Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Meeting Cujo in Croatia

This is about my three days in Croatia, on Hvar island 10/1/13 - 10/3/13

My taxi came at 4AM, I listened to the German radio station playing in the taxi and some 80s music show was playing.  The Axel F theme song came on and it was the perfect, kooky, over-synthed send-off.  I had planned a scatterbrained trip around the periphery of Eastern Europe to see a few new countries. It was going to be rushed and a little stupid. My flight home was out of Warsaw, but I had a need to see Croatia and go to a beach. Later, I researched Croatia and was on the fence about it. Then, after a cold summer in Chicago the Croatia idea re-surfaced. I had almost three weeks, I can do it. I wouldn't recommend this itinerary to anybody else, though.  Who goes to Sweden, runs a German marathon, rushes to Croatia and then busts ass to get back to Poland so that she can spend three days eating pierogi? Me. 

I was in Split in two hours. The intense sunshine and heat was wonderful. A few friends warned me that Split was just so-so, and the places to go were Hvar and Dubrovnik. Waiting for the airport bus to the harbor, I met an American girl named Sarafa and her German boyfriend whose name I forget, but it was something like Milko. They were also going straight to Hvar so bought tickets together for the one hour ferry. Sarafa and Milko live in Berlin and crushed some of my romantic notions about living there. They thought that people were a bit unfriendly and simple utility services came with attitudes and silly rules. They were looking to move. I always found the people in Berlin to be great (and I stay in a more residential neighborhood) and I live with comcast and com-ed. Sarafa doesn't get to speak English often with another American so she talked my ear off, which I enjoyed. They were an interesting and well-travelled couple. 

Hvar is beautiful. A sparkling Mediterranean port with villas and architecture that wasn't quite Italian, not Greek or Spanish, more restrained.  It reminded me of a less hectic and cleaner version of a Greek island. It smells like salt air, pine and lavender that grows on the island and is for sale everywhere in little pouches for $2. I loved it immediately. 

bird and rabbit money!

I didn't have a hotel reservation in Hvar but had a few places in mind to check out. Sarafa and Milko went off to their apartment rental and I walked around. The first place didn't have a room but they knew of a guy who had an apartment so I went with him to go look at it. The apartment was an offshoot of somebody's laundry room in a basement with no windows. Nope. I went to the palace hotel which was a blocky white hotel built in the communist days overlooking the harbor. It was fine for one night and cheap. The next day I'd look for something a little more my style. 

I was still beat up from the marathon and all the graffiti tour walking so I parked myself at a cafe for some surprisingly good pizza and blogged. I sat and admired the harbor. This place was so perfect, I couldn't find anything wrong with it. I IM'd with my coworker friend Allison and told her that I was already bored.  

I IM'd with some friends and people-watched.  There is definitely a Dalmation coast jet-set thing going on in Hvar.  Swanky shops, people in designer clothing, men in track-suits.  I was definitely back in the Mediterranean! 

For dinner I walked the tiny alleyways and looked for a place with lobster. I found a little place in a charming alley that might have been a little too fancy for me. I accidentally spent as much as my hotel room on one of the best meals I've had - definitely the best in 2013. Oops! I do believe that a good meal is worth splurging on once in awhile, though - and I'd make up for it later.  Lobster that I had to dissect myself with a giant vat of perfectly aldente pasta with tomatoes and green beans with crispy bits of pancetta. I used a whole loaf of bread to mop out the pasta skillet. With a glass of Hvar plavic wine. I texted a few people about the meal because I felt the need to talk about it immediately.  Unplug, goddammit.  What is wrong with me?

After my perfect meal on the perfect island and doing nothing all day and being completely bored, I made plans to go hiking the next day on a different, less inhabited island. 

The next day I moved to Villa Nora, a little sobe (privately owned hotel) in a 16th century building with stone walls. I had a great view out the window of a tiny stone alley and a soccer store! 

