We envisioned red velvet swags and wooden panelled hallways, as well as a dining car with linen tablecloths laden with silver. After all, we'd seen and read Murder on the Orient Express! First we had to purchase our tickets - in German!
Not understanding anything except "Ja" and "Nein," I negotiated with the ticket agent in French. Which I hadn't spoken since college. When I heard, "Couchette," I figured I'd heard enough and slid my marks under the glass to the agent. I knew it would be some kind of sleeping berths for Charley and me.
We stacked our boots and small suitcases on luggage carts and hoisted the skis and poles in their zippered cases onto our shoulders. In order to get everything up onto the proper car, we formed an assembly line. The equipment stayed on the metal landing between cars till we found our numbered compartment.
We bumped our way down the panelled hallway and with great anticipation, slid back the door to our "couchette."
"Oh my God! What is that smell?" Charley yelled. Since his nose had been broken twice in college football games, I knew it had to be bad.
A man lay snoring in the top berth. He had obviously had his fill of German beer, wursts, schnitzel, and sauerkraut, since he continued to expel gas as we stood there. We looked at the "couchette." Under our snoring mate was another berth, and opposite him were our two. So much for the fantasy romance!
Charley and I tried to pry the window open, each of us grabbing a side. "Damn! How are we going to sleep? And where are we going to put our stuff? There are no luggage racks!" I was ranting.
"Right on the floor where we're standing," my pragmatic husband answered. We got our toothbrushes, hairbrushes, and deoderant out, then slid the two small suitcases under Charley's lower bunk. Next we retrieved our skis, boots, and poles. There was no place to stand in our compartment, except on our equipment. As our mate continued snoring, we headed to the bar car. We passed the red velvet drapes and silver place settings, reserved for those with PRIVATE sleeping compartments. We sat up and drank, munching on peanuts and pretzels.
When we couldn't hold our eyes open, we made a pit stop down the hall to the toilet and sink and went back to our "couchette." I climbed the ladder and was happy I had a few drinks in me and the bunk had a net, in case I rolled off. The room still stunk and the German still snored and farted.
At the only stop during the night, a Frenchman got on to complete our foursome. Sliding back the door, he yelled, "Nom de Dieu!" and immediately headed for the window, stumbling on our skis and poles. When he, too, failed with the window, he took off. We never saw him again.
We pulled into Paris by 7 a.m. and left the German in the same position, doing the same thing! Next time I booked a sleeping compartment in a foreign country, I vowed to use a traveller's dictionary.