While solo travelling through Europe, I met a woman named Joan. Initially, a brief exchange at Turin Porta Susa Stazione, Italy, while embarking on a fast train destined for Paris.
Orderly chaos on the way to London.
Catching a fast train in Europe is both orderly and chaotic. With your carriage number illuminated on the screens above, you know where to stand, making the entry onto the train relatively smooth; on this occasion, bewilderment ensued when the carriage numbers failed to appear.
It hadn’t occurred to me that this might be a problem until Joan turned to me with a shrug, saying, “How are we supposed to know where to stand?” More bewildered than Joan, “I’m not sure”, I muttered, keen to connect, “Hello, I’m Julie, from Australia.” She hurried away to meet her carriage, adding, “Well, yes, of course you are.”
Yes, of course, I was an Australian.
It was a five-hour trip to Paris, and I didn’t think too much more about the brusque English lady. I settled in for the picturesque journey, traversing three countries: Italy, Switzerland and France.
After negotiating what seemed like multiple passport checkpoints, I finally arrived at the Eurostar Departure Lounge at Gare de Nord, relieved to have made it and keen to settle in with a coffee and wait the 90 minutes until departure.
And there was Joan.
Joan had arrived long before me, but then again, Joan knew the terrain. I did not.
With a wave, she motioned me to join her, and with time on our hands, we settled in for a coffee and a chat. My first impression of Joan quickly faded as she shared her story.
Joan loved to travel and had spent two years moving around Australia in her 20s. Despite the opportunity to stay in Australia, this was only the beginning of a lifelong love of travel, and Joan was not ready to settle down.
As she shared her travels, she reflected on the opinions of others.
“Joan, you’re such a gypsy. Will you ever settle”?
I know it’s not a term we use anymore, but for Joan, it was a description that fit her wanderlust spirit, and I couldn’t help but feel settling was never an option for Joan.
As the words passed her lips, I sensed her mind wandering back through her life and the decisions she’d made.
As our time together was almost over, I marvelled at Joan’s energy and sprightliness; you see, Joan was 91.
I would have guessed her age as senior, but 91 took me by surprise.
With our train departure announced, we made our way to the platform, chatting all the way. Thanks to Joan, we deftly ducked and weaved through the throng of seasoned and hapless travellers.
With every step, my admiration for Joan grew.
As we said our goodbyes and moved on to our assigned carriages, I called out to Joan, “I’ll see you on the other side”. However, once at St Pancras International Station, Joan was nowhere to be seen; sadly, I left without exchanging details.
Solo travelling at age 91.
On the day we met, Joan was returning to her home in London from a walking trip through one of the lakeside villages of Como; this was a woman who hadn’t given too much thought to age slowing her down.
Of all the people I met on my solo travels through Europe, Joan often comes to my mind. Am I envious of her wanderlust and the way nothing has stopped her, least of all her age? Perhaps.
But, beyond my envy is inspiration.
Sure, one day, age will slow Joan down, but in the meantime, she’s living right up until that moment.
So, if you ever think you’re too old to do something, anything, think again.
Looking back, with an eye on the future.
At this time of year, once all the Christmas festivities are done, we start looking to the year ahead and what the future will hold, and sure, we can make plans; we can even make a few promises.
But of course, life throws obstacles in our path; the road ahead can be strewn with debris, impossible to navigate, and our future can feel uncertain.
The future is NOW!
Here’s the thing: the future really is now, today, this moment. We can wait for it, or we can realise we’re living it now and, like Joan, go live it.
See you next time,
P.S. I planned all my train travel through Europe with the help of The Man in Seat.61. I do not have any affiliation; it’s just a really good website if you’re going it alone without the help of a travel agent.