Sunday, May 30, 2021

Social Nudity

Ooh explicit! 

Except, not really in most European countries. If you visit a European beach, spa, or bath house it's almost guaranteed to be bathing suit optional, if not full nudity. I assumed Poland was no different. Last summer, we aw a few naked kids at the lake, and I know of at least one nudist beach at the favorite local lake. 

I started to realize Poland was a little more conservative after our visit to Germany last year. Comparatively, the German beaches sported more kids with their bottoms out and more women with their bikini straps untied. Poland's relative prudishness was reconfirmed when I went to a pool with a Polish friend. I asked if I should get naked in the common space, or if I should try and find a more secluded changing area. Her non-committal shrug led me to getting undressed in the main changing room, but I realized thereafter that she chose to fine a more private spot.

That brings me to this weekend. Cameron and I took a lovely little trip to the Bieszczady Mountains in southeastern Poland. The hilly region is sprinkled with small towns and hiking trails. The national park was our main attraction, and we found a "resort and spa" that was only 25 minutes away from my decided-upon trailhead. We splurged a little for the "romance package" so that we could have roses and a jacuzzi tub in our room. It was silly, but fun!

As mentioned, there was a spa available to us. The hotel check-in process was all in Polish, and so although we understood that we needed to wear our robes to the spa, we didn't pick up any further details. Before heading down, Cameron used Google Translate on the literature in the room while I pursued the spa website. Nothing. We decided to wear our swimsuits and hope things would clear up once we saw the scene.

The spa door had a sign on it, but none of the infographics helped to clear up the mystery of whether or not to wear swimsuits. We huddled in the changing room trying to translate the sign (once again, thanks Google Translate). Ah ha! There was a line that translated to "wear swimsuits in the spa." That seemed clear enough, until we realized that it was under the "most common spa mistakes" section. 

After minutes of whispered debate, I caught the attention of one of the employees and tried to ask if we should wear swimsuits in the spa. Of course I couldn't remember the Polish word for swimsuit, so the question was mostly me saying "without?" while pointing to my bikini top. Her response was equally unclear. She didn't say anything, just lightly shook her head once and did a single slashing motion with one hand. I took that to mean "no, do not wear your swimsuit" but it could have also been interpreted as "no, your interpretation is wrong; you should wear a swimsuit." Well, we took our swimsuits off, put our robes on, grabbed the towels and sheets that were provided, and finally went in. 

Inside it was dark. The space was segregated so there were very few sight lines from one attraction to the next. There were two steam rooms, two foot baths, a jacuzzi tub, two Finish saunas, a cold water bath, and the showers. We washed off, then did a quick walk around. There were two other people in the jacuzzi tub, and despite the bubbles we could see they were wearing swim suits. 

What to do? It was Cameron's first nude spa experience, and I was really hoping I wasn't putting him in a situation that would lead to lifelong trauma. We scurried off (in our robes) and huddled by the foot baths. From there, we could clearly see some infographics on the Finish spas that clearly showed a bikini with a slash through it—"no swimsuits!" We were in the right, but still insecure. 

We did eventually get a shot at the jacuzzi, and we also tried out the steam sauna and the cold water bath before heading back to the room. Cameron said it was "fine" but he also asked that we didn't linger. 

I know this story has gotten too long, but let me say I went back the next night (by myself). In the intervening hours we did some more research to continue to bolster our belief that we were right to enter the spa naked. So on night number two I went back, without a suit. It was me and one other woman. I was naked, she was not, but she still asked to join me in the jacuzzi. Then, her partner came out of the Finish spa, also covered. Thankfully he did not join the jacuzzi party until after I left for the foot bath. During that time, another couple came out of the Finish spa, also in bathing suits. I kept keeping to myself and moved to the cold water bath. In the time it took me to dunk my head under and pop up again, a family with a 12-year-old boy. 

Yes, of eight people, one of whom was a child, I was the only naked one. Needless to say, I quickly showered off and left the spa. Turns out, Polish people don't like being naked in semi-public places, even when it is (probably) the rules. 

Dear Polish friends– can anyone confirm if these says "no bathing suits" anywhere?

Trying to do some translating before we go inside.

