Monday, December 23, 2019

Polish Class

It's the first truly raining day I've experienced in Krakow, and also the first Monday in three weeks that I don't have a Polish class to go to. I considered doing some Polish self-study, but given that it's Christmas week Cameron is also at home so it seems like I ought to take a small break as well (even though I don't want one). I really enjoyed having a place to go everyday, consistent people to interact with, and a challenge to pursue, and now I dread the self-inflicted pressure of finding something valuable to spend my time on.

Even though it was only three hours of class each day, during those three weeks I had a routine (which I could describe in simple Polish but will relay in English for the purpose of this blog). After waking up and eating breakfast, I would typically study until I had to leave for school. The school was about a 20 minute walk away through a fairly uninspiring stretch of residential roads so I would listen to my podcasts during the walk (something I try to avoid doing while at home by myself unless I'm folding laundry). The school was on the second floor of an old, dark building but was itself a well-lit cheerful set of classrooms. Class got out at 12:45 and I would walk home, sometimes buy an obwarzanek on the way home, and then study while eating leftovers for lunch.

There were seven of us in the class, and two teacher who rotated out during our 15-minute coffee break. Despite the limited number of students, our group was amazingly diverse. I was the only American, and the youngest in the class by almost a decade. There was a Vietnamese woman who splits her time in three-month blocks between Vietnam and Poland because of her Polish boyfriend. A Chinese woman had just moved to Poland but was trying to convince her Polish husband to move back to China. Two Brazilians, one of whom was also taking English classes but who had moved to Poland recently to get married to a Polish woman and the other who was in his 50s and hadn't lived in the same location for more than six months over the last ten years. I never really got the story behind the Ecuadorian man, but he was about 40 and . The last person to join was originally from Vancouver, BC, but had been living in Poland for the past three years with his Polish wife.

I was quite jealous that most people in the class had native-Polish speakers at home to study with, but I'm sure my extra time (because I wasn't working or taking a second language class) was envied by them. Our little group became quite amicable during our coffee breaks and after-class pack-up. I had brought in banana bread at some point during the first week and almost every day after that someone else brought in a treat to share with the group. Over the three weeks I tried traditional Polish doughnuts covered with an orange glaze and filled with rose-flavored jelly, Portuguese custard tarts, and healthy-feeling seed cookies, among a variety of other small snacks and treats. I became good enough friends with my seat-neighbor to go out to lunch one day after class and to seek out a yarn shop on another day once she learned I was taking on some crocheting projects. A few of us went to lunch together on the last day, and many of us are friends on Facebook or Instagram now, but I don't have high hopes for continuing friendships.

The course ended with a 90-minute final exam followed by a small awards ceremony where we received a report card and certificate of completion. Even though I had more classroom time in my three weeks as someone would get taking the semester-long course, I might have preferred the more drawn-out option. For one, there would have been more time to bond with my classmates. Also, learning a language requires a lot of memorization and repetition, and despite studying for up to four hours a day after class I could have used more time to let the vocabulary steep into my usable lexicon. It's nice to have a crash-course of most-needed phrases, but I think if I were to sign up for another one it would be the longer-lasting evening class.

I do feel more confident out in the world, and being able to say numbers and ask about the price of something has already been quite helpful out in the world. I was able to ask for four small boxes, three big boxes, and eight envelopes at the post office the other day. Also, thanks to inspiration from the "common Polish foods" section of my Polish book Cameron made naleśniki, Polish pancakes, for breakfast the other day. Some days for homework we were told to ask about the price of something at a shop or to order a meal at a restaurant or repeat back the price of something we were buying an because I was instructed to do these tasks as a school assignment I felt more empowered to make mistakes or look like a tourist. At lunch one day I even took out my textbook and read from it directly when asking to split the check.

Once Christmas is over, I think I will try to keep up some of the routine that was set by my class. I plan to set aside at least 40 minutes each day to walk around town, even if there isn't a particular destination I need to go to, followed by three hours of Polish-related studying. That might include re-reviewing my textbook or making an attempt to read Matylda. Since the primary library is quite close to the school, I'm thinking that might be a good alternative spot to head to in order to get out of the house. Maybe starting next week I'll be a common visitor to the children's section.

Even when my day was filled up with class-related things, I still found time to take care of most of the little tasks I had created for myself on my keep-busy list. After crocheting a matching mittens and scarf set, I made myself a beanie followed by a doily-like table centerpiece. I've baked pretzels, banana bread, apple muffins, and Christmas cookies. Because of Christmas there aren't many people on Bumble BFF who have time to meet up. All of the specialty shops I've needed I've  found. I've even taken to running two miles a day when the air quality is good. Fingers crossed that the work permit is processed soon, but in the mean time let me know if you have any clever ways to stay busy!

Jorge, Binh, Christian, Tran, Luis, Me and Xiaoli 

One of our teachers, Aga, and the picture of a room that we drew as a class.

Tran, me and Jorge

Monday, December 16, 2019

Shopping in Poland and Christmas Preparation

Ah, another week and many more projects undertaken!

I'm still quite amazed by how simple errands and chores become such grand adventures here. It's a mix of not knowing the language, but also the organization of the world is laid out differently here than in the US. In America, if I needed some semi-obscure thing I would go to a mega-store like Fred Meyers or Walmart. On rare occasions I would go to Home Depot for home projects. I might quickly Google "where can I buy..." and then if nothing showed up immediately I'd order it on Amazon. And if it was something really obscure I would search on Etsy. Since none of those are viable options here, I have to resort to alternatives.

Allegro is the best alternative to Amazon, but with some key drawbacks. For one, the site does not have an English language option, so any online shopping requires the aid of a Polish/English translator. But of course, not everything has a direct translation, and sometimes we don't know the correct English term to try and translate. For example, we wanted a "sifter" for sifting flour and powdered sugar with, but when I type in the Polish translation"przesiewacz" into Allegro's search bar I get a series of concrete mixing machines. So next I go to Amazon and search for "sifter" to learn that it is more appropriately called a "mesh strainer." Per Google Translate I now type in "filter siatkowy" into Allegro. This time I am recommenced various bolts and washers that look like they might be used for some sort of plumbing? Ok, back to Amazon. Some of the appliances there are labeled as "flour sifters" so I try the Polish version–"przesiewacz do mąki" in Allegro. Alas! A search result that actually is what I was looking for!

Even once we find what we want online, getting it delivered to us is another adventure. We've had a few packages arrive at our apartment, but they all have come in different forms. Sometimes we get an official slip in our mailbox directing us to pick up a package at the post office. One time a note was left taped to our door informing us that we had a package at the front desk. Another time we received an email from the online store telling us a package was delivered, but nothing was on our door or in our mailbox, so we just had to know to go down to the front desk. Also, with Allegro, sometimes a package will be delivered to a community drop-off point rather than your house. Surely there is a logical explanation as the various postal deliveries, but you can see why it's typically easier to buy something in person, when possible.

Galeria Krakowska, the mall, is naturally the best place to start when looking for a new product. There is a big grocery store that also sells a selection of office/school supplies, toiletries, kitchen appliances, cleaning supplies, and seasonal items (like wrapping paper). If they don't have something surely one of the other more specialized stores in the mall will. Media Markt is where we go for electronics, Rossman or Hebe carry a similar array of household products and toiletries as a Walgreens, and there are a few kitchen-supplies stores. Even with all of these options we've struggled to find a pie dish, a fondue pot, and (as previously mentioned), a sifter.

