There’s nothing romantic about midnight trains.
Oh, there’s romance in the notion of stepping from a wooden platform onto a steel carriage, from solid ground to motion, to adventure, to the dark.
There’s nothing romantic about not knowing where, exactly, in the designated platform of a rather long train, two people with a ticket that says “CNL 1319, 2 Liegeplätze, Wg. 186, Pl. 55 56, 2 Oben, Abteil, Nichtraucher, inkl. Zuschlag” should stand to wait for their car; nothing romantic about expecting the cars to be ordered numerically all throughout, then finding out they’re not, then having to decide — fast! — whether to go forward or back; nothing romantic about deciding, at the last minute, to board a random car and searching from car to car for the right car and the right compartment; nothing romantic about dragging your luggage along narrow corridors and having to wait for rowdy groups of people to settle themselves into their compartments so that you can pass by to get to yours.
There is, I suppose, something romantic about the thought of going to sleep in Paris and waking up in Venice, as if transported by dreams in a drizzle of pixie dust.
In unromantic reality, you wake up when the authorities need to see your ticket and your passport, and again when they are returned to you. Or if the air conditioning is wonky, you wake up every 30 minutes or so: when it becomes too hot, and again when it becomes too cold. That is if you can sleep at all, in your cramped berth, your 1 couchette in a crowded car of 6.
And yes, it might be romantic: the idea of 6 strangers seemingly thrown together by fate, their life’s journeys interconnected for a time altogether too brief.
What’s not so romantic? Not being able to sit up in bed, having to creep into it, and staring at the roof of the train just a few inches from your nose, because a 6-couchette compartment in a 12-compartment 26-meter car does not a penthouse suite make.
There is nothing romantic about midnight trains.
Just the idea of them.
I still love them.
I love that the experience is raw and real, not a smooth ride contrived for my paying convenience.
I love that they remind me of why I travel: to experience the unfamiliar, even when it’s uncomfortable.
And I love that they remind me of my favorite stories, the ones with happy endings. They give me hope that, someday, after the curveballs and the uncertainty and the discomfort and the pain, in the end I will be exactly where I am supposed to be.
(In Venice, sipping a latte.)