Two Inch Heels Part 4 – Solo

Victoria Station, London

[This is a rewrite from August 2021 of the first half of the original “Solo” chapter, now broken into two chapters.]

It was Tuesday September 25th as I walked alone now, my big red backpack on my back, through residential streets of west London to the subway stop that would take me to Victoria Station and my train to the Continent. I felt the locals I passed were looking at me like I was some sort of oddball. If Angie were still with me, they would have seen instead just another couple young “hippie Yank” travellers, a matched set. I was an unmatched set of one.

At several points along the way I almost turned around and went back to Angie in the hotel. This grand adventure with my comrade Angie was now something utterly different, a solo odyssey that was feeling like it was going to be an ordeal. But I could not bear the sense of defeat I knew I would feel if I gave up. The most painful thought of all, was like it or not, for my own still tenuous self respect, I had to continue. I knew at some level I was throwing myself into a hugely developmental “deep end”, that I was pretty sure I wasn’t ready for, but couldn’t NOT do at this point. So somehow I had to traverse this journey so I could return home transformed, the triumphant European traveler.

It was a short subway ride to Victoria Station where I was able to purchase a single ticket that included a train to Folkston on the English Channel, a ferry across the Channel to Calais, and then a second train from Calais across France via Lille and Strasbourg to Basel, Switzerland. From there I was told I could find another train to my destination of Munich, Germany. I didn’t think to buy any food supplies for the trip. Hunger was not currently on my radar, my stomach tight with anxiety.

As I got to the platform, the train was sitting there, not ready to board yet, but pensively hissing like some giant annoyed beast. I had always loved these beasts, since my parents took me on my first train ride at age three, overnight in a sleeping compartment, from Ann Arbor to my grandparents in Binghamton, New York. My most recent train ride had been last fall on Amtrak, from Ann Arbor back to college at Western in Kalamazoo. In the States, passenger trains were seen as oddities, relics of a forgone age. Normal people drove or flew to their destinations. But here in Europe, at least here in this grand station in London, it seemed like they took their trains much more seriously, a main way people got from one city to another.

I felt alone in the crowd milling on the platform waiting for this metal beast to let them board. Looking around I noticed a young woman, maybe my age, standing by herself on the platform about thirty feet from me next to one large and two smaller suitcases. She wore chic clothing, a white collared shirt with a blue patterned sweater over, gray wool knee length skirt, white knee socks and black and white shiny shoes. Her hair was short, copper brown and well styled and she didn’t look particularly British. While I was looking at her she noticed me and smiled. Shy me would have normally stayed put, but my aloneness trumped that, and I wandered in her direction.

As I approached she sized me up and said, “You are an American, correct?” Her accent sounded French to me. Sexy.

I smiled and nodded, psyching myself up to say something that sounded hip and not lame. Looking a bit too proud of herself for guessing my nationality, she spoke again before I managed to deliver my opening line.

“My name’s Sylvie”, she said with what I thought was admirable confidence. “It’s a pleasure”, she continued, facing me squarely and thrusting out her hand to shake mine. I had not encountered this sort of greeting from a stranger before. I tentatively put out my hand and she grasped it firmly and shook it like we were diplomats signing a treaty or something.

My struggle to say my first words seemed to take forever. Finally I uttered, “I’m Cooper. I’m headed to Basel.” Not very hip, but at least not lame either. Matter of fact.

“C’est bon”, she said brightly, the French words slipping out of her mouth more easily than the previous ones in English. “So am I”, she continued, “Is Basel your final destination?”

“No”, I replied, “I am headed on to Munich.”

“I see”, she said, nodding like she had it all figured out, “Are you going to Oktoberfest?”

Not knowing what that was, I shook my head, and she looked at me now in a quizzical way with a tilt of her head and a wrinkle of her small nose. I took that as my cue to just start talking, and proceeded to tell her about how I had spent the summer in England three years ago, with my mom and brother, and we had met and gotten to know this young German couple Angelica and Helmut. Now I was backpacking through Europe, “on my own” I said, and was planning on looking them up in Munich.

“Well”, she said, maybe having heard way more backstory from me than she had planned on, and fixing a bit of hair that already seemed perfectly in place, “That should be nice for you.”

At that point the doors of the train opened and the conductors stepped out in their blue uniforms, like chorus members in a musical number about to sing. The crowd on the platform pressed in on the doors. Sylvie scanned her three suitcases with a look of concern, and this time I was quicker to respond.

“Can I help you with your luggage?”

“Oui Merci”, she said, then thinking to translate, “Thank you, yes!”

I took the initiative and picked up her biggest case, which seemed to weigh nearly as much as my pack. I staggered a bit, and Sylvie, grabbing her other two, was already pushing forward toward the conductor and the open door. She glanced back at me quickly and said she would go ahead and find us a compartment. The conductor had to help me get her big suitcases up the stairs and through the narrow doorway. Unlike the Amtrak trains in the States that had a center aisle and seats on either side like a bus, this train had an aisle on one side and compartments with seats on the other. I had seen this sort of train in several movies that took place in Europe.

Sylvie waved to me from the other end of the aisle, which was filled with boarding passengers searching for compartments. I moved down the narrow corridor with her big suitcase in front of me until I reached the door of the compartment and entered. There were two older women already sitting across from each other by the window. Sylvie athletically swung her two smaller cases up onto the luggage rack on that side of the compartment. I put down her biggest suitcase, then unshouldered my pack and hoisted it noisily onto the rack on the other side. We both turned and looked at her last biggest case, gravity holding it resolutely on the floor.

She sighed, “I may need some assistance with this one Cooper.” I liked that she said my name, and then also the way she said my name with her French accent, with a longer “ooo” sound and barely any “r” at the end.

Taking her request for “assistance” as my cue to lift it myself, my hand reached out to grasp the handle. But at the same time her hand grasped it as well and together, side by side, we wrestled the big bulky thing into the air and up onto the rack. In the process, our hips, shoulders and upper arms rubbed together, which felt electric. Just the tiniest grunt she gave out at one point, was even more so, to say the least.

I was suddenly intoxicated by her very physical presence next to me. She smelled good, though it didn’t smell like perfume. I had fantasized so many times about being physically intimate with one of my female peers, and the proximity, scent, and exertion of this young woman filled the chasm of my imagination.

Once her luggage and my pack were secured in the racks above, Sylvie sat down on one bench by the door, with a space between her and the woman sitting by the window. Though part of me wanted to sit next to her, it seemed inappropriate to do so, since we weren’t a couple and that might seem really forward and inappropriate on my part. So I sat instead on the other bench across from her.

She took a moment to compose herself, pulling down the hem of her skirt and squeezing her knees together, adjusting the collar of her white shirt and readjusting her hair with fingers from both hands. When she felt sufficiently recomposed, she looked at me, smiled, and said, “Thank you Cooper”, again with that long “ooo” and that barely an “r”. But her words still had a certain level of formality, where I would have expected one of my age cohort back home to voice a more informal, “Thanks!”

We heard the shouts of the conductors and the banging closed of the coach’s door, and finally the lurch of the train into motion. There was an awkward moment with the two of us just looking at each other, like she was waiting for me to ask her some standard question so we could start a conversation. So I took my cue, and tried to ask that standard question in a fairly sophisticated way, like I wasn’t just some big kid.

“So what takes you to Basel?” I asked.

She nodded like that was an appropriate question and she was ready to answer.

“I’m returning home to take care of some family business,” she replied, “We live just outside Basel.”

She looked at me as if she was anticipating a followup question on what sort of “family business”.

“A death in the family”, she added, “An elderly aunt.”

“Wow”, I said, “Were you close?”

Her brow furrowed, and her eyes looked up at the ceiling of the compartment as I saw the wheels spinning in her head.

“She was my mother’s older sister”, she replied, “We would see her on holidays.” She was providing information but not really answering my question.

She told me she was attending classes at the London School of Economics in her second year of study and she would be missing some classes to attend the funeral, like that was an important bit of information for me to know regarding her relationship with her aunt.

Then she stopped talking and kind of looked me over head to foot and also up at my backpack in the luggage rack above me.

“So you are ‘backpacking through Europe’, and going to Munich but not to Oktoberfest?”

It seemed like my cue to continue to spill my story, that I had started to tell her on the platform before we boarded the train.

“Yeah”, I said, “I’m just a week into this whole thing. I actually was planning to do it with my friend and we spent the first week in England, but then she decided she didn’t want to continue, so I’m on my own for the rest of it.” I went on about how we’d planned a maybe three month trip throughout Western Europe, staying with people we knew where possible, but at youth hostels the rest of the time.” Sylvie listened and I could tell the gears were spinning in her head.

