Archive | September, 2007
September 29, 2007

Kraków

beer with grenadine in Krakow

Krakow is one of my favorite places on earth. It is a medieval city full of young people. A wonderful, striking combination. – Jonathan Carroll

If you’ve been following this blog for the past few years, you’re certainly well aware that I have somewhat of an obsession with trying to visit multiple countries within a timespan of only a few days (i.e, last year’s trip to the Caucasus, or the one day Croatia-Bosnia-Montenegro run of ’05, a current personal best). It’s like an episode of the amazing race, only with more landmines and disgruntled Kalashnikov-carrying border guards.

I didn’t think that we needed to spend an entire week in Kiev, so I pulled up Google Maps and made a list of nearby countries that I hadn’t visited yet: Romania? Moldova? Slovakia? Belarus? Poland? Poland, as it turns out, seemed the most cost-effective travel wise, and Krakow was a city on my “to do” list that I had missed while studying in London (Yes, I did occasionally have to go to class). So, after spending four days in Kiev, Laura and I caught a flight to Krakow while Ryan hopped a train to the Crimea.

On our flight leaving Kiev, I was seated next to a young Ukrainian couple, who, I surmised, had never flown before. They clutched each other’s hands tightly, and as our plane gained speed for takeoff, the girl shut her eyes and repeatedly crossed herself. Fortunately, the flight was uneventful and divine intervention was not required. We switched planes in Warsaw and finally landed at Krakow’s John Paul II International Airport, named after a former local priest turned international Catholic superstar.

Our apartment was located near Market Square in the Old Town section of Krakow, an incredibly beautiful historic quarter composed of cobblestone streets and buildings dating back to the 15th century. Market Square is an ideal place to sit at an outdoor cafe and sip a cappuccino or glass of Żywiec beer with a shot of grenadine.

beer with grenadine in Krakow

Yes, beer and grenadine. I was puzzled when I flipped through the drinks menu and saw a list of syrups displayed next to the beer choices. “So, uh,” I asked the waitress, “you add syrup to the beer?!” She looked at me like I was an idiot. “Yes, syrup for the beer.” Well, I like beer, and I like flavored syrups, so maybe they’d be good together. The end result was something that looked like a Shirley Temple, and tasted, well, good enough.

Krakow Market Square
Cloth Hall in Market Square

Krakow main square

We really only had one full day of sightseeing in Krakow, but managed to cover a lot of ground despite the cold temperature and steady downpour of rain. We spent the morning touring Kazimierz, the home of Krakow’s Jewish population until the Nazi invasion of Poland in World War II.

Krakow Kazimierz Jewish Cemetery

Krakow Kazimierz Synagogue

Krakow Kazimierz

Krakow Kazimierz
A courtyard used during the filming of Schindler’s List

Shortly after the Nazis invaded Poland, they forcibly removed all Jews from Kazimierz and placed them in the Krakow Ghetto. Conditions in the Ghetto were grim, with 15,000 people living in an area formerly occupied by 3,000 residents.

Krakow Podgorze ghetto
Memorial to those killed

Krakow Podgorze ghetto
The pharmacy run by Tadeusz Pankiewicz, a Polish national hero.

Krakow Schindler's factory
The entrance to Oskar Schindler’s factory

Krakow Schindler's factory

Krakow Schindler's factory

Krakow Schindler's factory
Schindler’s office

Krakow Schindler's factory

Krakow Plaszow concentration camp
Site of the Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp

Krakow Plaszow concentration camp

Krakow Plaszow concentration camp
Former mass graves

We spent the rest of the day at Wawel Castle, the former residence of Polish royalty. To be honest with you, I found it to be a bit boring. Beautiful architecture, but after a while all the castles start to look alike.

Krakow Wawel Castle

Krakow Wawel Castle

Krakow Wawel Castle
Obligatory “American” pose

The following day we toured Auschwitz and the Wieliczka Salt Mines. More on that later.

September 23, 2007

Houston, revisited

Galveston oil rigs

Top ten reasons why Houston is better than DC:
1. Abundance of cheap Mexican food
2. BBQ. Like, reeeeal BBQ.
3. Apparently you can surf in Galveston…sometimes. That’s what I’ve heard, anyways.
4. Average temperature for the month of December is 53.5ºF, which is still considered “flip-flop weather”. Washington, on the other hand, is 35.4ºF. (I’m from SoCal, OK? I can’t stand cold weather)
5. Number of self-important assholes is significantly lower
6. If you are stuck in a fire, these dudes rescue you
7. It’s a few hours closer to California (but Continental please bring back year-round service to Palm Springs!)
8. My SUV fits in very well. Actually, compared to everyone else’s vehicle, mine is small.
9. There are lots of parks and trees, and stuff.
10. Cost of living is ridiculously cheap compared to DC. A one bedroom apartment with all the amenities, located in a neighborhood where 14 year olds aren’t killing each other, costs less than what I pay now. Whoa.

I compiled this list last Sunday, on my return flight from IAH to DCA. Laura and I flew to Houston to visit Ann, who recently moved there to start a new job. I know what you’re thinking…”What the…who visits Houston for fun?” Well, I’m always looking to get away from DC as often as possible, and I had a great time last year when I traveled there for work and stayed over for a weekend with a former LSE classmate. So what the hell, why not visit again?

Galveston oil rigs

We went to Galveston. There are lots of oil rigs and stuff there, and really good peanut butter. I was, however, disappointed when I walked into a “surf shop” and there were NO SURFBOARDS. Huh.

