How we met: ‘My friends thought I was crazy when I flew 8,500 miles to see him’

Lifestyle

Jana Ďoubalova was on her way to a remote part of Iceland for a hiking trip with a friend when she bumped into Chris Curnow at Reykjavik airport in July 2017. “I was off to join a crew on a tall ship that was sailing to Greenland,” he says. “I was looking out for crew members when I spotted Jana.”

To kickstart conversation, Chris asked if she was part of the sailing trip. “I was happily single at the time, but as soon as we met I suddenly thought it might be worth reconsidering,” says Jana. They were on the same flight to Ísafjörður, from where Chris’s ship departed. It was delayed, so they had plenty of time to chat in the airport. “I was immediately taken by her intelligence. We were smiling and laughing together. I was spellbound.”

When they arrived, he invited Jana and her friend to join him and his crewmates at a pub. “Due to the seating arrangement, I didn’t get much chance to speak to her.” They swapped numbers, but, as he was from Australia and she lived in the Czech Republic, they assumed they would never see each other again. Jana left for her hike around the Hornstrandir peninsula. “I did send her a text message, but she was out of signal,” says Chris.

He then set sail, but the ship’s captain decided another night in the fjords was required before they travelled across the Greenland Strait. “We had been hiking when we spotted their ship,” says Jana. “We thought they’d be in Greenland by then, but then we realised it was them.” Seizing the moment, Chris ran to give her a quick kiss goodbye.

Later that day, Jana received the text message he had sent, so she replied: “I never thought it would happen, but I asked him if he wanted to come to Prague for a few days after his trip was over.” It was not until a month later that Chris received the message. “I didn’t even hesitate. I immediately rearranged my flights so I could come for a few days on my way back to Australia.” But when he finally got hold of Jana to tell her, she told him she was in France with her family. Due to a family tragedy, Chris was unable to stay until she returned. “He left gifts with his friend to pass on to me,” says Jana. “It was very romantic.”

They continued chatting and in October Jana took 10 days off to visit Perth. “All my friends and family were supportive, but they also thought I was crazy,” she says. They enjoyed exploring the city together and took a trip around south-western Australia. “I was so nervous, but it worked. I had no doubts from the first moment,” says Chris. At Christmas, Jana returned for two months. “I was working freelance as an interpreter. It meant we could spend longer together.” Chris was able to continue his work for an environmental NGO.

In March 2018, he went to Europe to visit Jana. Shortly afterwards, he enrolled in a Czech language course. “That summer, I made a huge sign in Czech asking if she would marry me. I unfolded it in the arrivals hall in Prague.” They continued their long-distance relationship while they planned the wedding. But in December that year, Chris had a near-fatal accident while on a hike in the Blue Mountains near Sydney. “He had to be rescued by helicopter; it was terrifying,” says Jana. The pair ended up spending the next few months at his family home in New South Wales while he recovered.

They married in November 2019 and Jana moved to Perth permanently. They are expecting their first baby in December. “Chris is an adventurer and loves to explore. I love his courage,” says Jana. “We have a really close friendship.” Chris says he appreciates his partner’s loving nature. “For the previous 10 years, I had never managed to find a soulmate. I always believed in the hope of never knowing what was around the corner. Jana is incredible.”