our family and friends, and smile. The next train chugs steeply up Mt Pilatus. I can feel the force of gravity duelling with the determined cogwheels ...

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Life ON THE RUN Sometimes, being removed from everything we know is the best way to rediscover ourselves. Nikki Wallman recalls the journey that helped her navigate an unexpected personal drama.

DISPATCH Tales from a travel journal

Clockwise from left: Zurich, Switzerland || The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, Denmark || Postcard-pretty houses of Nyhavn, Denmark


’m sitting, jetlagged and dazed, on a smooth, silent Swiss train as it

It’s May and Zurich smells of sunshine,

away, I know I can do this. I’ll focus, pound pavements, and uncover great stories. I’ll

shepherds me from the airport into

fresh laundry and honeysuckle. The air

cry when I need to (but only then) and work

Zurich’s main station.

is warm yet crisp, with snow-capped

through this uncertainty on my own.

My mind is still reeling from too

much time alone with my thoughts on


suspended above life, unsure of everything.

mountains framing the vistas of vast lakes and ancient church spires.

I immerse myself in the springtime streets of Zurich, visiting old Art Deco pubs

the plane. I’d gone over the phone call from

I check into my hotel, a review of

my doctor – received in Sydney, as my taxi

which is my first assignment. Shedding

waterfront bars, talking to strangers,

to the airport honked outside – a million

my weary Sydney clothes, I don bathers

photographing like a madwoman. I rest my

times: “pre-cancerous cells” and “surgery

and a bathrobe, and head for the hotel’s

blistered feet, drink white wine and nibble

as soon as you get home” and “try not to

rooftop pool. Swimming out into the

delicate pink radishes; breakfast on dark

worry”. I’d called my husband; cried; sat

brilliant sunshine, I emerge from the water

breads and decadent black cherry jams.

numb and scared in the departure lounge.

gasping – the shock of reality hitting me.

I move silently through a labyrinthine Roman

During the flight, I tried to concentrate on

I’m alone on the other side of the world.

bathing ritual, steaming and soaking my body

reviewing my itinerary – an amazing two-

On top of my dodgy, pre-cancerous cells,

as my mind floats elsewhere. I’m sad to leave.

week travel-writing job involving multiple

my husband and I will also have to put off

train journeys and destinations around

trying for the baby we’ve wanted for so long

cushy, impeccably clean and virtually empty.

Switzerland and Denmark – instead of the

until I’ve received the all-clear from the

This is my favourite mode of travel: no

24 hours in a virtual and physical limbo,

surgery. But as the water washes my jetlag

rushing to and from airports, just jump on,


haunted by revolutionaries, braving heaving

My first-class train carriage to Bern is


Nomad settle in and enjoy the show outside. It’s verdant; more shades of green than I’ve ever seen, making everything seem prettier, safer and less harsh than the landscapes of home. In Bern, tour guide Ursula tells how the Old Town’s enormous, creaking clock guided the medieval locals’ lives, measuring the rhythmic waxing and waning of the moon, the stars and the sun. These people had no need for minutes or seconds, she explains.

Clockwise from this image: The famous clocktower of Bern, Switzerland || Engelberg, Switzerland, blanketed in snow || Reuss River in Lucerne, Switzerland

It resonates with me; this idea of living in larger, slower moments, rather than the fragmented, frantic way we do now. Next, Ursula points to the intricate sculptures carved into the roof of Bern’s ancient church, depicting heaven on one side and hell on the other. “In hell, we have quite a lot of stories,” explains Ursula, “and in heaven, as I always say, we have no action!” Maybe there’s something to that too, I think. On another train the next day, I unwrap bite-sized chocolate delicacies picked up from Sprüngli, contentment rising with each creamy mouthful as I sip steaming coffee. Storybook Swiss houses – dark wood, peaked roofs, green shutters – flash by, and I stickybeak at the gardens lining the train tracks: lush coiled lettuces, burnt orange flowers, rich soils. Faded kitchen curtains hide other peoples’ lives: their boredom and their drama, their happiness and heartbreak. We pull into Engelberg, a small village dwarfed by the imposing Mount Titlis. It’s cold and moody-skied, and I’m enchanted by the dark fairytale feel of the place. At the top of the mountain, I swoosh down snowy slopes on a rubber tube before facing my fear of heights by crossing Europe’s highest suspension bridge. Wobbling whiplashed in the icy wind, it’s a small

Back on the train, blinding yellow fields and wind turbines whiz by as the late night sun starts to dip in the blazing northern skies.

victory that resonates long after I leave. Next day, in the tiny, flower-dotted

starts to dip in the blazing northern skies. Copenhagen welcomes me warmly

over dinner, I fall asleep feeling that good

asparagus with hollandaise sauce and

things can happen anywhere, even up at the

into its midnight hour. A cab whisks me to

salty shreds of ham as I slowly sip a beer,

top of a mountain in a snowstorm.

the Admiral Hotel, a beautifully renovated

surreptitiously watching a group of elderly

I’m looking forward to my final journey:

old granary made of warm, worn bricks

folk enjoying a boozy, laughter-filled

Lucerne to Copenhagen, via Basel and

and huge wooden ceiling beams, on the

lunch. One couple exchanges a brief but

Hamburg. Sliding effortlessly in and out

waterfront near the brightly coloured

affectionate peck: the echo of decades

of cities and countries, I’m lulled into a

postcard-pretty houses of Nyhavn. My

of love. Simple, true pleasures are all

contemplative state by the gentle movement

room is softly lit and supremely cosy. I

around me, and I picture my husband,

of the train, removed from real life and given

push open the windows and gaze out over

our family and friends, and smile.

time to sift through my thoughts – or escape

the twinkling night-time water below,

them by watching the world outside.

savouring this moment: another new city,

The next train chugs steeply up Mt Pilatus.


young Australian student and an American

town of Hergiswil, I savour plump white

full of opportunities to discover magic.

I can feel the force of gravity duelling with

After traversing Germany, the train

the determined cogwheels of the carriage,

pulls into a huge ferry and we disembark,

with me caught somewhere in the middle.

emerging at the top of the ship for the

myself than I could have imagined, but

We arrive at the top in a silent snowstorm,

crossing of the Baltic Sea to Denmark. I

most importantly, it’s left me feeling that

the majestic world of forests and lakes below

watch the broadening horizon, breathe in

everything is going to be OK. I can handle

us disappearing as we remain, sheltering

the fresh air and wonder what’s next. Back

feeling lost. In fact, I might just thrive on it.

from the storm overnight. After swapping

on the train, blinding yellow fields and

Visit raileurope.com.au to start planning

travel tales and stories from home with a

wind turbines whiz by as the late night sun

your own rail journey across Europe.


This journey has taught me more about

Life Enjoy

" Life is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be experienced! "

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