Sleepless in a sleeper: Paris to Milan by train

Thello sign on the side of the overnight sleeper train from Paris to Milan

Our Thello overnight sleeper train

I’d love to say we found the next leg of our ‘Corfu & Italy by train’ voyage to be relaxing and enjoyable, but frankly I’d be lying. After an easy-as-pie Eurostar start to our 45-hour low-impact train and ferry journey from London to Corfu, we boarded the 19.11 Thello from Paris to Milan in high spirits. In keeping with our trip-down-memory-lane theme, during our two-hour changeover we’d made a brief foray through the Parisien backstreets to a boulangerie and mini-market where we stocked up on supplies for the next two days.

So when the three of us, our suitcase, rucksacks, guitar, pushchair and assorted toddler toys clambered into our designated Thello couchette that hot mid-May evening, arms laden with a fine selection of French bread, wine and cheese, we were really hoping to have the 3m x 2m, 6 bed space to ourselves. Just for a short while. Until we ate our bread and cheese dinner. Or got ourselves sorted. Or took a breath. Anything would have been preferable to arriving to find 4 people already sat there, eyes glaring at us. No doubt they’d been hoping for the same thing, a bit of space. Not a family of three with an unsettled two-year old and an unfathomable volume of luggage.

It was then that we realised the aircon was most definitely not functioning. Sitting there with 4 strangers, every one of them headphones in ears, eyes fixated on screens, sweat dripping off all our brows, Nathan and I decided now was not the moment to get out our crumby baguettes and stinky cheese. It was time to decamp to the “restaurant” cart for the duration of the evening. Hopefully when we returned, beds would be down, the heat will have subsided and we can all settle in for a good night’s sleep.

view of the inside of a couchette on Thello Paris to Milan overnight sleeper train

A couchette aboard the Thello Paris to Milan overnight sleeper Credit: Matthew Black: CC license

I’m a big believer in life being what you make it. I’m certain that we have a role in manifesting whatever it is we decide to be true. Positive thinking and all that. So when our fantasies of an empty couchette were shattered, we started to see only discomfort, a sweaty carriage and four other bodies competing for fresh air. Even as we tucked into our delicious French fromage washed down with vin rouge, the conversation quickly got desperate. Nathan, less experienced at European train travel and not having been involved in the hours of research, questioned why on earth he’d allowed himself to be hoodwinked into a 45 hour journey as part of a ‘holiday’. Seven of us sleeping in a small space with humidity through the roof and a distinct lack of aircon? The scene had been set.

The worst night’s sleep ever.

According to Nathan.

OK, so I fared a little better and was hugely relieved to find that one of our fellow couchetters had decided to move carriages, leaving a spare bed for Zephyr. Without it, I would have had to share my 70cm bed with a wriggly toddler as well as the dozen or so mosquitos I found myself bunked up with. Although I wouldn’t go quite as far as Nathan, I can confirm that the night spent on the Paris-Milan sleeper train was pretty sleepless*.

nterior of Milano Centrale station

Milano Centrale station in the early morning

Eventually, we arrived in Milan. We were greeted by the sights and sounds of a city stirring from its slumber: birdsong whispered through the dim light of dawn, the first commuters commencing their march to work and café baristas turning on the coffee machine.

Now, I’m not a coffee drinker. In fact it sends me a bit doo-lally. Green tea is about as much as I can manage. Normally. But today was not a normal day. Today was a double espresso day. And it didn’t even touch the sides. So I had another one. Clearly the discomfort of the night before was gonna take some getting over. It required coffee. And chocolate.

And that’s how Zephyr – who has only ever once before tasted chocolate – ended up devouring a gooey chocolate croissant for breakfast.

Author & Child at cafe table with coffee & croissant

Zephyr’s 6am chocolate fix

* I can also confirm, having made several European overnight sleeper train journeys in the past, that we were extremely unlucky. Without the excessive humidity compounded by the absence of aircon, the Paris-Milan leg of the journey would have been fine. Positively enjoyable even. Seriously. This is as bad as it gets. I sincerely hope I haven’t put you off. Granted, in future I’ll book a bed space for Zephyr but my experience that night won’t deter me from making another journey through Europe by overnight sleeper. And now that it’s over, Nathan assures me he’d be happy to be hoodwinked once again.

This post is the second in a series detailing our adventures traveling by train and ferry for our family holiday to Corfu and Italy. Read part 1.

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2 Responses to Sleepless in a sleeper: Paris to Milan by train

  1. Tom Newman says:

    Serves you right!
    Fly Virgin! Hahahaha! xxx

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