Rick Steves recommended a restaurant that you can hike to on palmaziana in a hour and a half. A rustic little farm place that served home-cooked local meals. The people at villa Nora thought it was closed so I brought along some snacks to keep me alive until I hiked to the other side and back. 

This was a real hike. Rocky and a little treacherous. I climbed over rocks and fallen trees and saw views like this: 

I kept having Greece flashbacks:

My restaurant was closed. Sadly, it looked like the family farmhouse of the Croatian grandmother I never had with a stone outdoor oven and inviting tables. I know the food I didn't get to have would have been great! There was another tiny hotel next to it that I thought might have a restaurant. I saw a woman preparing food but she shooed me away and said it was only for guests. I ate my sad little luna bar and hiked back to the harbor where I had some polenta and laid in some nice beach chairs. The people next to me were from a suburb of Chicago.  There were some guys from Brazil laying out too and everybody chatted.  I was happy to talk to the Chicagoans, because apparently I can't unplug and just immerse myself in Croatia.  

For dinner I tried another Rick Steves recommendation, konoba menego. They only serve local things. No coca cola, only wine from Croatia, only seafood from Hvar. I sat up in a little attic candle-lit room with barrel tables and close tables. The benches were uncomfortable but the smells coming out of the kitchen kept me there. 

I had sea bass with sheep cheese and honey with more plavic wine. Before I took my second bite, I knew I was coming back the next day and every day I was in Hvar. The people at the next table were eating drunken figs and gave me some. It was the kind of restaurant where all the tables talk to eachother. 

I stopped in a tiny wine cellar restaurant that had glasses for about a euro. The man who makes the wine serves out of big barrels to communal tables, I loved it. I met an older, know-it-all couple from Liverpool who had been coming to Hvar since 1975. They tried to ask me where I was staying and how much I was paying. Of course they were staying in an apartment for half the price. I tried to explain that I'm on vacation and don't want to cook and I like to stay IN town. 

The next morning, I prepared for my bike ride by packing a picnic lunch!  I had no idea what was in these rolls. I saw green, so I assumed it was spinach.  (it was - it was like a spinach pie-roll!)

I rented my bike. I had grandiose plans to bike ALL over the island.  I figured I was in shape for this and it would be easy.  I go to spinning class once a week.  I just ran a marathon.  Wrong, wrong wrong!  It was the opposite of this. 

The hills didn't look steep but they went on for miles.  I had to put the bike in a very low gear and pedal like crazy ON the highway.  Luckily there wasn't much traffic.  I got just outside of town and strongly considered turning back!

I planned to stop at a quiet beach an hour outside town and eat my lunch. I got lost finding the beach and after going down an abandoned steep off-shooting road, I met some friendly Australian bikers who made the same mistake and saved me from going the rest of the way where there was no beach.  They were REAL bikers, biking around the island with all of their belongings and they were struggling too, so I didn't feel so bad.  Maybe biking is just hard, all of the time.  Maybe I just don't enjoy it the way I enjoy when running is hard.  I just accepted that it was going to be hard and it got a lot better!

I finally found the little beach!

le pique-nique:

Sometimes there weren't guard rails. I had to stop and hope the cars veered left and I wouldn't have to jump off the cliff. 

While riding up one hill, I had a standoff with a large mean dog who didn't want to let me pass. I froze and waited for the owner to come.  And waited.  And waited almost 5 minutes while it growled, bared its teeth and barked at me like crazy.  Most people know that I am not really a dog person.  My friend's dogs, I love. I yelled and yelled for the owner but nobody was around. I had just spent over an hour getting up this hill and in about a mile, I would be going downhill for good, ending up in Brusje and eventually back in town.  If I didn't get around the dog, I would have to go back downhill and call a taxi. Passing the dog was going to have to be on the UPHILL.  This was awful.  No people around. 

Finally, I decided to gun it! I rode past the dog while it while it chased me up the hill and snapped at my pedals and leaped at my legs. I had to ride hard and fast UP the hill to get away from it. Jerk dog! I totally regret not taking a picture of it.  Finally I got past it. 

