If I were a smart (Paleo) cookie, I would have connived a clever application for the Fulbright committee to read that involved me traveling around Europe in order to study the cross-cultural effects of CrossFit. I think maybe they would have gone for that. And then, on the side, I would have used the stipend to fund my dissertation research.
Or I could have spun the “hero” theme — doing “hero” WODs while studying ancient heroes, all the while being inspired by real life ‘heroes’ such as Kyle Maynard.
So it’s no secret that I am not shy, that I love meeting new people, and that I love picking up heavy weights and forging new bonds of friendship over the shared agony that comes with intense exercise (a la CrossFit). Starting in July I began a 5 month adventure in Europe in order to conduct research on my dissertation, but on the side I sought out the local CrossFit boxes or weighlifting gyms. In Oxford I found OXP, a place for Strongmen, Powerlifters, rugby players, and Olympic weightlifters to train… and me. In London I revisited Crossfit Central London for an Oly session. In Paris I ran around the streets, did pull-ups on some random scaffolding, and created daily WODs to complete in my studio apartment. .I got to CrossFit in other languages, starting with German. In Berlin I visited Crossfit Werk a few times, and even got to eat dinner with the crew at a Paleo restaurant. My long weekend in Vienna included two grueling sessions at Crossfit Vienna. Two weeks in Italy with my parents and no Crossfit gym provided opportunity for more creativity: I used my mother as a barbellfor back squats, and a staircase as a pull-up bar. My father joined me in a WOD.
I coached my parents through some tabata squats and plank holds. I completed my first swimming WODs.
Now I’m in Athens and have settled in with the Primal Crossfit Athens group. I am here for 3 months, so I am very glad I enjoy it. I don’t speak Greek (except a few words here and there… mathainw! (“I’m learning!”), but many of them speak English, and where the language barrier is tall we find a way to hurdle over it. After all, encouragement in any language is always appreciated, and the post-WOD feeling of “I’m so happy that’s over with” while you lie on the floor catching your breath is pretty similar for athletes everywhere.
The gym here has been, as ever, very welcoming and full of fun people learning new skills each day and making strength gains, amazing themselves every day at what their bodies are capable of. I am included in this, as well. Though I have still not yet managed to join the muscle-up club, I have finally mastered the art of the one-handed handstand!
And competitions are not absent from my agenda even though I’m in another country! To be fair, each WOD is a competition against yourself and your fellow gym members, but there are other opportunities here, as well. Every Saturday at our gym we hold a \”Primal Tournament\” competition, and in a couple weeks I’ll be venturing to Volos, Greece, to be the only American competitor in the Argo Games. I don’t know much about what to expect, but I fear a mountainous 5k run for the first wod… If anything I know it will be fun! And I will want ice cream when it’s over 😀
Needless to say, it’s been quite an experience seeing the different ways each Crossfit box functions. That isn’t to say all American boxes are the same — because they are not. But there are further differences once you cross the pond: European boxes are predominantly male whereas in the States they are usually at least 50% female; they work with kilos instead of pounds; the pull-up bars I’ve come across here are thicker than in the States (which makes using them more difficult); they are harder to find, in general!!! CF is growing in popularity, but unlike in the States, where Tucson, AZ alone has about 8 different places you can go to Crossfit, Europe has maybe one-three gyms per COUNTRY (Paris, Rome, Florence…. none of the cities have CrossFit).
There are other gyms to visit, of course, including ones that specialize in powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting, and since CrossFit is like a gateway drug to those other disciplines, you can still get in a good lifting session. And I can’t imagine a place where you can’t at least go for a run, or do push-ups in your bedroom. But as anyone who attends a CrossFit gym will know, it’s the community aspect of it all that keeps us coming back (that and the adrenaline/endorphine rush that comes with each workout). And I have to say, not a one has let me down. The Greek guys even invite me, the American, out with them at night.
I will dance party in every CrossFit gym around the world, if I can! (Fulbright or no Fulbright.)
