5000k later

Since I’m in Canada at present, Google Maps calculated my total travel distance in kilometers, so there ya go. That’s roughly how far I’ve traveled since leaving Charlotte a mere 18 days ago – not how much I’ve spent on the way – don’t worry Mom!! Blessedly I’ve actually been in Whistler for a couple nights and haven’t been behind the wheel much. Good thing because my right hip was starting to really hurt and my shoulder pain on the bike may have been from driving funny too. As though training on the road hasn’t been tricky enough, add in being cramped up in a car for 7-9 hours a day, access to my favorite sports chiros and massage therapists, and it’s really a miracle I’m still holding up as well as I am.

But just because my body seems to be hanging on, doesn’t mean my head isn’t fighting some serious battles. Today was a bit of a crisis mentally.

Whistler is gorgeous. Crystal blue lakes, rushing rivers, pine forests, mountains, chalets, 5 star resorts… and so active – mountain bikers literally everywhere, not just all the triathletes in town for Ironman Canada. The trail system is incredible, both paved and unpaved. Yesterday morning I explored the Riverside trail out past the suspension bridge and was just in absolute heaven running thru the forest on the rolling path next to the river rapids (after I accidentally spent the first 15 minutes scaling a mountain on what was clearly the wrong path meant only for cracked out mountain bikers willing to risk life and limb plummeting down >45 degree inclines on 2 wheels). Alas I could not join all the racers swimming in the lake (bc I only have core shorts and not a full wetsuit) but I thoroughly enjoyed relaxing on the dock while the pros got a feel for the water. This morning Kel and I scouted out the run course on our bikes and I cannot WAIT to run a loop tomorrow bc it is so scenic (and doesn’t scale a mountain). But then I headed out for another 2 hours on my own and was smacked upside the head with a stark dose of reality about my cycling abilities, or rather lack thereof. I wasn’t in a rush by any means but when the racers zipped by me like I was standing still – not even while climbing! – I started seriously questioning how in the world I’ll be ready for my own race in just 8 weeks. The weather was playing tricks on me and I hadn’t fueled at all during the first hour and basically when I followed the course as it turned onto the road heading out to the cross country skiing venue, I just hit a wall. But I kept climbing. And climbing. And climbing. And when those racers that had sped past me passed me going back from whence we came, I decided it was about time to turn around. There was a woman on some fancy cross country ski type roller blades with poles and a helmet and everything going faster up the incline than I was. I was humiliated. The descent was scary as crap. The 500ft of climbing in 2.2 miles was excruciating and the 500ft of descending in 2.2 miles was frightening. And of course it left me at the bottom of the “hill” again so getting back on the highway and climbing 400ft in the next 2.5 miles with trucks, motor homes, and cocky sports car drivers whizzing by me at 70mph had me considering somersaulting over the concrete barriers into rocky ravines as a more pleasant alternative. But the real low point was pulling off and texting SOS messages to Kelly while trying to hold back tears of frustration. Eventually I made it back to my airbnb and after I fixed my blood sugar problem and peeled off my muddy kit, my host drove me back to where I’d left my car since my legs were too shaky to ride there myself. Any confidence I gained from riding 112 miles at 18mph with the Iron Cowboy was shot to hell today when I averaged just over 13mph for a mere 32 miles.

It’s just one day. One really hard bad ugly make you want to throw in the towel day. There have been some great days though. And I can only imagine that on race day I’ll have plenty of time to draw on the joy of the amazing trail runs and the pain of suffering through mountain climbs. And I get to go to bed tonight knowing that I am not one of the crazies waking up and racing that ridiculous bike course tomorrow.

not saving the best for last ie. Bruges

[I’m blogging this out of order bc my sister has a friend who wanted to know about my trip.]

 

