All You Need is Ice Cream: Szigliget, Hungary

 

IMG_6754

Our amazing friends from Charleston visited last year and we all took a trip to Lake Balaton for the first time. I’m actually pretty ashamed that I haven’t been to Balaton (although we had a trip scheduled before I caught the flu during my birthday) but it was great to experience Central Europe’s largest lake with them.

21912899_10101468898183536_404823920_n

Also, can we just talk about how amazing Heather and Karl are to smuggle SIX biscuits with them from Charleston (EVO Bakery) all the way to Hungary?

Where are we?

Screen Shot 2018-02-09 at 7.46.38 PM.pngSzigliget (Hungarian for “island park” ) is a village located on Balaton, about an hour (and crazy-bumpy) drive away. Balaton is a freshwater lake and its name stems from the Czech word meaning “sinkhole, deep end of a lake.” A huge tourist destination for Hungary, Balaton has a ton of different towns and villages dotting the coast. Because the average temperature of the water is 77 degrees F in the summer, most visitors either swim, paddleboard, or hang out on one of the beaches.

1280x1080

The many travel sites on Balaton.

Balaton is a shallow lake and runs across the Bakony Mountains. While one large lake today, Balaton was originally five smaller lakes that formed together over time. During the third century, the area experienced a great deal of volcanic activity, which helped shape the landscape of now-Szigliget and Badacsony Mountain. In 1954, mining was halted at the mountain and a national park was established to protect the unique landscape, wildlife, and vegetation that makes up this portion of Balaton.

IMG_6815

Badacsony Mountain also boasts a unique wine region due to the volcanic soil.

The village of Szigliget is located on the northern side of Balaton, near Badacsony. Built on and between volcanic hills, the village has beautiful views of the lake, an adorable center of town, and has an old fortress/castle that is easy to tour. Originally an island that was connected to Balaton in 1822, the first settlers occupied this area during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. While the lake was much deeper during this time–making uncovering artifacts more difficult–archeologists have found a number of tools that can be attributed to the first people that lived near Szigliget.

IMG_6766

View from the top of the fortress.

Originally built as a fortress, Szigleget Castle was transitioned to an official castle after the king fell in love with the design and location in 1262. Over time “the Castle of Balaton” exchanged hands, was added to and torn apart, and even was used for its original purpose as a fortress. After the Turkish occupation of Hungary, the castle lost its importance and due to lack of care and erosion, fell into disarray. In the 1600s, the castle nearly burnt completely down after catching fire from a lightning bolt; due to its loss as a primary military tool, Kaiser Lipot I had Szigleget Castle demolished (and many of the villagers used the debris to build their homes) to most of the ruins that can be seen today. Many parts of the castle (now owned by the village Szigliget) were rebuilt and the area was turned into a park that celebrated its 755 year anniversary in 2015.

szigliget-castle-view-towards-upper-ruins-with-lake-balaton-in-the-background

Szigliget Castle today (Via BetweenEuropeEastandWest.wordpress.com).

dregely

How the castle may have looked before destruction.

The hike up to the castle is pretty easy, with a ton of markers detailing the wildlife and vegetation native to the area.

IMG_6768

IMG_6777

IMG_6791

IMG_6773

Chris: “Can I smoke here?”

IMG_6771

Conquerors of Szigliget

IMG_6794

IMG_6805

The castle also includes a playground, although I felt like this swingset reminded me of Nigel Thornberry from the Wild Thornberries.

Cks8sx8XAAAYvju.png

You can’t unsee it.

IMG_6802

#ClassicKarl being a creep

Szigleget is a small village (less than 3,500 people) and is one of the quieter and more authentic stops on Balaton. They also have the best ice cream ever! As is custom with traveling with Heather, we have to eat ice cream in every town.

IMG_6746IMG_6807

IMG_6813

Umbrellas decorate the walk to the small center of town.

Várkávézó

IMG_6752

Wise words to live by.

Várkávézó Szigliget is an absolute must-stop ice cream stop, no matter if you just happen to find yourself casually driving past Balaton or intentionally are visiting the area. The pistachio flavor was on point. Their flavors change with the seasons, but they are really diverse and unique. I love this Yelp review of the shop:

We live in Szekesfehervar, which is about an hour and a half away. Living in Hungary, we, like nearly everyone else, has an ice cream, on average…. every day of the year. I swear. If you took away beer or ice cream, Hungary would stop working at all. With that said, as you might imagine, Hungarians are experts on ice cream and are all aficionados. We are no exception.
These guys imported Italian machinery and use only in season fresh fruits, nuts and sweets to create their ice cream. It’s so good that twice, we’ve driven the hour and half, each way, just for the ice cream when there are at least 10 ice cream places within walking distance from our house. Seriously. No joke.

IMG_6748

The best.

 

22053000_10101474354234566_1466920131_n

Ice cream in Pápa

 

IMG_6823

Advertisements

Larry Nassar Abuse Part 6: “I’ve Signed Your Death Warrant” & Holding Enablers Accountable

(Check previous blogs for parts 1-5)

A lot has happened this week. As Larry Nassar receives his final sentencing in the largest sports sexual abuse case in the United States, let’s recap all the things that went down the past few weeks as we look forward to creating institutional and cultural change.

media4.s-nbcnews.com180123-nassar-victims-mn-820b38b7399b82c8614fcca43bd756bb04f1aaf5.jpg

Survivors give victim impact statements in court.

Larry Nassar

merlin_130417158_5dc7466e-1a58-4ae8-9484-bd9f8e5fafd1-master768

Nassar (middle) about to be sentenced by Judge Aquilina.

Ingham County Sentencing

Last week, after hearing 156 victim impact statements (almost double the number of survivors that originally came forward) Judge Aquilina sentenced Nassar to 40-175 years in prison for abuse in Ingham County. In her final statement, Judge Aquilina referenced to the letter written by Nassar, which accused her of being media-hungry, blamed the media for “sensationalizing” the court, and that he “was a good doctor because my treatments worked… I was so manipulated by the [attorney general] and now Aquilina, and all I wanted was to minimize stress to everyone. The FBI investigated [my Olympic medical treatment] in 2015 because nothing was wrong. Now they’re seeking the media attention and financial reward.”

giphy

SLAY.

Judge Aquilina threw the letter on the floor and stated:

“This letter, which comes two months after your plea, tells me that you have not yet owned what you did. That you still think that somehow, that you’re right, that you’re a doctor and you’re entitled. That you don’t have to listen and that you did treatment. I wouldn’t send my dogs to you, sir. There’s no treatment here. You finally told the truth.

