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. 

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Weekends in Krakow

Although it seems like I've already been in Kraków for months looking back I've only spent three weekends here. That's just six days where it is acceptable for a healthy twenty-something to be aimlessly bopping about town rather than being at work. In Seattle, weekends were for socializing; they were the days to rotate between my non-work friends, go on hikes, meet Cole and Ella for Menchies, and running errands. Now all of my errands are done during the week, we can eat ice cream whenever we want (although I haven't seen any frozen yogurt), and we don't have any friends to socialize with. Although it might be corroding our relationship, Cameron is the only person I have to interact with so weekends are Aisha's-allowed-to-be-needy time.

Luckily for Cameron, with such a big beautiful city to explore we haven't had any trouble finding things to do together. We're slowly working our way down from the most touristy activities to more local's only spots.

Cameron works very close to HistoryLand. The exterior is a yellow stone building that would look grand if it weren't located right next to the shopping mall, however due to its surroundings it could easily blend in as a government hub or part of a satellite university campus. Cameron, however, had keyed in on the window ads promising to inform visitors of Poland's history via Legos, and as a Lego enthusiast he was keen to go. I assumed that the Lego history component was a rotating exhibit, but upon walking it it was clear that was the sole attraction. It was also clear, based on the other patrons and internal gift shop, that the museum was designed for kids and families. With only a modicum of shame, we paid for our tickets (about $10 each since we added the English audio guide) and crossed into the world of Lego.

Cameron was enthralled right from the first display. Had it not been for the length of the audio recording keeping us at the early-settlement model I would have kept walking after about 20 seconds, but in the minutes we spent at that first exhibit I started to see the little cheeky add-ins that Cameron loves so much about Legos. Outside of the settlement there were some Lego people swimming, someone was taking a nap on a partially-constructed roof, and a herd of cows were congregating in a way that seemed to displease their owner. The next display was the Battle of Grunwald, which had soldiers hanging out of trees and men who had fallen off of their horses. The battle was dramatized with a 360° video surrounding the battlefield.

We moved out of the Middle Ages to the 17th-19th centuries, represented by the construction of many still-standing iconic landmarks. There were battles by sea followed by battles by air. The final exhibits were recent history including World War II and a 1970s labor strike. Each display was accompanied by an interactive component, such as a Guitar Hero-style trumpet game and a virtual reality fly-by of a prominent cathedral. If I hadn't had to contend with all of the children I could have stayed and played Trumpet-Hero for hours! As an adult, I was amazed by the architectural intricacies and the coordination of the displays, light, and sounds to make all of the models come to life. It was great, especially if you are a 10- (or 27-) year-old Cameron.

The next day, we planned on going on a two-hour free walking tour. I had quite enjoyed the one I did of old town by myself, and would have happily done the same tour for Cameron's sake, but we elected going to Kazimierz, the historical Jewish district/ghetto. Probably because it was the weekend, this tour group was much bigger yet not as social. We tried making small talk with a few people in the group as we trekked along, but most conversations fizzled out pretty quickly. One exception was two Canadian women who also sampled some sulfur-tasting water that our tour guide informed us was the elixir of youth from Polish legends. I'm ok aging alongside everyone else to avoid drinking egg water, but it did lead us to swapping visa-woes and political concerns with the England-residing Canadians.

Our tour guide reinforced the wide-spread information that Kazimierz is the best place for night life, however he also paid respectful homage to the sad history of the district. A big part of the tour was focused around Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List and comparing it's depiction of Mr. Schindler to the real Oskar Schindler. The film was all shot in Kazimierz (not a staged set) so our guide pointed out a few of the well-known backdrops and he identified which apartment Spielberg lived in during filming. He also pointed out the old residences of other famous people and about the real-life stories that influenced parts of the movie (like that the girl in the red coat was based on  Roman Polanski's cousin).

The tour ended at Ghetto Heroes Square, a concrete plaza filled with 60+ metal chairs memorializing the murdered former residents. To compliment the somber finale, our tour guide asked us to not disrespect memorials such as this one and Auschwitz by taking selfies or proposing marriage in a gas chamber. Our guide was available to recommend restaurants, transportation back to old town, and ways to continue our historical education, but we were set on heading home.

