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September 7, 2018

The ‘Lisinski’ from Munich to Zagreb

There are twenty-five platforms at Munchen Hbf, but tonight it would seem that all the international night trains are going to depart from platform 12. On consultation with a station manager it turns out that my train is a polymorph. Four trains begin as one and take on their own route during the night. One huge composition of differing rail carriages sits at platform 12 with staff wearing all sorts of uniforms. It feels a little like arriving at a new boarding school and trying to find your housemaster and dormitory. In search of carriage 271 I pass carriages going to Budapest, Venice, and Rijeka. Towards the front I locate 271, a Croatian Sleeper, paired with a couchette carriage painted in similar colours. There is no sign of name branding on any of them, so ‘The Lisinski’ would seem to be more of a timetable marketing gimmick than a real living train ‘brand’ these days.

Two carriage attendants stand outside scanning the approaching travellers. Most passengers with reservations in the Croatian carriages have rucksacks and wear espadrilles. I’m the only person here without a visible tattoo. I wonder where they are going, perhaps to crew on smart yachts in the Adriatic or to play bongos and breathe fire at late summer music festivals. I seem to be the only long-range rail adventurer here.

Bob (I shall call him ‘Bob’ as I didn’t discover his real name) at first says I’m in compartment eight, then changes his mind to three, then eventually shows me to number six. Inside is a clean and well laid out home for the night, set up for me as the sole occupant – there are two further berths, the top one is incredibly high up. My dreams come true and there is both air conditioning and a fully functional opening window. But I’m roasting and sweaty from manoeuvring all my bags, so I dump them and join the guards back out on the platform to enjoy some cool late evening air.

We eventually set off on time at 11.35, and the carriage feels incredibly smooth. Stealing as many pillows as a dare from spare berths I retire for the night. Before I settle in Bob reminds me twice to lock my door and tells me that we have a border inspection at around 08.00am, so there is time for a reasonable sleep once I have rigged an improvised cover out of duct tape for the night light that seems bright enough to illuminate a small town.

I wake early to the sound of silence. We are sat in a station in Slovenia surrounded by goods wagons. There has been much shunting in the night, and can I remember most of this as the lights and air conditioning switch off each time the engine is uncoupled from the train. Outside there is weird weather. Low clouds drop from the mountains and blanket the valley tops. The sun is blocked from view until it slowly burns through the early morning haze.

The crossing into Croatia is uneventful and Bob serves me a cup of coffee and a long-life croissant in my compartment before we arrive in Zagreb at just after 08.30.

This has been a very comfortable run, only slightly spoiled by feeling a need to wake early in case the train reaches the border whilst you are still in bed. Speaking of beds, this one has been wide compared to other European sleepers and very comfortable. I wouldn’t like to be in the top berth though, unless ropes are provided along with a complimentary course in belay climbing. The only other slight negative has been the two tiny toilets, both of which have been without water and one without electricity.