"It's one of the best books I've ever read. And I've read A LOT." ---John L. Monk, Author of Kick (The Jenkins Cycle,) and Hell's Children.
"Talking To Luke is a complex but fast-moving story, extremely well-written, full of interesting, believable, and three-dimensional characters, solidly researched and reasoned, with twists and turns that will keep a reader turning pages." ---Mary Patterson Thornburg, author of A Glimmer of Guile and The Kura
"Wingspan hit all my like buttons. Talking to Luke pounded on them incessantly." ---T. Francis Sharp, Author: Second Dead series
"Escapism is what I want from fiction, and this novel is a great trip away from every-day life. Call it romance-ish, paranormal-ish, historical, contemporary, funny, fantastic, science-ish, but above all, call it great." ---Carol Kean, Editor at Perihelion Science Fiction Online Magazine, Amazon Vine Voice Reviewer
The distance around Lincolnshire Lake is approximately one mile. Today I walked every step of that mile without a struggle, up and down hills and didn’t once think I might die from the exertion.
I’ve been taking good care of myself for the past couple months, trying to eat healthy, drinking plenty of water, and getting plenty of rest. I took up yoga. I meditate. And I walk around this lake as often as I can.
I try to actually stay out of the lake, and so far I’ve been successful despite a tumble down the dam the last time I made this walk. That was no fun, and I have no desire for a repeat performance.
I always take doggies. What good is a walk without them? A couple weeks ago I took Milo, my big Anatolian Shepherd. Today I took Princess. She told me on no uncertain terms that she appreciated the trip and loves me for including her.
Normally I have more to say when I write a post. Tonight I don’t feel very eloquent, so I’ll let the photos speak for me. I had a great time walking around the lake today. I’ll do it again every chance I get.
To a great extent, Christmas is Christmas everywhere. Routines, traditions…most of them vary, but only by degrees. Different regions have different customs, and families within those regions make their own habits within those customs. Somehow, someway, though, there are always presents and lots and lots of food.
Appalachian Christmases tend to be throwbacks to simpler times. Relatives gather at the family homeplace, people eat until they waddle, and opening gifts is the high point of the day. If kids are involved, Christmas morning is the big deal. For adults, it’s Christmas Eve and sometimes Christmas night–and sometimes both. It’s basically a two-day bonanza of home-cooked goodness and gift wrap.
One cool feature of my recent Christmases is that they’re celebrated in the “Holler.” For those who don’t know, “holler” is Appalachian slang for a valley between mountains, usually where families have settled. I took the following photos tonight as I rolled into the Bandy/Sparks Holler. Every house you see belongs to a Sparks family member, most of whom descended from the Bandy clan several generations ago. There are no strangers here. The unpaved road is maintained by the county, but it dead-ends at the driveway of the last house. The Sparks are Christian folk, friendly and loving. One holler over, the same might not be true for whatever family settled there.
Take a look at all these family homes and imagine they’re inhabited by pillheads who may or may not have a meth lab in the basement. Then imagine being a tourist and getting lost, and ending up down one of these little back roads. This is why you don’t go joyriding in Central Appalachia without a native tour guide.You’d survive a wrong turn down the Bandy/Sparks Holler. You might even get fed a hot meal and get to hear some authentic Appalachian pickin’ if you catch Bill and Ronnie in the right mood with their guitars. But mess up and find yourself surrounded by the wrong bunch in a bad mood and you don’t have cell service–let’s just put it this way: if you’re ever in Central Appalachia, stick to the main roads.This isn’t the place for hikers and bikers and adventuresome travelers to get curious about where the road leads.
On a lighter note, when I got there this afternoon, I arrived to the raw sound of axe on wood. I looked up the hill in the photo below and saw Moose out splitting logs for his heater. He threw up a hand and waved. To the left of the woodpile is an ancient root cellar, built into the side of the hill for preserving perishables. Lots of history on that land, including an old road that leads over the mountain to the family’s original homestead and a cemetery from bygone times.
Dinner today was a small affair compared to the smorgasbord we had last night. In the Bandy/Sparks/Kay clan, Christmas Eve is when all the inlaws and outlaws and cousins and aunts and uncles and all the strays who have nowhere else to go congregate for Christmas on a grand scale. It’s standing-room only in MawMaw Spark’s old house on the hill. I didn’t get a photo of the food last night, even though I ate my share of it. Tonight I snapped a quick pic before the Kays descended on the meal Loretta so skillfully prepared.
For those unfamiliar with down-home American country cooking, let me identify some of what you see in this informal but scrumptious spread. Back row, left to right: sweet potato casserole, creamed corn, mashed potatoes, ham, and biscuits with cornbread underneath. Nearest row: beans, kraut and sausage (kraut is homegrown and homemade,) deviled eggs, gravy for the biscuits, potato salad, and in the front right corner, veggie bars. Dessert was homemade cheesecake. YUM
Thanks to some kriyas I’ve been doing recently, for the first time in years I was able to sit cross-legged on the floor and open presents the way I always enjoyed. Pictured below is my haul, the gifts I got tonight. Lots of textiles to keep me warm and other assorted neat things to use at home.
I’m sure the following scene is familiar to nearly everyone who celebrates Christmas–the pile of wrapping paper in the floor. LOL It grew and grew as the night went on. Yes, the original photo includes their heads. I cropped the pic as a courtesy.
Here we have the yearly prank gift from Moose to Loretta. Seems like they get funnier and funnier as time goes by. Loafers! Real, true loafers, in the most literal sense. I got quite a laugh out of this.
And no Christmas would be complete without Paige, my beloved biter-of-children and killer-of-rodents. Paige is her own person, but she is wholly devoted to me and can’t tolerate being separated from me for any length of time. It isn’t herself she fears for. It’s me, although I’ve yet to figure out what exactly she thinks will happen to me in her absence. It’s kinda nice to be worried about, though, so I roll with it. And Paige goes along everywhere I can possibly take her. She and I are working on service dog qualifications, although she still isn’t quite sure she wants to perform on command. She already meets requirements for ESA (emotional support animal,) but those aren’t allowed public access to the degree that actual service dogs are. Time will tell if she makes the cut. I hope so, because leaving her behind is torture for both of us.
