16 February 2020

What the Dutch Do During a Storm - Sundays in My City

We've had a couple storms hit here that are big enough to get names.  Last weekend was Ciara and this weekend is Denis.  Winds of 120km/hr (75mph) and driving rain last weekend (yet to be seen how this weekend clocks but Denis is supposed to be less intense than Ciara).  You might think this would send everyone indoors but not the Dutch!

It should be noted that the event had to be shut down eventually due to the high winds (the time clock blew away and the bike truck threatened to tip over). 

As a bike commuter, I can tell you that there's almost always a head wind here no matter which direction you're going and even if you're not on the coast!

But kudos to those intrepid folks who were brave/crazy enough to tackle this.

Would you give this race a try?

01 January 2020

Ziemassvētki (Winter Festival) in Latvia - Sundays in My City

Latvia still celebrates the Winter Solstice!  I'd been searching for a Winter Solstice celebration and was surprised to find that many cold, northern places have Summer Solstice celebrations but I wasn't finding anything for the winter.  I was surprised as I would think places with long, dark winters would want to celebrate the point where the days start getting longer. Well, since I hadn't yet been to Latvia I was happy to hear that they have a true, public Winter Solstice celebration so off to Riga I went!

Riga is a small city and it was not at all crowded which I greatly appreciated!  The entire population of Latvia is less than 2 million.  This was my first trip to the Baltic states and my first former Soviet country.  I had thought it was the furthest east I've ever been in Europe but when I double checked the map I realized that my trip to Romania and Bulgaria back in 2011 was further east.

Celebration of the Winter Solstice (which occurs somewhere around the 21st of December) long predates the modern christmas holiday and many of the current christmas festivities (evergreen trees inside, yule logs, etc) have their roots in Winter Solstice traditions. Even though Latvia did eventually succumb to christian invasion, it didn't give up its ancient rituals such as celebrating the Winter Solstice like many other cultures did.

On the evening of the Winter Solstice in Riga, there were songs (sung in Latvian, old Russian (I was told), maybe other languages I didn't understand?), some dancing, people wearing masks, logs dragged through the old town while chanting and singing and then set alight.

The log dragging/burning tradition was explained so: "The merry-makers will drag a log from one homestead to another, gathering all misfortunes from the past year.  Afterward the log will be set ablaze, and everyone will be able to burn away his/her negative thoughts, failures, fears."

What I like so much about the Winter Solstice celebration (as compared to the ubiquitous red-suited man bringing toys) is that it isn't about STUFF.  It's not about obligation, going into debt, annoying-as-hell music for a month+.  It's just about celebrating the end of the longest night of the year and welcoming the return of more daylight.  Saying goodbye to negative thoughts, failures, and fears?  Sounds good to me!

Even though I couldn't understand any of the words that were being said/sung, I appreciated the ceremony and the ritual of the celebration.  And I applaud Latvia for holding onto its traditions!

What negative thoughts, failures, or fears are you saying goodbye to (or what positive thoughts are you welcoming along with the return of light)?

Sundays In My City

N.B. Any negative comments about the evils of celebrating a "pagan" tradition or anything about devil worship or how we're going to hell or basically anything along those lines will be immediately deleted.  My blog, my rules.  

28 July 2019

Man at Work - Sundays in My City

His name is Čumil (which means "watcher") and he watches from a street corner in Bratislava, Slovakia.  I fell in love with him. 

He's one of several statues in the city.  Due to his being so low to the ground, he's lost his head twice thanks to negligent drivers :o. Legend has it that if you rub his head and make a wish it will come true. That's why it's so shiny.  

This little guy didn't have a camera but mimicked taking pictures of his own :)

This little guy didn't seem very amused by being made to pose with Čumil
Bratislava was a cute little city...perfect for a quick weekend get-away (but you can even do it as a day-trip from Vienna).  It's still not super popular so it's not very crowded (except that I was there on the final weekend of the International Ice Hockey championships which were taking place in the city so it was relatively crowded...which was still not crowded compared to any popular European city) and it's really inexpensive.

