Love or Lust

Hollywood paints the wrong picture of the love story. It shows people who meet and fall in love. It gives us an unrealistic expectation of what love and relationships are like. The difficult issues in life that affect relationships on a daily basis are not presented in the films. The love is covered in Lust and it is based on a physical attraction. Love endures, lust does not. There are many issues in relationships such as: Whether or not they want children, how the finances will work, where the kids will go to school, religion, purpose and direction in life, and moral standards. These are issues that are not touched on that make or break the relationship. The Hollywood picture of the perfect relationship of falling in love and everything just “working out”, leads to the increased divorce rate. Just because you love somebody does not mean the relationship will work out. Many people forget that. Relationships are tough! The word “relationship”, scares a lot of people.

Regardless of how hard people try to fight being in a relationship, ultimately everybody has the fear of being alone. Many people date around and are “seeing” a lot of people at once. They are afraid to enter into a relationship because they’re afraid of making a mistake. The painful truth with that is, any relationship you enter into either ends in a happily ever after, that may include a marriage, or it will end in a divorce or a break up. That’s all there is to it. The relationship will come to a crucial point where you need to decide to end it or move forward in the relationship. Acknowledging this at the beginning, will lessen the hurt when it has to end. Dating is a risk, but it is an informed risk. In the situation where somebody is dating around with many people at once, a lot of people get hurt. If the person is not forthcoming about what their intention is with each of these people, that leads to heart break. The fact is, if you don’t give a relationship a try, you don’t know whether or not you could be happy with just one of the prospects.

Let’s be clear: dating is exhausting. It’s hard to sit down and tell your story to one person on Monday and repeat it on Tuesday and again on Thursday and Friday. It’s physically exhausting to date. When you are monogamistic and you pick one person to spend your time with and to invest in, you have more time to find out who that person is and whether it can go somewhere. If you spread yourself thin amongst many people at once you will get nowhere with any of them because you can’t possibly give yourself out to that many people and have any return on your investments. Granted, if you are seeing one person at a time and you realize that there are nonnegotiable’s that you guys cannot work out, then it only makes sense to end the relationship before you go further. That is a step that most people miss. They continue in a relationship even though they know that at some point it will fail. Again, this comes from the fear of being alone. Most people do not have enough self-worth to know that they will be just fine after the break up. Anybody who has gone through a break up and has found love afterwords has realized that there is hope. This is just hard for people to grasp at the time. We have all been there. Regardless, you won’t know whether or not the relationship can work past the obstacles unless you try. If there are two or more things that you want to change about a person then that is probably not the right person for you.

People can change, yes. Statistically speaking, people don’t change for the better. You can at least give it a try, but again, it is an informed risk. A lot of times what is stopping these people who date around with a bunch of people and deny themselves a relationship status, is the fear of being “taken off the market”. They are afraid to be exclusive with one person because they fear losing out on a bigger, better option. The issue with that is, if you’re afraid of losing out on a bigger, better option then you shouldn’t be in a relationship right now. You are just destined to break a lot of hearts. Yes, you are looking out for your own happiness, but that is at the expense of others. That is when ethics and morals come in to play. You can do what is right for you as long as you don’t hurt anybody else. When you are dating like this, your motives are wrong. Looking for a bigger better option shows internal motives that you don’t want exposed on the outside. Unfortunately, this is very common in today’s dating world.

You need to know what you are looking for and don’t settle for less. That doesn’t mean to be opposed to settling down. Know your non-negotiables. BUT – When you’re ready to settle down, make sure that you are not settling.

Brain Functioning and Neuroscience – The Basics You Asked For

Recently, after having a traumatic brain injury and sparking an internal interest in finding out more about how the brain works, I have been researching neurological processes. I have been studying different scientists and theories about neurological functioning and cognitive abilities. I have been going to conferences to hear specialists in neuroscience lecture about these different subjects. A lot of the subjects are on memory, PTSD, OCD, anxiety, depression and stress. Many people have asked me what I have been learning in the conferences and self-study.

The first key point in learning about the brain was about memory. Life is all memory except for the one present moment that goes so quickly that you hardly remember it. When things in life happen so quickly that you don’t have time to process and realize it, you can never remember that certain things happened. That is why some people don’t remember certain facts and details about certain events. You can only remember what you personally experienced. The brain has multiple memory systems and skill learning habits. The studies that have been done are on individual research studies, subjective and objective on patients as well as brain imaging studies using MRI. There were qualitative quantitative studies done.

The brain uses automatic and controlled processes.

