The era of rocking to sleep while speeding across the European countryside may be ending. This is bad news for travelers who want to experience what has been a quintessential and economic staple of European travel: sleeper cars and overnight trains.

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France recently announced that they’re getting rid of over 75% of their remaining overnight train routes and sleeper cars (couchettes), according to The GuardianThe French National Railway Company (SNCF) has already cut international overnight routes over the last couple of years, and by July 1st, 2016 will only be offering three sleeper options—all domestic.

And its not only happening in France. During a recent trip to Eastern Europe, Jim and I went to the train ticket counter in Krakow, Poland, in search of an overnight train to Budapest, Hungary. The ticket agent at the desk looked furiously for a departure time that no longer existed, and concluded that the route she was searching for had been discontinued. Luckily there was still one overnight option left. We, of course, took it.We believe in the benefits of train travel, including overnight sleeper cars.

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It was a peaceful journey. We purchased an upgraded private sleeper cabin with just four bunks. Since it was just the two of us, we pushed the top two bunks up and locked them into the walls. The rhythmic swaying and sounds of the train put me quickly to sleep. I occasionally awoke and peaked through the curtains at moonlit landscapes before succumbing to the train’s lull again. It was magical.

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Arriving into Budapest, Hungary in a sleeper car on an overnight train

It was a vastly different, but equally pleasant experience compared to our first overnight sleeper car experience backpacking across Europe. That time we got a second class communal car from Vienna to Munich with two sets of three tiered bunk beds for a total of six people in each room. At various stations, different people came and went throughout the night: a young student, an old worker, a few others that I never even met because they boarded long after I shut my eyes. I woke up many times from the odors of stinky socks and snoring men. Everyone was polite and cheerful, and we made friends with the German student who went out of his way to help us out before we disembarked. Overall, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Whether it’s in the comfort of a first class couchette, or the adventure of a second class communal sleeper car, it’s a sad era to see end. But it’s not over yet. So go to Europe and experience a sleeper car for yourself before it’s too late.

Related reading:

31 Reasons why trains are the best way to get around

The mostly ignored but nevertheless big way that cars and trains shape travel

If you have at least a 15 minute train layover — explore!

— Laura Rowley

 

 

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Written by Laura Rowley

I am an artist, flight attendant, and travel blogger.

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