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.”
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.
How we met: My friend Katie and I flew to Switzerland to see GRiZ, and went out to a venue where he had just played, in hopes of running into him. Once at the bar, he noticed the Chicago cap I was wearing and introduced himself, even though I was fully aware of who he was. Grant was amazingly easy to talk to; he was happy that two fans came all this way to see him play and we also bonded over our polish heritage. We ended up hanging out with Grant the entire night, and during his show in Martigny the next day. Yoga, chocolate bunnies and bananas were involved.
About him: Grant, also known by his stage name GRiZ, is an American DJ and electronic producer from Michigan. He has played at Electric Forest, TomorrowWorld, North Coast and Lollapalooza, just to name a few. I shamelessly took that off of Wikipedia, because he’s the first person I have met who has their own Wikipedia page and that’s pretty damn cool.
Coolest experience: The first thing that came to Grant’s mind was watching the sunrise at Burning Man. But, he said a close second was the first time he did a show as Grizmatik in 2012 and the roar of the crowd was louder than what his eyes could see. That’s so epic that I don’t even know what it means.
Life dream: Grant’s big dream is to play a duet with Stevie Wonder. I’ll be sure to be there when it happens.
How we met: I was strolling through the Grand Bazaar when Huseyin approached me and invited me into his handbag shop for rose tea. He was very helpful in giving me advice on how to haggle and find the best quality products in the bazaar, but I’m also sure he was trying to schmooze his way into my wallet.
About him: Huseyin owns a shop in the Grand Bazaar, full of impressive imitation Prada and Fendi bags. He taught himself English and even lived in Minnesota for four years. Why anyone would come to the States to live in Minnesota though is beyond me.
Coolest experience: Huseyin’s coolest experience was paragliding in Fethiye, a gorgeous beach town in Turkey.
Life dream: He dreams of visiting Spain, especially Barcelona and Madrid because he likes experiencing different cultures. I’m not convinced that Barcelona was a coincidence, but I’m flattered nevertheless.
I loved Istanbul for many reasons: the rich culture, amazing food, friendly cats and gorgeous mosques. However, what made me fall in love with the city was the Turkish people; I have never felt more welcome in a foreign place than I have this past weekend in Istanbul.
I wandered out of their mess of an airport around four in the morning, and hopped into a cab. The driver didn’t speak a word of English, but he smelled nice and we listened to Smack That by Akon and the Turkish version of I Will Survive. When we reached my friend’s apartment, without me having to ask, he gave me his phone so that I could call her and even waited at her staircase until I was collected, which I thought was very kind and a great first impression of Turks.
For the next few days, everywhere Kristi and I went we were greeted with smiles and an eagerness to help and to give insight into Turkish culture.
One night, we were smoking hookah at a water pipe cafe when we struck up a conversation with two Turkish men, Serkan and Ismail. Within minutes I was seated next to Serkan learning how to blow smoke rings and getting local food recommendations. They later joined us for dinner, and in the spirit of authenticity, ordered sheep intestines and fried mussels, which were surprisingly delicious. After dinner they insisted that no trip to Istanbul was complete without a stop at Karaköy Güllüoğlu, the most famous baklava house in town, and happily drove us there on their way home.
Usually I am rather cautious about the whole getting into cars with strangers in foreign cities thing. But, by that time they were no longer strangers, they were friends, and you could tell that they genuinely wanted us to enjoy and to understand their city.
On Monday, while exploring Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, I wandered into a lamp shop and met Ozzy, who immediately invited me in to have tea with him. The Turkish say that a cup of tea bring fifty years of friendship, and it is very common for shopkeepers to offer you apple tea. We chatted for a while about life and travel, then he took me out for hookah at an incredible 300 year old cafe, filled with only locals. Afterwards, Ozzy proceeded to accompany me on my shopping trip, haggling for the lowest possible prices in Turkish.
Ozzy taught me a Turkish saying that I will never forget, “Çok okuyan mı bilir, çok gezen mi?” which means:
“Who knows more, reader or traveler?”
When I travel, I talk to locals as much as I can because there are things that you simply cannot learn from a book or TripAdvisor. The people of Turkey showed me great kindness, and helped me discover many of Istanbul’s hidden gems, and for that I am forever grateful.
How we met: Juan and I met while boarding our flight to Istanbul Thursday night. We ended up sitting in the same row in window seats on opposite sides of the plane and insisted on obnoxiously yelling to each other in Spanish across the aisle for most of the flight. Needless to say, the other passengers were not particularly pleased about it.