STRESS- Stress is a negative emotional experience by predictable biochemical, physiological, cognitive, and the febrile changes that are directed towards altering stressful event accommodating its effects. There are normal and abnormal responses to stress. These responses are learned, taught, and picked up at various points along the way. There are many things we can do to reduce stress. Some of those are scheduling better and rest periods from work and not overdoing it on the social end. It is all about balance. A huge part of relieving stress and balancing the stress levels in the brain is getting adequate sleep. Avoiding caffeine and alcohol as well as avoiding pharmaceutical sleep aids.

MEMORY- there was a study done on Henry Molaison. Henry had a seizure disorder. He went through surgery to treat the seizures. In the surgery they removed his Hippocampus area of the brain. The surgery was successful in treating the seizures but it left him with a memory deficit. This deficit was studied in detail and later study another patients undergoing the procedure. People with traumatic brain injury’s or any damage to the hippocampus will have problems with memory loss.(If you pointed directly at your ear towards your head that is the area of the hippocampus). With damage to this area you have a complete inability to learn and retain NEW facts and events about the world. The remote memories which are old memories will be intact. Those tracks have already been laid in your brain and you remember the information as memories. You can go back neurologically into your brain cells to retrieve these memories for what you have already learned. After having brain trauma you are unable to consolidate new information and keep it. Nobody will know there is anything wrong with you until they ask you to recall new information. The current conversations that are held or remembered as long as the conversations kept active that day. Once the conversation is ended, the person will not be able to remember what was talked about. New introductions, processes, locations and anything else will not be retained. People in these scenarios have to learn to make Post-it notes and put reminders in their phone to remember peoples names and locations and job skills.

The question most asked about this is how does somebody with this memory deficit remember to put up Post-It notes and set reminders. The interesting part about this amnesia and brain injuries in the hippocampus is that it leaves intact the ability to acquire and express skilled performance. Routines are key. The technical term is that with hippocampus injuries the declarative or explicit memory is lost. The non declarative or implicit memory is intact. This means simple classical conditioning, skills and habits, non-associative learning, and priming. This is due to a division of labor in the brain. There are different systems that provide evidence for multiple memory systems. This is evident during MRI brain scan’s during questioning patients to recall past events and short-term events. They look at what area lights up during this recollection or non-recollection.

An example of this is mirror reversed reading. If you put three words written backwards over and over and read them you would eventually learn how to read them faster. People with intact systems on both ends will memorize them and remember them. The brain injured patient will eventually be able to learn to do them faster, but will never remember practicing to learn them.

When you drink too much and don’t remember how you got where you are after blacking out – this is an example of this type of memory. The person will know that they missed the time period. But they don’t know what happened or why. The fact that you understand you missed a time period is what happens with brain injury patients. They are aware that there is a deficit, but they don’t know what it is. The brain can continue to learn through experience. It won’t know that it is learning but through experience it builds routine and remembers the expertise. This is how people can maintain a job afterwards. Is long as it is a job they had prior to the accident. You don’t have to be consciously awake to remember skills habits and behaviors.

THE AMYGDALA- This is the area of the brain that I find most interesting. This is the area that stores the emotional memories. It is at the end of the hippocampal region in the brain. The hippocampus remembers what happened exactly, while the amygdala recalls the emotions surrounding what happened. Therefore, people may not remember specific events that took place, but they will have emotions associated with events they can’t remember. This is also known as sensory memory. This explains why adults will have different quirks when they are touched by a stranger or they hear yelling or have weird phobias. They don’t know why they are scared of something or why they jumped when they are touched but it reverts back to when they were a child and had traumatic instances that they can’t physically remember but they remember the emotional response surrounding it. Many cases in child sexual abuse when a child hears a familiar voice of somebody who has hurt them when they were younger, they get scared. Nobody understands why and the child won’t be able to verbalize why because they don’t know. Their bodies and sensory memory remembers that this was a voice present during a traumatic event.

The amygdala is learned through experience and it tells you to avoid something. It is a fear system. It causes you to take pause. Your signals that you should avoid something. I don’t always know where this fear came from, but it gives me fear reactions. So you do not need your hippocampus to learn fear. You can teach and condition fear. When you see a facial expression, whether it is angry, happy or sad your amygdala picks up on that reaction and forms and an emotion based on the face you saw. That is what puts up the red flags. It has learned in the past that there was something negative associated. The AMYGDALA is hyperactive in PTSD patients. That is where hypervigilance and the exaggerated startle response comes from.

