Train Black-Riding to Narvik

March 2014, Nykoping

It was almost dark. I hurried to the small train station and jumped on the train for Uppsala, without buying a ticket.

I must admit that even if I had had enough time, I would not have bought the ticket. I had been black-riding trains in Europe for a while and by then it had become a “regular” thing.

The train was pretty empty. I found a fairly crowded cabin and sat in the middle of it. Near me were some teenagers, shouting and laughing. It turned dark after a few minutes. The lights of towns and villages flashed in through the wide windows.

I had passed worry as a phase long ago; instead I was enjoying the night landscape while calmly waiting for the conductor to come. After several minutes the conductor did not appear, so I left my seat, leaving my bags lying here and there and walked across a couple of cabins, until I saw the conductor in the cabin – a blond girl with a serious face – checking tickets. I walked back quietly to my seat and picked up a book, Kim by Rudyard Kipling.

The story grew involving; Kim and the old Lama went on their way. From time to time I looked up to check if the conductor had appeared. Minutes later she arrived in my cabin and started checking tickets. I continued reading until she already checked 3 or 4 people. Then I slowly put down Kim and naturally stood up, moving towards her. There was a toilet just ahead, which I knew. When I passed her, busily checking the teenagers’ tickets, I looked at her and she looked at me.

the night landscape
the night landscape

Lightly I smiled and said, “excuse me”, looking right into her blue eyes, and headed for the toilet. Her face was serious, and she gave way without much hesitation. In the toilet I was soon done – not much pee in me!

Then I took time to appreciate the neatness and posh design of the toilet to the full.

After I estimated that she well passed my cabin, I came out of that elegant crapper, returned to my seat and continued my journey with Kim and the Lama.

The train rolled smoothly on in thick darkness. One hour later we arrived in Uppsala, where I met my Couchsurfing host Alexander, and we walked with her bicycle to her home, which was really outside the city. She was really cool (and guess what? She spoke several languages, including even Lithuanian! WOWO! Impressive! 😀 Dear friends, you have no idea how much I admired polyglots! Language is one of my three biggest passions!)

I visited the old town the next day; the old university and the garden of Linneau (you know, I was a biologist…), which was unfortunately closed.

I ran back to Alex’s that evening, panting while bidding goodbye; little time was left to catch the train to Narvik, a small town at the northern end of the Norwegian railway.

It would be a train ride of 19 hours. When I boarded, I realized that it was a train with only sleepers. Ah!…… They are perhaps the most difficult to black-ride.

I knew the usual strategy would not work this time. I chose a compartment in the middle of a cabin. I left my stuff and walked around, scouting the whole vehicle. There were altogether less than 20 passengers on this warm and comfortable train! And apparently, it would be Mission Impossible for an Asian face – as a matter of fact, the only Asian face – to escape the attention of the conductors.

a somewhat prominent Asian face
a somewhat conspicuous Asian face

My heart started pounding and my blood started running! I had to change strategy. Scouting, I saw the conductor; a stout middle-aged man who had just started checking tickets at the front of the train. When he arrived in my cabin soon after, I was waiting for him in the corridor. After preparing myself with the right emotion and face, I approached immediately.

“Sir – I have a situation.” I put on a face as innocent and nervous as possible.

“Where is your ticket?” He was business-like.

“Eh… Sir, I very very sorry,” (faked bad English) “I have problem, I…… (faked stuttering) I don’t have ticket.” I said, as if deeply embarrassed. Then I lifted my brow, as if waiting for a bomb to explode.

“What? How come?” He was obviously shocked and not pleased.

“I…… I don’t have money. I know it’s bad, but I must go to Narvik.” I guessed I looked quite sincere, innocent and properly ashamed.

“Can I see your ID?”

“Yes!” I answered briskly with a ready smile.

After staring at my shabby passport and residence permit of the Netherlands for several seconds, he noted down something in a notepad.

“What are you going to do in Narvik?” The interrogation continued.

“I want to see aurora!” Then I ruminated on the possible outcomes of this conversation. The worst would be being thrown out in the next stop; I can accept that, I thought.

“Aurora?” He laughed slightly while still maintaining an official air. “Ok, move to the first compartment in that last cabin! I will come back to you.”

“Thanks sir! I am sooooo sorry. Thanks!” I was genuinely grateful that he did not explode.

I moved to the appointed cabin and continued with Kim. Half an hour later, Kim had hiked all the way into the mountains and the conductor had not come.

I realized he would never come, and I could stay until the conductors changed for the next shift. It was warm inside the cabin, with free electricity. I took off my jacket, started my laptop and began watching Nebraska. When I finished the movie, not a bad one actually, I looked out the big window. Obviously we were already out of the densely populated part of Sweden. There was hardly any light in the dark night, and it was quiet, except the clutching of the train gears like the ticking of a clock.

Under the occasional yellow light of passing stations, I saw enormous amount of snow, extending into endless darkness. What lay in this huge darkness: plains, mountains, lakes? I thought.

When shameless me woke the next morning by the bright light reflected by the snow, huge Norwegian fjords flew into my eyes. I smiled, “Aurora, I am coming.”



Xiao Wei is a trained biologist with a nomadic heart. He believes in a religion called Nomadism, in which there are mainly three Gods — God of Traveling, God of Couchsurfing and Goddess of Hitchhiking. Right now he is hitchhiking around the world with an extremely low budget, so if you see a lost Chinese guy on the roadside with a green backpack, please take him along, even if you are heading for the end of the world 😉



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