Friday, October 25, 2019

Everything is Hard (in a good way!)

Today I saw the funniest thing: two trams and a load of cars were in a traffic jam caused by a horse-drawn carriage. I was quite pleased to be a pedestrian today as my moving pace was faster than the cars stuck in the back-up. In fact, everyday I enjoy walking around the city though that might change once the weather turns to freezing, wet, and smoggy. I've started to see the respiration masks I'd previously heard rumors of. In the meantime, I am very pleased that I made it to a thrift store and bought myself a big, long, puffy jacket for the frigid (but invigorating) mornings.

As my parents said, when you move to a foreign country everything is hard; it had taken me a few times walking past the thrift store to work up the courage to go in and figure it out. The setup was less organized than my formerly frequented Bellevue Goodwill, but I still found more things I wanted than what I could easily fit in my arms or the small shopping baskets they provided. After trying to look casual on my fourth circuit around the store I walked towards the curtained changing room. Based on my familiarity with thrift stores and the body language used, I could tell the two women manning the store were asking me if I wanted to use the changing room–"tak!"–and how many items I had. Rather than responding with "pięć," which I know is the word for "five," I just handed the woman my basket and had her count.

By the time I made it into the changing room my face was red and I was sweaty with embarrassment–not the best situation for trying on clothes. But in addition to the two jackets I had already tried on outside of the changing room, I also found two shirts that I liked. I didn't know the etiquette for returning unwanted clothes, so I delivered them back to the shelves they were pulled from. I felt okay going up to the cash register with my four items, partially because the two women had already been sympathetic towards my lack of Polish skills, but mostly because I had figured out the checking-out pattern at other stores: I say "dzień dobry" as the initial greeting, they ring me up and tell me the cost, I say "tak" in agreement, and then say "karta proszę." Sometimes they ask if I want a bag, but typically by having my reusable bag visible I'm able to avoid understating and responding to that question.

This time however, there was a kink–when I asked to pay with card they both knitted their eyebrows together as a way of communicating that they couldn't accept cards. In the few minutes that I have been holding onto these four things I had become attached to them all. I didn't know how to say "I only have 100 złoty in cash" but by showing them the bills, moving the two shirts to the side, and looking apologetic they got the message. Hot with embarrassment and trying to convey as apologetic of an expression as I could I fled the store with my goods and many repetitions of "dziękuję"–"thank you!" The whole walk home I was thankful I hadn't worked up the nerve to pay in cash at the cafe I was at the day before, otherwise I would have been really SOL!

On a typical day that interaction would have been more than enough of a challenge for me, but I had initially gone into the thrift store looking for a replacement of the brown clogs I had given up before moving. I took a detour from the thrift store back home in order to stop in two shoe stores. Before getting to the first one I found a park bench to pause at while I checked the size of my shoes: 41. In the first store, I found two pairs I wanted to try, brought them to the counter and asked "four-one, please." Presumably, she repeated my request but using the proper Polish words. I nodded my head and waited for her to return from the back room. She returned empty-handed and said something to me in Polish. Not understanding, I asked in Polish if she spoke English, after which she repeated that they didn't have either of the shoes in 41 but had one pair in size 40. After trying those on without success I thanked her, walked out the store, and hoped my sweating wasn't obvious to her.

At the second store, the store clerk was helping another woman but said something to me in Polish. I smiled and nodded even though I didn't know what he had said. I took a long time pursuing the shelves in order to give the other customer enough time to leave the store before I went up to the counter with three pairs. This time, I went ahead and started with "csz mówisz po angielsku?"–"do you speak English?"–and thankfully received an affirmative answer. I walked out of the store 15 minutes later with a great pair of shoes and a feeling of accomplishment.

After a successful day like that, my typical treat is to turn on TV when I get home. The real treat would be to turn on Netflix, but doing so gives me a strong sense of guilt and blobbiness so instead I've been watching Polish cable television. Nothing I've found has been particularly interesting (probably because it's mostly incomprehensible soap operas) but I tell myself that it is helping me learn. The commercials have already become mind-numbingly repetitive, but the repetition is probably good for my comprehension. In the combination of repetition and non-comprehension my mind wanders and I've come up with some realizations about commercials which I've never had the chance to experience in the US because we didn't have commercial television:
  • Rarely do the visuals tell you anything useful about the product. Why do dancing cartoons make me want to drink juice? And how is an oversized stuffed catfish related to a banking? There are a few commercials that I still haven't figured out what is being advertised.
  • A lot of international products use commercials where no one on screen is talking so the voices can more easily be replaced in different languages.
  • Cartoons are preferred because the dubbing is less obvious.
  • Commercials created by the Polish government always have someone in the bottom corner translating everything to sign language.  More than once I've wondered if I should try learning Polish sign language rather than verbal Polish.
  • Cleaning commercials always have a distressed woman or an overly enthusiastic salesman.
Despite the abundance and variety of cleaning products advertised, buying cleaning supplies has been one of the biggest challenges. Window cleaner was relatively easy to find because of the photos on the spray bottle. I'm not positive I chose a good general cleaner but the naturalistic thumbprint pattern gives me some confidence. We had issues with clogged sinks and showers, but Drain-O isn't a thing here. After looking through multiple stores without success, we got a recommendation from Cameron's coworkers for Kret (literal translation: "mole"). However, despite more co-worker suggestions I have not been able to find a deodorizer for the freezer, which unfortunately stinks terribly of fish. I've resigned to vinegar and baking soda, but lack the enthusiasm the women on TV have–presumably since I don't have the right products. I'm also just not cutout for a life of a housewife. 

Luckily, my days as a housewife are numbered. We're leaving for the US on Monday (visa stuff) and returning to Krakow two weeks later. I'll have a few days in Krakow before we leave for London for a week (Cameron's work stuff). After that, I hopefully will be starting a new (hard) job! I don't want to share more until it becomes official (i.e. once visa stuff is ironed out) but I'll leave you with that happy note.

For those of you who were disappointed at my lack of photo evidence in the last post, I managed to snag a picture of some odd pants this week!

Really cool acrobatic sculptures suspended from a bridge.

Another of Krakow's 200+ churches.

More interesting architecture from an evening walk. 

The horse-led traffic backup mentioned at the start of today's blog post.

A good way to avoid housework: enjoy the crisp morning with hot tea and a good book.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Fitting In

For the last week (since Friday, October 11th) I have been going to #OMGKRK's office for a few hours each day to help with their marketing and preparation for Monday's upcoming Innovative Krakow Forum. My walk is about 35 minutes each way, and I try to find a new route each day. In addition to those strolls, I also have met Cameron at his office a few times (20 minutes away) and the two of us have crisscrossed through downtown looking for new streets. Essentially, I've done a lot of walking and a lot of people watching. Assimilation is the best way to show respect, but in order to fit in you must first know what is "in."

