Riga was where it all happenedALANA DIXON
Nine years ago, it would have been hard to imagine I'd travel the world with the boy in the pink shirt.
It happened by chance - one Saturday night, I had some friends over when a carload of boys I'd never met before pulled up outside my house.
(This isn't as bad as it sounds - give me a minute.)
They were boyfriends of friends, and friends of theirs, on their way back from town to far-flung, exotic locales.
Among them was somebody fairly striking - he might have been beard- free back then, but he still had the height, and as I mentioned before, had made some fairly bold styling choices given we were teenagers in Southland.
Mark and I spent a bit of time chatting that night, but being the social butterfly I was, I was busy having a mingle and didn't think too much of it. Subsequently my initial impressed first glance wasn't followed up on.
We became friends instead.
Most weekends the crew I was with was hanging about with his. Then we all headed off to different universities, catching up on the odd weekend when we visited between Christchurch and Dunedin or on semester breaks.
After Mark transferred down to Otago, we ended up flatting together. But close quarters flung any notion of romance out the window - or at least put it on hold.
(If I'm honest, my bossiness - ahem - probably put him off. I know the trail of mess from the bottom of the stairs upwards sure left a lot to be desired from my point of view . . .)
Four years later, in my last year of university, we started dating.
Since then, we've spent a year apart doing long distance.
In Mark's final year of uni, I was in Timaru mastering the art of shorthand and learning how to piece together a decent yarn, under the watchful tutelage of the unrivalled Pete and Janine.
After that, we moved back home and into our own place, where we started started saving for our OE: difficult to do, when you were lucky enough to be among the fantastic group of friends we made during our time back down south.
We both faced the hard task of saving goodbye to those friends - not to mention our families - when we left for South America, en route to London.
We both faced the arduous job of finding work in a city we've seen spit out others.
We both faced the lonely nights of being so far from home, and the morning-afters of nights with new friends that made that distance easier to bear.
The other day, Mark and I were fondly recollecting how many adventures we have shared: as a reporter, maths isn't my strong suit; so counting the new cities we've since visited was almost more than I could cope with.
(I am only 83 per cent kidding.)
The general wisdom suggests that if your relationship can survive travelling, it's like a cockroach: able to withstand anything life throws at the pair of you.
And a nuclear fall-out.
Of them all, though, Riga - capital of Latvia - will always hold a special place in my heart.
Not just because of Saturday nights moonwalking across the street, keeping time with music blaring from big motorbikes parked up on the cobbles by their leather- clad owners, neon lights glaring.
Not just because of sun-lit cafs. Not just because of flower markets lining the streets. Not just because of the lack of tourists, and the feeling of being in a place people actually lived in, and not simply visited.
It's the place where the boy I once saw, wearing that pink shirt, proposed.
It's the place I said yes.
- The Southland Times