That was my Appalachian Christmas. Feel free to respond in the comments with photos of your own! I’d love to see them.
I thought about making this post from @thewritersblock account, since it’s relevant to our Fundition updates and might even get more views. But I didn’t, because I’m speaking for myself here, not for @GMuxx or other members of The Writers’ Block. I have so many thoughts about the things happening lately that my head spins.
I come from fairly humble beginnings. I never had a real “leg up” when it came to establishing education or career. I didn’t know the “right” people, and my family was blue collar, Southern American. I wasn’t exposed to culture, never traveled more than one or two states from my home until I was nearly grown. I didn’t read the classics, didn’t take piano. In my world, in those years, graduating from high school and going straight to work meant success just as much as being accepted into an Ivy League school. That’s just how things were.
Despite not being schooled in the background of classical anything, I had a love for the creative arts that time and hardship never destroyed. So when, as an adult, I began writing in earnest and ultimately published novels people seemed to want to read, it was a turning point for me. I did pursue some college education and thrived in that environment. At the same time, I was perfectly at home in ragged jeans and tee-shirts stained with mud and other animal by-products as I worked with horses, and then dogs once my heath declined to a point my poor reflexes made horsemanship unsafe. I never quite figured out which me was the “real” me, until I finally realized both of them are.
Last year I took on co-administration of The Writers’ Block alongside GMuxx, and soon after became CEO of Steemhouse Publishing. Serving in an executive function was never high on my list of priorities at any point in my life until I found myself here on Steem, doing these things. It should not be a surprise to anyone when I say I often feel out of my depth. Quite frequently, I am. But I can’t let that discourage or intimidate me. The vision we have as a team within TWB is far too precious to let die just because I’m afraid to step forward into new territory.
That being said, I’ve always hoped for a team of dreamers with enough real-world skill to come together and make the vision come to life. My determination alone won’t make our triangle of publishing innovation work. Last night, several of our workshop participants left the topic of our discussion and began brainstorming ideas about how to take Wordrow, Steemhouse, and TWB to the next level. Because of my reputation of being heavy-handed on the reins, I’m sure it took some courage for these folks to speak up. It’s courage I appreciate and admire, and courage that I want leading this business venture into the next generation of publishing and literary media.
I don’t want to run this business by myself. I don’t need to micromanage. But as past experience has shown, management teams left untended too long seem to get ideas of their own about undermining the leadership. It’s a balance, one GMuxx and I have yet to find. However, the brilliant minds coming onto our radar at TWB are just as precious as the vision I mentioned earlier. They are the future of this project, and I want to see what they make of it.
“Re-branding.” “Long-term viability.” “First-mover advantage.” “Coherent editorial line.” These are terms finding their way into my conversations lately, spoken by people who clearly “get” the vision GMuxx and I have fought so hard to keep alive. These are individuals we want on TWB team. What can we offer? What does any startup offer? Stake in final product. We don’t want employees. We want partners. We want people willing to invest time and talent with the end goal of real financial security for everyone involved.
I won’t mention names in this post, but last night’s impromptu meeting was exactly what I needed to remind me why we’re doing all of this even when Steem is below forty cents. That doesn’t matter. Not to our long-term plans. But it also underscored the fact that we’ll never succeed without the input of these brilliant minds, not that I would even want to take this journey without them.
To sum up the whole point of this post, let me just say to all the folks who are considering taking a role in this game-changing initiative—please know your input is infinitely valuable and deeply appreciated. The future is ours. We just have reach high enough to grab it.
Ladies, eat your hearts out. For most of the day Monday in Krakow, I had these two all to myself.
There’s just something about touring a European city with a proper Englishman on one side of you and a charming Frenchman on the other. Both of these guys would probably complain about my descriptions of them–I know @GMuxx protests at the idea of being considered “proper”–but it sounds good, so I’m going with it.
This whole “follow the traveler” thing wasn’t how the day began. It actually started with a headache. Remember my last post? The one about the alkohole? Yeah. This was the morning-after.
I might have still been a wee bit tipsy when Muxxy and I wobbled out onto the street, blinking in the sunlight like a couple of regular vampires. Did I mention that his glasses darken in the light? Well, mine don’t. I squinted my way through the crosswalk to a tiny little delicatessen or whatever it was and managed to take a photo of the hotel from there. Accomplishment number one of the day.
The INX is pretty unremarkable from the outside, especially in the daylight. Those big, colorful planters on the sidewalk and the old car under the portico were a really good idea for brightening up the place.At night, strategic lighting makes a more impressive spectacle. And the interior, of course, is quite posh.
At the tiny deli, we ordered brunch, as it was getting on toward noon. I wish someone would have warned me that the coffee that shop serves has hair and that when you stir it and let go of the spoon, the thing stands upright like you stuck it in a block of canned ham. I have never tasted coffee that strong. That appealing cup of java you see in the photo below? The only sip I managed to take of it got spit into my napkin. Holy bells of St. Mary, that was a strong brew.
The sandwich was good, though, and so was the parfait. I watched as Muxxy savored his cup of jet fuel and barely stopped myself from gagging right there in public. My granddaddy always said strong coffee would put hair on your chest. Well, poor Muxxy must have gone home looking like a gorilla. I hope Kim had her hot wax kit all warmed up for him.
We left the deli and followed Muxxy’s GPS toward Wawel Castle. He’d been there the previous afternoon for the Independence Day celebration, and we debated whether or not the place would even be open since it was a holiday in Poland. What the heck, we decided. At least we can see it from the outside.
Along the way we found a few really neat things to see. Painted walls, cobbled streets, a stylish bar nestled behind a structure that looked like it was built in the fifteenth century–we stopped to take pictures of them all.
Presently we came upon the castle, perched high on a knoll overlooking the city. I spotted a flock of pigeons dining like royalty in front of it and promptly forgot everything else I was there to see. I was quite impressed by the fact that locals seem to have established a tradition of tossing out bread for the pigeons, since these birds are considered a nuisance in so many metropolitan areas..
