As we entered the grounds leading to the station, people were milling about, sitting on plastic chairs, eating dinner on the ground, seeming to have no purpose other than to pass away the misty night. Conspicuously making our way through them, we finally came to the tracks. It was a bit like walking into a 1930’s movie. “Sketchy” came to mind.
We passed train after train. Peeking through the windows we could see that the sleeping arrangements consisted of nothing more than a piece of plywood suspended in the air with a mattress resting on top. But keep walking, keep walking and things start looking up – Victorian lamps in the windows, metal frames and softer looking mattresses. And finally, the Victoria Express. (Yes, on the advice of friends, I booked the nice train!)
We were greeted by a cute, young Frenchman and a young Vietnamese woman who offered us moist towels to wipe off the day’s grime. Our windows were stenciled with snow and a swinging snowman was suspended from the window frame. A little welcome package, complete with bottled water and a toothbrush and toothpaste awaited us on our pillows. Red-paneled walls and lattice woodwork on the door and we were in the lap of luxury.
But the actual journey reminded me of Disney’s Thunder Mountain Railroad. The jostling, the squealing around hairpin turns, the bumps and squeaks, and the screeching to a sudden stop – often. Japan’s Shinkansen this was not. And I figured out why this was an overnight journey – you can’t actually see what you’re traveling through, or around. What might be lurking just over that precipice or why, exactly, are we making all those sudden stops?