When we need something, I will typically do a search of my own after Polish class. Even when I don't have anything in particular I'm looking for, I'll often wonder into miscellaneous stores just to catalog who sells what for future needs. If my attempts and tracking down our item du jour come up empty handed I'll enlist Cameron to ask his coworkers. Although very willing to share advice, often times the things we are looking for are beyond the normal shopping knowledge of his coworkers. I think we will have to make do without chocolate chips and sweetened condensed milk during our time here. One coworker did say she found corn starch, but I haven't been able to verify that, so in the meantime we are swapping in potato starch.

Most the time I'm satisfied with an alternative or living without, but there are a few things for which that will not work. In those cases, I turn to the Krakow Expats Facebook group. Most of the time I get a handful of likes and then two or three comments. Usually, one of the three comments will be truly helpful. Thanks to other Expats I found a pretty good post office for shipping packages internationally (which no matter how convenient is always going to be expensive) and a lovely garden shop. I would have loved to buy a full-sized Christmas tree, but I wasn't willing to carry it over my shoulder for 40 minutes and there was no way I was going to try and walk onto a bus with a Christmas tree. Instead Cameron and I have a 40cm pine tree of some sort that is planted in soil and will hopefully keep living until next Christmas.

Speaking of Christmas, our house is about as decorated as it's going to get, however with our orange curtains it's hard to feel like we've taken on the Christmas spirit, no matter how many lights we hang up. We have a few strings of lights, some mistletoe hanging in the main hallway, and our little tree is decorated with homemade crocheted snowflakes. Cameron and I have already done all of our Christmas shopping and have thoroughly explored the Christmas markets, however there was a one-weekend Christmas bazar that we went to on Saturday. As we approached the address, we realized it was in a very ugly concrete building that is covered in one big advertisement and which I regard as a general eyesore on the river bank. Just the previous weekend Cameron and I had been debating whether the building was used for anything, and it turns out it makes a great spot for a 200+ vendor Christmas bazar! Other than a little art for our apartment (happy Christmas to us!) and some homemade treats we didn't buy anything, but it was fun to walk around.

The next day (prompted by our need for a sifter and fondue pot) we headed off to the mall. Being so close to Christmas, this weekend was an exception to the no-shopping-on-Sundays rule. On the way there, Cameron pointed out a sign for a "book, ornaments and pastry fair." Intrigued, we had to go in! We went into our first Krakowian church, which was filled vendors that sold either books, ornaments, or pastries (nothing else) and tons of huge religious-themed art on the walls! The vendors were setup in a series of vestibules next to the main chapel, which was simultaneously holding Sunday mass (a bit odd, in my opinion). Still on sugar-overload from the previous day's treats, we turned down the pastries being peddled to us, but for some reason decided to buy Polish copies of Harry Potter (books 2 & 3) and Matilda. Cameron is already through the first 11 pages of Harry Potter i Komnata Tajemnic (he claims he's pretty much memorized the book in English so he can easily translate it) but I've opted to wait until my Polish class is over before I start on Matylda. I know the book is way over my current language skill level and will take intense translating time to get through it.

As mentioned in a previous post, there is a small Christmas market outside of the mall. I had not yet tried grzane piwo–hot beer–and Cameron was keen to get his hands of some hot market meat. The beer was defiantly an experience...but not necessarily one I'm going to seek out again. I watched as the woman poured some cinnamon into a plastic cup and then started to dispense hot foam from a spigot. The foam slowly condensed into liquid beer,  but it was a series of her pouring foam, waiting a minute for it to mellow out, and then repeating the cycle until 3/4 of the glass was drinkable liquid. In between one of the cycles she also poured in a reddish liquid, which I'm guessing was raspberry or cherry syrup. In the end, the primary flavor was an amplification of the tinniness that I associate with cheap beer. Cameron said his sausage (which ended up being 3x bigger than he anticipated) tasted exactly like he expected–low-quality meat that had been overcooked but was a good hearty way to fill yourself up. Both, I'd say, are experiences that are rightfully reserved just for once a year at a Christmas market.

The Christmas markets, alongside the rest of the city, will close down on the 24th. Knowing that we will have limited shopping and activity options December 24-27th, I'm trying to make sure Cameron and I have a Christmas plan in place. Christmas Eve is the primary celebratory day here, and after deciding against cooking a traditional 12-course Polish dinner for just Cameron and I, we decided to make a reservation at one of the few places that will be open that night. Depending on how we're feeling afterwards, we might try to follow Polish tradition and attend midnight mass at one of the nearby churches. For Christmas dinner, I'm hoping to invite a few people over for cheese fondue (typically a Christmas Eve tradition in the Leapley household). We'll have to make sure to do our grocery shopping in bulk beforehand so we actually have ample food to feed anyone who can make it. Based on my research, I'm also keen to go to a living nativity scene on Christmas Day, go ice skating, or check out the Christmas crib exhibit at Museum Celestat. Mostly, I want to make sure the day feels like a holiday and isn't just an excuse to watch another season of Ru Paul's Drag Race mid-week. Feel free to share ideas with me!

Our little Christmas tree. 

Mistletoe and lights hung around the house.

The building you see in the background with the big blow-up image of a guy leaning forward is the ugly advertisement building which hosted this weekend's Christmas bazar. 

At the bazar we tried a vegan Kinder Country-flavored cream tart and a raspberry/pistachio/cherry cake. 

Baked some Christmas-themed sugar cookies.

Mega market sausage.

Hot beer.

Polish Matylda

Sunday, December 8, 2019

A Very Long Night to Remember

December 6th is St. Nicholas Day (Dzien Świętego Mikołoja) in Poland. From what I can tell, it's mostly a children's holiday and as an adult your day is unchanged; you still go to work and there isn't a big dinner to fuss over. However, since it was Cameron's first St. Nicholas Day, I woke up early to uncover what St. Nicholas had left for him. After that, though, the rest of the morning was business as usual. I went to my Polish class, and one of the students brought in Pączkis, the famous rose-filled doughnuts, but it was just because he was hungry on his way to class, not in celebration of St. Nick.

Coincidentally, the Remitly holiday party was scheduled for that evening and was the true excitement for the 6th. I was excited to dress up, put on some makeup, and go out for an evening of socializing. I was feeling very festive with some sparkly gold eyeshadow until Cameron got home and said with shock "you look scary." I wasn't willing to change my makeup but I did modify my hair a little to appease him; I still don't really know how my festive look translated to "scary."

Despite my disappointment we left the house late and the six-bell chime at St. Mary's officially marked that we would be fashionably late. Out tardiness was lengthened since Cameron had forgotten about the white elephant exchange so we quickly stopped by one of the Christmas markets and mall to pick up two gifts along the way. It was around 18:30 when we walked into Bistro 11, which seemed to be the exact wrong time to arrive. Of the two long farmhouse tables one was completely full and one was completely empty so we were left with the decision to either sit by ourselves at a 20-person table or to awkwardly hover over the shoulders of those who had arrived before we did. Luckily there was an appetizers bar to mingle by and a few people stood up to join us.

I had expected to be on the high-end of the dress code based on my observations at some previous Remitly parties but Cameron's Polish coworkers were a much trendier group; I was done up to the perfect amount. The little restaurant that Remitly rented out was really cute with all of the Remitly Christmas decorations and was well suited to the vibe of the party. Once both tables were filled with Remitly's employees and their plus ones (apparently a little unusual for Krakow) we were treated to a seated three-course meal accompanied by seemingly unlimited beer and wine. Even though everyone stayed stationary during the meal, there was lots of mixed mingling afterwards. I had such a nice time talking to everyone there!

White elephant was also really successful, and despite no one else ever having played it before the quality of gifts was superb! There was a good number of gag-gifts (which of course are a staple to a well-rounded game) but we ended up with relatively good snatches. Cameron got a four-person espresso cup and saucer package and I got a bag of local chocolates accompanied by the game Dobble (it looks fun but it is hard to tell exactly how it's played since the instructions are in Polish). Surprisingly, the most stollen gift was a large fleece-covered piggy bank about the size of a classroom globe.

