The following morning was absolutely beautiful. The two block walk from the Be Dream to the train station was coated in sunlight and a bit of heat, but we were the only ones on the street at the time and were met with that strangely aloof feeling that only comes when wandering out into quiet streets before you’ve had enough coffee – or had the chance to think twice about getting some more rest. The thought of traveling to a new city and a new country made up for our unsurprising lack of sleep (the snoring French girl performed her swan song the night before.) But sitting on the train was like being in an entirely different world. It was packed from car to car, and Harman and I barely found seating for the hour-long ride. It was refreshing to be around so many people and so much energy that early in the day.
About thirty minutes into the train ride a woman in a beautiful red dress with flowing amber hair and a face that needed no makeup floated on board. She was on the other side of our car with her headphones in, camouflaged by a crowd of businessmen and businesswomen and teenagers catching the train home from a night out. She never looked up and we never made eye contact, but she was radiant and I decided that she was Barcelona. I think I fell in love right then and there. However, I knew that I’d fall in and out of love for the next three weeks with every new city and with a dozen more strangers who I’d never know the name of or ever see again. I was a hopelessly romantic fool in Europe, after all. If nothing else, I was at least looking forward to having some good stories to tell.
We eventually made it to the bus station and, after a small bit of first-time-traveler confusion, found our ride that we almost missed. Although being that far into the city centre, seeing the architecture and the street life and the world that was so alive already at eight o’clock in the morning…well, I don’t think I would have minded if we had to catch the next bus.
Word to the wise, if given the choice between a $35 FlixBus or a $100 train or flight, don’t let the price scare you: They have air-conditioning, give you a free checked bag, and provide outlets to charge your phone and a decent amount of free WiFi for the ride. It’s not luxury, but it’s enough to get you where you need to go. And that was what mattered.
Now for anyone who knows me (or wants to know me or doesn’t have the slightest clue as to who I am), you’d agree that I have a slightly severe obsession with the band Oasis, and particularly the song “Don’t Look Back In Anger” (there’s a live version of the song on YouTube that makes me cry every time.) And on the radio, which happened to be tuned to nothing but American and British music, what song would you believe crept in through the speakers? Harman and I were in the middle of a conversation when I – quite literally – said, “Stop. That’s ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ on the radio!” He smiled politely even though I was alone in my obsession. But I thought it was fitting and a very serendipitous way to continue our travels through Europe.
The notion of spending a few thousand dollars for a few weeks of sporadic, sometimes unclear romping through multiple foreign countries and cities inherently brings some level of anxiety. Because, like I mentioned earlier, I was still attempting to find a “real” job back home while also trying to figure out where the hell I’d be living, let alone who it was that I wanted to be when I got back. But the timing of the trip was perfect; When again would I be able to backpack through Europe with my best friend and without a care in the world? Things hadn’t necessarily been going my way back in the States for quite awhile. But I was young, good looking, and in Europe. I didn’t mind what I had to look back on, because all I had to do was focus on what was coming my way. Serendipity had a way of letting you know that maybe, just maybe, everything was going to be alright in the end, after all.
And at this point in the trip it happened to be a sign on the highway that read, “FRANCE: 141 KM,” so I slipped inside my seat and kept my eyes and mind fixed on the world that was passing by.
Leaving the congestion of Barcelona and the surrounding cities shoots you right through the hills and valleys and mountains of the Spanish countryside. Even from the slightly tinted and cloudy window of my bus seat, it all reminded me of a dream that I never had. At that point in the trip I became mad at myself for not trying harder to find wine over the last few days.
“FRANCE: 54 KM”
Then I thought about the fact that everything can be new to somebody, the same as everything could be the usual hum and drum to somebody else. I read once that living in Paris is not like visiting Paris, which always made me question the sanity of both the author and myself. (That doesn’t stop me from wanting to run off to a little studio flat and write the next great American novel on-sight, barely scraping by on nothing more than cheap coffee and baguettes. But I digress.) However, despite all of this, sometimes we just need to step out of our own comfort zones to find something that could light our souls on fire that we might not have known was even there in the first place. Traveling makes you fearless. I felt that only two days into our trip and I was ready for anything that was to come next.
As we approached the French/ Spanish border I distinctly remember a lone, starkly bent, almost jagged tree along the side of the highway. Like a sculpture it rose from the dirt and blacktop. It was beautiful, too. Everything in Spain was beautiful, I determined.
“FRANCE: 6 KM”
Finally having made it across the border I was overwhelmed with the red and yellow wildflowers that ran along the side of the highways and fields and dirt roads, alike. Everything was yellow and bright and like something out of your favorite painting. At some point our bus made a pit-stop at some gas station and there were still heaps of those flowers sprouting up, even there. They smelled (and still do weeks after picking them) seductively sweet and horribly bitter at the same time. I wondered if that was a sign as to what to expect of France. But I shook it off and grabbed a handful, stowing them between the pages of my Moleskine. I then got back on the bus where Harman and I shared an afternoon meal of Swiss Chocolate, French designer lollipops, and more water.
Our bus had another stop a few hours later in a small town that I determined was used as nothing but a chance to make sure you were going in the right direction. But there was a bakery and I had a delicious baguette, and there was a small park about a block away that had more wildflowers popping up all over, this time with blues and purples to match the reds and yellows. So I grabbed some of those as well and stuffed then between my pages right alongside the others.
I ended up writing more and more about those flowers and the countryside by which we floated by in our FlixBus. It was a mixture of naïvety and hallucination, given my remarkable lack of sleep over the course of the previous few days. It wasn’t my best work and I laugh now even just reading it back to myself. They were foolish words attempting to sound much more intelligent and original than they actually were. I wrote things that were ridiculous even by my standards, like, “This is a dream inside of a black & white world” and “The flowers are as delicate and fragile as I’ve ever held but as beautiful as anyone or anything I’d ever seen.” I really just needed some sleep. We then arrived in Marseille, the remarkably picturesque port town that felt as if it was trapped in time in the south of France. It was filled with shops and life and more sailboats than I had ever seen in one place at any given time. I felt like a tourist and wanted to see it all, wishing to sail out into the sea just to see where I washed up.
I was thinking like a crazy person and writing like a fool. But I already knew that I was a fool who was quickly falling in love with France.