Night Train.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

"Loaded like a freight train...flyin' like an aeroplane...feelin' like a space brain..."

Okay, not that night train.

Earlier this year when Rach and I were planning our great Euro-venture, we had a bit of a dilemma. While we could have spent weeks exploring the corners of mainland, jobs and school only allowed us about 10 days to stretch our legs. We had set ourself the goal of 3-4 different locations, none of which we had either been to before with the exception of Paris. Aside from the city of lights, we went back and forth trying to figure out the best routes to see as many places as we could without simultaneously exhausting ourselves. Additionally, we didn't want to waste massive chunks of time sitting on a plane or train when we could be out there exploring! We nixed destinations that were a bit further away like Spain and Croatia as much as they tempted us, and settled on sticking to central Europe. Neither of us had ever been to Germany,so Munich became our absolute must, and we picked it as our end-stop where we would fly out of to London, where Rach would continue on back to the states and I would head West to Bristol.

Staring at maps for days on end, we pinpointed cities in between Paris and Munich that we could fill our trip with. Austria had drawn us in with the likes of Innsbruck and Salzburg, and after much debate and internet research we wound up choosing the Sound of Music capital, but we were still stuck on destination #2 following Paris. We were also concerned about getting all the way from Paris to Salzburg without sacrificing an entire day to sitting on trains, but weren't sure what to do regarding Switzerland and Italy standing in our way. Eventually I stumbled upon the Thello website thanks to Seat61 and my attention piqued at the idea of taking an overnight train.

The idea of a night train is so romantic to me, something really unique and of the past - not to mention it reminds me of one of my favourite movies, White Christmas! It seemed pretty perfect: not only would it get us from Point A and B, but would do so while we were sleeping! Knocking out both the need for a hotel and the worry of wasting a day on travel, it was the perfect solution. Randomly picking Verona as our destination of choice as we had both already been to Venice wound up being one of the best decisions we made. Italy has slowly become one of my favourite travel destinations and Verona is no exception - all the joys of Italy without the stress! After a few lazy days gorging ourselves on pasta in Verona we would catch the train up to Salzburg via Innsbruck and be within spitting distance of Munich to round off our adventure.

Tips for the Thello Paris -- Venice Overnight Train.

Like most things, the earlier you book, the better. When looking at your budget, remember this knocks out both a night of accommodation and a day of travel.

We didn't book early enough to justify the price tag for a cabin compartment, but those are definitely the way to go if you book ahead of time and if it's in your budget. Opting for an all-female 4-couchette, we shared a compartment with two lovely French women who met when they were studying and were still friends to this day! The first few minutes getting into our cabin and getting settled was the classic a bit too hot/cramped/uncomfortable moment-of-panic, but as soon as our luggage was stowed away on the sides of the upper bunk and we opened the window for some cool air, we were able to relax. The two women we were bunking with were headed to Milan and we spent the first few hours sitting and chatting away as we munched on our packed dinners. Just so I can humblebrag on my best friend, they said that Rach's French accent was "very good" which I'm pretty sure is the highest compliment you can get from a Parisian.

Even if there are 6 of you in your group, go for a smaller couchette. While roaming the hallways I saw inside a 6-couchette and it made me feel claustrophobic just looking at it, they were stacked so closely together that if you were lying down in one of the bunks you would not be able to sit up. Shudder.

Ticketing for the Thello trains was simple. When booked online, you print out your confirmation pages and one of those (clearly marked) acts as your ticket. Once or twice throughout the journey, someone will come by to check your tickets to ensure you are in the right cabin, and to look at your passports as well since the train goes through Switzerland.

Gare de Lyon do luggage storage so if you drop off your things in the morning, you have the rest of the day to play in Paris before boarding your train that evening!

Your cabin includes a bottle of water for each passenger, as well as a dining car and a snack bar equipped with dinner and pastries + coffee in the morning. Gare de Lyon in Paris is a bustling train station with plenty of food options, so we ate a big dinner at Pret before our departure and picked up a few snacks as well. I need breakfast to function so I snagged a croissant and banana for the next morning. We got hot coffees from the dining car in the morning which were as expected, a bit overpriced and not amazing but hey - coffee is coffee. We alllllsssooo may have brought along a few small bottles of wine to help us..uh...relax? Bringing onboard your own wine or beer is allowed and I highly recommend it! Spotted here are a set of plastic travel wine glasses I got as a Christmas gift (from Rach, coincidentally!) and they are so handy, the stem fits neatly inside the main bit and screws into the bottom when you're feeling thirsty!