Here is a list of things I have noticed thus far:

  1. Walking, biking, and electric scooters are all appropriate modes of transportation around the city. However, if you choose either of the wheeled vehicles mentioned, do not wear a helmet.
  2. If you insist upon driving, you will have trouble finding parking, but you are welcome to park your car in any sliver of space that it might fit. If necessary, any number of wheels may rest on the sidewalk, and sometimes sidewalk parking is preferred over on-road parking.
  3. Eat ice cream, regardless to the weather, time, or number of people in your group. Well, maybe time of day does matter–I don't think I've seen anyone with a breakfast ice cream, but plenty of people agree that it makes a good snack on your (walking) commute home.
  4. Also eat obwarzaneks. These truly can be eaten any time of day, and seemingly anywhere. I've seen them being consumed in the mall, on a bus, and in the office.
  5. Always carry a reusable shopping bag with you. It seems most people go grocery shopping every day or two (probably because the grocery stores are small and most people are walking or biking their purchases home so they don't want to carry too much) so you should always be prepared if something at the vegetable stand catches your eye on your way home. Also, you are less likely to be badgered by one of the city tour salesmen if you are carrying a bag of groceries.
  6. Wear scarves.
  7. If you are going to wear a dress, wear pantyhose or stockings. 
  8. Wear impractical pants. Faux leather seem to be in fashion for women, and I've also seen multiple young men in capri-length tweed trousers. Another favorite was a very petit woman wearing jeans that were far too big on her so she hiked them up and essentially plaited them with a belt. 
  9. Honestly, wear whatever you want, so long as it looks somewhat ridiculous (and therefore fashionable). A few pieces that have caught my eye include: Pomeranian-level fluffed-up fur coats, calf-length tweed jackets, all denim, fur sandals, tutus, a bike-chain style lock and key as a choker necklace, hexagonal shaped glasses, see-through shirts, and gray baggy sweatpants paired with a black blazer. 
  10. If it seems like everything is too flashy, then you can always be a nun.
I've also learned I am a terrible housewife, and I hate sitting at home trying to busy myself with chores. I was very productive and motivated on day one stay-at-home life, and every day since I've become more and more lackluster. One day I even left a stack of dirty dishes on the counter for Cameron to deal with when he got home from work (I know, I'm terrible and Cameron is wonderful!) In one of the girl-positive historical fiction stories I read as a kid (thanks Mom!) I remember the protagonist complaining that women's work is only every noticed if it is done poorly. Every time I vacuum, or iron, or wipe down a counter I think about that, so I've started to move towards a "don't clean until it's messy enough that the difference will be noticed" approach. 

As mentioned, I'm only working (read: volunteering) for a few hours each day, but it's been enough to introduce me to a small group of really nice, young, English-speaking people. I'm currently trying to convince Cameron to let us have a housewarming party (mostly because I love the Polish term "parapetówka impreza" which literally translates to "windowsill party.") The remaining in-between times I fill with reading romance novels, applying for jobs, taking free walking tours of the city, watching Polish television, and trying to get comfortable spending Cameron's money. 

Here are a few additional tid-bits I've picked up from those activities:
  1. My natural sleeping schedule seems to veer closer to ten hours of sleep a night (rather than the nine I used to shoot for before).
  2. Romance novels are great. I even took a college course that focused heavily on romance novels, so I don't know why I didn't develop this appreciation years ago!
  3. Applying for Polish jobs is much more involved than for American jobs. There is a good chance I will have to take a written math test and a language proficiency test as part of the hiring process.
  4. Every hour on the hour there is a trumpeter that plays from the highest window of Saint Mary's church in the main square. The trumpeters are local firemen that rotate off after they complete a 24 hour shift. There is a prevailing factoid that the reason the tune is incomplete is in honor of a 13th century trumpeter who lost his life mid-toot when a Mongol arrow shot him in the throat, but in truth that was a lie made up by a 20th century tour guide and popularized by American journalist, Eric P. Kelly.
  5. "Peppa Pig" is a terrible show. Peppa is a very spoiled little girl yet her family continues to indulge her. Any merits of learning Polish through this show are significantly undermined by the terrible snorting all of the pigs do.  
  6. Eggs are not refrigerated in the grocery store, and there is a rating system printed on each egg which indicates if it is organic, free range, indoor, or caged (0 is best, 3 is worst).
  7. Polish people are very dismissive of themselves. I've heard many people comment about less-than-perfect processes by saying "Welcome to Poland, that's how it's done around here." However, I think maybe everyone likes to talk that way about their government, regardless of country.
  8. The city is very clean, especially for a city! There are horse-drawn carriage rides that shuttle tourists through town yet I haven't seen any horse poo. Everyone seems to smoke yet there are rarely butts littering the ground. I think I have only seen two people who looked like they might be homeless, but they seemed perfectly content with their lives from what I could tell. Even the pigeons seem plump, happy, and relatively unmaimed.
  9. Food tends to be sweeter (like plain yogurt, pretzel sticks, and curry powder).
  10. According to a tour guide, practically 100% of the Polish population is baptized, however it's hard to say what percentage of people are practicing Catholics. He said the older generations tend to be more religious, but he's also seeing a stronger religious pull in the younger generations, too. From his perspective, the least religious demographic are 25-40 year olds. 
At some point (probably over the next week) I'm hoping Cameron and I will do a walking tour together, probably through the former Jewish district which is now know as the best place to go for beers or out dancing. We'll probably also buy at ticket for HistoryLand, which is the Muzeum Karkowa's history through Legos exhibit. I have an interview to prepare for (ugh, more ironing!), a day-long networking-focused event to facilitate, and (hopefully) a windowsill party to host! I just finished my latest book and will have to find another one soon, especially since we leave for Los Angeles next week (visa stuff). I'll be sure to update you all as I discover more! 
...and sorry for not having any photos of the odd fashion choices I've seen.

My tour guide telling us a legend of two brothers engaged as the architects for the Saint Mary's Cathedral steeples. 

According to Chris, the tour guide, one steeple is taller than the other because the older jealous brother killed his younger brother and then committed suicide before the second steeple could be finished.

As with most buildings, the Juliusz Słowacki Theater had layers of architectural elements that correspond with the centuries of structural additions. 

Jagiellonian University, where Pope John Paul II attended, although his name was Karol Wojtyła at that time.

Wawel castle at night.

The dragon, Smok Wawelski, outside of his dragon den below the castle. The statue blows fire at random intervals, and it's said that it only goes off when a young virgin walks by (which is not often).