First things first – I still have no idea what the proper spelling is: Brugges, Bruges, Brugge, Bruge? But no matter how you spell it, it was my favorite for so many well founded reasons. And what’s really funny is that it was a total last minute addition to my itinerary. Basically, the night before I was flying back to Amsterdam from Cape Town I realized that I should probably figure out where to go and book a hotel room. I didn’t want it to be a big hassle to get to by train from the Amsterdam airport (esp bc I had the case of wine to deal with and my painting) and the only city in Belgium in Rick Steve’s Best of Europe book was Bruges. Once I started reading about everything to do there I was sold. I checked Trip Advisor for reviews of the hotels Rick suggested but the Hotel Ter Duinen popped up as the #4 hotel in Bruges and was very reasonably priced and available for the 3 nights I had to kill before meeting my parents in Amsterdam. What I should have done was investigate the train situation, but the hotel owner said in his email that the slow trains were just as fast as the fast trains so not to bother with the extra expense of the fast trains and just take my time getting there – someone would meet me whenever I arrived. So after a mostly sleepless overnight 12 hour flight and a long line at immigration, I found the large baggage storage in the basement of the departure terminal and dropped off my case of wine (from which I detached my painting to keep with me as they charge per piece and the attendant wasn’t buying that they were one piece despite the ridiculous shrink wrapping attempt by the South African airport employee). There was much chaos at the train ticketing station in the mall that is the Amsterdam airport  because the trains weren’t running to the central station and people had to get on buses and it was just really complicated. So I went to an automatic ticket machine and bought a first class round trip ticket to Bruges, not knowing exactly what that was getting me, and spending entirely too much money, but I was so tired and didn’t have a working phone. Then I couldn’t find a board listing platforms or anything so I stood in a bizarre “line” to ask an agent in a yellow vest where to go. She informed me that the train was splitting and I would have to change at a station before Rotterdam but to just ask on the train and to hustle to it because it was leaving in 2 minutes. So hustle I did, and I found the first class compartment and sat next to the only other occupants who turned out to be Finnish coworkers headed to some town near Rotterdam for a big convention. They were also kind of confused by the train situation so eventually I wandered up to the conductor and asked her at the next stop where I was supposed to get off and switch. Luckily she was super helpful and made sure that I got on the correct train when required. Unfortunately I still had to change trains again and ours was running late so the conductor on that second train was phenomenal and checked on the schedule of the train I needed to get on and told me to wait one more stop so it’d be on the same platform instead of having to go from the bowels of the Antwerp station all the way up to the top floor which would take me longer than our connection allowed. Eventually I got to Bruges – and by eventually I mean like 5 hours later. I was so tired and thirsty and had like 12euros and already decided I’d take a cab to the hotel, but stopped at 2 different ATMs to try and get some more euros before leaving the station. My Ally card had worked like a charm absolutely everywhere I tried to use it (and no fees!!!) but for some reason it was flagged in Bruges. I confirmed with the darling lady cab driver (yes lady!) that the fare wouldn’t be more than 12euros before I got in and apologized profusely when I literally gave her every coin I had. Money is money though right? She didn’t mind. I was already falling in love with the city just riding through town past the canals, watching cyclists, runners, and walkers out enjoying the gorgeous summer day.hotel ter duinen

The hotel was darling, a little maze of small but adequate rooms, and a beautiful breakfast room with courtyard and big red geraniums in the window boxes facing the canal across the cobblestone street. Despite being completely exhausted and dirty and gross from 24 hours of planes trains and automobiles, I changed into some running clothes and took my phone and went for an exploratory run. I had no idea where I was going and enjoyed getting lost on some quiet side streets and jostling between the crowds of tourists on the busy shopping streets. It was 6 o’clock so everyone was having their afternoon ice cream – this is a phenomenon of the Netherlands, everyone gets ice cream around 5 or 6 – I don’t know what it does to their dinner appetites. I kind of got my bearings and I did successfully use an ATM (after a very pleasant phone call to Ally after I swapped my American SIM card back into my phone and turned on the global data plan). So I showered and consulted with the hotel staff about where to get dinner and rent a bike. He sent me to Souffleur just near the Jan Van Eyck square. Since it was still totally light at 9pm I asked to sit outside so I could people watch. I had one of the best meals of my life which probably seems strange because it was just a giant salad dinnerbut it was divine and the wine was perfect and I indulged with some chocolate mousse and an Italian coffee for dessert (I mean, it IS Belgium, chocolate is their thing!) then I went and sat in the corner of the Markt (the main square) and people watched with the sun on my face, just soaking in the charm of this amazing little frozen in time perfect European town.

