Dark Days

Thursday June 22, 2017
Bucharest, Romania

If I ask you to make a list of things that you love…. how long would it take for you to put your name on it…

Nobody ever tells you that emptiness weighs the most.

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever be happy with myself.
I worry that since I cannot be happy with me then how in the world will anyone else ever be happy with me.

I cannot pass by a mirror without the reflection tainting the rest of my day… clouding my happiness more and more with each glimpse…

Summer is here.
Beach season.
……

Imagine if we obsessed with the things we loved about ourselves…

I have had people tell me:
Make peace with the mirror and watch your reflection change.
But how
How does one make peace with the mirror?

If only our eyes saw souls instead of bodies… Imagine how different our ideas of beauty would be…

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—-> Note: This is a free write… sorry if it is jumbled.. not in order… a bit “messsy”… i just needed to let it out…. <——

Dear ED

I rarely use the word hate. I do not like that word. But in your case. I hate you from the depths of my soul. With everything inside of me. With vehemence beyond all things.
You stole my teenage years. You stole my college years. You kept me inside counting calories and crying in my bed while others my age tested their limits and did things teenagers do. You kept me running on that treadmill, watching the minutes turn to hours, as others passed time playing hackey sack and going on adventures and playing spin the bottle. I feared weed because it made you hungry and that was the last thing I wanted to be…. so I lost touch with those friends that went that direction. I feared alcohol for its calories… so I lost touch with those friends who delighted in the feeling of being intoxicated for the first time(or second or third or whatnot.) I feared going out with friends because it was inevitable that they would go out for food and I would have to make an excuse as to why I couldn’t eat.  I had already eaten… even though all I had that day was 10 grapes and half an orange. I wasn’t hungry…. even though my stomach was whirling about in anger and emptiness. And I would have to sit there sipping my water, gazing in wonder and awe at how my friends could eat so much and stay so fit while if I so much as ate a piece of bread I wold gain two pounds. I wanted so bad to fool around with my friends. To make memories. To be happy. To laugh over simple things. But I lived in a shroud of sadness, terror, suffocating depression… I never went to any keggers. I never went on any spring break adventures to get plastered with friends and laugh about it for years to come. I was vacant. I was an empty balloon. I have no happy memories of late high school. My prom date never showed up because he only asked me as a joke. I have no happy memories of parties or falling in love or late nights talking to friends or clubbing in college. I so desperately wanted to be part of it all… to have someone fall in love with me… but how in the world would that be ever possible? I was grotesque, fat, annoying, unlovable… or at least that’s what you, my ED, told me. I wanted so badly to have heads turn in my direction when I walked into the room.. “The only reason they would turn is because they saw the ugliest person they’ve ever seen walk into the room”, you, my ED said. I wanted so desperately to go out with my friends and laugh with them and not have a care… “Why would they WANT you along? You know the only reason they would ever invite you is because they felt OBLIGATED… you’re such a burden, a bore”, you, my ED said.

I used to be ok. I was always a good child. Perfect, as they said. “My rock”, my mom called me. My older brother was a bit of a sociopath. His friends adored him. They had nothing but good to say about him. But with the family. I was terrified of him. Many memories of running away from him horror with tears streaming down my face. Locking myself in the bathroom. Huddling in a ball, watching the wooden door strain as he pounded on it. Saying the most horrible things one could say.  I had perfect grades. I did no wrong. I strived to be the kid that my parents would be proud of.

I had the liver transplant at age 3. It saved my life. But left me with a giant scar across my belly. It is still there today. It is still a big indent. It poufs out below and above.  I hated it. I did sit up after sit up. Crunch after crunch. For hours. Days. I lived for the scale. For the reflection in the mirror. What I saw in that mirror was a grotesque monster. Forever growing monster. But looking back at the pictures from that time, I was skin and bones. It hurt to sit down. I could feel my heart beat, pumping my chest up and down as it strived to keep my body alive. My hair came out in chunks. My brother joked that I looked like I was an Auschwitz victim. That I belonged in Ethiopia. Which made me feel even more disgusting. I had people ask me, “Why don’t you just eat?” all those normal questions people ask someone who has an eating disorder. The answer is never simple. It is not about the food. I remember going to a church once with my grandma and someone in their was convinced I had the devil inside of me and tried to get my grandma to consent to let me be exorcized to let the devil out. It’s not about the food.  For me it was a combination of things. Always… these voices in my head… the things my brother shouted at me in spite… the sneers from the kids at school… the giant scar on my belly… insecurity.. fear of growing up… fear of being “normal”… fear of never finding anyone to like me…
So I hid away… restricted my food intake more and more.. became obsessed… It sounds so selfish and vain…

I got so crazy at times that I got this idea in my head that if I cut myself, maybe that would be better than the hurricane of terrible things that my mind was shouting at me. It was relief from the ever present, “You will never be loved..”  “You are such a disgusting creature…” “You don’t have a woman’s body, you have an alien’s body,.. just look at that scar…” “You will never look like all those people at the beach in their bikinis… NEVER”  “Why would any boy ever find you attractive…” “Face it… you’ll never be anyones ‘one’…”  And every time I passed up a meal.. a dessert… a snack.. Especially when the smell was so delicious and overpowering and my stomach did somersaults in anticipation… and I walked away..I felt powerful. So powerful. So light. So free. But… yet.. so empty…