…two notches, actually (my my I’ve been busy!). And this doesn’t count the 3 weeks I spent in England training at Oxford Powersports with a random drop-in to Crossfit Central London. Everywhere it’s always been about the people, and wonderful amazing people (you’ll have to read all the way to the bottom to hear me rave more about people. I love people).
In the past 2 weeks I’ve made more CF friends! In Berlin at CF Werk and in Vienna at CF Vienna. Very different experiences, but both fantastic and happy (I expect no less from my extended and distant CF family)!
CF WERK (Berlin) — Motto: “einfach war gestern”
From the initial emails with the owner, Flo, I knew I’d enjoy this place. Being the only CF box in all of Berlin, it was an easy decision to visit, especially after 2 weeks in Paris with nothing but running and bodyweight exercises. It was completely out of the way, behind a brewery, off my map (no it was literally off my map), but Flo’s email just said “from Suedkreuz, just follow the signs to IKEA then we’re right down the street 200m.” Huh, look at that, he wasn’t kidding. After that all I had to do was just listen for the repetitive clank of a loaded barbell hitting the ground. When I found the charmingly small gym and walked in, someone was plowing through “Grace” (30 clean and jerks for time at 60kg). I hadn’t touched a barbell in over 2 weeks , so I was extremely excited. Excitement, however, subsided quickly when I learned the actual WOD for the day was “Kelly” (5 rounds for time of 400m run, 30 box jumps [24″/20″] and 30 wall balls [10kg/5kg because those are the weights they have]). Their runs are actually 450m around building with uneven terrain, and guess who had to use a 10kg wallball!??! That made things a wee bit more difficult, and needless to say my time wasn’t spectacular. But, the great group that these CF Werk people are, they all just reminded me that I rocked the 10kg wall ball and be glad about that. Oh.. .yeah! Right! Thanks, guys! They were awesome, too, putting up some very impressive times and finishing the WOD with head high and big smiles after. My favorite part? Everyone hugs everyone goodbye. That’s way beyond the camaraderie of just good old-fashioned “high-fives” for a job well done!
Of course I returned on Saturday (couldn’t make it in Thursday due to museum-ing all day, so I made up “Annie” in my hotel room with a PR time of 6:34!) for “Griff” (2 rounds for time of 800m run forward, 400m run backwards), and then stuck around to get some Olympic lifts in. It felt just UH-mazing to put weight overhead again! I kept the weights light to medium (no more than 50kg for snatch and just a few pulls at 60kg for clean and jerk) and then Flo graciously asked me to teach a little session on the Clean and Jerk. I happily obliged, sticking to just power cleans and push jerks, and at the end of an hour I got to see at least three people make huge PRs on their lifts (some by at least 10kg)! Happy smiles all around.
Saturday also ended up with me participating in the most international CF class ever: each person was from a different country (Germany, Australia, USA, Finland, and Belgium), and the class I attended the couple days prior we had an Italian! Only in Berlin, I guess 😀 Now, CF Werk is a small gym, as I mentioned before, and a young one, and it’s not exactly loaded with equipment (only 2 barbells, 2 10kg medballs, 2 5kg medball,s 2 boxes [that can be flipped to become 20″, 24″ or 30″], a few KBs, some PU bars, rings, tires…). This made for a learning experience for me! It’s amazing how creative you can get when you have to make do, such as sharing a box for box jumps (talk about accuracy!). So, for instance, GHD sit-ups. No GHD machine, but there is a loading paddock, a tire, and people. Turns out that’s all you need! Just amazing.
It doesn’t end there (in CrossFit, it never stops at the gym). The next night some of the CF Werk crew joined me for dinner at Sauvage, a Paleo restuarant (yes — PALEO!!!). It was my one extravagant dining expense for myself (about 25 euros for a 3-course meal with a GIANT glass of wine), but gee whiz was it worth it (especially considering my breakfast buffet at my hotel had sufficiently fed me for the entire day for the past week). Above all else, the company was great, and that always makes for a great experience. But also the food was fresh, phenomenally prepared, generous portions were served, and I didn’t have to “resist” any bread tray or worry about what went into the preparations of the food on my plate. Even if you aren’t gluten-free, sugar-free, or dairy-free, I highly recommend this place.