I slept in as late as I could without missing hotel breakfast – the owner and his wife were divine hosts, the coffee was delicious, and I was excited to explore by bike. But first, I stood in a stupidly long line to climb the 366 steps to the top of the bell tower. image view from bell towerIt was tight quarters but the views were nice and the carillon is quite an interesting piece. I did enjoy it’s music during my time in the city. The hotel gave me a little discount card and sent me to a good rental shop right next to the bell tower, which was actually in the lobby of a different hotel. Despite the bike guy trying his darnedest to give me a late night private tour, I set off on my own and ended up riding around in circles for a little while before heading out the canal path towards Damme. I had high hopes of riding really far until I encountered the insane wind that is apparently quite typical because the gigantic trees that lined the canal on either side were permanently leaning eastwards from the wind that sweeps in from the north across the farmland. image image image imageSo I enjoyed the scenery, the gorgeous cows, and tried not to be too embarrassed when old people passed me handily. But eventually the wind wore me down and I turned around speeding easily back the way I came. I hopped off the path in Damme only to discover there really isn’t much to see there – it’s just a quaint little village marked by an old windmill and lots of pretty flowers along the canal bridge. Back in Bruges I got on the ring canal path that goes all around the city and rode by the big 4 windmills on the east side of the town ended up on the southern end and spent a good 20 minutes winding around the streets trying to find de halve maan (half moon) brewery before the last tour went off. I was about to give up when I literally stumbled into the entrance. I was happy to get off the bike for a bit and having worked up a little appetite, I signed up for the English tour and started drooling over patrons’ bar snacks as they sunned in the courtyard. The tour was entertaining and educational but a large group and pretty claustrophobic at times. I hadn’t made any friends along the way so I sat alone in the brewpub enjoying some super strong beer and a giant loaf of bread and slab of “old cheese”image

until they closed and kicked me out. I was right next to the Begijnhof (the women’s enclave) so I parked the bike and wandered around the grounds for a bit before riding back to the hotel for a Belgian beer induced nap.

image image image BenijnhofAt some point I had picked up some groceries so I snacked more then rode down the street to a local pub for more Belgian beer and the awkwardness of being a tourist all alone in a locals only bar with no wifi and not even a tv to watch. It was kind of depressing actually. So I went to bed a little sad.

The next day I tried to be a little earlier to breakfast and then headed out on the bike again to find some of the museums. I seriously just kept getting lost on the confusing streets and even GPS wasn’t helping me. But I did find my way to the Groeninge Museum to do the art thing. I actually really like Flemish art – and it was the perfect size, didn’t get fatigued like in Vienna. Then I went for a canal boat tour which was wonderful – a totally different vantage point of the city and a peek into the waterfront gardens of the private homes.

imageI would have enjoyed it more if there wasn’t a large group of middle school kids from Scotland (or somewhere) in matching red sweatshirts yammering away and invading my personal space. But it was a must do. I stuck my head in a few churches, and did go see “the blood of Christ” which was perhaps one of the most bizarre church artifacts I’ve ever seen. A priest just sat there next to it all day and I didn’t really know what to do when I walked up the little steps to look at this old dirty piece of cloth in a glass vial so I just kind of talked to God about how I wasn’t sure if it was real but ya know, we’re good. Of course the lady after me got on her knees and started crossing herself and stuff and I just thought oh my, these Catholics, I just don’t know… and went on my way (sorry Catholic readers). I went down the street and got my first Belgian waffle (heaven on earth)

imageand sat in the sun on the Markt. And the longer I sat there I decided that I’d really like to just sit at a table and have a beer and people watch. So that’s what I did. I had read that there was a Carillon concert but after I returned my bike and took another beer nap and cleaned up, I walked back to the Markt to find no concert whatsoever and started walking back, disappointed and a little bored. Then a sweet British couple asked me for directions (haha! joke’s on them I thought!) and we started chatting and although I didn’t help them find the Swan (swanky hotel they wanted to have a drink at), we went in some other hotel and they bought me a drink and we talked about travel and life and I was just so comforted to have these new little strangers befriend me when I was really tired of being alone all the time. Slept a little sweeter that night.

I told my parents I wouldn’t be to Amsterdam til around 5pm because I wanted to spend the morning in Bruges and maybe stop in Ghent to see the altarpiece. I woke up early and went for a run on the ring canal path (a hard interval workout that I impressed myself with). And on the way back I stumbled upon an amazing market on the main square – gorgeous flowers everywhere! I showered and packed and went down to breakfast, surprising my hosts with my productive morning. I left my bags in the luggage closet and went back to the market to check it out before heading to the train station.

image image Wednesday marketI got some to go lunch for myself and some chocolates and pastries for my parents and bid adieu to the city that completely stole my heart with its endless cobblestone streets, 18 hours of sunlight, gorgeous gardens, superb architecture, delicious food, intoxicating beer, kind locals, and rich history. I may not have done all the super touristy stuff, but I had the best time living more as a local, biking everywhere, shopping at the market, and enjoying the sidewalk cafes. I have to go back. I will go back. I could live there. It’s a must do.

image imagebreakfast with a view

Planes trains and automobiles (and buses)