It's inappropriate to take photos inside the spa, you can find pictures here. As a consolation, here's a picture of the crazy jacuzzi tub that was in our room. Notice the tub lighting and the starlight sky light.

There was also a little fireplace between the bathroom and bedroom. It was quite nice. If anyone is interested in visiting in the next six months, let me know and I can give you a coupon. 

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Treats and Dreams

What a treat, what a dream—we can now be outside without masks! Going on my first run without a piece of cloth hindering my breathing was like being suddenly graced with super powers (meaning I was able to go almost 1.5 miles before I had to take my first walking break). We also can eat at outdoor restaurants, which I did with some friends for the first time last night. I was giddy with the invitation to a not-so-secret secret garden to enjoy cocktails and a meal in a semi-covered courtyard.

Suddenly the city is lively again! People circle up on the grassy hillsides along the river whenever the forecast allows it, and many of my friends went out for a big event venue's grand opening tonight. I'm equally caught up in the novelty of it all, somewhat to my surprise, but a concert hall space filled with strangers is still a titch outside of my comfort zone. Plus, tonight is the Eurovision Grand Final!

I had never heard of Eurovision until the Netflix original Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. I find Will Farrell a little eye-rolley, and the movie was way over the top, but I found myself enjoying it more and more as the two hours waned to a close. That of course led to a rabbit hole of learning about the real Eurovision and various covers of "Jaja Ding Dong," including one by the real 2020 Icelandic Eurovision contestant.

So, story short, I am in love with Daði Freyr, his wife Árný Fjóla, and the full Gagnamagnið band, as demonstrated here. Consider it the spiritual sister video to "Down with the Gown." And, now I'm mildly obsessed with Eurovision.

The two semifinal nights were Tuesday and Thursday this week, and we were able to watch commercial-free live broadcasts on Youtube. I kept a little notebook next to me as we watched to mark down my favorites (Iceland, of course, Russia, and Latvia) and songs that I would enjoy listening to in real life, even though I don't want them to win the contest. I even paid almost 16 złoty to participate, multiple times, in the voting. Sorry Poland, I did not vote for you; you were one of my least favorites of the 32 acts.

Tonight's broadcast starts at 21:00, and in addition to the 20 acts that made it through their respective semifinals, we will see six first-time acts (the band from the host country, the Netherlands, plus the "big five" countries' representatives). Basically, there is a good chance that this will be one of four times I stay up until midnight this year. 

I know that I am unreasonably into this contest, but I am the perfect target. I never watched any American song competitions, like "American Idol" or "the Voice," but I love competition shows. I also love over-the-top silliness and sincerity, and Eurovision has both! I assumed that this was going to be the talk of the town, but it seems to be flying under the radar. No one I've talked to has any plans to watch, and very few were even aware that it was going on. Well, maybe watching this won't help me blend in with casual Polish conversations, but it is helping me live my (revised) Polish dream—what a dream, what a treat!

Yes, I voted for my homeboy, Daði, and I probably will again tonight. 

Some treats from my evening out. We didn't want the evening to end so we tacked on another round of drinks plus a dessert run. 

Saturday, May 15, 2021

The Oldest Airfield

Cameron is doing another one of his crazy running schedules, which means I'm back to sheepdogging. At this point, Cameron has run practically every trail and road in Krakow, which is why it was such a treat to come across a new area for both of us. 

We had never realized it before, but just beyond Park Lotników Polskich (Polish Airmen Park) there is the Polish Aviation Museum. A little further beyond that there are numerous walking trails marked on the map which seem to all head towards a strange rectangular space labeled Lotnisko Rakowice Czyżyny. That became our destination.

I should have connected the dots, because I know lot has to do with flying and airplanes (samalot is an airplane and lotnisko is airport); it was a big (now out-of-use) airplane landing strip. At 450 meters long, this former runway of one of the oldest airports in Poland is still in pretty good condition. Yes, there are cracks in the cement but it would still work pretty well for an emergency landing despite its age. In fact, the Rakowice-Czyżne airfield is one of the oldest in in the world. According to, "aviation was only 9 years old when the first airplanes landed [at Rakowice-Czyżne] in 1912."