About him: Juan is a fashion designer and wine connoisseur. He had a bruise on his nose because the other night he was laying in bed wearing a new hat and decided to take a selfie using his laptop, but dropped it on his face. We’ve all been there.
Coolest experience: The most incredible thing that has happened to Juan is when he got a puppy, a yorkie named Roque who helped him through some tough times and whom he loved dearly.
Life dream: Juan’s big dream is to play the piano. Unfortunately, he has the fingers of a Chucky doll. He showed me his hands and I can confirm they are ridiculously tiny and would make piano playing quite the task.
How we met: Jenica and I sat across from each other on a 5 am train to the airport in London and immediately started chatting. We talked about travel, how I would make the world’s worst spy and how many camels I would sell for in Africa. If you’re following the Conversations with Strangers posts, you know that this is not the first time a stranger has brought this up, and I’m not quite sure what to think of this reoccurring theme.
About her: First off, lets take a moment to acknowledge my first post featuring a woman. She’s also the second South African I have met. Jenica got sent to a small town near London for work, and was on the way to Dusseldorf for a client meeting. She’s also one of the sweetest humans I have encountered at 5 in the morning.
Coolest experience: She once shook the hand of Prince Edward. I asked her if he had soft hands and she said that they are, in fact, quite soft.
Life dream: This was the first time Jenica had left South Africa, and she is now inspired to travel more. She would especially love to visit Belgium to discover her roots.
How we met: Long story short, I moved into my apartment a little early and my new room was occupied by a wonderful girl from The Netherlands who had her friend visiting. Basically, Renean and I got to be roommates for a whole three days.
About him: Renean is South African, but resides in The Netherlands. He speaks fluent English, Dutch and Afrikaans. When we first met I was tempted to recreate the scene from Mean Girls where Karen asks Lindsey Lohan, “So if you’re from Africa, why are you white?”
Coolest experience: Going 185 mph on his motorcycle in Germany on the Autobahn.
Life dream: Renean would like to become an entrepreneur and has a lot of ideas for businesses that don’t yet exist. He would also like to become a sommelier, which is basically someone who gets paid to drink wine. I fully support that.
How we met: I met Kyle and his buddies, Alex and Ned, while waiting for the metro. They were speaking English, and being an English speaker myself, I decided we had enough in common to become friends. We spent the rest of the night bar hopping and I am most definitely still feeling the remnants of last night as I write this.
About him: Kyle is also studying abroad in Barcelona and has agreed to be my Spanish gay best friend. He had his Jack Spade messenger bag stolen the other day, which made us both very sad. Also, he has a very soft face.
Coolest experience: Jonah Hill was filming at a library at Kyle’s school, so Kyle snuck in and ambushed the Superbad actor outside the bathroom. Jonah put his arm around Kyle for a photo and Kyle said, “”Whoa, whoa, whoa. We’re moving too fast.” He then offered to smoke Jonah up, but unfortunately he had a flight to catch. Later Kyle was featured on the Wendy Williams show to talk about his celebrity encounter.
Life dream: Kyle aspires to touch Anderson Cooper one day. He also dreams of being able to lean into the wind like Michael Jackson in the Smooth Criminal video.
How we met: I really wish I could make up an exciting story (preferably involving a Vespa and a sunset), but I am a terrible liar and we met on Tinder. I refused to meet him at first because I am convinced that as wonderful and attractive Australians are, they are also heart-breakers and should be avoided at all costs. But, since he asked nicely I agreed to show him around Barcelona after class. We wandered the city talking about how Poland was pretty much shit out of luck during the 20th century, aborigines are the Australian equivalent of Native Americans and how it took him only seven years to graduate a four year University.
About him: Chris is hanging out in Barcelona for a few days, as part of his three month world tour. He has traveled through the United States and Europe, all while carrying a jenga set, a porcelain doll and two steins in his suitcase. He is a former swimmer and rower, with great hair and a heavy Australian accent, which I found very comforting. I meant the accent, but I suppose great hair is also comforting.
Coolest experience: “Every day is an adventure.” While this is a very valid statement, I think a man who has spent the last three months wandering the earth could have come up with something a little more profound.
Life dream: Chris aspires to have his own TV show back in Australia with his best friend. With his dynamic personality and good looks, I actually have no doubt that he will succeed. So one day, when Chris is a famous Australian TV personality and is invited to host Season 42 of Dancing with the Stars, you can say, “Hey, that’s the dude that Pauline met on Tinder that one time.”