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.)
I am all packed up, the apartment is cleaned, and my night train for Berlin doesn’t leave for another 4 hours yet still I keep checking my watching wondering when I should head over to Gare de l’Est.
I believe my time in Paris has been spent well. Too well. My feet have walked for miles, my eyes have drunk in the scenes of the Seine, the churches, Versailles, the Left Bank, the Right Bank, the fromageries, the boulangeries, the fantastic open-air markets, the art of the museums… I have checked everything off my list and more. I ate well. I drank well. I spoke in French, I tried to understand French. I was mistaken for a Parisienne.
I met with curators of Greek art at the Louvre and the Cabinet des Medailles. I had the Louvre to myself my first Tuesday here. I was invited to spend as much time as I liked in the Salle de Luynes.. I looked, I drew, I took notes, I went home and worked and worked and worked some more. I went out and walked.
My last full day in Paris I woke up to a rainstorm that slowly calmed as I sat in my apartment in the 3rd eating a breakfast of fried eggs, smoked lox, fresh arugula and soft cow’s cheese. By noon the sun was fighting a winning battle against the clouds and I stepped out in my Parisian uniform of black Chuck Taylors, skinny jeans, a solid tank and a black jacket (which was not necessary within the hour). I walked down Rue Turbigo through some hidden passages with unique shops, then down Rue Montorgueil where I purchased my last pastry in France, then along the Seine towards the Petit Palais (a free and lovely museum with an incredible collection of French painting, 20th century photographs, and also Greek rhyta, among many other things). Then I crossed the Seine to have a late picnic in the shade of the Tour Eiffel. After people watching and sun bathing I began my trek back to my area of Paris, but I took the long way through the Left Bank, down Rue Grenelle then hitting up with St. Germain des Pres and finally crossing over Pont Neuf, up towards the Pompidou and finally my tired but happy legs walked up the steps to my apartment where I poured a glass of vin rouge and prepped the ingredients for one last dinner of steak-frites. Fresh figs from the market on Rue Cler for dessert.
Yes, I would say I had a grand ol’ time in pretty Paris.
Next leg: BERLIN.
Traveler’s tip #19: walk everywhere.
Three full days in Paris have passed and the soles of my feet are feeling the effects. I have focused on the Right Bank (and Ile de la Cite) since the last (and only) time I visited Paris I explored much of the Left Bank, only venturing across the Seine to get lost in the labyrinth that is the Louvre. So I have walked. And walked and walked. And walked some more.
Traveler’s fact #2567: you can never get lost, you can only take the scenic route.
After reaching certain destinations, I would let my curiosity take the helm as last-minute turns steered my way back to my apartment. When you’re not in a hurry, why rush? This way you see more then you ever knew was out there.
I have seen: beautiful architecture, metal framed windows, gloriously large wooden doors, old Parisian ladies, horizontally striped shirts, delicious window displays, museum exhibits, a newly-wed couple roller-blading down the street, historical buildings, green gardens, young lovers, old happy couples, interesting graffiti, many a tour group, the Tour Eiffel in the distance, Les Tuileries, random street art, Angelina’s tea room, L’as du Fallafel, bistro after bistro after bistro, Le Marche des Enfants Rouges, Notre Dame at night, the old Opera house, the collections in the Cabinet des Medailles, the wonders in the Louvre, the period rooms and other works in the Musee Carnavalet, the Bibliotheque Forney (in the Hotel de Sens), scooters ridden on sidewalks, designer boutiques, capoeira street performers in the Latin Quarter, the Pompidou, beach volleyball set up in front of the Hotel de Ville, the Bastille Opera House, a fake beach on the Seine, the flower market on Ile de la Cite, the National Archives building and garden…
And as you walk you smell the city. Much of it pleasant (aromas wafting from the open doors of the patisseries, the mingled smell of produce in the markets, the dense musk of red wine before you take a sip, the fried fragrance of street vendors’ foods, the oddly fragrant smell that permeates leather stores) and some of it not so pleasant (the unfortunately numerous homeless persons who dot the boulevards, the stink from the sewers, the ever-present stench of cigarette smoke). All of this mingles into the smell of a city, and combined with the sights and sounds and ever-present hustle of locals getting to work (yes, even in August when much of France is on Holiday) and tourists seeking their next destination of exploration, it is all an experience I would never forego just to more easily get from here to there via metro.