Mouth breathing isn’t helping. I’m going to hurl all over the back of this effing bus. My experience of Europe can be summed up in one phrase: cigarette smoke. I mean, I have lived in North Carolina for the last 10 years, winston-Salem even! The tobacco capital! But no string of stinky smoky nights in the Winston opera house could prepare me for the onslaught of chain smokers and the nauseating stench they carry around on their person and clothes. As I sit in the back of this nice comfortable luxury bus en route to Zagreb (prounounced Sah-greb) Croatia I am most keenly aware of the gymnastics acts occurring in my stomach due in large part to the odiferous man sitting next to me. It’s one thing to walk thru a cloud of smoke on the sidewalk (or ten in one block). It’s frustrating to share a subway car with a crowd of them. Dining al fresco while they hold their cigarettes away from their face but right in yours is pushing my limit. But a 5 hour bus ride snuggled up next to a fella who smells like he showed up for the 8am departure in last nights clubbing attire who falls asleep and slumps onto your shoulder is the last straw! Matt is gonna give him a black eye in a minute I’m afraid.
It’s my fault really. My newlywed honeymooning Texas friends took one of these buses to Berlin last week and encouraged us to claim the whole back seat for ourselves and nap the whole way like they did. I asked the check in woman how full the bus was and based on a quick seat count I figured we were safe to take it. When another couple got on kinda late I resigned myself to sharing with them but at least we had the 5th seat between us (that dude reeked of cigarettes himself). Then this straggler appears and despite there being other seats available he decided to sandwich himself between two couples on the last row. I mean seriously? If you have the choice of sitting next to one other person or two, you go for just one! Yuck! So now I’m stuck here trying not to revisit my breakfast when I should have just grabbed the front seat and fresher air instead of trying to be a brat and stretch my legs.
Unfortunately the logistical options of getting to Croatia weren’t plentiful. There are direct flights from London (where Matt flew into) but they only go like once a day or once a week and because I used miles to get his ticket to London we were somewhat limited schedule wise. So like a good little boy he booked the direct flight from London into Vienna on British airways with a respectable layover time in case of emergency just as I suggested, and bought us these lovely bus tickets to Zagreb so we could bond on the trip down. Just kidding. He actually booked some cheapoair (literally that’s the website) flight on German Wings (yes the one w the suicidal pilot) connecting thru Cologne. And naturally his US air flight into London was delayed and he missed the flight to Cologne and the customer service oriented employee at German Wings kindly offered him a full price fare to get on a later flight, which, shockingly, he declined. But he was resourceful and in the instant before his phone died (bc he missed the fact that there were handy dandy USB ports in his arm rest on the plane), he booked that British air flight and managed to get to Vienna before he would have if he’d made the original connection. He even managed to get cash and find the airport bus to the westbahnhauf that I selected as the easiest transport to our airbnb flat. For not traveling internationally hardly ever I was impressed with how he handled the snags.
While he was doing all that I had taken the ubahn to the international bus terminal to scout out logistics for the Croatia excursion then go for a run in the Prater, found Viktor Frankl‘s former apartment, rode home, showered, and found where to greet him at the train station. I was pretty impressed with myself for how I’d become a little resident of Vienna in only a few days. He was kinda loopy from pain meds but was excited to be here and wanted to do stuff so after a quick shower and some delicious pizza like thing we hurried over to the Schonbrunn Palace for a tour and garden walk. It was overcast but never rained and the Palace and grounds were phenomenal.gardens at Schonbrunn Gloriette in the gardens Viktor Frankl's home

party boat in the danube canal
party boat in the danube canal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I liked it better than Sisi’s museum in the main old town Palace. We took the ubahn into town to find some dinner because I felt like he couldn’t not see the old city before we left. Had a yummy dinner at a Mediterranean place in the naschmarkt then got a few drinks at a more lively spot a row over. We walked down to the opera house just as a show was letting out and snuck in so he could see the incredible lobby. We blended in with all the tourists taking selfies in the lobby and I even found us some WCs to use. We had saved a little room for dessert and ended up back at Cafe Sacher for coffees and a very disappointing apple strudel. I mean, it was cold!? Oh well, the coffees were amazing and it was fun to actually have company for a change. Walking back into the flat we noticed a film crew outside the building and Matt got all excited and was hanging out the window talking to the crew. It was all fun and games until we were ready for bed and they started packing up their vans making as much noise as humanly possible. Even my ear plugs didn’t squash the rowdy banging. So not my best night ever of sleep, but we made it to the bus terminal just fine, if only i had made a better seat selection 🙁 ooh hey and to make matters worse I just tried to use the bathroom and there’s no paper, of any kind. And I asked the driver who smiled and said “sorry, we will stop in an hour.” The air is definitely circulating better up front and I may relocate when we reboard. Esp since my snuggle buddy has started snoring.
But I’m kind of doing Vienna backwards here. I arrived on Tuesday afternoon and was greeted at the door to the flat by Jakob, who I can’t tell if he is the husband or boyfriend or son of the woman listed as the owner on airbnb. I thought I had been corresponding with her but then on the day of my arrival the emails were from him and then there he was at the door. No matter, he was super duper nice and the place was awesome. I had a studio apartment all to myself with laundry in the basement. Jakob left a bottle of prosecco and a couple beers in the fridge plus some crackers and lots of fresh towels and even brought me laundry bags and detergent and change for the machines.

