a croissant or two.
(From my personal travel journal)