Wednesday, July 29, 2020

28 miles/45 kilometers

Cameron's birthday activities extended into the weekend. On Saturday evening we Zoomed with Camerons college roommates and played Jackbox Games for a few hours. Despite some timezone confusion and low quality internet from our side (the game hosts, unfortunately) we had a fun time. The slight disappointment from my side was that I thought I had set up this friends night in secret, but Cameron knew what was afoot when he received the email receipts of my online game purchases...whoops! I guess I used the wrong card to pay with, but what's mine is yours, bay-bee!

Look at everyone having a good time! Coordinating across three time zones means people playing at 10am, 1pm, or 7pm. 

I woke up on Sunday morning with no expectations other than a keen hankering for breakfast birthday cake. Cameron, on the other hand, woke up with a plan to run 28 miles for his 28th birthday. 

He had mentioned this a few times, but I figured since his birthday had come and gone, so has this idea. Plus, I think the longest run he had done this year was 32kms (ish), the equivalent to about 20 miles. Yes, Cameron has run marathons before, but this was going to be his first time going beyond 26.2miles, and this time also without the support that a race event offers (snacks and water along the way, a pacer, cheering crowds, and friends running along besides him). 

Let's also talk about me! I was going to be biking besides Cameron during this ordeal (a poor substitute to standard race time support), and I had never biked so far. I don't think I've ever biked further than the 32km training runs, and let me tell you, my bum is so sore after those rides! Yes yes yes, I know running any distance is going to be much more exhausting than biking that same distance, but I was a little apprehensive about my abilities to join in on this physical feat while maintaining an encouraging attitude. 

Alas, we packed the bike into the car and set out on a 30 minute drive east of Krakow to Puszcza Niepołomicka. It turns out this 110km² park was ideal: lots of parking, flat, and (mostly) shady. The maps sprinkled around the perimeter showed many bike routes, and there was a variety of hikers, mushroom pickers, kids bikes, and elite bikers out on the paths. We started near Castle Królewski in the town of Niepołomice, and already at 10:30 there were people celebrating their morning rides with an ice cream. 

The first third of the ride was pretty boring. We stayed on flat paved road and were passed occasionally by cars and other bicyclists. The forest was nice, but nothing special, although we passed a few small raspberry bushes. I didn't get to eat my fill, though, because every time we stopped we were mobbed by mosquitos. There are apparently European bison on the far end of the park, but we didn't make it quite that far. Finally, we cut across from the north end to the south end on a gravelly path, and I thought "finally, we're off the road" only to quickly start to think "I wish we were back on flat surface, my bum is going to be real sore if we keep this up." 

We had now crossed the halfway point, and Cameron seemed to still be doing well, although when I asked "do you want to just go ahead and finish a full 50km today" his response was a hard no. The second half was surely harder. Not only was Cameron getting tired, but the day was getting hotter and the bushy forest trails we were now on had more mosquitoes. So long as we stayed moving they didn't bother us, but stopping to drink water or a snack meant we were inviting the bugs for a feast, too. 

Somewhere towards the end (probably in the last 10km) I noticed Cameron start to slow down. We reached an open sunny field and the path had turned from dirt to large rubble stones, which are annoying for both runners and bikers. I thought I was being helpful by monologuing, thinking that I was providing some sort of entertainment to focus on that didn't require a response, but Cameron finally asked me to stop (rather snappily, I might add). After that we each put in our headphones and listened to our own media. 

Finally, we reached the end! Or I thought it was the end but Cameron ran in circles a few more times to make sure he met the full 28 miles. To celebrate, I handed Cameron some cheese, crackers, and a bottle of Spezi (half cola, half orange soda). Then we joined the rest of the crowd and waited in line for some ice cream, the treat that is perfectly suited for every occasion. 

You can see our full track, here. 

Statue outside the castle grounds at the start of our bike/run.

A happy runner, before he got hot, sweaty, and exhausted. 

Raspberries along the side of the road.

Recommendations of highlights around the forest, including bison.

Still a good runner. This is about halfway through. 

Starting to get that glazed donut look. 

There were some points of interest along the way, like this Jewish tombstone, but we couldn't stop long enough to see much because of the mosquitos. 

It seemed fortuitous to be on path 28, since this was a 28th birthday celebration run. 

The long sunny stretch with the terrible rocks that broke Cameron a little. 

The face of someone who just ran 45km and is now exhausted. 

Looking a little better after ice cream. 