CF VIENNA —
Similar to CF Werk, one of the walls of CF Vienna is decorated with shirts from other boxes (I should send shirts…). This one had shirts from CF Copehnagen, CF London, CF Fenway, CF Adelaide (“like fit, but fitter”) and a couple others. Very cool. Very UNLIKE CF Werk, this gym is located in the basement of a deceptively very nice building on Josefstädter Straße with a door code and everything. The owner, Basti, is L2 certified, and was very welcoming from the start (see a trend there?). His classes were structured similarly to what I’m used to at my home gym in Charlottesville: group warm up, strength, WOD, group cool down stretch. Unlike Flo, Basti led everything in German with the occasional “you have any questions?” directed at me. Thankfully, stretches and movements don’t change with the language barrier, so I was just fine. Wednesday WOD was just 5×5 backsquats. I hadn’t squatted anything but air in 3 weeks, so I knew a heavy set of 5 was going to feel REALLY heavy, but I managed to get 85kg and opted to not try for 90kg and instead do a recovery set at 70kg. The two guys sharing my bar with me were pretty awesome and encouraging, and one of them hit a 5-rep PR at 90kg which was super cool. *Quick sidenote: Vienna is my first experience with real humidity since I’ve left Charlottesville. So I was sweating, a lot. We were all sweating in the 75% humidity and heat. We were indoors, and it was sweaty and dirty and people were lifting heavy and it was great.* Then we had a surprise WOD (hahah surpriiiiise more work!) of a quick 5 minute AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) of 7 push-ups and 7 air squats. I got 11 rounds with HOG push-ups (“hands off ground”). Then stretches, then fist pumps of camaraderie, then some good chatting with the owner. And a promise to return the next day.
Thursday’s noon class was a tad smaller than the previous afternoon, but that’s all good fun. A little different style than the previous day, in that it was just a met-con programmed and no strength component. The metcon was: 3 rounds of 30m bear,crawl and 20-15-10 KB/DB squat clean&jerk. I used 10kg DBs for a time of 6:29 (I should have used the 12kg KBs I realized too late). A little singing, a little dancing, some discussions about Paleo and worldwide CF and the Games and strength bias, some more fist pumps of camaraderie, a quick hug goodbye for Basti (who tricked me into doing the above WOD TWICE, by the way) and then we all headed back out in the heat and humidity to continue our days. Really nice people, fun CrossFitters, I’m looking forward to returning when next I’m in Vienna.
So, I’m having fun touring the CF boxes of Europe. Of course, I would expect no less. I’ve been to quite a few CrossFit gyms outside of the one in Charlottesville, and each one has only resulted in a great experience. It’s no wonder that whenever you ask a Crossfitter, no matter what their level, “What is your favorite part about CF?” almost inevitably their answer will be “the people!”. The community aspect is beyond incredible. I’m here in foreign countries where English is NOT the main language spoken easily able to walk into any CrossFit gym and feel right at home. Can you say that about your gym or sport?
Sadly my next stop is Florence and Rome and they have no CrossFit. But I WILL have my parents, and my mom is perfect to use as a barbell for backsquats. 😀 But then I’ll be in Athens and happily settled in with the fine folks at Primal Crossfit Athens.
My last dinner in Oxford consisted of a pint of Guinness. My lunch today was a beef and stilton pie. I think I’ve grown much too accustomed to British life. Luckily (and sadly, in a way), tomorrow I make my way to Paris for Part 2 of my Travels around Europe(an Museums).
In the meantime, I’ve been quite busy and all over the place.
I realized there are other museums to see in Oxford besides the Ashmolean, and they’re free, too! The Natural History Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum are connected by a building and are FULL of wonderful things to see and even touch. The Natural History Museum is home to many a skeleton of animal and dinosaur, stuffed animals for the touching (I got to pet a cheetah), exhibits of biodiversity and gems and minerals, and even home to the Oxford Dodo.
