He spoke to a woman at a bus stop on vacation. Then they fell in love

Tristano always loves telling the tale of how he met his wife Alessandra – it’s an amazing, continent-spanning love story.

For Tristano, this story will also forever be interlinked with another amazing, continent-spanning story – one of friendship. So whenever Tristano recounts his love story, he begins several years before he first crossed paths with his wife – in 2012, to be precise.

That was the year Italian-born Tristano studied abroad in Sydney, Australia and spent a few days on vacation in Fiji.

Tristano loved the Pacific island nation – the spectacular beaches, the blue waters, the palm trees.

Plus, he made a friend: a guy called Gustavo, from Brazil, who was also staying in Tristano’s hostel. The two crossed paths on Tristano’s first night, and immediately clicked.

“We got along very well,” Tristano tells CNN Travel today.

Gustavo, it seemed, had “been literally everywhere.” And his thirst for adventure was infectious. Tristano sat with Gustavo in the hostel bar for hours, talking about their respective travels. Tristano was impressed and inspired – and felt he’d found a kindred spirit.

“He was a person that really motivated me to travel more and more,” says Tristano.

Post-Fiji, the two friends stayed in touch – tracking one another’s adventures on social media, and regularly catching up over messaging app WhatsApp.

“Over the following years, I traveled to many places where Gustavo had lived or been, so he always gave me tips – what to do, what not to do, where to stay, which hostels to go to…” recalls Tristano.

Cut to 2016. Tristano had three weeks of vacation to use before the year was up. He was considering going somewhere in South America.

In one of his regular text exchanges with Gustavo, Tristano mentioned his potential plans. In response, Gustavo said he was actually back in his home country of Brazil – and planned to be based in Sao Paulo for the next few months.

“And then it just hit me,” says Tristano. “I thought, ‘I’ll go to Brazil. It’s a no-brainer, because if I find good flights, I have one person there I know and I can meet up with him again.’

“So I literally booked flights within half an hour of talking to him. And that was the reason I went – and how I ended up meeting Alessandra…”

A bus stop meeting

Tristano started his Brazil adventure in Rio de Janeiro. On his second day there, he decided to walk from his hostel in Ipanema Beach to Rio’s Copacabana neighborhood.

Tristano didn’t get far before he realized this walk was more of a trek than he’d anticipated. He checked Google Maps on his phone, and realized he could hop on a bus that’d take half the time.

Following his phone directions, Tristano headed to the bus stop. And once he was at what he thought was the right stop, he glanced around at the other people waiting.

There were a couple of other tourists, also peering at their phones. And then there was a young woman dressed in what Tristano thought was “business casual.” She looked like she was en route to work.

When Tristano met her eyes, the woman smiled. She seemed friendly and confident.

So Tristano approached her and politely asked – in subpar, apologetic Portuguese – if he was waiting at the right place for the bus to Copacabana.

In English, the woman replied.

“Yes, you’re in the right place,” she said. Then she smiled again. When she smiled, her whole face lit up, and Tristano couldn’t help but smile back.

“She seemed like a very bright person, always smiling,” he recalls today.

The woman at the bus stop introduced herself as Alessandra. As Tristano had guessed, she was en route to work that morning.

“I actually never usually went to that bus stop,” Alessandra tells CNN Travel today. (Alessandra and Tristano have requested their last names not be included in this article for privacy reasons.)

The day she met Tristano, Alessandra had taken a slightly different route that morning as she’d had to pick something up at the store before work. Before Tristano approached her, Alessandra hadn’t noticed him – she’d been in commuter mode, focused on the journey at hand.

But when Tristano started speaking to to her in his awkward Portuguese, Alessandra found him charming. And then they talked a little as they waited for the bus – Tristano told Alessandra he was on vacation for three weeks, she asked him how he was finding Rio so far, explaining she’d lived there since she was a kid.

The conversation flowed easily – so much so that when the bus pulled up, Tristano and Alessandra got on together and, in silent agreement, decided to sit next to each other and continue talking.

“We sat together for probably 15, 20 minutes on the bus ride, just chatting casually,” recalls Tristano.

It was a brief journey, but just before the bus pulled up at Tristano’s stop, Tristano turned to Alessandra and asked for her number.

He suggested to Alessandra it’d be nice to get to know a Rio local, “somebody who can give me good tips.”

“I was going to travel to the other areas of Brazil for the next two weeks, but I knew I was coming back to Rio,” he explains.

Alessandra was wary of handing out her phone number to a guy she didn’t really know. But she thought Tristano seemed sweet – and in all honesty, she assumed she’d never hear from him again.

“I didn’t expect anything, especially because he was traveling around Brazil,” she says.

But Tristano texted Alessandra right away. And over the next couple of weeks, as Tristano visited Gustavo in Sao Paulo and explored the rest of the country, he and Alessandra contnued to message back and forth.

A first date in Rio

Once Tristano was back in Rio, he contacted Alessandra to ask if she would like to meet for dinner.

Alessandra agreed, but then at the last minute canceled – explaining she had a headache.