MEMORIES ARE MALLEABLE – When they say that you can convince yourself into believing anything it is true. Memories, in the simple nature of how they are stored, recalled and encoded are able to be reconstructed. Our memories are not always accurate. They are reconstructions of our past. It’s like a kaleidoscope, all the pieces are there of what happened, but you have to go back and be able to put all the pieces together every time you bring back a memory. So every time you put the memory back you place them differently in the brain. Therefore every time you recall them some details will be different. Many studies have proven this fact. This is how cognitive behavioral therapy works. You ask people with post traumatic stress disorder or other traumatic psych issues to recall events. Once they verbalize them you manipulate the facts surrounding the event so when they move forward from the conversation it is stored differently than the way it was originally brought up. Therefore the stress response related with this memory is less and each time it’s talked about and manipulated.

This is why leading questions are not the way to handle patients or subjects in the courtroom. Eyewitness and courtroom testimony has been brought into question because of this study from Loftus and Palmer in 1974. Studies have shown that leading questions will give you different answers then non- leading questions. This is because they remember the base of what you asked and they form their response based on certain words asked.

OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER- Patients with this have recurrent thoughts or images that are inappropriate and distressing. In order to be diagnosed with OCD it has to be excessive or unreasonable. It has to cause marked distress and be time-consuming to the point that it interferes with life. It is caused by the Caudate area in the brain. There is a failure to filter in the system. It causes anxiety and avoidance in the patient. There is a new treatment for OCD where they put an electrical stimulation system into your brain and it focuses on the caudate. When this area is stimulated the patient does not experience OCD symptoms as bad. In all the studies there was a 20% reduction of the OCD symptoms. This may not seem significant but when the compulsions are to hurt people then it is justified.

ADDICTION- Addiction is related to cue- reactivity. Dopamine is the key chemical here. Dopamine reward circuits are associated with the drive, push to respond, and wanting. A dopamine release means whatever it is you just did repeat it. This is the same driver for athletes- People who get runners highs. This is an incredibly powerful motivational system. The nucleus accumbens is the dopamine reward center in the brain. Dopamine is the craving response. That is why if you see a picture during a neurological study you will have an increase in heart rate you will start sweating you will have subjective cravings and mesolimbic dopamine activity. When patients in the study were shown pictures of cocaine, alcohol, sex, and nicotine, these were all activated. If you see something you know you want dopamine is what activates and you were motivated to do it. That is what makes addicts so difficult to help. When they have a buddy who does it with them it motivates them to do it even more. When you remove an addict from the situation there are less cues that initiate that response. Even a picture, a smell or mention of it will activate that dopaminergic response. That is why it is crucial with severe addiction to remove the person from the entire environment and start them over elsewhere. Pornography is also a dopaminergic response to a cue-reaction When they see the picture they respond. This could have maladaptive consequences. It is an addiction. It is crucial to convince people to want to self regulate the systems. There is something to be said about getting people to want to end their addiction. If that is not there then nothing you do will change that. It truly has to come from within.

SLEEP- Sleep is important for memory consolidation. Astrocytes after the neurons going to the brain. When you sleep they get bigger and they do what they need to do to clean up. If you don’t sleep for a long period of time your internal organs start shutting down. This is because the chemicals are not getting cleaned up after they are supposed to. The science of it is – Any action inside the body causes a metabolic response. Free radicals and trace chemicals are leftover of the body processes signals, thoughts, actions. GET MORE SLEEP= BE HEALTHIER.

These are just basics from what I learned…. I found it all very interesting especially with having a traumatic brain injury myself.

Kelly, B. Ph.D- Dartmouth College neuroscience was a main neuroscientist I have been researching through. Keep in mind that if you talk to a dozen different scientists they will give you a dozen different theories. That is why it is important to research empirical evidence that studies have found. This way you are getting accurate information.

Reslience

Since publishing my book, (Taking Back The Pen- Resiliency Amidst Life’s Predestinated Storyline), many people have asked me where I got my resilience. They have also asked me if I can put into words what it is that makes people resilient. The debate has come up of whether resilience is a trait that a person is born with or if it can be obtained in life.

To start off we need to define RESILIENCE The Mirriam-Webster online dictionary (2010) defines resilience as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to change or misfortune”. The American heritage online dictionary (2009) defines it as “the ability to recover quickly from illness, depression, change, or misfortune; buoyancy.” These are both great definitions. On a personal level, it is about how we apply these definitions in our lives. I do believe that resiliency is a personality trait as well as a dynamic life process. The ultimate key here is bouncing back and returning to normal life regardless of what happens. The fact that trauma and life changes occur is not what is in question here. We are in an ever-changing world that is full of misfortune. The focus needs to be on what happens after the misfortune. You cannot stay in suffering. Once you move forward past it and you do not let it control your life you have been resilient. The antecedent to resilience is adversity. We will all face the adversity in life. The question is, will we all be able to be RESILIENT?