I also liked the tree in front of the castle really well. Too bad the dang castle blocked the entire backdrop. I think that tree would look best in contrast against a solid sky. But some genius decided to build a castle behind it instead. People. I guess I’ll just never figure them out.
After that, we joined a throng of people climbing the Hill of Death to the castle. (No, that isn’t what it’s called. I call every hill bigger than a speed bump something similar.) Near the top, we passed underneath a large iron gate that looked a little dangerous. I, of course, was awed by the magnificent statue of a horse that graced the entranceway, while Muxxy set about taking photos of every iron and concrete dragon he could find.
Our fears about the castle being closed were for naught. There were scads of people visiting that day. Hundreds. Muxxy and I quickly became lost in a sea of tourists milling about in the courtyard. I found more pigeons. In fact, I found a pigeon I particularly liked. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one with feathers marbled quite as gloriously as this one. I wanted to take him home with me, but I figured the airline might have a bit of an issue with that.
There were other pigeons, too. My cell phone screen will forever bear the imprint of the castle courtyard floor after I dropped it trying to take pictures of them. You can imagine my surprise when I saw a table full of pigeons under the canopy where people were eating lunch. Nobody shooed them away! Why, heck–here at home, some good ole boy with a .22 woulda dun been out there pickin’ ’em off one by one. There in Krakow, the pigeons dined side by side with the people, and I loved it.
But my surprise at the pigeons helping themselves to leftovers was nothing compared to the surprise I got when I turned around. Guess who was standing right behind me? Not just another Steemian, but one of the three Steemians I mentioned in an earlier post who I said I wished I’d had more time to get to know. Yep, there stood @michelios, no doubt having quite the laugh at me out there in the castle courtyard chasing pigeons.
GMuxx came rushing over when he saw Michel and the three of us took a bit of a rest under the canopy while trying to decide what was see-able in Krakow on a day like that day. I wanted to tour Schindler’s Factory, but it closed early because of the holiday. Okay, no problem. We’d just walk and find whatever wanted to be found. We’d start there at the castle. I confess I was feeling disappointed that so much of the castle complex looked new, when I had been expecting to see Medieval architecture and very, very old stuff. The garden looked old, so I got a photo of it. The wall looked old, so I took some pics of it, too.
There were cool things to see at the castle, despite the fact that I was initially a bit underwhelmed. One of the things that caught my attention was the bronze replica of the castle that included the dragon’s den below us, which made me really curious to see it.
So we headed down the walkway toward the river, not saying much, just walking as a loose group of three with no real idea where we should go. Then something caught my attention.
At first I thought she was having a seizure. No, really–I did think that. Then I heard the music. Listen closely, and you will hear it, too.
I’m still not quite sure what she was doing, other than dancing to “Sail” by AwolNation. Her friend was videoing her, so it could have been just a fun thing to do, or she could have been getting that footage for a professional reason. Who knows. But it sure stopped me in my tracks for a minute or two.
In all honesty, I can no longer recall exactly which route we took to get where, or in what order. At one point we ended up traversing a patch of ground covered with pavers that had sunk and twisted at odd angles over the centuries. There I was hopping along with a cane, trying to preserve my dignity without face-planting in front of hundreds of people–all I can remember is keeping my eyes glued to the ground in front of me and an overwhelming need to get away from some obnoxious American dude who was yelling insults at an old man. Yes. Really yelling at him. Not joking around. Serious. And mean. Those dang Americans! You can’t take them anywhere. So I hobbled as fast as I could, with Muxxy and Michel picking out the smoothest path for me to follow along behind them, hoping to get away from that awful scene as quickly as possible.
At some point, somewhere, I snapped two really good shots of the Vistula River.
Muxxy and I compared phones to see which one captured a better picture of the sky. His did, of course. But I like my picture, too.
Apparently Josh Hartnett visited Krakow at some point in the past. But the hand prints seemed kind of small to me. Hartnett was all grown up by 2013, wasn’t he? Hmmm. . .
Finally we made it down to river and found the dragon’s lair. It was closed. No tours for me. But seeing it did stoke the imagination, especially when Muxxy told us about the dinosaur bones found in the cave centuries ago that were mistaken for dragon bones. Apparently they still hang in the cathedral today.
At the statue of the Wawel Dragon, all three of us hung around with our phone cameras aimed and waiting for it to breathe fire. It did, and we have matching videos on our phones of the grand event. LOL Here’s my version:
Further down the river stands a statue of “Pies Dzok,” a dog who, like Hachiko, waited in vain at the exact spot where his owner died. We visited that monument just long enough to get me good and teary-eyed. I wrote more about Dzok’s story in this post from the @tarc account.
Shortly after that, Michel spoke up about being hungry. He’s not exactly a chatterbox, so whenever he said something, Muxxy and I tended to listen. And oh boy am I glad we did. Because it was then that we turned the day over to Michel and let him take us through the city. As long as I live, I’ll never forget that experience.
From what I could gather, Michel has been backpacking around Europe for a bit. He’s well-traveled. He knows how to find what he’s looking for in an unfamiliar city, and he takes the side roads where life happens at street level. Muxxy and I were bouncing from eatery to eatery, trying to find something that suited, and with one word, Michel pointed us in a different direction. “Polish,” he said as Muxxy and I stared at a pizza menu. I had to admit, authentic Polish food did sound good.
“So what restaurant are we looking for?” I asked, convinced Michel had some particular establishment in mind.
He just shrugged, and with a rueful little grin, said, “I don’t know. I just think one will be down this way.” And he pointed to a street I would never have taken in a million years.
The following video is a result of that conversation. If you don’t watch another video I post, watch this one. The moment I heard music, I knew something special was happening. We would not have chanced upon this gifted street performer had we not listened to Michel–had we not followed the traveler instead of following the tourists. The final production is a combination of footage from my own camera as well as Muxxy’s. Thank you, Muxxy, for letting me use it.
