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.

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