People who have RESILIENCE as a personality trait will demonstrate effective coping skills master their problems, have positive adaptation and are able to integrate control while adjusting and growing through life events. The key term here is GROWH. When we defeat a trial, we grow as individuals in wisdom and character. Some people CHOOSE To have a depressive mind state when they come in to adverse life events. In any situation we have a choice of how we react. We cant always choose what happens but we can choose our response Resilience has a lot to do with personal choice it stems from ownership of our actions and reactions to life events. We can’t always control our life events but we van control our response. How we interpret the event is key. The events can be either physically, psychologically or emotionally traumatic- sometimes even socially. The cognitive ability to interpret this adversity is found through your worldview. That is a personal thought process. Those with different worldviews respond differently to stressors. It is key to have a high self-expectancy and self-determination and to set goals in life. You need to have positive relationships as an individual. Your social support is key in life. Building community is essential to have a successful life. WHO ARE YOU SURROUNDING YOURSELF WITH?

There are many different groups where we can look at resilience: see where you fall into a category

Children- Building resilience begins as early as childhood. We all started there… Take a glance back to see where your roots began. Many children are born into poverty or have a parent who suffers from mental illness. Many have divorced parents. Some children have a chronic and terminal illness will some suffer from child abuse and neglect. Some children are even born into a homeless family. Resilient children are able to respond diversity by adapting circumstances and can cope and manage these major life problems despite their immeasurable disadvantages in life. It is true and it should be noted that children who have “rough lives” growing up start out with resilience for survival and carry that through later in life. That is why people going through such events are stronger than most. They began to fight these battles early in life. There is a switch in life from surviving to thriving.

Survivors of disasters- In America we have had plenty of disasters in the recent years. Many of these survivors of these disasters were resilient by resolving to live, obtaining food and shelter, maintaining survival strategies, keeping families together and building their community. Social support is CRUCIAL. These people were able to give testimony after they finished the trial. That testimony helps others. Trust in God, family support as well as your friends around you allow you to maintain resilience through these challenges.

Adult population- As we age, health wise, we have a decreased functional status. Our stress level increases, poor living conditions abound and we have faced many negative life events by this time. These changes can be influenced to a more positive outlook by maintaining good quality relationships building community and developing coping strategies. Many people have family support and a large network of friends. The problem comes with broken families that do not have the family support. This population leans more heavily on the friends in the community around them whether it is neighbors or people from church or other social circles. Older adult women and sometimes men have faced sexual abuse either as children or in their early adult years. It is been found that these women have used silence, holding in their thoughts and emotions about it, and internal sense of hope, social support and advocacy and intentional self-care. The biggest attribute here was social support. Those are personal dramatic events that most people don’t know about and the resilience here is internal because the success cannot be physically and publicly weighed against what they have been through in order to fully understand how successful they really are today, compared to where they have been. Many people attribute a spiritual grounding as the main source of help. Having a higher power to lean on that give meaning and purpose of their lives. This is key to purpose and strength of moving forward past adversity

Building Resilience – There are many characteristics of resilient people that can be learned and acquired in life. Having a sense of hope. There’s no such thing as false hope, any hope is a positive thing. Self-efficacy, control (Being able to regain control of the situation and alter the events to the way that you would like them to go), coping, confidence, flexibility, adaptability, sense of coherence, recognizing the skills you possess, and the ability to focus. Cognitive reframing, critical reflection and reconciliation are all strategies to build resilience. THESE ARE ALL ATTAINABLE. So when the question is asked, can anybody obtain resilience or are you born with it? The Answer is, YES, anybody can be resilient, they just have to CHOOSE to be.

The first step is to get back up every time you fall. Nobody will move you forward in life except for yourself, with your own two feet. You can’t fully depend on anybody else. There are social structures that can help you in times of need but community is ever changing. Ultimately you need to move forward on your own and except help when it’s given but when it’s not available be able to handle it on your own. Autonomy! Strength! Resilience!

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Moments and hi-light Quotes of the Eurotrip:

Most of these are “inside jokes” between myself and Tricia, the girl I went on the two month backpacking trip through Europe with. Some of them are funny standing alone, but most have a story behind them. We had many adventures on this trip that I don’t want to lose memories of so I compiled this list for my future reference. Feel free to read and write me to find out more details of the stories if you are interested in hearing more.

“Your not tired, you are just lonely– come dance with me”
( Dutch boy in berlin after I told him and his friends that we were tired and going back to the hotel )

“You are laughing on me”
( Iran – Ramin)

“Learn the language of Hungary by getting a Hungarian lover for a couple years, live with him, learn the language then move on.”
( Budapest tour guide)

I said to Tricia, who was sitting in the back of the train playing with her phone, in a short frustrated voice, ” you wanna come look at this or what? ( referring to the subway map to see where we were stopping) a sweet dutch girl sitting in front of Tricia gets up and said,”yes I’m sorry what do you need” I said “oh my I’m sorry I was talking to my friend behind you….. That was really rude and I’m surprised you even responded” …I cooled my temper and felt bad. We all laughed.