airbnb imageIt was a pretty warm day so I changed and headed out to explore. I started by walking straight down mariahoferstrasse, the big pedestrian only shopping street. Great people watching and window shopping. It led me all the way down to the opera ring (the wide avenue that circles the old city where the old wall once stood). I navigated over to the Opera House and started the Rick Steves audio tour. It took me down another pedestrian street pointing out a few things and talking about Viennese culture. Then we got to St. Stephen’s cathedral.

St. Peter'sI was too late to go into the main nave so I’d have to come back but it was impressive even just from the outside. The tour led me down another big busy pedestrian shopping street and I stopped in a fancy gourmet grocery for a snack before continuing on to the Habsburg complex. I think they call it a palace but it really is a complex of government buildings and museums and churches as well as the Spanish riding school (the famous Lipizzaner horses reside here) and the royal “apartments.”

Hitler's famous balcony

largest display of oreos i've ever seen
largest display of oreos i’ve ever seen

imageHabsburg Palace entranceAgain it was kind of too late to tour so I just kept wandering and making mental notes about what to come back to later. At the end of the audio tour I stopped by Pedal Power, the recommended bike rental and tour company, to just get eyes on the location and to my surprise they were still open. So I put my name down for the 10am tour on Wednesday despite the potential for rain. He said I was taking my chances that the afternoon tour would be in English but the morning is almost always in English. I knew I needed food so I walked back down the Mariahoferstrasse to see what caught my eye. I had dined out solo both nights in Salzburg and really just wanted to chill at the flat. So after stopping in a few clothing stores and getting booted out of H&M (because here closing time is a hard stop, it is not about the customer, it is about leaving work on time to go live your life), I picked up some stirfry to go and got directions to a grocery where I selected a nice 9€ bottle of wine (trust me that is like nice/expensive here). Back at the flat I turned on Netflix and dug into the 111 things you shouldn’t miss in Vienna book Jakob had left on the table for me. I’d be lucky to do 2 or 3 of them but it was an interesting read all the same 🙂
Sleeping here was hard. It was warm enough that I had to keep the windows wide open but there was a surprising amount of street noise for a quiet residential street. But I pulled myself out of bed and just barely made it walking to the bike meet up (I really should have taken the ubahn but I was trying to get my steps in for coach). I surveyed the group and mistakenly decided there was really no one to bond with so I mostly hung near the guide to try and not wreck my bike getting tangled up with the American family that had no idea what they were doing. Again, I was glad I’d also done the rick steves walking tour bc I got more detail about things from that than the guide was giving at certain stops. But of course we covered more ground on the bikes and saw plenty of new and interesting things on the ride. The Hundredtwasser buildings were really cool (esp bc I love Gaudi). He was a crazy hippie like 100 years ago who was all about blending man made things with nature, being at one with creation, bringing nature into the buildings, creating space to live in that was very natural, feeling the ground beneath your feet kind of thing. Very cool work.

