Friday, December 8, 2017

All anyone can do is to join the crowd (72 Cong.Rec.)

Recently, I've told a lot of people that Kyiv has exceeded my expectations. Sure, it might be the honeymoon period talking, but I have been pleasantly surprised by the city's vibrancy. Even though it is a major European-style capital, somehow I was anticipating a sulky Soviet vibe. But Kyiv is full of energy, with nary a weekend without something happening. 

To wit, a while back, TJ and I headed to the National Botanical Garden (not to be confused with the Kyiv Botanical Garden) to bask in the Big Georgian Fest (top). The festival featured Georgian staples, including traditional dance (middle left), homemade wine, and Borjomi water, which was the event sponsor (middle right). But really, we came for the food. There was Chakhokhbili on offer (bottom left), but we were on the hunt for Khachapuri and Khinkali. We managed to snag a few types of the national bread, but we didn't realize until too late that we had to order the dumplings in advance, so we settled for some Shashlik (bottom right). 
We had a similar grilled dinner at Kyiv's version of Oktoberfest, Zibert Fest, named for the Montenegrin beer sponsoring the drunken scrum (left). We were hoping for some authentic sausages and pretzels, but considering even the pints weren't German, it's no surprise that our meal was no more than the standard pay-by-the-pound fare (right). 
Actually, we found more legitimately ethnic food at the Street Food Festival at Art-Zavod Platforma (top), where I slurped some decent Asian noodles. The former silk factory has been turned into a "city within a city," where festival stalls frequently are erected amid the creative businesses that have permanent locations there (middle left). The creativity extended to some of the food vendors, such as one that made croquettes with inventive fillings, including chicken Kyiv (middle right). About a month later, we returned to the grounds for the Kyiv Beer Festival (bottom), where I obtained a true foreign delicacy replicated locally: pumpkin beer. 
But not everything we do involves food. Just a short time after I got in country, we landed incredibly affordable tickets to a Depeche Mode concert (left). To be honest, I didn't know the band was still putting out music, but they definitely got my renewed interest by singing "Where's the Revolution?" (right), which was particularly impactful considering recent events in Ukraine.
Politics played a surprising role in another event I attended at Olympic Stadium, home base of Kyiv Dynamo. At the match I saw, the team competed against Donetsk Shakhtar, a squad that has relocated to Kharkiv because of the Donbas conflict (top left). There was no civic bent to the halftime show, unless you count the fact that the vocalist was accompanied by a woman playing the bandura, Ukraine's national instrument (top right). The main entertainment, however, occurred consistently throughout the game, as the fan zone slowly increased its intimidation from signs and scarves (bottom left) to firecrackers and flares (bottom right). A friend told me the spectacle escalates even further when someone scores, but unfortunately, I didn't get to witness that during the 0-0 draw.
After all the adrenaline and noise, it was time for some peace and quiet. So a few weekends later, we headed away from all the crowds to hike on Trukhaniv Island, a place we only skimmed during my initial visit to Kyiv. Upon further investigation, we found two roads diverging in a yellow wood (top left) near an overgrown grave of, if my translation is correct, a victim of the Nazi-era labor camps (top right). We skirted an inland pond (middle top) before heading toward the other end of the island, where Dovbychka nudist beach is located (middle left) but where thankfully we saw only some of the city's major tourist sites -- the Motherland Monument and Pechersk Lavra (middle right) -- in the flesh. After about three hours of walking, we returned, as always, to food; I had a late breakfast of Shakshouka at PR Bar (bottom).

Monday, November 20, 2017

Hundreds of house boats that line the canals in and around Amsterdam (A111D5 NISI PUBLICATIONS)

Sometimes, you have such a good friend that when she tells you that you should run a race in the Netherlands, you trust her so much that you say yes without thinking much about the commitment. So, a few weeks ago, after absolutely no training regimen, I landed in Amsterdam on a Friday night and settled into an AirBnB near Olympic Stadium. With race day a day away, we started an extended warm-up on Saturday morning by walking through the city. 

