Many times I wonder if I am taking the same train, driving the same roads, booking the same tours as everyone else–because what I read, and what really happens never seem to be the same experience. Take for example this train, it should be called ‘sleepless’ train, not sleeper train. Maybe my glasses are just a permanent shade of rose or in my case very large black ones with stupid yellow circles.
**QUICK VENT: Sorry, sorry, I really need to get this off my chest. Snapchat glasses, what a useless piece of…….crap. What the heck were you thinking Snapchat? Oh I know–let’s make the ugliest, heaviest sunglasses on this planet for close to $200, make sure they never ever work and then sell them to stupid people like me.
Yes, I know I am the stupidest one of them all–you don’t have to tell me because I am stuck with these ugly things. Oh and make sure you don’t answer any emails Snapchat because you would actually have to deal with irate buyers.
Anyway as I was saying– taking the train was an experience and as with all travel adventures it is not always easy the first time. In this post, I will tell you what to expect and what I learned on our train ride from Scotland to London.
So we have always wanted to try a sleeper train. This was a perfect opportunity since we were in Scotland, and our plane was in London. We had 3 choices for travel- planes, trains or automobiles.
Well, you all know driving was NOT an option, at least if I wanted to be sane when we arrived home. Then there was the plane—taking a plane to anywhere these days is such an ordeal anymore. Add at least 3 hours to the actual travel time just to get through screenings–not to mention the layover times!
So the train it was.
We had a BritRail Pass which allows for:
- Unlimited travel on the national rail networks of Great Britain (including Thames link trains)
- The consecutive pass is available for 3, 4, 8, 15, 22 days or 1 month of consecutive travel.
We got the 3 consecutive day, 1st Class (really? are you surprised) pass for $273. Let me start by saying, not one person on the rail system in Britain knows what the heck these are, everyone that looked at them asked us what they are. Maybe because they cannot be purchased in the U.K. They are for non U.K. residents only. You can read all about them here.
Anyway, for some strange reason, we had to pay extra. I am not sure why but when you are dead tired and a guy with a heavy Scottish accent is giving you an explanation behind a window, and his mouth is 10 feet away from the microphone, you just don’t care. I think it was close to $200 extra to get to London on the sleeper train.
Our train departure was from Inverness at 8:00 PM. Of course, we arrived early, because we are always early to everything.
Luckily, there is a mall close by you can wander, lots of restaurants, and there is a cute little Victorian Market across the street if you would rather do that.
FIRST CLASS LOUNGE
At 6pm, the first class lounge opens. It is a bit tricky to find, it is across the street from the train station. You need to ask at the ticket counter, or you will never find it. Reminds me of one of those hidden speakeasy bars.
It’s not huge, but very clean, with free snacks, wi-fi, outlets, wine, and Mike’s all time fav–SCOTCH!! And the nicest staff you will ever meet. I just can’t say enough about the hospitality of the Scottish. Always warm, kind and very gracious.
*IMPORTANT TIP: Scotch is supposedly only available on Thursdays but if you ask nicely they will happily oblige. Funny thing about Scotch it seems to unite two perfect strangers in Scotland.
If you get there early, find the lockers and for £5 you can store your luggage while you wander. NO need to haul it around. It’s very safe but again tricky (or maybe we are just dense). We couldn’t figure out where to put the money at first. Here’s how to do it:
- Put your luggage in the locker,
- Go to the machine behind you and punch in the number of the locker, pay the money and it magically locks.
- It will spit out a ticket, don’t lose that. You will need to insert it back into the machine to get your luggage back.
It’s your typical run of the mill train station, cold metal seats, an arrival and departure board, and the odd assortment of people. It’s clean, has bathrooms–sorry I can’t report on the bathrooms because I didn’t use them- everyone knows that’s how I gauge my trips.
BOARDING THE TRAIN
It was a very anticlimactic experience boarding the train. I was picturing this guy with his hat and his whistle, yelling, “ALL ABOARD!!”
