Why you should never take a night train from Budapest to Zurich – or anywhere else

Night trains seem like a good idea when you are well rested.

You say to the train ticket seller, “I’d like to buy four seats on the night train from Budapest to Zurich.”

He asks, “Would you like a cabin with 4 beds?”

You hesitate, ponder this idea, and politely decline the offer. Even though it is a 12-hour journey.

Oh how I wish that ticket seller had grabbed me by the collar, pulled my head against the plate-glass window separating us, and knocked some sense into me.

Remind me never to take a night train ever again. You can easily recover from a night train experience when you are 23, but when you’re 48 and traveling with your family, no one recovers.

Our train compartment held 6 tight-fitting seats, 3 seats facing 3 seats with not nearly enough leg room in between for anyone over two feet tall. The four of us shared the compartment with a really old man from Hungary who kept his big suitcase on the floor (unbelievable!), and a big-in-a-football-linebacker-kind-of-way Hungarian guy. Thank God the elderly many got off an hour into the ride. That left 5 of us to jockey for space in our compartment.

Now, years ago night trains seemed to have ample room and the seats always slid down to make a bed. In my mind, I thought this would be so on our journey to Switzerland. But oh no, our seats didn’t budge one inch.

I have a very distinct memory of train seats sliding down to make a bed. I was on a night train through Italy while traveling with Kim – and two Italian boys had seats in the compartment too. When it got late, we all put down our seats which made 4 beds. One for each of us, presumably.

I woke up in the middle of the night to find one of the Italian boys trying to hold Kim’s hand while she was sleeping. As a good friend, I really should have done something. But of course I didn’t. I just rolled over and laughed myself back to sleep.

Truly, I would rather have had an Italian boy trying to hold my hand while sleeping than be in my Budapest-Zurich compartment with the 5 of us.

Curtis, always willing to roam, found lots of room in the compartment next door, so spent most the night in there. Until the super angry Swiss police boarded the train at the Swiss border and had issues with a young guy in Curtis’ compartment. Curtis quietly slipped out of that compartment after flashing his USA passport, and none too soon. The next thing we knew, the Swiss police dragged the guy out of the compartment, and threw him and his bag off the train. Yikes!

I barely remember any of this because I had drugged myself and the kids with super-sleepy Dramamine. I was desperate for sleep. I would have taken the whole bottle if I could’ve stayed awake long enough to take more.

We arrived in Zurich at 7:20 am, groggy, grumpy and bleary-eyed. We bought a Swiss Rail pass for 4 days, and boarded our next train on the way to Interlaken. It would take a transfer in Bern, a transfer in Spiez, and a transfer in Interlaken before we would land in Lauterbrunnen at 11:20 am.

Man, we were exhausted.

So, I’m just sayin’. DO NOT TAKE A NIGHT TRAIN. EVER. Unless you’re under 25 and you have a cute boy in your compartment trying to hold your hand.


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