Conversations with Strangers: Bob from Kansas 

*For privacy reasons some of the details in this post have been adjusted- which I’m happy to do- but I must start with a disclaimer that my new acquaintance chose the name Bob himself. I would never do that to someone (apologies to all the Bobs out there.)

If it were up to me, I would have gone with G.I. Joe. My Barbies always preferred him over my Ken doll anyways.

About Him: Bob is a captain in the army currently stationed in the Middle East and was on his way home for leave. He loves Emma Watson, bacon and the adrenaline of knowing that every day he can get killed in the war.

If that’s not the wildest combination of passions you’ve ever seen, then I don’t know what is.

How We Met: I was having lunch alone in London’s Heathrow airport during my layover and noticed the handsome stranger next to me ordering a cider after having just finished a rather tall beer. “Whoa there, switching it up already,” I joked. Bob flashed a charming smile and explained why he hasn’t had a drink in nine months (active duty will do that to you.)

We started talking, and I was absolutely mesmerized. His world was just so different than mine. I’ve never met anyone who served in our war, let alone someone who lives ever day knowing they could get killed or have to kill someone. (I work a 9-5 and I sit at a desk- the only danger I face is carpal tunnel.)

Most Dangerous Experience: Bob’s most dangerous experience was during an off base mission in a bad part of a city that’s already in a dangerous country to begin with. He was traveling in a convoy, when the entire convoy got stuck in traffic. This is dangerous, as Bob explained to me, because you run the risk of someone sticking C-4 to the side of one of the cars. It’s amazing how something the size of a fist can take out an entire car and kill a few people. Luckily, the traffic cleared and the convoy left the city safely.

Best Advice: Everything is about balance. Your job can’t be everything about you, just like your family can’t be everything about you. Same way you can be sober for nine months and start drinking at the airport- balance.

We left the restaurant and Bob walked me to my gate like a true gentlemen. My flight was boarding, but I was having too good of a conversation to care, so we headed to the concourse bar for a tequila shot, followed by Kinder Eggs from the airport shop. Ironically, he chose a Barbie themed Kinder Egg for me.

I was the last person on my flight, but it was well worth it. It’s people like Bob who remind me why you should always strike up a conversation with the person next to you. You never know just how interesting they might be and what new world you might discover!

*Not pictured for privacy, but here’s another nice view of Barcelona for you.


Conversations with Strangers: Deborah from Colorado

About Her: Deborah is a retired schoolteacher from Colorado who is traveling solo around Spain and Portugal. She is currently spending a month in Barcelona.

How We Met: Katie and I were having brunch at Mama’s Cafe in Gracia, when I noticed a lovely blonde woman eating alone at the table next to us. Women who eat alone at restaurants are my favorite type of people because they ooze confidence, and I was immediately intrigued when she introduced herself.

Fondest Memory: Deborah shared that whenever she’s daydreaming, her mind immediately goes to the three life changing months she spent living in Rome. It was the first time she lived outside of the States and she called it freeing and empowering. She laughed at her own cliche when she said that, but honestly just because it’s a cliche does it make it any less wonderful. Traveling solo is certainly one of the most empowering things a woman can do for herself.

Best Advice: Deborah’s grandmother encouraged her to discover and travel the world because she had done the same back in the fifties, which was a rather unusual thing for a woman to do during that time. It’s clear that Deborah is living out her grandmother’s advice! 

(I usually add a photo of the person I spoke with, but I completely forget to take one. She was beautiful and so is this city view, so it will have to do!)

Conversations with Strangers: Brian from Los Angeles 

About Him: Brian is an actor from Los Angeles who is traveling Europe for a few months. He recently landed a role in a new HBO show. 

How We Met: Katie and I were at the Bunkers for a panoramic view of the city. The best seats at the Bunkers are on top of a little roof that’s gated off, and at all of 5’3 and wearing a denim skirt, there was no way I was going to hop over a fence. That’s when we met Brian and his two German friends, who quickly solved our problem by lifting me and Katie over the fence. The group of them then joined us for sunset. What intrigued me about Brian was his openness. While most people usually ask a new acquaintance questions like what they do for a living or how they’re liking Barcelona, I bluntly asked him, “What are you looking for,” because life is too short for small talk. He surprised me by sharing that he was coping with the loss of both of his parents and was just looking for solace.

Happiest Moment: Although Brian thinks he hasn’t had his happiest moment in life just yet, to this point it would be when he graduated college and both of his parents were there to see it.

Best Advice: Live life in the moment and don’t worry about tomorrow. You don’t know if that will show up (Amen to that.)

Conversations with Strangers: Anna from Holland 

About Her: Anna is 60 years old and a total badass. She walked 2,432 kilometers to get to Santiago de Compostela. That’s 1,511.1 miles. She started in Holland and it only took about four months. Oh, and she didn’t get any blisters. 

I asked why she did the Camino, and her answer was refreshingly simple. She said that spent her whole life being a working mother, and for once she wanted to just be Anna. Not a wife. Not a mom. Not anyone else. Just Anna. 

