Strangers on a Train


After I left Weiden I was headed towards Italy for my Italian language classes. I had intended to spend more time traveling around Germany, but changed my plans last minute and decided to head south. First stop: Zurich. Unfortunately for me, the German train conductors decided to go on strike.  Completely crazy – I know the French love to strike and protest, but Germany?  Their trains are supposed to run like clocks…or is that Switzerland?  My train was going from Germany to Switzerland, so it should have been the most reliable train of my whole trip yet somehow it was the only one that just didn’t show up.  We ended up taking a bus from Munich to St Galles in Switzerland which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Unfortunately there were some Americans who had paid for first class tickets on the train complete with open bar, and they were a little choked being stuck on a bus for 4 hours with no bar at all.  Ikes.

We arrived at the train station in St Galles about 5 minutes before the train to Zurich departed and had a mad-scramble to get onboard in time. I ended up sitting with Natalie, a lovely Hong Kongese woman who works in banking and was going to Zurich on a business trip which she had extended to travel around a bit with some friends. We had a great conversation during that hour about travel, living abroad, and the differences between the Chinese, North Americans and Europeans. It was so interesting. She had a cool view of the world and an acceptance of others that I really appreciated. She told me in Munich she and her friends were at a restaurant and ordered a couple of meals to share, the Chinese way as she put it. They asked the server for an extra fork that they could use to share the meals and the server said “We don’t do that here, I’m not changing for you” and walked away. I was shocked and disgusted by such rude behaviour, but Natalie was impressed by her strong principles and agreed: in a foreign country the locals should not change for you, you the traveler should adjust for them. And I agree with that completely, in principle. I just don’t know if an extra fork is asking for too much change… but I wasn’t there and Natalie took it as a learning opportunity to adjust her ways to the way of the country she was in, which I was impressed with. I would have just written it off as utter rudeness and probably a touch of racism. Her way of viewing the world is much nicer than mine.

I only spent a day in Zurich because it was so expensive, but the city was beautiful and I loved the lake. I am glad I decided to stop there and if I ever make it back to Zurich I will head up the mountain and hike around, but my feet were hurting and the hike seemed like too much at the time. I wandered around the city instead. I tried the fondue (pictured above) and saw the Lindt/Sprungli shop and felt like I did well.  I even caught a great band playing at the pub below my hostel. Mainfelt, an Italian band that had a similar style to Mumford and Sons, it was a great show.  Unfortunately my adapter did not fit into the plugs at the hotel and I could not charge up my phone/camera. So I only have the one from Zurich, of the fondue I ate on my first night.

On my way from Zurich to Avignon, I was minding my own business when a strange looking little old man with two canes asked me, in French, if he could sit across from me. He was short with a round bulbous nose, glasses, a small mustache and slightly crossed eyes. He also had a lovely smile and a very kind nature. He continued to talk to me in French, asking where I was from and what i was doing in Europe, and introduced himself as Raymond. He loved the adventure I was on and said he wished he could go with me, if only he wasn’t going for surgery in Lausanne for his legs. We spent most of the train ride having a remarkably deep conversation about the nature of the world, happiness in life, and how we all choose how to see the world and how we show up in it.  We talked about how travel enriches your life, makes you a better citizen of the world. He told me that I had asked for what I wanted and gone to get it, which is how we need to live, that nothing is given for free or without some effort.  All in French – yay French Immersion classes, thanks Hillcrest and Maillard!

Raymond also told me about picking wild edelweiss in the mountains we were passing, and how the name means mountain star.  He tried to describe the smell, how fresh and beautiful the air is where you pick them. I told him about Morocco and sleeping under the stars in the desert and tried to describe the way the sky looked, the smell of the air, the freedom of sleeping under such open, unobstructed skies. We both agreed that you can not buy any object to compare to those types of experiences in life, and you can never fully explain them to another human being.

It was such a beautiful talk, I appreciated so much the depth and range of life and living we discussed.  As we came near to his stop, he thanked me for the talk and said that he felt as though he had traveled with me and would continue to travel with me in his mind. He said that if I ever felt sad or lonely on my trip, just remember that a stranger I met on a train named Raymond is thinking of me, that I will be like the edelweiss to him, une etoile dans son coeur (a star in his heart). Very poetic, very French, and so beautiful.

I headed on to Avignon with a smile on my face and in my heart, thinking of all the people I have met so far on this trip.  I was full of wonder thinking of who I might meet next, what experiences were to come.  As Paulo Coehlo says “it is the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life exciting”. I have so many dreams for my life and traveling has already made so many of them come true.


3 thoughts on “Strangers on a Train

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