Once the performance ended, we hadn’t made it far when a man with a thick Polish accent shoved something in front of me. “Real Polish food!” he promised. “Pierogies. Pork neck stew. Duck with red cabbage.” The thing he stood waving in front of me was a menu.
Straight to the Polish food Michel had led us. Morela was across the street, and we hustled over there without wasting any time.
I ordered pierogies because I’d been hearing about them since arriving in Poland. Yum! One bite and I understood why people talk about them so much. And, though you can barely see the bottom of the glass in this photograph, I enjoyed the best lemonade I’ve ever had in my life. It reminded me a bit of the lemon sours I used to order from the Hillside drugstore in the town where I grew up,. I drank two.
Then came the coffee, although after the morning’s experience I opted for cappuccino instead. It came complete with a little heart doodled in the froth. I’m happy to report that, unlike the deli coffee, my cappuccino did not have hair, nor did flatware stand upright in the mug after stirring.
For Muxxy and me, and probably for Michel too, a sense of nostalgia was setting in. Steemfest was over, and tomorrow we’d all be in different countries thousands of miles away from so many of the people we’d gotten to know over the previous few days. So we dragged the evening out as long as we could, returning to the INX for drinks in the hotel lounge. Then came the hard part–saying goodbye to a person GMuxx and I both had come to regard as a new friend. We all vowed to stay in touch, and there may be some tentative plans to reconnect in the spring of next year. I certainly hope that happens.
It’s hard for me still, thinking about the day that came after. Muxxy and I shared an Uber to the airport, and I hid in the back seat and wept quietly as we left the city for the last time. There’s just something about being around the kind of energy that Steemfest generates…when you leave it, you feel the loss. Yes, there will be next year. And hopefully some meetups between. But I’ll never forget Poland, or the beauty and strength of its people. Maybe some day I can go back. Until then, I’ll dream of horses and carriages and castles and pigeons, and I’ll never be able to listen to Lindsey Stirling and “Crystallize” again without thinking of that street performer and the day I spent following a traveler on the streets of Krakow.
Sunday was the last day of official Steemfest activities. I think every Steemian there was gearing up to grieve, because we knew we had a few hours left with each other, but at the end of that, nothing more. @roelandp had arranged tours of the Wieliczka Salt Mine with our closing dinner to be held right there in the mine. By then it was easy to trust his judgment, but I confess a moment of head-scratching at the idea of fine dining underground. I’m from Coal Country in the U.S. and have my own ideas about the connotation of “mine.” Boy, was I in for a surprise.
The Wieliczka Salt Mine is located just outside Krakow proper and was in continuous operation from the 13th Century until 2007. Greater than 1,000 feet at depth, the mine is a network of tunnels and chambers that total more than 178 miles.
Roeland knew that the Cane Crew, including @GMuxx, @soyrosa, and myself, would not be able to navigate the 380 steps down to Level One. Overall, the official tour includes approximately 800 steps altogether. So he arranged a special tour for us with a phenomenal tour guide. We took the tiny elevator down and proceeded from there. This meant we missed the first part of the tour, but I don’t believe we missed the best part. I failed to catch our tour guide’s name, but he constantly amused and amazed us with good humor and stunning facts. For instance, he’s worked at that mine for seventeen years and still has not seen all of it.
Some of the carvings inside the mine were made by workers throughout its centuries of operation. Others were done by commissioned artists to supplement the originals. There’s an overtly religious theme, with statues of Pope John Paul II and The Crucifixion, among others. Wall carvings depict scenes from the Gospels and there are four separate chapels in the mine with altars and chandeliers carved directly from the rock salt.
The walls are made of actual salt. Many people in our Steemfest group confessed to licking the walls, and reported that they are indeed quite salty. I did not engage in this practice, for the simple reason that I felt sure if the thought had crossed my mind, it had crossed other minds as well, and danged if I wanted to go lapping all over a communal salt lick. Yuck. But I did find a discreet little corner and scratched at it with one finger, and yep– the little flakes in my palm tasted like salt.
Nearly every chamber of the mine had a different pattern of stone flooring carved directly from the rock salt floor of the mine. This was one of the most intricate. You can see where the “tiles” are worn smooth by millions of feet passing over them through the years.
In one of the caverns is a gift shop and several large display cases. I have no idea what all the minerals collected in those cases are, but I presume they’re somehow related to salt.
Directly overhead in this chamber, the ceiling seems to stretch to infinity, with several overlooks and blocked passages from different levels of the mine.
In many mine tunnels, the old cart tracks still exist. My thoughts naturally went to the horses who lived and worked there over the centuries. Our tour guide said they actually lived there underground, and years could pass before they saw even a glimmer of daylight or touched a blade of fresh grass.
I saw two of the four chapels on my abbreviated tour. Everything but the wooden furniture is carved in place directly from the rock, including the chandelier frames.I can only imagine what archaeologists will think millions of years from now when they discover this place with all of these ornate furnishings and decorations. Since a single catastrophic event could wipe out all signs of internet, communication technology, electrical and nuclear power sources, and every written word above ground, would they see all this and marvel that we had the ability to create such sophisticated things with our rudimentary chisels and hammers?
All throughout the public areas of the mine, ornate wall carvings are graven into door posts and lintels and the walls themselves.
And then there’s the beautiful underground lake, so high in salt content that, like the Dead Sea, the only way it can support life is by disallowing any living thing to sink.
After the tour, we all settled into the main banquet hall for dinner. Remember my skepticism about dining underground? Pfft. Yeah–silly of me, wasn’t it?
I finally got a picture of @ura-soul. He’s an elusive bugger, let me tell ya. But one of my favorite witnesses, hands down. Hence my stalking him with my camera. Oh wait. He was sitting with us at dinner. No stalking involved. LOL
On my immediate left was the fabulous Mooxxy, and on my right was the lovely @elizacheng and @soyrosa. If you haven’t figured this out from my previous SF3 posts, I became a huge fan of Eliza during this event. I believe it’s her mission in life to bring joy to people and make them smile. It’s a gift, and she certainly has it.