Saturday, July 18, 2020


Cameron's mild birthday wishes were (mostly) fulfilled, but there were a few surprises for both of us. Cameron woke up to hung streamers and breakfast baklava, and then both of us started on a day of work. Whereas Cameron logged off around 13:30, I worked a full day and then some. Although Cameron wasn't on his computer, he was still working. 

I gave Cameron three birthday cake options: I could bake it, I could buy it, or he could bake it. He chose to be the baker. He had decided on a seven layer chocolate hazelnut cake that came from the Great British Bake Off, and even though I had been collecting ingredients all week I still had to make three runs to the grocery store that day (more eggs, more cocoa, and more cream, more cream, and then more cream). It only took about 4 hours, honestly quite the accomplishment for seven layers, and ended up being the best cake I've ever had–well done, Cameron! 

Eventually I finished up work and ran downstairs to pick up some take out from The Himalayan Treasure (literally in the building right next to ours), per request of the birthday boy. To add a little more surprise to the day I laid out a small stack of presents which Cameron slowly worked through throughout the day. Other than some Huma energy gels, everything else was kitchen related and will likely be equally beneficial to me as they are for Cameron. I guess I'm best with practical gifts. 

The real surprise was actually the next day. I once again had a normal workday, but Cameron left the house for a team lunch. Before his expected return, I left the house to meet a friend for dinner with a text to Cameron that there was leftovers for him in the fridge for his supper. When I returned home a few hours later, Cameron was surprisingly still out. Cameron was out at a bar! I wasn't going to be left at home alone, so at 21:30 I left the house to meet my husband at a bar–that had never happened before and now we were off to celebrate a proper Polish birthday!

It's maybe a bit of a stereotype that Polish people like to drink, but it's a stereotype that gets repeated to us regularly. That's not all that makes a birthday special though. Regardless if you choose to celebrate your true birthday day or your name day, gifts and admiration are appreciated, and I think it's common to have a celebratory dinner and a cake. Singing Sto lat is a must! At the store I found some "Happy Birthday" balloons and party horns, but no birthday candles. I searched multiple stores, and found no candles. Maybe it's because of an abundance of caution with Coronavirus, or maybe Polish people just have a better sense to not blow saliva on something that you are going to feed to your friends. Other than that though, I think the traditions are largely the same. 

And now the Polish birthday song, with a rough translation to English:
Sto lat! Sto lat!                                                        100 years! 100 years!
Niech żyje, żyje nam.                                                May they live.
Sto lat! Sto lat!                                                        100 years! 100 years!
Niech żyje, żyje nam.                                                May they live.
Jeszcze raz, jeszcze raz! Niech żyje, żyje nam.        One more time, one more time! May they live.
Niech żyje nam!                                                        May they live. 

This song isn't specific to birthdays, but can be sung at many celebratory occasions, including name days, weddings, and anniversaries. 

A pile of gifts for the birthday boy.

We improvised on the birthday candles. 

Round one of gifts: jars and mixing bowls I picked up the night before from Facebook Marketplace. Buy used!

Breakfast baklava. 

Master baker at work. 

Base layer- chocolate cake. 

Pralined hazelnuts to be mixed in with a few of the layers. 

Cameron showing the gravity-defying gelatin. 

Layering in some hazelnut bavaroise.

Chopping chocolate for the chocolate mousse. 

Making chocolate mousse. 

Between each layer is a round of freezer time to let everything solidify together. 

Taking a baking break for dinner...

...and another round of presents. 

Final layer- chocolate mirror glaze.

Look at that clean first cut!

Proud baker!

Final look with the model on the screen in the background. 

I met Cameron at Lost Bar, where his coworker's friend was playing bass for the live jazz band on Friday night. 

Lost Bar stays pretty hidden. Other than two bodyguards waiting outside, it feels like you are entering a  residential apartment complex. 

This dapper fellow greets you at the entrance and reminds you to stay safe!

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Lake Life

Krakow is hot, but not miserably so. We seem to fluctuate between weeks that have highs near 30 degrees Celsius (around 86 degrees Fahrenheit), and cooler weeks that are in the low twenties (around 70 degrees F) and have intermittent thunderstorms. The heat isn't too much, but the humidity is worse than what I'm used to. Similarly to Seattle, many people live without air conditioning but our apartment does have some sort of central air system, even though we haven't quite figured out how to use it yet.

Looking at a map, it seems like Krakow is well situated for traditional summer fun. The Vistula River runs through the city, plus there are a smattering of lakes that are within easy walking/biking/bussing access. Disappointingly, most of these water ways do not allow bathers. 

