Saturday, January 4, 2014

If winter comes …

1 December, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport
Thank you to my sister for the drive to the airport today!  This is my idea of how to start a new month ... feeling 1000 percent better after four days of mostly clear liquids and on the road, or more precisely, in the air.  In a couple of hours, I’m off to Poland for my semi-annual board meeting of the Center for Promotion of Entrepreneurship.  I’ll stay a couple of nights in Warsaw with friends Dorota and Jacek and their son Franiu, then head back to the airport to meet the other US-based board member, Steve, and our driver for the 200 km (160 mile) trip to Sandomierz.

4 December, Sandomierz, Poland
The drive to Sandomierz was pretty uneventful.  Steve and I had a chance to catch up while the driver Piotr moved steadily toward our destination except for one 8 km missed turn.  Since we’d been driving for a while, I had closed my eyes but opened them quickly when we pulled over and I heard Piotr ask for directions to Radom.  That’s a city south of Warsaw along the freeway.  We would drive through it if we hadn’t wanted to stop in Piaseczno to check out the Bolesławiec (Polish ceramic dishware).  And we’d stopped, purchased less than usual, then gotten onto the “old” road to Sandomierz.  It’s been paved and upgraded and is actually a quite acceptable route now.  The drivers like the road to Radom because it’s a multi-lane highway and they can drive 150 km/hour.  Anywayz ...

I disavowed him of heading toward Radom, we backtracked to his wrong turn and only lost 30 or so minutes.  

Had a lovely time with Dorota and family as well as lunch with Gina and Dorota and dinner with Iza.  Lots of soup and tummy-gentle food.  Gina seems far less harried that usual at work, no more 12-hour days, and Dorota’s a bit more harried with her 500 Ukrainian university students who are learning Polish through her efforts.  It’s a new contract and concept for her, and she’s learning a lot about administration in the process.  Iza’s enjoying her job and living in Warsaw but gets to Kraków and the mountains on weekends.

6 December
A ferocious and freezing wind has made its way across Western Europe to Poland, and ironically it arrived just as our board was discussing the possibility of investing in new windows for Hotel Basztowy.  Our newest board member was cautioning against the expenditure just as a fierce gust hit the window behind my chair, creating shivers over my already chilly body.  
Ryszard J., board chair, and Hala

9 December, Kraków, Poland
Hala, Steve and I drove to Kraków yesterday afternoon for a few days of R&R.  We’re staying at Hotel Pod Wawelem, where I stayed on my last visits to Kraków.  Unfortunately this time the elevator is broken and we’re on the 4th floor. (For my American family and friends, that’s really the 5th floor.  Europeans usually don’t count the ground floor.)  The receptionist carried our bags but still, climbing all those staircases (two between each floor) took my breath away.  Time to get back to water ex!

Hala had gotten us all tickets to the opera, resulting in an invigorating walk to the new opera house and only getting lost once briefly.  I wasn’t familiar with “Elixir of Love,” a comic opera by Donizetti but read a synopsis on line.  All in Italian with Polish subtitles, which I understood enough to know what was being sung.  Gorgeous costumes, lovely voices and the humor was played very broadly and well.  Wonderful way to spend the evening.  We taxi’d back to the Old Town in search of supper since we hadn’t eaten since breakfast, other than coffee breaks.  Not much open at 9 pm but we finally ended up at an Italian restaurant where I’d eaten good food before.  We’re committed to introducing Hala to new cuisines on this trip ... Chinese and Mexican are on the menu before she returns to Sandomierz.

Hala & Steve at opera

Hala & I toast a good day

10 December
Well, we got Hala her Chinese meal at a hole-in-wall place that was recommended by the daughter of a Center manager.  Although not as spicy as it should’ve been in my case, the food was hot, fresh and tasty.  

Hala and Steve visited the Schindler Factory Museum today while I wandered the Sukiennice (Cloth Hall) in the Old Town square, looking at jewelry for my friend Ted’s daughter for Christmas.  Simple, sophisticated and more silver than amber.  Not much luck so far.  The only pieces I’ve seen and liked were more than $300 -- prices have really gone up here!

We met at one of the Ariel cafes in Kazimierz (there are two, cousins or brothers, I can’t recall which, who had a falling out).  I had wanted some fresh air and despite the rain, walked the couple of kilometers from one old town to another, this historic Jewish quarter.  After tea, we set out on foot to find the Chinese restaurant that was on the route back to the hotel.  We were on a roll of only two meals a day ... hurray. 

