Inside the Caledonian Sleeper

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Caledonian Sleeper_01

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Sleeper trains can save you time and money, but of the ones I’ve had the opportunity to try, the most that can be said about their comfort level is that they’re tolerable. I’ve been on one of the top bunks of a 6-couchette compartment and I can tell you it’s no fun not being able to sit upright and sleeping with the ceiling barely a foot above my nose.

The Caledonian Sleeper, the overnight train service between London and Scotland, is by far the most luxurious sleeper I’ve ever been on. My sister and I took it both ways — from London to Inverness, and from Fort William back to London. (The photo above was taken at Fort William.)

On the Caledonian Sleeper, you actually feel kind of pampered. There’s a steward who comes to your compartment and orients you if it’s your first time on the sleeper. He also asks you what time you would be like to woken up, what drink you would like to have in the morning, and whether or not you want breakfast.

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Finding yourself (and sucking it up) on the road

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Travel doesn’t just show you the world; the best kind of travel also shows you yourself.

Portnalong_LSS_Northloom

By that standard alone, I may have just had the trip of my life. On my recent sojourn to England and Scotland, I learned many things about myself, some of them trivial, and some a bit uncomfortable to accept or difficult to acknowledge. Things could change — we’re all a work in progress — but here are some of the realizations I had:

I’m just not a museum person. Just. Not. I realized this when my friends and sister and I were at Trafalgar Square — they were going inside the National Gallery when I said, “I think I’ll just hang out here by the fountain.” And one of them said disbelievingly, “You don’t want to see a Van Gogh?” I shrugged and said, “Well, I’ve already been to the Van Gogh Museum…” Which is true, and the VGM was probably the only museum I truly felt a connection with. But the truth is, right then and there, I liked staying outside. I would rather stay outside. I can soak up more joy and energy and inspiration from sunlight and water and strangers doing their thing than from an entire museum full of masterpieces. My heart swells bigger from watching a brightly colored wildflower by the roadside than from examining an utterly brilliant painting of that same flower by, say, Monet.

In “My top 9 travel tips” Paulo Coelho wrote: “Avoid museums. This might seem to be absurd advice, but let’s just think about it a little: if you are in a foreign city, isn’t it far more interesting to go in search of the present than of the past?” As I’m not really a Paulo Coelho fan, it feels kind of opportunist to be quoting him in support of my indifference towards museums, but as far as I’m concerned he hits that particular nail on the head.

But I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to museums — far from it. If you are a museum person, then I think you should go. Absolutely: go. You definitely shouldn’t not go to a museum just because of what Paulo Coelho thinks. If you’re really interested in something, or even if you just feel like doing it for no particular reason, then you should pursue it no matter how others feel about it or what they may think of you. I think the bottom line here is that people are different — we have different tastes, we are inspired by different things — and what’s important is to respect that difference. I’m not a museum person, and maybe that makes me a bit of a bumpkin, but that’s fine. There are worse things to be.

I am less obsessive-compulsive than I used to be. Well, duh, I missed two trains! I’ve never ever done that before. And the Seven Sisters in Sussex was to have been my One Place — somewhere I’d go that nobody I knew had ever gone before. I missed the train by a few minutes and on-the-day tickets were too expensive (nearly £30 to replace a ticket I’d bought advance for £5!) so I gave it up as a bad job. The funny thing is — further proof that I’m no longer so OC — I wasn’t even upset about it. Okay, at some point, I was praying so hard that we would make it. But when the time came and I realized there was no way we were getting on that train, I actually thought, “Oh, yay, a free day.” And we went to Hampstead Heath instead, which I loved. So that ended well.

The lesson here could be not to buy Advance tickets, but they are so much cheaper than Off-peak or Anytime, I think I’m just gonna take the risk again next time and simply improve my time management. 😀 I think the real lesson is that you can’t always choose what happens to you but you can choose how to react to it. I think I’ve been more cool about stuff since I learned the very important life lesson that s–t happens no matter how much you try to do the right things and to do things right. So many things are beyond our control and there are much bigger problems in the world. Obviously, if something major happens, I’m going to get upset about it, I’m not a robot. But a missed train, heck even two missed trains, less than £100 wasted and, more importantly, nothing I can do about it? I could spend an entire day upset — add that to my losses — or I could shrug and say, well, s–t happens. Let’s go to Hampstead Heath.

I just can’t handle alcohol. And, no, I don’t mean I easily get drunk and do stupid things. On the contrary, I never get drunk because I could never get myself to like alcohol. I don’t have a moral objection to it — Jesus drank wine, didn’t he — and I know a reasonable quantity of red will do my health worlds of good. But, I don’t know, I just don’t like the taste of alcohol. And I’ve tried, I swear, but I could never get past the first sip. For me, it’s like learning to eat okra. I suppose I could really try, if it was the only thing left in the world, but otherwise: ugh.

And I’ve tried to think of excuses to escape drinking: I’m pregnant (rotten idea). I’m allergic to alcohol (can be easily disproved). I’m a recovering alcoholic (not very good for my reputation). Even if I could come up with a good excuse, there’s still another problem: I’m about as good at lying as I am at drinking alcohol.

Which is all really unfortunate as I was in Scotland. Scotland, for the love of God. Faced with the ordeal of drinking alcohol versus the ungraciousness and uncoolness of declining a drink from a cute guy, I actually chose the latter. It was embarrassing. I think the only thing that saved me was that I acknowledged several times that I was a loser. 😀 But let me get all John Lennon-y for a second and say: imagine a world where you can drink your wine or whisky and I can drink juice. That’s not very hard to imagine, is it? It’s easy if you try…

Trivial stuff:

  • My clumsiness finally found its match: Timberlands. Hurray for never slipping, sliding or stumbling once in two weeks! While camping once, my friends actually gave me a certificate proclaiming me “Disaster Queen” because there was no patch of mud I would not fall in, so an accident-free two weeks is quite an achievement for me.
  • I just can’t be bothered to wear makeup. I have tinted lip gloss but that’s about all I have the patience for. I actually brought two lipsticks with me — I figured if I’m going to start wearing makeup, it might as well be in London — and I used none of them.
  • I’m a cheapskate but I would willingly spend on the Caledonian Sleeper again. Best. Sleeper Experience. Ever.
  • I am immune to James Reid and Enrique Gil and Coco Martin.
  • I’m a sucker for tall guys with broad shoulders in church. (Well, they don’t have to be in church but…)
  • I’m a hopeless dreamer.

What have you learned about yourself from your recent travels?

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Finding Yourself (And Sucking It Up) On The Road | © Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved. 

Some girls buy bags, some girls buy train tickets.

Caledonian Sleeper tickets

A berth on the Caledonian Sleeper feels like a positive luxury to my usually penny-pinching self. I justify the cost by comparing it to the cost of regular trains + a night in a hotel + time (= gold) but still. When I think about it, a single ticket costs over 10 times what I paid for 4 years at university. Hmmm, maybe I can think of this as a reward for my former scholastic diligence?

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© Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains