I love an adventure that creeps up and bites you.
Distracted by everyday nonsense you can be
caught unawares. Then, suddenly bam,
Passport in one hand, good book in the other, a bag on your back and it’s time to be gone.
I’d had a high week riding skywards on wisdom
So, sis by my side, we skipped through the rain.
London’s dampest affront couldn’t wash the grins off our faces
The deepest of friendships, the richest of times.
But not literally.
It’s with cheap cheerful tickets that we bolt to Victoria,
Pick up some food and bump our backpacks around.
Then ‘to Paris’ we’re summoned and it’s all of a sudden and we bundle aboard and we’re on our way.
To Paris. By bus.
A surreal midnight voyage, surely a dream
But surly Paris’ here too, ‘greeting’ the day.
The weather’s no better, greyness taps at the window.
Oh, god, please let me stay in this furnished cocoon!
These fellow adventurers , so silent so still.
My brothers, my sisters, how far we have come!
But as we stretch out the cricks, as we rattle and shake,
And rescue our packs from elbows and dampness.
In less than a minute we’re separate,
Our first French exchange is truly dismal.
Ems loses her nerve and just whispers ‘two’.
‘Two what’ sighs the French dude.
‘Tickets’ we mumble.
The disdain on his face as we stumble away.
We clock off the sites from fifty feet under
– the Bastille, the Louvre, ooohh the Champs-Elysee.
Impressed by the power, speed and girth of M1,
We respectfully roar into Gare du Lyon.
With two hours to spare and food on the mind
We take a stroll, then a walk, then a hike by the Seine.
We want proper coffee, and proper croissants,
At proper prices that won’t curl our toes in embarrassed compliance.
And you know what? We find it.
And it’s fantastic.
We scooch down by the river and breath steam from our cups.
A cormorant dives, sharing breakfast with us.
Joggers and dog walkers nod at our discretion.
Right now: we’re unstoppable.
From Paris to Milan. By train.
A little hollow eyed and giddy with our shared excitement of a life lived well, we pull ourselves on board the TGV.
Comfortably slotted into place I drop off almost instantly and wake to streaming views of French countryside.
Wonderful Ems has packed a feast of rice cakes, figs and parma ham.
We eat with gusto, carefully avoiding the eyes, knees and feet of the lanky young men opposite.
It’s like a school disco – boys on one side, girls on the other.
Inadvertent footsy here
And opposite a lady feeds her never silent brood.
The journey is long but we have compartmentalised activities to pass the time.
We read, play games, make stuff,
I write this – thinking of the future and the past and how they meet on top of us.
Milano-Garibaldi is our destination
– a strangely flat name that makes me think of Milton Keynes or Bradford.
The station is not much to speak of – a shiny replica of modern architecture,
but oh the people!
With their sleek coiffures and tucked in shirts and effortless high heeled saunters.
So with backpacks, day-old clothes and a map in hand we gawp and sigh our way to Centrale, along streets that alternate between back alleyed rustic charm and towering banks that reflect each other infinitely.
We picnic on olives and anchovies outside the station
– a little nervous of the night ahead, an overnighter with no cabin booked.
And so it with slight distraction that we enter cavernous Centrale.
And so it takes a step or two and even half a beat for our eyes to tell us of the grandeur of this place.
A sweeping staircase beckons (no escalators here), but instead we circle, chatter silenced, head resting on our packs.
Humbled, we quietly climb the cool stone steps and emerge upon a plaza.
To be continued…