Everybody called Tricia, shasha, Sasha, Churchill, theresa or Vincent because nobody could understand her when she introduced herself. She just went with it.

We were walking down an alley in Amsterdam and a guy standing outside a restaurant and said to me ” Can you please make a picture with me? Your hair is very beautiful.” I stopped and smiled next to him for the picture and walked away. When we walked past again he said, ” please you must understand, you are exactly my type. I would like to make marry with you”
Then we walked further and a guy stopped Tricia and asked where she was from. She told him she was from Canada. Then guy said he wanted to go back with her because he loved Canada. A couple walked by and he stopped them and said, “excuse me have you ever met anybody from Canada, because I just did and I love her but she doesn’t love me yet”

Then we walked further and somebody asked where we were from with our blonde friend and when we said that we were from America, he got excited and started jumping around yelling America and began pelvic thrusting into the air several times.

There was a guy in Venice we met while getting in a water bus. He said that he wanted to marry me and that he had the money and to meet him at st macro square at 5 pm.

Then we met a couple guys we were talking with and they said, “ok, so you will marry us now”— this is the third time people have said that to us. I don’t understand! Is that a thing? Must be!

Then in Budapest we met these Australian guys who came up to us and when they said hello, they grabbed our boobs and said that is how they shake hands in Australia.. We weren’t buying it. We left very quickly

Then when we met the England Rugby players after walking around London all day, we sat down with them for dinner. We were having a blast at dinner telling stories and laughing. I had my tan hiking pants on and when I stood up from the table the main player who joined us said, ” woah, whoa sit down, you look like you are on a safari” they still let us come back to their private club with them for drinks after regardless of looking like hikers ha! A photographer came by to take pictures and they just ignored him. They said it happens a lot

In Amsterdam we met soccer players from the England team that had played in the World Cup, we talked with them for a while and they wanted us to come out with them to a bar. I was exhausted and knew the ” to what end” of that scenario and kindly declined. I got the whatsapp number for one of them but never wrote him. They yelled at Tricia when she was taking a video.

When we got on the bus in Ireland there halfway to our hotel a hot guy got on and say a few rows up from us, Tricia leaned over and said, ” this is my shot, would it be obvious if I got up and sat next to him and asked if anybody was sitting there” she didn’t but it would have been hilarious. Then legend of Dracula started playing loudly on the bus TVs out of nowhere.

In Slovakia, when I said that my hip surgery cost around $40,000, our friend Tomas said, “for $40000 in Slovakia they will make you from male to female”.

A German guy we talked to said, nobody should treat me for my meat”
In Austria the Finnish guy said, ” I don’t feel very normal, I am still drunk” we didn’t understand what any of that meant lol

The swingers in Amsterdam there talking behind our backs and said that we would make beautiful babies for them and they would adopt them. Woah! That really happened… What a night

Rome- couchsurfing host ” that light was not red. For me and my lawyer it was green”

Are you married? Not recently!- George from London ( the guy we met in florence who was siting in the grand hotel lobby when we walked in to go up to the bar. We started talking with him and he came to the rooftop terrace with us for a drink. Then he had to leave to catch his flight that was leaving in an hour).

Yolo, is that Mexican? Italian man

” what happened to the banana ” what the Hungarian man said to the Italian girls after they fried a banana on the stove, he apparently did not like it.

Hitchhikers we picked up in Ireland who were from Germany – Alex and Rafael 18yrs old and 19yrs old. They budgeted 17$ a day and ate PB&J 3 times a day. Very nice

Tour guide in Dublin said to the other tour guide, ” those Italians came over to me”

We walked to Kate Middleton’s place where she lives with prince Harry with our ” private tour guides” we saw all the embassy’s…. That was a random night. We walked up her driveway to the gate. The people we were with gave us the insiders tour. We can’t say the names of the people we were with for privacy purposes, but we met them on the roof of a Ritz Carlton in Barcelona and they invited us to dinner in London. It was a great experience. They ave us the background information on princess Diana and all the gossip of the times over there that most people don’t know.

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Budapest

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Budapest

When I went to Budapest I was not sure what to expect. What I did know is that they were famous for their Hot Springs, thermal baths and bridges. That’s all I need to know to spend an extra day there in the spa! Trisha and I had quite the experiences there. It was our midway point of a six-week backpacking trip. So we were using Budapest as our relaxation point where we could just spend all day in the thermal baths at different locations in the city to recharge for the rest of the trip. We ended up spending two whole days at the Hot Springs. It was amazing. The mineral baths were therapeutic, relaxing and just what the doctor ordered.

