Vaguely I remember Deutsche Bahn’s advertisement for overnight trains: “Arrive refreshed at your holiday location”, “Save one day of travelling”, etc.
Those reasons and a good experience on a trip to Denmark years ago probably made me decide on the overnight train option.
The journey started well. Turns out when you pay a little extra (and book early enough), you can make the trip from Balaton to Budapest in an airconditioned, reasonably new car. It’s only one car in the whole train but yes, that’s how I like my 21st century!
In Budapest I had about four hours of stopover and with the temperatures once again pushing 40°, I spent quite a bit of it in a mall not far away from the station. Needed to buy a towel anyway.
Fifteen minutes before the scheduled 22:25 departure, the waiting crowd was let onto the platform. Lots of backpackers, some older folks with small luggage. The seater cars we walked by where all in good shape but once we arrived at the 30-40 years old “couchette”, I started to have doubts about the whole overnight train thing.
The inside was a bit on the tiny side and after five minutes of luggage manoeuvring I was pouring sweat. So was everybody else. But no biggie, the thing didn’t have aircon, so we’d have to sleep with the windows open anyway.
Probably needless to say that the sanitary installations left something to be desired. From your body straight onto the tracks – haven’t seen that in… dunno, I was still a small boy.
With the windows open, the noise level prevented most attempts at (REM) sleep and I only nodded off a few times.
At 1:45 in the morning the train pulled into the Hungarian border station of Kelebia. Passport control. Never had my ID checked while in bed in my underpants. Something new everyday.
Half an hour later, almost a little bit asleep, the door flies open again: “Serbia! Passport!”. From Subotica to Belgrade the trip went uninterrupted and with only 15 minutes delay (sic!) we pulled into the terminal.
I spent the day with walks around the city and 2-3 “refresher breaks” at the hostel. Air-Con, yes!
So is the overnight train recommendable? Abso-fucking-lutely not! Was it worth it? Yes! It’s an adventure and they are always a good thing.