The moat and secret doors at Barbican gate. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The First Weekend In KRK

Gosh it was a gorgeous weekend! There were plenty of chores that we knew we should do but the weather was too enticing so we decided to opt outside (as REI would say). Of course not having a car limited the number of places we could easily get to, but as everything is new it wasn't a problem that we had restricted choices. To find our hiking spot, we simply zoomed out on Google Maps and looked for large green spaces. The biggest is Bialańsko-Tyniecki Park/Wolski Forest, home to the Krakow Mounds and Krakow Zoo. Cameron had gone running in the forest one day on his first trip to Krakow (back in August) but he definitely hadn't see the full park.

I had assumed that we would walk there, since it would only take about an hour and we could be along the river for some of the time. Cameron, however, preferred the tram so we gave that a go, instead. It turns out it was quite easy, especially since we had already downloaded Krakow's public transportation app, Jakdojade. For just $0.80 each, we were able to get to the foot of the Park within five minutes, for virtually no stress at all! The nearest tram station is two blocks away from our apartment and the tram comes every ten minutes. It wasn't necessarily early Saturday morning (we had slept in until almost 10am-shock!) but there still weren't too many people out so we had no problems getting seats in our tram car.

At the final stop, we got off with another out-and-about family, and started our walk uphill through  a quiet, stone- and wood-heavy neighborhood. Even though it was clearly residential, we still passed by a restaurant; clearly everyone goes out to eat around here. When Cameron and I were first house hunting we saw a number of single-family homes for rent nestled into this park, and knowing how easy public transportation is I wish we had considered looking into some of them.

Just a few blocks up from the tram stop we transitioned from neighborhood into cemetery and then into full-on park. It seems everyone was out, and we saw representatives from every age group. Most people seemed to be out for a leisurely stroll, but there were also a few runners and bikers as well. I told Cameron that if we saw someone selling the unpronounceable Polish bagel-like treats (obwarzanek) that I would want to stop and buy one. The path was long and straight, so when we saw a stone staircase to our right we took it. At the top of the stairwell was a large brick fortress. As we walked around the structure we came into sight of the first mound- quite literally a large grassy hill that was fortified by a surrounding brick wall. I had never seen anything like it. Rather than paying the few złowty entrance fee to climb the mound, we elected to come back with our first US visitors but to continue on with our hike for the day.

We could have continued on the main, straight, paved path, but instead started to meander through a more woodsy dirt path. Perhaps Cameron had a destination in mind (he always has his GPS open) but I was happy to haphazardly choose each time we came to an intersection. There were lots of mountain bikers out and it definitely was a good trail system for them–not too rooty but with lots of roller coaster-type humps. Sporadically the trees would open up on our right and we would get views of some of the city, which Cameron kept referring to as "the Polish countryside." As we continued along, we tried to avoid the main path without dropping too much elevation, but eventually we had to start going down again. At the bottom of the hill we intersected a road and evaluated what we wanted to do next. We could turn around and go back the way we came, we could follow the road to a bus stop, or we could continue on to a second section of park. Naturally, we opted for option three.

Perhaps we could have continued on to the second mound, but once we hit another road (I think very near the zoo) we decided to sit on a bench, eat our packed lunch, and then make our way to a bus stop. It wasn't a far walk to the bus, and I very much toyed with the idea of getting one of the bagels from the vendor waiting at the stop, but since the bus was near I talked myself out of it. The bus was just as easy as the tram, and it took us just a few blocks away from our house. After swapping out our hiking gear for shopping gear, we returned to the bus stop and set out for IKEA.

IKEA is located in a shopping center-heavy section of the city, about 3km outside of where we live. In addition to a mall, there were some other large home decor and appliances stores clustered in the same space as IKEA.  Despite our apartment being furnished, it was only stocked with the bare essentials, and we need more than four forks and one oven mitt to support the cooking we do at home. It was the same experience as any other IKEA I had been in, where they lead you through a maze of cute, well-stocked showrooms. Along the way there are stockpiles of one small item found in the room: photo frame, shoe organizers, spice jars, etc. There are little shortcuts sprinkled throughout the space, but it seems like a fallacy to not follow the full path.

We had already done a pretty good job of filling our bag by the time we reached the halfway point, always identifiable by the cafeteria-style restaurant. Even though it was mid-afternoon and not that long since we had last eaten, we waited in line for a meal (later Cameron's coworker commented that it was a very Polish thing to do to go to IKEA to eat). I had a salmon filet with beets and buckwheat while Cameron ate Swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes and gravy. We shared a fresh-squeezed strawberry juice as a special treat, but talked ourselves out of the various cake-like desserts available. Our combined meals probably cost about $12.

Once refueled, the assembly line took us downstairs to the real chaos where everything is for sale. Anything that we had admired upstairs was claimable in a pile somewhere down below, so we filled our cart with Tupperware, silverware, kitchen utensils, a cutting board, a pot set, a frying pan, napkins, coasters, place mats, and anything else that caught our fancy. We had to stick with small things we could bag up and bring back on the bus with us, however we already have plans to come back with the car (once it's shipped) for wardrobes, shelving, and rugs.

Disappointingly, we weren't able to find any king-sized sheets, even though I'm fairly certain our bed set origionally came from IKEA. I've scoured a few home decor shops in Krakow and only found one king-sized set: a boring all-white set at H&M's home section. It seems like king beds are virtually nonexistent, so I'm not sure how we ended up with one. We probably will have to buy sheets to bring back with us the next time we're in the US, since the only set we currently have seems to have been hand-made by one of the previous tenants.

We made it home to unload our haul and cooked some lentils and cauliflower in our new pots. Our favorite television station had a Polish singing show on where it seems like contestants sing songs to the original artist while he sings along as support. Of course I didn't understand anything, but I did pick up on the word for "breakfast" in one of the better-sung numbers. Each night after dinner Cameron and I have some sort of treat; right now it is some chocolate-covered hazelnut wafers. It's probably a bad habit to get into but it is a fun browsing the cookie aisle at the grocery store.

Sunday morning was pretty uninteresting. We lollygagged around the house since all of the stores are closed on Sundays, with a few exceptions for restaurants and single employee-run stores. I turned on the TV to see if there was any election coverage, but it was just mass on live-feed. I later learned that there is a media blackout the day before and the day of elections, and that you can get fined for even posting something on Facebook about a candidate. The intention is to avoid swaying the voter turnout. I attempted to make pancakes, but without milk or baking powder they were mostly just dense buttery dough blobs with Nutella.