Eliza and I got matching snow globes as keepsakes from Enginewitty. We had fun shaking them up so they’d have exactly the right amount of snow for this picture.
Another keepsake for me from this event was the following photo I have of Yidneth and me. See the warmth in her eyes? That’s real, folks. She’s beautiful inside and out.
@enginewitty and @katrina-ariel are smiling like they have a secret. 🙂
Poor even Yidneth found herself upstaged by a clown act. Lord have mercy. @enginewitty and @arcange–good grief. I don’t think a serious photo can be taken of the two of them together. I finally just settled for getting one where Yidneth was smiling. Good enough for me. LOL
Speaking of Yidneth, she was there with her long-term partner @hedac. At one point during dinner, hilarious names for phone wi-fi hotspots kept popping up. Most had to do with Ned or Roeland, but then one appeared that had Yidneth oohing and aahing on her side of the table. Yup–hedac sent her a love note over the wifi hotspot list. I promised her I wouldn’t post the photo that I took of her showing him how much it meant to her (it’s very sweet, and I hope she posts it herself) but I will show you what the phone screen looked like that prompted her spontaneous display of affection.
From the dinner, we headed back to the buses and back to the Qubus for closing drinks. That’s when things got a bit iffy for me. Somehow, @gmuxx and I both fell down the alkohole .I guess this is what happens when the event coordinators put out a table full of all-you-can-drink wine and beer with enough variety to suit everyone’s taste. It just kept pouring. Yep, all by itself–it jumped from the bottle to my glass more than once. Really! It did. I don’t remember certain portions of that party, but those in attendance assure me that I didn’t fall down, dance on a table, start a fight, or die. So I think I can call that a win.
GMuxx, Enginewitty, Mrs. Blocktrades (I don’t know if she wants me to mention her by name, so I’ll err on the side of caution,) and moi.
Here’s GMuxx with the lovely Yidneth. I prefer the photo above I have with her. But I’m biased, of course.
@vladivostock tried to out-tacky Roeland with his money suit. I think he might have actually succeeded. . . .
Then, as the alkohole became increasingly deeper, I had some issues taking photographs. Let me demonstrate.
Muxxy and @revisesociology, Take One:
Hmm. Let me try that again.
Not the best photography, but it’ll do.
Then things got just downright ridiculous.
“Come meet @abh12345,” says Mooxxy.
“Abh1234 is here?” I say back.
“No,” says Mooxxy. “ABH one-two-three-four-five is here. Come meet him.”
“Asher,” I say. “I’ll just call him Asher.” So I stagger after Mooxxy, wondering where my cane got off to.
These were supposed to be photographs of Arcange and Asher (abh one-two-three-four-five.) I don’t blame Asher for not looking up for the last one. I wouldn’t have either. LOLOL!
Yes, we all had a great time that night. I’ll never forget it. Or maybe I’ll never remember it. Whatever the case, I’m very much looking forward to Steemfest 4, wherever in the world that journey might take us.
Just for fun, here’s a snippet of odds and ends that I captured on video that night at the salt mine and closing drinks. We have @yidneth and the fufunchis, @arcange doing a jig, and even @gtg gets some face time.
Day Number Two of Steemfest–the ICE Krakow Conference Center hosted our second round of presentations and round table events. I was there for part of the festivities, but this was the day @Gmuxx had a bit of a health wobble and required a quick trip back to the hotel. I didn’t get many photos of the conference center, other than the one below that I snapped as we arrived. I also took some of the super-swanky restroom, but I’ll keep those for myself. LOL
For this post, I’ll show you what a wonderful hotel we stayed in, with great staff like Witold, pictured in the cover photo. He offered us invaluable help with debit card snafus, after the whole international thing blew my bank’s mind (even though I’d called to advise them of my travel plans.) He also helped get us sorted with breakfast, since we had two separate reservations, one of which included breakfast and one of which didn’t. Staff at the INX Design Hotel is top shelf, folks. I hope to some day return to Krakow for another visit, and when I do, there is simply no other place I would consider staying. This is largely due to the friendly, super-efficient people who work there. I have never lodged anywhere that I felt more welcomed.
Below is a photo of the basement level, where we had breakfast every morning, alongside a slew of other Steemians including @shanibeer, @r00sj3, the @steembirds, and many others.I ate real Polish sausage in that dining area, and I’ll never settle for anything less again.
And here is the hotel bar and restaurant where I set my face on fire with a B52. Yes, I certainly will have another, thank you very much.
It’ll take me a while to get through all my photos and thoughts from Poland. Still to come are the Wieliczka Salt Mine Tours, closing dinner, closing drinks (what I can remember of them, anyway,) and freewheeling in Krakow with a world traveler. Eventually I’ll get to Auschwitz. That’s going to be a different thing for me, though, most likely a series.I was affected deeply by that tour, as I expected to be. I have much to say, and it’s going to take bit for me to rein all those emotions in enough to write sensibly about it.
In the meanwhile, here’s a long, underproduced video of Polish countryside that I duct-taped together for your viewing pleasure. Actually, it’s raw footage taken through a bus window. You’ll see a lot of strange reflections and hear snippets of random conversations, but for people who’ve never visited Poland and are curious about the landscape, this might be an interesting watch. I’ve spliced together several clips, interspersed with traffic circles that are not in sequence. I have absolutely no idea how to put this together in the order it actually occurs on the road. But you can see traffic patterns, vehicles, gas prices, and American fast food restaurants. Gaah, they’re everywhere. LOL I very, very much want to revisit Krakow some day. I feel like I left a piece of my heart there. It’s a beautiful city with beautiful people–most of those photos will come from my freewheeling city tour the Monday after Steemfest. I can’t wait to post that one.
Yeah, well…I’m still not home. I overnighted in Chicago after a major foul-up with a connecting flight. You flown out of O’Hare lately? Holy mother. What a mess.
Picture this: I land in Terminal 5 just before eight p.m., along with approximately 250 other people who flew over from Warsaw on Polish airlines LOT. Do you have any idea how long of a line forms with 250 people and only four customs agents? I was through the line and cleared of being an international terrorist by 8:20.