When we first arrived in Budapest we checked into our hostel – which was five star hotel converted into a hostel.It was called wombatz hostel. It was huge. There were young adults there from all over the world. It was the best place to meet people….. Although, I am still trying to decide for myself if there is a real difference in the definitions between hostel and brothel! It was definitely a hook up spot for random people! We learned that very quickly! Although, I must say that I did not join in the festivities. After we dropped our bags off, we went down the street to look for some food. On the way to the restaurant we saw this Mexican place. When we walked by there was a man through the open window who made eye contact with us. As we walked past the door the guy came out after us. He came up to me and said, quote you look very happy, I would like to give you a massage. Not the sexy massage but the relaxation kind. I would like to do this for you in my apartment right next-door hardly a price.” I looked at Trisha with the eyes of, “is this real life?” The guy was serious. We thanked him and walked away. He did not speak great English. I was in shock that actually happened. It was hilarious. We spent the rest of that evening at the train station mall. It was a four-story mall. We caught up on all of our shopping there for the rest of the trip. Budapest was really inexpensive!

The next day, we went to Gellert spa. We spent all day to different thermal baths that went up to 40°C and then the 19°C pools. It was much needed relaxation day. We followed that up with an hour massage at the spa. Later that evening, after a full day of relaxation, we met up with a couch surfing friend that I met online. His name was Ramin. He gave us directions to his house to meet him and two French girls and two Italian girls who were also strangers from the couch-surfing website as well as his roommates at his apartment before they went out for the night. It was late at night. We made it off of the subway to the stop that he told us. When we got to his home, we rang and rang and knocked and knocked. There was no answer. We decided after standing in the dark street for 10 minutes that maybe this was not a good idea. We figured that they had left without us or it was a set up.

We then decided to sit on the curb near the apartment. We opened up a bottle of wine and began to drink it on the street side just like everybody else did in that town. People were walking by and we still had no response by phone from the contact we were meeting up with. We decided to make the best of it. A younger guy walked past us and Tricia asked him if he wanted a drink because we have plenty. He smiled and said no thank you and walked on by. I looked and down the street and said, “wait where you going. ” He said that he was going to meet up with his friends to go out. I said, “perfect let’s join you” He felt a little bit uncomfortable but said yeah I guess so…. We got up from the street corner and walked with him. When he went to unlock his door it was the same building that the guy we were supposed to meet lives in. I then told him the story about how we were meeting this guy named Ramin to go out with him and his roommates and friends and that I hadn’t heard back from him. The guy stopped and looked at me. He said, “no way”! As we walked into the building. She said, “that is my roommate”! As we walked up the stairs Ramin started walking down. He said, Rachel, hello! I apologize, I was in the shower and I did not have my phone with me.” We all stopped and laughed. We told him the story about how we gave up on him and decided to join another person for his night out and he turned out to be going to the same place we were. That is why again, I will always say, talk to everyone. You never know who you are going to meet.

When we got to his house, there were two girls from France and two girls from Italy. One guy from Argentina. There was also one other guy from Finland and his roommate from Italy. It was quite the interesting bunch to go out. Nobody knew each other. It made for great conversations and an excellent night out.
Ramin was from Iran but lived in Budapest. He reminded me of Borat. There were certain things that were lost in translation. When Trisha and I started laughing at something he said, he would ask us “why we were laughing on him”. The poor conjugation made us laugh even more. He told us about how his favorite animal was a meerkat. He even had a photo of one on the back of his phone screen. He took us to a ruin bar. Two of them actually. A ruin bar is an abandoned building that the city turned into a bar to use the space. Everything is raw. It is an open space with a lot of eclectic things. It would be considered very hipster. The first one we went to was the third best in the world.

The next day after that, we went to a spa in another location in the city. That was another relaxation day. After that day at the thermal baths we walked through town. This time we stopped at an Asian massage place. It was a lot better than the first place I made a reservation at which was called the princesses of massage. That was not the type of massage we were looking for. This was the most awkward massage I’ve ever had. They made us take off our shoes downstairs and put on their sandals. Then we walked upstairs to a dark place. There were curtains separating the rooms. When I got to my curtained off room, there was a mat on the floor. She told me to take off all my clothes and lay facedown on the mat. When she came in to do the massage, she sat down next to me and began. Halfway through she was sitting on top of me to do the massage….. I felt very uncomfortable. I was definitely not expecting that. When Trisha was finished with her massage next-door, I asked her what her experience was like. She said that she kept her clothes on and that it was not the same….. Weird! We then went on a walking tour of the city. The first thing that our tour guide told us is to learn the language of Budapest by picking up a Hungarian lover for a couple of years and settle down with him until you learn the language and then move on. One thing that I noticed about Budapest is that they referred to the shady places as the shadow areas. The tour guide would tell us to “move into the shadows.” I learned that the helicopter, vitamin C, ballpoint pen, and the Rubiks cube were all from Hungary. Also, an important thing to know is that hello actually means goodbye.