I went to three different Eating Disorder Treatment centers for months at a time, only to be kicked out after the health insurance ran out.  I was hospitalized a few times. I wasn’t ready. I felt safe in those treatment centers. Even though some of them made me gain half a pound a day. If you didn’t make weight, you had to be wheeled around in a wheel chair the next day to conserve your energy. Or they made you drink Ensure Plus if you didn’t eat everything on your plate…. and if you refused that, they stuck the tube down your throat to force those calories in. They stood by the door to the bathrooms and flushed them for you so that you couldn’t vomit up the food they made you eat. They weighed you in the mornings and made you wear a hospital gown so that you couldn’t stuff any pockets with rocks to add the weight you hoped you didn’t gain. I remember some pretty crazy things going on in those places… But I also remember some gentle friends… and some people that were in there just to prove they could still lose weight even in a treatment center and went to get tips on how to take their ED to another level when they went out into the real world again. We were allowed to do gentle yoga. We had a movie night sometimes where we would order in.. usually a binge food… I remember there being pizza some nights, McFlurries some nights, Snickers bars some nights… You were allowed to eat as much as you wanted… it was there… but we could never focus on the movie because we knew the food was right there and we knew everyone was watching everyone else to see how much everyone else ate so that they could eat the least amount… if that makes any sense at all… The nutritionist was my worst enemy… always upping my food intake. To this day I still fear bagels. Bagels and peanut butter were what you ate if they felt you weren’t gaining enough. They took you to a restaurant and made you order a normal meal. Those were the worst days. In public. Forced to eat a whole meal, when all the years before I would eat a salad or lie about all the things I ate earlier in the day. But everyone was in it together. We all were terrified of gaining, but more terrified of going back out into the real world.

Recovering from an eating disorder… getting out of treatment from an eating disorder is the hardest thing I have ever had to do…  And I failed many times. I relapsed many times.
Food was everywhere. It was something that one had to deal with on a daily basis. One had to eat to survive. But how much to eat? How little could you get away with eating? In treatment you learned that if you ate too little it messed up your metabolism and it would mess with your body. If you ate too much, obviously you gained. You had to eat just enough. With alcohol and drugs, you could abstain.  With an eating disorder you still had to eat. Every day. In order to live. In fact, soon after I got out, I got into a relationship with a guy that treated me the same way my brother treated me… because in my own messed up mind, I knew my brother loved me… and thats one way he showed love… so I accepted the fact that to love someone was to use and abuse them… and continued on with mini eating disordered habits and a dependency on alcohol and a dabble in drugs… for 5 more years I lived a sheltered, naive, mini-life….

To this day my heart is still dealing with the effects of 8 years stuck in this mindset. I have heart arrhythmia. Sometimes I am laying in bed and my heart starts going crazy and I fear going to sleep that I will not wake up The years of not eating and nourishing my body weakened my heart and it will never be normal. My bones have suffered. I have low bone density and osteopenia due to the lack of calcium and other nutrients when my body needed it. Years of purging what little food I did eat wreaked havoc on my teeth as well.  And still… to this day… I fear food. I keep track of everything I eat.  Every exercise I do. I always take the long route. I always make work harder than it has to be just because it would burn that much more calories. I still want to cry inside when I go to a restaurant and have to order a real meal and eat it with others… most times I suck it up and do it.. Other times I give in.. just a little… order a simple soup.. or salad.. or appetizer and toss aside peoples suggestions saying, “Oh, I promise I am not that hungry..” and then go home and fill the rest of the emptiness of my belly with water or grapes or grapefruits..

And now. It is getting worse. And it is terrifying how strong the thoughts are these days. I have been sticking to a diet of coffee and a banana or grapefruit or low fat yogurt for breakfast and then one of those powdered chicken noodle soups for dinner (less than 100 calories) and sometimes rice cakes with a little triangle of that smearable cheese… And I look in the mirror. And I put on my clothes. And I feel no different. I feel bigger. I look at pictures and I look so much bigger than everyone else. I want to feel my hip bones jutting out when I lay down. I want to see my collar bones as I look in the mirror. I want to be able to wrap my hands around my upper thighs and have my fingers touch. Is that messed up thinking? Yes….

How does one like oneself?

It is very unfortunate that the death of my older brother was what shook my world to the point that I finally saw through my eating disorder. I never got to say I loved him. He finally started being nice to me the last year of his 4 year battle with cancer. I think he knew he was dying and was trying to make up for all the things he did.  It messed with my head. I wanted to live a life for both him and me. And from then on, my attitude changed. My life changed. Now people look at me… get to know me… as a happy, optimistic, charming, etc. etc. girl. And yes, I am. I truly am. But that doesn’t mean that I still don’t struggle with ED thoughts. Terrible words he said to me when I looked up to him most still echo through my head.