Now it was time to go down and wait for a bus to take passengers from Terminal 5 to the domestic terminals, since the ATS people-mover system is down for construction. There I stand in another line for ten or fifteen minutes waiting on that ride. By now, it’s 8:30. The bus comes, but guess what? To drive from Terminal 5 to the other terminals means you have to enter real traffic, on real roads, with real bottlenecks cause by real stupid people. But I digress. Time from Terminal 5 to Terminal 1, where Gate E5 is located? Ten minutes. We’ve now been on the ground almost an hour, and my next flight starts boarding at nine.
Keep in mind, there is no signage anywhere indicating that Terminal 1 no longer has TSA security checks after a certain hour. Nope. You just walk up to your gate all happy that you’re on time for your flight—but guess what? A grumpy TSA agent tells you that you have to go to Terminal 2, because that’s where security is located that time of night, and makes it clear she thinks you’re an idiot for not knowing this already.
At that point you have two options: catch a bus that circles the entire airport, including Terminal 5, to get you back around to Terminal 2, or you can walk. If you know me, you already know I have problems walking. I fell twice at Steemfest. Hard. Not to mention the fact that autonomic dysfunction makes it impossible to cool off once I overheat, or the fact that my heart rate was nearing 200 by the time I cleared security. Not because I was nervous, or even mad. But because I’d just walked further than I walked the whole time I was in Krakow, at about twice the pace. Yeeowch!
But guess what? By then it’s twenty after nine. And guess who still has to go back to Terminal 2 because that’s where Gate E5 is? Yep. Moi. And there was just no way in hell I could make it. So my plane flew off to Charlotte without me, while my ride from Charlotte home had already reached the airport and parked to wait for my arrival.
Enter United Airlines Customer Service, in particular, the Lead on B-side whose name I’m almost certain may be Nelly. She took one look at me and knew I was dying. First thing she does? Offer water. I needed it. Desperately. Now, I won’t go into every single detail about how she got me sorted, but let’s just say she needs a commendation. A big one. I hope her supervisor sees this.
This still left me with a problem in Charlotte. My ride home from there had come and gone by that time, and since I live almost four hours from the Charlotte-Douglas airport, it wasn’t like @tawmink and @catherine813 could just pop back down and get me. So I supposed that a one-way rental car from Charlotte could work just beautifully—but since the missed flight wasn’t my fault, I should not have to keep paying for a way home that had already been well-planned, organized, and paid for in full.
Who to blame? Well, Expedia The Travel Experts should have never booked that connecting flight, since the terminal sprawl at O’Hare is apparently a known issue, as well as the ATS shutdown and TSA shutdown in Terminal 1. It’s not my job to know these things. It’s theirs. And they failed miserably.
Instead of trying to accommodate me for the profound inconvenience or help me not be stranded in Charlotte, I was told by a nitwit Expedia Customer Service person that they would not spring for cost of the rental car, as she continuously forced me to re-explain where I was and why, since the first ten explanations didn’t stick. Not gonna lie—I let her have it. Right there in Chicago O’Hare. Those of you who know me probably feel very sorry for her. You should. No—I take that back. Don’t. Because she gets paid to sort problems for people, and she didn’t sort squat for me.
I finally got her supervisor on the line, a reasonable-sounding fellow named Frank. Did he get me sorted? Nope. He proceeded to pass the buck to United, who heard the whole conversation because I had him on speaker at the United counter the whole time. The United agent agreed that there’s a “legal window” for which tickets can be sold for connecting flights, and one and a half hours fell within it. However, we’d just demonstrated that under most conditions, this doesn’t work for International travelers coming into Chicago O’Hare who have to go through Customs, Security, and three terminals to catch their flight.
In the interest of customer service, one would think that Expedia would not strand a middle-aged woman with a disability four hours from home with no recourse. One would think. But Frank insisted that the impossible connection was not their fault, therefore Expedia had no intention of paying for a rental car. He claimed his hands were tied, that rental is a “pay later” situation and he could not do it even though he wanted to. So does this mean that Expedia never covers the cost of a rental car even if they take blame for botched travel plans? Even worse, does this also mean that even though Expedia knows a problem exists with that connection, they will happily continue to strand passengers in Chicago and expect United Airlines to clean up their mess?
I asked Frank this very question, and he assured me he opened a case on the matter—E#6719457—but how much confidence do we have that any Expedia stuffed-shirt is going to make changes to their policy, given the fact that it’s a “legal window,” and “tickets can’t be purchased outside it?” Let’s just put it this way—if I were you, I’d stay as far away from Expedia as possible. It’s clear that customer health, safety, and satisfaction is the last concern on their agenda, and that they’ll happily strand their customers anywhere around the globe as long as there’s a way to pass the buck to another agency.
United Showed ‘Em How It’s Done
In the meanwhile, I did meet another phenomenal United Airlines representative who answered some questions for me and provided very useful information. He’d seen the whole Expedia debacle, so I’m sure he quailed a bit when I approached his window. But he gave no sign of horror at seeing me approach and we ended up having a lovely conversation. Everyone who worked the United counter last night on B-side needs a raise. Between Nelly and Seth M., I at least survived the night in Chicago and have a flight leaving for Charlotte very shortly.
This still doesn’t solve my being stranded once I get there. The fault for that, in my opinion, lies squarely on Expedia, who sold me tickets for a connecting flight that’s impossible to make because of known airport conditions. So everyone, how about a resteem to let all of our blockchain friends know how Expedia is likely to treat them? Also to give folks a heads-up how to prepare for connecting flights at O’Hare, and to fly United every chance they get? I would certainly appreciate it.
Oh—and the lemonade? Well, despite the lemons Expedia handed me, we managed to squeeze some pretty sweet lemonade at O’Hare last night. Let’s just say we might have a United employee joining us at Steemfest next year, wherever in the world @roelandp decides to hold it, because after Krakow, I’d follow him anywhere.