Your decision to assault was precise, calculated, manipulative, devious, despicable. I don’t have to add words because your survivors have said all of that and I don’t want to repeat it. You can’t give them back their innocence, their youth. You can’t give a father back his life, or one of your victims her life when she took it. You can’t return the daughter to the mother. The father to the daughter.

Sir, I’m giving you 175 years, which is 2100 months. I’ve just signed your death warrant.”

Image result for yas queen gif

Accurate representation of me and a friend screaming in a Bratislava speakeasy as we watched the sentencing on my phone.

While there was some criticism for how severe Judge Aquilina spoke to Nassar, the point of this hearing was to provide each survivor with the chance to read their story; this was part of his plea bargain agreement. Many women openly thanked Judge Aquilina in court, online, and even Simone Biles called her a hero on national television. She is a hero for standing up and commending these tremendous women for coming forward after years of being ignored and harassed.

Shannon Smith: “There is a huge part of me that does not believe that every one of those girls was victimized by him.”

nassar_s_attorneys.jpg

Shannon Smith (left) released statements discrediting the number of women that have forward against her client.

Shannon Smith stated last week that she felt that many of the women speaking against her client were not, in fact, victims of abuse at the hands of Nassar but that, “There were girls who had perfectly normal lives that never questioned the medical treatment done by Larry Nassar — and there is a legitimate medical treatment that involves touching sensitive areas and even penetrations.”

Related image

For the record, his “treatments” were performed without gloves, proven to be sexual abuse and not an actual medical procedure, without parental consent, and without a guardian present. She continued:

“Some of those girls, to be quite frank, they didn’t even know what to think because they never felt victimized. He was never inappropriate to them. And because of everything they’ve seen, they just feel like they must have been victimized. And I think that’s really unfortunate.

I have a very hard time believing that my client could have even possibly assaulted that many people day in and day out in front of their parents, and that every single one of those things was a crime, but he was such a manipulator he got away with it. I just can’t imagine that’s true.”

Smith herself was criticized in a number of victim impact statements for her behavior in the courtroom, where she was seen laughing and texting while survivors spoke.

ESPN noted the statement by former gymnast Madison Bonofiglio:

“she knows of ‘at least 10’ other friends who have chosen not to file reports despite being abused by Nassar. She said some decided it wasn’t a good time for them to do so, and others ‘didn’t think it had happened to them enough.’

‘It really makes me sad that some of my best friends think that because they were only assaulted by Larry five or 10 times that wasn’t enough to matter,’ Bonofiglio said. ‘I think this really matters.'”

Father Attacks Nassar: “I’m not here to upstage my daughters. I’m here to help them heal.”

larry-nassar-attack-2018-02-02t143436z.jpg

During the Eaton County statements Randall Margraves, a father of three survivors, asked Judge Cunningham for five minutes alone with Nassar. When she denied his request, he attempted to attack the man who abused his daughters. The Judge stated that she “cannot tolerate or condone vigilantism or any other type of action that basically comes down to an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” but did not press any charges against Margraves.

Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis added: “This is letting him have this power over us,” she said. “We cannot behave like this. I understand this is a remarkable situation. But you cannot do this. This is not helping your children. This is not helping your community. This is not helping us.”

Eaton County Sentencing

636534229687218704-020518-dy-Nassar-Eaton0539.jpg

Judge Cunningham sentences Larry Nassar to 40-125 years.

This week, Eaton County Judge Cunningham sentenced Nassar to another 40-125 years in prison, bringing his total to 360 years for both the child pornography and sexual abuse charges. Judge Cunningham stated:

“The depth of the tragedy is incomprehensible. It spans the country and the world. It has impacted women, children and families of varying ages, races and walks of life. Individuals that have suffered physical and emotional harm as a result of your actions live all over the country and the world. I have heard statements of individuals that live in Michigan, Delaware, Arizona, Colorado, Ohio, Florida, Nevada, Chile, London and France. It is also evident that there are an infinite number of victims that still have not been heard from or counted.

Your criminal conduct did not just hurt the victims, but it also hurt everyone who cared about them. Your conduct has impacted every aspect of the lives of each of the women and the young girls. I have heard and considered each of their stories. Their stories are not redundant, even though many of the descriptions of the grooming by the defendant were eerily similar. One victim made the observation that often one victim is seen as a tragedy, but 100 victims are seen as a statistic. That concern is understandable. It is not true in this courtroom. The ramifications of each person that you meet, and each person’s thoughts and feelings, are important. Each voice and each story does make a difference.”

During the sentencing, Nassar began filling out his appeal against the federal child pornography charges; he asked to be appointed an attorney as he can no longer afford representation.

Related image

John Geddert and Twistars

87f83e7e-78c1-4e34-a89c-763ecec39868.sized-1000x1000.jpg

Geddert with World Champion Jordyn Wieber at the 2012 Olympics. Jordyn, now the Volunteer Assistant Coach for UCLA, testified against Nassar. She is a former athlete of Geddert.

The Eaton County hearing was not only important because it provided a space for survivors to speak, but also to potentially hold accountable the enablers who allowed Nassar’s abuse to continue for 20 years, specifically in the Twistars gym.  Many of the survivors in both counties discussed the mental and physical abuse they suffered at the hands of coach John Geddert, who owns Twistars in Eaton County.

Geddert and Nassar played “good-cop, bad-cop” according to a number of former athletes. As Geddert abused his gymnasts physically (forcing Bailey Lorencen to continue training with a broken bone in her back, an injury she was lucky to not be paralyzed as a result of the continuous training, and throwing Makayla Thrush into the bars, tearing stomach muscles that ended her career) as well as mentally (Makayla Thrush stated that John “told me to kill myself not just once, but many other times. After you ended my career, I tried.”) allowed Nassar’s grooming for abuse. His sympathetic comments and understanding allowed him to build trust with Geddert’s athletes. He also was given access to gymnasts visiting Twistars for competitions. Nassar was the only doctor allowed to provide athletes with medical notes to miss practice; Geddert refused to give time off to athletes that did not see his preferred doctor.

In 2011, Geddert was accused of harassing the parent of an athlete outside of his gym, including physically assaulting her. In 2013, he was accused of assaulting an underage athlete by following her into the locker room, stepping on her toes, and pushing her into a wall. The 2011 case was dropped by the Assistant Prosecutor because pushing the woman did not constitute as assault. Larry Nassar stepped in on Geddert’s behalf after the 2013 incident occurred; he pleaded with the 11-year old’s grandmother (via text) to not press charges against the coach. USAG investigated both events in 2014, but did not take action against Geddert.

Related image

USAG WERE YOU GOOD FOR ANYTHING?