“She was your… ”, Sylvie paused to find the right word, or maybe to wrestle with whether it was appropriate to ask, finally ending her question, “Girlfriend?”

“No”, I said quickly, not wanting her to think I was some jilted lover, or some guy who was clueless about women. “She and I were just good friends.”

“I see”, she said, nodding, still kind of formally, her eyes looking upward, like she was thinking about my response and what she was curious about asking next versus what was okay to ask.

“Why did she decide not to continue?” she asked, “Did you have a row?”

“Row?”, I replied, not familiar with that term.

“Pardon”, she said, “More of a British term perhaps. A quarrel or… how do you Americans say it, a ‘fight’?”

“No”, I again volunteered quickly, “She…”. I paused, realizing I wasn’t sure how to characterize Angie’s reasons for parting company with me. Sylvie’s face didn’t soften much as she waited for me to finish my sentence. I glanced at the two older women sitting on the other side of the compartment by the window. They were having their own conversation with each other with occasional laughter, and seemed not to be paying attention to the two of us.

“I guess she had had second thoughts from the beginning”, I continued, “But hadn’t shared them with me. She finally told me that the whole thing was overwhelming, that she had bitten off more than she could chew.”

Sylvie’s eyes narrowed. “Bitten off more than she can chew? I’M not familiar with THAT phrase.” Her face finally started to soften. “My English… I’m still learning. But yes, it makes sense.”

Seeing that softening, feeling her admission, I quickly added, “Your English is quite good”, using “quite” instead of “very”, I guess echoing her formality.

“Thank you Cooper”, she said. She sat across from me with perfect posture, head straight, shoulders back, hands resting together in her lap, her bare knees protruding under her gray skirt, pressed together and slightly to the side with long white socks below descending to those shiny black and white Oxfords also pressed together.

Given my admissions about Angie, I then felt compelled to explain, and go into the whole backstory of how best friends Angie and Lane had hatched the idea for this backpacking journey, how I had gotten myself included, and then how Lane had dropped out. Sylvie nodded as I spoke with a neutral look on her face rather than any indications of sympathy, yet I got no sense that she was just listening to be polite and would rather not hear the details.

When I finished that backstory she was again quiet for a moment or two as she considered it all. Still holding that same pose, sitting straight, hands together in lap and knees just so, she said, “It is very different for a young woman to travel with a female friend than a male one.”

I could feel my mouth form a frown and my nose wrinkle. I did not want what she said to be so, but of course I knew it was. The words came out of me before I could edit them. “I suppose”, I said.

I heard just the slightest audible scoff on her part, like I was naive. Maybe she noted my own subtle reaction to her scoff or just had her own failure to edit.

“Pardon”, she said, “It is not my place to judge.” I then waited for her face to soften again but it only did so just the littlest bit.

“No you’re right”, I conceded, “Though I want the world to be different.”

If she had wanted to scoff again, she must have caught herself this time. But then I could see in her eyes she was really thinking about what I just said about a different world. Then I could see in them a moment later the decision to file that thought and move on, change the subject to something less deep, and not all focused on me.

“I am studying economics”, she shared.

“Wow”, I said, being more informal again which was my natural mode of interaction, plus thinking that as a guy I shouldn’t monopolize the conversation with it all about me. “That sounds very interesting. What are your favorite classes so far and what are you looking forward to that you’re taking this fall?”

Rather than provide me with favorites, she began a review of all the classes she had taken so far, noting her level of interest in the subject matter and ranking the quality of her various professors.

She was interrupted by a man in a blue uniform opening the compartment door. He was pushing a wheeled cart, selling sandwiches, drinks and snacks.

“May I buy you lunch for assisting me with my luggage?” she asked me.

I wasn’t sure whether it was polite to say that wasn’t necessary or just to accept the token.

“I was just happy to be of assistance”, I replied, not committing at this point to either response.

“And you were”, she said smiling, “And I insist.”

I liked her insisting, like my company was of value to her. Echoing her formality, and maybe even poking fun at her just a bit I said, “Thank you very much”, and bowed my head just a bit.

I felt like she detected my minor mischief in a slight narrowing of one eye for just a second, but I may have been just fantasizing.

There was a choice of sandwiches, ham on white or Swiss cheese and cucumber on rye. I had had any number of ham sandwiches in my life, and meat was the stereotypical choice for a male type, plus the latter sounded much more exotic, more European perhaps, so I chose it. It would also show Sylvie I wasn’t your standard American guy.

