Getting back to my roots

I mentioned earlier that I had written something for my team called “how to keep your sanity” and recently I realized that one thing for me that has been missing has been something I’ve done for years and has played the biggest role in my life.  To be 100% honest, I haven’t done thing is a very long time and it’s funny because this used to be my stress relief.  This was my tactic to get rid of writer’s block, it was my ability to basically set my mind free for a brief moment and reset my mind. So recently, I felt motivated to try again and I dusted off the old piano.

If you didn’t know, my first adult purchase after I graduated college was my Costco membership. It was by far one of the best purchases I have ever made.  The second adult purchase I made was buying my piano.  It’s not a full standup piano but rather a digital keyboard that has a full 88 keys and one pedal.  It’s lightweight and be easily moved around.  Plus, since it’s digital, I am able to plug in headphones to use it so that I don’t need to worry about bothering my neighbors. It’s by far one of the best purchases I’ve made, plus, I don’t have to worry about getting it tuned which is a great cost save.

I started playing the piano recently and it’s been so interesting to see what’s still in my mind verses what is muscle memory for me. I have all these songs that I started playing when I was a lot younger that I memorized for festivals or because I loved them so much.  And now, years and years later, I can still play them. But not perfectly. I say that because sometimes my brain moves a little faster than my fingers and when I stumble I can’t get back to just picking up at the same place and starting. It’s fascinating to see this happening because when I stumble, I legitimately have to start all over again when I’m trying to play via memory.  So even though it is something that I’ve memorized and have been playing for well over a decade, I don’t remember it fully. Along with that, when I start playing the song using the actual sheet music, I can play without looking at my hands and it is definitely muscle memory but then if I try to play it without the music, I am useless.

It’s interesting what the mind and body can do and I love it. It feels great to get back into piano and maybe I can work on memorizing music again.

Just a general musing for the day.

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Zagreb, Croatia – Wandering Around

After leaving my hotel, I set my sites on getting to the Museum of Broken Relationships which was started in Zagreb and sits in a baroque palace on top of the hill that overlooks all of Zagreb.  I knew which direction I needed to go and so I started walking.

My initial thoughts of the city is that it is beautiful and the buildings are amazing. I was lucky because the weather was beautiful, the sun was out and sky was bright blue. It was definitely chilly and I was nice and bundled ready for my walk around the entire city. I eventually found myself just outside of the main city square and found a path up to the top of the hill.

One thing that I noticed was that the city definitely was quiet, especially considering it was 10AM on a weekday. I think that because it was around the holidays, people were probably off work and so the city felt barren. It was actually kind of fascinating to see because I feel like in Seattle the city was probably bustling even though it was the holiday season. Not all the companies take all the time off between Christmas and New Years so if I had still been in Seattle, I would have probably been going to work and the city wouldn’t have really felt like it was a holiday season except maybe the buses would have been just a little emptier and and the offices would be a little quieter.

That being said, I barely saw anyone wandering around Zagreb.  There were a few tourists here and there but almost no cars, the trains were relatively empty and shops were closed or just on the verge of opening up.

I started making my way up the hill and as I started up the path, I saw there was a tunnel at the base of the mountain.  It was light up in rainbow colors and I couldn’t see the end of the tunnel.  I knew that this was actually a landmark that you can visit when you google the exact phrase “what to do in Zagreb” but to be honest, when you’re one of 10 people you’ve seen in about 30 minutes, walking through a mysterious-rainbow-lit-tunnel is not necessarily the first thing you want to do.  So I didn’t do it and just continued up the path toward the top of the hill.

As you get to the top of the hill, there are lots of signs everywhere that guide you around to various things you can see in that general like churches, the various museums and the view points.  I followed the signs and eventually ended up walking around just a little bit before walking into the museum.  The buildings up there are various shades of pale yellow and bright yellow. The architecture is actually not necessarily super unique or outstanding but they are well kept, especially given how old they are.  The upper town of Zagreb is full of homes and interesting little churches and alleys you can explore and check out.

Finally, I found myself at the Museum of Broken Relationships and made my way in.

Belgrade to Zagreb

I woke up early the next morning and caught my ride to the Belgrade airport. The way that the airport was set up, I couldn’t get into the area for my flight until about 45 minutes before we departed so I even though I was at the airport relatively early, I had to just sit and wait before I could get through the last line of security to go to my gate where I sat and waited some more.  I took my Croatian Airlines flight to Zagreb with no issues, nothing exciting and landed in Croatia bright and early.