At some point after midnight Cameron and I head out. The whole way home we complimented the organization of the evening and how we each really enjoyed ourselves. I know I don't work for Remitly, but it really feels special being part of this small group of people who seem really excited about their work. It feels a bit like being part of a start up without the risks. We were also both really excited to get home and immediately snuggle into bed after our 25 minute walk in the cold. Unfortunately we were about to find out that we still had a long night ahead.

It took a minute for me to realize that Cameron wasn't able to open the door; his key was turning but the door remained latched. Each of us tried multiple times, with both of our keys, but it felt like the door was still dead bolted. Our door has two key holes but we were only give keys to the top one and it seemed like the bottom lock had been engaged. The illogical thought that popped into my mind was that we had forgotten to pay rent so someone came by while we were out and locked us out. Naturally, we went down to the security desk to try and explain the situation.

I already mentioned that I drank a lot, but it was over the course of many hours and our chilly walk home was sobering. However, I was very self-conscious of the fact that we were going to try to explain this very bazar situation while dressed up in our nice clothes while carrying two gift bags and a helium-inflated golden star balloon. Through the aid or Google Translate, an electronic copy of our lease, and a display of our keys we were able to explain to the security guard that we had lived in our apartment for 3 months (and weren't just temporary Air B&B guests) and did not have the second key that we needed to get in. To my dismay, he didn't have a spare key nor did he have any useful advice or contact information. He recommended we call our apartment owner and property manager, but of course neither of them were answering their phones at 1am.

I looked for an open locksmith, but no one was answering their phone. Clearly, we weren't going to get back into our house that night. My suggestion was to go to a nearby hotel but Cameron suggested calling Mike (the other American) first. Mike didn't answer his phone, presumably because he already had gone to sleep after the party, so we set off in search for a room. Cameron's phone was on very low battery and my maps seemed to be loading very slowly which added to the intensity of the situation, but at that moment I still wasn't particularly worried. I could think of at least three hotels within a few blocks of our apartment and figured we wouldn't have an issue getting a cheap room.

Just because of the proximity, our first stop was the Pegasus Hostel directly across the street; I figured it wouldn't be great, and there was a chance we would be in communal rooms, but it was just for one night. The doors were open, but I thought that might only be because of the young woman smoking outside. A taped up piece of paper pointed us up to the first floor. Upstairs was a series of corridors and communal bathrooms but nothing that was indicative of a receptionist desk. I used the toilet while Cameron did a little more scoping, but we ended up heading back out.

There was another hostel down the street, but Cameron vetoed that right away because of it's sketchiness (i.e. graffiti). The next stop was Radisson Blu; I figured it would be our last stop, even if it meant spending a few hundred dollars. At 1:30am we showed up with our gift bags and gold balloon and asked for a room. Nothing. I was more shocked than upset, and the receptionist began to call other hotels in the nearby area on our behalf. He called at least four hotels within a 20 minute walk. Nothing. I didn't know what the next step was going to be until a second receptionist said she was seeing rooms available on for the nearby Sheraton. We used the lobby computer and saw that their room was going to cost us $500! I was hesitant but Cameron was ready for this nightmare to be over so he tried to book it. Of course, since it was past midnight, wouldn't let us book the room.

We grabbed our balloon (which was starting to feel like the red coat in Schindler's List) and walked another two blocks. At least we knew there was going to be a room. The Sheraton receptionist greeted us with surprise and when we asked for a room he said he didn't have any. I corrected him and informed him of the rooms shown on, but he said even if there are empty rooms the Sheraton software won't let him rent them out after midnight. He recommend we try again, but as expected, it didn't work. With growing desperation we asked for any recommendations and he pointed us to a group of three more nearby hotels.

I still wasn't panicking since we still had multiple options. That started to crack after the next hotel turned us down, and then when the one after that also had no availability I began to resign myself to sleeping in the hallway floor outside of our apartment. The final hotel we tried looked very luxurious (read: expensive) and had a pretentious sounding name. When we walked in we were greeted by a doorman dressed in a gold suit and invited to sit on the plush victorian furniture while a large group finished checking out. The doorman sensed that we were pretty beat (I'm sure it wasn't hard given some obvious context clues we were exuding) but was very kind. He asked if there was anything he could help with and when we explained we were looking for a room he gave me immense hope by saying he didn't think that would be a problem.

Moments after I sat down Cameron noticed a miss call from Mike. Mike had apparently not heard his phone ring because he was still at the party when Cameron first called but he invited us to stay in his spare room. Part of me hesitated at the prospect of walking another 25 minutes when we were potentially could get a hotel room, but it was probably best to leave before we were coerced by comfort into spending upwards of $1000.

It was cold out, but we were hustling. There were only a few other people on the street: a couple who were happily looking up at the stars while staggering on the cobblestones, a group of loudly singing men, and two women running across a large but empty street. Overall, a pretty tame crowd. It might have been the tradition of not drinking leading up to Christmas but more likely it was the freezing temperatures that kept people indoors. We made it to Mike's apartment building just after 2am.

Mike and Natalia greeted us with sympathy and a cup of hot tea. I was very happy to sit and drink tea, but I was more excited for finally laying down. Mike apologized for the accommodations (a pull-out sofa and a thin blanket) but they were much appreciated! I just piled my jacket and scarf on top of me and stayed comfortably warm.

I woke up a little after 8:00. Cameron's phone had died over night so we had to get back into our house before my phone suffered the same fate. We wrote a quick thank you note and then snuck out of the house. The plan was to call a locksmith, but we decided to make a few detours on the way home. We were trying to walk with intention, but the freezing rain paired with our party shoes made that a little difficult. There was a locksmith's address listed close by, but there was no business identifiers from the outside so we kept going. The next stop was to walk by our property manager's office to see if they had an emergency number posted. Of course there wasn't anything new and we had already left emails and voice messages with them.

I started calling locksmiths on our walk home but the first three didn't speak English and one week of Polish class is quite insufficient to communicate our situation. I was able to pick up a suggestion to email one guy, but when I went to his website the email form was broken. Finally I got ahold of an English speaking locksmith who promised he could be at the house in about an hour. Finally we felt reassured that this would be over with soon. The next thing to do was to let the doorman know we were expecting someone and to get breakfast.

It was a different security guard than the night before, and when we told him we were getting a locksmith he disallowed it. Once again we went through the charade of using Google Translate to explain our situation. Finally, after following us upstairs to try his hand at our lock, he acquiesced that calling a locksmith was the only option.

Luckily there are dozens of breakfast places nearby so we stopped in one for paninis and hot chocolate. Thankfully the staff was quick because I wanted to be back at the apartment in case the locksmith was early (not likely, but it would have been awful if he left because we weren't there when he arrived). Cameron left in the opposite direction in search of a phone charger and I got the max amount of cash I could from a nearby ATM in order to pay the locksmith; I wasn't sure how much it would cost and I was expecting the worst. Not long after Cameron returned (without a charger) the locksmith called and explained he was having car troubles and wouldn't be there for another 40 minutes.

Cameron went back out to continue searching for a charger and I entertained myself by trying to interpret the Dobble instructions. My phone was at less than 50% battery so I didn't want to weaken it by listening to a podcast or unnecessarily using Google Translate. The time alone also gave me a reason to practice my upcoming Toastmasters speech (in my head of course! I wasn't going to speak allowed in English in our semi-public hallway!)

