On September 29, 2013, I was wandering through the picturesque streets of Mostar, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in rounding one bend I saw the Crooked Bridge. It was mentioned in my guidebook: the centuries-old structure had been destroyed by a flood in 2000 and reconstructed the following year at the initiative of UNESCO. It’s beautiful.
But perhaps even more beautiful, and what certainly caught my eye even more, was the scene of a young man and woman relaxed in conversation on an adjacent wall. I had the sense of walking onto the set of one of my favorite travel movies, Before Sunrise, in which two traveling strangers meet randomly and then spend a few hours getting to know each other. And in fact that was pretty much what was happening here. Gabriele, 23 and from Bologna, Italy, and Annika, 20 and from northern Finland, had met earlier in the day. And while very soon their paths would diverge, in these hours they were together, two souls sharing life on a stone wall.
While I’ve seen neither Gabriele nor Annika since that afternoon, I recently caught up with Annika online. Below is an interview with her. The photos below are contributed by her as well.
Tell us about yourself?
I grew up in Kemijärvi in Lapland. I moved to Oulu to study in high school when I was sixteen. Now I’m studying to be a nurse and I absolutely love it!
Seeing you and Gabriele talking on that stone wall truly did look beautiful. Tell us about that day from your vantage point — was it as life-filled as it looked?
Now looking back at the photos of us, it does look rather romantic! We had just met on that day and he was off to somewhere else the next day. We had a great afternoon but we haven’t talked since then. I guess we both wanted to leave the memory of each other to that day and in a way it’s the beauty of traveling.
What was one of the most defining moments in your life?
Just a few days ago I became an aunt as my sister gave birth to a beautiful boy. I’ve been so happy and emotional, it still feels unreal. The moment I got a message from her I started sobbing and shaking; it was quite funny actually. It’s fascinating what roles (and emotions) a newborn baby creates the instant he’s born.
What is one of the beautiful things you’ve seen?
There are so many — almost every day I notice something beautiful that I remember afterwards. Last week, for example, I saw an old couple in a park. It was a beautiful warm spring day and they were sitting together on a bench and drinking wine from fancy looking glasses and were smiling at each other.
What is an ugly thing you’ve seen?
People looking at their phone when someone is talking to them. It’s funny how trendy it is to ‘live in a moment’ and yet we think something more interesting is always happening on social media.
Who do you most admire in life?
I admire the power of relationships and what impact they have on people’s life – or death. An extreme example of this is the so-called “broken heart syndrome” (the more correct term is stress-induced cardiomyopathy). I find it sad and in some way romantic that you have loved someone so much you literally cannot live without that person.
Where have you traveled, and do you have a favorite place? Where would you like to go that you haven’t been yet, and why?
I have travelled from coast to coast in the USA, in Thailand, and all over Europe. My favorite place is Istanbul: the ferry between the European and Asian sides, the bazaars, the sound of calling to prayers from minarets and the fact that no one knows how many people live in Istanbul.
I’d love to go to Lisbon and explore Portugal. I’ve heard the nature is beautiful and the wine is great — sounds good to me.
What brings you joy?
Great conversations, whether it’s four o’clock on Sunday morning in a pizzeria, in the public sauna in a swimming hall, at school or on the plane. You just always find a topic to talk about.
What do you fear?
Thunderstorms! Man it’s scary. Luckily in Finland they tend to be quite small. But my biggest fear is that something bad happens to the people I love.
What has been one of the best days of your life so far?
The first day that pops in my mind is the prom in high school. I don’t remember being that happy and thrilled for 24 hours ever.
What would a perfect day look like for you?
It would start with a morning run and then a swim in a lake. Afterwards a nice brunch with my friends and a promenade in sunny weather followed by perfect Italian gelato. I would also spend time with my nephew and sister. In the evening we would cook together and watch a movie. Having uninterrupted time to spend with the people I love is a perfect way to spend a day.
What was an embarrassing moment in your life?
Ah, this one is hilarious! There’s a small beach (not sand, think of rocks and mud) on the opposite side of the road from my home. When I was nine years old we got an idea to run naked for a swim with my friend as it was just across the road — a quiet country road with little traffic. As we got to the road we heard a car coming down the road and tried to hide but there weren’t any bushes or trees around. I remember just laying on the ground as the car (most probably our neighbour’s) passed by. Eventually we did get to the beach and it was good fun.
Tell us about a book that you like, and why?
My favorite book is called Raja by Riikka Pulkkinen (in English raja means “line” or “boundary”, and the English-language version is called The Limit). There are two story lines: The first one is about a sensitive and melancholic young girl who ends up having a relationship with her teacher. The second one is about an old woman whose husband has Alzheimer’s disease and doesn’t recognize her anymore and eventually can only speak with few words. When he was diagnosed he asked his wife to kill him when he can’t remember anymore. In the book she faces a difficult decision.
“You cannot promise to commit a crime for the one you love.
And yet it is to the loved one you promise everything.
Even the things that go beyond the law.”
Tell us about a favorite childhood memory?
One good memory is from Mother’s Day ten years ago. The weather was sunny and it was quite warm. After lunch we went to the cemetery with my sister, mother, and grandmother to put flowers on our relatives’ graves. Nothing special happened, I just remember it as a happy day.
What does “home” mean to you?
Although I live in Oulu, my “home home” is in Lapland. Home is a safe and familiar place where things don’t seem to change. When I’m home my mum is sitting on the blue leather writing columns or solving crossword puzzles as always, our cat purring on the floor or running after mice outside, every year a bit more tired and slow.
Is there anything else you would like to tell us?
Finnish summer is something unique. After a long, cold and dark winter every spring feels like a miracle. The change happens in a few weeks: suddenly the snow is gone and the nature is almost shockingly green. Sun stays up longer and longer until it’s in the sky through day and night. It never ceases to amaze me.