Friday, April 25, 2008

The Best Quality of Life

Zurich has been voted the city with the "best quality of life." I would have to agree! I travelled with my friend Mary (neighbor who works at US Steel) to Zurich for my 2nd ever marathon. I had originally signed up with encouragement from my friend Jamie, but after she broke her arm, she didn't think she would be able to train and I was left without a running partner. Luckily, Mary was a sport and went along for moral support.

Upon arrival in Zurich, we both immediately noticed the increased air quality due to the mountains, lake and smaller population. We immediately took public transportation (which is fast, spotless and on time) to our hotel, and then lugged our luggage up the 15 minute stairstep hill to our hotel. In the morning, we woke up to a FANTASTIC view of Lake Zurich!

In exploring Zurich, we marvelled at the old buildings, tried out the different forms of transportation (tram, bus, train, cogwheel train, and finally boat). The old town was exactly what you would expect from Switzerland. Narrow streets, old buildings, and all sorts of watch shops and banks. We browsed the shops, walked through the "preferred" neighborhood of Zurich, and then hopped on a city tour. There were all sorts of interesting Swiss facts... perhaps the most shocking to me was that only 30 % of Swiss people own their own home. The rest rent. Imagine if you were one of those 30 %! They must own two or three.

After our day of exploring Zurich, we took the ferry back to our hotel (yep, the ferry). While on the ferry we saw all sorts of sailboats, and I was finally convinced that it was OK to have the rail in the water... they all put their side rails in the water! We had a fantastic (though not cheap... nothing there is cheap) Italian dinner in preparation for my Sunday morning race and I did my best not to think about the run.

The morning of the marathon was beautiful, and again I took the train to the race start (I was quite enthralled with the incredible public transportation). Immediately, I noticed that EVERY person at the race start looked like they might win the race. They were all in incredible shape and wore fancy sweat suits. I started to get nervous, as I wasn't sure I could finish 26.2 miles, let alone in a decent time. Luckily, there were tons of people along the race course and lots of bands to keep me moving. That along with the views of the ALPS kept me moving (barely) to the finish. It HURT!

After the race, Mary and I weren't ready to be done exploring Zurich. We hopped on the train again and headed to the largest volume waterfall in Europe. I was busy scouting it for runnable kayak lines as Mary was amazed at how fast the water was moving. It was beautiful and the perfect afternoon in the sun.

Zurich pretty much shuts down on Sundays so we grabbed some pizza (again, NOT CHEAP) and headed to bed. It was an great weekend and I now know why Switzerland gets such great press!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Brother Bonanza

Although I haven't updated in a while, it is not for lack of adventures, but for lack of time. Brother John made the trek to Belgrade for a bit of culture and fun on the beach. It was great to show someone around Belgrade and to hear comments from someone who doesn't live here. It is amazing the things that seem normal to me now. John was fantastic at translating the honking cars into angry honks, "hello" honks and honks just to let other drivers know that they are there. I had forgotten how much honking there is here. I was also shocked to realize that the lines (or lack there of) in Belgrade no longer bother me. Instead of politely waiting in line for check-out counters or to get on/off the bus, you push your way through. John was probably horrified to see my lack of social graces as I shove along with the best of them. Luckily, he was a good sport and braved the super crowded trains to visit the coast.

John and I headed to one of the best places around.... the Dalmation Coast. I had been to Montenegro before, but never to Dubrovnik in Croatia. Many of the small coastal towns have charming old towns from the pirate days. Dubrovnik's old town was nearly destroyed in the fall of Yugoslavia, but has been meticulously redone, and is now a fantastic place to visit. We walked the walls, explored the town and hiked to the top of the largest hill we could see (braving the possible land mines and snipers). We were rewarded with beautiful views into Bosnia and out to sea. Incredible.
Upon return to Belgrade, we did some of the sightseeing that I never get around to in everyday life. We discovered Tito's grave, and wandered the streets of Belgrade. It was fantastic to have family here, and my friends and I were all sad to see John go home!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Belgrade In Spring

In lack of any recent adventures, I thought I would share a little about life in Belgrade during spring.

It has been absolutely beautiful in Belgrade the past few weeks. The trees are blooming and grass is green. I am very impressed with the Magnolia trees in my neighborhood. The flowers are fantastic!

The other great thing is that after a winter of staying indoors, it seems as if most of Belgrade is coming out to enjoy the nice weather. The parks are packed with exercisers and families, and the bike paths become traffic jams. My neighbor and I went on a bike ride out of town and took advantage of a boat that will transport bikes across the Sava River for one US dollar. I like anywhere that lets you take a bike on a boat!

Additionally, my coworkers and Belgrade friends are all very excited to get outside to enjoy the weather. We have had barbeques in the local parks, and are now starting up Sunday Ultimate Frisbees beneath the town fortress. That's right, we play frisbee while looking at the Danube and the fortress that marked the northwest corner of the Turkish Empire. It is pretty surreal.

This week at school, we are celebrating Spirit Week. As Student Council advisor, I am in charge of trying to organize 70 unmotivated Middle School students into playing lunch games and dressing up. Every day students are a little more motivated. They especially enjoyed creating fun hairstyles with shaving cream. Today, I wore all of my kayaking gear for "sports day." Most of the Serbian students have never even heard of river kayaking, although they have seen sea kayakers in the local rivers.
The Roma in town have also been taking advantage of the spring cleaning. I was quite impressed that this man was able to transport a COUCH on his bicycle. I wonder if someone would make me a bike rack like his.

The exciting news here is that my brother is coming to visit next Wednesday. I can't wait to have a visitor!