Cameron returned with a charger only to find out the accessible outlet was turned off. We waited mostly in silence.  Not long after the revised timeframe the locksmith showed up. He agreed with our hypothesis that the second deadbolt was loose and jiggled into the locked position when we last closed the door. Ultimately he had to break the lock. It took him about 10 minutes and cost 300PLN (about $75), which I thought was very reasonable. It was almost noon, which meant that it had been almost 12 hours since we learned that we were locked out.

Cameron's relief was palpable. He had held it together, but just barely. Once it was over he shared that this had been a true nightmare he had; being locked out of his home and unable to communicate his situation was a worst-case scenario for him. I think I handled the stress pretty admirably, but my reactions probably annoyed Cameron further. As we walked around searching for a hotel I couldn't help but laugh and shake my head. The whole situation was so ridiculously unbelievable! One of the reasons I was able to stay optimistic was that I always had a next-step in the back of my mind. The one time I almost broke down though was at the last hotel; if that one didn't have a room I didn't have another backup plan to fall back on. I think another thing that helped was knowing that this would make a really good blog story. I wouldn't go so far as to say "blogging saves lives" but it did help me through this unbearable situation.

Since getting home, we've forwarded all of the follow-up information to our property manager but we won't know until Monday what they think and if they'll reimburse us. My email to them was very terse and I informed them they needed an emergency number, we need to be provided all keys to the apartment, and the security desk needs to have back up keys. In our minds, this was a lot of stress caused by a structural malfunction so the owner should be charged with the cost of the locksmith and lock replacement, but I'm worried they will argue that we made a unilateral decision to break the lock. For now, at least, we are home and have duct tapped the malfunctioning deadbolts so it (hopefully) won't happen again.

Santa in the mall, outside of where we bought the gift bags for our white elephant gifts. 

The one photo we have from the party (holding the pined-after piggy bank).

Sitting outside our door, very tired. This is me trying to smile. 

Locksmith breaking our lock. You can see our gifts we were tracking around in the bottom left corner of the picture. We ended up ditching the gold balloon at Mike's house.  

Monday, December 2, 2019

Productive in Poland

Over the last month of hotel stays, I've had a lot of time to daydream about my "regular" life back in Poland and all of the things I would do to fill my time. Some ideas are practical, like taking online CPE (required trainings to maintain my CPA status), and other plans are more whimsical, such as setting up scenarios for Cameron and I to pretend we are contestants on Nailed It or The Great British Bake Off (which I might argue is still somewhat practical). Well, I've found so much to fill my time that I'm worried that finding time to work again will be nearly impossible! I guess this is the ideal that I everyone pines after when they hear the term "housewife." Here are a few thing's I've done to keep busy:

  1. Baked Chocolate Chip Cookies. Well, they were at least chocolate-chunk cookies. I went into three grocery stores of varying sizes and could not find chocolate chips, so I ended up buying a chocolate bar and chopping it up. Of course a dozen cookies is too much for me and Cameron, so I delivered most of them to Cameron's office, but they either were no good or were not well advertised because Cameron brought most of them back home at the end of the week. 
  2. Crocheting. While visiting Bellevue I stopped in a craft store that was going out of business and bought a crocheting hook and a huge spool of yarn. I've made a pair of mittens but I have to redo them since they are too small for my hands and I'm pretty sure I used the wrong stitch. I also went to a crocheting workshop here in Poland and learned to make snowflake ornaments. They are currently our sole Christmas decorations.
  3. Joined Bumble BFF. Thanks to my friend Heather's suggestion I'm finally getting to live out my fantasy of being on a dating app! Unfortunately there are not a ton of people who've joined in Krakow so the app only shows me a couple of people a week, but I did meet a real-life person from the app! I joined up with her and one of her other friends to try and do a free tour of Wawel (a bust because the tickets were all sold out) and walk around the Christmas markets.
  4. Christmas Markets! Although not as big as what I remember in Germany, there is still a lot to see. Of course the main attraction is the rows of stalls selling homemade crafts, including Polish pottery, handmade clothes, and Christmas decorations. Food is also in abundance, the most common seeming to be big grilled meat stalls and pirogi stations. Gluhwin is available, but I'm more keen to try to "grzane piwo"–hot mulled beer! I've found three Christmas markets, the biggest of course being in Old Town, but even the smallest of the three has a stage set up for periodic traditional Polish dancing and singing. 
  5. Planning a Ski Vacation. I feel like my friend Brittany, having done hours (really days) of research on various skiing options for our first European ski adventure. I pondered lists upon lists of recommendations from various websites and people I've met in person to ultimately decide on a week at Jansa Chopok, the largest ski area in Slovakia. The last week of January Cameron and I will drive about three hours south, cross the Polish-Slovakian boarder, and spend the week skiing in the Tatras Mountains, visiting an indoor waterpark, touring Slovak castles, and exploring an ice cave. Multiple websites referred to Jansa as "the next best thing to the Alps" and I figured since Cameron hasn't seen the Alps yet there's a chance this will be the coolest ski area he's ever gone to. Plus, the whole trip, including hotels, ski passes, passes for the other attractions, and food should cost less than $1,000. 
  6. Toastmasters. I had been to one Toastmasters meetings the week before we left for our visa trip to the US, and I was excited to go back for round two. The meeting is setup to ensure everyone speaks, even if it's just for a 30 second introduction, but this time I volunteered to do a two-minute impromptu speech. Somehow I walked away with a certificate marking me as the best table topics speech of the night (being a native English speaker definitely helped) and a request to prepare a five minute speech for a meeting in a few weeks. Now I just have to decide if it would be totally inappropriate to share my opinions about sperm and egg donation during my inaugural introduction speech. 
  7. Thanksgiving! I knew that Mike (the other Remitly American) wanted to do a proper Thanksgiving dinner but I didn't know until Tuesday that we would be hosting that dinner at our house. It made sense, since I had time to prep and to cook and Mike doesn't have a proper oven, plus I love hosting. I was quite smitten with the formal table setting and 12-dish meal we managed to put together. Nothing screams domesticity like a notebook outlining two days worth of cooking prep! But honestly, hosting fancy dinner parties with multiple courses is my dream in life.
  8. Continuing Professional Education (CPE). It doesn't sound like a ton of fun but sitting down to watch two hours of accounting-professionals talk about self reporting to the SEC for two hours was somewhat comforting. It's a good reminder that I am a professional and that I can maintain my edge even during my three-month hiatus. I've signed up for practically every free CPE course offered by the AICPA and am planning on doing at least one session a week.
  9. I work out! It might not be every day but it's at least close to every-other day. Heather had told me that if I'm not the fittest I've ever been during these months off then I'm doing something seriously wrong, and I've taken that a bit to heart. My current gym routine is an hour on the elliptical while I read my Kindle (right now I'm giving Sophie's Choice a shot) followed by 30-60 minutes of miscellaneous weightlifting machines and free weights. My favorite is a rotating disc that you stand on and swivel while you hold onto some hip-height handle bars; for the life of me I cannot find an example of this on Google.  
  10. Learn Polish. I'm still slowly making my way thorough the Duolingo lessons, but I also signed up for a three-week intensive language course. Today was my first day, and for three hours me and four other students struggled through our alphabet, numbers, and basic dialogue. I'm getting the feeling that I will need to come home and do some serious practicing every night, which might mean taking a pause on Duo. 
There seems to be tons of other things I still want/need to do–I truly do not know how regular working people have time for anything! Even with seemingly unlimited hours to myself I'm not sure if I will get to everything on my list and keeping a clean house and having a timely dinner overnight have already fallen to the wayside. But there is still more I want to do, so for my sake I'm using this as a to-do list:
  1. Christmas shopping (also need to wrap and mail presents)
  2. Decorate for Christmas- check out Pepco at Galeria Kazimierz
  3. Set up itineraries for people's visits to Poland. Try to include a mix of paid activities (salt mines, Auschwitz) and free things (walking tours, some museums). Let me know when you want to visit and what sort of things pique your interest!
  4. Find a knitting shop, craft shop, plant shop, and ski shop
  5. Write down all of the words I've learned on Duolingo
  6. Bake pretzels- for some reason I cannot get pretzels out of my brain!
Phew! Well they say that only boring people get board, so I guess I must be pretty interesting!