The history of Slovakia (only an independent country (former one half of Czechoslovakia) since 1993) is super fascinating and surprising given the terrible history of the breakup of of its neighbor, Yugoslavia. Do the Free Walking Tour. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Sundays In My City

30 June 2019

Muddy Fiets - Sundays in My City

Pronounced feets (as if you made the word feet plural by adding an 's'...as if feet weren't already plural).  Fiets means bicycle but fiets is singular so it should really be Muddy Fietsen but that doesn't sound like an English word made plural.  I digress.

I've done posts in the past about bikes in Amsterdam (here, and here, and also here). I can't get enough of them!

These were probably fished out of the canal the day or two before (all kinds of things from trash to bikes and even cars end up in the canals and have to be routinely removed). Seems like Amsterdam is doing a whole bicycle cleanup with new signs and markings about where you can and cannot park your bike and where to go retrieve your bike if it is no longer where you parked it.  Perhaps this is something they do on a somewhat regular basis but I've never seen anything on this scale.

Do you enjoy foreign language words that sound like English words as much as I do?

Sundays In My City

16 June 2019

On a Bus in Malta - Sundays in My City

I've been writing this post in my head for over 6 months. 

I went to Malta last year over Thanksgiving. Malta is an island-nation off the south coast of Italy making it an easy weekend getaway when you're living in Italy. Once a British colony, they drive on the wrong side of the road (much like the Imperial system of measurement, something I think the few countries still doing it need to just rip off the band aid and switch!).  Being located between mainland Europe and northern Africa in the Mediterranean, Malta has been occupied by numerous entities including the Phoenicians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, French, and British; each leaving a mark on the cultural landscape.  Maltese, the official language, is the only Semitic language in the European Union.

Malta is beautiful and the water is so amazingly crystal blue-green.  Although, honestly, I didn't enjoy the trip all that much. Everyone said to go to Gozo (one of the islands) so I booked a tour but the tour I booked was so awful that it was a complete waste of a whole day. Not that Gozo was awful, just that the tour I was on didn't actually let me see any of Gozo. Worst. Tour. Ever.  I had read that the public transport was great but I ended up on one bus that was extremely late and was so crowded that I stood for over an hour (although the ride was only supposed to be 30 min) and waited over 30 min for a different bus because it was also apparently very late. It was all just very frustrating and once I got to where I was going I was tired and didn't feel much like seeing what I went to see. 

I'm not saying Malta isn't a good place to visit...just that my visit didn't live up to what I'd heard from friends but hey, I had perfect weather and beautiful views and delicious food so it wasn't all bad. Truly first-world problems.

I should have just sat on my balcony and relaxed and enjoyed this amazing view.

The entrance to Mdina...also known as the Silent City.

Valletta, the capitol of Malta, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Every expat has a list in the back of their mind of who/what warrants an emergency trip home.  It isn't something we like to talk about but it's a fact of life.  Immediate family...what about aunts, uncles, cousins...really close friends...your best friend's mom or kid?...hospitalizations, funerals?  

What about weddings or other momentous big events? Birthdays, retirements, births? Those wouldn't be emergency visits but do involve expensive plane tickets and when you're flying that far you want to make it worth the trip so you need vacation time. Often these decisions aren't so easy. 

I read a great article recently about the price we pay for this chosen life.  The things we miss. It states, in part, "Some days, I can feel those 12,500 kilometres in my heart. Especially when something happens to someone I love back home.“ 

I had two dads...kinda. Not a biological father and a step-father.  But two men who were there when I was born...my father and his best friend, Skip. Skip had a distinctive voice and a huge laugh.  I can still hear it.  He gave me my first dog. 

