Pokraine

This is the nickname we gave to the destination for the celebration of our first wedding anniversary. Poland and Ukraine – the two countries that hosted the 2012 European Soccer Cup this summer. Yes, we celebrated our first wedding anniversary in a soccer stadium fevering along with other crazed European soccer fans. This might not sound like every girl’s dream, but we couldn’t forego the opportunity to combine adventure with family and soccer. Besides, it makes for a good story.

We landed in Kattowice, Poland on a Friday afternoon and were picked up by Toby’s brother B in his Mini Cooper for the drive to Krakow where we met B’s girlfriend C. Just the fact that we were traveling with B and C was special – we also drove through South Africa with them right after we got engaged (I see a pattern emerging…). We didn’t spend much time there, but it was enough to see that Krakow is a beautiful city with very friendly residents. Its narrow streets and large central plaza offer the typical European city sights that I never tire of. A short ramble up to Wawel Castle and the old city center provides great views over the city. The blue skies, warm air, and joggers along the Vistula River made for the summer feel we’d been craving.

Krakow’s central Grand Square, Rynek Glowny

Krakow’s old city center

But our true destination was Lviv, Ukraine, so on Saturday the four of us plus luggage jammed into the Mini. The German flag in the back window revealed our loyalties to the other soccer fans making the same trek. Thanks to an unfinished freeway, we were forced enjoyed the opportunity to really soak in the Polish countryside and all its villages, pedestrian crossings, and horse-drawn carts. The border crossing into Ukraine was slow but uneventful. After six hours in the car, we were more than ready to hit the streets of Lviv and join the masses of Danish and German soccer fans.

Lviv’s fan mile

We spent Sunday exploring Lviv’s city center, building in frequent stops for a cold beverage in the shade (it was a hot, humid day). We of course wore German soccer jerseys, but it was the crazy fans completely decked out in jerseys, face paint, wigs, and accessories that really drew the attention of the locals, who were always asking for pictures with them. It was sweet because you could tell that the locals were excited to share their city with us.

Lviv from above

Although the organization of the whole thing would have benefited from a little more attention to detail, we managed to find and squeeze (literally) onto a bus to the stadium. While I’ve watched a lot of soccer on tv over the past year, I’m glad I got the chance to experience it live in the stadium. The air is absolutely electric. I found myself torn between watching the action on the field and the fans in the stands, who had been transformed into two giant amoebas (a Danish one and a German one) that alternately held their breath, cheered, or sighed depending on the action on the field.

Opening ceremony at the game

A late-night, death-defying taxi ride back to the hotel made sure we maintained a post-game adrenaline high before collapsing into bed. On Monday morning we headed back through the Polish countryside for our flights to Germany.

I hope this first anniversary celebration, complete with adventure, excitement, and new experiences, sets the tone for future ones!

PS – Germany beat Denmark then Greece, but lost to Italy in the semi-final, who then lost to Spain in the final.

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Inspiring you and me

People blog for different reasons, I’m sure. I started because I wanted a place to share my thoughts and experiences about my new adventure with family and friends. Kind of like if we were sitting at the coffee house together. They get to hear my stories, and I get to talk about all the things I’m seeing, doing, and feeling. What’s funny is when other people find your blog and start reading. Even better is when you start reading other people’s blogs. It’s a way to see the world through somebody else’s eyes. And to be inspired.

Which is why I am writing today. To be inspired is a beautiful thing. To have somebody else think you’re inspiring is the nicest compliment you can get. I want to say thank you to Elizabeth Julia from southwestadventurer.com for nominating me for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. I am truly flattered, especially considering that the tagline for this award is “Keeping the Blogosphere a Beautiful Place”! Elizabeth Julia, a transplant from the Midwest, now lives in Arizona and writes about her explorations in my favorite part of the world. You should definitely check out her musings!