Big sections of the former military airfield have been reallocated for urbanization purposes (mostly building up Nowa Huta), but what remains has become Lotniczy Park Kulturowy (the Aviation Culture Park). From the main runway, there is a taxiway that connects to a huge field of old airplanes. These are all part of the museum, and are fenced off, but from the park we could see various versions of military planes as well as commercial ones. On the tail of one of the bigger passenger planes, we could see that the symbol for LOT Airlines was virtually the same then as is now: a long-winged crane encased in a circle. 

The Museum itself looks pretty big, and I imagine it is quite the playground for the air-enthused. In addition to the large main building and the huge airplane field, there also were a number of plane hangers on-site. I'm not sure if they are doing it now, but I read that you can walk inside some of the old planes, include Pope John Paul II's helicopter. However, I can tell that this museum is not for me purely based on the informative plaques at the front of the building...I really have very little interest in mechanical history of any sort, and especially not if it is war-focused.

Even if the Polish Aviation Museum is not on my Krakow bucket list, I did fully enjoy the park. Other than the aircraft paraphernalia, the park is just plain old pleasant in its own right: great pathways, lots of vegetation, and some concrete ruins (which probably are airplane related). Currently, the park is 30 hectares with plans for the city to accumulate more land for a total of 41 hectares. Future plans for the park are to include theme gardens (not sure what that entails), more historic models, and more playground space. 

A few antique airplanes outside the museum, each with an informational plaque.

Military helicopters that we could see through the fence surrounding the Museum's grounds. 

An old LOT airplane. On the tail you can see the still-standing symbol, and on the side of the plane (in white, so it's hard to read) it says "POLISH AIRLINES."

Cameron getting ready for takeoff. This is only the taxiway, not the proper runway. 

The paint on the runway is still in pretty good condition, which makes me think it has been redone at some point since this was turned into a park (in 1992).

Some of the concrete ruins within the park boundaries. These are the remains from a hangar dating back to 1926. 

I'm not sure what this pyramid symbolizes, but its fun to see the modern "art" sprinkled in with the historical pieces. 

Sunday, May 9, 2021

A Few Firsts

I went into this week excited for my first haircut in Poland, and then the week got even better when I was able to sign up for my first vaccination shot and was able to schedule it for three days later. Cameron and I also made reservations for an anniversary trip at the end of the month that I am really looking forward towards so things just are looking better and better.

To start with the boring stuff, my haircut was great! I felt bad admitting that it had been two years since I'd been in for a trim, especially after they recommended that I come in more often that that. Whoops...can I blame Covid? 

Once I arrived I was a little put-off. Some of the stylists were having a smoke out front, and I was told my hairdresser was running late and hadn't arrived yet, and when she did show up her mask was see-through mesh which had a 0% chance of holding back any Covid. She and the front desk attendant walked me over to my chair, and I learned that my stylist didn't speak great English so we had a middle-man translator...huh. 

All doubts were relieved during the hair washing. Oh my gosh I never realized how much I enjoy head massages! My stylist recommended using a tool that I had never heard of but she explained that it "cuts your hair like flowers," meaning that it cuts at an angle rather than straight across. Despite the extra cost I agreed, and I loved it. I was able to watch the shop cat and dog wander around while the stylist worked away behind me. She finished it off with the best barrel-comb curls I have ever had. I might be hitting the stage of my life where I am willing to spend more than $25 at a Supercuts for every haircut. 

Now onto what you probably are more interested in—Covid shots! Every day for the last two weeks a new batch of younger and younger Polish nationals and residents could register for their vaccines. Cameron and I were eligible on Tuesday. On the government website you could choose a city, hospital, vaccine, and date range, but we quickly discovered that if you wanted anything other than AstraZeneca you either had to go out of town or wait until next month. I decided despite the blood clotting concerns I wanted that first shot quick!

As I write this on Sunday morning, Cameron is at his appointment, but I had mine Friday at 8:10am. I got lucky with a close vaccination point, so I enjoyed a 30 minute morning walk and was thankful for very clear signage pointing everyone to the proper hospital entrance. There was a small line waiting out front, but someone came out of the door at around 8:05 and shouted out "ósma dziesięć" (eight ten) and I raised my hand and was guided inside.