The Zagreb airport is super easy to navigate and I was able to get wifi access so I called my uber and was picked up by a very friendly driver who gave me all these amazing food recommendations and things to see in Zagreb. The airport is a pretty far distance from the city so it was a solid 20-30 minute drive into the city so we had lots of time to chat about what I should do in Zagreb, especially considering that the next day was New Year’s Eve.

I got to my hotel, which was actually a Westin because I managed to get it for super cheap on Expedia for the nights I was in Zagreb.  It was about a 15 minute walk from my hotel to the city center so in retrospect, it was nice to be able to stay a little further away from the hustle and bustle of the city center, especially considering just how serious they take their holidays and their holiday decorations. I think that I would have enjoyed being in the city center but I probably would have been very displeased with all the noise considering that I like sleeping.

I wasn’t able to check into my hotel since I took the first flight out of Serbia and landed in Croatia around 9 AM.  I was super tired but they were going to charge me 20 Euros to check in early which is not worth it. So instead, I repacked some of my stuff so that my purse wouldn’t be super heavy, gave my luggage to the front staff and grabbed a map of Zagreb.

Since the next day was going to be a holiday and I had learned my lesson from Athens, I decided that I wanted to make sure I checked out the museums as a priority to make sure that I actually had a chance to see them before I made my way to my next city. After storing my luggage, I started my trek toward the city center. I wasn’t entirely sure where I was going but I just started walking in the direction of the hill that overlooked city center.

Running

I have never considered myself a good runner. I remember feeling so accomplished in the third grade when I was able to run the fastest mile in my class at around 12 minutes.  Looking back, was that really an accomplishment?  I mean obviously it was because let’s be honest, my short legs moving that fast in 3rd grade – impressive. But now, I’m constantly in a battle with myself about how to feel accomplished when I’m running.

I feel like all of my friends are runners and for some reason, people are able to run so incredibly quickly. When I see that my friends are averaging 8 minute miles and to me, that just seems crazy and not possible.  I set up a goal for myself to run my races with an average pace of less than 10 minutes a mile. I’m sure it’s not that fast compared to most people but as long as I can do it, then my next step will be speed.

So, I signed up for two races in April. I’m crazy apparently but it was a great motivator for me to start working out again and start running again. The one thing that is so crazy to me is how much I’ve improved and how much further I can actually go. Sometimes, I forget just cool the human body is and how far we can actually go.

When I started running again, getting through one mile was hard. My legs would get tired, I had a hard time pacing myself, my lungs couldn’t quite figure out how to function at a comfortable pace.  But luckily I stuck with it and eventually I went from running a mile to running three miles nonstop to 4.5 miles nonstop to 6.2 miles nonstop.  And all under a 10 minute average pace.

I think that so far, the things that I’ve learned are:

  • Learning how to pace myself is key. I’ve always had an issue where I can’t keep pace with myself. I have a tendency to speed up until I tire myself out and then I slow down so my pace fluctuates a crazy amount. I’ve gotten to a point where I think that I can keep relatively steady but on some days, I definitely still find myself running a lot faster than I was planning to.
  • Blisters.  Still trying to figure out how to solve this one.  The longer mileage I run, the worse my blisters become.
  • It is largely mental. I used to hate it when people would tell me that running was strictly mental because in my head, if my body can’t continue running then my body can’t continue running no matter how much I push myself. That being said, I did come around to the idea that is somewhat a mental thing. But let’s be honest, I am still a firm believer that your body can only go so far.
  • Sometimes, a light jog is a good way to catch your breath. I am working on just slowing down slightly instead of straight up stopping and walking.  It’s actually helped build up my stamina and keep my timing up.
  • Strava is an amazing app. I think that I feel most accomplished when I see my mileage, my pace and how my pace breakdown turned out on the app. I like seeing all three of those things together and feeling like I did something right.  Just knowing that I did the mileage and how long it took me is great, but it doesn’t give me the same sense of accomplishment. It’s funny really.
  • Other workouts are key. To be honest, I used to get so discouraged when I ran because I only ran. I never really did other full body workouts to prevent injury which is probably stupid but at the same time, I honestly really peaked on my mileage around 3 miles in the past. I’ve been doing a bunch of other workouts on days that I’m not running and I’m actually seeing my strength improve, especially when it comes to my endurance when I run.
  • Extra hydration is key. I am working on consuming over 80 oz of water a day. It’s hard, it’s super hard and I’m pretty sure people think I have bladder issues. But I have found that I do so much better when I am super hydrated and especially when I eat a little bit more, it helps.  The early morning runs are super hard for me so we shall see how the races go.