12 December, Belgrade, Serbia
Fog in Warsaw delayed our departure and made my transit time in Munich about 30 minutes once the wheels hit the tarmac.  Then there was deplaning, taking a bus to the actual terminal, traversing to another concourse, getting through passport control.  I literally ran through the airport to passport control as I heard the gate agent calling my name.  Several lovely people let me go to the head of the passport control line and the passport officer directed me straight ahead to my gate, couldn’t believe my good luck.  It was through a duty-free shop where I dodged baby strollers and luggage carts.  The gate agent was still looking for errant passengers and directed me to process my own boarding pass on the scanner and head down to the bus.  En route I helped a young mother who was walking a two-ish genderless child down the six flights of steps.  I carried the folded umbrella-style stroller so she could carry the kid.  Three people hurried onto the bus behind us and we were off.  Phew!

Once I changed money, bought a SIM card and called Aleks for a meeting spot, I was on my way to see the new baby.  I worked with Aleks on a USAID project here, and since my departure he and Ivana have married and now have a beautiful almost-three-month-old daughter Katja.  Although she’d been sleeping when I arrived and peeked, she later awoke and I got to meet her.  Aleks is totally smitten with this bundle of pinkness.

Now I’m settling into the apartment that the hotel I booked gave me.  Quite nice -- plenty of space and no extra charge for Iva when she arrives from Skopje for the weekend.  It’s not too far from where I used to live.  I’m off to the supermarket so I can have coffee in the morning!

13 December
Last night I enjoyed an evening at a musical with Violane, her language teacher and a friend of the teacher.  Violane’s with IFC now.  We both worked for Booz in Belgrade at the same time but on different projects, then on the same one in Kosovo.  I didn’t understand more than the odd word of the musical, but it was very well done -- exceptional costumes and staging and the dancing and singing were superb.  The young man who sang the lead reminded me of Ashton Kutcher and his lady love, a little of Nicole Kidman in the film Moulin Rouge.

Today I awoke to three messages from “” about “my orders” ... which I didn’t order and which are actually addressed to three someone elses whose names begin with “suzi”.  I dispatched the messages to amazon’s spoofing address and deleted them.  Will keep an eye on my credit card next.

Just returned from a walk down my old street and around the neighborhood, then up to the pedestrian mall, Knez Mihailova, and on to lunch at Tribec, one of my favorite restaurants.  The “Cesar Salata” and freshly baked breads are almost as good as I remember ... and the cigarette smoke from the bar still drifts easily into the non-smoking dining room.  Ah, yes, back in the land of smoking in airports, exit doors that open in and dog poop on the sidewalks.  Surprisingly I don’t see that much has changed here, unlike Skopje or other cities I’ve re-visited.  

14 December
Iva arrived from Skopje on time yesterday, and our friend Aleksandra joined us for dinner at a new woman-owned vegetarian restaurant that Aleksandra recommended. The restaurant is really tiny — it’s actually in an apartment — but has an outstanding menu and delicious food.  I had an array of tasty and interesting salads, Iva and Aleksandra had the quesadillas, and we shared a mezzo of hummus and such.  Violane and her husband Stephen joined us at the end; they’d been to the symphony.  We all agreed it’s definitely a restaurant we want to support.  I’ll do a Trip Advisor review.

This afternoon Violane hosted a bunch of my Belgrade friends — Aleks M. (of the new baby), Aleks S., Slobo and Olivera from my old Serbia project, Nenad and Aleksandra that I know from Booz’s Serbia competitiveness project that ran at the same time as mine in Macedonia, Iva from that project.  Lots of “where is …” but also some interesting discussions about what’s happening in the Serbian and Macedonian economies.  Aleksandra did some fascinating research of entrepreneurship that she shared.  I’m waiting for the final report, then may write here on what she learned.  I don’t want to trust my two-glasses-of-wine memory!

Slobo & Aleks M.
 (I cannot get the photo of Iva, Aleksandra and Nenad to load ... argh!!!)

Olivera & Aleks S.

15 December
4:35 am … Major panic.  Dressed, packed and doing last minute check and I cannot find my passport ... anywhere.  I went through all of the likely places and the unlikely ones in the carry-ons and had started to unpack my big suitcase when I called out to wake up Iva.  She was calm, asked where it normally would be -- zippered part of my Kangaroo tote where I keep the laptop, mobile phones, wallet, and such.  And there it was ... I do not know how I could’ve missed it.

