Paris, peeping Toms and the Pope

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I keep mumbling to myself in a crazy panic, “Who goes on a trip alone? Nobody but me.” Sure, the whole travelling alone Sure, the whole travelling alone idea looked totally cool on television, but when I arrive in London’s Heathrow Airport, I don’t feel so cool anymore. Instead, I feel lonely and petrified.

I had always dreamed of doing the low-budget backpack thing. My only dilemma had been trying to decide on the most economical, fun, and safe way to see Western Europe.

Once I started reading all of those travel guides, I said to myself “Fuck this, I’m in no mood to plan a trip.” I wanted someone else to do the work for me. A 21-day bus tour from London to Athens  looked like the perfect choice.

And that’s how I ended up alone at the airport in a foreign country with only my backpack , a small suitcase and an oversized sleeping bag.

Day One

I am exhausted from the flight. Here I am alone on vacation with strangers. I just want to get to the hotel and scream. I’m not impressed with my bright idea of travelling alone. I keep thinking, “I can’t believe I’m here by myself. How can I possibly be alone?”

the memory of departing from Pearson International Airport is still fresh in my mind. I felt confident and somewhat sure of myself at that point – that is, until my mother and father broke down in tears. I have never seen my father cry, and my mother kept asking, “Are you sure you want to go?”

I’m having second thoughts.

Day Two

At 7:30 a.m., the group heads to Paris, where I use my limited French vocabulary when a group of us miss the bus back to the campsite. We have to take the subway back.

Day Three

I meet Steven, 22, a Ryerson broadcast-journalism graduate. We quickly become friends. Since we went to the same school and were in the same program, we have a lot in common. In the rain, we abandon the group to tour the disgusting sewers of Paris together. The tour details how the pitch-dark, smelly, maze-like sewers were used by the citizens of Paris during the French Revolution.

It reeks like shit and the smell clings to my clothes not only for the rest of the day, but on my jacket for about a week afterwards. I can hear the sound of rushing water as we walk on the grids. I am petrified.

Several hours later, we return to the tour group, smelly and soaking wet.

Day Four

Today I experience the arrogance associated with the French firsthand. When I try to place my order in English, many waiters don’t bother answering me. But when I try my best to order in French, first they laugh, and then they take my order.

Day Six

I’ve had the flu for six days and it seems to be getting worse. It’s been raining for the past five days and I have been touring each city without a coat or an umbrella. When I wake up today all I want is a hot shower to warm my aching bones. But there is no hot water. I lose it.

At this point I call home. I need someone to listen to me whine and complain. I need Mommy to tell me everything’s going to be alright.

I now know what it feels like to wake up in the morning having to put on a wet pair of pants and shirt. All I could think was that I would rather be somewhere else.

Day Eight

It’s 5:30 a.m. and the bus will be leaving for Italy in two hours. I head for the showers, which are located a few minutes away from the cabins. I’m showering, enjoying the somewhat warm water when I see the top of someone’s head. I don’t think anything of it because it’s too early, and I’m too tired. Suddenly I hear a scream from the stall beside me.

I run out of the shower only to see a man running out the door.

Day Nine 

For the very first time, I realize how much I take reading simple street and store signs for granted. Asking for the price of an item or for directions to a well-known site almost always turns into an exciting game of charades. I feel helpless and frustrated. Even though I’m hungry, it’s difficult to order from a menu that’s not written in English. Because my vocabulary is limited, I eat lots of gelato in Italy, and drink lots of Sangria in Spain.

Day Fifteen

In Vatican City, I admire the art of Michelangelo and actually get to hear the Pope pray.

A crowd of nearly 1, 000 had gathered to hear him, in spite of the sweltering heat. The Pope emerges and addresses the crowd. I can see from his outline where I am. He’s standing in a large window high above the main square. A red banner hangs from the ledge. There is silence where, seconds before, the massive crowd was singing, laughing and enjoying the day.

I’m not Catholic and I don’t understand a word he’s saying, but I begin to cry. I feel dumb and alone. As I hear his voice and listen to his deep breaths for air over the speakers, there is a sudden warmth inside of me.

My tour pals stare at me, though I think they understand my emotions For several days after hearing the prayer, I feel at peace with myself and the lonliness of being in Europe with people I had never been before fades.

Final Day

Travelling alone allowed me to meet more people, and I did not feel obliged to do what my friends wanted. I was able to see what I wanted to see, and do what I wanted to do. It was me, me, me for three weeks.

But there were times when I wished my closest friends were there to share the exciting, odd experiences of different places with me, like smashing plates and glasses at a night club in Athens while dancing till the sun came up. And skinnydipping on Hanky Panky Beach in Corfu, Greece.

Travelling alone turned out to be the best decision I had ever made. And from now on, I’ll only travel solo.

 

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