Night Trains a Problem?

Aug 25th, 2000, 08:41 AM
Don Little
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Night Trains a Problem?

My wife and I are planning overnight train travel with 1st class sleeper accomodations from Prague to Budapest leaving at 11:15 PM from Hvalni Station. Is this a fun way to travel in eastern Europe, or should we be more concerned about safety? We will obviously look like tourists with hand carried suitcases, but otherwise are not likely looking targets? What do you think?
Aug 25th, 2000, 11:11 AM
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My husband and I travelled via night trains frequently when we lived in Central and Eastern Europe - but never by first class. I would advise not bringing anything valuable with you. Do not pay anything extra demanded by any official anywhere - either at stations or on the train - without getting an official receipt and generally use your own common sense and take security precautions.

Aug 25th, 2000, 06:00 PM
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Thanks for your reply and your advice. I will follow it exactly.

Thanks again,

Don Little
Steamboat Springs, Co.
Aug 26th, 2000, 07:42 AM
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My husband and I took that very same train trip (the 11:15PM, first class, from Prague to Budapest) just over two years ago. That experience has become one of our best "adventure tales".
First of all, if the train station, at 11:15PM doesn't frighten you, then you will survive the trip!
The first class car was old, but clean and private. Our porter spoke English, was professional and appeared to take pride in his duties and abilities (of course he spoke four languages, and we speak English as only Americans can!). After waiting to board the train, we were exhausted. We packed so much into that last day in beautiful Prague.
Once in our cabin, the porter discussed the proceedures for boarder crossings, meaning in some cases our passports would be reviewed etc. He also checked our passports and completed a little card which he fastened to the outside of our door indicating that we were Americans, our destination etc.
The evening progressed as he described, two boarder checks before midnight, a quick review of our passports by boarder agents and we were settled in for the night. We were comfortable, relaxed and ready to sleep our way to exciting Budapest. And sleep we did.
Around 3:00AM the locked door to our cabin was smashed open accompanied by yelling and banging. We were yanked from a deep sleep by two soldiers carrying machine guns escorted by growling german shepards straining at their leashes. The soldiers did not speak English, our porter, in his undershirt, was standing behind them yelling in two languages. I was, at this point, frantically searching for our passports, in my underwear, while my husband (who had enough sense to sleep in his jeans and undershirt) was trying to stand between me and the snarling dogs.
The excitement calmed down as soon the soldiers looked at our passports. It was over so quickly that I wasn't really frightened until it was over. As you might imagine, this story has been embelished over drinks with friends many times. Especially, by my husband, who, in his version, saved my life from five or six soldiers, shots were actually fired...
Aug 26th, 2000, 09:38 AM
Ben Haines
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I take half a dozen sleepers in Central Europe a year, anywhere from Poland to Bulgaria, and all this is a bit of a surprise to me. I use sleepers, because they have doors that lock and chain. In large stations I watch out for pickpockets. And that's it. In eight year or so of sleeper travel I've had no robberies. I don't own anything valuable, but if I did, and if I needed it, I would take it wth me. No official has demanded extra money. Nobody has smashed open a door -- officials knock. I sleep in my pyjamas.

At three in the morning the train is in the Czech Republic, running from Brno to Beclav. At that time there are normsally no frontier officials on board: they board at Breclav at 0336.

So I begin to wonder. Why was there a "quick review of passports before midnight" ? At that time you're just south of Prague -- not a frontier. And who said anybody could then "settle for the night", "ready to sleep to Budapest ?" The map shows that there are frontier checks between Breclav at 0336 and Kuty at 0418, and again between Sturovo at 0645 and Szob at 0712. These are the western and the eastern frontiers of Slovakia. The checks are nothing special: I lie in bed and various types in uniform look fast into my passport. My major annoyance is that they keep forgetting to shut the door.

Moreover, no frontier control officer trusts little cards stuck to doors, and I've never seen a conductor (as you say, a porter) try that method. As at any international airport, frontier officers want to see a real passport. In western Europe from Lisbon to Helsinki to Sicily the conductors hold the passports, and passengers stay asleep during controls. But in central Europe officials look at passports in passengers' compartments.

If the drama took place about four rather than three, then it seems likely that the conductor failed to tell the travellers that they'd be checked on entry to Slovakia, got out of unifoirm and into his undershirt, which is a breach of duty rules, and fell asleep at that frontier. Then that both passengers, sleeping soundly, failed to hear the knock on the door -- indeed, several knocks. No wonder the conductor was shouting: he'd got his duties wrong in a big way.

But it's still very odd, and thoroughly unusual.

Please write if I've miusunderstood.

Ben Haines, London

Aug 26th, 2000, 11:10 AM
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The information you supplied in your e-mail was very informative. Too bad our conductor/porter was not as forthcoming with this type of information. The passport checks you described did happen and it would have been a little easier on us had we known more about the process i.e. in my ignorance, I really did think that the card the conductor placed outside my cabin was appropriate notification. Also to your point, we probably did sleep through their first attempts (knocking) to rouse us and because we were not expecting this particular check, I am sure we slept on. I am glad you took the time to be so specific because it will definately help Don and his wife. If only I had posted a similar question in this forum prior to our trip!!
Regarding our specific situation, the explaination that we recieved was that the soldiers were on board looking for refugees traveling illegally. The search took place before the normal check in Slovakia as a surprise tactic or so we were told. We heard many stories from fellow passengers the next morning having to do with people trying to escape from Croatia/Serbia etc.
P.S. I now travel with more appropriate bedtime attire.
Aug 26th, 2000, 11:49 AM
Tom Harmon
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Have taken first class sleepers from Paris to Munich, Frankfurt to Vienna and Munich to Florence. I have at all times felt safe, the cabin locked and of course, while we crossed borders we did not have to endure any checks.

However at 6'3 there was a slight problem since the bed seemed to be about 5'8. And of course every time the train went around a sharp corner the wheels screeched.

However, is is a great way to cover a lot of moderate to boring scenery without losing any valuable daytime activities at your next destination.

The trip from Munich to Florence would have provided beautiful mountain scenery, however this was the best way for us to go. And I managed to wake up and look out the window at all the snow in the world at the Brenner pass.

Beautiful sight looking down into the valley below. Brakes on the whole way down the hill, screeching like crazy, but my wife slept through it all.

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