Looks like a leisurely bike ride!

Finally the road leveled off and I didn't have to pedal any more!  All downhill!

The village of Brusje - it smelled like lavender.  

My reward for the 5 hour bike ride.  I wasn't bored anymore.  I just needed some adventure!  

I went back to last night's restaurant and told the waiter (the same one) that I would eat whatever he suggested.  I got some seafood tortellini and a side of the same sheep cheese with honey from the night before.  I had really good luck with Croatian food.  I had spectacular dinners all three nights!

before and after:

They have a half marathon in Hvar that travels much of the route I took today.  The first half of this would be really difficult (and would go past the mean dog!)

The next morning I took the boat back to Split to take the bus to my next destination, Bosnia.  I saw this sign that made me laugh.  If a friend got stung by a sea urchin, I wouldn't laugh at them, maybe I would pee on them?

I spent an hour or two wandering around the old ruins of Split:

Next:  Bosnia!

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Graffiti tour and last day in Germany

I wanted to take a graffiti and street art tour but I was worried that I'd be too tired because it was 4 hours long. "Why don't you DNF the tour?" asked Pankers. That was a great idea. DNF is a race term that means DId Not Finish. It's my vacation, if I want to go to only two hours of a tour, them I will! 

After my friends left for Oktoberfest and still undecided, I wandered around town and decided that if I made it in time, I'd go. If not, oh well. On the way to Alexanderplatz I stopped in the Ampelman store for some shopping. Ampelman is the little traffic light man in old east Berlin. They saved him as a nostalgic touch to the city. 

I went by this sign and later learned that it meant "water where the fire hose water comes from"

Alexanderplatz, the meeting place of our tour. 

I explained to our guide, Adrien, that I had errands to run and only had 2 hours. He was fine with that. In our group was some kids from the hostel, some Australians and a chain-smoking Russian girl with fake, injected lips who talked about clubbing and how amazing the clubs in Berlin are.  She was friendly, though. 

We went to parts of town together on the train - places I'd never venture to on my own. We had to walk up and down tons of stairs. Walking down stairs the day after a marathon is a special kind of hell. 

This artist formed an important graffiti gang called the crazy young kids or something like that. He painted two-handed fists around the city from 1995 to 2004. He invented a special hand cart that enabled him to roll up and down the subway tracks at night to paint. They were the premier graffiti group in the early 2000s. The groups formed little families and everyone had a job to do when a piece went up because they had to be painted so fast. Some people watched for police, some painted, etc. 

This is an example of a heaven piece. You climb up to the roof of a building (or break in) and paint down with big rollers. The artist's nickname issue Poet. The piece below was spray painted with a fire extinguisher, which I guess is harder than it looks. Artist's name is Just. Poet and Just are famous Berlin graffiti guys. 

This was hand-painted by repelling down the building. When the spotlight of the car dealership next door shines on it, it looks like he's really landing on the moon. 

This guy is an up and coming graffiti artist that can paint incredibly fast and created his own font (hard to see). He also repels up and down buildings. 

People don't spend the money to remove the graffiti so much in Berlin because the artists are so relentless - they just paint it back. It's also not usually tied to gangs and crime as it is in Chicago. It's more "art" here. Not universally loved but more universally tolerated as part of the patchwork of the city. People paint over the graffiti with other graffiti, though. It's accepted that a piece could change over time. 

This guy paints indigenous animals that were forced out by the cities developing. He travels around the world and paints different animals native to that area. I thought this was fascinating. 

This was part of a big warehouse area that hosts artists. This one is from an Israeli artist and addresses some of Germany's more painful history:

Behind the warehouse was this strange little photo booth that actually had people in it taking pictures! I can not stop looking at this picture. 

This artist takes the environment into account. When the pipe drips and freezes, it deliberately looks like snot! 

I forget what all the ants mean here. I was just so tired and didn't take notes. 

I went home and read. I walked by my favorite new restaurant

But decided to go for German instead for my last night in Germany.