How We Met: Anna was having breakfast in a plaza in Santiago and had two empty seats at her table. I think of empty seats as an invitation, so I sat down and joined her. Also she gave me some pretty sound advice. She said, “When I was 21, I was married. Don’t do it. Then you won’t have to walk for four months when you’re 60.”

Coolest Experience: Anna’s coolest experience during Camino was simple. One of the albergues at which she stayed at was owned by a woman who had a daughter with Down’s Syndrome. Anna was amazed at how patient, loving and kind this woman was, since she was able to run a business and simultaneously give her full attention to her daughter. 

Life Dream: Anna’s big dream is to return to her husband and family, and live life a little differently after finding herself on her long walk. She said it best, “If I like something, I’ll do it.”

She looks great, doesn’t she?

Conversations with Strangers: Pabloski from Wrocław

About him:  Paul, who goes by Pabloski because he is half Mexican and half Polish (Pablo-ski get it?), manages Funky Cycle, a rickshaw business in Barcelona. He has been living in Spain for about 16 years now, and his hidden talent is guessing what country people are from.

How we met: My friend, Kristi, is visiting from Istanbul and after a whole day of walking we decided to treat ourselves to a rickshaw ride. I came up to a group of rickshaw bikers and began fiercely negotiating when Pabloski approached me and began arguing with me about prices. Then, through a hot mess of English, Spanish and Polish we somehow ended up on his bike bonding and having a great time.

Coolest experience: The coolest thing Paul has ever done was move to Barcelona. He loves the people, the atmosphere, the climate and his lifestyle in general. But, can you blame him?

Life dream: Pabloski’s big dream is bike around the world. Aside from biking people around all day on rickshaws, he bikes competitively, so I think he could totally do it.

Just riding around with Pabloski

Just riding around with Pabloski

 

Conversations with Strangers: Daniel from Araçatuba, Brazil

About him: Daniel is originally from Brazil, but has lived in the Netherlands for the last eight years. He has a background in engineering, used to participate in rally race-car events and knows a surprising amount about astrology. When we were discussing what I wanted to do with my life, he gave me a great piece of advice on waiting for the right time and the proverbial, “waiting for the stars to align.”

He said, “There was a solar eclipse last Wednesday. Did anything change?”

“No,” I responded.

“See?” said Daniel, “The stars aligned and nothing happened.”

How we met: I sat down at a cafe in Verona to people watch when Daniel, also alone and sitting next to me, struck up a conversation. We spent the the next five hours talking over coffee and dinner. He told me what it’s like to be in love, we talked about loss, I shared my dreams and aspirations. At the end of the night, I think Daniel and I felt like we knew each other better than most people who’ve known each other for years.

Coolest experience: Over dinner, I learned many cool things about Daniel. He owns sugar cane plantations in Brazil, he just ran the marathon in Rome and he flies single engine planes. But, hands down, the coolest thing I learned about him was that he use to castrate cattle. Can’t say I’ve met anyone else who’s done that.

Life dream: Daniel’s dream is to chase curiosity, which is the most thought provoking response I have gotten. He explained that he’s constantly trying to be curious, always asking himself, “Why does this motivate me?”or, “Why does this make me happy, angry, or sad?” Often, we don’t take the time to pause and understand the reasons we feel, think, or do certain things. Daniel made me realize that it’s time to start asking more questions.

Daniel

Daniel wouldn’t take a selfie, so I had to pull some ninja moves and dip out of our photo together.

Conversations with Strangers: The Strangest Stranger

About him: Mystery man was very unassuming: a standard tall american white male; quiet and North Face clad. Once we started talking, I quickly realized that I had stumbled upon a truly fascinating man. Mystery man was originally from the States, but had been residing in Dubai for the last ten years. He had lived in Afghanistan working with military contracts, smuggled medicines into Northern Thailand and Mexico under government assignment and picked up Farsi somewhere along the way. Although he agreed to answer my questions, he didn’t want to share his identity and wouldn’t give a first name. I respect that, because if I were a CIA agent, I wouldn’t share that either.

How we met: This past weekend in Switzerland, my friend Katie and I took a train from the mountain town of Martigny to Geneva and sat across from mystery man. After some time, he timidly struck up a conversation with us. You could tell that he has lived quite an adventurous life. Nevertheless, he had an air of sadness about him, and you could sense how incredibly lonely he must be.

Coolest experience: One of his most memorable experiences was riding on the back of afghan supply trucks in the middle of the night while he was working with the military in Afghanistan. He described how there were no lights, no airplanes overhead and no noise. “The stars looked like chalk on a blackboard above, and it was so cold that you could see your breath like a ghost in front of you.” We can all agree that when mystery man is not busy doing secret undercover stuff for the government, he is a poet.

Life dream: I didn’t have enough time to ask. We reached mystery man’s stop and he quickly grabbed his backpack, said goodbye and left me sitting there, dumbfounded. He was one of those people who I desperately wanted to know more about, and I wish that train hadn’t stopped.