My wife and I were fortunate to take a wonderful trip to Europe to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We met in college and after we graduated we took a backpacking trip in Europe. We hadn’t been back since and the anniversary trip was a wonderful time, filled with many amazing experiences.

This is the story of one…

Most of our trip was on a cruise, and we took day trips from the cruise ports. The second stop was Monaco, the insanely wealthy city famous for, among other things, actress-turned-princess Grace Kelly. Monaco didn’t interest us and we had read that Nice (France) was a short train ride away.

The night before, I had gone to the cruise help desk for advice about Nice. Waiting for the help desk to open, I met an elderly gentleman. We got to know each other a bit and realized we both wanted advice on a day trip to Nice.

He and his wife had originally planned to take a train to Nice, but his wife had tripped on a deck chair earlier that day and hurt herself and he was worried about her ability to walk a great deal. In order to avoid the walk to the train station he wanted to take a taxi to Nice and, concerned about the cost, proposed sharing a taxi with us.

The help desk person arrived and gave us lots of info. She suspected a taxi would be too pricey, but told us where to find one.

The next morning, we met the couple (I’ll call them the Smiths) at the appointed time, and headed out. We walked very slowly with them. Before the cruise we had spent three days walking fast in Barcelona, so the change of pace was extreme.

We went to where we expected to find a taxi, but did not. We kept walking until we got to downtown Monaco where we continued to be unsuccessful in our attempt to find a taxi. We decided to take the train. Easier said than done.

We walked down an incredibly long tunnel only to find we needed exact change for train tickets because the credit card machines were inoperative. We walked back down the long tunnel and couldn’t find a place to get change. One thing led to another and we found a bus to take us to Nice.

Taking the bus turned out to provide a bonus experience—the views of the French Riviera were phenomenal. The other plus was during all the time walking, and then on the bus, we got to know the Smiths. Mr. Smith was a physicist with an amazing background. Mrs. Smith was an artist with a fascinating life story.

We agreed to escort the couple to a Matisse museum we had all wanted to see in Nice and then we would go our separate ways. We got to Nice and were given incorrect information about how to get a taxi to the Matisse museum. Ultimately, after quite a bit of additional walking at that super slow pace, we took a city bus. In the total time it had taken for us to get from the ship to the museum, Marcie and I figured that at our normal pace we would have been to the Matisse, another museum (the Chagall), and likely back to downtown Nice for lunch.

We also realized there was no way we were going to leave the Smiths at the Matisse. We had become friendly with them, and while we knew they were streetwise, their ability to make it back to Monaco without us seemed somewhat in question.

At first we found the Matisse museum disappointing. And then magic happened.

Mrs. Smith, the artist, started to explain the various paintings to us. She knew a great deal about Matisse and we were the beneficiaries of her wonderful, expert explanations.

After Matisse, we were all hungry and Mr. Smith suggested perhaps the Chagall would have a café we could eat in. We took a bus to the Chagall and had yet another experience we would not have otherwise had as we ate a simple meal of tasty, very reasonably-priced salads at the Chagall’s lovely outdoor café.

After the Chagall (which was awesome), we took another bus to downtown Nice, at which point the Smiths decided they were tired and wanted to head back to the ship. We escorted them to the train station and gave them some of the coins I had been collecting all day in case exact change was needed.

After all that, Marcie and I still managed to walk around Nice and spend time on the gorgeous rocky beach by the stunning aqua-blue Mediterranean and, on top of that, we made it back to Monaco with time to explore there for a bit.

There are many lessons to this story:

  1. When a day doesn’t go as planned, it doesn’t matter if it’s better or worse if you just accept that it is. Once Marcie and I accepted we would be spending the whole day with the Smiths, amazing things happened as we began to appreciate the moment; amazing things we might not have appreciated if we hadn’t let go of our preconceived notions of how our day would go.
  2. The best planning on a day trip, or in life, often requires detours. Enjoying the journey, instead of focusing on the destination, makes for a better life.
  3. Helping other people is one of the best secrets to a happier life. I already knew that, and this experience was yet another example.
  4. Optimists look at the glass as half full. Instead of thinking about the way things were going “wrong,” once we started adding up all the unexpected, wonderful experiences we were having, positive feelings came to dominate the day.

The evening of our adventure with the Smiths, we introduced them to the rest of our family (we were traveling with two of Marcie’s sisters) and on another night, at the suggestion of the Smiths, we all got together for cocktails before dinner. We exchanged contact information and expect to see our new friends at some point in the future. Pretty awesome.

Do you have a story about happiness from amazing things that happened when life didn’t go as you had hoped and expected? Join the conversation with your comments or your story…

Best regards,