I have yet to explore and re-explore the left bank or walk along the Champs Elysees or Saint Germain des Pres, or go even further afield to Chartres (tomorrow’s plan) or Versailles (Monday’s plan), but I have another whole week to check everything off my list. And yes, I am also working on my dissertation. My first day here I saw the vases in the Cabinet des Medailles, and my second day here I spent my time the Louvre (which is closed on Tuesdays so I was alone), examining the vases in the galleries, the study rooms, and the storerooms (60 in total! Whew!). Today is full of sitting at my computer, organizing my notes from the museums and all the thoughts that popped into my head since I’ve landed in Europe. There is much work to do, and many questions to pose and answer (or try to answer), but I am plugging along. I *was* planning to run to Sacre Coeur and back today (about 4 miles round-trip), but then the weather changed my plans. As I type, a steady downpour is hitting the courtyard outside my window, and I’m glad I stayed inside (with my lovely friends: wine and cheese).
Paris. Land of love, land of lights, land of the Eiffel Tower, land of glorious stained-glass windows in Gothic churches, land of excellent table wine, land of cheese, land of baguettes, land of croissants, land of wide boulevards, land of striped shirts, land of ‘oo-la-la’, and land of realllly tiny apartments, such as this one in the 3rd Arr. near the well-known bistro “L’ami Louis” favored by those such as Woody Allen and Bill Clinton (not, however, by me). But it’s my base of operation for the next 2 weeks, and I couldn’t be more pleased with it (it even has a tub!). The price and location are certainly right.
My itinerary? At least 2 full days in Louvre spending time with my beloved Greek vases, and then hopefully I’ll manage to explore the other galleries. And at least one full day is in store for the Cabinet des Medailles. .However, the rest of my itinerary is open to suggestion, and those are pouring in by the bucketload! I love it! I have only been to Paris once before, and it was only a week and I spent every day on the Left Bank (except the Louvre and Notre Dame). Now that I’m about to spend 2 weeks on the Right Bank, I plan to wear out the soles of these poor feet as often as I can! I will just need to remember to charge my camera…
Meanwhile, this weekend was not just one of travel (Oxford to London to Paris), but also one of the Crossfit Games. For those of you who don’t know what that means… well then you haven’t spent enough time around me, obviously! games.crossfit.com and GRETCHEN KITTELBERGER, #45 (a.k.a. “G$”)!!! Yes, folks, one of my very good friends gave it her all to place well enough in the Open Qualifiers to make it to Regionals, at which she placed 2nd (top 3 go on — a total of 49 women from around the world competing for the title of The Fittest), and now she is about to compete in the final event at the Crossfit Games. They make cuts each day, and she’s made it into each final cut. She is currently in 12th place (top 12 are in the 8th workout), and she has been tested on skills of various sorts, endurance, strength, and determination. She is pretty damn determined. And above it all, she manages to keep a constant smile and is never seen without ribbons and sparkles adorning her hair.
I’m honored to have had the pleasure of training with Gretchen at Crossfit Charlottesville. She’s the one I chase in lifts and WODs, and of course I never beat her (except maybe on the rowing stuff…), but she’s always always always been there to help and encourage and I can’t say how happy I am for her not only that she made it to The Games (HUGE achievement), but that she’s just out there having a blast living the dream of kicking serious @$$ at the Games.
Watching Gretchen over the weekend (thank you livestream and archives) I finally understood football fans (proper football, not American football). They REALLY love their teams and REALLY get emotional over a win or a loss or even a yellow card. I never truly understood how one fan could be so involved with the success of a team enough to cry when they win or lose (and I cry at almost everything, but never at a sporting event). And then, after I got settled into my Parisian flat, I watched the archival footage of an earlier workout from today, during which Gretchen took 1st in her heat and 4th overall. She was all heart out there. And when she was done, with a fantastic time of 8:09 (over 3 minutes faster than the 1st place of the previous heat), she didn’t just gloat in her glory, she didn’t plop down on her arse due to exhaustion, no not Gretchen. She immediately turned around and cheered on the girls still fighting to finish. (watch here: http://games.crossfit.com/finals/live/jumbotron/629724 ) And you know what I realized? I was crying. I was crying for her success, and I was crying for her awesome spirit of camaraderie. Yeah, she’s an athlete I can get attached to.