One of the many szopki (nativity scenes) around town. Most of them look like large colorful churches or castles and will ultimately be judged by a panel of judges in the Market Square (Rynek). 

Smok blowing some fire while I wait to meet my Bumble BFF outside of Wawel. 

Traditional Polish dance at the main Christmas market. 

Christmas market lights and crowds.

Our Thanksgiving feast. 

Joined by Mike and Natalia for Thanksgiving. It was Natalia's first Thanksgiving dinner and her first taste of pumpkin pie. 

Enjoying some mushroom soup at the Christmas market. 

A second Christmas market in Kazimierz. This one is smaller but it seems to cater more towards the locals so I think it's better. Also, it had the best pierogis I've had so far!

Monday, November 25, 2019


We got back to Krakow around noon on Friday, November 15, quickly did some repacking, cleaned out the fridge, had a meal, and then went to bed around 16:30. We were beat! If we had been trying to get back into our regular routine, I think we would have pushed through our jet lag a few more hours, but since we had to leave for the airport at 4:00am the next day we had an excuse of needing to get to bed early.

I don't know if either of us were particularly looking forward to our London trip. Cameron very much was ready to be home instead of meeting his British coworkers, I wasn't particularly keen on entertaining myself in another city while Cameron worked every day, and neither of us wanted to spend another week in a hotel. Cameron even considered canceling the trip but since we had paid for my flight (not covered by Remitly) I didn't want to waste the money. Plus, spending a week entertaining myself in Krakow wouldn't be much better than doing the same in London.

I was feeling exceptionally more optimistic about the trip after a 12-hour snooze in our own bed and some 2:30am breakfast crepes, however I was still dreading the logistics of traveling. It wasn't a long wait for a Lyft and the Krakow airport is small and easy to navigate, but no matter how nice an airport is you don't want to be frequenting it twice in 24 hours. Our tickets were with Ryanair, a European discount airline known to be relatively bare-bones. One of Cameron's coworkers had advised only using Ryanair for trips that are less than two hours. Despite the garish blue and yellow seat covers and uniforms, the flight was just fine. They don't serve you complimentary beverages, but since we had our own water bottles and since the flight was only 2.5 hours it wasn't a bother.

Even with ample sleep, navigating from the Stansted Airport to our Air B&B in Camden was tiring. Google Maps recommended a combination of above-ground train, underground, and bus but we traded the bus ride for a mile-long walk since we were too early to check into our apartment. I've never liked big cities, and I was very prepared to dislike London. Our mile walk with suitcases in tow did nothing to promote the city–the area near the train station had a lot of loud construction and litter on the streets. There was some interesting architecture, but for the most part the buildings were the same gray as the sky.

We stopped for breakfast around the halfway point. The sign said cafe, and inside was an oder-at-the-counter joint with six tables. The menu, which was neatly written on a large blackboard above the register, was surprisingly diverse, but Cameron and I both elected versions of a traditional English breakfast. Toast, eggs, and beans were staples on both our our plates but Cameron's sausage was replaced with hash browns and grilled tomatoes for my vegetarian meal. And of course black tea was offered. It was tasty enough, but the flavors are about as exciting as the visual: essentially just shades of brown.

Luckily, by the time we were finishing breakfast our Air B&B host texted us to let us know we could check in. We had a very small one-bedroom flat directly above an Italian restaurant, which was run by our same host. I expected we would simply drop off our bags and then try and fill our afternoon with a touristy activity, but Cameron was feeling a little off (motion sickness? a bad breakfast sausage?) and it was surprisingly easy for me to take a nap to the background of Ru Paul's Drag Race (available on Netflix, but only in Europe it seems. I have 11 seasons to get through so I'm trying to power through!). Cameron woke me up around 15:30 and said that his friend, Andi, was going to be at the apartment in about ten minutes–a little bit longer warning next time, please, Cameron!

Andi and Cameron were neighbors and ski buddies every winter in Apex, British Columbia. Although I had never met Andi, I had a pretty good sense of her and her family from the stories that Cameron and his family told. She seemed to think similarly about me, and I got the sense that we could be good friends if we ever lived in the same country at the same time. She had a quick walk to our flat since she lives and goes to vet school just a few blocks down the street. Having lived there for two years but coming from a similar background to us, she was a perfect tour guide! She took us up Camden's high street, through the plaza of street food, down the canal trail, and up to Primrose Hill for a great view of the London skyline. We finished up the evening at a pub where I tried my first halloumi burger (halloumi is a semi-hard sheep cheese that is a very popular vegetarian option in Britain, it seems).

Per Andi's recommendations, I looked up a list of London's free offerings and found a list of 101 recommendations, sorted into categories like museums, parks, view, with kids, etc. Cameron was still feeling a little off the next day, but he agreed to walk to the Wellcome Collection, which was described as having "a bunch of marvellously weird objects" and was only 20 minutes away. The exhibits were a true delight, and made me start to appreciate this big city. After lunch in the museum's restaurant, I was amped for more. The Grant Museum of Zoology was just a few streets away and promised a continuation of the same brand of weird scientific displays, but Cameron was ready for a rest.

After a few more hours of Drag Race I was antsy; I didn't want to waste away our mini-vacation on a couch in a poorly-refinished flat. I wasn't able to talk Cameron into leaving the house again, but I set off on my own back down the busy streets of Camden. My first stop was to try a bubble waffle. I was disappointed that the bubbles aren't filled with anything, but still, sweet dough slathered with Nutella and chunks of candy bar is pretty tasty. I retraced the previous day's tracks and went back to the street food stalls. In an attempt to find a soup-like food that Cameron might find palpable, I ended up at a place called "Ladle" but before I could order I had to take a picture of the stall attendant with two tourist girls he was trying to hit on–erg. I would have left but I was already committed. I also stopped at "Baba G's" since I recognized the name from Million Pound Menu where I got a saag and paneer burger.

The next morning, Monday, Cameron had to be at the Remitly office at 9:45. I left my suitcase with him at the office, but then was tasked with finding something to do all day since we weren't going to check into the hotel until that evening. I set off to Hyde Park, since it was only a few blocks away, and started to walk around before I remembered to consult my handy list of free London attractions. I decided on the Natural History Museum, which was about half an hour away and mostly through the park. The entrance hall was noisy and crowded with school groups which put me off a little bit at first. However, as I began to explore I learned there were seemingly endless hallways and exhibits to explore. It wasn't until the end of the day that I realized this was a place I had been to before when visiting as a kid. It took me seven hours to see everything (or at least I think I saw everything) and in order to do that I had to rush through the second half of the day. Overall it was spectacular!

Now that I had realized that the free museums of London were quality, I needed to prioritize my visits. I spent Tuesday morning reviewing the online list I had found and created a sub-list of places that were within a one-hour walk. That still left over 30 potential to-dos so I started visiting 1-3 each day.

Since my morning was a little lazy and then spread into a long lunch with Cameron and his coworkers, I didn't go to any museums. Instead, I did a 3.5 mile run through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. I passed by a number of monuments, statues, and historical attractions, most of which I can't name, but I know I saw the Peter Pan Statue, Kensington Palace, the Italian Gardens, and the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain. I debated going into the Serpentine Gallery, but decided against it since I was wearing my gym clothes. I later learned that it was an art gallery named after the pond that divides Hyde Park from Kensington Gardens and not the reptile observatory I was hoping for. That night, Cameron and I went to a very small but cheery Christmas market at South Bank and walked under the London Eye. On our walk back to the hotel we passed by Buckingham Palace and through St. James Park, so I decided I could check off those spots from the list.