In mid-January, as numerous victim statements showed the extent of abuse at Twistars, USA Gymnastics suspended the 2011 World Championship and 2012 Olympic Team Head Coach. Days later he sent an email to the families of his athletes explaining that he was retiring. He then transferred ownership of his gym to his wife. The Eaton County Sheriff’s department is now conducting a criminal investigation against Geddert.

Michigan State University

MSU President Resigns

merlin_132432563_ef069fd5-7a3b-43c2-8376-4c79e64c4d99-master768.jpg

MSU President Simon gives a sincere apology for her lack of transparency and refusal to see herself as part of the problem at a university that has been under investigation for covering up sexual abuse for years. Oh, wait.

On January 24th, Michigan State University’s President Lou Anna Simon resigned from her position amid growing allegations of her mishandling of the Nassar abuse. Simon was accused of allowing Nassar to continue seeing patients while being investigated by police, creating a culture of abuse within the university with zero transparency of assault cases brought by students of MSU, and not being present in the courtroom while athletes presented their statements.

Related image

Former MSU gymnast Lindsey Lemke was one of the most outspoken of Simon’s handling of the case.

Rather than take responsibility as MSU President, she said in her statement: “As tragedies are politicized, blame is inevitable. As president, it is only natural that I am the focus of this anger.”

Related image

MSU Athletic Director Resigns

dt.common.streams.StreamServer.jpg

MSU Athletic Director Mark Hollis resigned days after Simon. The 2012 Athletic Director of the Year was under scrutiny for mishandling abuse claims brought against Nassar, most notably for the 2014 report by recent graduate Amanda Thomashaw. The Title IX investigation, which cleared Nassar of all charges due to the testimonies of his MSU colleagues, could have stopped the abuse of potentially hundreds of women if handled correctly by Hollis. At the end of the investigation, MSU sent two different reports to Thomashaw and Nassar.

Here is the conclusion Thomashow received: 

“We cannot find that the conduct was of a sexual nature. Thus, it did not violate the Sexual Harassment Policy. However, we find the claim helpful in that it allows us to examine certain practices at the MSU Sports Medicine Clinic.”

And Nassar’s copy:

“We cannot find that the conduct was of a sexual nature. Thus, it did not violate the Sexual Harassment Policy. However, we find the claim helpful in that it brought to light some significant problems that the practice will want to address.

We find that whether medically sound or not, the failure to adequately explain procedures such as these invasive, sensitive procedures, is opening the practice up to liability and is exposing patients to unnecessary trauma based on the possibility of perceived inappropriate sexual misconduct. In addition, we find that the failure to obtain consent from patients prior to the procedure is likewise exposing the practice to liability. If procedures can be performed skin-on-skin or over clothes in the breast or pelvic floor area, it would seem patients should have the choice between the two. Having a resident, nurse or someone in the room during a sensitive procedure protects doctors and provides patients with peace of mind. If ‘touching is what DO’s do’ and that is not commonly known, perhaps the practice will want to consider a disclaimer or information sheet with that information provided to the patient up front.”

While Nassar was not charged (he was also allowed to see patients while under investigation) MSU did “implement” a number of practices to protect the university, including requiring the doctor to wear gloves, having another person in the room during examinations, and obtaining consent. MSU Dean William Strampel admitted that he did not follow up on those new requirements.

In addition to the mishandling of the abuse allegations against Nassar, ESPN reported that Hollis kept incidents of sexual assault by football and basketball players quiet:

Over the past three years, MSU has three times fought in court — unsuccessfully — to withhold names of athletes in campus police records. The school also has deleted so much information from some incident reports that they were nearly unreadable. In circumstances in which administrators have commissioned internal examinations to review how they have handled certain sexual violence complaints, officials have been selective in releasing information publicly. In one case, a university-hired outside investigator claimed to have not even generated a written report at the conclusion of his work. And attorneys who have represented accusers and the accused agree on this: University officials have not always been transparent, and often put the school’s reputation above the need to give fair treatment to those reporting sexual violence and to the alleged perpetrators.

It is also important to note that in November 2017, Title IX regulations were rolled back, which can make reporting abuse even more complicated for survivors of assault.

USA Gymnastics

USOC Forces USAG Board To Step Down

Aly Raisman (left) and Jordyn Wieber (right) wait to share their impact statements.

The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) asked all members of the USAG Board of Directors to resign or the organization would lose status as the governing body for artistic gymnastics. The USOC stated: “We do not base these requirements on any knowledge that any individual USAG staff or board members had a role in fostering or obscuring Nassar’s actions. Our position comes from a clear sense that USAG culture needs fundamental rebuilding.”

On January 26th USAG responded that they “completely embraces the requirements” of the USOC and all board members resigned from their positions.

While this is an important step for USAG, it is important to note that the USOC has long supported USA Gymnastics and their handling of the Nassar abuse. 2012 and 2016 Olympic Champion Aly Raisman roasted USOC’s position by stating:

Related image

Get em girl.

National Team Coordinator Resigns

Image result for valeri liukin

In a shocking development this week, Valeri Liukin stepped down as the National Team Coordinator for the women’s gymnastics program. Liukin, a Soviet Olympic Champion, is the owner of the famed World Olympic Gymnastics Academy (WOGA) in Plano, Texas. The gym has produced a number of World and Olympic champions, and NCAA scholarship athletes; WOGA athletes include Carly Patterson, who won the 2004 Olympic All-Around and 2008 Olympic All-Around Champion, Nastia Liukin, also Valeri’s daughter.

After running the developmental program under Marta Karolyi, Liukin was chosen by Marta to replace her following the 2016 Games. While Liukin has produced success in 2017 (difficult after the Olympic year) a number of past stories of abuse have tainted his success as NTC. Former gymnast Katelyn Ohashi stated on her blog that Liukin’s training practices left her with an eating disorder and emotional abuse:

“It started when I was 13, barely weighing 70 pounds. I’ve been told I looked like I swallowed an elephant or a pig, whichever was more fitting that day. I was compared to a bird that was too fat to lift itself off the ground. If I ‘looked’ bigger on a given day, I had to run and condition with heavy sweats until it seemed like I was ‘ready’ to start practice. I’ve even been asked to sign a contract that would basically prohibit me from training if I did not lose weight.”

Vanessa Atler, a 2000 Olympic hopeful, switched gyms leading up to the Olympic Trials;  this abrupt change from her home gym during the Olympic year was unusual and the Karolyis reportedly asked Liukin to take her on as an athlete at WOGA. In an interview Atler said that Valeri did not like his gymnasts to drink water because it made them look “bloated” and that she was weighed several times per day:

“I’m such an emotional eater and if I’m stressed about something, I’ll just eat, eat, eat. It was the first time where if I wasn’t losing weight, I’d go and eat more food because I was stressed about it. It was just a horrible thing.