By early afternoon I was restless and pervasive enough to talk Cameron into going for a walk somewhere. We made it down to the river (about 0.25km away) and then turned around to change. I was dressed for fall in long pants and a long sleeved shirt, but I swapped those for shorts, a tank top, and a sun hat before heading out again. Since I hadn't yet gone to the castle, that was our first stop, but it was crowded! It's a long flight of stairs to get up to the castle gates and the line was moving very slowly. Once on top, though, it opened up to a large courtyard with multiple gardens and restaurants. People are allowed to move around fairly freely from one courtyard to another, and as we explored the space it was clear that the castle operated as it's own small city for some time. There was a little bit of literature sprinkled throughout the grounds, however they strongly encourage you take one of the many tours offered which let you into different parts of the castle, cathedral, and "dragon's den." Given the crowds, we decided to put off a tour until another day.

We continued our exploration outside of the castle, looking for streets neither of us had been down, and for ice cream shops that were not swamped with mobs of people. We found a few of the  former but none of the later. There were a number of the obwarzanek vendors (the bagels) and we finally bought our first two: one that was multi-seeded and one with cheese. They were pretty tasty, and I could see myself eating those one a regular basis. As we continued to wander, we found a gelato place with only a few customers ahead of us, so we stopped in for a scoop each to satiate ourselves on the walk home.

Walking through the residential neighborhood to the start of our Saturday morning walk

A view of the mound surrounded by the brick fortress

What Cameron calls "the Polish countryside"

What I think more aptly is the Polish countryside

Enjoying a mid-afternoon meal at IKEA

The main plaza at the castle. I think this is the castle's primary cathedral.

A side plaza at the castle; apparently it is used commonly for wedding photos since it's all white.

Weekend crowds in Old Town

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Introductions to a Working Community

Many people were privy to my complaints about feeling overworked at home, and therefore encouraged me to take this opportunity to be unemployed. Unfortunately, I am too much of a busy body to live in that fantasy world, and therefore from day one I have been going out and trying to integrate myself into the community. For me, that means having a place to go to every day where I can provide value while having a network to interact with. Also, the main thing I would want to do with my abundance of free time would be to travel and explore, but I would feel so guilty going out and having fun without Cameron, especially since it is his work that would be funding my escapades.

As mentioned in my previous post, I already met with a few individuals from the local auditing firm PRO Audit.  Through their connections, I have already emailed my resume to a director at PWC, which would be my preferred Big 4 company (mainly because they are the closest to my house...but don't tell them that), and have been asked to apply!

I also have a search running on LinkedIn for anything that mentions the words "audit," "auditor," "accountant," or "accounting" in the Krakow and Crakow areas (I don't yet know why the city has multiple spellings.  From what I can tell they can be used interchangeable). A few things have come up, but most have requirements for more experience than what I can currently provide.

The Krakow Expats Facebook group has been another great tool. It seems to be primarily used for selling furniture and starting sports groups but there are various English-speaking events posted there, too. That's how I found OpenCoffeeKRK. I got a little lost but was able to ask a student "Please, do you speak English?" and she was able to point me to the right direction. Without knowing too much what to expect, I showed up at today's 8am meeting, was given a name tag, and helped myself to a cup of coffee. Although the room was cramped (and apparently houses a bar in the evenings), the hosts assured us that this was not the usual meeting space.

Although the Meetup post emphasized that the meeting started at 8am sharp, people continued to trickle in for an additional half hour or so. There were enough chairs for about 25 people, but there were at least another five cramped near the door.  Essentially, people stood up to introduce themselves, what they do, what they were hoping to get out of Open Coffee, and how they could benefit others. The group is largely targeted at startups and entrepreneurs to share their projects, but I felt very welcome as a newcomer to the group sharing my skillset and desire to find a job and community.

After an hour of two-minute introductions (which still was not enough time for everyone to stand up given the size of the group) people were free to mingle and network until 10:00.  I talked to a number of very encouraging people and have a handful of English-speaking events that I would like to attend. Based on her presentation, I was already interested in registering for OMGKRK's Innovative Krakow Forum, but then talking to Kriti I agreed to come by the OMGKRK office to meet the team and do some pre-even volunteer work tomorrow. Mom has always said I can't say no to anything, but I especially feel I can be a "yes-man" since I have no other obligations to uphold–it's very thrilling!

It's all very exciting and encouraging, and I feel a lot more positivity and optimism compared to when I first moved to Seattle after college and typed "how do adults make friends" into Google.  Thank you, Krakow, for the wonderful first introductions, and I am looking forward to getting to know you even more!

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Krakow- First Impressions

My last flight was from Amsterdam to Krakow. Peering over my neighbor’s shoulder, I see mostly clouds. At some point the clouds dissipate into a translucent haze and I wonder if I am getting my first glimpses of the Polish countryside. It’s 4:34pm and my flight is expected to land at 5:30, so it seems possible. There is a snake-like river surrounded by patches of agriculture land and presumably darker forest areas. I can just make out the reddish roofs of what I assume is a small village and some white poles which might be a wind farm. Out the other side of the plane a few billows of steam rise up from a distant energy plant of sorts. Nothing looks particularly unique or shimmery with the glow of optimism and a new life, so I elect to to believe I'm not yet looking at my new home.

Soon after that, the landscape disappears behind a smattering of clouds so I go back to my book until I feel the plane start to descend. When I look up again, the sun is giving off the warm golden-hour glow and the vista is beautiful.  The fields are the bold colors seen in modern-day impressionism: vivid green, deep purple, bronze, and blue. As the plane turns I can see what I believe is the Wawel Castle nestled beside the Vistula River. There is a good chance I am looking at my apartment building, despite not being able to identify it. I can't help but smile and there is a tightness in my chest that I attribute to awe. The city has put on its evening finest; it is best first impression I could have hoped for.

I texted my parents and Cameron when we landed, and as I waited to get off the plane I reviewed Cameron's instructions on buying a SIM card at the airport and taking an Uber home. Cameron texts back "How long do you think you'll be? I was trying to surprise you at the airport but I might have gotten the timing wrong." Oh what a great surprise! I was very willing to wait for Cameron, even though I didn't think it would be a wait since I still needed to be bussed to the main terminal, collect my three suitcases, and buy and set up a SIM card.  Cameron joined me just as I was looking for an earring to pop out my old SIM card with. Not only was it great to see him, but he also took charge of setting up my SIM card and getting an Uber. I know I could have gotten through everything on my own but I liked being able to depend on someone else.