Instead, the gates at the platform opened all of a sudden, and about 5 of us stared at each other wondering what to do. Luckily, one guy took the plunge and starting walking toward the train, and we all followed like little ducks.
You’ll be greeted at the train by a very friendly cabin steward (I don’t know his official title), anyway Andrew greeted us, gave us a 5 second overview, he got our breakfast selections, checked us off on his official clipboard and off we went to find our cabin.
You get to haul all your own luggage. Andrew was only the clipboard checker guy. He kept saying he would come back and go over things, but never did.
FIRST CLASS CABINS
So picture your closet at home, picture yourself sleeping in that closet on a bed the size of a camping cot. The sheets were crisp, clean and white, but I swear they ironed them with sandpaper.
Anyway, do you have the vision in your head? A closet and a cot. Now lets add your large check on suitcase and your carry on backpack in this ‘closet’ with you. Okey dokey folks–that’s first class on the Caledonian Sleeper Train!!
See that little 12 inches of space next to the cot, I mean bed. That’s where you get to walk.
And for couples, here’s the double bed version you just open the door and wave hi!
Totally not what I was thinking. This is what I was thinking. I realize if I am going to be a worldly traveler, I need to ‘buck up’ a bit but geez people–couldn’t they spare at least a few more feet in the cabin and some fabric softener?
There is a dining car, but take it from me–B.Y.O.D. (bring your own dinner). We had a table ‘reserved’ for dinner because we were told that we wouldn’t eat otherwise. Do not worry, you will find a table, or two or three if really you want to eat there. There was no one in there.
The food is nothing to write home about.
TIP: Eat before you board or bring it with you!!
Here’s a cute little kit you get. I love the hair and body wash. I am not sure where the heck you would wash your hair or your body for that matter.
There’s a little sink in your cabin, that has a sign “Do not drink the water”.
Call me crazy, but water you can’t drink, probably isn’t very clean water. So, it makes you a little hesitant to use it. But, as I am a worldly traveler, I took the plunge and washed my face with it. I used bottled water for my teeth.
BATHROOMS AND SHOWERS
First off, showers are out of the question, so get that silly thought out of your head.
If you have to use the bathroom then you have to make it down this hallway. There is one women’s and one men’s bathroom for the whole car.
Mike had to walk sideways because his shoulders were too wide. Mike is pretty fit, not a big guy so you can imagine how narrow it was.
In fact, if you spot anyone else in the hallway, you have to figure out who gets the right of way, because one of you has to back out. It’s kind of a nod and smile type thing.
Here’s the other dilemma. Is this like a college dorm are you all officially 12 hour train roommates? Then would it be okay to go to the bathroom in your pajamas and bunny slippers?
Or are you total strangers in a moving hotel–in which case it would be pretty weird to run around the hallways in your Victoria Secret nightgown.
What would you do? I’ll tell you what I did at the end of the post but it definitely was something I hadn’t planned for.
I am sure you can guess, I didn’t sleep. Besides the fact that it was like camping (and let’s face it I don’t camp) it also STOPS at every darn stop from Scotland to LONDON! So the minute I shut my eyes–I would feel this “CHUGGA, CHUGGA, WHOOOSH !” because we stopped at another train station. I would say I got maybe 4 hours of sleep total.
Andrew served us breakfast around 6:30 am in our cabin–we splashed some water on our faces, put on clean underwear, packed up and made it to London Euston Station right on the nose at 7:47 am.
We heard from several people that new sleeper trains were going to be rolled out in April, complete with en suite bathrooms. If that’s the case, then I would try it again. If not, I think I will stick to airplanes.
I would rather be squooshy on a plane for two hours, even with all the security and layover hassles then squooshy on a train for twelve. At least in airports, there is space to move around.
Alright everyone–that’s my train story. I hope it is helpful for you on your next train adventure.
Now go forth and set the world on fire!
~Mike and Donna~
ANSWER TO THE BATHROOM DILEMMA: I went for a hybrid version. I would just put my long raincoat over my nightgown and make a mad dash for it.