Hundredwasser's apartment buildingimageimageOn the way back she took us by an architecturally interesting post office but we had to wait a while to go in bc they were filming some CSI type show out front, a pretty boring scene of a garbage truck emptying bins then getting passed by a police car. Who knew Vienna was a hotbed of TV filming? But that was when I started chatting with Michelle, bc she knew the show. I was confused about where she was from bc she spoke American English but also decent German and was wearing black tights under her cutoff shorts and a tshirt with a drag queen on it and bright red lipstick. Duh, she’s Brazilian, attended an American school, and now lives in Basel with her husband. And she was fun, so when the tour wrapped up and we both wanted to go to the Sisi museum, we paired. But first a stop in the naschmarkt for lunch (aka alcohol and sweets).

dessert!It was there that she told me her story and that the reason she was in Vienna for just the one day was to attend a show that evening, an insult comedy show starring an American drag queen (the winner of RuPaul’s drag race season 6 actually). Naturally I invited myself to tag along! So after ogling over the insane China collection and mourning the mythical Sisi (empress Elizabeth) at the museum we stopped in St. Michael’s church (Michelle’s namesake) then I took her back down the fun pedestrian shopping street to a cafe for Hugos (prosecco cocktail with mint and limes, delicious).image imageA man begging for money came right up to the table (all the tables in the cafe actually) and not only did he stick out his hand and asked for money but he touched me! Twice! Jesus! Ugh, gross. An older gentleman sitting near us had already put out some coins on the table to pay and the guy kept trying to take his money. The old man had to shove him away. It was just awful. I hadn’t seen this brazenness elsewhere. During dinner with Matt several men playing various instruments would come by and just put their little change cup on our tiny table while we were eating and play and then expect us to give them money. At the second place we were sitting at a table indoors next to the window and a guy without an instrument came to the table asking for money or cigarettes and I had to actually push him away bc he wouldn’t take no for an answer. Ugh, anyways, got off track.
So Michelle and I took different trains back to get dressed and agreed to meet at 7 for the 8 o’clock show. We had both purchased tickets online and had to pick them up and she anticipated it being standing room only. So I tried to put together an appropriate outfit for a drag show with what little nonactivewear I brought and think I ended up looking a bit like a lesbian. Hey at least I’d blend in? We had mapped out my train route but then my train didn’t stop at the stop I wanted to get off at! I really wasn’t in the mood to walk all the way back to the venue through a neighborhood I didn’t know so I just followed the crowd who exited at the next stop and walked across the platform to get on the next train headed back to the stop I wanted. Apparently the construction was only on the northbound platform so we all just backtracked southbound and voila I was where I wanted to be, just a little late. Now i have to say, I decided to just go back to my Verizon global plan bc of how frequently I’ll be changing countries for the rest of the trip, and boy does Verizon like to screw over its non business customers when it comes to international data. $80/mo for 250MB of data (plus like 200 min and 200 text) and then it’s $25/100MB over. No that is not a typo. I went thru 2GB on my German SIM card in less than 2 weeks so you can see how this is a terrible plan. For emergencies only basically. I keep cellular data turned off and use wifi whenever possible. But I was running late and I was worried so I switched on cellular data and sent a couple what’s app messages to Michele only to discover she was also running late. Ok no problem. But I never got an email confirmation for my ticket purchase and the gal at the box office said it would take a while to search for it so I agreed to just pay cash for a ticket and she said if I got a credit card bill then they would refund me. Easy enough. I felt like a stranger in a strange land waiting outside for Michele but finally she arrived and I had to wonder what she was thinking with those heels if it was standing room only, plus the public transportation and walking. She’s a better woman than I. We were thrilled to discover there were seats and a very sweet guy, our soon to be new bff Philip, saved us some while we hit the bar. At an insult comedy show you do NOT want to be the one who gets up in the middle of the show to go to the bar or the bathroom or anything, especially if you are one of probably 2 straight people in a lively crowd of queens and lesbians. So I settled in to being thirsty or peeing my pants or both (much like I am now on this horrendous hot smelly vibrating bus with no toilet paper!) and we had a grand old time laughing at and with miss Bianca del rio.