And now, I am happy to say that I LOVE life. I do not depend on alcohol. I relinquished myself from drugs. I love food (most of the time) and am in a very healthy relationship. I relish in the little things of life. I ADORE adventure. I greet people with the thought that everyone is good and great. I know that everyday is not good, but there is good in everyday. And I am happy to be alive.. and there have been times I have sucked it up and worn a bikini and proudly shown off my scar… because that is part of who I am…. and I am alive because of it…….. And I am not afraid to talk about it to anyone who needs help… has questions.. anything…
Because most of all… I do not wish that kind of life on anyone… going through life with an eating disorder is not living….

Hakuna Matata

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Back to Budapest

Friday, February 3, 2017
Budapest, Hungary

“Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps. The sleeper must awaken.” – Frank Herbert

I have a feeling that there will be many posts about Budapest in the upcoming month and a half.
I have posted myself here until the 180 days are up and I can finally go back to Romania! I could have tried to get a job in the USA (that would be difficult since I would only be there for a short while). I also could have saved money and stayed with my parents (but that would have been boring).
Instead, I am helping out at a hostel here in Budapest. Living the life. Meeting new people. Attending all of the ruin bars in town to find the best ones. Getting lost in the city to find its hidden treasures. And inviting friends to come on down so I can personally show them the best day ever.
I remember on my way to Romania, I spent a short time in this enchanting city and knew I needed to come back… why not see all there is to see and more and stay here for a month and a half!:)
In fact, my first night here, I had a whirlwind night of meeting my fellow helpers and going to the coolest ruin bar in town, Szimpla. There were all kinds of neat things to find on the walls and on the floor and the ceiling. The hallways and stairs were narrow and stone so it had a labyrinth-like feel to it.. there was a toilet on the ground floor right by the dance floor (hopefully no one has actually used it).. there was a fish tank upstairs.. the outside courtyard was overrun with great green leafy trees and a big red sports car… there was writing all over the walls.. ohhh it was my dream bar!!! I never got bored just looking around at the hodgepodge of wonderful things to entertain myself with!  Unique… different.. bizarre.. beautiful… enchanting… so very fresh than a normal bar :))  and they had some pretty hiphoppening music to get down to as well! ;)) I have a feeling I will be back in the near future.
I also did a quick walk through of the city again.  Below are the pictures… I will have a bit of an update on the city and the experiences after I have been here longer… but so far it is a tad overwhelming.. I speak no Hungarian, but I recently learned my favorite phrase in Hungarian, “Why not?” I’d say it is pretty useful for an adventurous traveler to know…  Less people know English here than in Bucharest… But ohh the buildings are so beautiful.. and the bridges… and the random statues all over.. I am so glad I chose this place to chill at.. I think the time will pass quickly
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What a wonderful view… It is so much prettier in real life.. or in a  better camera… But that is the view of the Fisherman’s Bastion from the Chain Bridge..

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I love this little statue.. I saw this guy when I first came here and absolutely adored it,.. Just beyond,.. in the background is the famous Chain Bridge…

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Another fun little statue of a girl playing catch with her puppy :)) Just down the walkway from the Chain Bridge to the White Bridge…

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I love this little portly police guy :))

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The Love Lock Tree :))

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St Stephen’s Basilica… I’ll go inside one day… but I love the coffee shop on the right hand side… mostly because it is called “California Coffee Company” and I adore California..

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The Green Bridge near sunset.. Just behind me is the huge Central Market Hall where you can find a huge assortment of fresh and local cheeses and meats and breads and fish and Hungarian specialties.. It was so overwhelming that the first time all I came out with was a pomegranate.. but I learned that most of the people know enough English for someone to purchase something since it is quite the tourist attraction too..

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The Love Lock Tree :))

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The start of the Chain Bridge.. with the lovely fierce lions protecting on either side.

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Can you tell that I love this bridge>! :))

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And again, the Green Bridge… Ohhhh how I wish I had a better camera to show you guys how beautiful it really is!!

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And here is my favorite Market… soOoOoo much fresh meats and cheeses and breads and fish and vegetables and fruits…. Don’t be afraid to talk up the workers, most of them know at least some English since this place is pretty famous and a lot of tourists pop by for Hungarian specialties. :))

Home Sweet Home…

“I’m homesick all the time,” she said, still not looking at him “I just don’t know where home is. There’s this promise of happiness out there. I know it. I even feel it sometimes. But it’s like chasing the moon – just when I think I have it, it disappears into the horizon. I grieve and try to move on, but then the damn thing comes back the next night, giving me hope of catching it all over again.”
— Sarah Addison Allen (The Girl Who Chased the Moon)

