Hi friends – I’d like to briefly depart from the outdoor adventure content to tell you about the weirdly coincidental things that happened on my Europe trip three summers back.
The world can feel really big sometimes – especially when you’re traveling on your own. But then there are moments that remind you how small it really is. I was going through my Europe photos are was reminded of three times – in a single month-long trip – that I felt this way. Three weird coincidences; three crazy chance encounters.
My first day in Europe
My solo adventure started in Copenhagen. I didn’t know much about the city and had never really planned on traveling there, but then I found a round trip flight between Toronto and Copenhagen for under $500 (rest in peace, WOW Air). I quickly booked the ticket before the airline could change its mind and tacked two days onto the front of my trip. I was going to be in the city for 48 hours before flying to Amsterdam to meet up with a friend.
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Upon my arrival, I was feeling a tad lonely. I didn’t have much experience solo traveling and tend to be quite introverted around groups of people I don’t know, which can make meeting people in hostel bars rather intimating. I arrived at the hostel and, without introducing myself to anyone, went to my dorm and quickly fell asleep.
The next morning was my first full day in the city. I started with a climb up Church of Our Savoir to take in the expansive views it offered and get oriented with the city. It was a cloudy and overcast Friday and, with the exception of one other person I passed on the stairs, I had the entire church to myself.
While at the top, I got talking to the person I had passed. He was an older man, perhaps in his 50’s, in Copenhagen for work. By his accent I could tell he wasn’t European and soon learned he too was from Canada. He told me he was from a small town in Ontario – no way I would have heard of it. I told him the small city where I was raised and now attending university and his eyes lit up. He had gone to the same university. He had even done the same program as me.
I’m sure I didn’t hide my surprise well. What are the odds that, on top a church tower in Copenhagen, I would find a graduate from, not only my university, but my program?
But nonetheless, my adventure continued and the weird coincidences were just getting started.
An unintended tinder date
The second week of my trip brought me to the lovely Swiss town of Lucerne for two nights. I was growing more confident in my people-meeting abilities, so I’d expected to make a friend or two at the hostel and get some recommendations on things to do. But instead, the people at my hostel all new each other and were incredibly unfriendly to me.
In an albeit impulsive move, I downloaded the Tinder app and started asking matches what they recommended I do while in Switzerland, and more specifically Lucerne. It actually proved quite helpful and I got a number of recommendations for food joints and was told by several people to definitely take a ferry ride on Lake Lucerne.
On my second and final morning I joined a free walking tour before catching a train out of Lucerne. It was at the start of this walking tour that I saw the most beautiful man in all of Europe; miraculously he too was taking the tour. He looked like he’d stepped out of a movie. As I was building up the nerve to say something to him, he walked straight over to me and said:
“Are you by any chance Mikaela?”
Oh my gosh. This is what dreams are made of…
…But also true crime shows.
“Uhm, sorry. Do I know you?” I responded.
He introduced himself as “Yan” and told me we’d been chatting on Tinder. I didn’t recall speaking with a “Yan” but then he pulled out his phone and showed me his profile.
Ahhhhh, he name was spelled “Jan” but pronounced “Yaaan” because I was in cultured-silent-J-Europe, not literal-sound-it-out-Canada.
But it was him. And he somehow recognized me. We spent the entire tour talking. He’d just moved to Lucerne from Germany and had joined the walking tour to learn more about his new city. At the end of the tour he took me to an outdoor patio and we sipped tea while talking about many sophisticated topics I’m sure (in his German-accented English an infomercial would have sounded sophisticated). I even thought about delaying my train out of Lucerne to spend more time with him.
But this was my first solo trip and I was trying to be free-spirited. Not even a chance encounter with a beautiful European could alter my independent course. We exchanged information and I got on my way.
Mutual friends on the mountainside
A week later I found myself in Zermatt, finally able to feast my eyes on the iconic Matterhorn. Shortly after arriving, I went on a day hike with someone I’d met at the hostel. The weather was poor to start and only got worse; it was so overcast there wasn’t a chance we were going to see the mountain. On the way back we encountered two other hikers who asked if the weather was clearing at the top. The four of us got talking. The two hikers mentioned they were from Canada. Our conversation went like this:
Me: “Oh seriously? I’m from Canada too. Where in Canada?”
Guy: “Mississauga” they responded (two hours from where I lived).
Me: “Oh nice, I’m from London.” (Ontario, not England)
Guy: “Really? We go to school in London.” (Again, Ontario, not England)
Me: “Me too… What program?”
The woman said she studied media. The man said business.
Me: “Like, the Business School? I go there. What year are you?”
“Class of 2017” he responded. “That’s my class too.” I said rather flabbergasted. There were 600 people in my year. How did I not even recognize this guy?
“What section were you in?” I asked. (Similar to elementary school, at my business school you had all your classes with the same 75 other students. These classes were called ‘sections’.) Turns out he was in Section 8 and I’d been in Section 7. That meant our classrooms were right next to each other. We had all the same professors and took the same courses.
We had over 50 mutual friends on Facebook and realized we’d been to many of the same parties and social events.
We had almost met so many times, and upon learning his name, I recalled my friends mentioning him to me. He camped a lot and was biking across Europe. Another oudoorsy person in business school – there weren’t exactly a lot of us.
And yet here, on a mountain in Switzerland, was where we finally met.
The person I’d been hiking with, the one from my hostel, thought this was all a joke. He couldn’t believe that we hadn’t known each other.
We all went on a big hike the next day and I finally got my view of the Matterhorn.
Chance encounters in a not-so-big world
“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the most pleasant sensations in the world.”
This has become one of my favourite solo travel quotes; after almost a month of solo traveling the anxiety of being alone was replaced with a sense of “and what could happen today”? Looking back on the trip, I honestly can’t believe these three progressively coincidental events all happened in such quick succession. For someone who had been so nervous to meet people in a foreign country at the start of my trip, this seriously improved my confidence in meeting new people. Next time I’m sitting in a hostel bar, why not strike up a conversation with the group next to me? Knowing my luck, I’ll discover one of them is a long lost cousin and another grew up on the same street as me.
If anything, it’s taught me the world is not nearly as big we tend to believe it to be, and chance encounters are always just around the corner.