It's -25? outside and I am struggling through knee-deep snow, lugging my massive backpack, in a furious attempt to escape a pack of angry gypsies I had disturbed under a bridge. Who would have imagined finding the train station in Presov could be so difficult? Welcome to bloody Slovakia, I thought.
In all the excitement I had lost my travel buddy 'Beans' ? a guy from Melbourne I met somewhere in Spain who joined my journey and just never left. Confused, slightly frost-bitten and resembling a half-melted snowman, I glance up and the train I am meant to be on clatters before my eyes on its way out of Presov. In one of the windows I catch a glimpse of Beans, his face an expression of "What the hell are you doing out there?"
And so I was on my own. My friend was in a warm train heading toward Sofia in Bulgaria, and I was stuck in a town where almost nobody speaks English. The only voices I can hear are those of the grumpy gypsies, so I scale the fence ahead of me and make a break for the train station landing.
As Presov's town clock 'ding-dongs' its midnight chime there's only one train left standing at the platform. A short, rotund man with wiry-hair and John Lennon spectacles stands outside the train with his face buried in what I can only guess is the station's train schedule.
Figuring he must be the train attendant I try out my best broken Slovak and ask him where this train is going. Instead of answering he shoves me through the train doors seconds before they slam shut and the engine rumbles out of the station.
So, it?s the middle of the night and I'm now on a train destined for who knows where. On the bright side, Presov and my angry gypsy friends are disappearing into the distance.
Before I can even take off my backpack, which is soaked through with snow, the short round man taps me on the shoulder and points to a number on the scrap of paper he is shoving in my face. 750sk. Not really thinking about the fact that this is rather expensive for a ticket I reach into my pocket and shove a pile of notes into his hand, snatch the ticket away and sulkily drag my pack and myself into a quiet corner.
The sharp knock of a trolley slamming into my knee jolts me awake, as the food cart trundles down the carriage pushed by a grumpy Slovak woman. I stop her, scrabble for the last of my currency and grab four dinky bottles of no-name vodka. Before she's had time to take the money from my hand I have downed their contents and handed her back the empty bottles.
It burnt like home-made slibovitza, but I immediately felt calmer. I lift the curtain at the window to see that the sun is just starting to rise and we are passing rolling fields of white, crisp snow. It's beautiful, but I also realise we appear to be in the middle... of... nowhere.
The train has filled up while I slept, and I suddenly hear the friendly chatter of fellow Australians from down the carriage. After dazzling them with my tale of events from the night before, I explain that I have lost my friend and just spent the last of my cash on some seriously rough vodka. With a friendly "No worries mate, you'll be right" my new-found companions chat between themselves and hand over some scrunched up notes and coins along with a map of Bucharest, the capital of Romania. Right, at least now I know where I'm headed.
It seems that I had landed on the scenic route to Romania that stops in Krakow, Budapest and finally in Bucharest. The hours pass, and after a stop or two the train is packed with travelers like myself. Suddenly there is an abundance of English being spoken and I begin to think that finding Beans and making my way to Bulgaria is not impossible after all.
The next time I wake the train is grinding to a halt. The doors open, steam bursts out and cuts through the icy air of Bucharest. The train empties quickly, the sounds of chattering and English soon disappear and once again I find myself alone standing on a platform.
Thankfully, it's the age of the internet and with a few well-timed emails I find out where Beans (by my now best friend) has ended up and ? six hours later ? arrive in Bulgaria to a friendly face and a big welcome hug.
It's hard to say whether it was the vodka, the snow or the gypsies that had me end up on the rails, but be warned. In Eastern Europe there?s something to be said about the trickiness of trains.
Got a train travel story of your own? Tell us about it by posting a comment below...