And now on to the fine print…

1. Link back to the blogger(s) who nominated you. CHECK

2. Post the award image to your page. YUP

3. Share 7 facts about yourself. HERE YOU GO

  1. I was a full-on band nerd starting in the fourth grade and all the way through high school – I used to play the clarinet; relatively well, actually.
  2. I was also on the swim team in high school, which helped allay some of my band nerdiness.
  3. I’m proud of having finished the 1-Mile La Jolla Rough Water Swim (3 times) and the 2.4-Mile Tempe Town Lake Swim, but I still would like to complete a triathlon.
  4. I love the third day of a hiking/camping trip – day 1 you’re still trying not to sweat, day 2 you’re annoyed that you got sweaty on day 1, day 3 you relish the grunginess because that’s just how it is.
  5. My favorite foods are burritos and pizza.
  6. Our parents used to make us wear Dirndls and decorate Austrian Christmas trees at an international Christmas festival every year. We hated it back then. Now we look for excuses to bust out our Dirndls.
  7. I’m a Pisces.

4. Nominate 15 other blogs and inform them about it. I’m sticking to 10 because I think that’s a nice, round number. CHECK THESE OUT

  1. http://carrierubin.com/  (The Write Transition)
  2. http://thestrugglershandbook.com/
  3. http://domesticdivamd.com/
  4. http://drevets.com/  (Snotting Black)
  5. http://whimseypie.wordpress.com/
  6. http://hellorollei.wordpress.com/ (Terra Incognita)
  7. http://germanamericanabroad.wordpress.com/
  8. http://julelostinsweden.wordpress.com /
  9. http://mylifeslist.wordpress.com/
  10. http://nakedenvelope.com/

Happy reading, and be inspired!

The trappings of a culture

Our summer travels have provided some interesting food for thought. What is it that gives a culture its defining characteristics? Sure there’s music, art, architecture, and religion, but I think there are other things that provide hints about a people and their world.

Street signs – I don’t know why, but I get a kick out of street signs in other places. Take for example the level of detail on some ‘watch out for pedestrians/school children crossing’ signs – the graphic artists went all out and included briefcases, purses, and ponytails. That’s just cute. I also like the Polish ‘car shower’ sign. The ‘residential area’ signs in Barcelona paint a picture of familial bliss. And I swear the cows on American ‘watch out for cows’ signs are way fatter than the cows on Polish signs. The logical follow-up question – are the cows themselves fatter too, and what kind of conclusions might be drawn from the answer?

Taxis – The taxis, taxi drivers, and taxi rides in a place reveal a lot about city planning, economics, energy policies, and general satisfaction with life. Are the taxis big or small? Well taken care of or rather dilapidated? Human-powered or engine-powered? Are the drivers controlled or fearless (or potentially suicidal)? Most of the taxi rides in my life have been unworthy of a story, but there were two times when I could appreciate the ‘skills’ of our driver only after I was safely standing on my own two feet again – once in Miami, Florida and once in Lviv, Ukraine.

Grocery stores – I like to eat. By extension, I like grocery stores. And because I also like to travel, I like grocery stores in other places. What people eat and how they package and present their foods says a lot about how they treat their bodies. Is food revered, or is it merely an annoying necessity? Are there more fresh or pre-packaged foods? How big are the stores and packages? The typical grocery stores in Düsseldorf are definitely smaller than back in Arizona. Thankfully the packages are too – I already have to work hard enough to cart everything back home on my bike.

Bakeries – Following the same logic about grocery stores, and considering the fact that I could be classified as a bread addict (or carb whore, as Toby likes to lovingly call me), I love checking out the bakeries in other places. Everything about a bakery appeals to me – the warm, doughy smell, the carefully arranged assortment of breads and sweets, the bustle of people coming in and out to buy their daily bread or just a snack for in between. It’s hard for me to leave without something in the hand. An added bonus at nearly every bakery in Germany – you can almost always get a fresh sandwich to go. Fast food, but better.

The German flip-flop

I’ve discovered that shoes are an interesting matter when living in Düsseldorf. Regardless of winter or “summer” (or whatever they call it here), the key is to keep your feet dry. In winter, the obvious choice is boots. Any style, any shape, and any color will do. I made friends with tall, flat boots paired with skinny jeans.

What was funny was when I started trying to wear my sandals once the temperatures warmed up a bit. For this Arizona girl, summer equals sandals, specifically flip-flops. Trip to the grocery store? Put on your flip-flops. Happy hour? Bust out your flip-flops. Saturday afternoon at the coffee house? You got it – flip-flops. There was no real danger in baring your toes (unless you were moving too fast, flipped one too hard, and ended up on the hot asphalt – but only beginners do that).