I started throwing up for a little bit just because he weighed us three times a day, which is insane…We had this paper in his office where they have a scale, you’d weigh in the morning and you’d write down your weight and then after workout, you’d write down your weight and at nighttime, for the last workout, you’d write down your weight, which is so stupid because it just doesn’t mean anything.”

Liukin responded to Atler’s claims that overall, they had a positive working environment, and he has changed as a coach since 2000.

 

Image result for vanessa atler liukin

Atler (left) in 1998

 

A number of other gymnasts have come forward with similar stories of training with WOGA and under Liukin. Former gymnast Mattie Larson, who was part of the 2010 World Championship team, stated in her victim impact statement: “It truly bothers me that one of the adults that treated me this way, making me feel completely invisible, is the new national team coordinator, Valeri Liukin. It troubles me that he is now in that position, and I hope for the sake of current and future national team members, that he has changed.”

While it is unknown whether Liukin–again, handpicked by Marta to replace her as NTC–was under pressure from the USOC or USAG to resign. Many of the current athletes have praised him as the National Team Coordinator. In his statement, Liukin said:

“I was truly looking forward to trying to turn this program around and bring success to our country and the gymnastics community. But the present climate causes me, and more importantly my family, far too much stress, difficulty and uncertainty,” he said in a statement.

It is time to move on in a different direction, at least for now. I wish the coaches and athletes continued success, and I stand ready to encourage and support all of them from a different vantage point.”

The Ranch Is Shut Down

Image result for usag shut down ranch

In mid-January, USAG cut ties with the Karolyi Ranch, the previous National Training Center. After Simone Biles stated she did not want to return to the NTC where Nassar abused her and other athletes, USAG responded that they would in fact, change locations.

Image result for thank you gif

On January 30th, Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered the Texas Rangers to investigate the Karolyi ranch following the testimonies and statements by survivors of Nassar’s abuse. Again, I want to quote Mattie Larson on the extent of the physical and emotional abuse of the Ranch, as well as the sexual abuse she suffered there:

“There is an eerie feeling as soon as you step onto the Karolyi Ranch. It is completely removed from all civilization. In the case of an emergency, the closest hospital is so far away you’d need to be helicoptered there. To get to the ranch, you must drive up a dirt road for what seems like an eternity. And the closest civilization is a high-security prison 30 miles away. On top of that, there’s no cell service. It’s completely isolated, and that is no mistake. That is how the Karolyis wanted it.”

Larson described the grueling seven-hour practices six days a week that she and her teammates endured at the Karolyi Ranch, saying she “dreaded” going back every summer. After spiraling into a deep depression and “destructive” eating disorder at 15, Larson said she deliberately hit her head on a bathtub to get out of going back to the ranch.
“One time, I was so desperate not to go, I thought faking an injury bad enough was the only way out,” Larson said as she began crying. “I was taking a bath when I decided to push the bath mat aside, splash water on the tiles, get on the floor and bang the back of my head against the tub hard enough to get a bump so it seemed like I slipped…  Marta, did you keep Larry around because he was a good doctor? Or did you really keep him around because he let us compete when we were injured and was willing to keep your secrets?”
Image result for mattie larson

Mattie reading her victim impact statement.

The Ranch should have been closed years ago for a number of reasons. USAG is holding a verification competition later this month at LSU to choose athletes for a number of upcoming competitions.

The Federal Government Gets Involved

At the end of January, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill 406-3 that would implement new reporting requirements of sexual abuse.The bill requires all sports organizations to report abuse to law enforcement.

Image result for celebration gif

I feel like this is Reporting Abuse 101, but if it makes reporting assault mandatory and holds those that don’t report accountable. So please sign this into law.

As we continue to see the allegations stack up against MSU, Geddert, and USAG, the big push in the next coming months will be translating these abuse statements into actual, tangible conditions, both in terms of culture, infrastructure, and at the local, regional, and institutional levels. Rachael Denhollander, one of the first accusers to come forward against Nassar said she “wouldn’t be here had the adults and authorities done what they should have done 20 years ago.” Following the Nassar case, she ended that the survivors would now help change ” the institutional dynamics that led to the greatest sexual assault scandal in history.”

Required Viewing/Listening: Mattie Larson Impact Statement and gorgeous 2010 routine

Continue reading

Kraków, Poland: The Time I Tried to Beat the Pierogi Record

IMG_6300

(Warning: I do discuss concentration camps in this post)

I LOVE POLAND! Last summer I visited Kraków with a couple of friends and had an amazing experience. Being of Polish descent, I’ve been dreaming of visiting the country since we moved to Hungary in 2016.

Image result for polish gif

As people who know me already know, pierogi are my absolute favorite food (if you don’t know what a pieróg is please read this first before continuing and also reassess your life) so of course I visited Poland with the goal of beating the world record for pierogi consumption. That is until I realized that record is held by Joey Chestnut, who ate 165 pierogi in eight minutes.

Image result for i'm really proud of you gif

Not all heroes wear capes.

I did my best while in Kraków (literally eating them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner) but I didn’t come close to achieving Chestnut’s record; however, this is just an excuse to make more trips to Poland (side note: Cleveland, Ohio–a city with a large Polish population–holds the record for the largest pieróg ever made).

Image result for cleveland rocks gif

This is part one of my Kraków trip because I want to devote an entire post to our visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau. I’m mentioning this here because if you’re planning on seeing Kraków, Auschwitz is only a 30-minute drive from the city and is absolutely a must tour.

Where are we?

Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 1.30.26 PM.png

Kraków (Cracow), Poland is only a six-hour drive from our town. The second largest city in Poland, Kraków is also one of the oldest, dating back to the 7th century. Located on the Vistula River, the city’s name is derived from the Proto-Slavic word “krak”, which translates to “staff” or “oak”. The city was first founded by Krakus, the prince who led the Lechitians, a Polish tribe. Legend states that Krakus famously slayed the dragon of Wawel Hill (more on that later).

Like many of the cities in Eastern Europe, WWII drastically changed the culture and population of Kraków. During the German occupation, Kraków became the capital of the General Government following the invasion of Poland by the Germans in 1939. Hans Frank, it’s ruler, lived in Wawel Castle; the castle is located in the center of Kraków, on Wawel Hill, and on the Vistula River. The goal of the Germans was to Germanize the city by removing all aspects of Polish language, culture, and the people who lived there. As a result, academics were sent to Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps while Jews living in Kraków were first confined a portion of the city known as the Kraków Ghetto before being sent to various work and concentration camps, including Auschwitz.

The Nazis then renamed the streets and sites of Kraków to German titles and even produced propaganda detailing how the city was historically German. Because the city was loved by the Germans, most of the historical architecture of Kraków remained intact during the war. Poland suffered heavy losses of human life during WWII (16-17% of its population).