My first impressions of the apartment were very positive. It's noticeably bigger than our Bellevue apartment, and despite some quirks it has everything that we need. It was already past 19:00 (yes, I'm going to start using a 24 hour clock) so I didn't look around long because we were both ready for dinner. The walk to Stare Miastro (Old Town) is less than ten minutes, but Cameron encouraged that I dress warmly; it was eight degrees Celsius (about 46 degrees Fahrenheit) and likely going to get colder by the time we were walking home. Cameron took me to an Italian restaurant he had already tired, La Grande Mamma, which was right on the edge of Old Town.  Although I would have loved to sit outside under one of the heat lamps and look out at the plaza, we chose to go inside; they took us through a maze of staircases and rooms before seating us in a well-lit brick-walled cellar.

Apparently it was clear that we were American because the waitress started off speaking to us in English. We shared some garlic flatbread as an appetizer, each ordered a pasta entree, and I paired mine with a glass of wine.  In total, the dinner came out to about $30, which we thought to be very reasonable for the quality of food we got. Cameron wanted to keep showing me around after dinner. I was too tiered to walk to the Castle but he still showed me "the head" statue downtown and we walked around the main plaza a little. If I had wanted to, we could have had chosen one of dozens of ice cream shops–I would have expected nothing less in a European city.

After 11 hours of sleep, I woke up very pleased to be in my new apartment and free of any jet lag.  Cameron took the day off to show me around, which I was very grateful for.  I had an 11:00 appointment with two men at Pro Audit, a firm I was connected with via CLA's Nexia partnership. That meant I had to shower and iron an outfit (a habit that I think I will have to get very used to as we must hang dry our clothes) before heading out for the 15 minute walk. Cameron walked with me, which introduced him to a new section of the city across the river. Along the way we passed by some street vendors selling fruit and some baked good that looks like the cross between a bagel and a pretzel. I believe they are called "obwarzanek krakowski" but I think it will take some practice before I feel confident ordering one.

Krzysztof and Mirek were very kind to take an hour out of their day to meet me. Although they did not have a position that would be suitable for an English-only employee, they wanted to learn about what I was looking for before reaching out to their network on my behalf. I have already been introduced to an audit manager at PWC thanks to their efforts. In addition to work, we also covered more general topics around what to do in Krakow, the upcoming Polish election, and my first impressions of the city. I have high hope for finding a job, and even higher hopes of navigating the city without being dependent on a GPS; I made it home from Pro Audit without having to look at my phone.

The other big to-do for the day was to get PESEL numbers, the personal identification numbers that would allow us to get bank accounts and other necessities of Polish living. We walked 20 minutes to Cameron's office to print out our applications, then another 20 minutes to the government building for PESEL processing.  Figuring out where in the building we had to go was a challenge, and when we finally got our queue number we realized there were 40 people ahead of us. Luckily they had two dozen processing windows so the wait wasn't too bad, maybe only 40 minutes. Everyone needs to interact with the government on occasions, so we saw a range of people, including young women who I sized up as potential friends to a gaggle of nuns and priests socializing amongst each other. Cameron said he was reassured seeing that everyone else seemed equally confused to how he felt.

When ticket 229 was finally called, we found ourselves facing a middle aged blond woman who could not speak English. We had to wait another few minutes for her English-speaking neighbor to finish up with her last client. She was direct and abrupt, but she got us what we needed. We registered our residency and got PESEL numbers! We had been out for a long time, and still needed to go grocery shopping, so Cameron opted out of getting bank accounts on the way home. We tried the Kocyk across the street from our apartment, which was small and cramped but had all of the grocery basics we need. I made potato soup for dinner, for which we had to use a mug in place of a label, and we watched some Polish TV in the background as we ate.

Today, Wednesday, was my first day by myself. Cameron woke me up so I could have breakfast with him before he left for work, but after that I was on my own. I had a few chores I wanted to do (like buy a ladle), first of which was checking out Rossman to buy some household cleaning and toiletry staples. It was a successful purchase, but I couldn't interact more than to say hello and then smile apologetically when the cashier asked me a question. That will surely be my modus operandi for the first few months. Next on my list were some household chores: figuring out how to use the washing machine, dish washer, and where to take out the trash. I feel relatively confident that my ability to interpret symbols (aided by my googling abilities) led to successfully running the appliances. I practiced saying "Excuse me, where is the trash?" a few times in the apartment before walking downstairs to the security guard. It probably was the bags of trash in my hands rather than my Polish language skills got the point across and a gesture pointed me in the right direction.

After lunch, Cameron and I met at a bank and went through the process of opening an account. They needed his PESEL, passport, and proof of employment to open an account. I wasn't allowed to be a card-holder on his account because I don't have any employment–humph! Instead of going straight home, I walked with Cameron back to his office and then continued on to the neighboring shopping mall. In addition to the standard mall stores and food court (H&M, Zara, McDonalds...) there was also a large electronics store and grocery store. In the electronics store I found some lightbulbs and an extension cord. I also stopped in a home goods store to buy towels, bathroom rugs, and some kitchen gear (but no ladle). Unfortunately it was raining for my 20 minute walk home, and the bags were heavy, but nonetheless I was pleased with my purchases.  I spent the rest of the day organizing the house while listening to Polish television in the background.

My first picture in Poland- a welcome to the Krakow airport

Out in Stare Miastro at night

One of the fun staircases inside La Grande Mamma

More nighttime plaza photos

Wawel Castle and the Vistula River

Drying clothes inside of the apartment

The Plaza during the daytime. I had forgotten how prominent pigeons are in cities.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Visiting Florida

There is something about being able to watch nearly-unlimited movies in airplanes that I find very thrilling. I knew I should get some sleep somewhere between my two flights (El Paso, TX to Atlanta, GA to Fort Meyers, FL) but every time I snuggled into my pillow and put my eye mask on I could only think about the opportunities I wasn’t taking advantage of.  After talking myself out of movies for the full three and a half hours to Atlanta, I finally acquiesced.  I landed in Fort Meyers at 12:30am only halfway through Meow Wolf: Origin Story and starving.  After deboarding (a slow process given that the majority of passengers were elderly folks who had followed the stereotype of moving to Florida upon retirement), picking up my baggage, and shuffling through the swampy night to my rental car, I made a quick detour to the first 7-11 I could find.  Never have I ever had such a tasty egg sandwich! 

It was an hour drive to Port Charlotte, and given that it was the middle of the night East Coast Time, Cameron was just waking up.  I tested out the car bluetooth but he wasn’t particularly keen to be woken up at 6:30am that Wednesday morning. I wasn't on the phone with him for long.  To my slight surprise, someone was manning the front desk at my grandparents’ retirement community and I was able to check into my rental unit. It was about 2am at that point so I had no problem falling asleep!

