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Finding friendship on a Eurail journey

A traveller shares his incredible story of connection



Rachel Schnalzer

Senior Writer, Eurail

4 March 2024


Think back to your past travels. What do you remember most? 


Is it the awe-inspiring views you witnessed, or the mouth-watering cuisines you had the chance to try? 


Or, do you remember the people you met along the way, sometimes in vivid detail? 


Tom, a retired technology worker from Canada who has been living in the United States for the past few decades, is no stranger to friendship forged on the rails of Europe. 


“When I was 21, which would have been back in 1975, I backpacked across Europe,” he said. “I had a first class Eurail Pass and a Thomas Cook travel book to check the rail schedules. I stayed in pensions and hostels, and I had the American Express travellers checks as my money.”


“I was there for over six months, and it stuck with me the rest of my life,” he continued. “It's in my blood. I have to travel.”  


Since then, Tom has travelled back to Europe again and again over the years. On Tom’s latest Eurail trip, he and his wife, Carla, experienced a twist of fate that reminded him of the power of connections made while travelling.  



Tom and Carla were travelling from Austria into Italy, when they struck up conversation with Adrian and Lila, a retired couple from Sweden also seated in the first class car. (Note: we changed Adrian and Lila’s names to protect their privacy.) 


As the train rolled through the Brenner Pass, “we found common ground with our grandchildren,” Tom said. “We were laughing and talking about the fun stuff we do with our grandkids – and how we get to keep them for a limited amount of time and give them back [to their parents].”


After a cosy afternoon of conversation on the train, the couples bid each other farewell. Tom and Carla carried on to Venice, while Adrian and Lila were heading further south, to Pompeii. 


Over the next few weeks, Tom and Carla explored Venice and Florence before leisurely making their way down to the Amalfi Coast by train.  


“This is the joy of retiring,” Tom said. “Instead of getting only two weeks of vacation [per year], we're looking at three weeks to a month” for each trip. 


“Every time we want to go [to Europe], we have to fly all the way from Seattle, so we have to make it worthwhile,” he continued.  “Usually, I make sure I've got two or three extra travel days [on my Eurail Pass] so that we can remain spontaneous.”


“We've also learned to stay longer in the places that we go to,” he explained. Tom and Carla take time to live like residents of each destination, visiting local markets and exploring quieter neighbourhoods, rather than rushing through lists of must-see sights. 


On their latest Eurail adventure, Tom and Carla ended their travels in Rome, where they planned to spend four days before flying back to the United States. 

After checking into their accommodation close to the Campo de' Fiori, they visited a nearby Carrefour to pick up some groceries. 


As Tom walked through the aisles, all of a sudden, he heard a man say, “Don't forget the wine!’ 


He turned around and there, to his surprise, were Adrian and Lila. 


“I’m, like, ‘Oh, my god,’” Tom said, laughing at the memory. “He just gave me a big bear hug.” 


After exploring Pompeii, Lila and Adrian had ventured north to Rome. Their accommodation was close to the Roma Termini train station – far from Tom and Carla’s holiday apartment – making the couples’ reunion even more improbable.  


But, by pure chance, Lila and Adrian explained, they had stopped in the Carrefour after sightseeing near the Campo de' Fiori. 


“We were all just amazed that we accidentally came across each other again,” Tom said. 

The couples decided to have dinner together at Hostaria Costanza, a restaurant located in the ruins of the ancient Teatro di Pompeo in the Piazza del Paradiso. 


Over the course of their three-hour dinner, the couples’ conversation meandered, covering topics such as family, their past travels and Tom and Adrian’s mutual love of hockey. 


“We talked about Pompeii, we talked about the food,” Tom explained. “When we started to choose from the menu, [Adrian] turned to me and said, ‘I like to have dessert first. Why not?’”


After sharing a laugh about Adrian’s dessert-first approach, the couples’ conversation drifted back to their grandchildren, as it had during their first meeting on the train ride through the Brenner Pass. 


Once dinner was over, the couples exchanged email addresses and wished each other well. 


When asked whether he thinks he and Carla will ever see Adrian and Lila again, Tom responded thoughtfully with a memory from his first time travelling in Europe, 50 years before. 


“Ironically, I was in Rome at that time too, and I was staying in this little pension,” Tom described. “Long story short, this older guy I met there told me all these little secrets about Rome.”


After taking his recommendations and exploring some of Rome’s hidden gems, Tom returned to the pension and saw the man again. 


“I said, ‘Thank you so much. Can I get your name and address from you?,’” Tom said, explaining that he’d love to exchange letters once they returned to their home countries. “And he just looked at me quietly and said, ‘No, we won't.’” 


“He said, ‘You know, we'll just enjoy this time right now, but we probably won't write to each other, so let's not worry about it.’”


From Tom’s perspective, this experience taught him an important lesson about the ephemeral nature of travel. Though travel sometimes helps us forge life-long friendships, it also presents us with countless smaller moments of connection that nevertheless leave unshakeable memories. 


His long-ago conversation with the fellow traveller in Rome “came right back to me” after parting ways from Adrian and Lila, Tom said.


“My trip when I was 21 taught me so much more than even school did,” he said. “It really sticks with me to this day that the best parts of my trips are meeting other people,” even if the interactions are temporary. 


Tom encourages fellow Eurailers to be friendly and open to interactions with other train travellers. 


“It's one thing to see the sights and to take pictures of everything, but when the day is done, what you remember are the interactions with people,” he said. “Don't be afraid to reach out.”


If you have a snack with you, he recommends offering to share it as a way to break the ice with fellow travellers. 


“A lot of times they'll say, ‘no, thank you,’ but that's done it – you've broken the ice.” 


This year, Tom and Carla will be travelling by train in Portugal, Spain and France. “We always use Eurail passes, always first class,” he explained.  “I'm six-foot-three, so I like having more legroom space and more comfort.” 


Tom credits train travel with introducing him to Lila and Adrian in the first place. 


“You can imagine travelling in a car. You're not going to have that opportunity to meet with people along the route until your destination,” he said. “It wouldn't have happened without the train.” 


Tom and Carla are sure to meet many more people, from across the globe, on their future train travels. And, if destiny should have it, perhaps they’ll run into Adrian and Lila for a third time, somewhere on the rails of Europe. 


“They were big travellers,” Tom said. “You never know.”


Feeling inspired by Tom's story? With Interrail and Eurail, you can:

Tour Europe by train with 1 Pass
Experience the highlights and hidden gems 
Travel flexibly on trains that don't need reservations
Stay conscious and travel sustainably