Overall, this is probably one of my best accomplishments so far this year.  I am proud of the mental prep and actual physical prep I’ve done to try and make sure I do this well. It’s been a long journey that has been fun and I feel like when I am finally done, I’m going to feel so accomplished. Plus, maybe this is the motivation I need to keep up my workout routine going forward.

How to keep your sanity

We do this thing where we share tips within our team and I was “nominated” to share some for our team. I didn’t volunteer for it, was definitely volun-told. But after reading it, I’m glad I wrote it and thought that I would share it here:

Warning: A decent amount may feel like a cliché, but it works.

1) Take time to yourself every single day. I know it can be hard, but finding 5 minutes where you can stop thinking and zone out is enough to rejuvenate and ground you again. This can be your commute, stepping outside for a few minutes, or finding a conference room to just sit and exist. Don’t look at your phone, don’t pay attention to emails or social media. Just. Exist.

2) Be present. When you’re sitting at a table with one person, two people, 10 people, be present. Don’t look at your phone, don’t think about other things. If you can, keep your phone out of sight but if you absolutely need it, put it face down on the table to avoid distractions. We’re so consumed by social media, emails, easy access to everyone and tethered to our phones (mine’s literally face up staring at me right now) that it’s easy to not focus on the people in front of you.

3) Take time to do something you love. Even if it’s for just 10 minutes a day. Doing something you love forces you to break away from work and to just do something that makes you happy. Sometimes, you’ll find yourself making more and more time for it that it becomes a habit.

4) Exercise. For those that know me well, I complain a lot about exercising. I exercise but that doesn’t mean I enjoy it. But it makes all the difference. Fun fact, we’re not made to sit on our butts all day long. So stop! Try to take a small walk every hour just to get up and move, or take your meetings standing up. Or drink a lot of water which then results in multiple trips to the restroom.

5) Drink water. My tip is to get a cup with a straw and lid so that you can rest your head on the lip of your cup, drink water, while simultaneously typing and reading emails. Efficiency at its finest.

6) Write things down that motivate you, that make you think, that remind you of something good in your day. I recommend taking a minimum of 5 minutes a day to write down one accomplishment and one positive thing from the day. This practice will force you to focus on the positive aspects rather than the negative ones. You can always find at least one thing that made you smile.

7) Set boundaries. There should be chunks of time within your day in which you unplug from your email and your phone. Whether it’s 30 minutes before bed or during a meal. But make sure that you have time set aside to think about something other than work.

8) Create a routine. When I get the most stressed it is because I feel out of control, in the sense that I have no say in what is happening around me. Creating a routine, even if it’s only for 15 minutes a day, will help. It can be meditating, making breakfast, reading, etc but create some level of consistency. And it brings back a level of control, a level of focus that helps put everything else back in perspective.

9) Watch people. Yes, this sounds absurdly creepy. But sometimes the best way to learn is through other people. Find people who you think have everything together and understand what they do. Everyone’s got their own tips and tricks and you can learn from them. Then modify their solutions so that it fits you and your lifestyle. Sometimes seeing someone do one thing can give you an idea on what you want to do or better yet, what to avoid doing.

10) Travel. Work travel doesn’t count. Travel somewhere that’s not your home for fun. See something that’s an hour away or 15 hours away. Make sure you get a change of scenery and those experiences will help put things in perspective. There’s nothing like standing on top of a mountain and remembering that there is just so much more out there to be discovered and experienced.

11) Do something every day that challenges you. This can be at work or in your personal life. But if you aren’t challenged every day, then you’re not growing. When you are able to accomplish that one thing that you’ve been working so hard for, there’s no feeling like it. Like the moment you set foot in a country on your first solo trip, or you run that extra mile you never thought you could. Or you eat that giant bowl of pho that has bested you multiple times. We, as humans, are impressive and it’s nice to get a reminder of just how awesome you are.

Belgrade, Serbia – Republic Square

The one really nice thing about Republic Square is that it was right by my hotel.  The night that I arrived at my hotel, they were holding nightly concerts in the main square that I could hear from my hotel room.  I didn’t attend because I was too tired and in a food coma from all those pancakes.  But apparently they had a week long thing of night concerts there and I had arrived on the last night. Well today, when I got to the square, the stage was gone and they only had vendor tents and holiday decorations up.