The woman at the check-in counter confirmed my appointment time and handed me a three page information pamphlet then pointed me down the hall to a full-uniformed soldier. He directed me to a table-filled room where everyone was sitting and filling out there forms. Another solider took my papers and translated everything to English for me, then told me where to go into another side room. I assumed that was my vaccination room but ti was just a young doctor verifying that I didn't have any previous medical allergies. 

Another string of soldiers led me to the vaccination room, and then the "observation salon." The jab was quick and painless, and within five minutes of being in the waiting room I got a text message notifying me of my next appointment—30 July at 8:15. The whole process was really organized and smooth, and although I'm bummed I have to wait 12 weeks until the next shot I'm super stoked to be on my way!

Now for the after effects. I started feeling a sore arm within five minutes, and as I started my walk home a few of my fingers felt like they were falling asleep. Of course, as a hypochondriac, my first thought was that I have blood clots! But I know that those side effects take a week to set in, which I guess is a relief? 

I did arm exercises all day and everything seemed fine. I had dinner plans with two friends and was excited to flex my new partially-vaccinated status. Then, around 19:00 I started to feel a little off; it's very rare for me to decline the last slice of pizza unless I'm stuffed, and I was not stuffed. From 19:00-21:00 I started feeling worse and worse: a headache, an achy soreness all over, and very cold. I was so relieved to get home and go to bed, but I felt so terrible I couldn't sleep. My skin was so sensitive and despite being freezing cold I couldn't stop sweating. To top it all off, I woke up at 5am.

After a bath, a few hours of morning dozing, and an aspirin I started to feel a bit better. The good vibes lasted most of the afternoon, but I started to feel a little off again in the early evening, although that's probably mostly due to lack of sleep and the aspirin wearing off. Two days in, my arm is still sore but I think I'm all back to normal now. 

LEGO vaccine photos in the hair salon waiting area. 

Signs pointing to the vaccination point. 

My vaccine took place at one of the local hospitals (shown). Cameron's was at a converted gym.

I didn't get any photos of the soldiers managing my vaccination spot, but Cameron's spot had police officers managing all of the internal coordination. 

The observation room. Right side was the hospital, left side was Cameron's gym. 

Exiting the hospital was kind of like walking through a daytime haunted house: dark hallways, caution tape over the doors, and dark curtains to create otherwise non-existent hallways. 

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Busy Like a Bee

Spring has sprung in Krakow. The sunny days are gorgeous – full of flowers and laughing children, and this week I even wore my sandals out for the first time. Of course those nice days come with a price; we have rain in the forecast for the next two weeks straight. I've managed to get outside just about every day when it's nice out, but it's an effort. Just like the bees this time of year, I am busy busy busy!

"How's that even possible?" you ask. "Don't you get to do whatever you want whenever you want?" Well, kind of, but as we all know I am very bad at being a being a housewife, and for the past few months I have been low-key on my grind about picking up freelance work. Well, it's paid off! In April I reviewed a 11,000-word book, a 6,000-word prospective academic journal article, and I sent an invoice for 50 hours of work to a company in the US that I've started doing regular copy editing for. All of that, on top of a few CPE-heavy evenings has put me at 40+ hours a week of work. My poor van life plans haven't been touched since 6 April!

It's amazing how quickly I can become a workaholic again. I think having a "real job" for 20-25 hours a week will be perfect, so long as I actually keep it to only those hours. It would be all too easy for me to push that to 30+ hours, which would mean my personal projects start to get pushed further and further to the side, and I still don't have my full van life route planned out yet (although I've mapped out over 50% of the states so far, and after that's done I'll start to figure out where we can park the van and do laundry in each of our stops along the way). 

But because of "work" I haven't done anything particularly interesting the past few weeks. Next week Cameron and I should be able to sign up for vaccines (hurray!) and over the course of the month Poland should start opening up more and more. Maybe soon we will be walking around outside without masks and eating at restaurants again. We're even planning a little anniversary trip to the Bieszczady Mountains at the end of the month. 

Since I don't have any charming stories to share, I'll leave you with my newest favorite Polish word, even though it has virtually no connection with anything else I've written this week. Lodówka turystychzna literally translates to "tourists refrigerator." Any guesses on what that is? A cooler! You know, like what you would take to the beach or camping. Well pretty soon, Cameron and I will be heavily reliant on our tourist refrigerator. 

Happy spring! Things are starting to bloom in Krakow: