Dear Diary…

20110923-055946.jpg

Real life is beautiful.

Every once in awhile, it’s not what did you see today, but what did you learn today.

I sit writing in a cafe at least 4km from my hostel. I walked for four hours today in a big half circle, eventually ending up at Jerome’s Bucharest hostel. He has my sunglasses. I left them in the shower in Veliko Tarnovo… Because the last shower I had, I jumped in with them still on my head.

And now, he’s not there, and I’m sitting in a cafe down the street that oddly enough (my life is quirkier everyday) is decorated like this.

20110923-060009.jpg

Today I left my hostel, made a left down a main road. About half an hour later, a right down another, a little while later, a left and another left. Maybe a right at some point. Wherever there were restaurants, churches, trees shading the street. I’ve gotten comfortable knowing I can walk as far in one direction or another as I want, and public transportation signs will take me home. Life lesson right there, folks.

I spent 20 minutes walking into various medical offices in a complex, internally laughing at myself, as I asked assistants at each desk if there was a scale, talk/miming “I’ve been traveling for six weeks and walking a lot.” Who would have thought it would be the dermatologist that would be able to help with that one. 57kg. Exactly what I left at, in different units. Except the leaner with kebab muscle version.

But what else did I really learn today.

I’ve been struggling with not identifying as a “backpacker,” and I don’t mean the half that is just European kids getting trashed “on holiday.”… My search for stories to send home, create from, use as inspiration is a great motivating factor for being here. But I catch myself admiring others who are traveling just to know the world for their own personal satisfaction, for no audience, for their own knowledge. I catch myself questioning if their motives for being here are more sincere.

And that’s silly, and I know it.

I spent much of today thinking about this past year, this upcoming year. 15 months ago, blonde blonde blonde, plus 30 very unhappy pounds, due to being… well, very unhappy. 12 months ago, victory belly button ring for a flatter stomach, and “Rich Mahogany 099” hair.

And it amazes me I started planning this trip last December, because so much has changed. I don’t want to be one of those “I graduated, and now I’m OLD!” and everything changed people, because that’s so grossly annoying.

There is a different mindset, however, than when this trip idea was conceived. And after a few years of struggling, I think the person writing this blog is in fact “me.” Maybe a less laundered, groomed version of me…

But I haven’t dyed my hair in over four months. That hasn’t happened since I was fifteen.

I’m fit, and, unlike a year ago, not counting calories to be there.

I’m writing, I’m laughing, and I am getting exceptionally good at Human Frogger on these European streets.

For a lot of backpackers I meet, this is their lifestyle. Save up for two years, quit the job, travel. Save up, quit, travel somewhere else. “Just don’t tie yourself down to things Iike kids or mortgages.”

And for a second, I considered it.

But that’s not the lifestyle I want, I want to have things with fingers and toes, paws and tails (that was kids and puppies, if anyone got weirded out). My desire to have an artsy little apartment rather than a house isn’t a fear of a commitment to a mortgage, but my deep, deep fear of being a horrendous housewife and the mother of whoever I date and ultimately marry hating me.

So new experiences will have to happen from a closer-to-home base, with the occasional excursion should the opportunities come, which I hope they will.

And today, I think I realized exactly where I want to be, geographically, next year. I think I’ll end up in Brooklyn. Being flat broke, but I’ll do without comfort. I really want to work in the city, and always have. Not for forever, not when I’m raising things with fingers and toes (though maybe paws and tails).

Because with recent life events, good and bad, I’ve been realizing the impact short amounts of time can have on a life – 4 seconds, 4 weeks, these 4 months.

And say within a year, I go to NYC. For hypothetical purposes, for three years.

Four years from now, I’ll the ripe old age of… 26.

Gosh, there is so much life ahead.

So much fun to be had.

I’m happy.

In need of a Bucha-Rest.

20110923-045927.jpg

I spent much of the other morning with this cat in my lap. For a long time, it stood on my stomach, purring and doing this hysterical little march in place on my lap. Left up, right up, left up, right up. Repeat.