As you might know, the Dutch are avid cyclists, so we had to dodge a lot of wheels, even on the sidewalks (top left). The city is so bike-friendly that it has parking garages just for cycles (top right), but they still seem locked to every available accoutrement. Much to my delight, the Dutch are equally obsessed with pastries, so there were not enough racks for bike-riding visitors to Le Fournil de Sebastien, down the street from our apartment (bottom). The bakery smelled delicious, but my stomach was impatient, so we got breakfast at Bagel Nosh instead.
 
We were blessed with excellent roaming -- although not really running -- weather, so we probably completed a 10K just by walking amid the city's canals, classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (top left). Lots of people were getting tours via the waterways themselves (top right), but we were satisfied with our streetside vistas of the coming autumn (bottom left). Even when darkness obscured the tinted trees, the city was alive with color (bottom right).
We didn't have much of a tourist agenda, but we did manage to stumble upon some Dutch tidbits. In Rembrandt Square, we walked among statues based on the painter's subjects (top). At the Floating Flower Market, we passed tons of tulip bulbs -- and kilos of marijuana starter kits (bottom left). We were requested not to take pictures in Begijnhof, formerly a nun-like community of devout women and still now a private community of single women, but I couldn't resist one piece of documentation (bottom right). It was the only rule I broke while in Amsterdam, I swear.
Speaking of famous women of Amsterdam, the day after the race, we stretched our legs by walking to the Anne Frank House (left). Unfortunately, tickets to the house were unavailable, so we had to settle for seeing a memorial statue of the young writer in front of Westerkerk, which is right around the corner from the house (right).
But of course, the main event of the weekend was the TCS Amsterdam Marathon. Races started by the stadium that hosted the 1928 Olympics, the first games in which women were allowed to compete in certain events, like gymnastics. It was also the first Olympics to feature a symbolic fire, the vessel for which could be seen from the starting line (left). I opted to run the half, so I was able to watch TJ, my friend, and the elite runners take off (right). No Olympics records were broken, of course, but competitors set both a new track record, 2:05:09, and a new Dutch record, 2:08:16. I finished half the course in 3 seconds more time: 2:08:19, earning me 2,393rd place in my category, out of 6,170, and 8,492nd overall, out of 15,508.
The best part about running -- and really the thing that makes it worthwhile for me -- is the fueling. For carb-loading before the race, we went to Italian restaurant Savini, where I had truffle ravioli; Frietsteeg, where I faced option overload with the many mayonnaises that I could get to accompany my fries; and the Foodhallen, where I went with salty ramen (top). Our immediate post-race dinner was from the neighborhood Indonesian carryout, Warung Tegal, chosen for its close proximity and "big meals." We set our sights on traditional Dutch food for our final meal in country. At La Falote, chef Peter van der Linden sat at our table doing prep work in between making us delicious food, including split-pea soup, or snert, and smoked herring salad as starters (bottom left) followed by beef stew and stamppot as mains (bottom right).
The only thing better than fueling is prehydrating and rehydrating. We had to be careful about visiting too many brown cafes before the race, but we did stop by Cafe Bos, a bar along the route that bills itself as "home of the Amsterdam Marathon" and that was sponsoring a runner (top left), and Het Elfde Gebod, or the 11th Commandment, a craft-beer bar near the main train station and across from Sint-Olofskapel (top right). But my favorite place was In de Wildeman, which maintained a brown-cafe vibe (bottom left) but also had a highly curated on-tap list, including an old favorite from London: Kernel Brewery (bottom right).
 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

People bicycle ... to visit points of interest, to be healthy, and because it’s fun (77FR39927)

Ever since I was young, I wanted to do the Great Ohio Bicycle Adventure, or GOBA for short. After my mom got even more into long-distance cycling, I had always hoped that we would be able to do it together some day. But I let life get in the way. When GOBA came through Mansfield in 2014, I made a pact with myself that I would complete the ride with her beside me in spirit. So when I found out I would be doing home leave alone with very few obligations, and it would coincide with the 2017 ride, I took it as some sort of sign -- and signed up, even though I had limited experience with multi-day, long-distance cycling.

