Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Breathalyzer Before Vodka

No driving today...Breathalyzer be dammed!
The weekend started out promising and uneventful enough --- an unhurried drive from Vienna to Krakow via Auschwitz --- but about halfway through the Czech Republic a police van motored up alongside us, the officer in the passenger seat stared us down as they passed, then the van pulled in front of us and we continued down the highway for a few more kilometers.  I thought it seemed odd that the officer in the police van wasn't the least bit subtle about scanning us as he passed and wondered what, if anything, they were going to do.  Turns out, we wouldn't wait long to find out:  they flipped on their police siren and a sign mounted on the rear of the van started flashing directions (in English, German, and Czech) to follow them and pull over.  Once off the highway and parked, the two officers in the van sauntered up, said something in Czech, I stared back and mumbled something in English, then in their broken-English they asked to see my passport, driver's license, and the car registration papers.  Still unsure of why we were pulled over, I found it odd when they told me to exit the car and follow them to the van.  Perhaps this is standard procedure over here but never in my (limited) experience (and from watching hours of cliched crime dramas on TV) are you asked to exit your car unless you are about to be given a sobriety test, a frisking, your vehicle is going to be searched, or you are about to be handcuffed.  It was well-before noon so I was completely sober (I have standards!) and I knew any frisk or search would be fruitless for them. 

Once inside the van, the officer started processing my documents and after several minutes, they informed me that I was being cited for not having a highway vignette (a toll sticker purchased at a petrol station required for driving on the highways --- autobahns --- in the Czech Republic). You also have to buy an autobahn vignette to drive in Austria but unlike the Czech Republic, the signage on the highway when you cross into Austria makes it abundantly clear.  In retrospect, we should have realized that the "partial toll" as listed on the Google Map directions referred to some sort of vignette, especially since we'd been driving for quite some time on the Czech highways before we were pulled over.  Nevertheless, they wrote me a citation but unlike in the US, they tell you how much the fine is and expect you to pay it right then.  Fortunately, they took credit cards because we didn't have 2,000 Czech korunas with us (approximately $95.00).  When they finally finished writing up the citation, processing the credit card, and making me take a breathalyzer test (I passed!), they told me to buy a 10-day vignette at the next gas station and that I didn't need one for Poland (gee thanks).  When we pulled away, they waved to us as if we were old colleagues and had just finished having lunch together.

The rest of the weekend was, fortunately, breathalyzer and citation-free.  First stop was Auschwitz, the largest of all the German concentration camps from World War II, then a couple of days wandering around Krakow. 
One of the memorials in Auschwitz-Birkenau
Wawel Castle and courtyard
Narrow and awkward openings on the way up to the top of the Wawel Cathedral bell tower.
Narrow is the most operative word here. 
It's almost the top of the hour!  Ring it! 
Food:  perogies
Drink:  Żubrówka and apple juice (Żubrówka, otherwise known is Bison Grass Vodka, is produced in Poland)
Main Market Square at night

Monday, July 23, 2012

Nekked and No One Cares

Nekkedness that way! 
The first time, a double-take.  Or maybe a not-too-long-but-long-enough gaze, met with the mild surprise that there are naked people walking around and nobody seems to notice or, for that matter, care.

The second time, surprise gives way to a realization that almost all the folks waltzing around in the buff have probably been doing so for a long time.  A really long time.  They are veterans:  they don't flinch, tense up, or betray even the slightest sense of discomfort as they traipse around their clothes-free utopia in the presence of both robed and disrobed folk.

The next time, the time after that, and so on, a respect --- admiration even --- emerges.  This nudism (naturism) thing isn't sexual:  getting nekked and lounging around in the grass minding one's own business seems wholly at odds with a sexual agenda (prostitution is, after all, legal and regulated in Austria).  So it must be a lifestyle choice, a movement.  And one enthusiastically embraced...no tan lines against a backdrop of deep, dark tans are the norm.  

Before long, indifference sets in.  The FKK painted onto the pavement indicating that the area beyond is Freikörperkultur, Free Body Culture, barely registers.  The nudity seems to fade into the landscape --- au naturel in nature --- until a random man, or a carefree woman, wander by without a care in the world, free of clothing and concern.  Liberated.  Little fanfare, no one notices:  not even us.  At least not anymore.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Run to Relax: Madrid and Mallorca

If Lisa and I (well, mostly me) take a vacation to relax and lounge around, I (we?) feel like I need to justify that relaxation with something active --- a long hike or bicycle ride --- otherwise I start to feel slothful.  I realize that a few days of modest activity won't, of course, turn me into a couch-surfing, remote control-wielding, bonbon-eating dolt but the feeling, nevertheless, persists.  Any chance, then, to combine high-energy activity with low-level lounging into a single vacation makes for a near-perfect holiday.  And our recent trip to Madrid and Mallorca was exactly that.

Our trip to Madrid was centered around my running of the Trail Peñalara 60k (a 37-mile trail race about 30 miles outside of Madrid) featuring a cumulative altitude gain of ~8,484' and cumulative altitude loss of ~8,402' run over mostly fire roads, single track, and a little bit of pavement.  Aside from dealing with some low-level nausea most of the day, less-than-ideal hydration, hot weather (90+F), and the sporting of an ominous-yet-amusing 666 as my race number ("el diablo!"), I was pleased with my run:  10h:15m:21s for a semi-respectable 39th out of 147 finishers.  (If interested in a more detailed reporting, go here.)
I ran the shortest of three distances available:  60k, 80k, or 110k.
el diablo y el ángel
The fire road en route to the first aid station (mile ~6)
The approach en route to the summit of Peñalara. Less running/hiking and more rock scrambling thru this area.
As I run/hike thru the woods and hills beyond, Lisa wanders thru the surrounding towns...
...and eats tapas for lunch.  Crewing/spectating, however, isn't for the weak of heart...
...you have to deal with dried sweat and dirt & dust caked everywhere...
...as well as smelly-runner shenanigans.

Madrid, as a tourist destination, doesn't feature any one 'must-see' attraction but it is, nonetheless, a delightful city to wander around. 

Random apartments on a random street
Lots of parks and public-space in Madrid. 
The day after the race, Lisa and I began our return journey back to Vienna by way of three days in Mallorca (Majorca), one of the three Balearic islands in the Mediterranean Sea.  Rather than stay in the largest city in Mallorca, Palma, we elected to stay in a smaller town, Sóller, near the northwest coast with quick access to both mountain trails and beach coves.  Mallorca is a major holiday destination for Brits, Germans, and Scandinavians:  no surprise considering the good weather, the tourist amenities, the access to both mountains and beaches, and the ease with which you can get there (read:  cheap airfare).  We weren't disappointed. 
Easy to justify lounging in the room with a view like this
And even easier to indulge with food like this:  Serrano ham, cheese, and Rose wine.
Deia Beach
Leisurely hike through the woods...
...then along the coast.
Followed by, without question, the best Patatas Bravas we've ever had.