Tristano wondered if this was an excuse, whether Alessandra wasn’t actually that interested. Still, he suggested they rearrange for the following night.

“Then we actually went out to dinner,” he says. “And then the rest is history.”

Alessandra actually did have a headache the night before – a throbbing migraine. She was happy the date got rearranged, and looking forward to seeing Tristano again. But she went into the evening with no expectations.

“I didn’t expect to feel something romantic, just an opportunity to get to know him,” she recalls. “But then, well, once we sat at the table, I saw his green eyes shining. And I felt something sparking after that.”

Alessandra found Tristano to be a supportive, encouraging listener. They seamlessly segued between fun, lighthearted conversations and more in-depth discussions.

“The talk was very interesting,” Alessandra recalls. “He was very interested in my life in Rio, and how hard, let’s say, my life was compared to his.”

As for Tristano, he loved getting a glimpse into Alessandra’s world and her mind – and learning more about her and her childhood growing up in Rio.

“We agreed to meet the very next day,” he recalls. “It was a weekend. And we spent the whole day walking around the lagoon in Rio, eating ice cream, chatting and laughing and just having a very nice time.”

In the evening, Alessandra and Tristano went out for drinks, and then to a club together.

“That’s when we kissed for the first time,” Tristano recalls.

This is Alessandra and Tristano's first photo together, taken while walking around the lagoon in Rio. Alessandra jokingly covered her face, as she wasn't sure about being photographed by a guy she thought she might never see again. - Courtesy Tristano
This is Alessandra and Tristano's first photo together, taken while walking around the lagoon in Rio. Alessandra jokingly covered her face, as she wasn't sure about being photographed by a guy she thought she might never see again. - Courtesy Tristano

Tristano and Alessandra were growing closer. But the next day was Tristano’s last in Rio. The two spent all day together, right up until Tristano had to leave.

“What left a mark on me was the moment we said goodbye,” says Tristano. “At the metro station, she started crying.”

As Tristano consoled Alessandra, hugged her and wiping away her tears, he also felt emotional.

Having to leave felt like “a big sadness,” as he puts it. The feeling weighed on him.

“And it was also a big surprise, you’re like, ‘How can I feel this after meeting somebody for literally 48 hours?’ So it felt very strong – and also very uncertain.”

Tristano and Alessandra wanted to see each other again, but both said goodbye thinking it might never happen. As he left, Tristano thanked Alessandra for their time together – something she took to mean things between them had ended before they’d even began.

But although Tristano returned to the UK – where he was living at the time – he and Alessandra remained in constant contact.

They texted good morning and good night. They sent each other photos of what they were up to each day. Before long, they both admitted they were desperate to see one another again.

“And so only three months later, we decided to travel to Colombia together,” says Tristano. This trip sealed the deal, and it was “the real start of the relationship,” says Tristano.

“So we kept meeting,” he says. “Visiting different places every three, four months.”

“It was sad, anytime we had to say goodbye,” recalls Alessandra.

But they mostly tried to focus on “just enjoying the time together,” she says.

After all, it was still unclear what the future held – and whether Alessandra and Tristano could build a future across continents.

“I always thought, you know, this obviously cannot go on forever. At some point, we’re going to have to decide what we do,” recalls Tristano. “And I wasn’t sure either way, because I knew that not being together wasn’t I wasn’t going to be happy, she wasn’t going to be happy…”

But the alternative – one of them moving across the globe to be with the other – seemed like a big step and a tough decision.

A big step

Alessandra and Tristano started meeting up in destinations across the globe. - Courtesy Tristano
Alessandra and Tristano started meeting up in destinations across the globe. - Courtesy Tristano

After a year of meeting in destinations across the globe, Alessandra came to Italy for the first time, and met Tristano’s family. A few months later, Tristano met Alessandra’s loved ones in Brazil. Things between them seemed to have naturally moved towards something more serious, more concrete.

Around this time, in early 2018, Tristano’s job took him from the UK to Germany. As he prepared to move, Tristano asked Alessandra if she’d like to move to Germany with him.

Alessandra spent an emotional week debating her response. She felt like her life had turned “upside down” and she jumped back and forth between certainty about her love for Tristano, fear of the unknown and sadness at the idea of leaving Brazil.

“It was such a big move, leaving my family, friends, job, sunny days and the beach,” she says. “I wanted to go, but I didn’t want to give up on my life in Brazil and my family.”

“But after this week, I said, ‘Look, I have nothing to lose, I better try and if it doesn’t work then I can’t regret something I didn’t do.’ And my mom supported me.”

Here's Tristano and Alessandra during a trip to the White Cliffs of Dover in the UK. - Courtesy Tristano
Here's Tristano and Alessandra during a trip to the White Cliffs of Dover in the UK. - Courtesy Tristano

Alessandra’s mother liked Tristano – and she trusted her daughter’s decision. Some of Alessandra’s friends were more wary, and suggested Tristano was “just playing with her.”

“But I always followed my heart,” says Alessandra. She believed in Tristano and their future.