Each cabin provides you with a "bedding kit" and varies depending on what level you go for. The couchette came with a blanket, similar to an airline blanket, and the bed was narrow and firm. I'm average sized in pretty much all aspects - not tall, not short, not skinny, not curvy - and was able to rotate around on the top bunk without fear of falling off (there's a bar on the side to keep you rolling away). Since the couchettes don't come with a pillow you do need to bring your own or at least have some sort of travel pillow, which is what we did.

In each car there are a handful of bathrooms, and as I'm not one to ever fall asleep in makeup, I made myself right at home. Armed with a wash bag and pajamas, I took my usual night time ritual to the bathroom and went to bed squeaky-clean.

Depending on the time of year, your cabin may be hot or cold. There is a/c in the cabins but with four people in a tiny space, it still managed to get really warm at night. I would have left the window open if it was up to me and my earplugs, but the high-speed train chugging away made for a bit of noisy for those who didn't have any. Bring ear plugs!

The train jostles you about as you sleep, which some find comforting while others hate it. I can usually fall asleep in minutes on a seated train and it wasn't too hard falling asleep on this train, but the heat was definitely the worst part for me. All in all, not my best night's sleep, but not the worst.

Something I noticed in the evening when we made our first stop in Dijon is that there was no loudspeaker announcement of any arrivals or departures. I made a note of the timetable beforehand and made several alarms warning us of when Verona was coming up, otherwise we would have never known. I guess worst case scenario is if you oversleep, you wake up in Venice.

"Attitude is the difference between an adventure and an ordeal" This overnight train is not a 5* stay at the Ritz. If you get on expecting wide open spaces, a feather-down king sized bed and room service, you're in for a nightmare. If you're open and flexible, you get to have the adventure of falling asleep in the countryside of France, chugging through the Swiss alps at night, and waking up to the rolling mountainside and lakes of Northern Italy then a night train is an amazing option for you. Rach and I have been best friends for over 15 years and have had many sleepovers in our time, but this was one for the books!

Bonne nuit Paris...Buongiorno Verona

A Look Back At #ForeignFlubs

Monday, September 21, 2015

When I first moved to England, I wrote a series of posts titled "Foreign Flubs" where I listed out little things that I noticed were different from home and the little struggles I had with the mini-culture shock I was experiencing. Most people assume that there's no adjustment period when moving to another Western, English-speaking country, but there is! Definitely not as dramatic as the ones experience by people who move places where they don't share the language, norms, etc. but it still exists.

New Room Snippets + Blog Revamp.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Ever since I've moved out of my parent's house at 18 years old I've lived in 8 different places, not including moving my stuff back and forth through my parent's house during school holidays and in between moves. I've lived alone, with 6 housemates, with best friends, and with strangers. Needless to say my style when it comes to making these places home has varied drastically over the years. From my pink and teal dorm room to when I wanted every bit of furniture to be black wrought iron, with a bit of hindsight under my belt I think I've finally figured out my personal style.

One Year Later.

Monday, September 14, 2015

A few days ago I was scrolling through my much-neglected iPhone calendar and noticed a little note for September 14: "1 year expat-iversary"

Afternoon in Oxford.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Not too long ago, I met up with a couple of friends I went to university with, one who was visiting England for the first time, and the other who is doing volunteer work near Birmingham. Due to scattered locations and busy schedules we couldn't meet up in our perspective home bases, so I decided to intersect them one afternoon while they were taking a day trip to Oxford.

The Almost-Impossible List.

Friday, September 4, 2015

If you follow me on Instagram you'll know that something super duper exciting happened today (Friday) ......

I submitted my Master's Dissertation! And earned a new grey hair as a result! Jokes aside, very excited that the "student" chapter of my life is done. My time as a master's student was challenging and pushed me to the brink on multiple occasions, but it was more than satisfying holding 39 pages of hard work in my hands. Even if the perfectionist in me really wishes it was a nice, round 40 pages. Of course I could fail miserably, but we won't think about that for a while.

Back in July after the excitement of my summer holiday and snagging a job settled down, I wrote a very short list of things I needed to do come September. In a nutshell, it was:
1. Open new bank account
2. Find somewhere to live/move out of current flat
3. Re-schedule flight
4. Write 15,000 word dissertation
5. Don't have 2007 Britney meltdown

...Or what I coined "the almost-impossible list" Although it was pretty short and simple, I felt like it just wasn't going to happen - there was no way I was going to get a satisfying check next to all of them. Sure enough as August rolled around the corner quicker than I ever thought possible, the list was still staring me down.