One thing that I kept forgetting was that I was over in Europe during the holidays so I kept being surprised by the amount of holiday decorations around the cities that I was visiting.  Belgrade was no exception.  They had set up little white tents all over the main square and down many of the shopping streets where you could grab food and mulled wine. Then they had various holiday themed decorations around like giant sparkly presents, a Christmas tree and bows everywhere. It was so festive and honestly, probably the best way to keep everyone in a good mood.  Even though I felt like I was about to lose a limb from the cold, I was in a great mood because everything was sparkly and so festive.

I found myself wandering through the shopping streets and checking out the walking streets around the main city center. It was pretty cool because I got to see some really interesting and unexpected architecture around the city that didn’t really seem to fit but given the history, seemed to make sense.  At one point, I stumbled upon a row of pastel colored buildings that I wasn’t sure what to think of.  It felt like I had suddenly stepped into Paris, even though I’m not sure the French really had an influence on the city but it’s cool.  It could have just been influence from Austria or elsewhere. Regardless, it was beautiful to see the pastel French architecture in the midst of all the gray, square buildings against the gray sky.

Along with that, I stumbled upon a walking street that was covered in red umbrellas.  I’m not entirely sure what was the point of the umbrellas are but I think it’s just to signify the restaurant that is in that alley way, Manufaktura. I’ve tried looking up the umbrellas after my visit to Belgrade and I haven’t found anything that provides any details on the specific significance of the umbrellas but they seem to be a permanent display in that alleyway. In the gray sky, the umbrellas were wonderful to see and absolutely beautiful.  If you find yourself over there, I highly recommend checking it out.  It was actually recommended to me to check out the restaurant but it was after I had headed in for the night so I didn’t get a chance to eat there.

After I was done walking the city and had completed my third or fourth loop of the city center, it was starting to get dark and the cold was really getting to me.  I had actually forgotten gloves so I was quickly loosing feeling in my fingers and wearing two jackets, a scarf, a beanie, two long sleeves, leggings under my jeans and wool socks – the cold had found a way to penetrate all my layers and I was over it.

So I went to go get myself some food. Originally I thought that I could survive by going and sitting in a coffee shop to warm up and then I could find myself wandering around the city some more but I went into two separate coffee shops and found that you could actually smoke in them.  Then I realized that of all the restaurants and coffee shops I had passed, all of them allowed smoking indoors.  I was not interested in sitting in a giant smoke box, especially when I still had two weeks left of my trip and didn’t want all my clothes to smell like smoke. Plus, smoke irritates my lungs and gives me headaches so I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to eat inside of a restaurant.

Luckily, those street vendors at Republic Square were still around so I went and purchased a hot dog from a street vendor then saw that there was a trdelnik stand across the square.  I don’t know if you’ve read my previous post regarding how much I love trdelnik but it is basically the most amazing thing in the entire world.  It is a dessert that is basically crunch bread on the outside, gooey bread on the inside and then they put some sort of flavoring around it.  Usually covered in cinnamon sugar.  The last time I had this dessert was in Prague where they put nutella on the inside.  So when I saw that they had it, I knew that I had to get it. So in addition to my hot dog, I got myself a dessert.  I wanted to see if they would put chocolate on it like what I had in Prague.  The answer is no.  When you ask for a chocolate version, it means that they coat the entire thing in cocoa powder.

After my purchases, I made my way to my room and started eating my food. The hot dog was delicious, not my favorite European hot dog but I still enjoyed it.  The trdelnik was difficult to eat because of all the cocoa powder because if I breathed in while eating, I would start to choke on the powder.  So in the end, it was a good thing I didn’t end up eating that in a restaurant or in public.

When I was done eating, it was time to repack my life and get ready for my next flight to Zagreb, Croatia.

Belgrade, Serbia – Wandering

One of the key sites in Belgrade is the Belgrade Fortress which sits just along the Danube River.

Side note: the Danube River is found in multiple countries and every time I find myself along it, I always wonder if somewhere across the water from where I am standing is another country.  Obviously, my geography skills are lacking and not impressive.

After I found myself in the main part of town, I walked toward the water and eventually ended up at the Belgrade Fortress.  It was free to enter into and it was pretty cool to see.  They have a bunch of exhibits that you can check out for free such as all the canons, you can climb the walls of the fortress and overlook the fortress, there are a bunch of nooks and crannies that you can find yourself lost in. There was a random playground in the middle of the fortress that you had to pay to get into because it had…mechanical dinosaurs inside of it. They called it Jurassic Park and it was the strangest thing I’ve seen.  I didn’t expect to see dinosaurs in the playground of the Belgrade Fortress but whatever works.

