Imagine the romance. I was just a kid. The alarm goes off at 4am, we catch the first train out of Derby, we take breakfast at St Pancras, pick up the boat train at Victoria, it’s still early when we hit Dover harbour and board the cross channel ferry to Calais; it’s a steam engine from Calais until Amiens where the electric line takes over and whisks us to Paris. Five hours or so to go see the Eiffel Tower and other stuff, the Metro to Austerlitz, and then, just awesome, the overnight train all the way to the Spanish border. I peep through the curtain as France races by. Bells at crossings, glimpses of stations – “Perpignan, Perpignan” , he calls, ringing his bell to wake people up. Early morning mist in the fields. Port Bou is the border station, deep in the mountains. Off the train, through customs, armed guards, the first time this child has ever seen a real gun. I hold Mum’s hand because I have to. I’m scared. Out of the Pyrenees, out into baking sun. This is the Spain of the early 1960s, nobody speaks English, nothing is familiar. I don’t know this food, they speak a different language. The sun burns my skin. It shines every day, all day. I am 6 years old.
So like Michaela, I was lucky too. We were a Derby family; Derby is and was a railway town, my Dad got subsidised rail travel, and so we had foreign holidays long before it was widespread, we saw the Costa Brava when nobody spoke English and before tourism had arrived. And so, as a kid, 2 of my 52 weeks a year were very special. My love of travel was born; moreover, the romance of rail travel has never left me: just standing on the platform of a station still sets me alive. Watching a great city disappear, or appear, still has that tingle factor, so many years later. I will never lose it. I love it.
And then life took over. I brought up a family, I built a business. Life took over, the travel bug went dormant. I almost forgot it all. After a while I did some city breaks, rekindled some of those desires, and somewhere inside something was stirring. The travel bug was dormant but alive, just waiting to be fed.
And then I met Michaela.
She reawakened everything, she saw, found and resurrected everything that was good about me, including my travel bug. She cast off all of the shields which life had me hiding behind, she brought the real me back into the world. And life began again.
And off we went, to discover the world, to find every culture, to discover, to experience, to unearth, to learn. Just seven years on, we’ve visited 29 countries, had a million experiences, eaten new foods, found different cultures, made new friends, met great people. You’re never too old. Really, you’re not. Your spirit doesn’t age, no matter what.
Michaela had done some backpacking, I hadn’t. My spirit was still alive enough to want to try it. And, like the train to Spain in the 60s, my magic moment arrived, one day in Malta, when every last sense was awakened, every dream and ambition given relevance. Backpacks on, we boarded the ferry to Gozo across the tarmac; trucks, cars, buses, motor bikes, people, animals… and us, climbing on board amidst the chaos, T-shirts and shorts, backpacks, hiking boots, no idea where we were sleeping tonight, simply walking on to the boat as every type of vehicle ascended the ramp alongside us. And I knew this was for me. This is proper, this is real. This is where I want to be. I suddenly felt alive, I suddenly felt complete, possibly more alive than I had ever felt in my life. And I knew this is where I want to be.
Life had begun again.