Stop One was the British Museum, the highlight of which was the Rosetta Stone. The historical artifacts and art were grouped by region and time. I knew I had a lot of places on my list for the day, so I didn't give every room it's due, but I was mildly amused by the Pacific Northwest Native American exhibit; my old work still follows me! Stop Two was the Leicester Square Christmas Market, which was rated as #1 in London even though it was smaller than the South Bank one. On my way to the National Gallery, I walked through Chinatown and then happened upon another (even smaller) Christmas market above Trafalgar Square. The National Gallery felt very grandiose, and deservedly so since they housed a number of Van Goghs, Monets, and Rembrandts, among other famous artists. The National Portrait Gallery (museum three of the day) also had plenty of well-known works but I was more keen on finding the absurd and comedic pieces by the time I made it there. My walk home took me through Piccadilly Circus (a misleading name, if you ask me). Once Cameron was off of work, we went to a nearby Indian restaurant and then walked to the Victoria Palace Theater to see Hamilton. The show was great and I highly recommend going if it ever plays near you!

Cameron had his holiday party that evening so I knew I would be on my own from 9:30 until 22:00 so I looked for a museum-dense region to walk to. Based on a recommendation, I headed out to the Saatchi Gallery but disappointingly found the line to be excessively long due to a new ticketed King Tutankhamun exhibit. I wasn't willing to wait in a 30 minute line so I backtracked and went to the Victoria and Albert Museum where I entertained myself looking for funny faces, rabbit-themed art, and admiring the royal jewels on display. The Science Museum was close by, so that's where I went for my afternoon. The "Who Am I?" exhibit conjured up more childhood memories and was by far my favorite part of the museum. As a treat to myself, I walked through the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, which had just opened that day. It was a huge fairgrounds set up in the park with full-sized rides, a Bavarian village, a Christmas Market (the biggest by far of the ones I'd seen), a big top circus tent, and tons of food stalls. I enjoyed a fire-roasted salmon sandwich, two glasses of glühwein, and a ride on an arm-like upside-down spinning thing that Cameron would never accompany me on.

Since it was the last day, I went a little further to the Tate Modern. Maybe I was worn out from too many museums, or maybe I just don't like modern art that much, but outside of a few pieces and exhibits nothing held my interest for too long. The 10th floor observation deck did have great views of St. Paul's Cathedral, the Shard, the London Tower Bridge, and Shakespeare's Globe Theater. I had expected to spend the whole day there, but ended up moving on after lunch. I wanted to check out the Barbican Conservatory but once I got there I learned it was only open to the public on Sundays, so I continued on to the Museum of London. It was a very cool meander through from the Stone Age into modern London, including a display on the Clash and the 60-foot touches from the 2012 Olympic Games. For dinner we went to Zedel in Piccadilly Circus and enjoyed a very tasty French meal with fancy cocktails. Had we planned it out better we could have tried to get tickets for their cabaret show, but alas...

Overall, London won me over. There are still plenty of places that I didn't make it to (both free and paid) and it is nice to be in an English-speaking country. I know I'll be back again in July, and Cameron's work will likely take him there semi-regularly if I want to tag along for more work visits. For now though, I am happy to start settling back into whatever my Polish normal is.

A graph of a human at the Wellcome Collection.

Wellcome Collection's display of toys that promote diversity.

The canal in Camden surrounded by food stands. 

The Natural History Museum.

Diplodocus dinosaur skeleton inside the Natural History Museum.

Kensington Palace.

South Bank Christmas market with Cameron.

Nighttime at Buckingham Palace. 

The British Museum. 

The Rosetta Stone inside the British Museum. 

The National Gallery.

My ride of choice at the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland.

St. Paul's Cathedral. 

Some Salvador Dali found at the Tate Modern. 

From the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony- found at the London Museum. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Waiting for Visas in Seattle

It is Thursday, November 14th and we are finally back at SeaTac airport waiting for our return flight to Europe, albeit four days later than our original booking.

The plan for this trip had been to wait in Seattle for our residential visas to be processed. We thought that 12 days would be sufficient, since the standard processing time is 1-2 weeks, we paid for expedited processing, and Cameron's coworker, Mike, had gotten his visa back within a week. We apparently hadn't accounted for the delays of processing two visas, the fact that my application was not as clear-cut because I don't have a work permit, and the two Polish holidays sprinkled into our 12 day timeline. 12 days is already a lot of hotel time, especially when it's been coupled with two days in LA, but it is really draining being in purgatory with no way of knowing when the wait will end.

The first ten days was fairly carefree. We saw at least one friend every day (typically for lunch or dinner) and enjoyed staying in a nice hotel (the W) in downtown Seattle. It was my first time spending any significant time in downtown Seattle, and the hotel was just one block away from Cameron's office so he knew all of the local lunch spots. While Cameron went to work, I typically worked out in the large hotel gym for 1-2 hours, walked around the surrounding streets, and found touristy ways to occupy myself. Despite going out as much as possible, I still found myself in the hotel room a decent amount reading, watching American TV (mostly TLC, the Food Network, and Ellen), and attempting to crochet mittens.

As we approached day 9 we started to get nervous. Cameron attempted to call the Consulate but had to leave a message since it was after (their very limited) hours. Nothing came in that Thursday so I tried to call again on Friday during office hours. The automated voice laid out four options. I started by selecting "visas" but the phone went dead shortly after. I called back and tried "visas" again but got the same result. I called back twice more and tried different options, but each time it would ring for about a minute and then hang up on me. Cameron emailed the agency but we didn't really have any hope of getting a response until Tuesday due to the weekend and Monday holiday (Veterans Day in the US and Polish Independence Day). The visas still hadn't arrived by end-of-day Friday so Cameron borrowed a mail key in hopes that they would be delivered to the office on Saturday and we would still catch our Sunday flight.

After Cameron got off of work on Friday, we bussed to Cole and Ella's house in Issaquah. Cameron and Cole were working on one of their many projects and my intention was to drink wine and watch a scary movie with Ella and Mikki. The scary movies was replaced with Don't Tell Mom...the Babysitter's Dead but the wine consumption was in full force. We upgraded to a Lyft instead of bussing home, but we didn't walk into the hotel until about 11pm. While Cole and Ella consider popcorn an acceptable dinner, Cameron and I do not so we had a late night dinner in the hotel bar, Trace. I went to sleep immediately thereafter, but Cameron attempted to stay up to let his sister, Emily, into the hotel room once she got in from Nepal that night. I slept through the whole thing, but learned in the morning that Cameron also fell asleep which led to some hoopla with the light rail, sleepwalking, and sleep talking.

Emily apparently hadn't slept all night due to jet lag, so she was happy to join me for an hour-long workout while Cameron continued to snooze. After showers and badgering Cameron awake, we went in for a Remitly breakfast, meaning that Cameron took us to his office for coffee, yogurt, cereal, chocolate-covered almonds, carrots and hummus, granola bars, and whatever else from his office that seemed appetizing at 8am. Filled up, we walked down to the ferry terminal so we could meet the rest of the Little/Engel family for brunch and I could meet Grammy June for the first time (for a 90-something-year-old woman, she is a delight!).