Unfortunately, I was only asleep for about five hours. Given that it had been a dark night, I hadn’t light-proofed the room and my circadian rhythms are very well trained.  At 7:30am I called my grandparents and asked if I should come down to their unit for our first in-person hello in four years.  After hugs, Grandma set me down for the same breakfast spread I had four years ago: a choice of orange juice or V8, two varieties of cereal, and Little Debbie doughnuts.  I poured a half glass of OJ, some Kashi protein flakes, and a glass of coffee.  Over breakfast I shared my trip thus far and the anticipated Polish excursion.  They talked about the facility’s activities and the weather. Conversation became stagnant fairly quickly, so I started to move through the list of chores my Aunt Midge had given me for my visit.  Item one was to show them pictures of my cousin’s new baby–easy to check off the list! Next was to figure out how to turn up the volume on their bluetooth TV-connected headphones.  I am not technically proficient, and I’ve become even less so since I can rely so heavily on Cameron’s abilities.  I spent about ten minutes trying to figure out how to turn the headphones on before I finally asked Grandpa for help.  Another ten minutes later I concluded that Grandpa knew how to adjust the volume, but the maximum volume allowed by the headphones was simply not loud enough for their aging ears.

Not long after Grandpa left for a doctors appointment so Grandma and I were on our own. We traded book titles (her recommending some mysteries and I introducing her to Margaret Atwood) and cleaned up from breakfast. When I asked about her routine she talked about some of the sessions she attends during the week, doing dishes, and some of the sessions she attends during the week (again). I asked her to show me to the gym so I could get a short work out in, but discovered a Tai Chi class already using the space.  I excused myself to my room to change and close my eyes for thirty more minutes (this time with my eye mask on) before returning downstairs to Grandma.  By that point it was already 11:30.  Grandpa had expected to be back by then, but he had told us to go to lunch if his appointment ran long.  Both he and Grandma have cell phones but neither of them bring them along when they leave the house so there wasn’t a convenient way to contact him.  Forever following routine, Grandma finally decided we would go up to the lunch room without him. 

I took a seat diagonally from Grandma so that Grandpa could have his usual place across from her when he showed up.  By noon he still hadn’t arrived, however Grandma’s friend (Lynn?) asked to sit with us.  The two of them had gone to the same college, and I was grateful for the fresh conversation.  Grandma finally agreed to let us order, and as first courses were coming out (around 12:15) Grandpa finally showed up. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed my mushroom soup and baked whitefish given my unfavorable memories from my last visit.  As is customary for G&G, I saved half of my meal and asked for my ice cream to go so that we could have the same meal for dinner.

After lunch I busied myself with Midge’s other to-dos.  First order of business was turning on the computer.  Again, I struggled with this initial step and after about ten minutes had Grandpa show me the very obvious button.  Once on, I saw that Grandpa knew how to access his email, he just didn’t like to.  He also didn’t know his password if he was ever logged off. I told him he could reset it, but he didn’t want the hassle and he didn’t really seem to care.  Next, we walked through the process of pulling photos off of his camera and emailing them to Midge.  Grandpa is a self-acclaimed aperture photographer and his dark and blurry photos confirmed his self assessment.  That process, and writing up instructions, took us until about 3:00. 

Next, we moved onto the phones.  The home phone was fairly new; it had a touch screen and text display.  I think it had initially befuddled them, but by the time I was there to help they had it mostly figured out.  Although the phone was clearly designed to be simple and helpful to those who are hard of hearing, touch screens are not especially easy for those who lack dexterity.  The primary frustration (which I later learned to also be true with the cell phones) was the inability to push the right button.  There was nothing that I could do to help them with that, so we moved onto Grandpa’s new cell.  Turns out he knew how to make calls, but not how to hang up on them (a very necessary function for anyone who likes being in charge of the conversation and controlling when it is over.  I had him practice calling and receiving calls a few times, as well as navigating to the home screen.  Once he advanced to playing solitaire on his phone and Grandma had fallen asleep on the couch, I excused myself a second time to go up to my room for an hour-long nap.  

It was a good thing I set an alarm, otherwise I could easily have slept through dinner.  Upon my return to G&G’s apartment, Grandpa got started with the nightly cocktail hour routine. Without knowing what I was getting into, I agreed to a martini (with a cherry instead of an olive).  Their nightly process is to pour huge cocktails (martinis for Grandpa and manhattans for Grandma), snack on Lays potato chips and a sour cream-based dip, and set up the patio table for dinner while the leftovers warm back up in the oven.  If Grandma leaves the patio (typically a few minutes here-and-there to check on dinner) then Grandpa is sure to engage in political arguments about the impracticalities of socialism in the United States.  After dinner, any leftover over cocktails have their ice removed and then they are placed in the fridge.  As far as I can tell, the intention is to use these leftovers in tomorrow’s mix but they are always forgotten about until someone realizes they are out of clean cups.  At any given time you can open up their refrigerator and see half a dozen plastic cups all 1/4-1/2 way filled.  If you open their freezer you will see dozens of plastic and Styrofoam cups filled with ice cream.  I helped myself regularly to this stash knowing they would not be missed.

After dinner, the pair move to the couch.  They scan the newspaper weekly schedule for some overly-dramatic crime show to put on while they doze off.  I joined them briefly (so I could finish my second helping of ice cream).  The moderately-tuned TV volume paired with the murmurs I could hear seeping from their headphones created an odd sound scape.  With the excuse of still being quite tired, I wished them goodnight and was asked to come down between 8:30 and 9:00am tomorrow.  Oops! Maybe my 7:30 phone call had been on the early side for them.

At 8:35 on Thursday morning their door was answered by my nightgown-clad grandmother.  She was surprised at my early arrival until she realized she simply had slept in.  Breakfast was the same fare, although this time I paired my cereal with a tangerine. They had no plans for the day, other than another doctors appointment for Grandpa that afternoon, so I asked we go to the beach.  We elected the closest one so that Grandpa could make his appointment, I went off to my room to change, and then we were on the road by 10:00ish.  Although my grandfather still drives, I was not willing to subject myself to that so we took my rental car.  There was a bit of a struggle finding a place for his walker since I had my largest suitcase filling most of the trunk, but we slid it in next to Grandma in the backseat.  

The drive to Port Charlotte Beach Park was about 20 minutes and the biggest appeal is the neighboring bird sanctuary.  I had been there on my previous trip and was eager to go again.  It’s not a particularly large space, and they ask for a $5 donation, but I quite like seeing all of the native birds.  I was reminded of a fact I had learned there previously: Florida and Alaska have the larges bald eagle populations. I find this fascinating given their very different climates. The pelican exhibit was the most interesting.  Pelicans are giants, and I learned the American White Pelican gets up to 16lbs, although they look like they could weigh at least triple that.  In addition to the birds, there were a few turtles and tortoises and one particularly friendly rabbit.  Grandma became obsessed with what she though was a one-legged bird, even though Grandpa and I insisted that the other leg was just tucked under it’s breast feathers.

