I’ve had a few moments on my travels that have been truly bizarre.
Many travel bloggers write about the great experiences they have, but to be honest, sometimes travel is just plain weird. I have so many stories that I regularly pull out at the pub or when a particular country is mentioned, and in true American Pie style I start with “There was this one time, in Ukraine…”.
A few weeks ago I wrote about my 3 worst travel moments, today I’ll be telling the stories of the 3 strangest things that have happened to me while abroad.
The basketball player – Los Angeles, USA
Hollywood Boulevard, LA
Sitting on a lounge chair by the pool at a budget hotel in West Hollywood, I was glad I’d decided to stay in for a relaxing day. Having been to LA before, I felt no need to see the sights for a second time. It was the last stop on a 5 week trip through USA with my brother and he was out traipsing Disneyland with some friends we’d met while travelling.
I had the whole place to myself and was immersed in a novel. My reading was interrupted by an “Excuse me”. Looking up, I was faced by the tallest guy I’d ever seen.
“I saw you from my room window, and thought you were really cute so I came to say hi”.
Oh my god. This guy is like 7 foot and looks as though he’s straight from the NBA. The top of my head wouldn’t even come up to his chest.
I sheepishly said hello back and was immediately asked the question of where my apparently gorgeous accent is from.
He proceeded to explain how he was a professional basketball player, how he personally knew Adam Sandler, how he was heading to a party with a bunch of celebs tonight and how he’d like me to come along with him.
Having no idea if any of this was true or not, I was stumped. As flattering as it was to be asked out, I really didn’t feel like accompanying this stranger to an LA party where there may or may not be celebs, excessively tall basketball players, sketchy drugs and whatnot.
I responded with “Uhhh… I actually have a boyfriend back in Australia… I’m sorry!”. He seemed rather disappointed.
As he offered to give me a hug on his way out, I realised I was right about my head not passing his chest. My short arms barely made it around his torso. So awkward.
And that is the story of how a tiny 5 foot 2 Australian was asked out by an apparently famous 7 foot American basketball player.
The ruined city – Christchurch, New Zealand
Christchurch, New Zealand
It’s not often that you get to travel somewhere immediately after it’s been hit by a natural disaster.
My flight landed in Christchurch around 10:30 PM. I had decided on a spontaneous solo getaway to New Zealand, only 2 months after the earthquake of February 2011. My tour would start in Christchurch and head up through the north island to Auckland.
I hopped on an airport bus to take me to my hotel. A few other passengers were on board, who spent the journey discussing the earthquake with the driver and questioning her about the affect it had on the city.
Everyone else was slowly discarded at their various hotels until it was just me and the driver.
“Would you like to come sit up front?” she said. “I can show you a few things on the way.”
Happy for the chance to get a personal driving tour of the city, I thought sure, why not.
She told me that there had been an aftershock about half an hour before my flight landed. The airport had closed temporarily, but it was reopened soon after. The aftershocks were still coming every couple of days, she said. I started worrying that I wouldn’t sleep that night as I’d be thinking about the room shaking at any given moment.
Collapsed streets in Christchurch
We drove along a road that had partially collapsed in the earthquake. The side that had sunk a few feet into a riverbank was closed off, but the other side was still open for vehicles. I silently hoped it was stable as we made our way along it.
She drove me by the area of a few square blocks in the city centre that had been cordoned off due to building collapses, and told me about the people she knew that had fled Christchurch to stay with family members in other cities, abandoning their homes as they were terrified of another earthquake.
My driving tour came to an end as we pulled up at the budget hotel I’d booked. It was one of the only places left open in the city and it seemed I was the only one willing to stay there.
The next day I explored some more of the city by foot.
I’d visited Christchurch 4 years earlier so it was incredibly sad to see this once vibrant city so empty, but I was intrigued by the areas of rubble and destruction caused by a natural disaster (my fascination with dark tourism emerging). I searched for the road we’d driven along the night before to get some photos, walked by the famous Christchurch Cathedral which had mostly collapsed, and peeked in through the cordoned off area to spy on the clean up.
Being in the city post earthquake felt… odd. I didn’t have any personal connections with people affected by the earthquake, but a bizarre mix of emotions surfaced nonetheless. Lucky for me there were no aftershocks while I was there.
The Ukrainian Guy – Kiev, Ukraine
Riot police in Kiev, Ukraine
I suspected that Ukraine might be a little strange.
It was the day the riot police arrived in Kiev (see my full protest story here). Curious to see what all the fuss was about, Robert and I decided to take an evening walk around the city.
While I was snapping a some photos of the intimidating police with helmets and shields, a young Ukrainian man approached us and politely asked where we were from and what we were doing here while the protest was on. We explained that we’d already planned to travel here before the protest began but decided to come anyway as it didn’t seem too dangerous yet. “You guys are crazy!” he joked, then “I’ll show you my favourite part of Kiev. Follow me!”
Umm, ok… We were in a foreign country, in the middle of a political protest, and being asked to follow some guy we’d just met. Understandably we were a little skeptical, but he seemed like a nice guy. Exchanging a confused look, we started behind him. As long as he didn’t want to take us down any dark alleyways or into sketchy looking buildings, we figured we’d be ok.
Walking along some snow-covered streets, he kept pointing out ice patches so we wouldn’t slip. Still feeling a little worried that this guy was about to sell us to the underground Ukrainian sex trade, we quizzed him a few times as to where he was taking us but he wouldn’t say, only “Just believe me!”
A fancy hotel appeared to be our destination when we stepped up to the front entrance 10 minutes later. He led us inside to the elevator and hit the button for the top floor. As the doors parted, we realised it was a restaurant. An incredibly fancy restaurant, that happened to have a balcony with an absolutely spectacular view of Kiev.
We both sighed in relief.
The restaurant staff didn’t want to let us in without buying anything, but our Ukrainian guy managed to sweet talk them into it.
After taking a few photos of the view, he asked us if we’d like to head to a traditional Ukrainian café he knew of. We’d actually visited the mentioned café earlier that day so we knew it wasn’t some dingy dangerous place and that this guy wasn’t likely to mug us. We accepted his invitation.
Drinking Ukrainian coffee in the café earlier that day
The restaurant had a few cats wandering about and the owner joked that they ran the place. Being a cat person, I thought this was super cute. The Ukrainian guy picked up one of the cats for a cuddle. All was going well, until he bit the cat’s ear.
Yes. He actually put the cat’s ear in his mouth and bit it.
The cat was obviously not enjoying having its ear mangled by a being 10 times larger than itself and was trying to get away. I was horrified and told the guy to stop, which he didn’t.
We freaked out, and fled back out the door of the café.
The street outside was snowy but we ran as fast as we could until we got around the next street corner. I chanced a glance behind me and thankfully he wasn’t following. The remainder of our walk back to the hostel was spent discussing the bizarre events of the evening. It was difficult to comprehend what just happened. What did happen? I still don’t know what to make of it.