January 4, 2017

I have been in the USA since the 20th of December… It is currently the 3rd of January… and I cannot quench the desire to go back to Romania… to go back to Europe…
I never really had a home here to begin with… hopping all over the country… from one seasonal job to another… making friends that I still keep in contact with, but they are spread all over the country…
I made connections in Romania.. I felt stable for one of the first times in a looming while… stable like I could remain there for quite an extended period of time.. I was comfortable there.. my job.. the gym.. my friends.. the occasional weekend outing to Transylvania..
And now I am here.. the first week and a half were rather rough… full frontal barrage of family visits.. old family friends.. one after the other… day after day.. being bombarded with questions of my life.. inquiring about whether I ever planned to settle down.. to have kids.. what was I doing with my life… “When I was your age…” etc etc.
And then to my parents house.. way out in the middle of eastern Washington.. a town full of Washingtonian rednecks complete with deer antlers in restaurants and cameo as the standard gear and plenty of Hunting and other “outdoor activity” magazines (though none of them included rock climbing or hiking or kayaking or any of the outdoor activities I take pleasure in..)
So I ran away.. first to my aunt and uncle in my birth town, Walla Walla, WA. A Beautiful little town.. their kids.. I used to babysit them many years back.. now they are all grown up and in high school or college.. they taught me about their 30+ chickens and guinea fowls and ducks and we went on a beautiful little hike around a dried up/iced over lake 🙂
Then to Portland… my favorite little town..
Visiting friends here and there… but I still feel so disconnected from everything.. everyone..
I thought I would have a blast visiting people.. my friends… visiting my heart homes.. the PNW…
But my heart and my head are distracted with Romania.
With a yearning to go back to to where I felt wanted..
I do not enjoy American coffee anymore…
IPAs, yes.
Tacos, yes.
Siracha, yes.
My car, yes.
Mt. Hood and Mt. Rainier and Seattle and all the vast and varying nature this area provides… yes.
But many of the things I used to LOVE… kinda lost their luster after being in Europe… People seem so distant…
I hate this feeling because I feel like I am being a snob, talking about my adventures in Europe and the differences I encountered between this place and that place and USA..
Don’t get me wrong.. I still love my friends here.. love being here.. Portland.. All of Oregon and Washington and California…
Just something in my heart feels slightly off…
I even ran south to Northern California to visit an old friend who always used to give me comfort.. We spent an afternoon wandering the hills near the Klamath River and finding quite a spread of bones.. a place where coyotes go to feast and leave only the bones.. as well as lots of beautiful quarts and what seems to be opal…
It was a beautiful couple days.. but cut short due to a crazy snowstorm that was coming and I had to leave before I got stuck… Though now that I am here, the thought of building a snowman and having a snowball fight sounds like a winning situation 🙂
And yes, visiting did make me feel warm and happy ,… but at the same time even more restless and confused and lost.. they had their shit together… I am still floating..
I have yet to visit a few more friends here… constantly searching for that comfortable feeling I used to feel with them…
But I find more comfort in hiking in the woods or wandering the nature alone.
What is wrong with me.
I want to go back.
And I talk to these people… with houses… with some form of a “real job”.. with families.. deep friendships… stability.. trust in each other.. plans for the next week or the next month or the next year.. the way they look at each other… connected through laughter… connected through touch… and I feel slightly broken and quite alone.
I am not part of the lives of my friends here… and I am no longer a part of the lives of my friends in Romania…
I seem to be stuck with the infinite unknown
And that is terrifying
Will I ever be able to do that too? Will I constantly wander? Will my racing thoughts.. fear of the future.. the unknown ever slow down?
When I was in Romania… I thought I had things down pat. It was slow to come at first.. a day at a time.. a week.. a month.. by December I had things planned at least through September.. with possibility for longer..
Now that I am so far away… it is so far away.. it is so long until I can go back…  And the time difference and time between me being there and now makes communication difficult… And the mind can be a terrible place in those hours where theres nothing to distract it…
Will they all still remember me and like me when I come back?
Where should I go in February?  What should I do tomorrow?
Do I belong here or there?  Will I ever be able to learn Romanian so I can actually talk with people there in their own language? Will I ever be able to have kids… a family.like all these people back here?
Infinite Unknown.
Terrifying.

 

Beautiful Budapest 


“In Budapest, you’ll find experiences like nothing else in Europe: Feel your stress ebb away as you soak in hundred-degree water, surrounded by opulent Baroque domes… And by speedo- and bikini- clad Hungarians. Ogle some of Europe’s most richly decorated interiors, which echo a proud nation’s bygone glory days.” ~Rick Steves Thursday September 8, 2016

Day 109 

Budapest, Hungary 
Budapest was amazing. Way too much to do in that city. Way too many places to see than 38 hours can provide. I do wish I could’ve had the chance to stay longer. Preferably with a local. A CouchsurfEr. I didn’t get to feel the real vibes. The real feel of the city. 

I was so lost when I got there. Thankfully, the dude in front of me on the bus worked at a hostel in Budapest and said it was only 9 dollars. Totally. For sure. I’m down. And since my phone was dead he escorted me all the way there. He had just finished a 4 day music festival up in Pula, Croatia by the beach and was telling me stories of his adventures. Once we got to the hostel he was invited into the arms of his hostel friends and I never saw nor spoke to him again. That’s ok. 

I wandered the streets a bit. It was midnight. People were still ambling about drunkenly. The bars were exploding with music. I stopped at some deli for some food. They had all kinds of bready delicacies. Some flaky, some cheesy, some more bread-like and some more dessert like. I opted for this little pillow of bread with a nice melting if cheese and some meat layered on top. I have no idea what it was called but it was 180, which was $0.65, and a beer for $0.75 and they warmed m it up (the food not the beer) and I was so hungry I didn’t even wait until I got out of the shop to bite into it. Not that great. Kinda shitty. But it was food. And the beer helped wash it down as I walked down the street. I still feel naughty walking the streets with a beer in my hand. I remember when I worked at my hostel I was always shocked when the guests would walk on the streets on the way to Taco Tuesday or Drunk Thursday with a PBR in their hand. Now I fully understand. And it will be hard to go back. It feels so good to be able to wander around with a bottle of wine to share in the park or a beer while listening to an open air concert. 