When we made our way to the beach, G&G took claim of a picnic table and I meandered to the water's edge.  It is not much of a swimming beach, and there is only one small area from where the water is easily accessible.  Wading waist-deep was a group of elementary school children with their teachers and chaperones, using butterfly nets and five-gallon buckets to capture the local sea life.  Deciding not to get fully wet, I waded in to my mid-thigh and watched them from afar. Beyond the kids, I saw a few dolphin fins and what I think might have been a large tuna jumping out of the water.  I stayed there long enough for the school group to return to shore and start learning about what they had caught.  During the process of moving everyone back to the beach, there was a scurry of movement in the nearby water.  One of the dads had a throw net and managed to catch a few mackerels, which was a fun addition to the kid’s small aquarium.  

I worried I had kept G&G out in the sun too long, and when I returned it was obvious that Grandma was ready for lunch.  It was already 11:30, their regular mealtime, so instead of going back home Grandpa elected we treat ourselves to McDonalds.  I have not had McDonals in probably eight years, and my fries, fish sandwich, and mango-pineapple smoothie did not make me feel like I had missed out on much.  Grandpa and Grandma sure were happy though!  When we got back, I showed G&G my wedding album and then made an excuse to have some time to myself while Grandpa went to his appointment.  Since I had my swimsuit on already, I decided to go to their pool, however I didn’t really know what to do other than float by myself on some pool noodles and then sit in the hot tub.  It wasn’t very relaxing because I was worried someone would come by and tell me I couldn’t be there by myself.  After maybe only 20 minutes, I showed myself out again and back to my room.  

I felt a little guilty about taking so much alone time, but being the sole recipient of attention and questions is rather draining.  Grandma’s questions were starting to get repetitive and all conversation stays polite and level, which ultimately means relatively dull.  I allowed myself the excuse that Grandma was probably napping anyways after her morning in the sun.  Around 4:00 I got a phone call from Grandma reminding me of the dining area’s elevated dress code for dinnertime, so I took that as my cue to change into a dress and head down to their apartment.  Grandpa wasn’t around yet, so Grandma and I sat down to browse more photo albums. 

Grandpa returned, and we began the cocktail hour routine again around 5:00.  Grandma was very concerned about what time we would go to dinner, since it was outside her regular routine, we we kept assuring her that we would plan to head up around 5:30.  Multiple times Grandma got up to grab silverware or start the oven and Grandpa kept reminding her that was unnecessary since we were going to the upstairs restaurant to eat.  When we finally did got to dinner, there was no one at the counter to greet and seat them so they just barged in and started filling salad bar plates.  Not knowing any better, I followed suit but we were soon told off by the woman managing the serving staff and asked to wait outside until a table was ready.  Throughout dinner Grandma was agitated that they were not at their regular table, that it was much louder in the dining room, and that she had no need to save the food she wasn’t going to finish.  We made it through dinner, but I felt bad for throwing off their routine.

For what seemed like the dozenth time I reminded them I would plan to leave around 10:00am the next day since I had a nine hour drive to northern Florida. I left them to another evening of crime show TV and a promise to be by the next day somewhere between 8:30 and 9:00am.

I woke up early Friday morning, so I had ample time to pack my bag and go to the gym.  I had the fitness center to myself but again I felt I might be interrupted by disapproving residents at any time so I only went on the treadmill for ten minutes or so before I talked myself into returning for a shower.  I packed the car before joining G&G for my final meal with them. Farewell hugs were paired with a doughnut and tangerine packed for the road and I waved out the car window as I left at 9:45.  I was unsure what to expect, as I never had been on such a long drive by myself.  I think the longest previously was seven hours to visit Ella in Coos Bay, Oregon, but I was prepared with podcasts and a list of phone calls to make.  I talked to Ella first, but she only could talk as long as her bus ride to work.  As she had lived in Florida for nine years previously she had a log of knowledge about my route and a recommendation to get a Publix sandwich for lunch. I also talked to Dad and Cameron at various points, and Ella called back a few hours later only to be disconnected because of bad service.  I got through multiple episodes of TBTL, including September 12th’s ‘blursday’ message from Cameron, left three weeks previously.  This American Life’s rerun episode about rest stops felt very appropriate and I enjoyed comparing my travels to the people being interviewed. 

Thanks to a timezone change, I checked into the hotel ten minutes before the estimated 6:00 I had told my friend.  Rachael (or as she nows go by, Alex) and I had met in the fourth grade at Lachenwald Camp in Germany.  It was fortuitous that we bunked together and later found out we lived in the same town, as girl scouts from all over Europe attended Lachenwald every summer.  I had only seen her once between age 11 and now, and that was when her aunt flew me to Florida for Alex’s 16th birthday.  She is now getting married, an event I will sadly have to miss, but the timing worked out for me to attend her bridal shower.  Prompt as ever, she and her fiancé met me at the hotel room and then quickly left for dinner.  

They took me to a lovely outdoor cabana-type setting with string lights and an on-property beach.  As we talked, a little forced at first, we watched dolphins play in the surrounding water.  I asked about the upcoming wedding and their new house (which they were days away from taking possession of). Seth, her fiance, let Alex do most of the talking. We dawdled in the gift shop to extend the time out, and by the time we returned to the hotel Seth had fully turned into the talker of the group.  Alex had heard all of his stories before, but I was happy to encourage him as they were all fresh to me.  Around 9:30 he resigned himself to heading home so that he could get a reasonable amount of sleep before going to work the next day.  

Alex and I, however, did not get a reasonable amount of sleep.  We had gotten back in the rhythm of girlish chatter and kept at it until two in the morning, sharing stories of how our lives had unfolded the last ten years and reminiscing about the childhood we had shared together.  Perhaps her memory is better than mine, or maybe those years held more importance to her relative to her surrounding life, because she was able to recall many more stories from our years together in Germany.  Her memories of my family were especially fond.  

Five hours later, we woke to catch the last of the sunrise.  As the Candlewood Suites don’t serve breakfast, I requested we go to Waffle House for my inaugural visit.  The waitress was flabbergasted when Alex shared that fact with her, so she gave me the whole spiel of the menu even though I had already decided on pecan and chocolate pancakes paired with mushroom and cheese hash-browns.  The Waffle House was top of mind for me as it is TBTL’s obsession du jour; I don’t feel any need to go back but I enjoyed it for what it was.  Alex had an oil change booked for 10:45 and her mom wanted to meet for lunch after that.  We elected to sit at the beach for a little while before both of those chores, and upon feeling the water and seeing more dolphins, decided to rush back to the hotel to change into our swimsuits.  We returned to the same beach, and perhaps unwisely, kept our chattering up while in the water for the next hour or so.