So #1...major mistake on my part. When I first moved to England, lots of students opened UK bank accounts immediately, while others did not. I was in the latter of this group. I didn't have a job yet, my flat accepted rent via my account at home, and basically didn't understand the point in opening one. A student advisor told me it wouldn't make that big of a difference unless I needed somewhere to put money, so I ignored this. Throughout the year I ran into little annoyances of not having a UK bank account, but nothing really came to fruition until I got a job, and obviously needed somewhere to put pay checks. I trotted down to a local, well-known bank with all of my documents neatly ordered. The lady took a few looks at my visa, a few looks at my proof of address, and immediately said I couldn't be offered an account. Having never had any problems with bank accounts or credit in my life, I was flustered. I pay things on time! I just wanted somewhere to put money! What was wrong with me! Since my proof of address was over 6 months old and my visa didn't extend at least a year, she told me I'd have to look elsewhere. As I only had about 6 weeks left on my current lease, I knew other banks would probably say the same until I had an updated proof of address (which brings me to #2 on this list). But long story short I DID manage to finally get a bank account sorted and although it was an absolute PAIN and I could ramble about the whole process and the drama of my first pay check getting partially withheld when my company's accountant tried to pay me via PayPal, I'll just leave it here - it's done, lesson learned!

#2! The place I was living at (which I can now say since I no longer live there) was international postgraduate student accommodation affiliated with the university, so there was no option of renewing a lease there. Although the location and wifi were impeccable, it was very "dorm-y" so I wasn't toooooo sad to move on. Flat hunting is stressful. In any country. You want a good deal, in a nice part of town, yadda yadda. Most places require a UK-based guarantor (nope) And once again, not having a UK bank account ready to roll can limit you. Quite the Catch-22, right? I lucked out with this situation for the most part and didn't have to faff around with flat viewings and agency fees, as I met one girl at a work-drinks shindig and she briefly mentioned that she was looking for a flat as well. I immediately hitched on to her wagon and we wound up signing for rooms in the same house with a landlord who is pretty old school and doesn't care much for weird agency-type of rules. Whew! Mid-August I moved, and although it wasn't that far from my old flat and you would think a teeny studio room that I lived in for 11 months wouldn't have that much stuff - MAN was I wrong. It's insane how much crap I've managed to collect in the past almost-year! Granted things like kitchen supplies and bedding didn't come over here with me and won't be going back stateside, but I'm a little terrified of how I'm supposed to get everything back across the ocean. It took 1 van, 2 taxis, and multiple walks with my bags full of stuff to get it all from point A to point B. But I'm in, I'm settled, and pretty fond of my new room. I do miss the Internet at my old flat though, my new flat's wifi is so temperamental.

#3. Re-schedule flight. Easily the least-stressful thing on this list. Basically when I booked my flight from Texas to London in January, I picked an arbitrary return date in September so I could pay the change fee rather than book two separate one-way flights. Since I didn't have a job last year I wasn't sure if I would be able to stay past my dissertation deadline, because I can't exactly justify living life overseas with no income and no school. Luckily the job factor got sorted and I get to play Brit for a little while longer! Booking a return flight and paying a change fee is way less expensive than multiple one-way flights if you don't know exactly when your return date is.

#4. The most important and maybe most stressful (the bank account thing really pushed me to my limit) - obviously researching, writing, and finishing my dissertation - AKA the whole point of me coming over here in the first place! I procrastinated all summer like any good student and read and wrote here and there, but July/August is when I really kicked it into gear. It could be rubbish for all I know, but I gave it my all! I actually submitted it a week ahead of the deadline like the anxious person I am, so no last minute panicking over here!

#5. So I maybe didn't go full Britney but I did have the occasional melt down or two over teeny tiny things that built up and seemed like the end of the world. We all have those moments, right?

Farewell, old flat! I will miss the squawks of seagulls at 4 a.m., the cruise ship style bathroom, and being able to touch all of my furniture at the same time. JK - I'll mostly miss the wifi.

Clifton Village soaking up the remnants of summer sun. Primrose Cafe in the corner there do a delicious croque monsieur!

In case you're might be wondering why I'm not out partying and celebrating the end of the almost impossible list - true to form, I managed to get extremely ill within the past day or two. Not sure if I just have the worst timing in the world, if I'm actually allergic to paper deadlines, or if all of the adrenaline from the past few weeks finally caught up to me and my body decided it had enough. But I've been cooped up in bed all day after my exciting morning with piles of tissues and a never-ending flow of medicine. If anyone has a holy-grail pharmacy purchase that lets you breathe out of your nose again, please let me know!

Latest Instagrams

Disqus for

© What the Elle. Design by Fearne.