The Pitt Rivers Museum is almost like a house museum of a very organized hoarder, in that it is just brimming with this and that object, though thankfully each case is grouped thematically. Even the floors are (sort of). The 3rd floor is weapons and armor — they have some ‘war quoits’ which are basically circular blades which REALLLLY is another name for Xena’s chakram. 😀 The 2nd floor is all sorts of games. And the 1st floor, the bottom floor you see here, is full of EVERYTHING ELSE: boat models, instruments, a totem pole, shrunken heads… you name it, I bet they have it.
Did you know that Oxford is also very centrally located to many interesting cities, sites, and even castles? I did. Many of the students here went to Stratford-Upon-Avon, Blenheim Palace, Nottingham, London, Salisbury, Stonehenge… I went to Broughton Castle. I took the train to Banbury, which is best known for the nursery rhyme “Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross”, and from there walked west and just south for about 3.5 miles to Broughton Village. Turn right at the “Saye and Sele Arms” pub and soon you will come upon Broughton Castle, home to Lord Sele and Lady Saye (the Fiennes family, yes of Joseph Fiennes and Ralph Fiennes). The castle, church, and grounds date back to the 13th century, and have since been improved and updated and added on to. It is encased by a moat, has a charming little garden, the stables are now a tea room, and the grounds beyond the moat are free for public use. The castle is full of portraits and period rooms and it is well preserved, and the docents are full of knowledge. It also comes with a very friendly current Lord Sele and Lady Saye, the latter of whom striked up conversation with me on the staircase. If you can get there, I recommend you go.
Now it’s not all fun and games here in Europe, you know!
I’ve been occupying my academic time slots in the Brasenose Library, for one, which has a pretty good selection of scholarship on Classical literature and such. Not to mention it’s got a good interior view!
I also got to spend my time among the books and photos and drawings at the Beazley Archive! Yes, there is the entire database online for worldwide accessibility, but being able to physically spend time with the photographs and notes, and being able to spread multiple images across a very long table, really puts a new perspective on visual comparisons. Plus I got to meet Sir John Boardman, Donna Kurtz, and Thomas Mannack! And of course I’ve been spending much time still at the Ashmolean with the lovely Archaeology class. Awww aren’t we just a good little group! We also managed to take a field trip to the British Museum and that was lovely (naturally).
Afterward the BM, I took advantage of being in London and went to the Tate Modern, but after one floor I’d had enough of Modern Art. I also stopped by CrossFit Central London, where I’d visited when I was last in London over Thanksgiving break, and saw Brian, the owner, and did some clean and jerks under the careful eye of Sauro. He was an enabler and had me attempt a max effort clean and jerk at 75kg (165#) — which I just kept failing (barely). Sadly. The clean was not happening. Needless to say, yesterday at Oxford Powersports I tried it again and got it nice and easy on the 3rd attempt. Speaking of Oxford Powersports, and this being the end of my trip, I made them all take a farewell group photo with me on my last day! Because every girl loves to be surrounded by men with muscles, right? Right!
I’m going to miss all these people, including all the other Oklahoma University Honors Program kids who were staying at Brasenose. I like to say I left knowing all of their names, and I assure you that our ‘funny farewell photo’ should more aptly be named a ‘personality photo’: Good bye, Oxford! I’ll think of you fondly during my onward travels!
Next stop: PARIS.
Week #2 in Oxford is flying by, but at least it is packing itself full of goodness.
The first goodness began on Monday with an afternoon spent walking from the center of Oxford to The Trout Inn, stopping at interesting sites/spots/pubs along the way. The theme of our lovely walk through the countryside was authors of note, including: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, etc. We first wandered into the “Eagle and Child” (where I sipped on cider later in the night, see below), a spot where Tolkien and Lewis used to drink and discuss. Then we walked through Jericho and out of town along a path where perhaps Lewis Carroll recited “Alice and Wonderland”.
