Serendipity In Nimes, France
Generally, when we travel our brain has conjured up an ideal scenario of how this trip plays out. There may be sand and palm trees or the perfect fire in warm ski lodge. You get surprised with a gift of "no particular reason" jewelry by a husband who hasn't been romantic since the last time a peanut farmer was in the White House. Inevitably, this idealized vision unravels during packing and never quite recovers.
What makes a vacation successful and fun bears no connection to this pre-trip dream. No matter how careful you plan or how strictly you attempt to control circumstances, it is going to derail. The crossroads of a disaster vs enjoyable trip takes place at the derailment. Don't be religiously committed to the dream. Know when to abandon an itinerary in favor of the enjoyment being offered to you.
When, for example, you are planning to spend a pleasant night sleeping on a bench in a warm train station (ah, sweet luxury) only to find yourself thrown out at midnight with no place to go on a cold night in Nimes, France, you do have options. Be miserable or take advantage of a sight-seeing tour normally reserved for a town's seedy underbelly.
When security first dragged me kicking and screaming (well, whimpering and pleading) from the train station my thoughts were not pleasant ones. Most of my previous experiences spending the night wandering the streets of foreign cities failed to exhibit the level of pleasure I had hoped for.
Two failed attempts at getting a room and a few minutes of lying on a park bench later, I decided to go explore. I knew nothing of Nimes when I arrived except how to pronounce it and it turned out I was wrong about that. But as I soon discovered, if you ever elect to get locked out of a train station in France overnight, you probably can't find a better place to do so than Nimes.
Walking through Nimes at 3 am is akin to being in a horror movie without all the distracting horror. It has all of the atmosphere, with none of the monsters trying to kill you. This rather creepy exploration through a silent city I had not even intended to visit remains among my favorite memories of Europe.