Sylvie got the ham. She stopped talking completely while she ate, carefully wrapping each diagonally cut sandwich half in a napkin and then peeling the napkin back just enough to take each bite. Sandwich half in one hand, she used the other to cover her mouth with each bite as she chewed, while her eyes watched me eat, and studied me from head to toe and my pack in the rack above.

Between bites of my cucumber and Swiss on rye, I continued to try to keep the conversation going about her favorite classes, but she would not respond. Clearly she felt it was inappropriate to talk while you were eating, and I became generally self conscious about my own eating “etiquette”, including sometimes talking with food in my mouth. So I clammed up, and took her cue and studied every inch of her and her three pieces of luggage above her. Though I did not wrap my sandwich in a napkin, I did lay a napkin on my lap, at least for show. If her observing eyes were judging me as she ate, they did not reveal their judgement.

She was just hair, face, hands and knees. The rest of her was encased in clothing, with its own tailored contours. Short copper hair with just a little wave in it and a meticulously straight part on the side, more like a guy might wear his. An angular white face with an olive tone, dominated by big dark brown eyes, with little competition below from a small nose and thin lips. Big hands with long fingers and perfect fingernails but not colored or polished in any way that I could see. And those knees, protruding from under her skirt like a peepshow, exciting in their bawdy nakedness relative to the rest of her body above and below them. At least my libidinal gaze cast them that way.

I continued to eat as I proceeded with my silent observation of this fellow human, fellow traveler, age cohort member, across from me. Since I was a kid I had always eaten quickly. If the food was delicious I couldn’t wait to take the next bite. If not so much, then I was eager to get my sustenance and move on. So I finished my entire sandwich before Sylvie finished the first half of hers. I saw her eyes duly note that, as she continued to methodically peel, bite, cover and chew.

Having finished eating, I continued my comments about her review of her various college classes, including curiosity about how an English university’s version of “modern western civilization” compared to an American version I had taken last year. She nodded and grimaced, like she really wanted to respond but eating etiquette was forcing her to wait. Finally she finished and addressed every one of my comments. It was all the perfect distraction for me, cut loose from my moorings with Angie and fretting about my long journey ahead.

When we finally exited the train at Folkston,and boarded our ferry across the Channel, the fog was coming in. We were some of the first people up the gangplank, me again lugging her big suitcase, and we both agreed we should sit on deck at the very prow of the ship and enjoy the sea air. I figured she was continuing to hang out with me because she enjoyed the company as much as I did, beyond just wanting someone to haul that big heavy case off the boat and down to the train in Calais. We parked her luggage and my pack out on the deck next to a couple seats on the first row behind the prow railing. While I watched our stuff she headed off below to find a “toilette” to “freshen up”.

Figuring that Sylvie would be hanging out with me for the rest of the trip to Basel eased the tightening in my stomach and all those anxious thoughts about my path ahead. I would figure out somehow how to get myself from Basel to Munich, and then once I made it to the Bavarian capital, I would be staying again with people I knew, Oktoberfest or no Oktoberfest. I looked out into the Channel and you could literally see the fog clouds coming towards shore and even passing our ferry on either side.

Out there in the mists was “The Continent” as it was often referred to, the mainland of Western Europe. I had been there briefly once before, at the beginning of our summer in England three years ago with my mom and brother. We had taken a charter flight to Amsterdam, stayed overnight at a hotel there before taking the train to Brussels where we had to change trains for Calais to get our boat, a hovercraft actually, across the Channel. Well my mom got confused at the Brussels train station and so we missed our train and she had a meltdown. I, fifteen years old at the time and totally embarrassed by my blubbering mother, took charge, got us to a hotel across the street from the station for dinner before returning to the station and finding a later train to Calais. We missed our hovercraft, but found a nice little hotel by the docks and took the thing the next day. Problem solved, with my mom duly impressed at my logistical skill. Throughout that summer I played navigator and tour guide as we toured the four corners of England by car from our central location in Oxford.

But now I was returning, on my own this time, to leverage and double down on those travel skills. I stood at the railing and looked out into the foggy abyss. Somewhere out there was Calais, France, and the rest of that huge venue for my odessey. Shortly our now crowded ferry would be chugging off into that abyss, me still nursing all my ambivalence, but calmed somewhat at the moment by having at least a temporary travel companion.

Sylvie returned from her sojourn below carrying a small box and announced proudly that she had bought us both “café et frites”. I offered to pay my half of the cost, but she looked at me sternly, shook her head ever so slightly and waved a hand at me like she was swatting away some flying bug. I guess I was still in her employ.

“I did not know whether you were a coffee or tea drinker”, she said, “But since you are an American, I thought coffee. And I brought sugar and cream.”

“Thank you”, I said, “I haven’t been much of a coffee drinker. Even after a year of college when they say most people start.”

“Well”, she said, “If you travel through the Continent you must learn. I know some Americans drink it…”, she paused and grimaced as she said “black”. But then continued, “But you might want to try it with sugar and cream. That’s how most people drink it here.”

I nodded and thanked her again. She smiled and her face seemed to soften as she poured the sugar and cream into my thick cardboard cup and swirled it with the little wooden stick, before handing the cup to me. It was warm and delicious, sweet but with a nice bite of bitterness. And quickly came that nice buzz in my brain of the caffeine.

Then she offered me the box again, which still contained a greasy bag of thin french fries.

“Frites?” she asked.

“Thank you so much”, I said, trying to be sufficiently polite to meet her standards. They were also delicious. Crunchy, with a nice greasy, salty warm chewiness inside. An odd combo with the sweet creamy coffee, but I was happy to be the recipient of this young woman’s largess. As the ship’s motors below began to groan and vibrate, and the thing pushed away from the quay, we both stood at the railing of the ship’s prow, looking out into the gray, with the demarcation between sea and sky almost impossible to delineate.

My mind conjured up one of those scenes on a cruise ship from an old movie where the guy says something romantic and the woman is swept up in the moment and they kiss, to violins playing on the soundtrack. Except in this case, none of that was going to happen. But just being with her was enough for now. At least I would get to Basel without having to face truly being on my own.

We passed the time crossing the gray waters of the Channel with Sylvie quizzing me on my itinerary. With every new country or city I mentioned, she would chime in with her suggestions for must see items. Museums, churches, bridges, castles, palaces, and in Switzerland, “​​Les Alpes”. Once the English shore disappeared in the thick fog behind us, and with nothing but more of the same ahead, and little difference between gray sea and sky, I could feel no sense of time or location at all. And from our position on the deck, we couldn’t look down at the bow of the ship actually cutting through the water, so there was very little sense of motion at all, except for the wet air blowing in our faces. I had been on boats before, though not one this size, but always on a bright sunny day with the context of shore visible in at least one direction. Sylvie seemed unphased by it, though she had said she had made this crossing any number of times.

It was late afternoon when the ferry finally reached Calais, the wharf appearing in the fog lit with different colored lights. Gratefully, with me again hauling Sylvie’s biggest suitcase, we were quickly through French customs to our train waiting just outside the building. We lucked out and managed to find a compartment all to ourselves. Again someone with a cart came by selling sandwiches, and again, Sylvie paid for both of us. She got some sort of a cream cheese sandwich, which I was not keen on trying, getting some sort of chicken salad one instead. She also got us each a bottle of mineral water. The food tasted good and we were both hungry. I enjoyed the ambiance of riding on the train, alone with a travel companion, though temporary in this case, with the twilight world going by outside and the rhythmic shake and creak of the coach wheels below.

Even though neither of us started up much of a conversation, we seemed happy in each other’s company. The silence was nice at first, but got uncomfortable. She would finally start a conversation by asking me some random question that wasn’t too personal, like what I was going to do when I got back from my travels. So I would tell her that I’d probably get a job for the spring and summer and go back to college in the fall, basic stuff like that. She would smile and nod like that was really interesting. Then she would say she would be going back to school next week to continue her fall term. I would likewise smile and nod that that was interesting as well. If we had been a proper couple we could have just sat next to each other silently with our sides touching and maybe her head resting on my shoulder and mine against hers.

Finally after a number of such silent periods and verbal forays to break that silence, Sylvie announced that she was getting tired and that, if it was okay with me, she was going to lie down on her bench and try to get some sleep. She suggested I might want to do the same. It was like it would be rude or maybe unladylike to just lie down and close your eyes without giving a heads up to your company, the guy at least who had helped you carry your bags when needed. She carefully removed her shoes, by moving her knees, still pressed tightly together, to one side. Her being fairly tall and the bench not wide enough for her to stretch out completely, she had to assume a sort of fetal position with her knees bent, and out toward me. She spent a lot of time arranging her knees, and her skirt that did not quite reach them in this position so as not to provide me a view under her skirt and between her legs. I probably spent too much time watching her arrange herself in a modest way, which just made her feel she needed to spend even more time getting it just so.

