Tuesday, June 27, 2017

On fitness (and more travel rambles)

Three times a week or so, I bike eight miles to work. After making it up The Hill from hell and parking my bike, I walk up four flights of stairs to the showers, and then back down, and then up a couple more to get to my office. Some days I feel the ride more than others--some day I feel the ride to work and other days I feel the ride from work--but I generally do feel those stairs. The stairs, especially (or sometimes the Hill), remind me that fitness isn't about not feeling it; it's about knowing that you'll make it even if it hurts. And the more you hurt regularly, the less you'll hurt on vacation.

We didn't deliberately plan an active trip, but the places on our itinerary were not designed for inactivity; if you want to get around, you have to move your body. You have to walk the old city walls and climb the clock towers. I suppose you don’t have to kayak or cycle, but you'd miss out if you don’t. My phone counted 22,671 steps the day I arrived in Tirana—and I didn’t get there until 3pm, and 30,526 the day after. Even on days where we spent five or six hours on a bus or in a car, we moved. The day that started with a six-hour bus ride to Kotor clocked in at 15,000 or so steps, and 17,000 the day after that. Once we settled into places where we didn’t constantly need to coordinate or use maps, I started leaving my phone in the apartments, so I don’t have the data from those days, but I know that K’s phone counted 16 miles the day we were at Plitvice.

We felt some of the walking and hiking. I certainly felt the cycling and the kayaking. But it was tough in a good way; I knew I could do it. Because I do it regularly. I say this without a trace of smugness; I know how hard it is to get in shape. I initially got in shape back in the day because my lifestyle demanded it (I had to be somewhere by a certain time, within half an hour of leaving work, and cycling was the only way to do it). I hated every minute of it until I didn’t. Once I got in shape—probably about six weeks after starting—I didn’t want the bike ride to be over. Everyone feels better when they exercise. Everyone benefits from being more mobile. 

There was a bit too much sitting (and for the drivers, too much driving) but the movement was what made it tolerable. On the long drives, we listened to podcasts, including some episodes of Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me. There was a sense of disconnect in listening to this quintessentailly American show in a very foreign landscape, in these foreign lands. Foreign even as everyone we interacted with spoke English. The tours—the walking tour, kayaking tour, etc.—were in English. Signs and descriptors were in English. If you were a foreign tourist who didn’t speak the local language or English, you were SOL. People asked us where we were from and were sometimes surprised when we told them. There are more European and other tourists in the area than Americans, or maybe we didn’t look the part, whatever that means. 

Some standards were better, others worse. I do like reliable western plumbing, and I say that as someone who has very reliable, very low-flow toilets. Public toilets were often pay toilets (thumbs down, but I get it).

Wifi was an expected thing (in restaurants, etc.), as it is in so many places outside the U.S. My cab driver into Tirana from the airport had wifi in the cab (well, I guess I hotspotted off his phone).

The buses were clean, and the regional flights were nice. Even on the small planes, including the turbo-prop to Zurich, there was sufficient leg room. I don’t need much, but it’s nice to not have a seatback jammed directly in front of your nose, which I did experience on the way to Miami and back just over a month ago. Regarding the long-hauls, I was excited about Austrian Air on the way out and not so much about United on the way back, but United was very comfortable with great service and Austrian was meh—they were apparently bought out by Lufthansa and it showed. On the way over I was seated next to a massive (tall and big boned, not overweight) Austrian woman who openly resented the fact that someone was occupying the adjacent seat; throughout the two or so hours that I slept, I’d intermittently wake up and find her limbs in my space. Bitch, if you need two seats, buy two seats. Buy business class. Your (tall) size is not my problem. I’m merely claiming my own space, not size-shaming or stigmatizing. If you need more space, for whatever reason, you’re not entitled to mine.

Miscellaneous travel note rambles and not becoming my mother

It's bananas to see a Balkan spot as an example of how unaffordable DC restaurants are; we ate so well, and mostly affordably. Albania was cheap, Montenegro affordable, Croatia mixed, Bosnia mostly cheap, and Slovenia expensive. There were things that were a great value (the ferries to and from Korcula), other things that were expensive but worth the experience (the city walls in Dubrovnik, and the kayaking tour around the city, entry to Postojna caves), and a few things that were expensive and not worth it (entrance to Bled castle and the pathetic vegetarian meal at the restaurant). There were meals that were affordable and amazing, and others that were affordable but barely edible (the only vegetarian item at the restaurant we were near in Plitvice by the time we got hungry—pasta that tasted like it came out of a can even though I saw that it didn’t). We were each offended by different things (Jay by the price of bike rental in Korcula or at least by the activity itself; me by… Bled Castle). I was very wary of Postojna, but once inside, we both thought it was worth the price.

Our costs varied significantly such that we had to itemize (it was never a difference of just a few dollars), and with so many people, we to reconcile every night (even when it was down to three of us). And even so it was overwhelming. We took turns getting money out and paying for things. I accidentally got too much money out in Albania even after Jay had warned me not to; I'd misinterpreted the exchange rate by a zero or two. But it was mostly fine.

I'm still happy about my vacation. The planning was more stressful, though it could be a fun distraction.
The only vacationers who experienced an increase in happiness after the trip were those who reported feeling “very relaxed” on their vacation. Among those people, the vacation happiness effect lasted for just two weeks after the trip before returning to baseline levels.

