I arrived to a train station outside of Graz, Austria, clueless if I would make my connection after a delayed overnight train from Florence. A sleepless night of listening to movies and music on my now dead I-Pod passed the 9 or so hours. Knowing that the delay had pushed back my itinerary, I quickly hopped off the train to view the monitor, scanning frantically to see “Graz” somewhere on the screen. As I gazed at the glowing box covered in funny German words (funny to me for their length and that I can’t pronounce a single one of them), I realized I had about 40 minutes until the next train to Graz for I had just missed my intended train. My gaze was quickly interrupted by a woman’s voice. “You going to Graz?” she questioned, and so began my first travel conversation on that gloomy day in an Austrian train station.
If you have traveled anywhere, Tulsa to Taipei, you have had these exchanges with strangers. Someone initiates a conversation or you start some sort of exchange en-route to your destination. You meet someone you wouldn’t have met if you stayed home. No one can be a snob here and say they are worldlier than the other. Travel conversations are universal no matter where you are. You could be sitting on a plane to Chicago or waiting for the bus to Budapest.
I answered this young woman with her bursting curly hair, “Yes, are you as well?”. Without hesitation, without asking me anything further, the woman whose name escapes me today, shrugged her shoulders and waved her hand. “Come on. Let’s have a coffee”. Perhaps it was the early hour or my non-existent sleep hanging over after the night train. I was baffled someone would so casually approach me instantly after coming off of a train and want to have coffee, no questions asked, not even my name.
I followed her somewhat shyly and awkwardly. Was she going to rob me and this was her plan, invite me to have coffee? Her kind eyes seemed trustworthy and genuine as her springing curls flopped like a mop in the rain-wind mix outside the platform. We found a café in the station and sat down. She quickly jumped up and asked me what I wanted. I said I would get something and just sit here and watch our bags while she ordered first. She insisted with an accent I couldn’t place, “No, my treat. I get you a cappuccino”. Now I realized she was putting her trust in me. I had full access to all of her belongings. I could dash off in an instant, but for some reason, she knew I wouldn’t.
As she returned with two frothy cappuccinos in bright red cups, we started our travel conversation. What is your name? Where are you from? Why are you going to (destination)? What do you do? I quickly discovered she was a medical student in Kosovo. She had such determination in regards to becoming a doctor, bearing the same look of my own sister in medical school, tired but energized at the same time. I learned all about my new coffee friend and she learned all about me. The time quickly passed and I noticed just that, the time.
We gathered our belongings and boarded our last train of the day to Graz. As the train pulled into the platform, my new travel friend declared, “Well have fun in Graz. Maybe our paths will cross again.” I thanked her for the coffee just one more time and wished her the same.
These episodes aren’t important to some. Although, I am one to talk, not even recalling her name. However, this conversation masked my loneliness while waiting for that train. The back and forth uncovering of a new person not only occupied my time, but also reiterated to me just how important these conversations are to travel.
I can remember her kindness so vividly, the taste of the hot coffee, my astonishment at how clean the Austrians keep their train stations, and how heavy my eyelids felt. (Note: I was born with abnormally large eyes so keeping them open can be a struggle without 10 hours of sleep). Because of this conversation, due to this exchange, I was able to capture a moment on my travels that would have just washed away with the many other train stations visited of no significance. I also felt I was getting to know some small piece of the world, a part of Kosovo, even if it was for only 45 minutes.
Who knows why this woman so openly and quickly motioned me to get out of the rain and have a coffee with her. Perhaps she saw the confusion on my face and wanted to ease my worry. Then again, she could have been just like me, lonely after a long night train of talking to no one, but now enriched with another priceless travel conversation for the memory books. I will gladly take these coffees with strangers while traveling, just with a little cream.
What are some of your memorable travel conversations or exchanges with strangers? Do you feel they are important to travel or am making a big deal over a cup of coffee? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.