Re-packed everything and was out the door at 4:50, and the driver was waiting.  Whew.  Violane was right that I shouldn’t worry; he’d be on time.  But I confess.  I am a very nervous traveler.  I have missed planes and I’ve boarded the totally out of breath from running their lengths (eg, O’Hare in Chicago as well as the aforementioned Munich sprint).  So I am at the airport with lots of time to spare for walking, having coffee, walking, buying a dead-tree book, walking.  I get lots of exercise when I travel.  

My first de-icing experience of the season.  We had a slight freezing rain as I left for the Belgrade airport, meaning the plane had to make a brief stop at the de-icer before we took off.  Although we left late, we arrived on time and my layover was a couple of hours.  The transition was smooth ... plus I got a free International New York Times and coffee near my gate, compliments of Lufthansa.  Two Sunday crosswords, one from Violane’s husband’s paper from last weekend and yesterdays.  I am set!

18 December, Minneapolis MN USA
Home again.  Fell asleep at 8 pm last night and got up at 4 this morning.  Lots of time for miscellaneous tasks before water exercise.

The trip home was a good one.  Did some last minute shopping in Warsaw and walked Aria before heading for the airport.  She is still a puppy but an English sheep dog who  thankfully can walk down the stairs now.  (Last time she was under three months old, and I had to carry her down the stairs.) 

Flight to AMS was uneventful, and I found Ana and Archie easily.  We had a lovely dinner in a small Italian restaurant that Archie said was his “kitchen” before Ana.  They have a best guest room bed, nice firm mattress, and I slept well.  The flight to MSP was equally uneventful, and the movie system even worked.  I’ve had lousy luck with those in the past.

Off to water ex boot camp, then to talk with my brother Dan.  We’ve been playing telephone tag since he left a voice message on my iPhone on Sunday while I was still overseas.

19 December
Finally talked to Dan. I knew something was up because his voice had been uncharacteristically somber on the voicemail.  It is.  He’s having a most-likely-benign tumor removed tomorrow.  Dan had had pneumonia before I left for Poland.  That resulted in a chest x-ray that identified the mass in his chest.  Lots of tests indicate that it’s slow growing, been there a while and not likely cancerous.  Dan opted for one surgery to remove it rather than a biopsy, then surgery.  He has confidence in his doctors and the hospital (Renown, on which campus there was a shooting on Tuesday). He’ll be in the hospital about three days.  I’ll talk to Ann after the surgery to determine if she’d like some company while he recuperates at home.

If that isn’t enough, I’m trying to remember if I shopped at Target after Thanksgiving.  They’ve had a major security breach that could jeopardize tens of millions of shoppers.  Nice to read that American Express is on top of things since that’s the card I would’ve used.  Now to add, “check credit card purchases” to my To Do list for today.

20 December
After mulling it over, I decided to go to Reno on Christmas Day and return on New Year’s Day.  I travel far and wide to help friends in need and want to be there to help my brother and his wife too.  I called them this morning, then made the reservation.  Thought about using some of my many miles … but that itinerary was eight hours and four airports!  

Since I’ve been back from Poland, I’ve followed the news on South Sudan with much trepidation.  I checked with a friend who’s still working with Women for Women, which more than a year ago, moved to Yei, a few hours from Juba. So far, they are okay there.  I’ve emailed the lawyer we used in Juba but gotten no response yet.  He has a nephew in college in St. Paul that I actually met in his office one day, but I don’t recall the young man’s name.  They are Nuer, the same tribe as the ousted vice president, whose wife lives in Minnesota.  I wish it were hard to understand the rapid escalation and rush to violence, but unfortunately it’s not.  That’s how issues are dealt with in that part of the world.  

24 December, Christmas Eve
Dan’s surgery went well, and he should be home today.  I got an upgrade to first class on the MSP-SLC leg of my trip — yay!  My friend Bob is home from Kabul and in Reno with his son and family.  He’ll pick me up at the airport so Ann can stay with Dan.

Last night Barbara, Chris and Jen came over for prime rib dinner.  Like last year, I found one at Lund’s ready for the oven.  Also bought their twice-baked potatoes.  Used some of Jean’s pears and Diane’s pecans with a bit of store-bought gorgonzola cheese for a salad.  Cookies by Ada and Lydia, shortbread by me, ice cream by Ben & Jerry.  Thanks to everyone who contributed to our Christmas dinner.

