Travel 101: Trusting Strangers

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I was standing at a train station in Vienna, Austria wondering if I’d made a mistake, that my father was right and I had been talking to a 40-year-old plumber the entire time.

Then I saw her.

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I recognized Stef at once. I could tell by the way she walked, by her style of dress, the way she was squinting and smiling in the sunlight. I wanted to run toward her, but I settled for an awkward shuffle.

It was like we had never been separated.  We had been friends for a long while.

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With Lav, my best friend from kindergarten

I first met my pen pals through my best friend LaV. She’d made an account on Interpals, an intercultural website for people who want to write letters and meet people from around the world. Stefanie was from Austria and liked the same things I did: learning about human rights, speaking Spanish, going on adventures in the mountains and by the sea. She was like me, but the cool version. The version I dreamed of being. We started writing each other letters and the correspondence spanned over six years. Soon  I began writing Marjorie: Lav’s other pen pal from France.

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With Stefanie at Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna

Meeting Marjorie was the same as Stef. I knew it was her from the moment I saw her riding up the escalator at the bus station. She was as beautiful as her profile pictures and had the cutest accent I’d ever heard. She reminded me of my best friend LaVonna so much my chest hurt. I felt Lav’s loss with every city and country I saw. We were supposed to tour Europe together, but she wasn’t able to go with me that summer.

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Marjorie in Vienna

I was in Eastern Europe for an internship, learning about the history and culture of the Roma people in Slovakia. I was able to visit Vienna for two weekends and finally meet Marjorie and Stefanie after six years.

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My time in Vienna taught me two things:

1.Friendship surpasses cultural distances and differences

  1. Wherever you go there will be absolute strangers who are willing to go the extra mile to help you. (Or kilometer since the rest of the sane world uses the metric system)

After meeting people you’ve wanted to see for so long, it becomes a surreal space, like a lucid dream. I already missed them even when we were together. I wanted more time. I wanted more travel. I wanted a day- to-day reality with these girls.

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The greatest thing they taught me was  trust. Stefanie’s friend Magda and her roommate Ole opened their flat up to us. They let us use a bedroom, kitchen and even wear some of Magda’s clothing since mine needed to be washed after three weeks on the road. Later, when Stef had to travel back to Innsbruck, Magda and Ole let me stay in their flat a few extra nights. They trusted a complete stranger who was the pen pal of a friend. I never got to meet Magda, but she welcomed me into her home.

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While together, Stef paid for my ticket to the Belvedere Museum, allowing me to see works by Jacques Louis David and Gustav Klimt, including his famous painting Lovers (or the Kiss). She and her brother Martin showed me around Vienna, and Martin who studied history pointed out famous historical sites.

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Marjorie and Rekha

I toured the city with Marjorie and her good friend Rekha, who was kind enough to cook an amazing Indian meal for us at her flat.

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I will never forget the kindness shown to me by Stefanie, Marjorie, Rekha, Magda, Ole, Martin and Magda’s brother who helped me catch my train back to Slovakia. These are people I had never met in person, but who were determined to help my stay in Vienna be a beautiful experience.

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In five days, Lav and I will leave for Europe, and she will finally be able to meet her pen pals that she’s waited so long to know. I can’t wait to see her expression when they meet. She connected us all, and we’ll finally get to spend time together.

I’m excited to meet Lav’s friend Simon and see my dear German friend  Lea. For me, travel is as much about the friendships as it is about the sight-seeing.  I look forward to being with people who have shown me that love doesn’t have borders and can laugh in every language.

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4 thoughts on “Travel 101: Trusting Strangers

  1. I loved this. I lived 30 years in Europe (mostly in Austria and Germany) and had similar experiences meeting various people. Some I helped along the way and some helped me. I hope the trip this summer will be more of this.

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