Posts Tagged With: international travel

Differences in Conversation

We wound up in the heart of Little Italy in the North Shore area of San Francisco. Not because we planned to. But because we walked across the Gold Gate Bridge, hailed the first taxi we saw and asked him to take us to his favorite area of San Francisco.

Golden Gate Bridge San Francisco

Photo: Joe Johnson

With nothing but our empty stomachs to guide us, we hit the streets in search of something to fill them. The menu hanging by the door of a small Italian joint caught our attention, but it was the available sidewalk seating, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the city, that sealed the deal.

Drinks, appetizers and the main course were ordered. We toasted to good fortune and exploring new places and then settled back into our chairs, content to soak up the sights, smells, action and conversations that swirled around us. There wasn’t much conversation at our table; we were too busy enjoying everyone else’s.

The couple behind us was discussing their most recent trip to the Opera. The friends to our right were debating which new art gallery was San Francisco’s finest. The ladies to our left were talking politics and economics. And the guys in front of us were breaking down the San Francisco Giants lineup for the upcoming season.

Meanwhile, I found myself completely caught up in each conversation. Enjoying the variety, the topics, the opinions and the passion with which people were speaking. It was then that I realized that this very situation, the experience of different conversations, is what makes traveling so interesting, and in my opinion, necessary.

Traveling San Francisco

Photo: Joe Johnson

You see, I’ve called mountain towns home for the majority of my life. What they have to offer – The scenery, the weather, the recreation and the lifestyle – is what keeps me coming back. These are the things that I love about mountain towns. Yet, these are the things that wear on me as well.  The very things that set mountain towns apart are the very things that, in my opinion, tend to make them all the same. Pull up a stool at a bar or sit down with a cup of coffee at any mountain town establishment and chances are that the conversations around you will revolve around the weather, the recreational activity currently in season and the gear needed to participate in said activity. Again, don’t get me wrong, I’m as passionate about these topics as the next outdoor enthusiast. But at the same time I need variety in my life. I crave different points of view and unique conversations as much as I do tacky singletrack or deep powder snow.

I’m not saying that one becomes sheltered when living in a mountain town. And I’m not saying that cities are better because of their diversity. But I am saying that it is vital to experience the difference in conversation that can only be found when traveling.

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Just Call Me G.I. Joe

Have you ever had your name chanted on a crowded boardwalk in a foreign country?  I have.  Here’s my story . . .

Barcelona, Spain is an amazing city.  It’s culture,  food, architecture, nightlife and street performers are virtually unmatched anywhere else in the world.  Not to mention its beaches . . . and the people who make the beach their place of business (Yes, I am talking about drug dealers).

His hair was in dreads.  And for no other reason but that he looked eerily similar to Bob Marley, whose famous mug graced the front of his shirt.  He was deeply tanned and his bare feet were as dirty as the knees of his baggy pants from walking and working in the wet sand.  But if you were to think he was a bum you’d be wrong.  He was a drug dealer.  And a clever one at that.

You see, this guy didn’t just peddle pot.  He was an artist too.  His plan was simple, yet effective – use his artisitc ability to attract prospective customers.  I’m by no means condoning the dealing of drugs, but this guy had a good thing going. Seriously, how can you resist wanting to get a closer look at a HUGE dog or dragon made out of sand? 

His name was Matthew and our first conversation went something like this:

Me:  “Nice sand sculptures.  How long did those take you to build?”

Matthew:  “Not long.  Hey man, you want some grass?”

Me:  “No thanks, bro.”

And that was it. From sand sculptures to drugs in ten seconds flat.

With the sun out, and the sand warm beneath our feet, we spent the rest of the day lounging on the beaches of Barcelona drinking warm Spanish beer and fending off propositions for “Massageys” from the small Asian women scurrying up and down the beach.  The groups of tourists and locals came and went – some clothed and others leaving nothing to the imagination – but all providing great foder for people watching. 

As the sun retreated into the ocean and the boardwalk filled with people eager to experience Barcelona’s renowned nightlife, we pulled ourselves from our comfortable spots in the sand, grabbed our remaining beers and began the trek back to our hostile.  Weaving my way towards the boardwalk, remaining beers in hand, I realized three things:

  1. Awkwardly carrying three beers through the throngs of foot traffic on Las Ramblas would be a pain.
  2. Matthew was slaving away creating another sand sculpture.
  3. It was hot and he was probably thirsty.

Always looking to improve foreign relations, I stopped and offered the beer to Matthew.  His response was priceless.  Pure amazement and gratitude as he immediately cracked one open.  We made small talk as he drank.  He told me his name was Matthew and that he was originally from Germany, but now called Barcelona home.  Matthew then asked my name and I told him Joe.  His response:  “Joe . . . Like G.I. Joe?!” After telling him that I was from the state of Washington, we shook hands and I merged into the stream of people on the crowded boardwalk.  As I walked away I turned around and saw Matthew, to the bewilderment of many onlookers, pumping both hands in the air and chanting “G.I. Joe!  G.I. Joe! Washington State! Washington State!”

Chances are, I’ll never see Matthew again.  But you can bet I’ll always remember that evening on the boardwalk in Barcelona.  And that is exactly what I love about traveling.  New places, activities and experiences are only part of the story.  Traveling is about the people you meet.  Because it’s the stories you create with those people that you’ll always remember.

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