Today, after a bit of running around in the morning (water ex, deliver gifts to niece Michelle, unsuccessful try at car wash), it was off to Roseville and lunch with Mary, an old friend from my corporate days.  We spent a couple of hours enjoying big salads, catching up personally and talking about South Sudan.  Mary works for a foundation that does work in East Africa.  From there, it was directly to Westminster where I ushered for the early “family” service.  My friend Anne, also of my corporate days and more recently of Baltimore, and her husband Peter have returned to northern MN in retirement, but both daughters and their families live in the Cities.  And they all attend Westminster.  Great to see them all.

After church Barbara and I drove through the snow and cold wind to Marin, a newer restaurant that she hadn’t tried yet.  My one experience with the food there had been very enjoyable, but the server was a bit ditzy. (My friend Susan and I celebrated our birthdays there, and as always, split the check.  The server put both haves on my Amex card, which we didn’t notice until my statement arrived.)  We had a lovely Christmas Eve dinner of shared small plates and small bites for dessert.  Barbara warmed herself on Irish coffee, and I sipped a nice white wine.  A wonderful way to spend the evening.

Alijah says Merry Christmas

25 December, Merry Christmas from Reno, Nevada
Minneapolis is definitely having a white Christmas.  Hope my flights are on time.

And the first one isn’t.  After waiting for connecting passengers and their luggage, we left the gate about 20 minutes late only to sit in the de-icing line for another half hour.  I was glad to be in first class, makes for a quicker dash from the plane.  Sat next to David who owns his own bar tending business in Syracuse.  A friendly, chatty fellow who made good company during the flight. 

Dashed to my connection thinking I had about 40 minutes.  I had forgotten about the time zone changes.  As I boarded the Reno flight, I noticed that I was at the top of the Upgrade List … heading for economy.  A few minutes before the door closed, the flight attendant came to move me to Seat 1B.  Nice.

Welcome to Reno

Bob met me at the airport and drove me to my brother’s.  He stayed for wine and cheese with Dan and Ann, while I ate delicious turkey leftovers.  

27 December, Reno
Dan had a great follow up visit with the surgeon yesterday.  The tumor that was removed, though big, was a “solitary fibrous tumor” and benign. Hurray.  His recuperation is going well, minimal pain and discomfort.

After the good news. we all went to Peppermill casino for some video poker and delicious lunch in its seafood restaurant.  Ordered fish tacos, one of my favorite entrees, and they were fantastic.

Today we drove up to Truckee and had breakfast at Jax at the Tracks, traditional diner with some nontraditional breakfasts.  Ann had crab cakes benedict, spicy corned beef hash with biscuits, and I had a Great Start Breakfast (macadamia nut granola with dried fruit, fresh strawberries and plain low-fat yoghurt).  

When we returned, I had a few minutes to prepare for a job interview by conference call.  Someone I’d interviewed with earlier in the year recommended me for a chief of party job in Kosovo.  I decided to follow through; the project meets my criteria — in a place I’d enjoy working and a project that interests me. We’ll see. The proposal is due next week and a decision is expected fairly quickly.  If the NGO got the contract, I’d have to postpone Scotland, disappointing but not life threatening.

29 December
Had a fun lunch yesterday with Bob, his son Ian and family.  Bob grandsons sure have grown since the last time I saw them.  Last time (about three years ago) they were shy and didn’t participate much.  This time they were outgoing and charming.  We had real conversations about things they were interested in.  Bob’s off to see his daughter Alexis and fiancé tomorrow.

Being with my brother is always a gastronomical tour.  He enjoys good food and knows where to find it, including at home.  Ann is a wonderful cook, not only healthy but delicious.  Today we to the northeast side of Lake Tahoe for a late lunch at West Shore Inn Cafe in Homewood CA.  More great food and a gorgeous view of the lake and mountains.  Tomorrow we’ll go to Heavenly in South Lake Tahoe for the ice sculpting.

30 December
One of the things that’s so surprising to me about Reno is the amount of public art in the metro area but more interesting, along the highways.  The freeway around Reno has concrete noise barrier walls that are decorated with contrasting landscape silhouettes of mountains and lakes adorned with birds, fishes, trees depending on where they’re located.  A highway intersection just outside Carson City is overseen by a small herd of metal deer.  It all makes for a far more pleasant drive.  

It was a heavenly day in Heavenly — perfect weather for wandering the ski resort, watching the ice sculpting and just relaxing outdoors in the fresh air.

Ann & Dan take a photo

Gondola lift at Heavenly

Preparing ice


Finished ice sculpture

31 December, New Year’s Eve
As usual, I’m off to bed before the new year arrives.  Tomorrow it’s back to Minneapolis where the temps are arctic.

A gift from Iva -- looking ahead to the new year


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