I had always had a quiet passion for train travels, particularly after seeing the remake of Agatha Christie´s “Murder on the Orient-Express” recently in the movie theatre. But once you check the prices for this exclusive two to four days short trip, you quickly begin to reconsider other possible alternatives. And while I mostly rely on the plane as first choice transportation mode, it was owed to my partner that for our recent weekend escape to Budapest, we found ourselves racing the tracks on the midnight train from Munich central station to Budapest Keleti. And what can I say? It turned out to be a comfortable, time-saving and refreshing way to travel! Sleeping in inclusive.
Weekend trips can be quite stressful, we all know that. Since most of us have to work until Friday, this makes it difficult to actually plan the departure before Saturday morning. And this means loosing precious time and, most importantly, having to get up so early that most of the day you will be running around in Zombie mode. And that again minimizes the joy factor again.
Inspired by the romance of train travel, it was more or less by chance that my partner found this overnight link from our home Munich to Budapest Keleti station. I had been well aware of the fact, that our national train operator Deutsche Bahn had these night trains in service as “City Night Line” for as long as I know, but apparently, the operation had been ceased and was now performed by the ÖBB Nightjet, part of the Österreichische Bundesbahn (national Austrian railway).
Hooked by the adventure to sleep on a train, we reserved a two bed compartment in one of the train´s sleeping cars. On this sector, the service was operated by the national Hungarian railway called MAV. This was the highest category available for booking, which meant a shared bathroom and shower in the hallway instead of a private bathroom inside the “cabin”.
On other connections, there are higher categories available. But it worked well for us in the end.
I think the most offbeat thing about traveling by night train is the fact that the working day ends as if it was any other day. You come home, you have dinner, you relax a bit and then you still have enough time to pack for the journey.
As the train´s departure was not before 11:35 pm, plenty of time to get things done in a relaxed atmosphere. We did not have to leave the apartment before 10:30 pm.
I was actually very surprised to see the train station at least as busy (if not more) at this time of day. The tracks were packed with people and suitcases going all over Europe and everywhere people were rushing around, finding their ways.
It felt a bit like going back to the glorious days of train travel, when this was the preferred and most luxurious way to journey from A to B. These days, and I include myself, most people associate the railway companies with running late, offering bad service and being completely unreliable. In other words: A no-go way to travel.
But as soon as we passed along the waiting wagons on Track 14 that evening, a shiver of excitement ran down my back and I got goosebumps on my forearms. What would it be like? Was this the right decision? What if I could not sleep because of noise? Gosh, this felt like an adventure.
I checked the fellow passengers and was quite astonished to find regular normal people, like you and me, boarding the train. Unlike most of the overland bus companies, that appeal to a rather very young, loud and inconsiderate crowd with their low prices.
We finally managed to find our compartment where we were greeted by the conductor, who checked our ticket and then asked for our preferred beverage for breakfast. The first impression of our “home away from home” was actually not too bad.
Of course, it was far off the luxury and comfort of the Orient-Express, but the tiny space with the small sink, a few coat hangers and the two Pullman beds prepared for the night radiated instantly a feeling of coziness and romance.
Measuring four or five square meters the most, you had to organize yourself pretty well to not stand in each other´s way all the time. But once you found your groove, it was actually fun. Like a rehearsed step sequence.
We quickly settled in. I took the upper bed while my partner stayed on the lower one. There was plenty of space overhead to stow the luggage and lights, temperature and the speaker volume of the public address system could be individually controlled.
Three power sockets next to the small sink could be used for charging electronics and behind the mirror you would find two small bottles of water for each passenger in the compartment, a sweet snack, an orange juice, hand soap as well as towels.
The beds were surprisingly comfortable. The pillow and the duvet both were anti-allergic and even the mattress was comfortably padded.
The train departed on the minute at 11:35 pm and since this was our inaugural ride, the perfect moment to pop our bottle of champagne. We switched off the light inside the compartment, sat closely to each other on the lower bed and watched the glittering city lights pass the window outside.
I instantly liked this. How could we have not considered taking the train until now? The rocking and slight shaking of the train when taking a turn or changing tracks suddenly made me so tired.
It felt almost like being hypnotized or lulled to sleep, so as soon as the champagne was finished, both of us changed into our Pyjamas and each one crawled into his little sleeping cavern.
As the windows were mirrored on the outside, we left the roller blind open during the entire night. I had packed a sleeping mask and ear plugs to be on the safe side, but apparently the sound-proofing was quite excellent. I was astonished of how few you could actually hear from the neighboring cabins and the outside.
The blueish night-light illuminated the dark cabin and the world outside was rushing by the window. It did not take too long that I was gone to sleep.
I happened to wake up here and there for a short moment, but as soon as the train began rolling again, I was back to sleep instantly.
When the alarm went off at 8:20 am, we had been already half-way in between Vienna and Budapest. So a little over an hour to go.
This was the only part of the trip where we would have wished for a private bathroom and toilet. The shower on the hallway was broken and one of the toilets in our wagon was unusable. So it took a little longer until both of us were completely ready.
Other than that, I can only say that I woke up refreshed. I must have slept altogether about six hours and when I got up, I felt full of energy and ready for the day.
Shortly after, the conductor knocked on the door and served a small breakfast including our two ordered coffees. Do not expect any delicacies or the best coffee in the world, but I though this was a neat detail and definitely added to the “off-road” travel experience.
Little later, the train arrived punctual at Budapest Keleti station and from there, it was only a 10 minutes walk to our hotel. Thanks to the relaxing overnight trip, we could enjoy the day to the fullest.
Having saved so much time that is normally wasted on waiting for a flight and getting to and from the airport and definitely the heck of stress that this is related to it, traveling from city center to city center while being able to lie down and rest is such an added value that everyone should consider and compare when planning their next weekend city trip.
I know, I am hooked. And I will come back for more…