A few years ago when my daughter and I backpacked through Europe, one morning we stood in front of the Destinations Board in Geneva to decide where to go next. Our first idea was Montpellier, France, but all the guys in the World Cup had taken all the seats, so instead we hopped a train for Italy with no plans and no reservations. Arriving in the evening we watched gondolas and water taxis pass each other in the center then move out of sight. We decided on a cappuccino and a walk before finding a place to settle in.
But, because the World Cup was happening in Paris, in Venice, every bed, closet and cardboard box was booked. So with a cranky teenager in tow, I suggested we return to the train station where I could think of ‘Plan B’.
As gondolas parked in their stalls, water taxis stopped buzzing, and the throngs of people went to hotels or hostels, I realized we were alone. At midnight the last train arrived and a few folks headed off knowing they had a place to stay. But others were destined to spend the night on the steps of the train station with us. People from India, Germany, and Japan.
A little boy ran up and down the stairs, and a girl cried that she was freezing, so an old man gave her his coat and she curled up on her father’s lap.
“Whose idea was it to come here anyway? This is the most horrible night of my whole life!” whined my daughter.
Since the train station was open, we took turns going in to get warm and take bathroom breaks.
Upon returning from one of those breaks I noticed that our troupe had
lightened up. The boy and girl, a couple, the old man, and my dear daughter had
formed a singing group. They were happily belting out theme songs to classic
American sitcoms like One Day at a
Time and Cheers. There is nothing quite like hearing the theme song to The Facts of Life sung by people with 8 different accents!
Things were brightening up in another way too. A milkman in his canoe made morning rounds. Newspapers were tossed from a speedboat.
Realizing our ordeal was almost over we started off for separate places. But there was one more thing our group was meant to experience together. And when it happened, there were no words. We all stood in silent awe. Because in Venice, there is one moment, just after dawn, when the rising sun shines down and turns the city to gold. It lasted only a moment, but what a perfect moment it was.
I still think about that cold night in front of the Venice train station. When things get rough, I try to remember that a blessing can be disguised as an unplanned adventure, a town with no beds, or even a grumpy teenager. I question a bit less now. I accept a lot more.
As for my grumpy teen, she is all grown up now and she has traveled the world twice over. But even today if I ask her to name her favorite city, without missing a beat she exclaims “Venice, of course.”
Well, of course.