Your exams are over. They’re finally done and the long hot Summer of 1974 is upon you. You’ve never felt more optimistic. All those weekends spent mowing creepy Mr White’s lawn means you’ve got £250 in your backburner and uncertain mental scars for life.
It’s time to become a man. School’s finished, you want to see the world. Goodbye ma, goodbye pa, you’re off. Europe, here you come!
But wait. Your bitch mum is making you take your cousin Nathan. This is bad news, because Nathan is a softie. A boring, feeble softie that always insists on playing board games. He’s not fun at all.
Oh well, no bother, you’ll still find a way to have fun. You decide that you’ll split up and make it competitive. You’ll each start in a random place in Europe and take nine different destinations from across the continent. Winner is whoever visits all nine places and ends up back at the beginning.
You make your way to Amsterdam to kick things off. Nathan spends the whole journey making you play educational board games while you fail to chat up the ticket inspector. Eventually, you pack him away to Berlin, which is where he will start.
Game on. You spend the first few days in Amsterdam, sampling the local produce and browsing the red light district. One hazy evening it dawns on you that you’re going to run out of money at this rate so you rummage in your bag for the nine cities you’re supposed to be visiting.
Prague. Donetsk. Zurich. Barcelona. Strasbourg. Mallorca. Bolzano. Shit, this is going to be hard.
Hungover, you board the next train to Bolzano, figuring it’s kind of on the way to Donetsk. A bearded man sits opposite you after the second station, drinking a murky brown fluid from a scrunched two-litre bottle of unlabelled soda. He offers you some. You politely decline.
He offers again, more forcibly this time. You decide to play the confused foreigner card, holding your stomach and shaking your head. It’s not enough. The man switches seats so that he’s now sat right beside you.
You feel his thick, hairy arm reach behind your neck and cradle your shoulders. ‘Why you not want drink with me?’, he asks as he raises the bottle to your lips with his other arm. Holding back the tears and concentrating on keeping it together, you gingerly take a sip. It tastes salty, and overbearingly strong with alcohol. ‘More’, the man growls.
The first teardrop makes its way slowly down your cheek as you take a longer mouthful. It burns. The man pours it deeper down your throat, making you gag slightly as you swallow. You’re desperate now, but hear footsteps moving down the carriage. Please be help.
You break free of the hold and grab your bag, looking for your pass. As you do so, the train begins to brake. This is your chance. You flee the cabin and make a mad dash for the doors a carriage further down. Your heart is pounding as you look outside the window and the station takes infinity to draw closer. You can hear the wheels grinding to a halt, sweat starting to drip down your forehead. You slide down the window on the door to cool off.
Behind you the guard is walking towards you, angrily shouting about tickets. The hairy man looks on from behind, smiling. Why won’t the train just stop? Both men are getting closer. They’re just meters away. You fling the door open and jump onto the concrete outside, badly injuring your arm and clothes spilling out your bag. The men look on with rage, silent as they visibly realise you’ve escaped their grasp.
Gathering your belongings, you sprint away from the direction of the platform, tripping on debris and struggling through the broken terrain. It begins to lightly rain, washing away the blood oozing from the gash in your arm. After what seems like hours you stumble into a small, alien village. It’s dusk now, and the light is beginning to fade. What country were you even in anyway?
A woman dressed in a full-body cloaked gown sits on a dry, decrepit fountain in the middle of the square before you. She’s rocking backwards and forwards, mumbling into the breeze and cradling what seems to be a baby. You’ve got no choice but to approach her, hoping for clues on where in the world you might be and maybe, just maybe, for a glass of water for your scorched throat, swollen from the acrid, bitter drink you can still taste on your tongue.
You edge closer to the fountain. ‘Hello?’, you utter quietly, vainly into the rain that has just started to thunderously pour from the sky above. You take a step nearer and try again. ‘Excuse me?’. The woman looks up. Her wet, wrinkled face is old, worn by decades of despair. A century of suffering is written in her expression. Her eyes dull, static beads in her unmoving skull.
She looks back down at what she’s holding in her arms. Your eyes follow hers. They meet the sight of is almost surely a small baby, wrapped in layers of filthy, damp rags. You shuffle forwards once more, almost within touching distance of the child. You can see it now.
Three days later and you’re back at home in England. Dad’s making you a tea while you open the letter that’s just arrived in the mail, addressed to you.
It’s from Nathan.
“I win. I just made it back to Berlin. Oh, the times I’ve had. I’ve been all over Europe, absorbing culture from Paris to Stockholm. I’ve sampled the finest wines, the most exotic women and had the experience of a lifetime. It turns out that all I needed to win was apply the Traveling Salesman Problem, and make my way around as quickly as I could. I’ve had such fun, I really feel like I’ve matured. I’ve even grown up out of my childish board games habit!”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what Journey Through Europe is all about.
Great game. Ten out of ten. Would play again.