Don’t Take My Word For It: A Travel Series Mary Zakheim July 20, 2016 Don't Take My Word For It, International Travel, Solo Travel I am twenty years old and on a nine-hour train ride from Munich to Amsterdam. I’m uncomfortably trying to settle in for the night in my second class economy seat that refuses to recline. “Want a drink?” My neighbor taps me on the arm, shaking me out of my forced slumber. I look over my shoulder at the man sitting beside me. He is old, maybe seventy. He wears a grey starchy hat and a thin woolen sweater. His voice is deep and gravely, thick with an accent from some Eastern European country that I can’t identify. He has a mustache. He asks again: “Want a drink?” In his lap is a Ziploc bag full of travel-sized vodka bottles. I hate vodka. “Can I take one?” A guy across the aisle asks, leaning over his armrest to get a closer look at my neighbor’s stash. “Of course!” The man says jovially, glad to have a taker. He tosses the guy a bottle and they unscrew the tops ceremoniously, raise a toast to a smooth journey and throw back the shots. “My name is Alan,” My neighbor says, extending his hand to his new friend across the aisle. “I’m Pieter,” The guy replies, taking the outstretched hand and giving it a firm shake. They look at me. “I’m Mary,” I say, resigning myself to the fact that I won’t get any sleep on the train ride, and shaking their hands. It’s now 2 a.m. and we’re sitting on the floor in between two train cars, drunk and laughing. Our party of three blossomed into a group of seven. One by one, we were joined by sheepish-looking college kids who heard our laughter and wondered if they could join. We go around the circle, like a kindergarten class, saying our names, our ages, our favorite animal. At twenty, I’m the youngest. At seventy-four, Alan’s the oldest. At Stuttgart, our journey still has six more hours to go. We talk about politics and country lines, free university and American sports, religion and Hungarian vodka. We get angry looks from sleepy passengers who shush us as they walk to the toilets. We share the food we have, passing around a block of cheap French cheese, a bag of chips, a bar of chocolate. We ask each other questions: what’s life like in Hungary, in Denmark, in America? We sit in waves of raucous conversation and lulling silence. We stare out of the window and dip in and out of sleep. Then, suddenly, an announcement: “Next stop Utrecht!” And a spell was broken. We wade back to our seats through the murky cloud of fatigue as Pieter slings his backpack over his shoulders and hugs our group goodbye. We wave at him and he waves back before he turns around and walks toward his town, away from the train. I sit back down in my uncomfortable second class economy seat and close my eyes. Alan’s already snoring. I take an empty plastic vodka bottle from the small garbage bin beside me and silently tuck it into my backpack – the only souvenir from my nine-hour train ride to Amsterdam.