Anyway, I went back to the hostel shortly after to sleep. There were just 2 other people in the 6 bed room. It was a couple. They were sleeping together on the top bunk. It was sweet. But it made me sad. It reminded me if traveling with my Swiss German and how we would squeeze into little bunk beds to be near each other in the short time we had together. And now the way he acted toward me hurt, like I was nothing. Bittersweet memories started to flood in. I shook them away and went to sleep. 

The next morning, I mulled over the suggestions of people I had asked on Facebook. There was an island with trees and nature to discover. Margaret island I think. The spas and thermal baths, since Budapest was known as Spa City due to the thermal wAter below its grounds. The caves below the hills that were used as cellars and a hospital. They were created as a result of the limestone rocks and natural hot springs beneath the city. Other caves in one of the other hills allowed for you to explore on a more wild level, crouching through tiny holes miles below where the sun touched the earth. The bridges. The food. The Basillica. The Jewish quarter. The museums. 

I decided to start off slow and do one of the free tours. Technically, they aren’t free, you need to tip them at the end. No one could ever compare to my first free tour in London. Sweet Olly ❤️❤️ so animated and fresh and fun. No other tour I’ve been on, even the paid tours have been comparable to the show he put on. 


Anyway, this dude gave a brief overview of St Stephen’s Basilica and how there is the preserved hand of Stephen, a king of Hungary.  I spaced out while he was talking in his monotone voice. Why would he be a tour guide when he lacked so much enthusiasm? He gave us a brief talk on the local foods and drinks, but said them so fast and in Hungarian. I had no idea what they were. I asked him about them later and wanted him to write them in my phone, but he pretty much ignored me because I have him a mere 500 as a tip and others gave him more. 

He talked of the Jewish quarters and the Turkish baths and how everything in the city was destroyed during WWII. He told of the famous Chain Bridge that was constructed by some Scotsman, but was destroyed in WWII and had to be rebuilt. 



One thing I remembered was that the Rubix cube was created by a Hungarian math teacher. And the way to say hello in Hungarian sounds like “see-ya” in English. 

We walked across the bridge and up on top of the palace on Castle Hill. Beautiful view of the city. Once again, I forgot all the stories because I saw butterflies fluttering by. Smetterling in German. Farfalla. Mariposa. Pappion. Or j saw something that reminded me of a song and I started singing it in my head instead of listening. I am the worst. 

We ended at Matthias Church and the Fishermans Bastion.  Apparently, the Fishermans guild used to protect that part of Castle Hill and it was my absolute favorite. It reminded me of a castle! Columns and stones a grand walkway from the street below and circular stairs that wove their way to a second level with lookout towers. It looked far too fancy and decorative to be used as a defensive building. And learning more, I found out it was actually built after the Buda castle was no longer in use as a castle, so it was more of a lookout or terrace to enjoy the panorama. All with a wow view of the parliament and the river and everything beyond. 


But it was hot. And I forgot my water. And there was a fountain. The sound of the water gushing forth made my throat constrict with want. I saw people put their water to their lips and my mouth couldn’t even water due to lack of such delight. I ended up staring at them like some weirdo as they gulped the precious liquid. My body felt shriveled and dry. 
I made my way down all the steps and found a little shop. I have grown fond of bubble water since here in Europe. I always felt too unsophisticated drinking it. Now it was normal. 

I walked along the river. I knew somewhere down that way was the Rudas thermal baths. I was excited. Everyone told me it was something to experience. The water had medicinal powers. With all the nutrients in the near boiling hot, natural hot spring waters. This past winter, at Mammoth Mountain, where I worked, there were natural hot springs. But you had to off road to get there. And people most certainly didn’t flock there to heal themselves. They flocked there to warm up and soothe their aching muscles with a cold beer after a long day on the slopes… So I guess in a way, yes they went there to heal too. 

Even the walk from the city was gorgeous. I found a little garden off to the side with marble steps leading up to a terrace lined with smooth white columns with green ivy twisting up and down. Once again the view overlooked the city. Fountains with mermaids and angels were every 150 meters or so. The grass was thick and green. And beyond that was the other hill. It was further from the main bits of the city and had a rocky cliff face that was covered in green. Marble steps zig zagging up and in the middle was a beautiful trickling waterfall. It looked wild. It looked untamed. It looked like my kind of beautiful. I had to stop and gawk for a bit. 


Then I made it to Rudas. To my disappointment, the main thermal area was reserved for men that day, but the wellness option, which offered a smaller version of the thermal spas, was available. I debated. I knew it was highly unlikely I would be motivated enough to find another Budapest Bath, since I was tired from walking and it was already 3:55 and I still had to eat and figure out where to stay that night. I paid the money, 3,000 (or $11) and was told a string of unclear directions. They gave me a bracelet. Said something about a locker and waved me on. 