That night we were very tired, but everybody insisted that we go out and check out this popular ruin bar in town. As we were walking there I stepped into a manhole that was exposed and got covered in mud. Luckily for me it was right across from where we were sleeping, so I got to go back home and change. There were a couple other shady characters he walked past. Two separate guys on the way stopped me to give me a kiss on each cheek and then kiss my hand. It was weird. So after a rough start getting ready to go out for the last night in Budapest Trisha said “I feel like God is telling us to stay home and to not go anywhere tonight”. We looked at each other and agreed. We decided to at least go check it out. We got tacos at a seedy place and then we started walking to the ruin bar.

In route we were approached by two very shady characters. We were a block away and there was a Nigerian man with healed knife marks on his face and neck with his right Eye missing. He came up to us and started speaking Nigerian with broken English. Then his friend came from across the street behind us. I told Tricia to keep on walking and to follow me. I moved quickly to try to avoid eye contact and went through the bouncers to get in. Sure enough, they followed us in. To be sure that I wasn’t just crazy and that they were actually following us, when we walked through the bar, instead of following everybody at the main entrance I went to the left towards a hall with a stairway and we started to go up the stairs. They had followed the main crowd for a few steps then they turned around and came towards Tricia and I. They were talking to us and it was hard to understand. We pushed through them and went to the main entrance. I told Tricia to run! We went through the main crowd and ran to a small crevice and waited for them to go past. Then we went up the stairs to be able to look down into the main part of the restaurant and locate them to see where our best exit would be. When we saw them downstairs they were looking around and looking upwards for us. The one guy made a phone call and the other started going upstairs. I took Trisha and we sat down at a random table full of Italians. We jumped into the conversation like we belonged. When the coast was clear we ran down the stairs and made a safe exit and got back to the hostel. We both agreed that it wasn’t worth it to go out again. The next day we had to leave, but we had time to go hiking. While we were hiking up a mountain, we saw the Italian guys that we sat down with. That was random!

We then parted ways. Trisha went off on the night train to Prague and I went off on the night train to Poland to see Auschwitz.

Italy

Pizza, pasta and bread? More like food, culture and men! Most people go to Italy expecting great food, great wine and vineyards. These are all readily found. But I took on Italy in a slightly different way! Tricia and I are in the process of backpacking through Europe for 6 weeks. This is our week in Italy! We started in florence and then moved to Rome and finally Venice…. With a small stop in Sicile. We have been using trains for transport and couchsurfing and bed and breakfasts for accommodations. There has not yet been one dull moment in Italy.

I found out very quickly that the men in Italy were very fond of blondes. I got more attention in one week in Italy than my entire life in the states! It was quite the confidence boost! Everywhere Tricia and I walked we heard, “Ciao Bella” and “Barbie”. When we were in florence we were walking across the bridge to get dinner with a couch surfing friend, and this Italian man on a motorcycle pulled over and told us he wanted to give me a ride that night and to meet him on the bridge again at 10 pm! He told me to put my friend to bed and meet him. Lol lets just say that I was flattered but did not attend. The couch surfing man we met up with took us to a non-touristy restaurant where we got florentine steak! Yum! He then told us about how his home is in the historic district and the paintings on the walls were from students of Michaelangello. He told us about his family and three homes. He offered to let me stay in Italy at one of them if I wanted to. I thought that was very generous. culturally that is normal though. We had great conversations about the purpose of life. He was an italian writer. We walked through the town and stumbled upon another protest by the Palestinians. This is the 3rd country we have observed this. When he left we were being scoped out by a French speaking man dressed as a pirate who was with an Indian man. They were very scary. This was the first event that we were in possible danger.