There was a little history, too, which was brought to our attention when we came across the 16th century ruins of an old Abbey. Oh hey, really old decrepit building! (Full of cow poop on the inside.) By the side of the Isis river, we learned what a ‘lock’ is (not a ‘loch’). We stopped for a pint (half pint in my case) at The Perch Inn, which you got to by stepping off the main path –not road, definitely just a path — and into a very green path strewn with metal arches that took you to an outdoor area of picnic tables under weeping willows. The pub itself had a fake sheep ‘perched’ on its roof (hence the name). Very adorable, very cozy, quite lovely. After we had finished our drinks we headed back onto the main path along the river and towards The Trout Inn, which is where many an Inspector Morse episode takes place. There was a live peacock and some very good crisp cyder (only a half pint for me, please!). Most of the group who headed out took cabs back, but 5 of us opted for the 3 mile scenic route back to Brasenose. I do not regret it in the least.
The second goodness was an entire day (Tuesday) spent in Bath, with a good couple hours of that day in the Museum of the Roman Baths.
After the fantastic self-guided audio tour of Roman Bath (which included its archaeology, the entire bath complex, and reconstructions of the complex and the temple architectural sculptures), I walked around the town as I made my way towards the Circus and Royal Crescent (anyone familiar with Jane Austen should get excited). There I encountered two of the girls from the OU Honours program, and we walked around the Queen’s Park (Victoria, that is), enjoying the freshly mowed grass, the dogs being walked, the children playing, the flowers blooming, and all that’s lovely about Bath. Then we made our way back to the train station, but, having 45 minutes to spare before the next train, stopped in at “The Hobgoblin” (awesome looking ‘pub’ that turned out to have this creeptastic punk vibe to it with skull decorations everywhere and a basement level called “The Crypt”), and had a half-pint of Hobgoblin Ale (not too bitter with a nice ruby colour).
Spent after a full day at Bath, some of us found ourselves enjoying a pint (or two) at the Eagle and Child pub (previously called “The Bird and Baby”), a favorite watering hole for Inklings J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.
The final goodness is a British PB. Not peanut-butter, but a “personal best” (what we call a PR [‘personal record’] in the States). After a mentally rough day of lifting on Sunday, I came to the gym Wednesday and finally hit 72.5 kg (160lbs) for a clean and jerk (I had previously cleaned successfully at that weight, and jerked successfully, but had never managed to put the two together). It only took two attempts (got a little scared on the jerk the first time around and bailed back), but I stuck it!!! It’s nice to have an Oly gym around; this is something I will miss for the next 6 weeks while traveling around Europe (should have this luxury again once I’m in Athens).
Oxford is always full of tourists, but on the weekends the town really comes to life — especially on the pedestrian shopping streets. Whilst wandering (slowly) among crowds of people speaking a motley of languages, I came across these buskers: The Two Busketeers
They were a great encounter, and a warm welcome since the first hours of my Saturday were dominated by a dreary rainfall (first rain since I arrived on Monday).
The streets around the colleges were strewn with gowned persons holding caps in hands and wearing large (and relieved?) smiles — students who just matriculated. It really is quite a sight, and regretfully I did not capture a photo. Never fear! I am sure there will be many more opportunities.
The first week at Oxford has been good — although I am often reminding myself (or being reminded) that even though I am in another country this is most certainly not a vacation. I am here to study, to work, to be productive, and all of those things I like to think I have accomplished thus far. In one week’s time I have only been out at night once — some of the OU Honours kids and I went to a pub (we tried The Turf but it was much too crowded for our group, so we ended up at The Chequers) then on to The Purple Turtle night club for a dancing. Also when not working, I’ve been occupying my muscles at either the Iffley Sports Centre’s Powerlifting Gym, which is predominantly college boys doing squats and deadlifts, or Oxford Powersports Olympic Lifting Gym, which greeted me with this sign:
I guess they had a bad CF seed visit them once. HOWEVER, besides the welcome sign they are a great group of very strong men (and a couple ladies) who are extremely encouraging and funny and have some great advice for my technique issues. One of them was just named “Britain’s Strongest Man.” Another just placed 4th in a British Oly Meet. Another guy dead-lifted 300kg x2 right in front of my eyes. A couple of them also train with me at Iffley. I’m meeting locals! Yay!
