Train from Krakow

Trip Start Jul 15, 2007
Trip End Jul 16, 2008

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Thursday, August 30, 2007


Amy and I have a fundamental disagreement about trains.  I take after my father, who loved trains and hated airplanes his whole life.  Amy's experience of trains was shaped by her year-long post-college experience, taking second class trains around Europe, often sleeping overnight in upright seats to save money on hotels.  During the early planning for our year-long trip, I was enthusiastic about taking a train from Beijing, traveling through Mongolia north to Lake Baikal in Siberia, then continuing east on the Trans-Siberian Railway to Vladivostok. 

Amy told me that I would need a new wife if I wanted to spend nine days on a Russian train.  Now, after spending a single overnight on the train from Krakow to Prague, all I can say is, "Thank God for Amy."

We boarded the train at 10:00 p.m.  The equipment was clearly left over from the days of the Warsaw Pact (if not earlier).  The five of us occupied all of a six-bunk couchette.  This is three tiers per side of two-foot-wide shelf-beds with one inch of hard foam padding, covered by ancient red leather, with just enough room between to stand up the luggage.  Luckily, we had the compartment to ourselves.

The conductor gave us some free advice:  "Keep your wallets in your pockets.  Keep the door locked.  Don't open for anyone but me.  Gypsies."

The bathroom was frightening.  Signs on the walls gave instructions in Russian, Spanish, Polish and Italian, but not English.  The toilet was full of black, stinking liquid.  It operated by means of a foot pedal, which seemed only to agitate the noisome contents without carrying any matter away.  The faucet was a pipe sticking out of the wall above a small steel basin, operated by another foot pedal.

With apologies for the grossness of what I am about to say, I understood for the first time the observation in one of my guides to round-the-world travel -- that we would sometimes find ourselves in digestive distress because we were unwilling to perform necessary bodily functions when confronted by an unaccustomed level of sanitary facilities. 

I don't like to think how Amy and Katharine managed.
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