The Dutch man in front of me at the bar has just ordered 11 beers. 11 entire beers. This is the first time I’ve ever seen anybody order 11 beers on a train. He’s even added on a few shots of Flügel, which he kindly informs me is a “German party liqueur”, for good measure.
The bar staff don’t bat an eyelid. They’ve actually produced a wooden 11-pint drink carrier from behind the bar, so that Mr. Eleven-Pints-Plus-Flügel can safely carry his 11 beers back to his friends. The very existence of this device implies that not only is this not the first time that someone has ordered 11 beers at once on this train, the glamorously titled Alpen Express, but that enough passengers must have ordered 11 pints in the past that they thought it best to stock a wooden 11-pint drink carrier for the convenience of future clients.
“The guilt of being a frequent flyer has been growing on me for a while”
This is far from the only peculiar occurrence taking place in the carriage. There are disco lights dancing around me like it’s your auntie’s 60th birthday. The sound system is making it hard to hold a conversation. A Europop remix of ‘Country Roads’ by John Denver comes on, and I chant along to the chorus with my 11-pint companion. A conga line starts as I finally get to the bar. It’s more or less après-ski, but specifically for people from the Netherlands going to Austria for a ski holiday on a train. Also, crucially, we’re yet to actually do any skiing.
We will all be skiing soon, though. After all, this is the purpose of the Alpen Express. It’s an overnight sleeper train which picks people up from Amsterdam (and various other major Dutch and German cities) in the evening and drops them in the Austrian Alps in the morning.
“I feared I may have… breathed in a little too much of that Amsterdam air”
It’s been a long day for me so far. After rising early to make the 5.40am London-Edinburgh LNER, I took the 11am Eurostar from London to Amsterdam, where I then waited comfortably before hopping on the Alpen Express at 7pm. Walking into the aforementioned, slightly overwhelming club carriage, I feared I may have finally succumbed to tired delusions, or possibly breathed in a little too much of that Amsterdam air during my three-hour stay.
The rest of the carriages on the Alpen Express are more or less silent. My only previous conversations have been with the four perfectly pleasant Dutch skiers – ages ranging from 17 to 75 – with whom I’m going to be sharing a five-person sleeping berth. They’re all heading to Imst-Pitztal, with the exception of the veteran skier, who’s heading on to St Anton