My hair was wet and unkempt when we were greeted by the Toyota service station employee, but Alex had managed to keep hers out of the water.  Luckily, we only had to wait about 30 minutes in the Toyota waiting room, which gave us time to both shower before lunch.  There was some stress trying to coordinating lunch with her family, since everyone was getting waylaid by other pre-shower tasks so tensions were naturally tightened.  Earlier that morning, Alex and I had agreed that we were very similar people, and I laughed to myself recognizing our reaction to family-related stress as yet another similarity.  Alex bristled when she found out that her mom had arrived at the restaurant just one minute before her. 

The bridal shower was a women-only event, so I didn’t get to see Scott and Jeff (her dad and brother), but Rhonda (her mom) was joined by Alex’s cousin, aunt, maternal grandmother, and paternal step-grandmother (assuming I got everyone’s labels right). I was almost certain that they had brought me to this same BBQ joint when I had last visited ten years ago.  Typically BBQ restaurants have fairly limited vegetarian options, but I filled up on their salad bar, fried okra, and a fried corn fritter appetizer.  Alex left the table early, partially (I think) to get away from her family, but also because she had the excuse of needing to do her makeup and get dressed for the bridal shower.  

The two of us drove together; it was only ten minutes from the restaurant to the Parish Life Center that was housing the event.  Alex was unsure what the protocol for timeliness was for the bride-to-be, but we were fashionably right-on-time!  I met her high school yearbook friend, Maggie, in the parking lot, and the two of us stuck together for the rest of the event. Neither of us knew anyone else and I am very good at forcing people to be my temporary friends. Having never been to a shower, I had little expectations, but the pile of gifts displayed on the stage was massive!  Alex had shared with me and Maggie that her nightmare was to sit on display while opening presents, but that is exactly what the party culminated to.  Luckily, there were various games going on simultaneously which took away some of the attention, but Alex’s tears of gratitude at various gifts and cards did not go unnoticed.  

In the end, it was exactly what I would have expected.  I was thankful to have Maggie as a table mate since she was able to fill me in on some of the bridal shower superstition: any time the bride breaks a ribbon she is going to have another baby and all of the ribbons need to be bound together and used as her bouquet during the rehearsal ceremony. It was wonderful to meet Alex’s new friends and new family, but I never got over the eeriness of being in a room filled exclusively with women; it felt a bit like a scene belonging in The Handmaid's Tale.  Of course having carpooled with the bride, I stayed to help with the clean-up.  It took three sizable SUVs to haul away all of the gifts and there was an abundance of leftover cupcakes and party favors to be divvied up.  

Alex lingered for a bit before leaving the hotel. She felt bad leaving me on my own but I assured her I already got far more time with her than I had hoped was possible.  She had things in her personal life to take care of and we had already spent 24 hours straight with each other.  We hugged goodbye and wished each other well. I thought about going to sleep right then but instead I opted to call my friend Jessica while walking to the waterfront park across the street. I was startled by a large snake on the sidewalk and then by a siege of herons that did not mind being mere feet away from me.  There was a nice sunset and plenty of people and dogs enjoying the evening view.  Once off the phone, I drove to the nearby Piggly Wiggly (the South’s favorite discount grocery store), selected a yogurt and apple for the morning, and then huddled up for some Netflix and a microwave meal back at the hotel.  It made me a little sad to realize that was how I was spending my last night in the US, but not sad enough to do anything about it. At some point I realized that in the timespan of a week, I had visited all four of the continental US' timezones.

The next morning (the last morning) I woke up too early.  Knowing that he would be awake, I gave Cameron a call.  As I talked to him, I decided to head back to the beach for the sunrise.  I got there at the perfect time to watch the pinks turn to orange as I walked eastward through the surf.  The sun was a huge reddish-orange orb as it came up over the horizon at 6:45- right on time according to my weather app.  When I had to start squinting, I took that as my cue to turn around.  I knew I had time to kill so I found a beached log and sat to read for a little bit.  When I was board of that, I walked back towards my car and found a spot on the beach to set my things as I went for a swim.  The water was just as warm as yesterday, but the waves were much larger and there was far more seaweed.  I also did not trust myself to go in deeper than my hips because there was a strong undercurrent. My whole focus in the water was to stay relatively close to my bag and not to get pushed too far down the beach.  

I probably was only in the water for about ten minutes before deciding to change focus again and start walking down the beach in the other direction.  The distant pier which I set as my goal destination was not nearly as far as I initially though, so it didn’t take long to get there.  There were more people on this stretch of beach (likely because the morning was moving into the more reasonable 9:00 hour) and because I was moving towards more hotels and restaurants. Along my stroll I passed by a “church on the beach” group, brainstormed my excuse if I got told off while walking through a private section of beach, and debated wether or not I should take claim of an abandoned boogie board I passed by.  Ultimately I decided “no” to the boogie board since I didn’t care to try and fight the  current again. 

With nothing more I wanted to do at the beach, I rinsed off and then headed back to my hotel room.  There wasn’t much I wanted to do there either but I didn’t want to leave too early since I didn’t have anywhere else to go.  After showering, packing, and dawdling, I left for Props Brewery where I thought I could pass some time reading Ella’s PhD program applications.  It was pretty empty when I first got there, so the waitress didn’t mind that I had spread out my computer across a six-person table and was very slow to pick out which four beers I wanted in my flight.  That had changed after two hours of drinking, eating, and editing so I packed up and sacrificed my table to a group of rowdy-looking military guys. Again, I was stuck with hours to go before needing to be at the airport and no plan on how to spend them.  I elected to find a park I could walk around, so I plugged something into my phone but was open to stops on the way.  Ella called again as I drove, so she got to hear my narratives about various beach stops, a surf shop, and Alligator World.  In the end, I ended up at the airport three and a half hours before my flight since I simply could not find anything more I wanted to do.  Oh well! At least I had time for another beer!

Breakfast with Grandpa and Grandma

The "one-legged" bird

The 16lb American White Pelican and friends

Scenes from my 9 hour drive

Getting close- only 40 mile to Niceville!

My first Waffle House

Morning beach visit with Alex- you can see the later-mentioned pier in the horizon

Alex was pleased that she had answered one of the "Newlywed Game" questions the same as Seth

Alex and I at the bridal shower

My last evening's sunset with one of the herons

Walking along the water for sunrise

Met some hermit crab friends at the surf shop

You could feed the alligators at Alligator World