Carol tried to tap into my recently acquired travel expertise by asking about currency exchange. “When you use your credit card, do you pay in dollars or euros?” I thought it both an astute and practical question. Unfortunately, I had no clue which method was more sound monetarily. “I choose dollars, but I don't know why,” I replied with an incurious shrug. Carol hasn't realized it yet - or maybe she has - but she is the resident expert on practical matters for this trip.
The renowned solo travel writer Paul Theroux once arrived at the Albanian border not realizing he'd needed to apply for a visa first. He imagined having to explain to a traveling companion why he hadn't thought of that ahead if time. I don't know, was all he could think of replying to her.
One aspect of travel Carol has decided not to consult me on is packing. After patiently listening (the way a parent listens to a young child attempting to explain away the accident in his pants) to my idea of traveling with only an eVest for luggage, she's evidently concluded my emperor-has-no-clothes approach is more reality than metaphor, and she'd rather pack an extra change of attire or two. (What she plans to do if I don't is still an open question, in spite of my assurances that a trip or two to a laundromat during our trip is in the plans.)
Carol also muffled a guffaw, when a family friend asked if I had the whole trip planned out already. “Yes and no,” Carol replied. “Yes, he knows it's important to have a plan and, no, he hasn't come up with one.” (I presume Carol thinks heading south by train for a couple of weeks or so, before heading back north again, while looking for hotels to stay at and places to eat, in between seeing things along the way is not, per se, a “plan.”
I do, however, take this new role of being a traveling companion quite seriously, knowing that my previous standards of solo travel (a combination of watching grass grow, paint dry or just staring out a train window) no longer apply.
Back in 1971 I took a tour of the Paris sewer system (“intestine of Leviathan.”) It was my homage to Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. I think rising sea levels ended the actual pirogue excursion since then, but there is a formal museum that continues to honor the 2100-kilometer long engineering marvel. The museum apparently includes a 500-meter stretch of the actual system, and Carol has tentatively signed on. After lunch, not before. And as long as a laundry day is scheduled soon thereafter.
You could argue that starting there, everything from then on has to be looking up. “You plan on wearing that eVest everywhere you go?” Carol asked as if it were a Hopalong Cassidy cowboy outfit.
“Well, of course not," I answered in my most self assured voice. I paused, then added, “As long as there's a safe in the room.”
Jean Valjean made his escape from the sewers of Paris and won his freedom. Should some sewer worker find an eVest floating out an effluent pipe, it should remind him not everyone can be as favored as Jean Valjean.