This was my very first couchsurfing experience and I was completely terrified. Being someone who tends to be hopelessly uptight and wary towards first-time experiences, I was second guessing myself every step I took from the station. And stressed out. Not to mention it was the first time I was travelling in a country that I couldn’t speak the language.
After stumbling about in the metro (there was a bunch of german guys laughing together, and being the nervous, self-conscious person I was, I hid my insecurity by striding with confidence, looking proudly ahead of me, towards an escalator on standby mode, only to see it start up… in the wrong direction. There were two and naturally, being the seasoned, intelligent traveller that I am, I had picked the wrong one. I flushed in embarrassment, feeling like an imbecile with my 1 ton backpack behind me and equally boxy daypack in front.When my mobility is hindered and I feel less than elegant and at ease, I *always* have the sensitivity of a mole. And at that point in time, I would have gladly given my soul to be one and bury myself in dirt and grime for eternity. I hung my head in shame, and meekly retreated to the other escalator, where one of the guys gallantly gestured for me to go first, with a tiny smile. So handsome. Being very grateful, very embarrassed, and being the feminist that I was, I replied “merci beaucoup”. This is another thing – the first few days in Germany, I was to reply every single person who tried speaking to me in german, in french. My brain’s way of trying to prove that I’m not one of those just-speak english-and-nothing-else tourists. In the end, didn’t make a difference. I was one of them. Speaking french to germans equate to speaking chinese to them. They don’t register that as a language), getting my usual lost-time, then finally finding the doorbell, I rang it, heart pounding. Buzzer sounded. I pushed the door. Nothing happened. I rang the bell again. Buzzer sounded once again (a little more reluctantly this time). I pushed, little harder this time. Again, nothing. Cursing myself, I took a deep breath and rang the doorbell again.
“Um, I can’t open the door,” I said into the speakerphone, trying my best to sound confident and the know-it-all like I am.
“Just, push it,” accented voice. Couldn’t place it. Was that a hint of impatience? Sarcasm? He must think I’m stupid. Don’t even know how to push a door open. Damn it, girl, get it together. You just can’t not work yourself up into a frenzy every time you do something new. I pushed. Open sesame.
I climbed up the first floor (Tip: in west Europe, first floor starts from the second storey. Budding travellers beware) and was greeted by an open door and a gorgeous blond with glasses. It was Michael, Nika’s boyfriend. He gave a warm smile and disappeared behind the door. OK. So, I shuffled hesitantly inside, not quite knowing where to put my stuff, or my body parts, for that matter. Yes, I am *that* awkward, even at 26 years of age. I just have a gift for hiding it all from the world behind a mask of nonchalance. He informed me that Nika was in a phonecall and would come to me in a moment. I smiled back and dumped my backpack on the ground. The couch was huge. It was a proper bed. And the apartment was amazing. It was living room, dining room and kitchen all in one. Books everywhere. On the shelves next to the couch, on the dining table. I loved the magnets that were stuck all over one of the main pipes in the kitchen over the stove (as the fridge didn’t have a magnetic cover, they decided to stick all their magnets on that metallic pipe instead. It was adorable)
It was essentially a one-bedroom apartment, with Nika and Michael taking the main bedroom. I sank into the couch and felt like I was at an interview, waiting for my interviewer to come. Michael went straight to the couch in front of the television, where he had paused his video game, and continued playing.
Five minutes later, a blonde burst out of the bedroom. She had perfect skin, glowing, pale, and humungous glasses, with blue eyes that were so wide, so earnest, they almost looked startled. She had her hair up in a messy bun, and I noticed her loofah slippers immediately. That was when I knew that I made the right choice in choosing to surf with her, and, I think, that was also when I started to fall in love with her.
I realise that I fall in love with any kind of quirkiness or unorthodox thing. Punk, goth, whimsy. Any of those, really. Her slippers were magic. They looked like soft toys. I can no longer remember exactly what they were but they just looked like the softest, most comfortable bedroom slippers ever. And also the hugest. With little cotton balls swinging by the side. I loved everything about them, and therefore her, for choosing them. There was something so unapologetic about them, and, in the next few days, I was to discover, her too. Cut it short – they fit her perfectly.
