It was the summer of 1972 when my girlfriend and I took the credo of inexpensive student travel to ridiculous new lows with a 51-hour train trip from Amsterdam to Barcelona.
Sleeping on trains is a time-honored way to save money, but this excursion gave us a lot more than two bargain days of traveling -- namely violence, sex and a surprise ending.
The train was jammed, with every inch of the aisles filled with people crouched next to their belongings, looking longingly at those of us with assigned seats.
As the train's engines started, three uniformed policemen slid open the door of our crowded compartment and threw a disheveled, odiferous man at our feet. They unlocked his handcuffs, pushed in a cardboard box that appeared to contain his effects and left, yelling at him fiercely in Dutch as they departed.
Our compartment-mates, four elderly Italians, immediately began their unrelenting and fruitless arguments to try to get the ex-prisoner to leave. A combination of their headache-producing bickering and his leers and continual fingering of his pocketknife made sleep impossible.
Nearly a day later, the Italians left. Now it was just the three of us. He slept; we were bleary-eyed. Several stops later, two porters motioned to him and he left the compartment for good.
Finally, we thought: sleep. As if to oblige, we suddenly were pitched into blackness as the train entered the first of a series of long tunnels. Just as suddenly, we heard our compartment door slide open and the porters grabbed us in a misguided effort at what I'll politely call romance. Cindy and I hadn't saved up for this trip working as lifeguards for nothing. We screamed (no one heard us) and shoved the porters out. Every time we went through a tunnel (there were dozens) we'd throw ourselves against the door to prevent the insistent, creepy porters from weasling back in. Finally they got tired and left.
Barcelona was a welcome sight, despite the fact that the station master seemed entirely uninterested in our report on the porters. We slept for hours at a pensione, and spent the rest of the day in the sunshine.
At dinnertime, we treated ourselves to dinner at a restaurant recommended for its paella. While eating, we noticed a well-dressed man enter the dining room. Clean-shaven and smiling, he wore a fashionably tailored blue suit. He waved his hand in greeting. It was our prisoner from the train.