The journey to Warsaw and the start of this ride had been a big day and evening and my head wanted to let me know about it. When heading down the corridor to the loo I chat to the guard; by my reckoning we're exactly on time, but the 2 hours scheduled between the last intermediate stop and Prague is often cut down to as little as 1hr. I'm asked if I'd like my breakfast now, and y'know what, I would thanks. While I'm at it I'll raid the minibar 'n all.
The breakfast is this dry and tough dark bread and a cup of tea I fail to make, let alone drink. But all the other freebie juices help rehydrate me. One by one the others emerge and we flit between cabins chatting away. The potential for early arrival disappears courtesy for a 40 minute stop – not at a platform – at Cesky Brod.
We're at Praha come 0830 and have around 3 hours to kill until we must meet up again here. Czech currency is required for the lockers, change being got courtesy of a welcome Coke Zero. I'm still not feeling particularly great but all the liquids have helped. Albert and Ed are off on their way to visit memory lane, while the rest of us are being bought tram tickets by Stoy and led to the tram ride to the river.
The hellacious sausages look pretty good too. Stoy and I discuss our entire group's seeming inability to eat anything but meat, bread and cheese, certainly no fruit or veg. He's right, but nothing changes immediately.
The morris dancers are Austrian.
Even in the little park just off the way there are men with giant horns and stuff.
Becherovka and beer sourced, we meet the others next to the luggage. I'm so baking hot that I buy an ice cream which I eat while walking up the world's longest ramp to a platform in the train station – which, bizarrely, even has a sign displaying the ramp's incline as a percentage. We guess which end of the platform to stand, knowing we'll be getting on the rearmost carriage. We guess wrong, as does basically everyone else, and getting on the train is a hellish scramble of suck and fail.
Once we're all on and seated though, things are great. Except for the lack of working air conditioning. This must be a common problem because we've found evidence that Czech railways will give you a voucher for "temperature comfort compensation" if you complain about it!
What I won't complain about is the spacious seating and tables with menus and the way we're asked almost instantly after leaving the station what food and drink we'd like. Proper first class behaviour, this. Sheep's cheese dumplings with onion and a lager please, thanks.
It's ludicrously cheap. 4 beers plus my proper plate of food comes to just €13. After finishing it I settle down to blogging, and everyone else kinda mingles between one table and another - we are 8 people, a little separated. The lack of aircon is affecting absolutely everyone to the point where the conductor uses her magic key to unlock the windows which don't normally open. It does some good but not much.
We're on this train for a while and eventually the others are hungry too. Me, John and Andrei go up to the buffet car and ask a surly, unhappy looking man if we can use the 3 seats at the 4-seater table he's solo occupying. Beer, merlot and sparkling wine are bought along with some chicken and sausages and pancakes.
As we leave I show the grumpy man the Czech for "sorry for disturbing you" on my phone courtesy of Google translate, and he laughs loudly and we shake hands. He actually speaks a little English and wishes us well.
The loo on this train is spectacular, because they've decorated the walls to make it look like a real loo in a proper house.
Policia get on and stride through the carriage as we cross the border into Slovakia. We toast the threshold with Becherovka, which is bloody gorgeous stuff and I don't care what the others say, especially anyone who thought Riga black balsam was good. Pfft.
Last time I visited Slovakia was during our 2013 lightning train trip around Europe, and we only had enough time to get our photo taken under a big Welcome To Slovakia sign.
Yeah, that one. This time around we have a little more time, but not masses - about 1hr35m. The weather is even more brutally hot than it was in Prague or on the train, must be 32ºc now. Virtually no-one wants to do anything but sit down in the nearest air conditioning or otherwise cool venue, and there's a bar virtually attached to the station. Me and And and And, on the other hand, are idiots and wish to attempt a Białystok style lightning trip to a craft beer bar.