Okkkk

I wandered down a hallway. Off to the left was an entryway. Two men dressed in crisp white uniforms were standing around talking. I asked them where I should go. One guy smiled and made a gesture for me to come into the room where he was. The other guy shrieked and waved his hands around to block the walkway, “No! No no! I’m sorry but this is men only day!”  

Okkkkkk 

So I continued on and ended up finding the lockers. How was I supposed to know which locker to use? I scoured the receipt looking for some clue. Nothing. I asked another guy in white. He smiled knowingly and explained I could choose any locker I wanted, but I better remember the number or I might never find it again. 

Fair enough. I wandered to the back. Old men, old ladies ambled about… their weathered old skin wrapped up in tiny towels barely covering their private bits. But they looked happy and relaxed. 

Dude. Was I the only “young” one here? 

I had worn my swimsuit under my clothes so I didn’t need to change, just take off my clothes. I was nervous about wearing my bikini again, with my scar and all. But I decided it was the best way to get comfortable with myself. With my own body. Acceptance. 

I wandered, trying to figure out where to go, following the signs for “Wellness”. It was beautiful inside. Stunning. Huge marble columns. Tall ceilings. Sparkling waters that cast a blue shimmery light on everything. Gorgeous tile work on the floors and walls. Lion statues poked their heads out of the walls and spat out drinkable water. There were 4 pools, each with different temperatures. The two biggest were lukewarm, where most people lounged. Every few minutes there were mini waterfalls that spewed out from the sides into the pools. The tile work and lighting were stunning. There were smaller pools to the side. One was raised and the cool blue light and ice blue tiles tipped me off that it was probably cold. And then I noticed a hole in the wall on one side of it and ice cubes slowly trickling out into the pool. Ok. Yes. It was cold. The other one had wArm red and orange lights. It was the “healing” one. 42 degrees Celsius with all the elements in it to heal and soothe aching backs and joints and cure the soul. I spent most of my time jumping from the ice water to the super hot one. I am not the best at relaxing, but I did get to play in the waterfall 🙂 And then I discovered there was a rooftop spa. A hot tub on the roof. It was round, circular, with the building off to the side of the city, looking down at everything . Wow. 

I was the only solo person there. A couple groups of girls were there, giggling and talking amongst themselves. A few couples, mostly older. The younger couples spent the entire time in each other’s Laps or locked in embrace. A few groups of lads came through. A few people even tried to make conversation, including an Australian man bun trio. So, despite how much my mind perceived me and my body to be grotesque, I suppose other people didn’t think so. They saw me wearing the least amount of clothes I’ve ever worn and still wanted to talk. 


Cool. 

Anyway, I wandered back to my hostel, booked another night and went to watch the sunset by the river. Magical scene to watch the colors wash over the city. It turned out there was an open air concert at a bar next to the Chain Bridge. I went and bought a cheap (but shitty) gyro, since I had forgotten to eat that day and needed something quick and wasn’t about to go to a restaurant by myself. I bought a few beers too and wandered over to have a listen. The music was wow. Jazz funk rock. Right on the river with the Chain Bridge lit up in the background.  

I am not a clubber. I am not one for going and getting hammered at bars and talking up strangers. That’s why I like Couchsurfing and getting to know people and drinking and talking and listening to music. I missed it already. I wished for a friend. Though, sure I do enjoy bArs with a few good friends too. But I can be totally fine watching live music by myself. Some guy from tinder ended up recognizing me and came to talk for a bit, but I was a bit tipsy and way too involved in the music to talk. 

I discovered the Ruin Bars. A hip area of Budapest in the old Jewish quarter. Buildings, stores, homes were abandoned and they were left to decay and rot. Walking along the street, you would never know the thriving nightlife inside. From the outside it looks like just another old, nearly abandoned building.  Not much noise or signage or people lingering. But inside… Thrift store furniture. Crazy art. Funky vibes. Things hanging from ceilings. Nothing matched. Artsy. Ecclectic. The courtyards overrun with weeds. It was amazing. 

I ended up going back early. Around midnight. Parties were still raging outside. But I had a fulfilling day. I got to wander the city. I got to go to a Budapest bath. I heard some live music. I watched the sunset on the river and the colors change the facade of the Basillica. I climbed to the top of a castle. 

And since my room way right by the street, I pulled my headphones on my head, and put on my “Best Summer Ever” playlist. With every song that came on, I couldn’t help but let out a sleepy smile as I remembered where I heard that song, who I was with, what we were doing, how I was feeling… Reminiscing on this beautiful nearly four month long solo journey. ❤️ not quite ready to go home. 

We all start off as strangers 


“Love all, trust few, do wrong to none”. ~William Shakespeare 

Friday August 20, 2016

Day 91

Rome, Italy 

I am exhausted. I am weary. I still am at a loss for what to do. 
The other morning, I woke up in Venice (BEAUTIFUL place by the way) and got an email saying that the hostel in Croatia I was supposed to start work at next week canceled and my place to stay that night canceled. 

I remember reading the messages, my heart sinking. A lump in my throat rose slowly. I was looking forward to being able to stay in one place for awhile again. And now I had no place tonight either. 

