The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Quirky coincidences enliven vacation travel

A distinctive dress — featuring a geometric green pattern on a white background — seemed to be all over the streets of Lisbon during columnist John Kelly's recent vacation there. It was just one of the quirks of the trip. (Ruth Pritchard-Kelly)
Placeholder while article actions load

I constantly find myself amazed at how small the world really is. Let me give you two examples. On our recent vacation trip to Portugal, I spotted a woman in a fetching dress I thought my lovely wife might like. It featured an angular green pattern on a white background.

I didn’t think much of it until I spotted a second woman in the same design. When I saw a third woman in the same dress, I finally pointed it out to my wife Ruth.

“I’ve seen three women wearing that same dress,” I said.

“I bet it’s from Zara,” said Ruth, who is not unfamiliar with the world of shopping. She did a quick web search and found it: green geometric print lapel collar dress. Soon, spotting this dress on our vacation became a game. We saw it seven times.

Ruth finally bought one for herself. It will remind us of Portugal more than the bottles of port and cans of sardines we returned with.

Another coincidence: We took the train from Lisbon to Porto and back again. On one of those trips we encountered a striking Portuguese woman. She looked to be in her 70s, erect of carriage, fashionable of dress and sporting a hairstyle I would describe as geometric. It was hair as cut by Bauhaus: angular, severe, jet black with a scrap of forelock-dyed raspberry.

She was not a woman one would easily forget, which is why Ruth and I nearly fell out of our chairs a few days later when she walked right past us. We were sitting outside a cafe after alighting from a streetcar in a non-touristy part of Lisbon. What are the odds?

They say there are 8 billion people in the world. There must be even more dresses. And yet we saw the same random woman twice and the same random dress multiple times.

What quirky coincidences have you experienced on vacation? Send the details — with “Travel Quirk” in the subject line — to me at

Book learning

Today marks the last chapter in my week of exploring vacation reading habits. I’ve been delighted by all the readers’ response. I’ve learned that people put a lot of thought into picking just the right book(s) for their trips. These people include Sandra Meyers, who serves as her family’s librarian, the person responsible for bringing a stack of books to the beach each summer.

“I provide reading material for my mom, grown daughter and two best friends,” wrote Sandra, who lives in Bethany Beach, Del. “If you were to peruse my pile, most would be best sellers of well-known authors who write women’s fiction, and most would have an umbrella, Adirondack chair, lake or ocean on the cover. I put them in the book case at the oceanfront rental and say help yourself — a tradition that is at least 20 years old. Nothing better!”

Sandy Harbanuk researches a location before visiting it, reading both nonfiction and novels, and studying maps of her destination. As for the books she brings on the trip itself, she has a tried and true routine.

“I live in Alaska and try to never travel for fewer than three weeks,” wrote Sandy, who lives in Juneau. “As an avid reader, I pack three books per week, plus one each for the departing and returning flights … I’m pretty picky about my selections, so I try to bring enough with me.”

Sandy reads mostly nonfiction at home, so she travels with fiction: “I take a mix of brain candy, books that I will treat like a box of truffles and just zip through without putting them down, and dense books that will keep me for a few days. While traveling, I read them in order of biggest/heaviest to thinnest/lightest.”

Dottie Kraft’s travels have slowed down considerably. She and her husband, John, are in their 80s and don’t get around as much as they once did. But there was a time, Dottie wrote, when “the books I took with me were more important than the clothes I took. In every city/country we visited, stopping at a bookstore and library was at the top of my places to visit.”

The bookshelves in their Reston home are full of books they purchased on their various journeys. Wrote Dottie: “We no longer travel but I can pull a book from these shelves and return to those places and the memories this travel created. I read vicariously and remember the many trips we have taken.”