I have so many more experiences that I'll never forget. But these are the ones that always jump to the forefront of my brain when I think about my various travels.
1. Sketching Paris
Paris was pure magic. A lot of my favorite memories come from there, but this is the one that always comes to mind first. I had been walking all day and was on my way the Musée d'Orsay. I'm not a big museum person and that is the one I'd decided I'd visit so I wouldn't leave Paris without having visited a single museum. But it was a beautiful day. Late December and it was the first truly beautiful day I'd had on my trip. Warm enough I even had to take off my coat. I remember crossing Pont Neuf and walking and noticing just how beautiful the city was. Then I crossed Pont des Arts and noticed all the benches.
I finally made it to the Museum and I just stood there. I looked at the line to enter, I thought about how much I would likely find the experience worthwhile. But then I thought about how nice a day it was. So I turned around and walked back to the footbridge to sit down and sketch Paris.
2. Quarterfinals of the 2010 South American Cup - Quito, Ecuador
I had just come back from Baños when Remy, the friend I'd made who worked at the hostel in Quito came up to me. "What are you doing Thursday night?" He asks, excitement radiating from him. "I'm going to be in Canoa, why?" "No! You need to be back here. Liga has made it to the South American Cup Quarterfinal and they're playing the first game here in Quito!"
Liga is one of Quito's soccer clubs. I had seen them play my first day in Ecuador and the experience had been so exciting that I agreed immediately to return to Quito a day early in order to attend this game. Only, I never made it out of Quito that week so it ended up not being an issue at all. And the day f the game, word spread throughout the hostel that a group was going to the game. 17 people ended up going, so we rented a bus to take us.
The game was amazing. Brilliant soccer. In a stadium that holds around 40 or 50 thousand people there were probably 60 or 70 thousand people there. So the energy was pulsing. When Liga scored with 30 seconds left in the game, the stadium erupted. Drums and singing. Fires breaking out. Military on stand by in case of a riot. It was spectacular. And definitely a highlight of that trip.
While in Goa last year I spent a lot of time at Cocktails & Dreams, one of the restaurants along Palolem Beach. Since the season hasn't really kicked into full gear it was also one of the few restaurants along the beach that was a popular spot to chill in the evenings. There were a couple of pool tables in the back and a tiny TV in the back corner. But for the most part people came to eat, drink, smoke, and chill with friends.
Except for the night Barcelona and Real Madrid played each other and the game aired on that little teeny television.
Now, take into consideration that I live in Boston. And I am a New York Yankees fan. In the US this is huge. The rivalry between the Yankees and Red Sox is legendary in this country. But oh holy gods... baseball rivalries in America are NOTHING compared to soccer rivalries around the world! And least of all the worldwide rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Just about every person packed into the bar that night was crowded around that small television set, glued to the game. Everybody had interest in one of the teams (I am personally a big Barcelona fan), and huge interest in the two star players. (Again, personally, between Messi and Ronaldo I think Lionel Messi is the greatest player currently on this planet.) Watching this game on TV was unlike any other experience I have ever had watching a game on TV. It was just as memorable as seeing the game live in Quito, though completely different. And like that game, this is one I will never forget.
(PS: Barcelona won.)
4. The kindness of a stranger - New York City
You always hear that New Yorkers are rude, unhelpful, and just generally awful. I love New York. And never once have I encountered those stereotypes in the people I've encountered in all my trips to that city.
In fact, my most memorable experience with regards to the kindness of a stranger happened in New York. It was my first solo trip to the city, and I got lost. Yes, you can get lost in New York, no matter what people tell you about how grid patterned cities make that impossible. I got seriously lost. Wandered and wandered and walked for ages trying to find something that would help me get my bearings. My feet were blistered, and it got dark, and I finally broke down. Sat on the curb alone in the street lit dark and cried and cried as panic completely overwhelmed me.
An elderly black man passing by came up to me and asked me what was wrong. I explained through my tears that it was my birthday and I was lost. He sat down beside me despite his very nice clothes and patted my hand and said he could help get me back to where I needed to go. He asked where I was staying, and I told him Harlem.
At that point he decided he didn't want to just send me alone up there with just directions to guide me. So not only did he walk me to the subway but he rode the subway with me from the Lower East Side all the way up to 125th St in Harlem. Then, he WALKED WITH ME straight to the front door of where I was staying, to make sure I got back safely.
Never in my life had I encountered such kindness. He took so much time out of his night to help a total stranger in distress. It was awesome. I loved New York prior to that night. But that night I fell in love with New Yorkers. I've had similar kindness from New Yorkers since then. And Parisians. And New Delhi-ans. So I know it wasn't just a random once in a lifetime experience. That experience taught me that kindness is everywhere. That you just open yourself up to it and people will no longer surprise you with kindness because it is something you know is there to begin with.
5. Coffee and a chocolate croissant - Paris
Right around the corner from the hostel I stayed at in Paris was a tiny and delightful little bakery. Every morning I would stop in at the start of my day and get a coffee and chocolate croissant. I speak essentially no French, just the few words and phrases I'd taught myself before I arrived so I wouldn't be totally at odds with what I might need to communicate. The old woman who owned the bakery spoke no English. But every day we greeted each other and smiled and showed through expressions and gestures how happy we were to see one another.
I was only in Paris for five days, and on my final day I asked the old woman what time they opened in the morning. 8, she replied. My expression dropped, and she asked what was wrong. I told her, badly and haltingly, that I was leaving the next day and my flight was in the morning so I needed to leave at 7:30 to head out to the airport.
"No problem. I open early!" She smiled hugely and patted my hand (what is it with being patted on the hand?)
And sure enough, the next morning I came in hauling my bags and she had my coffee and chocolate croissant ready for me when I arrived at 7:30. It was such a delicious way to end my stay in Paris.