Your Holiday Disaster

Anne Liens's short nightie, the snorer in the next bunk and the flooded loo made the Barcelona-Malaga sleeper a nightmare
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The Independent Travel
We Live in Provence and decided on Andalucia for a winter break - by train from Barcelona. It would mean less driving, no overnight stop and it would be much more exciting for Marie, our six-year-old daughter. In the station, when the platform number was announced, there was a mad rush for the couchettes. I knew there were six beds to a couchette but I had forgotten how small a space the six people had to squeeze into. I'd also forgotten the etiquette of the couchette.

The charming Spanish couple who arrived as we were settling in waited in the corridor along with what seemed to be half of Barcelona - obviously you either lay down on your bed or you stood up in the corridor. The latter had now became impossible. So many people were now installed, with mountains of luggage, that the windows were blocked from view.

Eventually we set off. People smoked incessantly so it was impossible to see the coastline through the fug as we headed south. Marie wanted to sleep on the top bunk, of course, with my husband opposite and me below. We ate some day-old sandwiches and I braved the wall of Spaniards to push my way to the toilets. We had come equipped with nighties and toothbrushes and attempted to get washed in the now flooded loos. The door wouldn't lock. My daughter had diarrhoea, 30 men were waiting outside and when we emerged, their faces were enough to tell me that nighties were not a common sight on the train to Malaga. As the noise in the corridor reached fiesta level, the occupant of the sixth bed arrived. Luckily for him we were all lying down, as his form filled the room. His gigantic naked stomach ended up inches from my face.

He hadn't been drinking but brought with him a catastrophic mixture of odours. With grunts he squeezed into his bed and turned on a personal stereo,which was slightly quieter than the fiesta going on outside. My daughter was hanging out of her bunk to get a better look and I tried to turn over but there were too many cases on my bed. Two little legs appeared from above. "Mummy, I want to go to the toilet." The performance of ladders, lights, corridors and flooded loos began again. As I shoved Marie back up the ladder, conscious of my short nightie and of the garlic breath warming the backs of my legs, my husband tried to help, and inadvertently kicked me in the eye.

Suddenly the train stopped and we were all thrown about. More shouts and cries. After about 15 minutes it lurched off again. This happened at least six times during the night. Each time Marie's legs dangled precariously from the top bunk and each time I leapt up the ladder to push them back, one hand pulling down the back of my nightie. The fat man stared and snored a lot, and then got up at 5am and left the train in the middle of nowhere. The fiesta started up again in the corridor and further sleep was impossible. We crawled out of the train at 9am into a hot and sunny Malaga.

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