Next: Croatia 

Marathon #5

Warning - this post could be extremely boring unless you want to hear me drone on about running. 

I went to bed Saturday night with hopes of sleeping 5 hours. They say the night before the night before the race is most important for sleep - and I slept great Friday. 5 hours is really all you can hope for. 

I woke up before the alarm and ate breakfast with Laura and Sean. We had only about 20 minutes to eat, and I eat a LOT. I shoveled as much food as I could into my mouth and we met Pankers to walk to the train. I wasn't feeling nervous, but Laura and I kept wondering "what if we lost all of our fitness during the taper?" Usually a runner tapers a few weeks before a marathon to rest and store energy. I typically gain a couple of pounds during the taper but this time I didn't. My insane appetite went away for a week or two.  You aren't moving as much, so you feel lazy, like you aren't doing anything to help yourself. Your instinct is to "cram for the exam" and you can't. 

During the taper it's common to get moody or emotional. My two half ironman friends Ann and Anna were laughing about how stupid tv shows or commercials were making them weepy the week before their event.  

We lost Sean at his gear check - men and women have different gear checks at this race.  We found our gear check (they put the women in the woods - women comprise only about 25-30% of this race)
and got in our corrals, laughing at the awesome German announcer. Every race should be officiated in a German accent! 

They were playing pop music to pump us up, and an aerobics instructor got up on a platform to give us funny warm up dances to do. And everybody danced along in the corral. One of those "only in Germany" moments. It was hilarious! The elites took off, then the sub 4 hour people, then we moved up to the starting line while they played a dance version of "zorba's dance", the Greek party song. Everybody clapped along in time. The energy was amazing and I was elated and so excited.  They announced all the major visiting countries who were participating. Denmark, Poland, England and the United States when I yelled a loud WOOO! The energy of 40,000 people in the starting corral is just so overwhelming. 

We got to cross the starting line and I turned my iPod on. My goal was to run 9:40 to 9:45 miles the whole way. My new garmin watch helped a lot. I didn't have to worry about kilometers or think about anything. I would take it mile by mile. Once that mile was finished, it was over and I'd start again. No dwelling about the past mile or thinking about future miles. Be a robot and just follow the watch. That was a new strategy for me. 

Miles 1 - 5 i tried to feel loose and slow down. I always run too fast at first and fade later.  I needed to learn that lesson 

Miles 5 - 11 I felt fantastic. Nothing hurt. I could go like this all day!

Miles 11 - 15 ok, past the halfway mark - got that out of the way. Still feeling good but struggling really hard to keep up the pace after stopping for water and powerade. The watch told me exactly how much aid station cost me. I knew I needed to have water, but I had no time to dawdle. It was slam the water down and catch up. I was noticing all these tall, muscular Northern European men and proud that I could run with them. Still thinking positive! 

Mile 16 - a stupid power gel display. They were handing out large tearable pouches of power gel. I wanted one and could not rip it open. I wasted so much energy trying to rip that stupid packet open or tear it with my teeth. I was so annoyed. Other people were able to open theirs, and all the spilled gel made the street sticky for at least a kilometer. You could hear everybody's shoes sticking to the pavement and making sticky, crackling sounds. Running on sticky concrete wasted so much energy. But after that mile was over, per my rules I left it behind. Leave the frustration of that stupid mile behind and start new on 17. 

Mile 17 - 20 the crowds were amazing! I am just not the kind of runner that likes crowds or feeds off the noise. I do better getting into my own head and focusing. The iPod was a great idea. I could tune everything out. Starting to feel a little tired but still good! 

Mile 20 - I reminded myself that this was usually when things fall apart. I was still able to run mile 19 in about 9:30. The next few miles were miraculously OK. 