I assumed a similar position facing her on my bench, though wearing pants I did not have the same modesty issues. She smiled at me, which I so enjoyed and appreciated, and then closed her eyes, the residual smile still there. I closed my own eyes just enough so they looked closed but I could still look out at her. My gaze was drawn to those big brown eyes now disappeared behind the eyelids, and then down to her chest, cloistered in starchy white shirt under blue patterned sweater, and finally her bare knees protruding from under her skirt and the long line of her calves, with their white knee socks but shiny black and white shoes removed. I fantasized that we were a couple curled up in the same bed together, how that might change how she interacted with me, whether she would still be as modest and formal if we were a romantic couple.

We slept off and on through France. Though no other passengers came into our compartment to disturb our sleeping arrangements, we were awakened occasionally by conductors and train stops. On each occasion, she would briefly sit up and then go through her modesty routine once again, and I would watch but try not to stare. She would smile at me and then close her eyes.

Our train arrived in Basel around 5:30am. I once again followed Sylvie and hauled her biggest suitcase off of the train. We put down her cases and she looked around and waved to her parents who were way down at the other end of the platform, and they headed toward us. She turned to me and she smiled.

“Thank you Cooper for your assistance”, she said, again thrusting out her hand like when we first met. “I enjoyed our time together. Bon Voyage, and all the best on your solo journey.”

I took her hand. We both squeezed and shook. I didn’t know quite what to say. Replying with “I did as well” or “me too” seemed lame and too generic.

“Enjoy your time at school in London, Sylvie”, I thought to say, thinking that Sylvie was maybe a bit too buttoned down and needed to have more fun. Then more from my heart I said, “Thank you for helping me get started on that solo journey. It would have been much harder for me if I hadn’t met you.”

She scoffed and I at least imagined that she blushed just the littlest bit.

Somehow I felt I should say something else. Something to break through the formality and try to really connect with her and maybe have her remember me. Something off the wall even, since what were the chances I would ever see her again. I remembered Angie’s last words to me this morning, which had made sense given our relationship as friends and comrades. Sylvie and I had no such relationship, but maybe she would remember them and therefore me too. So no further discussion with all my chickenshitty parts, I just said it.

“See you later alligator!”

She just looked at me kind of stunned for a moment and then started to scoff and even chuckle. I gave her my biggest shiteatingest grin and even winked at her before, in one last show of bravado, I turned from her and jauntily headed toward the ticketing area. As I left Sylvie behind I could just hear her and her parents greet each other, with the same sort of formality that Sylvie had shown with me.

That little spark of pluck I had just exhibited warmed my chest and pushed back the fear and loneliness. I REALLY felt out of my territory now, alone, surrounded by people speaking languages I did not understand. The big constantly updating train status boards high on the walls were in German, and I struggled to make sense of them, eventually figuring out that “Abfahrt” was German for departure and “Ankunft” arrival. I had to fight back that fear and homesickness to keep focusing on the task of buying a ticket and finding the platform for the next train to Munich.

The good news was that I found a ticketing agent who spoke some English. The bad news was that he told me, in English, that there was no direct train to Munich, I had to change trains in Zurich. I bought my ticket and boarded what turned out to be a beautiful ride through foggy wooded morning mountains, but this time without even a fleeting travel companion. No Angie. No Sylvie.

I had a two hour wait in Zurich for the Munich train, so I checked out the station and even went outside a bit in the still foggy early morning. I continued to try to familiarize myself with the German words on an array of signs I encountered. While waiting in line to buy my ticket to Munich, a sleazy looking guy approached me and asked in English if I was taking the train to Munich. He said there was a bus outside going there for half the price leaving right away. I felt like a mark, like he was zeroing in on the young naive traveler, and I declined his offer, and he rolled his eyes and went off looking for another taker.

Once finally on the train that would take me to my final destination, I relaxed some and caught up on events, particularly my encounter with Sylvie, in my journal. It occurred to me that if I had still been traveling with Angie, would I even have met Sylvie? Would Angie and I have just been in our own buddy bubble, and would we even have thought to wander in Syvie’s direction?

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