I was counting on having a solid place to stay so I didn’t have to keep moving so much. Hostel life again. I needed it. 

Now I had nothing. Nothing but a blank canvas. It was a both exciting and terrifying feeling. The feeling that I could go anywhere. 

I could go “home” whenever that is and try to find a real job… But how would I know where home was? What if I chose the wrong town to stay in. 

My head was spinning out of control. I tucked my legs in close to my chest and laid my forehead on my knees. 

Where do I go next? What do I do? 

I remember someone a couple days back was raving about Florence. Perfect. I’ll go there. Something is waiting for me there. 

I shot out a few couchsurf requests and booked a BlaBlaCar for 2pm and went to get a sketchbook and charcoal pens at a fancy little shop I saw in my wandering a the other day. The time has come. I need to distress. I need art. I need expression. 

I left Venice too quick, some would say. Yes. I think I did. But I was not in a good mindset to stay. When I get upset, I run. Simpleton thoughts though, because they always follow you. Your thoughts. Your worries. Your fears. 

But I left anyway. Needed a bright and beautiful new place to distract my mind.

And wow Florence won me over quickly. The vibes. The energy. The people. The food. The cobblestone streets and old buildings, reminiscent of medieval times. The unbelievable sunset. 

But I am feeling the weight of this trip today. My shoulders ache from lugging the way too heavy clunker everywhere I go. My heart and soul still spinning, trying to catch up with all the moments of this long 3 month trip. The good, the bad, the beautiful, the unexpected, the scary, the disappointing. 

I am a traveler. Not a tourist. I wander to different places to meet the people of the cities. I live for couchsurfing.  I want to know how it was growing up in Rome or London or Barcelona or Florence. It’s bonkers to me that all this stuff that is so magical and breathtaking to me is simply the backdrop of everyday live for them. 

I live for the nights I get to help in the kitchen with my CouchsurfEr, sipping wine. Sharing a meal. Talking about this and that and everything under the sun and more. Board games are brought out. Music is played. Laughter is shared. I find the moon for everyone. Sometimes we venture out of the house to explore their cities streets. 

I don’t travel to see the touristic things. Sure I’ll give them a go, but I want to know why locals love this city. The secret gardens. The gross dive bar where they go to every week and they are known by everyone inside. 

I want to know where to catch the best sunsets and find the most shooting stars. The beautifully broken down, abandoned buildings. The graveyards. 

I want to know how you celebrate Christmas or whatever holiday you do happen to celebrate in December. How do you ring in the new year? What’s your spirit animal? What is something you could do for hours and hours later you realize you forgot to eat because you were so into it? What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened? When was the last time you cried? When you drift off during boring work meetings where does your mind go?  What song makes you sad? What song gets you up in the morning? Where do you go to my lovely, when you’re alone in your bed.. I love that song… 

Or better yet, don’t tell me, show me. Show me your wild world. Let me in. Let’s adventure together. You can trust me. 

Those are the things I want on this trip. Connections. Friends. The oddly beautiful process if going from perfect strangers to good friends. Sometimes I challenge myself and find someone very unlike me and try to see what connections we can make. Sometimes I choose ones who seem to fit the mood I want to experience in that particular city. 

You see, I love people. All their quirks. Even the assholes can be quite intriguing. How did you get to be where you are? What kind of text can make you smile immediately? 

If I am enjoying ones company, I could care less about leaving the place we are at. I am just fine staying right there in their living room, on their terrace, on the hillside overlooking the alps, on the dock, our feet dangling in the water. In Warsaw, I never saw much of the town because I was having the time of my life meeting all the local polish people when my CouchsurfEr had a party. In Interlaken, I never set foot inside the city except the train station. I spent my time in farther out tiny villages and way up high in the alps. 

I chose to stay home tonight. My CouchsurfEr went out. I feel drained. Soulless. Boring. Broken Sad. Lost. No idea where to go next after Naples on Sunday. Should I run away to Cambodia? Go to my friend in London? Check out Croatia anyway? I need rejuvenation. I need a magical adventure or a beautiful stranger or a sweet lover. Or just sleep. And a hug would be nice too..

I want memories. I want connection. I want friends. Sure I’d love to have a lover, but I am not looking for it. This is my trip. This is what I want. 

And for a bit longer at least, I will wander aimlessly though gorgeous Italy, befriending beautiful strangers. Moving on to the next place that is suggested and calls to my heart. 

We all start off as strangers…

Last night in Switzerland…


“Bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God”   ~Kurt Vonnegut 

Tuesday August 16, 2016

Day 89

Lugano, Switzerland
So there I was. Walking down the roadway at 10pm. Or was it 11? I don’t know. I had turned off my phone due to the fact I had 19% battery left. I might want to have enough juice to catch the sunrise in the morning. It was dark. Cars were zooming by. I was up on a raised edgeway, a wall of sorts, overlooking the river. It was 1.5 meters to the road on one side and abut 7 meters on the other side down to the railway tracks, followed by the gorgeous lake far below. Lightening flashed up ahead in the distance behind the hills. That is the direction I was headed. To the Italian border. 