Me and my first dog, Friday. My parents named him Friday to get back at Skip for giving me the puppy in the first place. Friday was Skip's nickname for me because I was born on Friday the 13th. My parents didn't want Skip to give me the puppy because they thought I was too young.
So when I got the news while traveling in Malta that Skip had gone into hospice, I sat on a bus riding to the capitol and made the decision that he was one of those people who warranted a last-minute plane ticket home. I booked a ticket as soon as I got back to Italy.  I was able to see him and I was fortunate that he was having a good day. He'd  checked himself out of hospice and gone home (no one can ever say I didn't come by my stubbornness honestly...I got it from all my parents!). You'd hardly even know anything was wrong with him. I'm really glad I got to see him. Worth every minute of the journey.

What issues have you dealt with being an expat far away from home?

Sundays In My City

19 May 2019

It's All An Adventure That Comes With a Breathtaking View - Sundays in My City

That song was in my head the entire time...

I've climbed countless towers (with countless hundreds and hundreds of stairs) and hills, often early in the morning for the best light, to get that "must see" view of the town square or the old town or the country side. 

I've also had to decide whether that "must see" is really worth it.  Who hasn't read about a "must see" only to find it somewhat disappointing. Or, read that the "must see" is disappointing and then having to decide if you'll feel like you missed something if you don't do the "must see" even if you know there's a good chance it will be disappointing (my recommendation...save your money and don't go to the Blue Lagoon in Iceland!!).

So, this brings us to the City Walls in Dubrovnik, Croatia.  With numerous additions and modifications throughout their history, they have been considered to be amongst the great fortification systems of the Middle Ages, as they were never breached by a hostile army during this time period. In 1979, the old city of Dubrovnik, which includes a substantial portion of the old walls of Dubrovnik, joined the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. The walls ring the city and are over a mile in length.

It was hot and crowded when I visited Dubrovnik. I had already read that if you want to walk the walls you should do it first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds.  I was there when they opened and it was already warm and there were several other people waiting.  NOTE: There is no shade!  Wear your sunscreen!!

To get to the walls you have to climb some steep stairs.

Dubrovnik is the site of Kings Landing for those Game of Thrones fans so some of these views might look familiar.

Oh, good, more stairs...*sigh*

This city is so small and so crowded with tourists that it can be hard to remember that ordinary people live here (although it's getting harder for them to afford to do so because prices are being driven so high due to aforementioned tourists). Imagine thousands of people walking past your window every day...

Cruise ships. Dubrovnik has limited the number that can come each day but that just made the companies go to larger ships.

Was it worth it?  Well...
  • There were definitely some amazing views! That said, it's not for everyone:
  • It's not for the faint of knees! 
  • It would have been nice if it had opened earlier in the hotter months (hey, Dubrovnik Tourism Board!!) because it was hot and I started as early as was possible.
  • Definitely go early if you're going because by the time I was done I could see that it was packed for those just starting. 
What "must sees" have you done? Which have you skipped? Which did you do that you wish you'd skipped?

Sundays In My City

21 April 2019

Reflections - Sundays in My City

I was in Amsterdam for a couple days and I woke up at 4:30am and couldn't get back to sleep. So rather than fight it I went out and took pictures in the early light.  There was almost no one out and about and it was a good chance to work on getting the good shots of the reflections in the canals.

Amsterdam remains my favorite city although it's popularity as a tourist destination is increasing, even in the off season, which makes me enjoy it less due to the crowds everywhere. So it was nice to walk around while everyone else was still asleep.

On one hand, I'm glad more people are getting to experience European destinations but cities like Amsterdam and Venice and Paris and even less-well-known cities like Dubrovnik are starting to suffer under the strain of coping with so many tourists. Venice is talking about limiting the number of tourist who can enter per day.  Dubrovnik put a limit on how many cruise ships can dock each day (although that just made the cruise companies go to larger ships).  I don't know what the answer is. I know it's not a simple solution. 

Sundays In My City