When I ordered a martini at the restaurant, the Italian host we were with said that I was ordering a super drink. He told us that he sees Americans that always drink to get drunk quick and not to socialize. In Italy they will spend hours at dinner! When I went to order the drink the waitress had walked away already. The host said, oh she escaped! Tricia and I laughed because it didn’t translate well. He then took my hand and he said he would read my palm in a way. As he held my hand in his and stroked his thumb along the base of my fingers he said, ” oh my” and stopped. I asked him what the problem was and he said that he didn’t want to talk about it. I continued to inquire and he said that he has a hi of seeing people’s pasts. He said that it was to deep and dark. He told me I had a recent health issue that I was dealing with that is better now. He was very accurate because I just recovered from my hip surgery. He would not talk about anything else because it was too much that he saw! It was bizarre. Then the table behind us had 4 men sitting at it. They didn’t speak English well, but the man facing me told me to come over to him. He kissed my hand and asked me to stay in Italy with him. Tricia said, “what about me”? He said, “you are ok but I prefer her”.

It was raining one of the nights in florence. It was funny to see people riding around on mopeds in the rain because half of them were wearing ponchos in the bikes! We got a ride on a moped by another couch surfing friend in Florence. For the most part we rode the metros. When we arrived to the metro stations it was like playing a game of; which character here is the pickpocket? We saw a few obvious ones! You had to be very careful entering and exiting.

We had a couch surfing host in Rome that was also quite a character! He made us dinner at his parents house. It was a pasta dish with peas in it! I do not prefer peas but yet I ate it. He invited his friend to dinner as well so there was 4 of us. He was playing techno music loudly in his house which was funny to me. He had a “chill room” for hanging out and to host couch surfers. He had buckets full of lighters. When I asked him where they were from he basically said that he was a professional pickpocket! It was very interesting. He then drove us to some terrace bars outside of Rome city center and showed us how the locals hang out. The drive there was quite interesting. He ran a red light on the way and when Tricia asked him why he did that he said, ” the lights was red for everyone else, but for me and my lawyer it was green. He said some very funny things during that car ride. When I told him that I needed to go to the restroom he said, ” please do not pee in my car, that is just basically rude”. He was serious! Then he pulled over and peed on a tree and handed me napkins to do the same….. Well……I had to go! That night was quite eventful! Eventually he dropped us off back where we were staying at a bed and breakfast in Rome. When he got out of the car to say goodbye he tried to convince us that in Italy it was tradition to give a kiss on the lips goodbye. He kissed Tricia on the lips and that shocked her because she wasn’t expecting it. When he came to me I pushed him away and guided him back to his car and said goodbye. Tricia and I started walking to our B&B and we heard somebody running after us. It was him! He was running after me and grabbed me and turned me around quickly to kiss me. I pushed him away again and we ran home. He walked back to his black Lexus that he left parked in the middle of the street with the door open and he went home. Wow quite the experience. The whole night he kept telling me that he would marry me and keep me here! I made sure to end that evening early!

We finished our Italy trip in Venice. I could write an entire post about Venice! On the train ride there we met two Portuguese men. We told them about our trip to portugal and laughed a lot! I LOVE the people from portugal. I have not met a bad one! Venice was lovely. The city built on water. The transportation was all boats the ambulances were boats going to and from the areas. That was quite interesting. We rode around in water taxis and took them to and from the islands. We went to Murano and Burano. When we were in Murano we got lost in a maze of houses. We didn’t know which way to go to get back to the taxi point to make our train home. There was a man we saw in the distance as we turned the corner. He was standing there alone he appeared to be about 80 years old. When we reached him, he didn’t speak English, yet he took us and pointed us in a few directions and motioned for us to walk a certain way. We thanked him and he turned a corner and disappeared. Tricia and I looked at each other trying to figure out where this man came from and how he knew where we were trying to go. I personally believe he was an angel. Strange things happen to me like that all the time and I truly believe it is divine intervention. There was a man we were speaking to, and I said, “yolo”. Afterwards he didn’t understand and said, “yolo? Is that Mexican? I thought it was hilarious. I explained what it meant afterwards. We continued to talk and I asked him if he was married. He said, “not recently”. I told him that was the funniest comeback I heard all day and that I would adopt it as my own.

We met two Canadian couples who were roughly in their 60’s on that boat ride home. We ended up going of a gondola ride with all of them. That was fun! The one lady had a water bottle full of wine. She asked the gondola driver permission to drink it. It was adorable. We ended up having a Bellini with them in San Marco square. That was our first train that we took that day that left at night. On the night train to vienna we were in a cabin with 6 people. It was 5 feet wide. On each wall there were three beds. 4 guys and us two girls all stayed there. It was so small and quite an interesting ride. There were two 18 year old boys from London, one 19 year old from vienna and an 18 year old professional swimmer from Russia. He had swimming fins with him. It was quite the interesting bunch. Tricia and I were on the top bunks and it was so hot up there. I had brought fresh berries with me on the train and it was so hot that when I woke up in the morning they were covered in mold. I have two more night trains to go on this trip alone without Tricia because we will be splitting up in Budapest.