The river is quite brown in the summer, due to regular thunderstorms and flooding. Also, it's known for being polluted, which is the main reason for the "no swimming" signs. Nonetheless, as Coronavirus restrictions lift and more families start enjoying their summer holidays, more and more people are out on the river in rented kayaks and on stand up paddle boards. A few times I've also caught sight of some crew teams out for early morning trainings. 

My favorite water spot is the quarry lake, Zakrzowek. I've already raved about this lake before, but it is really beautiful: the water is blue and clear, and it's surrounded by steep quarry cliffs. When you first happen upon it, it seems like you've stumbled upon a hidden secret. Normally, this is a swimmable lake, but sadly not this year as it is closed for renovation to secure the rock walls with mesh and to build up formal bathing facilities. From what I've seen and read, this used to be Krakow's secret "Little Croatia," but if the city is investing money into renovations, I doubt it will stay a secret much longer.

 I also doubt that the nickname "Little Croatia" is one that is popularly used, since I just read that part of Bagry Lake (sometimes called Bagry Lagoon) is doing renovations as well and the eastern part of the lake will be called "Park Little Croatia." Cameron and I have done a run/bike ride to this lake, and it was nicely set up so that most of the lake was surrounded by reeds and fishermen, but a section of the lake was very clearly laid out as a bathing beach. Even here, though, I was seeing "no swimming" signs posted. Perhaps that's because of the nearby construction on Park Little Croatia, or maybe I just don't know how to interpret the posted signs because when I search for "swimming areas in Krakow" this lake always pops up as an option.

In those searches, Kryspinów kept coming up as a favorite swimming spot for Krakowians, so last weekend Cameron and I set out on a sheep dogging adventure. The lake (also sometimes referred to as a lagoon) is about 10km due west of downtown Krakow, but we took a bit of a round-about route through the Wolski Forest to get there. It was a hot day, and even though we left the house at 9:30, I was very sweaty after 1.5 hours of biking. The last kilometers were on unshaded asphalt near the airport, and was a relatively uninspiring stretch of road, but it seemed quite suddenly we turned off onto a sandy dirt road. We passed by someone walking barefoot, and then a small paid parking lot. Then, after half a kilometer or so we saw the beautiful blue lake. It looked like a real treat for two sweaty people. 

The bumpy dirt road continued to wind above the lake, and it seemed like a relatively steep drop to get down to the water. Nonetheless, we saw quite a few naked men climbing up and down the hillside. We elected to continue along a little further, until we hit a second small parking lot. I locked my bike shortly after that and we walked to a small sandy beach, already filled with families lounging and splashing. We found a small shady space to lay down our beach towel (carried along in my backpack) and made haste to get into the water. It was so refreshing! 

The water was cool enough that I hesitated to fully emerge myself, but once I was in I never got cold. The lake bottom was sandy, there weren't any sneaky water plants, and the water was pretty clear for a lake. As we swam into the middle of the lake we could see our little beach was one of many, and on the far side were a few really large, very full beaches. There were a few motor boats on the water, even more rented paddle boats, and even a few sailboats and windsurfers, but they were mostly on the far end of the lake. We swam on the perimeter of the lake for about 30 minutes, and popped back on shore to check out a little snack cabana. Turns out that beach was a paid beach but accessing it via the water is a sneaky way to bypass that fee. 

Eventually, after snacking and loafing at our beach towel, we convinced ourself to head back before it got too miserably hot. It was about 13:00 by the time we left and our little beach had probably doubled in attendance. We returned home on a different route and passed by one of the bigger beaches on the far end and it was packed! Based on the surrounding traffic, people were probably waiting in their cars for close to an hour to find parking only to end up on a far end of the beach where it would be impossible to stay the mandatory 2 meters away from others. It actually made me happy to be on my bike!

Some SUPers on the Vistula River. You can tell this photo was taken a few month ago because that hot air balloon in the background popped recently in a big wind storm.

Some morning mist on the Vistula. 

Zakrzowek- the far end is what is typically the bathing area.

Cameron inside the fence surrounding the quarry cliffs. 

Some hammocks surrounding Bagry Lake. 

The beach at Bagry Lake; again, this photo was taken a few weeks ago, before true summer weather kicked in. 

The more lagoon-like lake right next to Bagry Lake. 

Dirt path on the way to Kryspinów. You can barely see the man infront of Cameron, but that's the barefoot guy. 

We arrived around 11:00; the beach we laid down at already felt full to me. 

