I’m tired this morning. It feels like the end of a very long journey. I sleep in, listening to the sounds of Parisian life outside my hotel.
While it will be the end of this journey around the world with the last leg from Paris back to Frankfurt tomorrow, perhaps it’s the start of something else. I want to believe that my days of living and working with people who do not share my values are over (or at least I will be conscious of the differences and either accept or ignore them). My father spent every spare moment he could on his hobbies but continued in a job that he didn’t like. He crashed as cancer took him before he got a single day of the retirement he’d dreamt about. In a similar way, it’s ironic that I continued in my last job too long. I even carried on my daily grind way after I had watched my wife get out and change her career. She was happy, whilst I carried on being miserable. I chose not to see the signs for way too long.
By mid-afternoon, I make my way to Gare de Paris-East to meet my wife. It’s wonderful to see her and share the final leg of my circumnavigation of the world with her. We wander slowly around the streets of Montmartre and visit Sacré Cœur, updating each other on events. We walk through Montmartre Cemetery, which is built below street level in the hollow of an old quarry and which contains striking sculptures as well as having the graves of Heinrich Heine, Edgar Decas, Vaslav Nijinsky and Adolphe Sax, who is the man that invented the saxophone.
We spend the evening watching the Bohemian artists in Montmartre and then we have a drink or two in the small piano bar, Le Tire-Bouchon, with the smell of fresh crêpes and the hundreds of postcards pinned to the walls as decoration.
Today is it – the final portion of my eighty day odyssey around the world by train and ship. It’s a simple non-descript Deutsche Bahn train for the four hour journey home. It deposits us fifteen minutes late at Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof. It’s actual Day 81 of my journey, but, of course, I’ve only been away from Frankfurt for eighty days just in the same way that Phileas Fogg was away from London on his “around the world” grand tour. My wife takes a photograph of me to record my arrival. It feels strange to be back.
We wander to the station café for a homecoming Bratwurst to complete the symmetry from my departure as I waited for the first train of my journey all those days ago. My wife is tired from the journey, whereas I’m now accomplished in the skill of sitting on trains. I convince her to join me for a celebratory beer in the station bar. I feel numb. I watch daily life play out. The station looks exactly the same as it did when I left. The same shops and cafés exist and, soon, the same commuters will take their trains home from their same jobs. I look at the chair opposite where I sat eighty days ago, as I began my journals waiting apprehensively for my ambitious journey to begin.
My wife asks me what I have learned from my journey. I’m lost for words. The numbness soon leaves me and I feel very emotional. The incredible St. Basil’s in Red Square, frozen Lake Baikal, mystical Miyajima in Japan, the wonderful time on the container ship across the Pacific, the wine tasting on the Empire Builder between Seattle and Chicago, the live music in New Orleans and Key West and watching Liverpool FC in Finn McCool’s in New Orleans, in Hooters in Hollywood, in the Marina Bar in the Azores and in Flaherty’s in Barcelona all flash through my mind. As I begin to formulate my thoughts to respond, she suddenly jumps up. She has left her laptop on the train.
I remain with the bags and drinks whilst she runs back to the platform. For some reason, I feel very calm. I have an escape from trying to articulate any logic or reason that may be there from my revolution of the world. I drink my beer slowly and watch life go by. The author Michael Crichton purports that change happens instantaneously, yet it only takes the time it does for us to actually process it.
My wife returns. The train has gone and she has a form from Lost & Found to fill in. We look at each other and laugh. I have travelled around the world without losing anything, whereas she has been to Paris and back and lost her laptop. We finish our drinks and go to Lost & Found to give in the form. As we stand at the counter, a Deutsche Bahn official wanders in with a laptop asking if anyone has reported one lost. We laugh even louder than before. She scrunches the Lost & Found form tightly in her hand and hurls it straight into the bin.
A few days later, the sun is shining. I’m cycling alone on my old training route, a twenty-five kilometre circuit around the countryside where we live on the outskirts of Frankfurt. I cycle past Procter & Gamble and watch the smokers escaping work for a furious puff of nicotine and then, a little later, the workers from the other offices nearby taking their lunchtime strolls. Most have their stomachs straining against their shirts from a sedentary life behind computer terminals. None of them look happy and they remind me of the miserable commuters I witnessed in Tokyo and Chicago.
For every happy safety officer on board a container ship, there is a Japanese father working deep into the night stuck in the office. For every New Orleans drummer or Key West guitar player, there is a rude cruise ship passenger. I guess there must be balance to life.
My journey is over and my sabbatical is over, but is my revolution over? I am reading Tim Ferris’ “The 4-Hour Work Week” and the challenge for me now is whether this is a one-time event or whether I can redesign my life around my dreams. One thing I do know is I will always appreciate the sunrise and the sunset wherever I am.