Last night, I hopped aboard the XPT from Sydney on the overnight trip. I was getting off at Albury to pick a car up, so didn’t have to go all the way to Melbourne, though it is a journey I’ve done numerous times over the years. I did it many times when I still lived in Victoria and travelled up here to see friends and have made the reverse trip now when I head home to visit family and friends. No matter how many times I do it, it never gets any more comfortable.
What were they thinking? Seriously, who, when commissioning this train, actually sat in the seats and said.. “oh that would be comfortable to sit in for 12 hours straight with nothing more to do on the train.” These seats were not made for comfort.. that’s for sure. The local trains in Victoria and in NSW are so much more comfortable and they are not meant for such long distance travel. By now I can hear some of you saying, but it doesn’t take 12 hours to do this trip. My answer to that is, it’s not SUPPOSED to take 12 hours, but I have done trips that have taken over 16 hours as there were problems along the way.
Luckily, last night I had a seat to myself, but this isn’t always the case. On a fully booked train, you will have a total stranger sitting next to you, bolt upright, both afraid of falling asleep and leaning on the others shoulder and drooling on them. I know this as I have done it and if perchance the poor, young Japanese tourist I drooled on, happens to be reading this, I am so sorry. What a wonderful welcome to a new country. Having a total stranger falling asleep with her head on your shoulder and dribbling. Never very pretty.
Don’t get me wrong… I love train travel. I was dating a guy from South Australia for a while (that’s another story…. and one I won’t relive as I can’t believe my own stupidity or gullibility) but I used to go over there on the overnight train. The Overland, as it is callled, is a train from a bygone era. It is a train of elegance and class. Sitting for the night is never going to be the most ergonomic thing you will ever do, however, at least on The Overland, there are other things to occupy you. It is also on my bucket list to travel on The Ghan, which takes you from Adelaide to Darwin via Alice Springs.
On my travels on The Overland, I would get on at North Shore railway station in Geelong. A conductor would show me to my seat and I could sit back and relax with a movie showing on the tv hanging from the roof. That kills a few hours. If you aren’t interested in the movie, you could move on down to the elegant bar where there are comfortable leather seats to chill out and have a chat without disturbing those heroic souls who are attempting to have a sleep. To be fair it has been a few years since I’ve been back on it, and I don’t think they have a night train anymore. They have also revamped the train so perhaps the decor isn’t the same as it once was, but I’m sure it would still be more comfortable than the XPT from Sydney to Melbourne.
Last night, I got to the train with half an hour to spare and as I hadn’t had dinner, I chose to quickly run out to the local shops as I have tasted the “hot meals” on the train before.. I really cannot justify spending around $10 on a frozen dinner which has been whacked into a microwave. So I bought some dinner to take on with me. Perfect. I sat down to eat it in my seat which was all mine… and put my laptop on to watch a movie. I was also able to charge my phone from the laptop. Now here’s the other thing.. When this is such a long trip, I’m a bit surprised in this day and age there is nowhere to recharge your phones.
I have been known, in desperation, to utilise the revolting toilets on the train, to be able to use their power point in there. Trouble is, everyone wants to do the same thing, so if you actually need to use the loo for what it is actually intended for, you’re in for a long wait while everyone charges their phone after using up all the battery trying to amuse themselves since they don’t have any on board entertainment. The toilets are the tiniest little cubicles ever and no matter whether it is the start of the journey or the end, they stink. There is no nice way to say it.. They just plain stink.
Memories of the toilets on The Overlander was much more in keeping with a well maintained powder room. There were arm chairs in the spacious outer area where you could comfortably sit and charge your phone on the power points provided. The whole experience was in keeping with old fashioned glamour. I can remember sitting waiting for my phone to charge up again, and imagining a time when ladies sat in there, powdering their noses in their best finery, just before heading down to the dining room for dinner. No crappy frozen dinners in those days. And no having to eat it off the tray on the back of the seat in front of you either. Is there anything more annoying than wearing your dinner as the person in front has decided to put their seat back into a more reclining position just as you opened up your can of drink. The whole lot goes everywhere, including onto the Japanese tourist who’s shoulder you will later use for a pillow. I don’t understand why there isn’t a sitting area for people who need to move around or would like somewhere to eat their meal other than their seat.