She launched into an introduction about the house and its rules. Not complicated, very reasonable. This was someone who had a fair bit of experience hosting, and no doubt she’s had some unforgettable guests, on both fronts. I respectfully listened, nodded, smiled, laughed. I was still a little petrified. But immediately, I was taken by her warmth and openness. Upon learning that I left my scarf at my friend’s house in Zurich, she lent me hers, a beautiful, humungous, checkered scarf that kept me toasty during my rendezvous wandering outdoors.
We started talking. The other girl who was supposed to couchsurf with me had not yet turned up, so it was just the two of us for now (Michael was riveted by his very engaging RPG game). The layers started peeling. I learned that she was Russian, that she was a student of art history, recently graduated, that she, a month ago, had started her first full time job as a receptionist at a hotel. That she hated to talk about work, because she had no interest in various occupations and was more interested in learning about people and their lives rather than what they did for a living. She had lived in Munich for 5 years now, and Michael had moved to Munich with her. We went out to get pizzas and beer (I was to drink a oil ship worth of beer in the days following this) and sat around chatting and eating.
Nika puts makeup, always, before she heads out, even if it was a trip to the supermarket. I found that very charming. She didn’t put a lot on (she didn’t need to; she’s beautiful) but just looking at her slap on some eyeshadow and blusher was a pleasure. I always think that makeup is a ritual of sorts, back from the days when I used to watch my mother put on hers, till when I was staying with Kim in paris and saw that she dedicated a full hour to do her makeup entirely, with one of those professional-looking, swivel round mirrors that you set on the table.
Nika tends to put on shimmery eyeshadow, pale colours, winter colours, that complimented her pale skin perfectly. She kept her lips bare, and rightfully so – they were naturally rosy, and with a very attractive, arched shape, distinct cupid’s bow, and a lovely fullness to them.
It was this evening that she shared with me one of the books she was reading – The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer. I was to devour this book in the next few weeks, in buses, while travelling across germany. It is absolutely fascinating and I recommend it. Another thing about Nika – she goes through probably about 20 cigarettes a day. And she rolls them herself in this very sophisticated method which I would later see in the handbag of another very well put-together lady in a bus ride – she gets empty rolled up cigarettes, and tins of tobacco. She slots the cigarette ‘skin’ and tobacco into a stapler-like contraption, pushes down the clamp, and voila, its done. It’s genius. Cheap, and effective.
Emily arrived after a while. And we chatted some more, before popping into bed. Over the next few days, I was to spend a considerable amount of time with Nika, and I learned these couple of things about her –
- she has an impressive array of general knowledge that ranges from country flags to dead politicians. She’s very, very in the know, and so is Michael and their general social circle of friends (we went to a pub quiz monday night and I’ve never felt that my education had let me down more poignantly than during that night. Nevertheless, thanks to the prowess of Nika, Michael, their friend, and Emily, we finished fourth. Not too shabby)
- she’s very opinionated, and her tastes tend to run far from the mainstream.
- she has a heart with the warmth of texas – she really sees people. she cares about the social condition, and each individual. this openness can hurt her sometimes, but it’s beautiful.
- she can’t drink – after a couple of beers, she lapses into a comfortable silence and takes the backseat, letting me and emily banter back and forth, while being content with laughing and staring at us both having a good time. And she expresses her happiness very openly, just like this “I’m so happy.” There should be more of this in the world. Simple, direct, and pure.
- she is never late – when she says she’ll be there in 5 minutes, it’s 5 fucking minutes. She’s a swiss watch in real time.
- she’s very affectionate, and physical about it – she touches little parts of you; your hair etc. and makes little sounds when she greets you for the first time in the morning. Something between a squeak and a chirp.
- “If I’m being weird, it’s not because I’m crazy. It’s because I’m Russian.”