Our return ferry got us back at a perfect time to check the Remitly mail one more time. The ferry ride had been one of the more interesting one's I ever had. For one, we looked like crazy people sorting through a huge pile of mail that Michelle had passed off to us. Secondly, we got to enjoy opening some early Christmas gifts from Cameron's family. Most importantly, though, the captain took a short detour so that we could watch a pod of orcas off of Bainbridge Island's coastline. The whales were too far away to see in detail, but the shape of the dorsal fin was indicative of their species and we could tell there were a lot of them–probably at least six. I had never seen orcas before, in the wild or otherwise, and Cameron was pretty sure this was only his second-ever sighting.

The passports did not show up in the mail, which meant a series of rebookings needed to happen. We decided it wasn't too unreasonable to hope that they would arrive by Tuesday, allowing us to fly out on Wednesday. Unfortunately, because of Sunday's MLS cup, the W didn't have any capacity and wasn't able to extend our stay. Go Sounders, but bad timing for us. Luckily, we were able to move up to the Kimpton Hotel Vintage just a block away. It was cheaper for Cameron to rebook our flights rather than to flat-out cancel them and then buy new tickets laters, so we were booked for the same flight schedule for Tuesday. It was still an expensive rescheduling, but thankfully Remitly was charged with the bill and planned to have their lawyers call the Consulate on Tuesday if our passports still had not arrived.

It was stressful to be stuck somewhere waiting for visas. We are lucky that our holding zone is a city we are familiar with, that has lots to do, and full of people that we love. As far as visa problems go, this was the creme de la creme, and although we continued to remind ourselves of our idealized situation, we were both anxious. Since there was nothing else to do, we went with Brad to Chihuly Garden and Glass, did a 5km run with Ella in Coal Creek area, and I did a second lunch with my old coworkers. At the end of lunch that Tuesday I got a call from Cameron saying he had been in contact with the Consulate, the visas were issued but our passports had not yet been mailed, and that we should get our passports the next day, Wednesday. That meant we had to rebook our flights for Thursday, extend our hotel another night, and cross our fingers that one-day FedEx shipping truly was only one day. If not, we would have to cancel our upcoming Saturday flights to London and do the rescheduling process for our Krakow flights a third time.

After breakfast on Wednesday Cameron went to work and I went for a seven mile walk along the Seattle waterfront. Every so often I would think this could be my last day in Seattle but I would quickly disregard those thoughts–I didn't want to jinx it! I got back to the hotel around noon and within twenty minutes I got a picture from Cameron holding our passports open to the "Wiza" pages! Oh what a relief! Our visas are the same type of visa, except Cameron's is issued under Article 06 (for the purpose of carrying out work as a foreigner) and mine is issued under Article 23, which is essentially the "other" category. I don't think this restricts my ability to work, but we will see. For now, a copy of my visa has been sent to PWC so they can hopefully begin to process a work permit for me.

Due to the time difference, we will be arriving in Krakow at 11am on Friday the 16th. I'm relieved for this trip to be over, but as soon as we get home we need to unpack and repack since we leave for London at 6:45 on Saturday morning. My guess is that we will be so tired from traveling and jet lag that we will be ready to fall asleep by mid-afternoon and will naturally wake up at a perfect time for our early-morning flight. I'll look forward to getting back from that trip and re-settling into our Polish routines. This has been a nice, but exhausting, trip. Hopefully the annual visa renewal process goes smoother!

Whenever people used to visit us in Seattle, I never had good recommendations for what they should do. Now that we don't live there anymore, I have lots of suggestions.
A few touristy highlights:
  • Woodland Park Zoo (we were there for over four hours but we still had to rush to see everything)
  • Walking around UW's campus (my persona highlight was seeing Ella's lab since it looked like such a stereotypical science lab, but I doubt that's open to regular visitors)
  • Seattle Art Museum (I got free admission since I went on the first Thursday of the month. Apparently a lot of Seattle museums have first Thursday free days)
  • Walking along the Seattle waterfront
  • Seattle Public Library (not only is it a good place to sit and read for a few hours, but there is a coffee shop and gift store inside, and they have a really cool view from the top floor of the building)
  • The Spheres (we could only go into the informational understory but I would like to reserve an appointment to go into the atrium section)

My favorite restaurants of the trip:
  • Von's 1000 Spirits (super tasty sourdough pasta)
  • The Pink Door (beautiful views of the sound, a cabaret show [that we didn't see but that I've heard is great], but can be a very long wait for a table)
  • Zig Zag Cafe (great cocktails)
  • Purple Cafe (always a favorite)
  • Lola (we went for breakfast; it's worth getting the doughnuts)

Multiple forms of public transportation: In the four years we lived in Seattle-area, I had only ridden the bus twice, but with the Orca card it was super convenient to get around. Apparently, Seattle has the best public transportation nationwide...who knew?!
  • Light rail (great way to get to and from the airport)
  • Buses (serviced by multiple providers but all took the Orca card. We were on buses run by King County Metro, Sound Transit, and Kitsap Transit)
  • Ferries (a real treat, especially when there are Orcas)
  • Monorail (built for the World Fair and was the world-wide fastest train at the time, but it did not go nearly as fast as I expected)
  • Water taxi (we didn't actually use it because by the time we thought about going to West Seattle it was either too rainy, too cold, or too dark, but I really wanted to!)
  • Jump Bikes (maybe not public transportation but a good way to get from Queen Anne to downtown at 9:30 on a Tuesday)
View of Mt. Rainier from the SeaTac light rail platform.

Ella's lab at UW.

Inside the Understudy at the Seattle Spheres.

Sunset over the Sound from inside the Pink Door.

Fun friend at the Woodland Park Zoo.

Some of my favorites at the Seattle Art Museum.

Chihuly Gardens and Glass with Brad.

Inside the Seattle Public Library.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Visa trip to LA

In Poland, your permissions to live in the country are separate from your ability to work in the country. US citizens are allowed to stay in Poland for 90 days without a visa, but after that you must leave the Shengwen Zone (virtually all of Europe). I flew into Amsterdam before transferring to Krakow on October 7th, so that is the start to my 90 day countdown, and Cameron's clock started about two weeks earlier. We knew we would have to fly back to the US to deal with visas, but I assumed that we would push our 90 day limit rather than waiting hardly a month. Oh well!

With advisory from the Remitly lawyers, Cameron made an appointment at the Polish Consulate in LA for Tuesday, October 29th. We flew into LA the day before, and were flying to Seattle the day after. Our route took us from Krakow to Amsterdam to Seattle to LA and oh boy were we tired when we finally made it to California! We had been up for over 24 hours by the time we touched down for the last time that Monday, if you don't count the few hours of plane sleep. However, may I recommend Delta for your next international travel plans? As soon a it was safe to do so, the fight attendants delivered water bottles and menus to everyone. The menus listed out the schedule of meals and beverage services, which included free adult beverages and a warm cookie delivery! Since I love plane movies, I watched five of them (Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald, Yesterday, Water for Elephants, Space Jam, and Gone Girl). I bet you can guess which two Cameron chose.

It was one of those very large planes where there are two aisles and the seat arrangements are three-four-three. We were in the middle cluster of four seats, and Cameron had volunteered to sit next to a seat neighbor. He was Danish, and very much wanted to talk to Cameron about our travels, his travels, and his art. He insisted that he was a very famous artist, as was solidified by the fact that the King of Denmark had purchased one of his pieces. He thought that Cameron's long hair signified that he too was an artist which naturally extended to me being an artist as well. He complained a bit that the airplane wine was too dry and the font on the menus was too small. He had forgotten his reading glasses and kept asking us what the menu options were, but he insisted that we not read the menu to him, just interpret it. We also learned that he owned a hotel and that his children found his lack of technology skills laughable. Overall, he was quit the character; not unpleasant to be next to and talk to, but I was thankful that Cameron was there as a buffer.