“It felt right to jump,” she says.

And so in 2018, Alessandra and Tristano moved to Germany together.

“I was excited for this new chapter, but also concerned with the German language, which I had zero knowledge of and the winter weather,” recalls Alessandra.  “Nevertheless, I was lucky enough to find a job in a multicultural agency, which uses English as the main language. And got used to enjoying the cold months with warm clothes and food.”

It also helped that Germany wasn’t Tristano’s home country either. He was also learning the language. And living in a third country allowed the couple to experience a new culture together.

A proposal

2018 was also the year Tristano asked Alessandra to marry him. He prepared her a multiple course meal in their apartment, presenting each course under a metal food cover dome – like servers do in fancy restaurants. When he got to what Alessandra assumed was the final course there was a surprise – it wasn’t a dessert, but a ring.

“I was really surprised,” says Alessandra. “And then he asked me to marry him in Portuguese, which made it really special to me.”

Tristano and Alessandra enjoyed a small wedding ceremony. Then they started carving out a life together – settling into new jobs and looking towards the future.

“We helped each other to follow our goals,” says Tristano.

Last year, in 2023, Alessandra and Tristano welcomed a son together, Gabriele. They’re raising Gabriele to speak four languages – Italian, Portuguese, German and English.

Alessandra took this photo of Tristano with their son Gabriele on a recent trip to Brazil. - Courtesy Tristano
Alessandra took this photo of Tristano with their son Gabriele on a recent trip to Brazil. - Courtesy Tristano

“Until Alessandra moved to Germany, we spoke English to each other,” recalls Tristano. “But then we obviously decided, ‘Okay, we cannot spend our life speaking English. It’s not our native language for either of us.’”

The couple vowed to become fluent in one another’s languages – a vow they kept.

“So now we basically switch between Portuguese and Italian every few months,” explains Tristano.

In May, Tristano and Alessandra’s son Gabriele turned one. Earlier this year, Alessandra and Tristano took him to Brazil for the first time, for an extended two month trip to visit family and loved ones.

“We spent many weeks of those two months in Rio. And for the last one and a half weeks we stayed, actually, in the Copacabana area,” says Tristano.

Staying there naturally took the couple back to their first meeting, eight years ago, at the Rio bus stop. Thinking back on how far they’d come was emotional for them both.

“It was crazy,” says Tristano. “We were doing the same bus route with our son. I don’t even know how to describe it.”

A life-changing series of events

Tristano credits his friend Gustavo with helping pave the path that led him to Alessandra. Here's Tristano and Gustavo in Sao Paulo on Tristano's 2016 Brazil trip. - Courtesy Tristano
Tristano credits his friend Gustavo with helping pave the path that led him to Alessandra. Here's Tristano and Gustavo in Sao Paulo on Tristano's 2016 Brazil trip. - Courtesy Tristano

A few days after he met Alessandra at the Rio bus stop back in 2016, Tristano met up with his good friend Gustavo in Sao Paulo. Tristano remembers they both talked about their love lives. Tristano barely knew Alessandra then – and had no reason to assume he’d ever see her again – but he still found himself effusing to Gustavo about the woman from the bus stop.

“We shared stories, and I said, ‘You know, I actually met a girl, Alessandra.’ And I told him about her – just how interesting she was and so on,” recalls Tristano.

Tristano updated Gustavo on his romance with Alessandra as the relationship developed over the next couple of years. He always hoped the two of them would be able to meet, and he often told Gustavo he credited him with putting him on the path to meet Alessandra.

In the summer of 2019, Tristano realized he hadn’t heard from Gustavo for a while. He reached out on WhatsApp, but the message went unread and unanswered.

“I didn’t think much of it,” says Tristano. “But then I went on his Facebook page, and I realized that he had drowned during a swimming excursion in Hawaii.”

Tristano was in shock. His friend had passed away a few months prior. As they didn’t have any mutual friends, the news had passed him by.

Tristano sat at his laptop, reading the words over and over again. With a sinking feeling, he realized he’d never see his friend again, that Alessandra and Gustavo would never meet.

“I always imagined that if we were going to have a wedding, with a big reception and so on, Gustavo would be the main person I would thank for meeting Alessandra – because it was thanks to him that I actually ended up going to Brazil,” says Tristano. “Obviously, that could not happen.”

Tristano was heartbroken. Amid his grief, he searched Facebook for Gustavo’s mother’s details. He sent her a friend request.

“I got in touch with his mom. And I told her about the whole story, and she was very happy to hear that thanks to Gustavo’s passion for traveling and his friends, he made a massive contribution to our life,” says Tristano.

Tristano is still in touch with Gustavo’s mother. And he still credits his friend with changing his life. He sees his life story as defined by two serendipitous travel encounters: first with Gustavo, and then with Alessandra. Both stories, to Tristano, illustrate the power of travel and connections.

“If I hadn’t traveled to Fiji and met him, I would have certainly not traveled to Brazil in 2016 either,” says Tristano. “And my son Gabriele would not be here today.”

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