I set out yesterday to do some cheap wardrobe shopping. I don’t have a single pair of pants, just capris, shorts and skirts, and fall is here. What I found was a massive H&M, where for the first time in my life I thought “$12 for five pairs of underwear? I can do better.”

I am living life on the cheap.

I wandered for hours yesterday, coming across the People’s House (parliament building, second largest government building next to the Pentagon, if I remember correctly), Revolution Square, the university, and so much more Bucharest history. I love it here. I walked until I was exhausted, falling asleep in my bed at 5:30 rather than doing the 6p.m. walking tour I’d planned, and slept the next two hours.

20110923-050912.jpg

20110923-050926.jpg

20110923-050940.jpg

20110923-050950.jpg

20110923-051004.jpg

20110923-051021.jpg

20110923-051104.jpg

20110923-051119.jpg
I’m still sick, and as of last night, it was getting worse. That said, I ventured out to a district with a huge amount of nightlife – dozens of restaurants, bars and cafes. Men playing violins, accordions, guitars. I wish I had a soundtrack of all the sounds and songs I’ll never hear again from this trip. I ate dinner on a corner and watched the crowd, and in the middle of this bustling nightlife, read the first three chapters of Water for Elephants. I’d sleep 12 hours once I went to bed.

I’m content.

20110923-051213.jpg

Do you have change for that bribe?

I got off the train ready to hate Bucharest.

Our train left Veliko Tarnovo at 12:50a.m. I was traveling with Alex, a woman traveling independently for four months on the same route as me, if mostly done in reverse order, three months down and one to go, and with Andy, Minnesota Russian lit major my age. We didn’t get sleepers, just second class seats for which I knew my railpass would be accepted.

Which it was. Except on some random trains, there’s this annoying, insignificant “reservation fee” you have to pay. So while my pass covered my ticket, I still technically owed 2.50 euro for my seat reservation. Which ten minutes down the tracks, I was telling the attendant I didn’t have, playing ignorant, can’t I pay for it now? I hadn’t been sure about the reservation, though I’d doubted in Bulgaria I’d have to deal with it. The train station was in the next town and the cost of a taxi to and from it during business hours to “maybe” buy a reservation wasn’t worth it.

But the language barrier was tough. Rough. Until Andy steps up and saves the day, having a fluent Russian conversation with the attendant (the train was the “Moscow Express,” going from Istanbul to Moscow) and negotiating a bribe. Lesson learned: I’ve really, really got to get a handle on having small change. I had a 20lev note ($15) and multiple 20euros (40lev each). The attendant laughs. Translated, “It’s not worth that much.” Andy handed over a 5 in exchange for letting me get off at Ruse, the border city, to buy the reservation.

And at 3a.m., the ticket office in Ruse was closed, (and sounds of a departing train had Alex and speeding up different staircases to vacant platforms, our bags still on the train with Andy, but Andy’s train ticket in Alex’s purse… luckily, our train was parked on a different platform) but a 5 euro (now Alex’s small change) bribe got the conductor to sign off on my pass, validating my seat and travel history.

The stress maybe wasn’t worth it, but all in, the bribes cost me less than the cab to buy the legitimate reservation. Just McDonald’s breakfast for everyone in the morning.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been sick. And sick makes me cranky, and cranky in a city I don’t know makes me miserable. Basically, arriving in Bucharest on what was the dreariest, cloudiest day of my trip was crappy. It was like being dropped off in NYC not knowing the Empire State Building, Times Square or Statue of Liberty exist.

Just garbage, taxis, metros, people everywhere that could be pleasant or pickpocketers, and fast food chains. The hostel is four streets off the main road, and when dark and gray, sketchy as anywhere I’ve ever been. All the city reminded me of was the job I don’t have, the money I won’t have, and the things I “should” be doing right now.

I was not a campy camper two days ago. Feeling like junk, I went for junk food and laying in the hostel hammock (a bright spot in the day) and hoped tomorrow would be better.

Which it was.