Bianca and MicheleMichele was through the roof excited to find out the meet and greet afterwards was not vip only so I hung out while she schmoozed with her idol then we asked our pal Philip where to go for drinks. He said Motto was THE place, if not a bit pricy, and gave us directions. We hemmed and hawed and finally decided to give it a shot despite the poor girl hardly being able to walk in her heels at this point. The neighborhood between the ubahn station and where we were trying to go seemed an unlikely spot for a super cool club but we pressed on and finally saw some signs of life. At an intersection we found ourselves standing outside a door to what appeared to be a super cool secret club but there was no name or bouncer. Across the street we saw a sign that read Motto over what appeared to be an abandoned shop. So we worked up the nerve to walk into the unmarked cool bar and in her Better than average German she secured us a table on the restaurant side (less smoke – yay for me!) and we ordered delicious cocktails and appetizers. We were proud of ourselves for venturing out and enjoying the scene when we spotted our friend Philip at a large table nearby. Michele went over to say hello and buy him a thank you drink for sending us to this awesome spot. It was then that she realized Bianca herself was at his table and while they all thought she was coming over to be an adoring fan, she was in fact coming over to see Philip haha. The place filled up with boys from the show so we ordered another round and split dessert (strawberry dumplings in dulce de leche sauce – get out of town!) and swapped life stories with Philip. It was just too fun. Since the next day was a bank holiday the trains were running all night so we didn’t have to worry about getting home by a certain hour so we just settled in for some fun. But by the time we were ready to go Michele decided to spring for a cab to her hostel and I had made some friends (formerly of Winston-Salem school of the arts, now NYC residents in town for the boylesque show and the Life Ball) and they escorted me most of the way back on foot and the waiters assured me everywhere was safe to walk in Vienna so I went the rest of the way on my own. It was an unexpected and super fun night out on the town with new friends and a throw back to the days I partied in Atlanta.
I slept in the next day after being up til 3 and postponed my scheduled run to Friday bc frankly my legs were sick of walking and I had formed a giant blister on my left heel. When I finally got my act together to go out the streets were definitely quieter bc of the holiday. I took the ubahn to st Stephens and toured the main nave a la rick steves audio tour then walked back to the Hapsburg complex to the highly regarded art museum. In hindsight I wish I’d gone to the treasury instead. It was a lot of fat ugly naked people and an interesting ancient Egypt exhibit but by the time I got to the tombs I was mentally exhausted from the ugly naked people. Turns out I actually really like the Dutch artist Brugel? But that was only one room in the large museum. Maybe the audio guide would have made it more interesting but I also just wasn’t in the mood probably. I wandered through the Museum Quarter to try and find food before the Opera but it wasn’t what I expected so I just headed over to the opera house and got a bite in the cafe inside. It was actually a delicious spinach filled pastry and salad, just enough before the show. I made sure to pick up my ticket early enough to have time to explore the opera house. I got a glass of wine at one of the plentiful bars and was very tempted by the tiny beautiful desserts but refrained and wandered around taking in all the glory that is the Vienna Opera House. It is really stunning. And it was full of tourists taking selfies. I mean I just couldn’t get over it. I guess it is a pretty big deal to go to the opera at THE Vienna Opera House but still. Kind of obnoxious. So I didn’t do it lol. Besides, everyone was already talking about me under their breath bc I wasn’t in the right attire. I mean I looked nicer than a lot of people but I was not black tie. I had wanted to come Tuesday and see the Barber of Seville but it was sold out and I didn’t want the 5€ standing room only ticket so I was here to see Nabucco. I read a synopsis online and Michele said it was great but I’d also heard that the sets were very minimal bc they do different productions every night (it was the ballet between the Barber and Nabucco). But being a story about king Nebuchadnezzar I was expecting robes and temples and stuff. I need to read up on this opera bc it was instead a bunch of working class men in suits and there was a very moving performance involving a lot of pictures of what I presume were Austrian Jews that died in the Holocaust. It was a very nice evening despite a standing room only lady causing a scene wanting to sit in an empty seat. And instead of craning to read the translation above the stage like in Charlotte, each seat is equipped with a personal screen from which you can select your language of choice. Afterwards I crossed the street to the Cafe Sacher and indulged in their famous chocolate torte and an Anna’s coffee (espresso and an egg rum liquor mmm!) and face timed with Matt who was getting to the airport in Charlotte for his flight to London. By the time I took the ubahn home he was ready to board, then they announced his delay and the 48 hours of stress and travel yuckies began.

 

Art Museum lobby

Opera house lobby

post-opera coffee at Sacher

on the road again!

I’ve found myself spending a lot of time alone lately, on the bike, on the trails, in the car – and wishing I had a way to record my thoughts. For whatever reason I find myself to be my most poetic (at least by my own accord) when I’m running, but as soon as the run is over, I’m caught back up in life and never take the time to write down (or even remember) what I came up with. Last Saturday I spent two sweat soaked hours on the trails at Lake Norman State Park and it was the perfect time to challenge myself and sort through some emotions. I didn’t sign up for an ironman because I thought it would be easy or fun or a great way to make new friends. I signed up because I knew it would be a huge challenge, physically and mentally. I wanted to (want to) discipline myself, face my deepest fears, overcome my demons, and find out what I’m really made of. In my first three weeks of real training, I’ve already had to recommit myself numerous times. Adjust expectations. Pull myself out of funks. Quit making excuses. I’ve made it harder on myself by taking the show on the road. Being away from all my running and cycling friends in Charlotte means a lot of solo workouts. A lot. And reaching out to strangers to find routes and rides (which so far have eluded me). So I can only hope that all this forced self-motivation will help me on race day. Race day seems really far away when I think about how far I have to go in my training to get ready for it, but it is frighteningly close from a calendar perspective. Then there are days when I just run for time and almost don’t even notice how far I went distance-wise. It is weird to surprise myself at the end of a 4 hour ride with such a great run off and then realize I just rode 70 miles all by myself – a distance i’ve only ever come close to twice, in groups. Part of me worries that if I don’t pause to recognize where I’m at this week, on September 27th I won’t be able to comprehend how I got from a pudgy out of shape world traveler to an ironman in 100 days. For the sake of really wanting to finish in a decent time for my personal gratification, I’m essentially praying to be the Fillnows’ biggest turn around project for 2015. But I have a long ways to go yet – physically and mentally. And I’m just getting started.

