I was excited standing on the platform in Palermo at 9pm with hoardes of drunk students, a couple of stray dogs and my daughter asleep in the buggy. I just had no idea what to expect from a night train with two breastfeeding, cosleeping toddlers. The last time I’d taken a night train I was travelling from Paris to Seville and I was 19 – I remember being paranoid that someone might steal my rucksack while I slept – looking back I can’t think what I had of any value that I would have missed!
I had a few options when booking my ticket, which I didn’t really understand, but opted for the cheapest ticket – a shared four-man compartment. Surely most people would choose to fly, I thought, surely the train won’t be full and when a fellow passenger sees they are in for the night with two babies they will just wander down the carriage and find somewhere else to sleep.
I was wrong! The train was full and we were in for the night with two men. I managed to negotiate a seat change so that the four of us had the two bottom bunks, so we didn’t have to worry about the babies flying out of bed each time we turned a sharp corner.
I was just beginning to think this wasn’t so bad when the conducter wheeled in our luggage and our buggy. There already was not enough space for the six of us and now we had two large suitcases and a folded double buggy to contend with (we’d left it at the entrance to the carriage). It actually worked out to be a blessing, because our two cases fitted one on top of another between the two bottom bunks and formed a barrier to stop us rolling out of bed.
We had managed to lift my daughter sleeping on to one of the beds and so I proceeded to try to get my son to sleep in the other – nursing him and reading him his favourite story. He was excited, though, and wouldn’t settle and didn’t go down until the two men had climbed into their bunks and turned the light off.
When both children were asleep me and my husband cracked open a couple of beers and had a drink in the darkness, talking in hushed voices, watching Sicilian towns rocketing past us out the window. I had a moment of euphoria when I thought ‘to hell with the naysayers who tell you that your life changes when you have children, that you can’t do all those things you used to enjoy’. There I was enjoying a beer on a night train, like I did when I was 19. But then mothering always seems easy when your two babies are asleep.
The night itself involved quite a lot of gymnastics. I slept with my son until my daughter woke, and then slept with my daughter til my son woke and then slept with both of them on the narrow bunk, which was less than comfortable. At least I wasn’t feeling scared in the night, which I might have been had I witnessed what my husband saw – the two men masturbating while looking at each other on the top bunks in the middle of the night. At least they weren’t looking at the kids, and my husband didn’t tell me until we were safely off the train in Rome, but it was an unpleasant thought. In hindsight just being bare breasted with a child on each was not a very pleasant thing with two strange men looming above. Next time I will book us a carriage to ourselves.
We arrived in Naples at around 7.30am and we were all slowly waking up and grazing on the snacks we’d bought the night before as we made our way on to Rome.
The conducter threw two fruit juices into the carriage at about 8.30am, and unfortunately I was too late when I cottoned on to the fact that other people had coffee.
All-in-all the 13-hour journey was a lot more bearable than the night flights we have done with the kids from London to Zimbabwe – barring the masturbating men, of course!