Minute Maid Park

Later that night we watched the Astros beat the Pirates at Minute Maid Park, which is still the most bizarre ballpark I’ve ever visited. Great chili cheese dogs, though.

Minute Maid Park train

So there’s this train, right? And when the Astros hit a home run it chugs down this length of track. Totally cute. I will not disclose which member of our group stated, “Ohhhh, I just realized why the train is filled with oranges.” One wonders what the train was filled with when the ballpark was named Enron Field. Probably cash stolen from the citizens of the Great State of California. But I digress…

Minute Maid Park scoreboard

Seventh inning stretch and sing along to Texas propaganda

Minute Maid Park with mini helmets

I realize ice cream sundaes in mini helmets are for 5 year olds, but I can’t pass them up…come on, it’s ICE CREAM in a MINI HELMET, how effin’ sweet is that?! This is also the only photo you will ever see of two die hard Cardinals fans (Laura and Ann) wearing any sort of Astros gear.

Minute Maid Park Halliburton ad
We don’t have these signs at Angel stadium

On Sunday we met up with Cindy for some BBQ at Hickory Hollow. We were roommates back at GW, and she now works in The Woodlands (yeah, capital T or whatever, just like The George Washington University).

Hickory Hollow BBQ
Yes, it was delicious

at Hickory Hollow
Me, Laura, Ann, Cindy

Overall, it was an incredibly relaxing weekend of baseball, reconnecting with old friends, and clogging my arteries with excellent food. I admit that I am still rather conflicted about the possibility of moving there, though. While I was waiting for my return flight to DC, my mom called me to see what I had been up to lately.

“Nothing much, just waiting for my flight back to DC.”

“Oh, that’s right, you’re in Houston. So are you going to move there?”

“I dunno, I don’t think so…I like it here a lot more than DC, but it’s not California, ya know.”

Then again, nothing ever will be.

September 19, 2007

Avast ye land lubbers!

lindsay_young_pirate_small.jpg

Unless ye be livin’ under a rock, ye should know ’tis International Talk Like a Pirate Day.

I been observin’ Talk Like a Pirate Day since I was a wee lass:

lindsay_young_pirate_small.jpg

OK, I admit, it was Halloween…

September 10, 2007

Schastlivy Vmeste: Al Bundy moves to Russia

Scastlyvu_vmeste.jpg

Replace Al and Peg Bundy with Gena and Dasha Bukin and Chicago with Yekaterinburg and you have Счастливы вместе / Schastlivy Vmeste (Happy Together) one of the most popular sitcoms in Russia:

Turn on the sitcom that is the hottest television show in Russia, and it all seems so familiar. Moored to his living room couch is a shoe salesman who is more interested in watching sports than conjugal relations. His wife has shocking hair and an even more shocking mouth. A couple of ne’er-do-well teenagers round out this bawdy, bickering bunch.

In fact, the show is an authorized copy of the American sitcom “Married With Children,” with a Russian cast and dialogue but scripts that hew closely to those of the original. This knockoff is such a sensation, especially among younger viewers, that its actors have become household names, and advertisements for its new season are plastered around Moscow.

marriedw.jpgScastlyvu_vmeste.jpg

If you want to see how similar the American and Russian versions are, clips are available here, as well as on the NYTimes site.

September 5, 2007

Holiday From Real

Oceanside

Oh, California in the summer…friends, family, cheap Mexican food, shrimp tacos from Rockin’ Baja, margaritas, guacamole and Coronas on the patio, sun…

A few photos from my short trip to California last week:

Oceanside
Oceanside. Used to spend the entire summer here when I was a kid.

Oceanside surfboard
Hello, old friend. It’s been awhile

Oceanside In-N-Out
Enjoying a double double on the beach…can it be any more perfect? (El Capitan, this one’s for you)

Petco Park

Petco Park, home of the Padres. My family covers the spectrum of SoCal baseball with my dad and brother rooting for the Dodgers, my mom for the Padres, and I, of course, being the Angels fan. Padres beat the Dodgers, 7-0 and I left Petco Park with a new Padres hat. Great place to watch a baseball game.

Petco Park
Friar Tuck, “Beat LA!” (and beat LA they did)

Petco Park
The beach in the outfield, for the ankle biters

Petco Park Diego Dog
“Diego Dog” (bratwurst in a Kaiser roll-like bun topped with cabbage, pico de gallo, and mustard)

San Onofre

Wanted something a little different than Oceanside, so I spent half a day at San Onofre State Beach, north of Oside on the 5. Very crowded in the lineup, but everyone was chill. Lots of families surfing together. Water wasn’t too cold. Everyone jokes that it’s due to the nuclear reactors situated on the beach. Since visiting Chernobyl I’ve found nuclear power a bit spooky, so it felt bizarre to sit in the lineup and look over your shoulder at those massive domes. But it’s safe, or whatever.

San Onofre
You take your car to work. I’ll take my board

San Onofre
Tandem surfers and a crowded lineup

San Onofre

A lot like last year, more regrets that I moved back to DC. I think there will be a change of location in ’08.

“I hope you want the same thing I want, freedom to live and ride nature’s waves without the oppressive hang-up of the mad, insane complex that runs the world and this sick, sick war. These are incredible times. Thank God for a few free waves.” – Miki Dora, 1960s. Apropos.