IMG_6016

The Sites:

Main Market Square (Rynek Główny):

IMG_6022

Town Hall Tower (Wieża ratuszowa w Krakowie) is the only remaining part of the old Kraków Town Hall that was demolished in 1820.

IMG_6019

Krakow Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) is one of the main attractions in the square.

IMG_6200

Inside the Cloth Hall

IMG_6303

St. Mary’s Basilica was built in the 14th century. Every hour a trumpet plays Hejnał Mariacki, a five-note Polish anthem, from the highest tower.  The title Hejnał Mariacki comes from a Hungarian expression that translates to “Saint Mary’s Dawn”. The tune stops mid-stream in remembrance of the 13th-century trumpeter who was shot in the throat while warning the city of a Mongol attack.

img_6323.jpg

St. Mary’s Basilica was nearly destroyed by the Mongols but was rebuilt on its old foundation in 1320.

IMG_6304

The interior of St. Mary Basilica.

IMG_6305

Old Town is known for its art, musicians, and crafts. Unfortunately (or fortunately? Still undecided) for us, the musician near our apartment only played Oasis’ “Wonderwall” and The Cranberries’ “Zombie”. Over and over.

IMG_6224

Old Town

IMG_6228

Grodzka street leading toward Wawel Castle.

IMG_6220

The Church of St. Adalbert (Kościół św. Wojciecha) was built in the 11th century.

IMG_6222

The Church is named after Saint Adalbert, whose body was purchased from Prussia for his total weight in gold.

IMG_6306

Interior of St. Adalbert

Wawel Castle

IMG_6223

Grodzka Street leading to Wawel Castle

While people have inhabited the area that is now Wawel Castle since the Paleolithic Age (WHAT), the first ruler of the Polish state chose this site as his home in 966. The castle itself was built by Casimir III the Great in 1333; It’s one of the largest and oldest castles in Poland.

IMG_6227

The legend of the dragon that terrorized residents of pre-Kraków settlements is an interesting part of the city’s history:

From that day on there was no peace in the village. Daily, the dragon would appear to carry off a victim. Sometimes a sheep, or dreadfully, a child or even a grown man. The villagers called the hideous creature “Smok”. Men banded together to try and slay the dragon, but their primitive weapons were no match for the thick scales of the dragon. Many men died in the attempt to rid the village of this terrible curse.

In the same village lived a wise man named Krakus. Some thought him something of a magician, for he would mix herbs to heal the sick. The villagers came to Krakus to ask for his help. Krakus thought for a long time, studying his jars of herbs and things, and all the while murmuring to himself. Then he started to mix up a paste. He summoned the villagers to bring a sheep to him. He covered the poor sheep with the unpleasant mixture and carrying it up the hill, threw the sheep inside the cave.

After several suspenseful moments, there came the sound of the great dragon roaring and bellowing its way down to the Vistula River. The mixture that the sheep had been coated with caused a great burning inside the dragon. It drank and drank until it began to swell. Some say it drank half of the Vistula River that day. Still it drank to quell the relentless burning in its gut. Suddenly, there was a great explosion and the dragon burst!

The people rejoiced at the demise of the fearsome creature. They were so impressed with the wisdom of Krakus that they invited him to rule over them. They built a stronghold at the top of the hill and below it, the city prospered under his rule. The city was named Krakow in honor of Krakus. When Krakus died the people gave him a magnificent burial, and erected a mound over his tomb, bringing the dirt with their own hands. It has endured throughout the centuries as a lasting monument to their wise and brave King.

IMG_6229

The castle and cathedral show nearly all forms of European architecture: medieval, baroque and renaissance.

IMG_6232

Wawel Castle holds the Polish Crown Jewels and is a UNESCO site.

IMG_6233

The Royal Archcathedral Basilica of Saints Stanislaus and Wenceslaus on the Wawel Hill (królewska bazylika archikatedralna śś. Stanisława i Wacława na Wawelu) is over 900 years old and is considered a Polish national sanctuary.

IMG_6235

The Cathedral (katedra wawelska) is also the coronation site for Polish monarchs.

IMG_6236

IMG_6237

The Cathedral is also the main burial site for Polish monarchs.

IMG_6238

IMG_6239

View of the Vistula River from the castle. Legend holds that Krakus’s daughter Wanda drowned herself in the Vistula rather than marry a German knight.

IMG_6246

You can tour the Dragon’s Den located under the castle (please excuse my horrible picture), a cave in the side of Wawel Hill that formed 25 million years ago. During medieval times, these rooms served as both a tavern and brothel.

IMG_6249

Now the dragon is a statue outside of the castle that breathes fire every few minutes, terrifying the unsuspecting children (okay, I was caught off guard too) walking nearby.

Kraków Jewish Ghetto:

We took a guided tour around the Jewish Ghetto the Nazis created during WWII. Kraków’s Ghetto was one of five created by the Nazis to control, deport, and murder Jews and other people (including Roma, gay men, people with disabilities, persons of color, and many more) they found “unworthy of life.” The German occupation of Poland provided a large population of people that were transported and murdered during the Holocaust.

xxl.jpg

Map of the Jewish Ghetto in Kraków.

At the time of the German invasion, 60,000-80,000 Polish Jews lived in Kraków. In 1939, the Nazis required all Jews to report for forced labor, then wear mandatory armbands. Hans Frank stated that Kraków should be the “racially cleanest” city in General Government and as a result, the deportation of Jews started in 1940. Of the 68,000 Polish Jews living in Kraków before the invasion, only 15,000 were allowed to remain as workers. They, and their families, were resettled in the Podgórze district of Kraków (known as the Kraków Ghetto) in 1941:

 Previously inhabited by a little over 3, 000, the Krakow Ghetto was spread over a few dozen streets in and around Zgody Square (since renamed Bohaterow Getta Square), containing some 320 tenement buildings. A 2-3 metre high wall was raised along the perimeter of the Krakow Ghetto, crowned by a line of arcs reminiscent of Jewish tombstones, tragically prophetic – portions of which remain today…

Windows facing onto the outside world were bricked up and the gates were strictly policed. Krakow Ghetto became desperately overcrowded: each new resident was allocated a mere 2m2 of living space. Life in the Krakow Ghetto was a constant struggle: food was scarce and hunger became the gravest affliction; sanitation was sorely inadequate and the German command grew increasingly brutal and inhumane.

There were many instances of resistance within the Ghetto walls including the Akiva Youth Movement, Jewish Fighting Organization, and the Polish underground (Armia Krajowa). In 1942, the Nazis began deporting Jews from the Kraków Ghetto. Many were sent to the Krakow-Płaszów concentration camp, Bełżec death camp, and Auschwitz. Those unfit for work (2,000 people) were shot in the streets of Kraków.

