Disappearing into the crowd of boarding passengers at the Gare De L’Est, her blonde hair tinged with pink ends against the white windbreaker picked up in London earlier in the week, Sofie boarded the train to Germany yesterday morning. My child is 15 now, and these partings are becoming more poignant since they will become less frequent. High school years race by, I am told.
I texted to reassure her I would remain at the platform until the train left. After the last stragglers got aboard, she called. Could not find her reserved seat, a single seat by the window towards the front of the train. Then I saw her walking back to me on the platform, and before I could remind her about asking a person in uniform to help, she was doing just that.
With that, she spun on her heels, found her seat, and messaged me. At 9:06 a.m., as scheduled, the high speed TGV train left the station. I found myself surprised at being surprised that it was out and gone, and quietly. Perhaps I expected more fanfare. A parting firework would have been nice.
Then it was a short walk back to the Hôtel Métropol, where I ate my croissant and yogurt and smoothie in silence while packing. Nearly a week of adventures, picking her up from school, boarding the bus in Barnstable, delayed an hour at the Sagamore Bridge, checking into Logan with minutes to spare, flying out of Boston as the sun set, arriving into London in the morning, and taking the train in and killing time until our Air BnB was ready in the afternoon. And that was just the first 18 hours.
It got better after that. Although she realized she forgot the cube for her phone charger. We became efficient at swapping out devices.
Adaptability, resilience are the lessons of travel. Sofie has been given that opportunity to learn many times over. But travel has also been important to me since, if done right, one comes back at least a little changed from the experience. Picking up influences and different perspectives were the goals of a young gentleman’s Grand Tour of Europe over two centuries ago. Everyone should have that chance, in their own way, to broaden their outlook and put the learning in books and classroom to the test.
But on this trip, as I checked out and took the RER B line to the airport, I had a newer thought. It was inspired by a conversation Sofie and I had before she left. She was asking how big her puppy, Bash, would be when she got back.
I couldn’t help but smile. They grow fast, I told her. She missed him terribly, and I think she felt she was missing out on the limited number of fun days with her rambunctious little charmer. When the Aer Lingus flight was delayed, I had time to think about the idea that, no, travel doesn’t just change us but things do change when we travel. Puppies grow. Things get built. Weather knocks things down. If there’s little we can do to alter that while here, there’s nothing we can do while gone.
From my room in Cork, in the city my great-grandfather Patrick Joseph Buckley departed from in 1881, I am working on these observations. The differences, the benefits of Europe are there as always. A first class train ticket for what would be a six-hour drive is less than we would pay in gas. And gets there in three hours.
Public buses are readily available all over the countryside. A bag of salad costs a dollar, and for a little more gorgeous loaves of bread are abundant in the supermarket. But on the other hand, purse snatching and pickpockets are always about. Stabbings are up in London, to the point that their murder rate has surpassed New York City’s.
While my desire to board a fast, cheap train to, well, anywhere in the U.S. is as undiminished as my wish to eat real bread really cheaply, there’s more on my mind now. As I watch my daughter grow into a young adult – one who has the expertise to go from one European country on her own to another (and then another) to see friends and family – I sit in the land of my forefathers, briefly, and think about the changes to those at home.
Not how I look at the dog, but how the dog has actually grown, so to speak.
The message that Sofie had arrived into Mannheim came in as I was still sitting in the airport in Paris. After I landed in Ireland, photos came in of her taking in the sites in Heidelberg. She was fine, she was safe, she’d needed something to eat and a couple-hour nap. And she asked how my own trip was.
My Little Traveling Companion, now on her solo voyage, but thinking of me on mine. That’s a change.