I squeezed in as much training as I could before my bike was packed out from London, but still, I set my expectations low: I just wanted to be able to make it through the five days of mandatory riding, 40-60 miles each; I wouldn't beat myself up if I didn't feel up to doing the optional loops on rest days. After all, I wouldn't have anyone pushing me through, as I registered not knowing a single soul who would be participating. My only friend at the beginning of the week was a horse in the barn adjacent to my tent in Findlay (left). Throughout the week, I pretty much rode by myself, but nonetheless, by the last day of the event, I had made some great non-equine friends (right).
I had anticipated a lot of the ride's aspects, particularly in terms of sore body parts, but I wasn't prepared for the sheer amount of food I would be eating. The morning of the first ride, I filled up on Chris's Cakes (left). I quickly realized I don't like riding on a full stomach, so for the rest of the week, I popped a granola bar for breakfast, saving my major fueling for the rest stops. During the first optional loop (yup, I ended up riding every day, for a total of around 350 miles), I discovered exactly how delicious a popsicle can be (right).
The rest stops are remarkable for the refreshments -- I think I ate four shredded chicken sandwiches over the course of three days -- but they are also hallmarks of the camaraderie of the ride. Plopping down on a playground picnic table with your hard-boiled egg, you're soon engaged in conversation with an interesting person (left). But if you need a break to get back in gear for the final stretch, you can sip your electrolyte drink as you admire your surroundings (right).
If you get going early enough, it's pretty easy to finish the day's ride with plenty of time to spare to visit some tourist sights. I never got up before 6:30 a.m., but I never made it to the day's destination later than 1:30 p.m. Lots of attractions, such as the American Civil War Museum of Ohio in Tiffin, accommodated riders by opening on off hours (top left). And of course, there are plenty of sights along each day's route; we crisscrossed the rain-flush Sandusky River quite a few times (top right). The Pottersburg covered bridge provided passage not over the river, but over Big Darby Creek (bottom left). Photo ops were a great way to take a break after climbing hills. I decided to take this shot of Mount Tabor after, earlier in the day, I unknowingly sped right past Campbell Hill, the highest point in Ohio, just outside Bellefontaine (bottom right).
My first order of business once I got to town -- after showering, anyhow -- was to set up my tent. Before I got too tired or distracted, I wanted to make sure I had a place to crash. Most days, camping was first-come, first-serve on grassy spots at county fairgrounds. Some locations were more campground-like, such as Hedges-Boyer Park in Tiffin, where I read like two pages before passing out (top left). Often, you were close to your neighbor, but I didn't really mind the cramped quarters, especially during a rainbow in Tiffin (top right) or a sunset in Upper Sandusky (middle). I especially preferred them to sleeping indoors, which we did the last two nights, at Bellefontaine High School (bottom left) and at the Hardin County Fairgrounds (bottom right), because of forecast then actual heavy rains.
 
Most cities provided evening entertainment for riders. As the first (and final) stop, Findlay hosted a participant parade through downtown (top left) that led to an opening ceremony, where awards were handed out for the best costumes related to the ride's Wizard of Oz theme (top right). In Tiffin, we didn't even have to leave camp to hear some tunes because musicians set up in the park's bandshell (bottom left). At the fairgrounds in Upper Sandusky, the venue wasn't as scenic, but the band, Grape Jam, was better, as was the adjacent beer garden (bottom right). In fact, I preferred it to the musical acts at the town's community street festival. But by far, the entertainment award goes to Kenton for its food-truck festival and the Elks Lodge's open performance by Uncaged.
For the most part, though, I entertained myself during the afternoons by hanging out with some fast and forever friends. Familiar faces from Logan's Irish Pub in Findlay reappeared at the Clover Club and MST (Madison Street Tavern) Pub & Grub in Tiffin. By the time I showed up Shotzy's in Upper Sandusky, it started to become clear who I would be hanging out with from then on. By the end of the week, my priority -- sometimes even before showering -- was to find out which bar everyone was going to. The first night in Bellefontaine, we gathered at Brewfontaine (left). But the second night, would it be 68 Grill or the Pincrusher Pub at TP Lanes? (In fact, it would be both.) Not even the weather would stop us in Kenton (right), where after riding about 30 miles in non-stop downpours, I couldn't have been more ready for some suds with buds at Skinny's Tavern.