Mile 23.5 - I just ran out of steam. I slowed down to a 10 or 10:30 pace. My hamstrings felt soooo bad. They had never hurt before a few weeks ago. At least my stupid plantar fasciitis felt OK. Everyone was hurting. I was actually passing people. I saw people walking. Unless I'm injured, I never walk. It's mile 24, it's supposed to hurt like a motherfucker! If it doesn't, you are either running an ultra or you aren't trying hard enough, I say.  At least pretend to run. 

Mile 24 - 26 I looked at my watch and finally knew that if I could just run 11 minute miles and under, I would PR. Just 20 more minutes of this wretched feeling. Just 10 more. There's Brandenburg gate, there's the finish line! 

Result - 4:15:58. Goal was 4:15. I'm totally OK with that! 

I met Erika, Pankers, Laura, Kimberley and Derek in a beer garden. 

Erika and Pankers both PR'd and Boston-qualified. They are both so fast! 

Laura and I realized that we didn't turn our chips in. We'd be charged 25 euros each if we didn't. We decided to limp back to the race and turn them in. It took forever. We got lost. Finally we convinced some race employees to take them from us.  Now we had the daunting task of taking the train home (read: steps, lots of steps!) I said "I wish we had a riskshaw to take us home" a few minutes later, we SAW A RICKSHAW and a nice lady biked us home for 16 euros. It was worth every penny and so much fun. 

We couldn't walk far so we drank beer in the hostel bar across the street. Later some of us got curry wurst and I accidentally spilled some on my bed while I was eating and it left a yellow curry stain. It was a great end to a day I'll always remember! I love running around one of my favorite cities in the world. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

Back in Berlin!

I have so much love for this city. Berlin isn't the most obviously beautiful city in Europe (there is a lot of competition) but it's definitely one of the most interesting. I feel at home here!  It's vibrant, a little rough around the edges (but safe), cosmopolitan, artistic and it was the center of one of the most important revolutions of my lifetime. My grandparent's generation fought in WW2 in Europe but it was my generation of Germans that tore down the wall when I was in college.  I came here in 2011 to run the Berlin marathon with some friends from CARA, and this year we decided to come back - (some same people, mostly new people).  We were all lucky to get in, the race sold out in 3.5 hours! I had to have Kimberley register for me because I was on a bus in Morocco last fall when registration opened. 

I landed on Friday completely recovered from jet lag and excited to see my friends.  I was really looking forward to the marathon expo (it was fun last time) but this year it was maddening.  My claustrophobia kicked in big time (this picture looks oddly empty of people). I bought a few shirts and picked up my bib. Usually I have a rush of emotion or excitement when I actually get my marathon bib and chip in my hands.  This time, I did not. I had been strangely ambivalent about the race for about a week, almost negative about it. I blame lack of sleep or maybe that I was tired. I needed to get that energy back. I believe that marathons are very mental and positive mental energy means everything in doing well in a long race. I can slog through a 5k with any state of mind but  a 13.1 or over needs something else.  I had an almost perfect summer of training but I was suspicious and felt that my luck had maybe run out, which is completely crazy.  

We ate bratwursts at the expo and I got a carrot-ginger heath juice thing that I hoped would make me somehow heathy and vibrant. 

I was able to finally check into my room at the Circus hotel, same place we stayed 2 years ago. I love that hotel. Reasonably priced and friendly with a great breakfast. I love the neighborhood too! 

I feel like this is the montrose brown line stop - my home! 

That evening I went to a Russian dumpling place that blew my mind. I met the others at their German restaurant to have a drink with them. 

I woke up in a much better state of mind, completely positive about the race again, thank goodness. You can't force the way you feel so I was relieved. Saturday morning we did a group photo shoot at the a East side gallery (top picture). It was nice to revisit all the artwork. 

A Trabant, an old communist-era car: 

After the photo shoot, Pankers and I took the train home while the others toured the city. We had the same idea - rest! I locked myself away in my room to read with my legs elevated. I had walked so much in Stockholm that I was worried. It was torture to be back in Berlin and not be able to walk around but it paid off in the end. That evening, we had a grandma-early pasta dinner and got all of our outfits ready before early bedtimes. 

Next: marathon day