Thanks to the Global Mobile Entry app we were the first through customs in Seattle; it was so quick that it felt like we had done something wrong. Once through, we had to re-enter security and then wait three hours for our plane to board. It was strange to be in Seattle but unable to step outside and interact with it. If we weren't planning on being back in two days I would have been quite sad.

I napped a little on the flight to LA but regardless my eyes were fatigued and bloodshot by the time we landed. It was another 20 minutes from the airport to our hotel, and if we weren't both starving we would have gone straight to bed. Instead, we walked across the street to a ramen restaurant and were able to delay our bedtime to about 7:30pm. I would have hoped that after the exhaustion of travel I would have slept for 12 hours and woken up at the right time for our new timezone, but instead I woke up multiple times in the night and by 4:50am I was up for good.

We doddled around the hotel a little waiting until 6am for the breakfast place I found on Yelp to open. With burritos in hand, we walked down to the beach for the sunrise. The Santa Monica Pier's Ferris wheel was lit up and welcoming, but we followed the shoreline in the opposite direction with the intention to keep walking until the sun was in our eyes. Since we were on the west coast, the run didn't rise over the water, but with smoke from a nearby wildfire in the air we still saw a beautiful display of reds and pinks in the sky and warm light hitting the buildings along Ocean Avenue.

The few other people who were on the beach were either 1) jogging, 2) taking Instagram photos of themselves, or 3) homeless and sleeping on the beach. As we walked back towards the pier we saw more people from category 2 and less from category 3. The pier was largely deserted, except for a few joggers, fishermen, and ride operators who were doing their morning checks before the park officially opened at noon. Down from the pier was Muscle Beach (which I kept assuming was "Mussel" Beach).

Cameron was keen to test our some of the exercise equipment there, but on the way down he spotted the contents of someones wallet left at a playground. There were some police officers nearby whom we hoped to deliver the stack of cards to, but they seemed preoccupied with someone else. We sat at a nearby bench for a little bit, rummaged through the cards, and tried to find the presumed owner on Facebook. While Cameron messaged him on Linked In, I learned that the owner went to a local university, had a few debit and credit cards, some punch cards to local fast food restaurants, and two drivers licenses with different birthdates. We finally were able to hand the cards to the police officers and explained where we found them, but I do like thinking about how the police will react to the poor kid's fake ID. With a job well done and needing to warm up from the cold morning, we walked back to our hotel to brainstorm how else to waste time until our afternoon appointment with the Polish Consulate.

Since we were scheduled to be at the Consulate at 12:45, we decided to walk through downtown Santa Monica and have lunch before taking the 15-minute Lyft ride. Downtown is mostly a few blocks of high-end shops and tourist-focused restaurants with a few fun dinosaur hedges as street decor. We didn't need anything and we didn't have room in our suitcases so we didn't go into any of the shops. We ate an early lunch at a trendy health-focused place and we loitered longer than the meal required just to waste time. Our Lyft driver was happy to complain to us about the ride-share scooters and we were happy to listen.

We were 30 minutes early for our appointment, so when the door to the Consulate was locked my first though was that they were out to lunch. Then I saw the camera and doorbell and were soon buzzed inside. It was a large pleasant lobby with a glass-enclosed receptionist in one corner, some cushioned benches to sit on, and a wall of large photographed portraits, presumably of famous Polish people. When we arrived there was a flamboyantly dressed woman talking in Polish to the receptionist, and it was somewhat comforting to hear the language and pick up on a few words. We looked at the photographs and took account of all of our documents while we waited our turn.

Cameron took charge at the window and handed over our applications, passports, two passport photos each, certified marriage certificate, and his work permit. The woman behind the glass checked to make sure all documents were original before she made black-and-white photocopies of them. She kept our passports and about $200 of visa application fees and sent us on our way. Relieved that it had gone well so far, I took a seat a bench and started to read a tourism book on Krakow. Cameron came and sat next to me and then asked if I was ready to go. I was surprised since I hadn't realized that we were already done with the full process; I had assumed that we still had a proper meeting to argue our case but it truly was as simple as passing off our documents and some money. Overall it's a surprisingly easy process, but it seems quite pointless to have flown so far to deliver some documents that could have been faxed or mailed.

Then next step is to wait. We paid for expedited processing but were given no indication of if our passports would be returned to us with visas in them. Cameron's visa is pretty much ensured since he has a work permit but my situation is far less stable. Since there is nothing that can be done, we just hope that everything shows up in Seattle as expected before our return trip to Poland on Sunday, November 10th. Otherwise this two-week trip might get extended indefinitely.

Our next Lyft driver was interested in Seattle and Poland, and afterwords Cameron and I both commented on how well-spoken he was. Back at the hotel, we changed into our swimsuits and got ready for round two at the beach. The road we took deposited us right back at Muscle Beach, and this time Cameron was ready. He did some monkey baring, rope climbing, and monkey swinging(?) whereas I only hung upside-down from a hanging bar. Once sufficiently warmed up (and after a little girl totally upstaged him on the rope climb) we walked down to the water.

There weren't very many other people out on the beach, which I attributed to it being a Tuesday afternoon outside of tourist-season, but once knee-deep in the water we realized it was also just straight-up cold. There were a few people who were fully enjoying the waves, but most of them were surfers that were in full-body wetsuits. The water was filled with fragments of seaweed and nothing about it seemed particularly inviting. After staying thigh-deep for about ten minutes, we decided to give up on swimming and instead sat on the beach to read our Kindles. Because we didn't have any beach towels we ended up sharing the rain-cover for Cameron's backpack as a seat. Even though there was full-sun, the ocean breeze was pretty cold and we hadn't brought sweaters down to the water with us. It didn't take long for us to give up on the beach.

Knowing there wasn't anything at the hotel room to entertain us, we walked back to the Santa Monica Pier to check out the rides now that they were operating. Cameron had never been on a Ferris wheel, but neither of us thought it was going to be worth the $24 ticket costs. We walked through the arcade and scoured the floor for an abandoned penny (for Cameron's pressed penny collection) but walked out unsuccessfully. I pined after a funnel cake but decided against that, too. A sign that I hadn't seen earlier that morning caught my eye, which led us to the $5 admittance into the Heal the Bay Aquarium underneath the Pier.

The Aquarium is very small, essentially just one large room with tanks around most of the perimeter, but we managed to spend at least an hour there reading all of the literature and taking time with each section. We saw seahorses, small sharks, jellyfish, and eels, among a variety of smaller fish, sea cucumbers, starfish, sea urchins, and shellfish. By far the most fascinating were the lobsters. There were three in a large rock-bedded tank and they moved about looking to terrorize each other and the other sea life stuck inside the glass with them. One started chasing and clawing at another, and on the whole looked like a monster dreamed up in a nightmare.

By the time we left, it seemed like we had spent a respectable amount of time out for the afternoon and had earned our showers and naps. I was tired, and could have fallen asleep but Cameron kept me from messing up my sleep schedule more than it already was. We left the room again around 5pm to re-peruse the downtown streets for a dinner spot, but after walking around we looped back to a Mexican restaurant across the street from the hotel. Since we had to leave the hotel at 5am the next day, we told ourselves that it was the flight-preparation that was sending us to bed so early rather than the jet lag from the previous day. We needed to be well-rested for our 12 day visa-wait in Seattle.

Heading to the beach, burrito in hand.

Good morning Santa Monica.

Santa Monica Pier amusement park.

Dinosaur hedges in downtown Santa Monica.

Locked doors to the Polish Consulate. 

I'm not sure what these are called–chain swinging? monkey vines?

Me flopping around upside down while a super buff girl is on the ropes next to me.

Cameron struggling to get up that rope.

Monster lobster stepping all over a poor unassuming sea cucumber.