I did NOT see the last installment of the Harry Potter series, yet (to be remedied soon, Loves, soon). Some of the students here did, and one of them even dressed up like Harry. He was quite convincing. Before they went to the show they paid the admission fee to Christ Church college, where much of the first 2 movies was filmed (dining hall, great staircase…).
But really I’ve been spending my days at the recently renovated Ashmolean Museum! They’ve re-thought the way a museum should be organized and the way objects should be displayed. More of a cross-cultural interactive learning experience than a display of really old objects. Read about it! http://www.ashmolean.org/transforming/
Before I even stepped foot inside a single exhibit room, I first entered through the “Study” entrance. I was led up quite a few flights of stairs to the study room in which 5 vases and 1 sherd awaited my attention! The staff apologized for not being able to have prepared a few of the items I requested to view since 2 were off-site, 1 was not in an easy location to remove from display (the giant lekythoi display case), 1 was hiding somewhere in display (same location), and the others were prominently on display (I had assured them they need not remove anything for my personal study which was already on display).
Needless to say, I was allowed as much time as I wanted with those objects, and they were a glorious few hours! When I was done, I still had a little time left before lunch at Brasenose College, so I took advantage of the wonderful location of the study room exit (inside the Special Exhibition) to peruse the objects in the “From Heracles to Alexander” exhibit. The Lady of Aegae really is something!
The Ashmolean occupied much of my week and weekend, as I went back a few times to see all I could see. They have Titians, a Tintoretto, a drawing of Michelangelo’s, wonderful Buddhas from India, a Samurai’s armor from Japan, an incredible collection of porcelain, the “Messiah” (finest Stradivarius there is) among other incredible musical instruments, an amazing collection of Greek vases, Sir Arthur Evans’ Minoan finds, Chinese calligraphy, Byzantine jewelry, the smallest portable Qu’ran I ever did see, and many many more highlights that I just can’t mention here otherwise this post will never ever end!
I still haven’t been to the Natural History Museum to see the remains of a Dodo bird! This is on my list!
“Not all those who wander are lost.” — also Tolkien
6:30am this morning my flight landed at Heathrow airport. Pretty uneventful (thankfully). I went through customs, collected my bag, proceeded to the Oxford X70 coach, paid for my ticket, sat down. An hour later I was walking along High Street towards the main entrance of Brasenose College.
and into New Quad and towards my staircase. Half an hour later I was in my single dorm room, unpacked and ready to shower when I heard the familiar voice of my advisor just outside. I peeked out my head, greeted her enthusiastically, then proceeded to get cleaned up and figure out the internet connection. By noon I was ready for lunch, which wasn’t served until 1. I ate with the professors (yayyy adults!) in Brasenose Hall, under the protection of a quite ithyphallic wooden unicorn (NSFW otherwise I’d post a pic, but you can always google it). After lunch, my advisor showed me a bit around (I hadn’t been to Oxford in 17 years) as we made our way to Blackwell Book Store (and went straight upstairs towards the Classics section, naturally). We found my advisor’s recently published book right there in the shelf, and so of course she posed for the camera!
I saw what looked like a fantastic book by Robin Lane Fox called “Travelling Heroes”, but it was too thick (and expensive) to purchase. Read a review here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/nov/08/greeks-travelling-heroes-review.
So I left to stretch my still jet-lagged legs as I took in some of the sights of Oxford. And boy did I walk. I came back (2 hours later) tan! In England! Whoa. Cornmarket St., down George St. and all the way around until I cut through Pembroke St. towards St. Aldate’s
I took advantage of the lovely ‘high of 71 and sunny’ weather and walked along the Meadow towards the Botanic Gardens, through the rose garden out front (stopped to sniff a few), and down Iffley Rd. I caught the middle of a tennis camp at Christ Church Sports Ground (grass court!), and then decided to double back and head home before it possibly rained (hmmm still no rain). Stopped on the Magdalen Bridge to capture a scenic view:
And now it’s time to relax a little before we are ‘seated’ for our 3-course dinner, again in Brasenose Hall. I started this by nursing some newly purchased dark chocolate (Cadbury Bournville!) and Skype-ing with my parents! I have a feeling I’ll sleep early and well tonight.