The burning question for me is: how is anyone here at Steemfest finding time to post? Good grief! I’m finally getting this one up three days after the fact. It has been nonstop, and for someone like me who has serious health issues, the pace is deadly. So by the time I show up for the ‘Fest, take all the pictures, have all the conversations, then rest enough to keep breathing–there’s no time to post a thing.
Happily, we had some down time this morning and I’m using it. I’ll tell everyone some things about the goings-on here. Wednesday night we all met in the Qubus hotel lobby for opening drinks. Suffice it to say that a great time was had by all. I met some Steemians who just blew me away, folks I’ve known for a while but never seen face to face, like @alexvan (top photo) and @martibis (bottom photo.). Alexvan is the reason I’m at Steemfest to begin with. His witness, ro-witness, provided the ticket to get me in the door in the awesome contest they held. Martibis is a fellow writer and we’ve known each other a while. Let’s just say pictures don’t do these guys justice. A warmth radiates from both of them that the camera completely misses. They’re people you want to be near just because they make the world around them brighter.
The same thing is true for the guys in the next photo, with some differences.
@GMuxx, far left, is one of my bestest best friends in the world. We have a lot in common, but our frighteningly similar health issues make it almost prudent that we stay in close proximity. Either of us could have a crash at any moment, and both of us did while we were here. Someone who hasn’t been around M.S. or lupus likely has no idea to how handle an autonomic meltdown– but we do. I think it’s largely because of this experience dealing with the problems caused by autoimmune disease that neither of us ended up in a Polish hospital. Let’s just hope that nonsense is behind us now. It certainly isn’t fun.
In the center of the photo is @arcange, who I already adored and voted for as a Steem witness. But you know what? He surprised the heck out of me. Not what I expected. Oh, no. He faaaar exceeded my expectations and now I’d go so far as call him friend. This guy is the real deal. That ear-to-ear smile? It’s as genuine as they come. Never miss the chance to meet him in person. That’s my advice for the day.
On the right is @Michelios, someone I only just met here at Steemfest. But he’s another one that lights up his corner of a room, and I regret not having a chance to talk further. GMuxx and I had to deal with a bit of a medical emergency on Friday and I haven’t seen Michelios since I went tearing out of SNDbox presentation looking for Muxxy.. Gaah! Hope to see you at the closing dinner, man-whose-name-I-can’t-pronounce. LOL We all very much enjoyed meeting you and hope we can all stay in touch on Steem!
Above, the Qubus meet and greet in the grand hotel lobby. Good memories!
Krakow is a truly fascinating place–a blend of past and present with old world architecture and modern buildings side by side in a thriving city. Above is the exterior of the Stara Zajedznia, and below is the interior and one of the “barrel” booths that made such good seating for the presentations.
I met a lot of wonderful folks over the past few days, all of whom I didn’t get photos of. For example, half of the @Fundition team who was here–@hightouch and @free999enigma. However, Muxxy and I did get a pic with @goyard and @addictedtolife, who I’d spoken with on the mind-blowing post Fundition did about The Writers’ Block.
Other notable people I got to meet but unfortunately got no photos of:were @ura-soul, @starkerz, @blocktrades, @revisesociology, and @karinxxl . And oh gosh, so many others. But I did manage to snag some people with my lens, like @ezzy, shown here with Michelios just before The Writers’ Block presentation. Everybody knows I fangirl over Ezzy–even Ezzy knows this. I think his writing is strong and commercial and is, in fact, what gave me the idea that blockchain and fiction are a good match.
Then there’s @fredrikaa, whose work with @steempress-io has been nothing short of amazing. I am a personal fan of Steempress and The Writers’ Block is both supportive and grateful for this initiative. To meet and spend a bit of time with this developer was a privilege I don’t take lightly. Pictured right to left below in one of the Stara Zajedznia “barrels” is Gmuxx, Frederikaa, and @Jayna.
I also got to meet and spend time with @elizacheng, whose warmth and sincerity blew me away. Still another lovely Steemian whose energy lights up a room. Here she is proudly showing off her family–I made a special point to get this photo at this moment because of the joy on her face. Elizacheng, it is a real joy knowing you. 🙂
Two other people I met who I hope to stay in contact with are @bugavi and her mother, @olga.maslievich. They brought such joy to me during this conference, and as is the case with Michelios, are people I won’t get to say goodbye to unless they are at the closing dinner tonight. I had to abandon our plans of further conversation when Muxxy and I left the Congressional Center in such a hurry on Friday. Needless to say, I hope we have a chance to talk a bit more very soon!
And now, just some random photos I took of a K9 S&R trainer’s car and some other lovely scenes I found on my walk to the Stara Zajedznia.
Last but not least, an edited video of TWB’s presentation about Steemhouse publishing and Wordrow. It’s edited to exclude reference to the witness group I left last night due to differences in alignment. It’s otherwise intact. Please be sure to watch it! It’s only 20 minutes long, and chock full of information some of you may not know!
It still hasn’t sunk in, not completely. This was the opportunity of a lifetime, and I am so grateful I took it.
I’ll start by saying that if you ever get a chance to visit Poland, do it. Don’t let fear of unknown places and differences in culture hold you back, not from coming here. I don’t speak a word of Polish. No, that’s wrong. I can now say “thank you,” but I darn sure can’t spell it. No matter. A startling number of Poles speak fluent English. I haven’t had a bit of trouble since landing in Warsaw. Short hop to Krakow on a LOT Bombardier with a handsome friendly male flight attendant who spoke both languages flawlessly, Uber ride to the hotel with a Polish stud blaring disco punk from the speakers, and a lovely clerk at the hotel who helped get reservations sorted like a champ. Not to mention no fewer than six offers from dashing gentlemen at the airport to help get my luggage down four flights of stairs (for those who don’t know, I walk with a cane and struggle a bit sometimes) and the lovely Hungarian native flying from Florida to visit her mother beside the Danube.
All this, and I haven’t even mentioned running into @instructor2121 at Chicago O’Hare, or the fact that my bestie @gmuxx was waiting for me when I landed in Krakow. Everything has gone so smoothly that I’m afraid to keep talking about that, lest I jinx it.
