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.
Adéu. It means goodbye here in Barcelona. And the goodbyes have begun.
I had my first round of goodbyes this past weekend, with friends that were also studying abroad and had finished their program midway through April.
I didn’t imagine it would be this difficult to say goodbye to people I had known for such a short period of time. But, I believe that everything in life happens for a reason, and that each person we meet has a purpose in our lives.
That’s why it’s hard to say goodbye to such beautifully kind souls, who were placed into your life for some reason that you’ll never know, to in some small way, somehow make you better. Maybe they made you more kind, made you smile just a little more, or taught you a new joke. Some of them you wish you had known longer and deeper, and you wonder why you never asked about their goals, or their mothers, or the places they’ve been and the places they’ve wanted to go. Some of them will let you crash on their couch if one day if you find yourself in their hometown, and others will forever remain in your iPhone’s contacts under some silly nickname.
This entire month will be full of goodbyes. The kind that leave you with a dreadful ache in your chest, like a weight has been physically placed there. But I suppose that’s a good feeling, because it reminds you how lucky you are to be alive and how lucky you are to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.
I think of each goodbye as a”see you later,” and have faith that God will allow our paths to cross again, whether it’s months from now, or years.
And even if they don’t, well shit. At least it was fun.
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.
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.
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.
You’re probably wondering what I do on a daily basis. Or not. You probably weren’t wondering at all. Which is all very valid, considering I do nothing 86% of the time.
I have officially mastered the art of doing nothing and everything all at once, and it’s the best thing to ever happen to me.
I have zero obligations here. I’ve been reading more, working on manual photography, and honing my writing skills. It’s like an extended “me workshop.” I spend my days lounging in cafes, people watching from my balcony, shopping the European fashions and exploring the beautiful city of Barcelona. In the evenings, I check out a new tapas place for dinner, or head to a bar for a beer.
I have learned how to be Spanish. Nothing really phases me; it is what it is and I’ll get there when I get there. I have learned that set times are just suggestions. For example, if class starts at 11 am, I don’t leave my apartment until after 11:05, and still get there before the professor usually does.
Today was a gorgeous and sunny day, so I wandered down Las Ramblas towards the ocean. I love walking down Las Ramblas, because it is the most disgustingly touristy street in Barcelona, and the people watching is prime. It’s like a melting pot, one which you desperately want to get out of because you’re annoyed by everyone, but simultaneously so fascinating that you can’t help but be in the middle of it.
I love watching tourists. They wander around, map in hand, trying to understand signs in Spanish while taking picture with their iPhones of literally everything they see. I watched a man teeter over the edge of the dock today to take multiple photos of the fish. It’s not like they were special or colorful, just regular fish that probably contained too much boat fuel to consume safely. I waited for the man to fall or drop his phone into the water, but to my dismay, he did not.
That’s pretty much what a typical day looks like, with a coffee and pastry stop somewhere in between, of course. I lead a very tranquil and relaxed life here, and I think it’s having a very healthy affect on me.
No, really, I feel like Buddha. Just as Zen, and slowly just as round.
Last night, I was locked in a tiny, dark bathroom with mayonnaise on my tutu, with my friend kneeling in front of me, helping me button my leotard from underneath, while an Icelandic Pharaoh and a costume-less American waited outside.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Carnaval.
Carnaval is the festive season immediately before Lent and typically involves intricate parades, skimpy costumes, and general debauchery. And in Spain, Sitges is the place to be to celebrate Carnaval.
So I donned a sheer leotard, a feather boa and a red mask, and went on my merry way to Sitges. I also wore wings, which I constructed mostly from tissue paper and staples. My outfit was definitely a hit judging by the amount of strangers taking pictures of me.
The highlight of the night was the parade that went through the whole town, filled with half naked men and women, lots of glitter and a plethora of cross dressers, who walked better in heels that most women can. The parade started at 8 pm, and was still going strong by the time we left Sitges five hours later.
That’s a really long time to be parading, and I really don’t know how the dancers do it. But then again, each float had it’s own bar on board and many of the Spaniards walking in the parade had a cup in one hand and a cigarette in the other, so I think they were doing just fine.
I embraced Carnaval to the fullest extent this weekend, debauchery and all, but now I desperately need to detox. I think I’m ready for Lent to begin.
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.