Sheer, agonizing misery only begins to explain our experience on the overnight train from Venice to Munich. I had booked us for 2 seats assuming that we'd have two seats in a main compartment, airplane style. No, not the case! Gina shot me death eyes when we found our seats- 2 of the 6 in a cozy little 'couchette' compartment- a teeny, tiny, very intimate little box which you share, for long amounts of time, with total strangers. These can become particularly awkward when you have a total stranger across from you and are forced to share leg space, which often results in long footsie matches. Now, it could have been worse...only 2 of the other seats were taken, meaning there was a bit of extra space, and Gina was across from me and thus my footsie companion...but, still her death eyes remained fixed on me as we settled into our seats as if to say, "You cheap b******!". Honestly, there were no other options when I booked the tickets, I swear...but, there were several train cars full of sleeper compartments that we walked past which certainly didn't help my case.
The thing that made this couchette such a potent form of torture wasn't even the tight quarters, it was the seats. They were so uncomfortable that I became convinced quickly that it was no accident- that these seats were designed that way; the result of a life time of work by some sadistic, twisted designer. There was just no possible way to get even close to comfortable. For starters, they were painfully hard. I have sat on cement that was more forgiving. Next, the angles were such that, ergonomically speaking, they induced immediate numbness, burning and tingling in nerves all throughout the body. I quickly began to experience the symptoms of siatica, phantom limb pain, and restless leg syndrome. The neck was placed in a position so that my vertebras grinded and occasionally seized in painful positions. And, the arm rest...there was a sharp corner that seemed to be only happy when it was jabbed deeply and firmly into the funny bone crevasse in my elbow.
Gina faired no better, even though she was able to curl up on two seats. The hardness caused leg bruising and I'm convinced if she hadn't been forced to fidget and change positions so frequently she could have easily developed deep vein thrombosis.
Needless to say, neither of us slept much...which meant that we got to savor each and every one of the 480 minute journey. I passed the time first reading, and then alternating between 2 fantasies: first of being in the middle seat cattle class on a long haul flight; and second, throwing myself from the window as the train rushed along at 100kph. The middle seat on a Qantas flight from SFO to Sydney would have been positively joyous in comparison and the leap from the window...well, at least it would all be over. At one point I looked jealously at my backpack, which was sitting comfortably on the luggage rack a few feet above Gina's head and I wondered if the rack would support my weight. I reminisced longingly about a time in college when I slept on a friend's hardwood floor with no mattress, pillow or blanket and decided that not only would I trade the couchette for the hardwood in an instant, but that I would even switch the hardwood for tile, in winter, and would gladly sleep in the nude. Hell, give me a sheet of ice.
But, by far the best way to pass the time was watching our German couchette mate's bout with the hellish torture. First, he slept a few hours with his neck seized and a look of agony on his face. When his neck muscles could handle the spasm no more and presumably had given way completely, he passed another few hours with his head bouncing and rocking loose, like a rag doll, and, at times, swinging violently as the train shook and winded it's way through the Alps. Finally, he passed the last few hours trying to stay awake in order to prevent further neck injury: eyelids painfully heavy, neck starting to give way...then snap! He'd be awake again...until slowly, the eyelids would begin to droop and his head would start to drop, then Snap! Now, I am no masochist, but there was something deeply soothing to me about watching his agony...somehow it took the edge, just slightly, off of mine.
We got to Munich's Hbf station, hoisted our packs onto our painful and tingling bodies and looked at each other through bleary, bloodshot eyes. There was very little conversation as we navigated the U-Bahn towards Jess and Jason's house. Getting to their place, dropping our bags and plopping onto their aero-bed would have to be up there on the list of best moments of the whole 6 weeks in Europe. Never has a millimeter of plastic and some air felt so good- might as well have been a cloud.
After a well earned nap, we got up and showered and were beginning to feel human again. We went out to meet with their Munich crew for a nice brunch and then cruised over to the English Gardens to the beer garden. The weather in Munich had changed drastically in the 3 weeks since we were here last...it was sunny, but the temperature hovered in the 5-8 degree celsius range. That night Jess, Jason, G and I headed out to meet Max and Katrin for a delicious Thai meal. The next day was our last full one in Europe, so we took the opportunity to have a bit of an office day, laundry, buying some plane and train tickets, planning the first bit of the next leg and sort of catching up on things. That night Jess made amazing grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup, a rare, but cherished home cooked meal, and we just shot the s*** over a few bottles of wine. In the morning we said our goodbyes and thanked them for being such awesome hosts and they headed off to work, while Gina and I got ourselves packed and ready for a 5.5 hr train ride to Frankfurt where we'll have a 4 hour wait till we board a 12 hour flight to Singapore; our launching pad for taking on SE Asia.
Europe has been an absolute blast, but made so much more special thanks to all the fine people we are lucky enough to call friends who have been hospitable, generous and, all around, amazing hosts: Suzie and Charlotte in Ireland. The St. John clan in New Romney, England. Linda and Tim in London- double thanks to Linda for joining us for the Croatia/Italy leg of the trip. Adrianna and Rory in London. Our homie, Loza in Canterbury. Srdan in Budapest. And of course, Jess, Jason, Max and Katrin (and their whole crew) in Munich. Much love to you all and we look forward to catching up again soon!