At the end of the side road from the station we take an immediate wrong turn, but whatever. Fabrika is nearby and easy to spot and we get a shaded seat in its garden to await craft beer brewed on the premises. Yet another country/language jumps on the "inadvertent reference to WWE superstar John Cena" bandwagon.
It takes ages for the man to take our order, and the beer I want isn't available right now. Grr. The alternative tastes OK, though the best thing about this venue may actually be the mayonnaise sachet I stole. Or perhaps the spacious and impressively decorated loo. This sign seems to be missing a "BR" though.
Andrew gets some local version of Uber installed and working and we get a cab back to the hlavna stanica with enough time to buy a bottle of slivovice from a shop, and catch some Tour de France coverage on the TV in the bar where we'd left the others with all the bags.
Our next train is a local service, with no first class but plenty of space. We're heading to Vienna, which really isn't far. Predictably we start the journey drenched in sweat, thanks to the temperature and yet more broken air conditioning.
Slivovice is possibly my least favourite border toast of all time. Absolutely fucking rank. I can still taste it now, a day later when I'm writing about it. Eurgh. Fucking hell.
The weather changes rapidly as we ride. Ahead of us are dark clouds, with occasionaly sheet or forked lightning. We go right through the middle of a vicious storm and it's impressive. With no advance plans made for Vienna and less than 2 hours to kill anyway, there is consensus that we can't even be fucked leaving the station.
One of the suburban stations is called "Simmering", which leads us to invent "resentment soup". I realise it's about 26 hours until a flight I don't intend to take, and you can't get a refund within 24hrs, so I fire up the BA app to see what I can get. Now don't get me wrong, I wasn't expecting much, but...
Guess I'll just leave it then, as a backup plan in case my primary one fucks up.
At Vienna Hbf we almost immediately spot the ÖBB lounge and realise we are likely allowed in there – and yes, we are. Except Stoyaway, who's leaving us here and has no onward first class ticket, but as usual he manages to gain entrance anyway.
I've not been in many train lounges, in fact I'm not sure I've been in any outside of the UK. I'm very impressed with this one here, since it's basically just like an airport lounge - free booze and snacks, hurrah! It's a nice, peaceful place to kill a couple of hours and what's more Stoy's friend turns up with a couple of carrier bags of local beers for us. Excellent!
The platform for our Nightjet is known well in advance and we rock up just before the train itself, which has started a couple of minutes away in the "station" where people load their cars onto the car carrying carriage a few minutes away. Not seen that before.
We don't actually know what coach we're on. It's a sleeper service with, apparently, no first class. Mark and Andrew are both in possession of a print out of our reservations, except actually no they're not. The staff won't let us on.
Er. What? We apparently don't have reservations, we only have the receipt for the reservations, and that's not good enough. They don't have our names and can't tell us which wagon we're in or cabins we've got because only the reservations say that.
A more senior lady allows us on to at least park ourselves in the vestibule while we use the internet to go fetch the reservations, she only needs to see a PDF on a device. I'm stood a bit away from the main melee and unable to really discern why it takes quite a while to do this, but all's well that ends well and we're up in the final carriage with 3 double rooms and a single.
I'm rooming with Andrei and y'know what, this kinda is a bit first-classy. We have an en-suite shower and loo, there' an amenity kit, there's a "you can order 6 things off this menu for free for breakfast" card, and there's free sparkling fucking wine on the table!!
Well this is a turn up for the books. We sit and relax for a bit until everyone else is settled - unlike the previous sleeper, we have far from the entire carriage and in fact don't even have any neighbouring cabins. But nor are we the only drunks onboard so no-one, including the staff, is offended by any loudness.
Mind you, we're a lot less loud than the previous night. I certainly am because I'm desperately tired and have almost lost my voice. Don't know why. I have a beer, and some meaty cheesy sandwich with leberkäse, and am finally able to have a Smoker's Cough. For those of you taking notes, that's the Jägermeister and mayonnaise cocktail I've been dreaming about ever since Ed alerted me to its existence on the way to Berln.