The first-class car on the train from Vienna to Prague was a run-down rusted red caboose whose fly-spotted windows were erratically covered by torn dirty curtains. It didn’t look like first class to my traveling companion, Philip, or me, but the man on the platform assured us it was—“Except,” he said, “you need reservations.”
“We have reservations,” I said. “In first class.”
“But do you have assigned seats?”
“You need assigned seats.”
I had anticipated a long, leisurely trip with perhaps a few bottles of Budvar and a nap, but when we boarded we learned that we were sharing the car with a huge American tour group. The group had reserved, en masse, patchwork blocks of assigned seats that took trouble to sort out, since not everyone could sit with spouses or friends—a fact that caused considerable consternation on the part of the tourists and palpable panic on the part of their guides.
Thanks to the confusion, the aisles were packed with mostly older men sporting...