Cameron with his hands up in the deep water. 

This was our beach when we left about two hours later- definitely a bit busier. 

This was the super crowded beach on the far end of the lake that we passed on our way home. 

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Germany Memories

We are on contingency plan number...six?

  • Plan A- Evan comes to Poland and then we fly together to London to watch Whoopi Goldberg and Jennifer Saunders in Sister Act The Musical.
  • Plan B- Sister Act got canceled, but we were still going to go to London.
  • Plan C- Evan comes, but just to Poland. Evan's flight home from London got canceled, plus the UK was instilling a 14 day quarantine for all travelers. 
  • Plan D- Evan can no longer come to Europe. Cameron and I are going to go to Georgia (country) with two of my friends.
  • Plan F- Evan learns that Greece may be accepting American visitors. We start doing research on the best way to spend a week in Greece. 
  • Plan D, again- We decide Greece isn't going to be a smart idea, so I go back to planning the Georgia trip. 
  • Plan G- We find out that Georgia is not allowing any international visitors (even from the EU). Cameron and I decide to to a road trip to Weinheim, Germany. 
Let me just say you should never reach plan G, yet we have reached plan G and I'm actually really excited. Weinheim is the town I grew up in and I haven't been there in 15 years. Even just planning this trip has brought back memories, and I'm anticipating a good cry when we park across the street from Nächstenbacher Weg 39. We'll only have 4 nights in the Weinheim area, but I want to cram 6+ years of stories into that time. I want us to do day trips to Mannheim, Heidelberg, Burg Eltz, Baden-Baden, Europa Park, and the Black Forest, but we don't have that many days! Poor Cameron is going to be exhausted, both with the travel and from listening to a multi-day monologue!

Like I said, it's been 15 years since I lived in Germany. We moved away when I was 12 years old, so I know things probably have changed and living in a country as a child is much different than visiting as an adult. What I find amazing, though, is the items that have traveled with me all of these years. A handful of mementos have travels from Germany, to New Mexico, to Washington, then Poland. I want to pay tribute to those few things that have found their way back to Europe with me.

I got this cardigan in the 7th grade for the Tech Fair. As a tomboy, it was the first time I had to dress up in a long while, and I think my mom was excited to take me to H&M for a shopping adventure. I remember her calling this sweater a "classic" and she loves to say how classics never go out of style. Well I guess she's right, because I also wore this sweater on my first day of work at CLA and it remains a staple in my closet. 

I wore that blue sweater one day before this photo was taken (Day 1 of the Tech Fair). On Day 2, it was announced that me and my friends Mary and Kendyll won first place for our video podcast "Three Muskenerds." 

Another one of Mom's "classics." This one was part of her wardrobe while we were living in Germany, and it got passed down to me while I was living in Washington, because the season for heavy vests is pretty limited in southern New Mexico. 

All of these hair pieces were purchased at various German Christmas markets. 

In addition to Christmas markets, another activity we often did in the winter was ski trips. A family favorite was spending a week in the Alps taking ski lessons with Siegi Tours. There were always family activities in the evenings, like cow milking. I'm pretty sure I won a trophy for my milking abilities. 

Lots of heart necklaces. The first was a gift from Aunt Kathy, the second a hand-me-down from Mom, and the last came from Grandma Shirley. 

This tooth timer now lives in my travel toiletries bag, which means it will be joining me on our upcoming road trip. I'm pretty sure it also came from a Christmas market, or at least some sort of German craft market. 

That being said, I'm pretty sure it was an Easter present one year. 

Aunt Midge gifted this to me one year, and I still bring it with me on long car or plane trips. Dad and I would compete to see who could complete the pattern the quickest. 

Speaking of Dad, this is his fleece sweater I stole from his closet before moving away for college, but it probably was a good thing because Dad definitely had to borrow it back one time when he was visiting Washington. If I'm correct, this sweater is quite a bit older than just Germany, and maybe be even older than me. 

Not the same sweater, but you get the idea of the era it was worn it. This was a teddy bear picnic in the back garden; you can see our house in the background. For years I have been fantasizing about ringing the doorbell of this house and explaining (in German, of course) that I used to live here and asking if it would be ok to walk into the back garden to take a better look at the house. Of course in this fantasy the person answering the door invites me inside and I give Cameron a tour of the chocolate stain on the radiator from where I accidentally melted a Kinder Country, the scratches on the floor from Cara and I riding our scooters inside, and the flecks of bright pink spray paint in the attic residual from a devious afternoon.