by Lorraine Rivera

I was fresh out of college and blowing what little savings I had traveling for five weeks through Europe with a Eurail pass. I had agreed to meet up with an aunt who was living in England before I headed home, but it was late fall and I was in no hurry to trade the balmy temperatures of Italy for a chilly London drizzle. Finally I could put it off no longer and determined the quickest way to get there by rail so I booked the overnight train from RomeParis.

This took a certain amount of courage because I was traveling solo and as I moved from auberge to ostello I heard one thing over and over: “never take a night train from Rome.” Other travelers regaled me with horror stories of thieves who put sleeping gas in the train’s ventilation system so that unsuspecting passengers would slumber as their jewelry and watches were slipped from their bodies. Still, I needed to get to London in a hurry, so the night train it was.

After arriving at the station, I boarded the train marked Parigi and located my compartment, hoping it would be empty. To my dismay, I found four people already seated when I opened the door. Not only would I be sharing a compartment, but I would be sleeping next to two strange men. I was seriously regretting my decision to take this train.

The compartment contained two benches that faced one another. Six beds pulled out of the wall, three on each side, like bunk beds. I smiled and nodded hello to the four other passengers then found a spot on one of the benches.

Surreptitiously I studied the others. There was a slim athletic looking woman about the same age as I, with shoulder length brown hair streaked with gold. Next to her sat a good-looking man of about forty. A couple in their late fifties sat across from us, the wife in a skirt, pullover sweater and sensible shoes, while the husband sported old pants, a jacket and a cap.

The young woman introduced herself as Kathy, an American from Alaska, and soon she was telling me about her job as a fish buyer while the older couple and man talked. After a while we all fell silent. Finally, the man sitting next to Kathy looked at the two of us and said, “Roberto. Parla italiano?”

We shook our heads no, we didn’t speak Italian. The woman asked, “Français?” I replied that I spoke a little. Before long the five of us were laughing and talking with one another as best we could. When Kathy said something, I translated it to French and the older couple translated to Italian for Roberto. We learned that the older couple lived in France but had been visiting their farm in Italy and Roberto was traveling to meet up with his wife and son in Paris. When my limited French failed us, we used charades, which had everyone laughing. Every once in a while the old gentleman would exclaim “Tour de monde!”

The Frenchwoman pulled out paper cups and a jug of homemade wine made from the grapes grown on their farm. I dug out half a loaf of tasty Italian bread left over from lunch. We toasted one another, then laughed and feasted on bread and wine as we barreled through the dark countryside.

Years have passed, but still I smile when I recall the time I shared wine and laughter with four strangers aboard the “dangerous” night train from Rome.

Lorraine Rivera’s family, travel, reading and writing are her passions. Her idea of bliss includes visiting a fun new spot with the hubby and kids in tow, a light novel, and her travel journal for down time. When not savoring wine at an outdoor Venetian restaurant or touring the ruins of ancient Ephesus, she lives in a small beach town on the shores of Lake Michigan.