The English woman on the train from Ljubljana to Salzburg

I’ve been reviewing a lot of my old travel blog posts recently and sharing the more interesting ones on Facebook and Twitter. While doing this, I noticed a glaring omission on my part. There was a story I never told because, at the time, I was so embarrassed by my naivete with respect to the opposite sex. It happened five years ago this week, in August 2006.

In some ways, my naivete should have come as no surprise to me or anyone else. About 18 months earlier, I had gone through a divorce from a woman who had been carrying on an affair, possibly more than one, right under my nose. The whole time, I let myself believe it wasn’t happening. Clearly, then, reading women was never my strong suit. Since that time, I’d had a couple fun, brief flings with women who came into my life and left just as quickly, but overall my experience with women, even as a 34-year-old, was rather limited.

So, anyway, here’s what happened that summer in Europe.

I had just spent a couple nights in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and I had caught a train to Salzburg, Austria. Sitting across from me was an attractive woman, perhaps about my age, give or take a few years. The journey began with us both quietly reading, but by the time we arrived at the Austrian border, we were deep in conversation. About what, I no longer remember, except that she teased me for my political correctness when I used the expression “Native American” once. When we crossed the border, I could see she was carrying a British diplomatic passport. To this day, that’s all I really know about her identity. If I ever got her first name, I’ve long since forgotten it.

The journey continued on, another couple hours or so, and we continued to pass the time intensely chatting with one another, right up until our arrival in Salzburg. As we disembarked, she asked me if I’d like to join her for a coffee. I’d love to, I told her, but my train to Linz was leaving from another platform in just a few minutes. So we wished each other well.

And just like that, the moment was over.

Perhaps an hour later, I was about halfway to Linz, when I thought for a moment about all the commuters around me. I couldn’t help but laugh at myself. An interesting woman, whose company I was thoroughly enjoying, asked me to join her for coffee. I declined. In order to catch a train. A regional express train. One that runs every hour. More foolish still, the people I was meeting in Linz weren’t even going to be there when I arrived. They were arriving the next afternoon.

In short, I could have spent an afternoon in a beautiful city like Salzburg, sipping coffee — and perhaps even turning it into a date for dinner — with an interesting woman I’d just met. She was making an effort to spend more time with me, if only I hadn’t been too naive to notice. Instead, thanks to my single-minded focus on a train schedule I’d printed out a day earlier and a country away, rather than on the woman right in front of me, I spent an afternoon in an uninteresting city like Linz, swilling beer and eating schnitzel by myself.

A few weeks later, I was working through a few rounds of drinks with a college buddy near Oxford, England. I told him this story, and we both had a good laugh. Since then, I’ve told this story only occasionally to a few of my closest guy friends, usually when we’re drinking too much and making fun of ourselves.

At the time, I was embarrassed by my lack of lady skills. Now, five years later and happily married, I can just look back and smile.