In 1991, 25 years ago, I went on a 6 month backpacking trip around Europe with my best friend. We had a budget of $10 a day (yes $10) so we would often come up with ingenious ways of saving money. Using our Eurorail tickets we would travel at night by train from one city to another in order to cover transport and accommodation costs in one go. During several of these journeys we found ourselves going between Rome and Austria or the French Riviera.
In those days the train carriages had a corridor down one side with individual compartments down the other. Each compartment had windows with blinds looking on to the corridor and a sliding door which couldn’t be locked. The chairs could be pulled out into an almost horizontal position.
As we settled in for the night having found a compartment all to ourselves, we lay with our small backpacks as pillows and with pen knives in our pockets. My friend was closest to the door, as the chairs opened across the compartment so that our feet were facing the train engine and our heads the back of the train. I lay with my face towards the door and during the night I opened my eyes to see a figure standing in the open compartment doorway. A second passed without me moving, and the figure leaned over my friend and reached out towards my bag. I sprung up into a sitting position and called out. The guy must have got such a fright that he raced off down the corridor. Well the train conductor came to see what was happening and several stations down the line they actually caught a gang of thieves who had been trying to disembark having made a good haul of loot between Italy and France.
Now we were more alert as to the dangers of female travelers in individual train compartments at night – sleeping. Having been quiet shook up we decided to make a day light journey next time and that way we felt a little more comfortable nodding off for a few hours. So there we were dozing in our usual positions, chairs pulled out and pen knives at the ready when again I awoke to the compartment door being opened. This time I was quick to get to my feet. I jumped up, standing on the chair, pen knife drawn and shouting something loudly, just to seem fierce. This time it wasn’t thieves but some poor soul looking for a place to sit. He decided not to share the compartment with the crazy banshee standing on the chair and rather moved on to find a different compartment.