Eastern Europe Part 1: the limbic system

"Don't expect, just experience" was the mantra of my trip. As I flew home to Boston, I felt like I just blinked my eyes and my journey was over. If you don't stop and breathe for a moment you will miss the entire thing.

As I experienced a new way of traveling, I truly did not know what to expect. It was as if I was a child again and my parents would plan a trip that I basically just showed up for. This was my mom's dream trip- and I was along to share and enhance (and stretch out her hamstrings).

"Don't expect, just experience".

Arriving in Eastern Europe was like my soul waking up. The people, the buildings, the foods, the emotions, the stares they held when they waited for the crosswalk to turn green. It was refreshing to see and make up stories in my head of what they were actually thinking. The simple type of living was something I noticed, which in my mind is the opposite of my life. So much hustle. No time in between clients. If my coffee takes more than 3 minutes my impatience kicks in.

The subtle care in each step, the silence in between thoughts- the genuine eye contact and confidence of being a solo entity at a cafe. These little things were different here and I loved it. And I want to take them home.

The food and the coffee. Each Latte was strong and small and definitely took some getting used to as I would normally order a large coffee and drink it without even tasting it. Maybe even purposely not taste it because the beans were burnt. But here it all slowed down. And forced me to as well. 

The foods were rich and portioned. The lettuce was green and curly. The sauces were thick and distinctly tasteful. As hard as it was for me to completely let go, I drank wine almost every day (and that got easy real quick). And it was a slow, relaxed, conversational piece that I loved and enjoyed with many strangers / new friends.

The new friends- priceless. The conversations- unforgettable. My favorite happened in Linz, Austria when I went out on the town solo for a drink. I found a cute patio bar facing the river and sat at what I thought was an empty table. An older man had his cigarettes on it and offered me a seat. I ordered a drink and we spoke about his job as a crew member of a ship. I had to work hard to understand him through his thick German accent. He was interesting. Totally different lives. No wife or children- just life on the ship with a few days off here and there. As I noticed the time, I asked for the bill. When it came he took it and as usual I fought for it back. I can take care of myself. "I can get it", I said. "Why?" he answered. "Because I can get it". He laughed at me. "Why?" Exactly. Why?

The people I met on the boat- that's where the "don't expect" part comes in. I had more interesting conversations in 8 days than I have in the past year.  I didn't think I could meet such amazing people on a cruise of 50-70 year olds. So many wise souls. Doctors, authors, professors, ballroom dancers. Interesting and hilarious at times when they had too much to drink. 

But the staff, the ones I got to know, made the trip. And they are in my love category forever. Partly because they were the only people my age, but also because they are freaking awesome. And different. And see the world from a different lens. Most of them are from Eastern Europe or other parts of the world. The part of my trip that influenced me most was learning about what life was like during communism. The Iron Curtain fell in 1989, the year I was born. One described his Christmas Eve in 1985 when his father bartered a piece of meat from a friend's farm to celebrate the holiday. He had to sneak it back to his house because it was illegal to have such a delicacy. If they were caught his family would have been arrested. This man was a little older than me and it blew my mind. Our worlds were completely different. What a privileged upbringing  I had. 

Another from Romania mentioned when communism subsided, the people all of a sudden had choices of what to wear. The stores were flooded with options, colors, fabrics and styles. He said no one had any fashion sense whatsoever so when he looks back at pictures from high school he looks absolutely ridiculous. They had so many regulations and laws. It was truly life changing to hear these stories. Loss of control and freedom. It was ironic to me because I feel like we have so many choices in our country, but we choose to hold onto our own control, put on by ourselves. And it's the hardest thing to let go of. 

Over a latte I spoke with a new friend who was special. He asked what I did for work and I told him that I was a personal trainer and health coach. With a straight face he asked "What is that??". He literally did not know what that was or why anyone would need someone to show them how to be healthy and fit. "Why is that so hard?" he asked. I had to laugh- good question :).

He would rather call someone or have a beer than text or Facebook message. Rather see the stars and the moon at night than get a full 8 hours of "healthy sleep".

It all made me stop and think. The numbers, the restraints, the statistics- healthy BMI, hours of quality sleep, glasses of water. Are they actually working? Are they making us healthier? Do we feel better? Would it be more beneficial to look at the stars at night instead of getting exactly 8 hours . What if we got 6 and took extra time to enjoy the sky?

What if we didn't strive to be a size 2 and carried a little weight? What if that was sexy? What if we connected just a little more with strangers and said hello? Called instead of texted. Said hey instead of asking each other on a date through Facebook. Or better yet, what if we just said what we mean to say to each other- in person. Look into each others' eyes when we speak.

Connection. Touch. Love.

I think it's missing. And I want it back. Each taste, sip, breath and look. We can feel more connected and alive, and just better in general. Vive.