Imagine my surprise when I left the apartment one morning, in my flip-flops, only to have totally wet feet a few hours later because the sunny blue skies had turned to rain-producing cloudy skies. Because this sudden change in weather can occur on any given day, I learned from the locals and started wearing ballerinas (close-toed flats). A German girl’s answer to flip-flops. Lighter and cooler than a boot while providing almost as much wetness protection (sounds like an antiperspirant ad…).

Since boot cut jeans drag too close to the ground and run the risk of getting wet, ballerinas are still best paired with skinny jeans. The end result – my summer outfits are the same as my winter outfits, with a few less layers on top.

And I always said I’d never wear those carrot-shaped skinny jeans. Never say never…

Escape

We all need an escape from the everyday world. For the past decade (wow, that sounds old), the wilderness of southern Utah, with its red rocks, blue skies, and endless vistas, was my place of solace. There’s nothing like carrying your own food and water around all day and then camping out of the back of your car to help you regain some perspective on what you really need to be happy. I loved everything about those trips – the planning, the prep, the drive, the companionship, the sweat and dust, the pictures and stories. It was finally time to find my (our – Toby has also learned to love a good hiking/camping trip) southern Utah of Germany, or at least get away from the city life for a little bit.

Hiking opportunities in Germany are plenty. I decided on Eifel National Park, a two-hour drive from Düsseldorf that takes you past the historic Nürburgring (a highlight on its own).

The two days of hiking were thoroughly enjoyable, and the fresh air was good for us, but the phrase ‘we’re not in Kansas anymore’ kept running through my head. First of all, there’s way more green than I’m used to. While the desert is also green, it’s of a very different quality – leaves are often smaller, with a grayish hue or are covered in tiny hairs. The green here is so intense. It even smells different; there are more layers to it. Desert air is simple and crisp. And warm and dry. We hiked with beanies and rain gear just in case the gray clouds dancing overhead dropped their load (only a few drops ever came down).

The sights along our trails were also of a different quality. In the desert you have wide open vistas of a landscape etched by water and rimmed by buttes and mesas. Here it’s like looking out over the green section of the big Crayola box. Sometimes, for a real euro feel, there’s even a castle or a fort, or ruins thereof.

Which highlights another difference.  Deep in the deserts of the Southwest, it’s you and nature. You might not see another person for hours and miles. In Germany, you’re never far from civilization. Along with said castles and forts, some trails take you through entire towns. And it’s not totally unusual to find a Hütte (German for cabin) along the trail where you can buy a beer and some lunch or a coffee and a piece of cake – quite a nice addition to our wilderness experiences.

While it was an overnight trip, there was no camping for us. I wasn’t ready to be that adventurous – there’s too much rain and probably lots of weird bugs in all that green. Instead, we found a hotel in nearby Koblenz and enjoyed Italian food and gelato. If only there were a way to combine gelato with a long day of desert hiking….

I’m back

Oh boy, oh boy. Have I been bad…. I’ve left you all hanging, wondering what has become of me. I’m sure you miss my engaging, enlightening, and downright witty accounts of adventures and mishaps, pumping grannies and circus bears, cultural lessons learned, and the like. I promise though, my absence was with good reason. I’ve been out collecting material with which to delight and inspire you.

Last time we talked, summer had finally come to Düsseldorf, and I had tried to describe the (seeming) madness that is driving in Düsseldorf. The good news – I am happy to report that through a few more required driving experiences, I am learning to savor the adrenaline rush sitting behind the wheel provides. The bad news – the summer was short-lived, and we were soon back to frequent rain and near-constant gray skies with temperatures between 16 and 20 degrees Celsius (I’m sick of converting so trust me – this is not what an Arizona girl would call summer).

Fortunately we have had loads of fun things on the calendar to serve as distractions from the lack of summer – our first German hiking/”camping” trip, a weekend playing Düsseldorf tour guide with my dad and step-mom, the European Soccer Cup and a trip to Poland and Ukraine to celebrate our first wedding anniversary under the influence of soccer fever, a weekend in Barcelona for some Spanish summer, a visit from my sister (Christmas in July!), and plenty of observations about my world. I told you I have a good excuse!

Where to begin…where to begin…?