Today, you can tour the Kraków Ghetto and see the many memorials that were built to commemorate the people and violence that occurred there.

IMG_6255

Church of St. Joseph (Kościół św. Józefa)  was built in the early 1900s.

IMG_6256

Ghetto Heroes Square (Plac Bohaterów Getta) holds 33 memorial chairs to commemorate the atrocities that occurred in this once bustling center. The original entrance of the Kraków Ghetto is at the entrance to the Square.

IMG_6259

The last remaining wall of the Kraków Ghetto wall.

Our tour guide actually lives in Podgórze and one thing I found interesting is that her building still retains the bricked windows facing the “Aryan” side of the city.

Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory: Museum of Wartime Kraków:

Oskar Schindler was a German businessman and Nazi who saved 1,200 Jews during WWII. Schindler owned a number of factories in occupied-Poland and employed Jews in Podgórze originally because their labor was cheaper than Poles, but then he continued to employ and protect his Jewish workers throughout the liquidation of the Kraków Ghetto.

“Schindler’s Jews” as they became known, included men, women, and children of all ages. Schindler was able to protect them from deportation through his connections within the Nazi party, the vital role his factories played in the war effort, and by constantly making exemptions for the skills of his workers.

Towards the end of the war, Schindler’s bribes and black-market dealings became more and more suspicious, but he was able to protect his workers from deportation. Even when they were accidentally sent to the Gross-Rosen and Auschwitz concentration camps, he was able to manage their safe return to the factory. While Schindler isn’t the only German who helped protect Jews during WWII, he is arguably one of the most famous, due in large part to the 1993 movie Schindler’s List.

Schindler’s Podgórze factory was converted to one of the most amazing and interactive museums I have visited in Europe. I highly recommend making a trip if you can. I took a ton of pictures, but didn’t want to post them all here; I think it takes away from the overall experience and sheer “whoa!” factor of the museum.

IMG_6265

Can you imagine being the person who had to place the swastika tile? The museum details how Kraków was invaded by the Nazis and the steps taken to destroy the country’s Jewish population.

IMG_6279

IMG_6270.jpg

IMG_6272.jpg

Enamel products made at the factory.

Restaurants:

IMG_6023

IMG_6031

The beautiful bakery next to our apartment.

Marchewka z Groszkiem (Peas and Carrots):

THE ABSOLUTE BEST PLACE. Marchewka z Groszkiem was highly recommended by friends of a friend who have lived in Kraków for years; I’m so thankful they told us about this adorable restaurant. With so many amazing options to choose from, I just basically ordered enough food for five people (no regrets) and loved every single thing. Look at this menu!

IMG_6285

Pierogi! These are spinach+sheep’s cheese and sauerkraut+mushroom. The dessert dumplings were amazing too (sweet cheese and cream sauce).

IMG_6284

Crispy potato pancakes with sour cream

IMG_6283

Green pea and carrot soup

IMG_6282

Local Kraków beer

Da Pietro:

We had dinner at Da Pietro our second night day in Kraków. It was such a beautiful day and after a long afternoon of sightseeing, we wanted to grab food near our apartment. Thankfully they have a good menu with a ton of options and great drinks, along with outdoor seating so you can see the sites in the square.

IMG_6197

IMG_6199

Spinach, gorgonzola, pears, and walnuts on a pizza.

Chtopskie Jadto:

My first pierogi in Poland! Chtopski Jadto is a cute little restaurant with a ton of different pierogi options. I prefer a crispier potato pancake, but the pierogi were great. In Poland you choose whether you want your pierogi fried in addition to boiled, so make sure to ask! You could also order 30 pierogi to go, which looking back, I should have done.

IMG_6203

Ruskie: Potato, onion, and white cheese

Tiffany Ice Cream:

Recommended by a friend, Tiffany Ice Cream is the absolute best ice cream I’ve had in Europe. Please note Monica (on the right) with her four scoops like a freaking badass.

IMG_6209

Pod Noseum:

We stopped at Pod Noseum on our way to Wawel Castle. The first floor of an executive hotel, it was definitely the most upscale of the restaurants we visited. Their special that day was mushroom pierogi, so you know that my obvious choice. They were amazing.

IMG_6226

Random Starbucks Coffee:

We stopped at Starbucks before leaving Kraków and I had the best/most embarrassing Starbucks experience of my life. When I asked for a black coffee, the barista replied, “like your soul?” which made my day.

IMG_6301

After paying, I swung my backpack back onto both shoulders (#twostrapping) and a bottle of Polish vodka flew out of my bag and broke into a thousand pieces all over the floor. The entire Starbucks smelled like plum vodka at 10am.

the_rock_breathing0

Me deciding whether to run, cry, laugh, or hide.

Thankfully, the barista was very nice and even refused to allow me to help mop up all that wasted liquor.

Kraków is one of my favorite cities and if you have the chance to visit, definitely make time to see it. While I crossed Kraków off my list of places to see, it’s absolutely top of the “need to visit again asap” list.

IMG_6218.jpg

— Ashlyn

Watching: Peaky Blinders Season 4

Reading: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Larry Nassar Sexual Abuse Part 5: MSU’s System of Enabling

To recap, please read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

So far, I’ve really given Michigan State University a pass and that ends today. Most of the known facts of the Larry Nassar crimes and cover-up came from USA Gymnastics and former USAG elite athletes. Sure, MSU was mentioned because Nassar was employed by the institution for decades, but most of the knowledge of the now-largest sexual abuse case in the history of sports in the United States put a majority of the blame on how USAG royally dropped the ball on 1) protecting athletes from a serial pedophile and 2) covering up Nassar’s (and many other abuser’s) crimes.

Michigan State not only knew about Nassar’s abuse in 1997, but maybe earlier.

Now with the over one hundred victim statements read in court–and this will probably increase as more survivors come forward–we are getting a greater picture of not only MSU’s involvement, but also the system of enabling that gave Nassar his power.

There are three main players in this game: USA Gymnastics, Michigan State University, and John Geddert’s and his gym, Twistars. I’ve talked at length about USAG and a little about MSU and Geddert, but today, I am specifically detailing MSU’s System of Enabling.

I just want to start with this simple fact: not one MSU employee has yet to be fired.

1997: “I was silenced. I just wasn’t going to say anything else.”

Larry Nassar began working at Michigan State University after finishing his primary care medicine fellowship at the institution in 1997. He was hired as a team physician and assistant professor. This is the year following the 1996 Atlanta Games where he was seen carrying Kerri Strug after her famous vault that clinched the first team gold medal for the American women.