This is week three and my post-vacation chill is fading but not gone.


K mentioned "You Should Have Asked" on the trip, which I'd not heard of before but it makes so much sense.
“When a man expects his partner to ask him to do things, he’s viewing her as the manager of household chores.”
Carolyn further explains,
“I’ll . . . hate myself for being a miserable nag” — and recognize no amount of love will make it healthy for you to stay.
Yes--I hate the person I become when I have to nag people, whether they're significant others or travel companions. I invited K on this trip and deliberately did not invite another friend who was also living in Europe because I knew I'd have to 'manage' her and nag her, and I wasn't feeling it. I had to do some nagging pre-trip, and I was occasionally annoyed when things I'd brought up ahead of time hit like a surprise (we have no obvious way to get to or from Korcula, for example). But it worked out.

I sometimes wonder if I'm too put off by men who appear to need management. I've heard too many married friends complain about their husbands—the dirty glasses they don’t see, the lists that have to be made for them to know what to do. Not only do I find relationship project management exhausting, I hate the person I become as a result of it. I have found that asking--not just significant others--brings results, if not the direct ones you seek; asking can expose the askee as a fraud. Remember when RM regularly insisted that I tell him what he could do to help, as he saw me scrambling, only to put on a confused ‘not that’ face when I actually told him? At least I asked and found out for sure that he was full of shit. I also regularly asked an ex to take part in planning stuff for us to do; he never did, and then accused me of arranging the relationship around my lifestyle. At least I’d asked, and so I knew he was full of shit. But these were both relationships that were doomed to end. In a functioning, healthy relationship, asking has to happen but it shouldn’t always have to happen.

I think about Ruth Reichl’s “Not Becoming My Mother,” in which the author largely pinned her mother’s misery and ensuing issues on her never having had a career of her own. That wasn’t my mother’s problem, although one could argue that toward the end of her functional life, retiring didn’t help her moods. More specifically, being home all the time after she retired allowed her to focus on hunting for misplaced objects around the house, but even before then, she'd hone in on random things and center a temper tantrum around them. It was what she did. She built an identity around being the only one who ever cleaned up after everyone else, regardless of whether it was true, and of how toxic it was in the long run. All she did was shop and pick at things around the house (“cleaning the garage,” in “The World According to Garp” parlance, although I’m not sure anything ever got cleaner).

I saw my mother miserably nag my dad and me, and since I've taken to nagging my dad, so I see where she was coming from, until the nagging became an end within itself. That is certainly one way in which I’m committed to not becoming my mother.

We did laundry in Split and hung our clothes on the line outside, hoping they wouldn’t fall, as there’d be no way to get them. I thought about when my mother fumed for hours in Shanghai over my decision to wash some clothes. I have to think now about how unhappy she must have been as a person.

There are ways in which I don't mind becoming my mother. On the trip, the others consumed a massive amount of bottled water (I just don't really drink water*; Jay wonders if I'm sure I'm not a witch). In Albania and Montenegro, there was nowhere to recycle the bottles, so we essentially hauled a miniature pacific garbage patch from Tirana to Dubrovnik.

*I hydrate via food, tea, and coffee. There was mostly thimble coffee to be had (just as there was a lot of Italian food, there was an Italian sense of coffee), which was fine in terms of strength but I often wanted more in the way of hydration.


My mother would have loved Twitter, given her penchant for complaint letters. I’ve used Twitter countless times to resolve disputes with companies. Unlike my mother, I don’t enjoy the fight; I'm just there to get the problem solved. By the time I turn to Twitter, something has gone egregiously wrong. Cases in point: 

(1) My power company missed its deadline (and, it turns out, gave up altogether) on installing my net meter, precluding me from activating my solar panels in time for a scorching weekend. Tweeting at them got their attention; they prioritized my case and comped my power for that month (as well they should have). Who knows how long it would have taken them to do their job had I not publicly shamed them? 

(2) My health insurer responded to my inquiry about the epipen recall (which they wrote me to inquire about) with a message to someone else, and then ignored me altogether when I replied to let them know their message was meant for someone else. With that kind of customer service, what do you do without Twitter? Twitter got them on the case; they claimed to be horrified and wrote to say that they coached some people. 

(3) My internet company has failed to provide internet for the better part of the week, notwithstanding two three conversations with India. Twitter to the rescue. It’s the only reason I’m able to write to you today. After conversation #3, in which the customer service rep could not understand why I could not be home for a four-hour chunk in the middle of the day, I took to Twitter again (and note that they only took up my ticket, though it'd been several days, after I took to Twitter after conversation #2). So she was going to send someone to my place on Saturday from 11-3. I expressed my frustration on Twitter, and someone came by earlier this evening. The window was 5:15-6:30 (dude was almost an hour late, but I can deal with having had to leave work an hour earlier than I actually needed to; I could not have dealt with having taken a half-day off).

I could go on, but you get my point: here are companies behaving badly, failing to meet their commitments to their customers. What accountability is there? My mother used to love to have me write flowing, angry letters. I just want to get my issue resolved, and hopefully deter them from failing other customers. This one’s a toss-up: is this a way in which I am becoming my mother?