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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Curious Encounters of the Traveling Kind

There are some legitimately fascinating people out there, and it seems I never fail to meet some of the most interesting, friendly, and eccentric ones during my travels.  Our group of five just navigated a transatlantic flight, then trains from Amsterdam to Rotterdam, then to Brussels, then back to Rotterdam. Check out some of our most memorable encounters of the past 48 hours...

The Well-traveled English Expat
Spotted: Filling up her water bottle at the airport drinking fountain, outfitted in Nike from head to toe.  Turns out she lived in Amsterdam for several years, traveled India, and now works at Nike global headquarters in Portland (Oregon), in Event Management.
Why she stood out: She was so sweet and encouraging; was genuinely interested in the details of our case study and the competition we were headed to.  I can't help but think that our mutual love of Oregon was a bonding factor :)

Typical American Tourists?
The setting: We rush onto the JFK-Amsterdam flight with just seconds to spare. Luckily I'm in an aisle seat. Two native New Yorker guys in their late twenties are already sitting in the seats next to mine, outfitted in comfy sweat pants, playing Uno and licking pink heart-shaped lollipops.
Behind the scenes: I finally asked about the pink lollipops, and was informed that, in fact, they were marijuana-pops... To make a long story short, they were quite relaxed and pleasant passengers; I won several games of Uno and the six and a half-hour flight was interesting. Also, thanks to these guys' ordering of multiple jack & cokes, vodka and rum, I learned that alcoholic drinks are free on KLM international flights.
True story: These two guys both have pretty good jobs in accounting & finance in NYC, and they were en route to a 4-day weekend in Amsterdam, where they were meeting up with old college friends.  Hitting up coffee shops and bars seemed to be the main priority, and, unfortunately, I have a feeling they won't remember much of this expensive weekend.

The Friendly Devushka
Hometown: Kiev, Ukraine
Fortuitously met while: We were both stretching our legs at the back of the plane somewhere between New York and Amsterdam
Her story: She's deputy director at her father's composite materials, equipment and service company, and was presenting at a trade show in Las Vegas. She was so excited to meet an American who spoke Russian that she introduced me to her family and invited me to come stay with her in Kiev next time I'm in Eastern Europe. I can't wait to take her up on that!

The Super-Trendy Dutch Entrepreneur
Spotted: On the train from Amsterdam to Rotterdam
His venture: A high-end suit-making business. Over 2,000 fabrics to choose from and tons of different styles, made in Europe from all Italian fabrics. Ranging in price from 150 euro to 1,500 euro for a tailor-fit top quality suit. Judging by the way he looked in his well-made suit, I'd say it's well worth the investment.
His recommendation: "Definitely try the little Dutch pancakes."  And something called "genever" - a sort of Holland gin. Apparently it was Rembrandt's favorite drink.

The Famous Journalist-Humanitarian
Randomly started a conversation: While I was studying alone in our hotel lobby
His passion: While researching for a documentary on "the worst places in the world to live," he visited Sierra Leone, where he saw orphaned children forced to dig for diamonds for something like 10 cents a day or less. Leveraging support from Holland's biggest news network, he "got the tools and brought a big punch," as he put it, and was able to take all of the children (in at least that one area) away from those who were exploiting them.  The organization he started, called Sunday Foundation, built schools and homes for the kids.  Now, during two months of the year he lives in a mud hut in Sierra Leone, visiting and overseeing the foundation. He smiled and described his homey mud hut, saying, "Yeah, it's nice."
The best part: It turns out he's a wildly famous Dutchman, but seems to be one of the most unpretentious people I've ever met. While we were talking a girl walked by, then came back and politely interrupted to tell him how much she loved his work and one recent documentary in particular (at least that's what I picked up from the excited, fast-paced monologue in Dutch).
When she walked away I said, "I see you have some fans."
"Yeah," he said shyly, with just a hint of an embarrassed grin, "that's pretty nice."

Every voyage brings encounters with interesting individuals, but for some reason it seems like this trip has been unusually filled with unique passersby at every turn!  (These are only the first five that came to mind.)
And I must say, every single person we've run into so far has been kind, friendly and very hospitable. From the airline personnel locating our lost baggage to the train conductors to our hotel staff and the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences faculty and students who organized the competition...we have been shown great kindness and truly been well taken care of!


  1. My goodness, you DO meet the most interesting people! Love the story about the Nike lady, the laid-back-mary-jane-sucker-licking-sweat-pants-decked-out NY boys, and your Sierra Leone children rescuer! Good blog! xo


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