If you are blessed enough to not have to share the narrow seats, you then have to try to get yourself into some position of comfort… BZZZZZZZZ… Wrong again. There is no such thing as comfort on these ergonomic nightmares. They are too small to allow Danny DeVito to stretch out and God forbid you should have even a big toe out in the aisle. You can guarantee someone will knock it as they walk past to go to the stinky toilets in the middle of the night. They are certainly not big enough to put 2 big bums into either, so your only hope is your sharing passenger will be skinny. So, then you try to curl up in a ball on the seats… only their is no neck rest, just a hard plastic arm rest that was first intended to get important information out of spies I think. It is a weapon of torture, so that’s out of the question.
The seats are not only narrow width wise, but unbelievably narrow in depth of seat. And the distance between your seat and the seat in front means that if they are reclining you cannot possibly open your tray table as their is no room for you and the table at the same time. Last night, I had a bag on the floor of the train next to the seat, which meant it was almost the right height to extend the depth of the seat so I had something to actually put my leg on.
So, here I am, curled up with my jumper under my neck trying to absorb some of the plastic grinding into my neck, I’m on my side curled up into as small a ball as this non small body will allow. Both legs were bent and one was resting on the bag in front of me, so I was almost able to rest. Unfortunately, my big toe was very naughtily peaking over the armrest on the aisle, so the stewardess ( I assume that’s what they are called) had to make a point of hitting into said toe as she walked past. I did manage to get a little bit of sleep, but nowhere near enough.
The lady who was similarly curled up across the aisle and one seat back, was, unfortunately, a very loud snorer. That I don’t blame the train for.. nor her. That’s just unfortunate. It was a reasonably quiet trip last night however that isn’t always the case either.
A few years ago, I was doing the same trip, and was sitting in the same carriage as an inebriated man who was traveling with about 4-5 kids. There was a young woman, who I assumed to be his partner, with him. He spent the whole night, loudly swearing at his kids and when the poor kids would doze off, he’d poke them to wake them up again, so he could rant at them again. His language was appalling and I know a lot of us had been up to staff to complain. Their answer was just to stay right out of the carriage altogether so they didn’t have to listen to the complaints.
After listening to another foul mouthed tirade, I went back up to the staff in the kiosk and demanded something be done about him. They looked at me as if I had two heads for actually wanting to travel without his violent outbursts. They did nothing, of course, and as I walked back into the carriage, I found the obnoxious one, standing over an elderly couple, whose only crime was to have asked him to stop swearing. He was standing over them, poking his finger in their faces and ranting at their temerity to actually want, not just sleep, but some respect. They had nowhere to go and no staff were prepared to help.
Now by this time, it was 4am and I’m really grumpy without sleep. When I’m really grumpy, someone is going to know about it, and he did. I told him, quite loudly, hoping that the kiosk staff who could hear everything would come down and assist in this situation but they didnt, that if he didn’t sit down right away and shut up, he would really know what it was like to be bullied as he was doing to the poor couple. He came right up to me in a threatening manner and although I was scared, I wasn’t going to show him it. I calmly told him that I had been married to a thug who knew how to do the job much better than him, so he should just sit down because the whole carriage had had enough of his disgusting behaviour and language.
I think he was so stunned that a woman would actually stand up to him, coupled with the fact that I am very scarey at 4am when I need sleep, that he actually did as he was asked. We never heard from him for the rest of the trip. I made a formal complaint but was simply paid lip service to. Oh well, at least the poor old couple were left alone for the rest of the journey. I was extremely disappointed with the lack of help from the staff though.
Since then, I try to fly instead if I can, as it’s quicker, it’s actually cheaper and I have less chance of falling asleep on a total strangers shoulder. Last night, it was the easiest option and thought I didn’t get much sleep, I did have a reasonably relaxing trip. So since I need to catch up on what I missed out on last night, it’s bed time for this weary traveler. If you get a chance to go on the XPT, take it and see what you think so you can avoid it in future. If you get a chance to travel on The Overland or The Ghan, get ready for some elegance….. OH and take me with you please :).. Your shout..
Happy Travels.. Livvy 🙂
which would you prefer??