A week before I left for France, France’s train workers went on strike and my train was cancelled. Instead of taking the train from the airport, I had to go to Paris and exchange my ticket for a train that was still running. It was my first time traveling alone internationally, but I’ve taken Megabus often enough to know that delays and cancellations are part of traveling, and I thought I would be prepared for it in France. As it turns out, unfamiliarity with the train system almost meant I didn’t arrive at all.
Surprisingly enough, getting on the train wasn’t the problem. I was able to exchange my ticket without a problem (and even did it in French, which I was very proud of), but the new ticket that the station staff gave me was due to leave in less than 5 minutes. By the time I got through the security barrier, it looked like the train was about to leave at any minute. I climbed aboard the first passenger car I saw and hopped in an empty row without checking my seat number. The train left a few minutes after, and I settled down, relieved that I had made it.
Two hours later, exactly as the ticket had said, the train pulled into a station–only the sign on the side didn’t say Tours. Instead, it said Châtellerault. I asked another passenger as we got off where we were, and that’s when I realized that I had somehow ended up in a small French town, 40 miles away from my destination. At the station’s office, a clerk pointed at my assigned seat number and told me how trains in France often split and go in different directions halfway through the journey. In my rush to get on the train, I got on the wrong half of the train. I was able to book a ticket on the next train to Tours, but at that point I was quite stressed.
Rather than wait for the train in the station, I decided to walk around the town. I had only ever visited Paris, which looked far different than the small town that I found myself in. I couldn’t wander far with my luggage, but what I did see was a very relaxed kind of lifestyle. People casually strolled along the street while others sat at cafés, sipping their drink–a stark contrast with the chaotic day I had in trying to get to Tours. After my brief walk, I settled for some people-watching and reading at the station. Just the laid-back atmosphere of the town helped calm me down, and I realized that if there was nothing I could do to change my situation at this point, I might as well enjoy it.
Fortunately, I arrived safely in Tours, but the unexpected detour was one that I’m glad I had. The several hours I spent in Châtellerault reminded me that this is an experience I should treasure, rather than worry when things don’t turn out exactly as I envisioned. I’m sure that as I begin my program and move in with my home-stay family, there will be more things that won’t go exactly according to plan. Instead of worrying about them, I plan on living in the moment and making this trip something to treasure.