Steemfest won’t officially kick off until later this afternoon. So for now, I’m just taking it in, absorbing the fact that I’m thousands of miles from everything I’ve ever known, dropped squarely into the middle of a world that has been here long before the nation I call home even existed. These streets have history. And I can feel it. I see it in the eyes of the people who live here. There’s a certain wisdom, a certain knowledge, that transfers automatically from generation to generation, a soulfulness that’s missing in so many other places. I think the whole modern movement in some countries to erase the past from our present is a mistake, but that’s another post. I’ll make that one soon.
I flew out of the Charlotte/Douglas airport Monday afternoon around 5:00. After landing in Chicago just after 6, I immediately got busy trying to get myself to Terminal 5, lest I miss my international flight to Warsaw. So focused was I on my task that I didn’t pay attention to the man sneaking up behind me in a black hoodie and black knit cap.
Would-be mugger? Hah. Not a chance. I turned to see Rick Miller, @instructor2121, doing his ninja routine with a big shit-eating grin on his face. Over six hundred miles from home, and I run into somebody I know in the same airport, same line for the transit to Terminal 5. In what world do things like this happen? Mine, evidently. Most striking about this is that it’s a byproduct of Steem. When you form a close-knit community that spans the globe, bumping into people you know at international airports becomes as common as bumping into people you know at the grocery store. It’s just what happens.
Planes, Trains, and Buses.
Holy moly, the 787 is a big aircraft. A whale of a jet. Three rows of three seats and wide aisles, with a herd of flight attendants and a self-serve juice bar in the tail of the plane. Well, I don’t know if that last part is official, but it was on our particular flight. LOL They fed us two meals and I finally got to watch “The Martian” on the back of the seat in front of me.
Our average cruising altitude was 36,000 feet, and cruising speed was 625 mph. We hit the ground in what was, without a doubt, the hottest landing possible without setting the wheels on fire. I’m literally afraid to say how fast the pilot came in based on the in-flight information system, because it seems impossible. But let’s just say we all met the backs of the seats in front of us up close and personal, that there was lots of rubber screeching and smoking, and I’ve never heard engines roar so loudly to slow forward momentum. At least we made it out alive.
The brief flight from Warsaw to Krakow was on a prop plane. At first this troubled me, but only until we hit the air. From my seat, I could watch both the right propeller and the right landing gear in action. My fear of airplanes has turned to fascination.
The INX Design Hotel is remarkably attractive, inside and out. In my opinion, they sacrifice practicality for fashion a little too much, but it’s far from camping. And the fact that I actually ate Polish sausage in Poland is going to be a bragging point from now on.
How to Guarantee Seeing Someone You Know? Wear Your PJs in Public
A quick meetup with @katrina-ariel? No problem. Katrina and I have hung out before. She knows what I look like. But dang—I sneak down to the INX front desk to make sure the last day reservation was booked properly, and BOOM. There’s @crimsonclad, tackle-hugging Muxxy and scaring him witless, and none other than the @steembirds themselves behind me in line. GAAAH! Well, at least I’ll be dressed for the meet and greet. It’s an hour away, so I’d best stop typing, get this posted, and start heading to the Qubus.
Today I have a guest blogger! I recently traveled to New England with a transport for @tarc, and took my dog Paige along for the ride. On the way home, we stopped in New York City for a quick walkabout. Paige had an absolute blast. She’s quite an opinionated girl, so I’ll let her tell the rest of this story in her own words.
A Dog’s-Eye View
Hi, I’m Paige! And I can tell you that New York City is the smelliest place in the world. Some bad smells, but a lot of good smells. I particularly enjoyed the little silver carts full of flashing lights and food. They had hotdogs and philly steak and all kinds of yummies that I could have eaten. But I didn’t eat them. I was good. I was even nice to the other dogs I saw walking in the city and didn’t bark at them at all. I’ve heard New Yorkers are snobby, but I didn’t meet any snobby people. Everyone was really nice to me. Lots of smiles and silly voices. I had a great time!
I wasn’t born yet when the towers fell in Manhattan. I don’t know much about that, except that it makes a lot of people feel really sad all these years later. I could tell that visitors to this particular place in the city were quiet and respectful. So I sent lots of love into the sky for them, because love makes everything better.
I’m glad I wasn’t around when this Bad Thing happened. But I saw a lot of people smiling, even here, where everyone was more quiet and thoughtful. People are like dogs in some ways–very resilient. We deal with what we have to and move on. But we never, ever forget.
The city is really noisy. So many horns beeping and all the mechanical sounds of cars and buses and subways! I did not like the subway grates. I got really good at stepping around them. But I’m glad I had Mommy there to teach me about crosswalks and traffic. New York City is a very busy place!
All the Way from The Battery to Chinatown
We walked a long way! The Battery is where Mommy left the car in a building that you drive through. Yeah, some things about New York are weird. Chinatown was busy, too. And I thought I had to walk up a lot of steps to get to my house! I didn’t see anybody going up and down these, so I figure the people must have a different way in. I hope so. That many steps would make even me tired.
Full disclosure: I did get a little annoyed at having to pose for so many pictures.
But I’m a champ. I shook it off and put my best paw forward.
Then it was time to head back to the car, but oh boy was that a long way to walk! So Mommy decided we could ride the subway. She asked if I would ride in a bag, since that’s the rules. I said sure, I’d try it. So off we went, down the elevator thingie that’s right there on the street, into this whole city under the other city. Who know there were so many people under the ground?
I rocked the bag like a pro.And the ride wasn’t too bad. Our friend who was wit us thought there might be a lot of smelly people on the subway. I’m happy to report that the people on the subway were no smellier than the people on the sidewalks above. I would ride the subway again, bag and all. It got us back to our car fast!
I had a great time in New York City. I proved that it’s very dog-friendly and a great place to explore on four paws. If you’re traveling with pets and you’re in the New York area, don’t miss the fun just because you have a fur-friend in tow! They will enjoy the sights (and smells!) jas much as you do.
Posted from my blog with SteemPress : http://www.authordianeryan.com/uncategorized/at-the-scene-of-impact-nyc/