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.
I thought it would be dishonest to pretend like everything is sunshine and butterflies when you’re a woman traveling alone, so I decided that I had to share a moment that was unpleasant and in all honestly, a little scary.
I believe that people are good, I genuinely do. But, I’m also not naive and I know that there are people out there with bad intentions.
After my evening trip to Portofino, mentioned in my previous post, I had to take the train back to the town where I was staying. That’s how I found myself in a rather unsafe situation. I was a young female at an empty train station, traveling alone at night.
I pulled out my wallet to buy my train ticket at a vending machine, and a Moroccan man suddenly appeared and stood next to me, against the machine. In a mix of Italian and broken English he started asking if I was an American and tried to convince me that the machine didn’t take cash and I needed to use my card.
I looked him dead in the eye and told him to leave me alone. For the first time on my trip, I felt uncomfortable. I wasn’t afraid that he would physically hurt me in any way; he was scrawny and slightly inebriated. I was, however, very aware that he was going to try and rob me.
I proceeded to buy my ticket with cash, which of course worked just fine, and the man would not let up. He kept coming closer and closer to me.
Little did I know that there was another man at the station, a large older Italian man, who I believe was homeless. Upon witnessing my altercation with the Moroccan, he got up from a bench on the far end of the station and came over. At this moment I wasn’t quite sure what was going to happen, but I presumed it wasn’t going to be good.
To my surprise, the man started telling the Moroccan off in Italian. He blocked him from me and proceeded to walk me to a bench to sit with him. He had a kind face, and for some reason I knew I was safe with him.
His name was Antonio and through a mix of basic English and made up Italian, we started getting to know each other. He asked where I was from, asked about my travels and told me that I really ought to be more careful. He noticed that I was still distressed by the situation, so he tried to lighten the mood by telling me he use to be a boxer and that he was going to protect me.
When my train finally arrived, he walked me to my platform. Upon seeing that the Moroccan, now joined by two shady teenage boys, had followed me onto the train, Antonio got on the train too and sat in front of me. For the next hour, we chatted some more and he made sure I got off safely at my stop. He gifted me a handful of mint bonbons for the road, and I thanked him dearly for coming to my rescue that night.
You see, most of the time people are good and they are kind, and they will help you.
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.
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.”