Rail Europe decides to send me on a week-long train trip through France and Switzerland. I toss my writing gear, my camera, a few changes of clothing and my passport in a backpack and get on a plane, ready to document my adventure and all the places and people I’ll meet along the way.
From the streets and sights of iconic Paris, through the famed farms and vineyards of Provence, in between tastings of Gruyere cheese and Swiss chocolate, by the shores of Lakes Geneva and Lucerne, and in all the stunning countryside between – I’ll strike up conversations with locals and visitors alike, both on and off the train.
Who will these people be? No doubt they’ll be backpackers and businesspeople, vintners and cafe staff, buskers and random old people.
But who knows if I might not discover, in and amongst them, an Olympic gold medallist or a fellow writer, a politician or a descendent of Napoleon, a distant relative or an actor (such as Romain Duris – that’s a hint for you, dear organisers) … Maybe I’ll even meet the love of my life!
Anything’s possible. Isn’t that one of the remarkable things about travelling?
Because this project will involve people, a lot of interaction and a string of incredibly photogenic locations, it very much lends itself to being videographed. So it’s a good thing I have some experience in front of the camera as well as behind it!
I’ll record our conversations – and Rail Europe will record me recording them. I’ll photograph my new friends – and Rail Europe will photograph me photographing them. It’ll be a kind of creative inception.
I’ll distil my encounters with each of these individuals and with each location I visit into a collection of vignettes to be published as what will be my first e-book, and also as a blog series.
They’ll be bite-sized biographies: half-page word portraits accompanied by a photograph. With only one conversation to get to know each person and a brief visit to familiarise myself with each destination, the challenge will be to capture the essence of the people, places, impressions and moments. The next step will be to render them into a mosaic that tells a bigger story.
With this project, I want to explore a more human and personal way of doing travel writing.
I want to produce travel writing which is about the people of the places, and the places as people – like the time I met Moscow and when I found my heart torn between Europe and South America.
I want to produce travel writing which traces the journey of the traveller and how she is transformed by the people and places she meets. My story will be the story of everyone and every place I engage with.
The train trip, stopovers and sightseeing will provide the structure for this project. But the heart of the piece, exactly how the story develops, will depend very much on the individuals I cross paths with. It will depend on how each place speaks to my own experiences and identity.
And threaded through each of these vignettes will be the spirit of the railway, of France and Switzerland, of humanity, and of travelling itself.
PS: Part of me doesn’t want you to enter – that way I’ll have a better shot at winning! But sharing is caring, so here’s the link to the competition on Rail Europe’s website so you can submit your own entry: http://www.raileurope.com.au/deals/talesonrail