18 April 2017: Birmingham-London-Paris-Zurich (everybody talk about pop muzik)
It feels great to have the world in my backpack again and leave all responsibilities behind. Leaving is, as usual, hell. I feel a huge sense of lightness and relief to be on Bournville’s Dairy Milk purple platform.
Staring out of the window. Why do so many English people have a ‘fear of foreigners’? Travel is about crossing boundaries and meeting ‘the other’. Who we meet (or don’t meet) is what defines how we feel about a place. Travelling inevitably makes us feel more united than divided.
Le Train Bleu, Gare de Lyon – a recursive mirror, a steamship fresco, olives so plump they are almost sweet, couples with luggage and leg-age. A mother and two daughters request my spare chair and I suffer the lot of the solo traveller: to be endlessly exposed as alone. In defence, I write in my book. I fulfil my role of being a solo-travelling, diary-writing cliché.
From Paris to Zurich, each landscape unfolds more beautiful than the last. Vivid yellow rapeseed farmland, golden herds of cow drinking in sunset glades, hills start to roll in homage to future Alps which arrive in darkness. Paris is full but France itself is strangely empty; not a single soul anywhere with villages seemingly under curfew. It is only at Dijonville once darkness falls that there are signs of life: a light in a house, some tail-lights in the distance.
The train is running late and you wonder what the fuck you are doing on this empty last train to nowhere, blackness out of the window, a tired reflection and an anxious midnight walk through unknown Zurich still to come. You even wish yourself back home with all those obligations you so loved shrugging off earlier. This is the bore of travel.
Switzerland arrives – a new country! – despite the dark aloneness, this is somehow something to celebrate.
Day 2: Zurich to Budapest