My adventures have been amazing, but the best part would have to be all the wonderful people I have met from all corners of the globe—good, kind people. I’ve developed new friendships and had some ‘romantic’ experiences as well (for more juicy details you will have to read the book). The people I’ve met from all over—Vietnamese, Maori, Argentinean, Pakistani, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, Jewish, Christian—have touched me in ways I will never ever forget. The kindness I’ve received from virtual strangers has been the highlight of my trip. Yes, I’ve gazed in awe at the Angkor Watt temples in Cambodia, shared the beach with the animals of the Galapagos Islands, and marveled at the ancient cities of Turkey, and the modern monstrosities of Dubai. But nothing can compare to meeting the people I now call my friends. There are bad things going on in the world and always will be, but at the basic level of day to day existence, in big cities and in small towns all over the globe, people are smiling and chatting and making their little slice of the world a friendly and welcoming place.
Before I left for my trip, many friends were sure I would meet a sexy man in some exotic country.
“Oh you are never coming back… I’m sure you will meet some hunky Australian surfer dude.”
“Wait ‘til you get to Italy, some Roman God will sweep you off your feet.”
“Watch out, the Turkish men are irresistible…”
It’s funny the countries we associate with hot lovers—Italy, France, Spain. No one ever said to me ‘you are going to meet some amazingly chic sheik Emirati man’ or ‘I bet you will fall for a Cambodian hottie’ or ‘some pasty white Brit is going to take your breath away.’
Now ten months into my little adventure, I have met some very cool guys during my travels, but perhaps not the ‘soulmate’ everyone else seemed to be dreaming up for me. I think instead I traveled half way around the world to meet someone who, in just a matter of days, has become one of my best friends and perhaps a soulmate of a different kind. Things like this always happen with lovers… why can’t it happen with two friends? It made me realize everyone was so focused on me meeting some amazing man that no one said, ‘maybe you will meet the best friend of your dreams.’
My brother’s best friend since high school, Ed, had visited Bistrita (BIS-treat-sa), Romania years ago. He fell in love with a Romanian girl and in turn, the country, stayed for three years and ended up marrying his love and taking her back to America where they’ve just had their first child. He so much wanted her to feel at home, that he would introduce her to any and every Romanian he could find in south Florida. In fact, while she was still in the hospital, just after giving birth, Ed presented her with some random Romanian he’d grabbed out of the hallway.
Before my visit, when I thought of Romania, three things came to mind: Transylvania’s Dracula, sad orphans, and Ed. I contacted him when I got there and he was insistent that I go to his former ‘home’ to meet his in-laws. He said I would love them and he was right.
Mona is Ed’s new sister-in-law. From the moment that she and her husband, Florin, picked me up I knew I would be comfortable with them. I was greeted with warm smiles and hugs and they took me home with them to Bistrita where I stayed for four days. We laughed, shared personal stories, and even cried together. We went from being virtual strangers to nearly sisters literally overnight. And this is not something I normally do. Anyone who really knows me, knows I’m very selective with boyfriends AND girlfriends. I’ve said many times, the older I get, the more discriminatory I get with who I spend my time with. And if I have the choice of hanging out with someone I don’t really like all that much or being alone, I would happily be alone.
During my stay with Mona and Florin, I met her brother, who charmed the pants off me (not literally—okay just my shirt—well, he is a licensed massage therapist and I am never one to turn down a good massage…) with his good looks and sense of humor. I also met Mona’s parents, her son, co-workers, and some of their friends. They treated me like I really was part of the family and it is a feeling I will never forget. Her mother hugged me hello like I was a long lost cousin and cooked me her famous Romanian specialties–supa dulce (basically matzoh ball soup!), sarmale (stuffed cabbage) and mămăligă (polenta). Pofta Bună (Bon Appetit)! I think her parents were thrilled with me because I ate a bit more than they were used to with Ed who seemed to spend too much time chowing on chow mein at the local Chinese restaurant and sinking his teeth into his favorite local specialty—the Big Mac.
Mona and Florin are now planning to quit their jobs and take a six month trip to America to stay with her sister, Nico, and Ed in Florida. She says that my ‘spirit’ and independence helped her decide she could leave her home. If it wasn’t for Mona and her family my visit to Romania would be a nice memory of medieval towns and green mountainous villages, but now it was so much more. Something between us just clicked and we connected on a deeper level. Everyone talks about meeting your ‘soulmate’ while traveling the world, but no one thinks about it happening between two friends, and it just did.