Across the pond

Ilsa Tone

(Ilsa Tone)

Last Sunday I left London and headed to Grenoble, France. Wait, no let me back up. I booked the earliest – i.e., cheapest – flight to Grenoble, which made it impossible to get to the airport in time Sunday morning, so Saturday night I left our London residence to catch the last tube to the airport to hang out for six hours before flying out in the morning.
Wait, no, sorry. Friday morning I was almost hit by a bus. I was walking along Gloucester Road – worrying over my thrown-together solo travel plans – and, encountering some sidewalk congestion, moved to step off the curb as a bus was pulling up behind me to that same spot, at that same moment. The look of terror on the faces of the people waiting at the stop was what made me lean back in at the last second.
The funny thing was how unfazed I was after the fact, and what’s more, how I found myself comforting the people who saw my life flash before their eyes and were convinced – rightly so – that they were about to get splattered with bits of me on their commute to work. I told them, “No, no, it’s okay. I saw it. I saw it” – a lie.
Anyway, the whole point of sharing this with you – besides that it was the day before my midterm trip and makes a good segue – is that the sensation of not knowing what’s coming, experiencing some scary things, but surviving and laughing about it after has been exhilarating and the best part of my time abroad.
Before I left for London, my quirky grandma told me the same thing that she has been telling me ever since I was old enough to go into public restrooms by myself: “Watch out for perverts.”
She repeated this again after learning I was headed off to backpack alone in France: “There’s French perverts too. Keep an eye out.” And certainly I was vigilant while on my own, but without the degree of anxiety I was anticipating. I often wondered if this lack of concern was because I was genuinely safe or if, like with the bus, I was just too stupid or unaware to know what I was walking into.
If you know me at all you probably know that I am a planner. I make lists, and lists of lists. So understandably I am still impressed by the fact that I traveled by myself with such a last minute, undefined itinerary.
I should further add that the entire trip was basically formed around the unexpected, in that I hadn’t planned on traveling by myself, or spending the entire time in southern France; the cities I picked were more random or proximal places rather than must-see destinations, and similarly, the hostels and transportation were pretty much “wing it” situations as well.
But the trip was amazing. And I know that it was amazing not in spite of my lack of planning, but because of it. I could list 100 examples of incredible moments which were the product of a wrong turn, a late train, a closed museum or a rainy day.
However, one that sticks out occurred in Grenoble, where the top thing on my to-do list was to take a cable car ride up Rachais Mountain to see the Bastille and the panoramic views of the city.
Long story short, the lift was closed and I ended up hiking up the mountain along this steep, deserted path with all 40 pounds of my stuff on my back. I did make it to the top, and the views were spectacular – even more so because of my effort. I felt proud not only to have made it to the top, but also to have done it by myself and without allowing any obstacles to deter me.
These two months “across the pond” really have been an ongoing lesson in accepting and appreciating the unexpected instead of trying to anticipate and overanalyze everything. It calls to mind another one of my grandma’s mantras which she, a typical Illinois driver – insert your Wisconsin stereotype here – tends to shout every time she merges at high speeds onto the toll way: “Hang on! I’ve got more courage than brains!”
I do miss my Post-It note- and list-covered desk in Ormsby, but only because it sits in between the desks of my two roommates, with my roommates behind them. The souvenir I will treasure most after I return to Appleton is my newly discovered liberating balance between scheduling and planning, and being able to just pick a place on a map and trust the universe as well as my own capacity to handle new and stressful situations.

(Ilsa Tone)

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