I first met Mariella in New Zealand, in Wanaka to be precise, in January 2005. She was travelling for six months accompanied by her friend Barbara. These two young German women had impressed me so much. Their spirit and guts, their determination to enjoy themselves no matter what fate threw at them were a big lesson to me in how to do the travelling thing properly. They were great company, always fun, always interesting and just wonderful people. They may not have been unique in that but they became very special to me in an implausibly short time. After they moved on we staying in close touch as we all made our own journeys around New Zealand and then afterwards when we were all back in our European homelands.
Mariella was now at University in Konstanz and I saw this as an opportunity to meet up, as I was in Switzerland and not far away, for the first time since Wanaka twenty-one months before. Mariella was up for it, so here we were, standing in front of the station on a misty, cloudy, slightly chill October day. I was very grateful that Rebekka had been able to be with me. She had never met Mariella, but I felt they would like each other, after all, they are both special to me in different ways and there would be more than enough of New Zealand in common never to lack for something to talk about.
It wasn’t long before I saw a young woman trotting towards us, smiling. I wasn’t sure it was Mariella, she looked different, but familiar enough for the penny to drop. She ran up to me, threw her arms around me and gave me a huge hug. A special reunion had happened.
She looked great. The engaging smile that had been one of the things that had endeared her to me all those months before was there. She greeted and introduced herself to Rebekka and then asked what we would like to do. I had promised her lunch when I had emailed her and suggested this get-together, but she wanted to show us a little of Konstanz first. The three of us walked through the old streets of a city which had largely escaped the ravages of the second World War because it was so close to the Swiss border. The buildings carried dates going back to the fifteenth century and were in a style I had come to recognise from my recent times in this region, brightly coloured, often covered in frescos and sometimes half-timbered with steep roofs. We found ourselves standing in a square next to the cathedral, which was built of a local green tinged grey stone. It was an impressive building, large, imposing and very Gothic.
All the while the three of us were chatting and dredging up memories, some shared, some merely in common and others concerning our lives after our New Zealand days. I was honoured that my language was the vehicle for these conversations. Rebekka speaks Swiss German, German and very good English, Mariella German and equally good English and me, well, I am English! We decided it was lunchtime and Mariella had chosen a restaurant that served North African food as a possibly suitable place to eat. It was perfect. We ordered our food and drinks and the conversation never faltered, swinging constantly through anecdotes that we all could share. Sometimes we spoke about our various possible futures and lives now, but it was mainly tales of our journeys in New Zealand. While no two of us had shared a great deal of time together, though Rebekka and I had many more shared experiences, we had been to many of the same places and done similar things. We told tales of fellow travellers, both interesting and helpful and of those who were less than engaging; they had their place too. Happily, lunch was an unhurried, relaxing time. I just felt so happy and grateful to be where I was; with these two people I consider to be my friends, both remarkable, intelligent, engaging young women, and I felt honoured and privileged to know them both.
After our excellent lunch we wandered down to the lakeshore. It was a shame that it was such a murky day, we could not see the surrounding mountains, but the setting of the Bodensee was still special. Mariella bought us each an ice cream in one of her favourite shops and we ate them as we walked around the shore. The colour of the water reminded me of some of the crystal clear lakes in New Zealand, but it was Mariella who commented on it. After a while our ambles took us back into the medieval city streets again. We walked through a few shops. We slowly made our way back towards the station. It was incredible to think that it was approaching five o’clock and we had spent such a long time, first getting acquainted and re-acquainted and then enjoying each other’s company.
All too soon we had to say our goodbyes. Again there was a warm and generous hug and Mariella and we just looked at each other. I thanked her for such a special day and told her that, if she ever felt like visiting the UK she would be more than welcome. Rebekka and Mariella embraced, now as friends, and then we had to go.
I reflected on the day as we rode the train, first back into Switzerland and then on to Bronschhofen. It had been great to see Mariella again, to know that the sparky, funny, lovable young woman I had met on her travels around a land half a world away still had all those attributes that had endeared her to me in the first place. That she was still the warm, generous and lively person I had met almost two years before. I was delighted that Rebekka, who is so special to me, had got on well with her and that we had all enjoyed our day in Konstanz.
Sometimes it is not easy to find common ground with people you have connected to when the circumstances of that connection are no longer there. Sometimes. This was not one of those times, this was great.
So now, even more than before, I need to meet up with the other half of that travelling double-act. Barbara is studying in Amsterdam and that’s only half as far away from my home, so it shouldn’t be that difficult.