I had just gotten dropped off a few hours earlier by my BlahBlah car. I had told him to just drop me off wherever, explaining to my fellow passengers I just wanted to check it out on my way to Italy, besides, I had 60 francs left to spend. They thought I was crazy. That’s ok. I felt a little crazy. 

I wandered around the big, Swiss-Italian city, exploring the nooks and crannies, finding gorgeous street art, super fancy restaurants and beautiful views. The Palm trees reminded me of my sweet, sweet California. The lowering sun beat down on me, creating a raging thirst for a nice cold beer. 

I looked up local pubs… There were too many fancy looking restaurants with crisp white tablecloths, candles, huge wine glasses and baskets of bread. Those were not my people. I loved pubs… But the only two that popped up on my google maps were closed. So I walked along the waters edge, picking up a gelato and a beer for dinner. Why not. 

I took in the picturesque sunset over the lake and debated my options. I knew that if I continued south along the lake I would be in Italy soon.. There was no way I was forking out 200+ francs for a hotel. The hostels were full. So I started walking, in hopes I would find an appropriate little patch of trees or grass or whatnot to sleep. 

It soon grew dark. The sidewalk narrowed to a tiny little raised bit about the width of my two feet. The streetlights ended. Soon, my walkway turned into a wall I had to climb on. 

The lightening up ahead flashed sporadically, causing the world around me to light up like a disco. The flashes grew in intensity and frequency. The moon, my favorite thing, showed its creamy full belly with pride, teasing me, playing hide and seek as it went behind the clouds. 

I was torn between, “what in the world am I doing?” “This doesn’t seem safe” and “wow what an adventure this is!” 

I kept walking… The sides of the road were too slopey to crawl off and find a place to sleep. It grew darker. I had to concentrate on my footing as the cars that drove by shone their headlights in my face. 

The wall I was walking on grew thinner and thinner as it weaved up and down the hillside around the lake. And then it ended. And I felt something cold and wet land on my cheek. 

Rain. 

Ohhhhh mannnnn I guess it wasn’t heat lightening that I was seeing.  

I walked across the road to a little side road that wound into up the dark woods. 

Should I go up and see what was up there? Maybe there will be enough trees to create a canopy…

The rain came down harder. 

A car pulled off the road. It slowed to a stop a couple metes from me. Engine running, headlights on. A window rolled down and I heard someone calling to me. 

Well, here we go….

I walked over, an old man, about 70 years old was leaning over spouting something in Italian. 

“…English…?” I hesitantly asked. 

“Oh sure. But a little bit. Where are you going? Are you ok?” 

I explained that I was just walking. No place to go. 

He looked at me like I was crazy. Which was fine, cuz I felt like I was crazy. 

He told me that he had a couch I could sleep on just 5 minutes down the road and he would take me to the train station in the morning. 

I debated. The droplets of rain were quickly becoming a torrential downpour. Thunder was crashing. 

Fuck it. I was wet. I was cold. I was exhausted. I had no idea where I was or what time it was. 

I hopped in. My hair and clothes and backpack drenched. 

We talked briefly. He always had a cigarette hanging out of his mouth… In the car… In his apartment… Morning… Night… I don’t even think I remembered to ask his name. But he worked at his shop in a village near Lugano. Had worked and lived there his entire life. He had no family left. He spent 3 months every year living it up in Thailand and Cambodia. 

Cambodia!! Another person…

We got to his place.. It was tiny. There was a huge bed and a tiny couch. He said I could relax in the bed or the couch. My choice. I chose the couch. Quickly changed into some dry clothes and curled up around a pillow. Thoughts swirling in my head. 

This could be my last night alive. 

He proceeded his nightly routine. Took off allll his clothes. No hesitation. No words. Just took them off, laid them gently on a chair, went over to a picture of him and a lady, leaned over and gently kissed it. The love and sadness evident in his eyes. He picked it up and showed me. Explaining his wife died of cancer 3 years ago. He set it down right where it was his eyes filled with longing. It was a sweet gesture. 

He walked over to the couch where I was curled up in a ball. Above the couch, there was a window that was open. He leaned over and closed it. His junk hanging straight in my face. I scrunched my eyes closed, my eyes burning with the image. He walked back and crawled into his bed. Turned on the tv and wished me happy dreams. I thanked him, rolled over and closed my eyes. I pretended to sleep. The thunder continued to crash outside, shaking the walls and windows inside. The old man let out a surprised “FUCK!” Everytime. I focused on the sound of the rain hitting the balcony outside rather than the tv blaring next to me. Before too long I was out. Sleeping. 

I awoke at 545. He was already awake, doing naked exercises. Squats and whatnot with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. I rolled back over, staring at the orange couch. Wishing he’d put pants on. 

“Give me fifteen minutes and I’ll take you to the train.” He said. 

And he did. 

Just like that. 

Beautiful stranger coming through for me again. 

Today I take the train to Milan. And then make my way to Venice. 

And already have gotten rerouted twice on my way to Milan. 

Italian trains are a whole different boat than Swiss trains…: 

Maybe I’ll continue on train. Maybe I’ll hitchhike. 

What a strange, crazy world we live in.