Related image

Nassar reaches for Strug at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

In addition to his duties at MSU, Nassar also worked as a team physician at Holt High School and continued working with coach John Geddert, who opened his new gym, Twistars, also in 1996. Because of his busy schedule, Nassar also “treated” patients in the basement of his home and MSU. It was there, in 1997, that the first documented case of abuse occurred that was largely ignored by Michigan State.

Larissa Boyce was sixteen years old the first time she met Larry Nassar and was treated in the basement of MSU. She was a gymnast with Spartan Youth Gymnastics, a program for upcoming gymnasts that was coached by MSU’s Gymnastics Head Coach Kathie Klages. After Nassar molested her, Boyce and a 14-year old unnamed friend (also a gymnast in the program, who states she was abused as well) approached Klages and described the abuse. Klages refused to believe that Nassar, being a person she trusted for years, would be abusing gymnasts. Instead, she insisted that the girls were mistaken and the treatment was legitimate. An ESPN interview with the athletes states:

“I was silenced. I just wasn’t going to say anything else,” Boyce says.

“They just kept it quiet, and that is what’s so hard — knowing that if adults were to make the right decision and do the right thing at the right time, that the abuse could have stopped,” the second gymnast says.

In her victim statement last week, Boyce said: “Larry had adults on his side, protecting him, enabling his abuse and helping him achieve a God-like status… You and Kathie silenced me… You took away my confidence. You took away my innocence, and you took away my voice, but today is a new day. Today, I am claiming my freedom from you.”

Klages did not report the complaints to the police or university officials; instead, she told Boyce: “I can file this, but there are going to be serious consequences for you and Nassar.” Michigan law requires teachers and school administrates to notify police of suspected abuse. While the occupation of coaching is not blatantly included in the law, attorneys have included coaches under the “teacher” role.

1999: “He’s an Olympic doctor and he should know what he is doing.”

In 1999, MSU runner Christie Achenbach made a complaint about Nassar’s abuse to the Assistant Running Coach, Kelli Bert. Bert stated that she did not remember the conversation, but that if it did happen, she would have reported the complaint to Michigan State. No report was filed.

2000: “I felt like they thought I was a liar.”

Nassar began abusing Tiffany Thomas Lopez, a scholarship softball player, in 1999. In 2000, she notified four people at the institution that she felt that Nassar’s treatments were actually sexual abuse but was ignored. In an interview she stated that, “Initially I was told, ‘No, this was not a sexual assault. This is by the book.’ And then I was told that ‘this is something Dr. Nassar has created to help you and the pain you’re in.’ So it was as if he was the mastermind behind this new treatment.”

Two of the four trainers– Lianna Hadden and Destiny Teachnor Hauk–are still employed by Michigan State University.

 

2002: “There are people that are hesitant to speak up because they think a victim wanted to be assaulted.”

In 2002, Jennifer Rood Bedford also told Lianna Hadden that Nassar was sexually abusing her: “In the end, she wanted me to understand that filing a report, it would involve an investigation, making an accusation against Nassar and statement that I felt that what Nassar did was unprofessional or criminally wrong.” In a 2017 statement to police, Hadden stated that she never had one athlete complaint against Larry Nassar.

2004:  “I was basically choking, and I said, ‘I. Was. Not. Lying.'”

Kyle Stephens is the only non-medical survivor to have come forward against Nassar. Last week, she was also the first person to read her survivor statement at Nassar’s sentencing. Family friends with the Nassar’s, Stephens was six years old when he first started molesting her. At age twelve, she began recognizing the acts as abuse and told her parents. In 2004, her parents spoke to Michigan State professor and clinical psychologist Dr. Gary Stollak and Nassar. Following the meeting, Stephens’ parents forced her to apologize to Nassar for the allegations she made against him.

Her parents, especially her father, did not believe her. Prior to leaving for college, Stephens again told her father that the abuse was not a lie. Finally believing her, Stephens’s father committed suicide in 2016.

Dr. Gary Stollak was required by law to report sexual abuse but did not notify authorities. He retired from Michigan State in 2010 and testified that he suffered a stroke following his retirement that severely alters his memory. Stollak also stated that he disposed of his clients notes as well.

2014: “I was ignored and my voice was silenced.”

Amanda Thomashow was a recent graduate of MSU when she was abused by Nassar: (warning: graphic language below)

Thomashow — who had kept her identity concealed until this week — told the investigator Nassar worked on her shoulder and massaged her breast “like your boyfriend would while you were making out with him,” according to the report.

She tried to stop him, but Nassar continued, massaging her over the top of her clothes and then moving his hands underneath her sweat pants.

“He began to massage her with three fingers in a circular motion in her vaginal area,” according to the Title IX report. “She states that he was extremely close to inserting a finger into her.”

She immediately reported to MSU the abuse that occured in Nassar’s office. MSU began a Title IX investigation; the police department also started a separate criminal investigation. The IX report includes interviews from Dr. Brooke Lemmen, Dr. Lisa DeStefano, Dr. Jennifer Gilmore (all MSU specialists) and Destiny Teachnor Hauk. Lemmen, DeStafano, and Gilmore were all colleagues of Nassar and told police that the treatments were not abuse. The Title IX complaint stated that Nassar was not at fault.

Michigan State did not notify USAG or Twistars that Nassar was under investigation. He was allowed to continue to see patients while the complaint was under review. According to police records at least twelve women were abused by Nassar during this time.

DeStafano and Gilmore are still employed at MSU. Lemmen resigned from MSU in 2017 after she discovered that the university was considering firing her after the administration found out that she had: “‘removed ‘several boxes of confidential treatment records’ from Michigan State University’s Sports Medicine Clinic at Nassar’s request, according to documents in her personnel file that the Lansing State Journal obtained Friday through the Freedom of Information Act.”

2016: “She just kept defending him.”

Former MSU gymnast Lindsey Lemke was first abused by Nassar in 2008. She saw him “at least three times a week for three years” until she switched gyms. During her collegiate career, she transferred from the University of North Carolina to MSU, where she saw Nassar once.

In December 2016, as allegations against Nassar mounted, Lemke’s parents became concerned that Lindsey too was a survivor and she stated that, yes, she was among the group of women abused by Nassar. She called MSU Gymnastics Coach Kathie Klages, who assured her that the abuse was in fact a legitimate treatment. Klages also asked her gymnasts to write a letter of support to Nassar when he was first arrested.

In January 2017, Lemke filed a lawsuit against MSU and Klages was suspended two weeks later (she retired the next day). In her victim statement to Nassar, Lemke stated:

“Shame on you,” she said of Michigan State.

She said she was terrified of what the university would do to her because she came forward. Lemke said Michigan State “created an environment where victims were afraid to speak up.”