Leaving Charlotte was stressful and hectic and emotional for a lot of reasons I won’t go into here. Plus I was delayed because someone ran over my bike rack and I had to wait for a replacement. imageBut it gave me more time to visit with some friends and get organized for another 2 months on the road, this time domestically (well, staying on the continent anyways). I’ve had a good few days visiting with my sister and her babes in Cinci. Tomorrow I’m hoping to drop in on Greatfather for lunch before heading to Michigan to catch the IronCowboy for century ride #2!

2 weeks later

Disclaimer: I know I’ve completely neglected posting because frankly I was just having way too much fun to bother with it, but eventually I’ll go back and fill in the missing time.

Actual post:

It’s been two weeks since I woke up on American soil for the first time in almost two months. But I’m pretty sure it’s still April because my time in Europe and Africa just went by way too fast for it to be July 1st already. After all the amazing activities I crammed into those eight weeks, it’s kind of weird how void of activities these two weeks have been. I anticipated needing some time to decompress but I didn’t anticipate how tired I would be, just straight up tired, and jet lagged too. Originally I wanted to spend time catching up with old friends in Atlanta but once Matt blew out his knee and scheduled surgery, visiting hours were canceled and I rushed back to Fort Mill for really no reason at all because he wouldn’t hardly let me do anything to help him post-op. Le sigh. Oh well, I was back, and not having to tend to a needy patient meant that I had all the time in the world to dive head first into training. Coach wasn’t playing around – I think she was testing me to A) see how much fitness I’d lost and B) how committed I am to the Ironman. Five days in a row on my bike? Uh, okay cupcake, let’s go! 75 minute swim workouts? Sure, why not? Running in 100 degree temps with humidity? Shoot me now. But I hung in as best I could and after 10 days of semi-normal training I went out to attempt my very first century ride with the Iron Cowboy  and much to my delight and surprise I ended up riding 105+ feeling really good! So there’s that.

But the main question everyone keeps asking is “what now?” – that is, after they ask why I’m back and wasn’t I traveling for a year and how was Europe, etc. I’ve been bouncing ideas around for months and I’m formulating a rough plan but mostly I’m just taking it one day at a time. Trying to get my workouts done and reorganize my possessions and catch up with friends. I had fallen so in love with the European culture and lifestyle that returning to suburban America was really hard for the first week. Especially (no offense to anyone) to Fort Mill, because it wasn’t even where I used to live. I don’t know where anything is, I have no friends nearby, I have to drive 30-45 minutes to go do anything I used to do or see anyone I used to see. I still haven’t seen a lot of people or run some errands in town that I need to run and I just really don’t even feel like I’m back. Since I’m not staying long I don’t exactly want to get into a routine that will make it hard to leave again. The first week was so rough that last Tuesday I was actually about to click to purchase a [very reasonably priced] plane ticket back to Croatia for a girls’ trip spending a week on a private yacht, leaving today. Was it a once in a lifetime opportunity? Maybe. Would it have been super awesome? Absolutely. But seeing as how Ironman Chattanooga is the only race I’m doing this year and spending another two weeks overseas with only moderate training, I would have essentially been quitting on the race and the name of this website would have become a farce. A big part of the undertaking of an event like an Ironman, is the personal journey of training and the growth that comes with it. I learned a good bit about myself traveling “alone” overseas and hopefully some of it will carry over to my training and racing, but I know there’s a lot more to come too.

Not the most exciting post I know – I train, I watch Homeland, I drive a lot, I force myself to eat food that doesn’t taste nearly as good as it did overseas, and I sleep. But then, what do you expect from a homeless unemployed girl?