Throughout the entire fortress, you can read about the history of the Fortress, who has conquered it when, who they fought and what it was up against throughout the years.  It was actually really fascinating for someone who didn’t know anything about Belgrade.  On the outside of the Fortress, away from the city, you can actually walk up a hill and check out the Danube and the rest of Belgrade on the other side of the water from the fortress. It was also interesting especially considering how often it’s changed hands throughout the history.

I stood on top of the hill and stared out over the river and while I was freezing, it was really quite overwhelming to stand there and see just how far I could see. It was dark, gray and super dry looking since it was the middle of winter but you can see for miles out into the world from this hill.  To be honest, this hill isn’t even that tall.  Looking back toward the city, you can barely see over the fortress walls.

After walking through the entire Fortress, I found myself back by the main entrance and now saw that the park was full of people.  Earlier when I had walked through it was relatively empty, especially given how early I had started my day.  Now it was full of families taking strolls in the cold along the park and the walkways were covered in vendors selling magnets and other trinkets.  I later learned that the Fortress is one of the top tourist sights in Belgrade so it made sense there were so many vendors around that area. I decided it was time to find myself a magnet for my mom, especially since I wasn’t sure I would find any anywhere else since I hadn’t seen any tourist gift shops on my way to the Fortress.  So I bought a magnet for my mom and then made my way back to the main square of Belgrade, Republic Square.

Belgrade, Serbia – Nikola Tesla Museum

When I decided that I wanted to go to Belgrade, it was purely out of convenience as weird as that sounds.  How is Serbia a convenient location?  Either way, it worked with my travel schedule and it made sense for the travel planning. I had no idea what I was getting myself into and the only thing I knew was that one of my friends had volunteered there back in middle school and didn’t have fond memories of the country. I was talking to a teammate and he mentioned that his wife was Serbian and he had been going to Belgrade every year for the past few years since they got married so I asked for recommendations.  His recommendations included telling me that they love their beer and it was super cheap. As a person who does not drink, this did not help me much.

I started off my day eating breakfast in the hotel.  It wasn’t anything to write home about but there was enough food to hold me over for the day.  After eating, I started on my way into the world.  The one thing that i knew I wanted to see while I was in Belgrade was the Nikola Tesla Museum. I didn’t really know anything about Tesla and his relationship to Belgrade but I thought that it would be cool to check out the museum so I made my way there.

The first thing that I noticed was that it was very cold in Belgrade.  But, I kept walking by people who were super fashionable and I wasn’t entirely sure how anyone was able to be super fashionable in the cold but regardless, it’s impressive. The second thing that I noticed was that the buildings were very square and not the most interesting architecturally and they were all relatively gray.  I wasn’t sure what I was expecting but I definitely wasn’t expecting it to be so gray and square.  Last thing I noticed was that there were a lot of people smoking. As someone who is not a fan of smoking, I was very displeased in how many people I had to walk by that were smoking up a storm.  Maybe it was just the area that I was in or everyone I walked by had a bad day but I was not a fan.

Eventually I found myself at the museum and checked out the permanent exhibits on the first floor.  From my understanding they have additional exhibits on the second floor but they are not permanent so it is not always open.  I had the chance to check out the exhibits with a tour group so I was able to see the experiments happen with a full tour guide that I didn’t have to pay for.  One of the benefits about going when it’s an off season.  I learned that Nikola Tesla had no major tie to Serbia, he just really liked it which is why he wanted to have this experiments left in Belgrade. We also had the chance to test out the Tesla coil which was awesome, especially since it was significantly more hands on than other Tesla coil experiments.  For example, the one in the Griffith Observatory in LA has the entire experiment enclosed in a glass room so you can only look in. The one in Belgrade was more interactive.

They gave us giant lightbulbs and then they would turn on the Tesla coil so that we could see them light up in our hands.  It was a little shocking at first because as someone who doesn’t know much about Tesla, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  And when you’re handed a giant lightbulb, you can only assume what is going to happen but there’s not a lot of forewarning besides the sound of electricity and then all of the sudden the lightbulb is bright blue. They do the demonstration three times so by the third time, I was able to look up and see the actual electricity shooting out from the coil and it was awesome.  The exhibit in LA allows you to see all of this but you don’t get the benefit of actually holding the lightbulb in your hand.

We saw a few other early experiments from Tesla and after that, we were done with the tour and were able to roam the rest of the exhibit which included learning more about Tesla’s childhood and more about his life. It was definitely interesting and I definitely learned quite a lot about Tesla but also about Yugoslavia and how it eventually turned into the various countries we have today.

When I was done with the tour, I decided it was time to adventure through the rest of Belgrade so I started back toward the main square.