As the tour dwindled to an end we started talking to Paulo, who we learned had also just moved to Krakow at the start of October. Since he was walking back the same way as us, we had about 20 minutes to learn about his move to Brazil, the challenges he was having moving his two cats, and that he was worried about moving his wife and son up in December since neither of them have ever seen snow. Our route back was not very systematic, but it did take us over a bridge decorated with acrobatic sculptures at sunset and we peeked our heads into the Pinball Museum. I hoped our route might have taken us back to the Kazimierz square where they were selling huge baguette pizzas, but alas the fates were against that plan.

The next weekend we were graced once again with sunny weather, but we didn't have a ton of opportunity to enjoy it on Saturday since at 15:00 we had a handful of people (some of Cameron's coworkers, their significant others, and Paulo) coming over for a parapetówka–our housewarming (aka windowsill) party! True to form, I had over prepared food for the number of expected guests, and since Cameron could only find a 30cm pie dish he was baking a double-sized apple pie. We received some unexpected housewarming gifts, including some lemon tarts to add to the already excessive spread. Since we only had acquaintance-level relationships with everyone there, conversations were a little slow going, but between beer, me lightly ridiculing Cameron, and a round of fishbowl people seemed to loosen up and have a good time. In my opinion it was a very good warm-up party! Of course we had to send people home with leftovers, which they were reluctant to take until I insisted that we were leaving the country for two weeks and wouldn't have a chance to eat them ourselves.

After eating a breakfast of leftover pie and lemon tarts and packing our bags for our upcoming visa-trip to LA and Seattle we set out for another weekend adventure. Larry has been persistently asking Cameron about a kayak slalom course outside of town, so we thought we might be able to take the electric scooters there. Cameron knew the excursion was a little sketchy since we would be weaving in-and-out of the scooter-allowed zones and since the ability for the scooters' batteries to get there and back was questionable. Regardless, we downloaded the Bird app, found two working scooters, and scooted off.

Almost immediately I noticed the scooter slowing down mid-way across the bridge. I worried the scooter's battery was already dying or that the motor would turn off because we were entering a no-go zone. Before we had time to figure it out, the scooter started zooming up again and we were over the river! The river trail was frequented by pedestrians and bikers, but we didn't see anyone else out on scooters that day, which made me worry we were disobeying the rules. We would have a few minutes of speedy riding and then a minute or two when the speed would decrease so much that I had to assist it by pushing (like a real scooter- ugh!) We eventually gave up when my scooter started beeping obnoxiously and we couldn't figure out why. Thinking it was a zone restriction (even though Cameron's wasn't yelling at him) we got the scooter back to a safe space and decided on Plan B.

Now on foot, we set off to a lake that previously had been an old mining quarry. The 20 minute walk was surprisingly industrial, but we ended up down a residential street that spit out at an ice cream truck and colorful forest. Always one to judge, I was surprised by how well dressed people were; I saw skirts, ballet flats, and button down shirts. The loop around the lake is only about 2.5km and relatively flat, but I was still working up a sweat and would not have wanted to be wearing real clothes. The entirety of Zarkzówek Lake is surrounded by chainlink fence, yet very few people stuck to the designated trail. Cameron commented on what nice families we saw helping their children break through holes in the fence! There were also signs prohibiting swimming, although that rule was also being ignored. The vivid blue water was was very inviting and I would have also liked to jump in if I wasn't concerned about breaking laws in a foreign country.

By the time we got home we were both very hot and tired of our unexpectedly long walk. Despite it being late October, it has been very warm with temperatures in the 20°s, although the forecast was predicting the first snow to happen either November 1st or 2nd. We however, will miss it for an upcoming trip to LA and Seattle to deal with visas–huzzah!
The Battle of Grunwald dramatized with deathly flames in the background.

Lego constructions of a bell tower, monastery, and surrounding town.

Oskar Schindler lived on the third floor. His apartment is the middle one with the flowers on the balcony. 

A progressive Jewish temple. Our tour guide pointed out that it only had one main entrance because both the men and women attended the same service. 

Yiddish writing above the gate to another temple. 

A memorial for former residences of Kazimierz. Apparently it is customary to place a stone at a memorial or gravestone rather than flowers.

Some art encountered on our tour of the Jewish district. 

The bride with the hanging acrobatic figurines. 

A close up as we crossed the Vistula. 

Trying to be fancy for our housewarming party. 

Cameron's 30cm diameter applies pie. The recipe came from his old piano teacher. 

Scooting along the river. 

Chainlink fence around the lake with a sign saying no swimming and no cliff jumping. To jump from here would be at least a 30 foot fall.

Very tempting blue water at the filled-in quarry.