Traveling, for me, always carries the invigorating promise of unexpected relationships crafted in unfamiliar locations. Once, I became best friends with a hopelessly lost child on a black-diamond ski run and helped her reunite with her parents, somehow skiing far worse than her despite having as many years of experience on the mountain as she had alive.

On a separate occasion, hiking through the New Mexico wilderness, I befriended a bizarre, fox-like animal (a ringtail? a lynx? a straight-up alien?) I nicknamed Babou, with whom I felt an as-of-yet-unparalleled romantic spark that’s still going strong.

The point is, stuff happens when you travel. And I’ve picked up some fascinating acquaintances since landing in Thessaloniki, in addition to an array of neighborhood cats and dogs, all of whom greet me with a mixture of distaste, boredom, and horniness whenever we cross paths (it’s chill).

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These stray animals, largely cared for by people they encounter on the streets of the city, are far from the only engaging wildlife I’ve encountered. Pigeons are all over – one took a particular shine to my friend Sydne, flirtatiously sh*tting on her head as we braved a crosswalk, and others crowd the streets at odd times in the day. There are lots of stray cats and a litter of kittens in the backyard of the dorm, and Luke and I regularly wind down at night listening to the yowling sounds of them either in the throes of passion or being savagely murdered. Jury’s out on which one, but judging by the fact that any one of said kittens is street-hardened enough to beat me up, I’m leaning toward the former.

One of the better friends I’ve made, while visiting Epanomi Beach near the Ktima Gerovassiliou winery and wine museum, was named Pipis. This dog looks adorable, but I can assure you he’s a heavily shedding, twitching mess of an animal consumed by his need for attention and head pats. That is to say, we got along perfectly. Luke tells me he was visibly aroused to be sitting on my lap, but I still don’t know whether he means himself or Pipis, and I’m afraid to ask.

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Another amazing friend I’ve made – a friendly neighbor – I can scarcely believe is real.

We met in an alleyway while I was on the way to buy bed sheets to replace my awful, smallpox-infested blanket provided by the school, and I immediately took a liking to him, though Luke’s general trashiness as a person almost scared him off. I felt heard and validated in conversations with this individual, and though he didn’t have much to say for himself, the empathy he displayed is beyond any I’ve ever known. Truly a good being. I feel like our friendship is really going to last, and its genuine roots in common interests will take us far. I’m honored to introduce someone I’m proud to call my neighbor: Totoro.

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