Lemke addressed Kathie Klages, Michigan State former women’s gymnastics coach, who allegedly was told of abuse in 1997 and remained silent for years. Lemke said that Klages deserves to to be behind bars with Geddert and Nassar.

“To (Michigan State President) Lou Anna Simon: You are no president of mine as a student and former athlete of MSU. Guess what? You’re a coward too,” Lemke said.

You can watch Lindsey’s statement (AND YOU SHOULD) here.

To recap:

  • 1997: Nassar began working for MSU
  • 1997: First complaints of abuse about Nassar to Klages.
  • 1999: Abuse is reported to Kelli Bert.
  • 2000: Complaints of abuse to athletic trainers Lianna Hadden and Destiny Teachnor Hauk.
  • 2002: Complaints of abuse reported to Lianna Hadden.
  • 2004: Dr. Gary Stollak hears allegations of abuse.
  • 2014: Title IX Complaint filed. Dr. Brooke Lemmen, Dr. Lisa DeStefano, Dr. Jennifer Gilmore, and Destiny Teachnor Hauk defend Nassar’s treatments.
  • 2016: MSU athlete reports abuse to Kathie Klages

Major Players in the System of Enabling

  • Kathie Klages: Former Women’s Gymnastics Head Coach of MSU and retired in 2017. Klages previously worked for John Geddert (along with Nassar) and after retiring from MSU, resumed working for Geddert for a period of time.
  • Lianna Hadden: Still employed at MSU
  • Destiny Teachnor Hauk: Still employed at MSU
  • Kelli Bert: Former Head Coach at MSU
  • Dr. Brooke Lemmen: Still employed at MSU
  • Dr. Lisa DeStefano: Still employed at MSU
  • Dr. Jennifer Gilmore: Resigned from MSU in 2017 after removing Nassar’s records from the university.
  • Dr. Gary Stollak: Retired from MSU in 2010.

 

I don’t want to compare different criminal acts of abuse. There are currently hundreds of Nassar survivors coming forward, and there could potentially be thousands. If we look at the last large-scale sexual abuse acts at the institutional level–Penn State–then Michigan State NEEDS to be held accountable. The university currently employs those that helped enable Nassar to abuse athletes and children for over twenty years. Their President has not resigned. In the case of Penn State, three administrators were sentenced to charges of child endangerment after Jerry Sandusky was found guilty of abusing ten young boys.

Little Girls Don’t Stay Little Forever. They Grow Into Strong Women that Destroy Your World. 

-Kyle Stephens

Current number of victim impact statements as of day 5 are 158 (originally slated for 88 survivors to speak).

 

 

 

 

Larry Nassar Sexual Abuse Part 4: “No, I will not and should not carry the guilt that belongs to Larry Nassar, USAG, and others.”

For a background on the largest sexual abuse case in the history of the United States, please read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Yes, this is the largest case of sexual abuse in the history of the United States. The now 140 athletes that have filed lawsuits against Nassar is nearly as many survivors as “the Jerry Sandusky, Bill Cosby, and Harvey Weinstein scandals combined.” Today, January 16th, Larry Nassar faces not only his sentencing, but also the victim statements from the survivors of his abuse; The Michigan Attorney General had to set aside several days for the expected 88 individuals to share their stories. Because of Nassar’s plea agreement, if found guilty, he can receive anywhere from 25 to 40 years to life in prison. This sentence is added to the already 60 years he was given for possession, and filming of, child pornography.

The cases against Nassar, USAG, and MSU have quickly developed further over the past week. Let’s get up to speed.

“I want everyone to know that he did not do this to Athlete A, he did it to Maggie Nichols.”

Image result for maggie nichols

Maggie Nichols in 2015.

As noted in previous posts, the first complaint made about Nassar to USAG was filed in 2015 by an unnamed coach who overheard athletes discussing his “treatments” at the National Training Center (Karolyi Ranch) in Texas. The coach spoke with Senior Vice President of the Women’s Program, Rhonda Faehn, who then reported to the head of USAG at the time, Steve Penny. This week, World Champion and now NCAA National Champion Maggie Nichols came forward as the person referred to as “Athlete A” in the case; the gymnast that sparked the investigation into Larry Nassar. In her statement she notes:

Recently, three of my friends and former National Team members who medaled at
the 2012 Olympics have bravely stepped forward to proclaim they were sexually
assaulted by USA Gymnastics Team Physician Dr. Larry Nassar.
Today I join them.
I am making the decision to tell my traumatic story and hope to join the forces with
my friends and teammates to bring about true change.
Up until now, I was identified as Athlete A by USA gymnastics, the US Olympic
Committee and Michigan State University. I want everyone to know that he did not
do this to Athlete A, he did it to Maggie Nichols.
In the summer of 2015, my coach and I reported this abuse to USA Gymnastics
leadership…

Dr. Larry Nassar was regarded throughout the sport as the very best by coaches and
staff throughout the gymnastics community. He was a doctor at Michigan State
University and the Olympic and Team USA doctor assigned to us by USA Gymnastics
at the Olympic Training Center at the Karolyi Ranch. He was supposed to care for us
and treat our injuries. The first time I met Dr. Nassar I was about 13 or 14 years old
and receiving treatment for an elbow injury. At the time it seemed like he knew
exactly what therapy was necessary for me to recover. Initially, he did nothing
unusual.
But when I was 15 I started to have back problems while at a National Team Camp
at the Karolyi Ranch. This is when the changes in his medical treatments occurred.
My back was really hurting me, I couldn’t even really bend down, and I remember he took me into the training room, closed the door and closed the blinds. At the time I thought this was kind of weird but figured it must be okay. I thought he probably
didn’t want to distract the other girls and I trusted him.

I trusted what he was doing at first, but then he started touching me in places I
really didn’t think he should. He didn’t have gloves on and he didn’t tell me what he
was doing. There was no one else in the room and I accepted what he was doing
because I was told by adults that he was the best doctor and he could help relieve
my pain.
He did this “treatment” on me, on numerous occasions.

Not only was Larry Nassar my doctor, I thought he was my friend. He contacted me
on Facebook complimenting me and telling me how beautiful I looked on numerous
occasions. But I was only 15 and I just thought he was trying to be nice to me. Now I
believe this was part of the grooming process I recently learned about.
One day at practice, I was talking to my teammate, and brought up Dr. Nassar and
his treatments. When I was talking to her, my coach overheard. I had never told my
coach about these treatments. After hearing our conversation she asked me more
questions about it and said it doesn’t seem right. I showed her the Facebook
messages and told her about what Nassar was doing. My coach thought it was
wrong, so she did the right thing and reported this abuse to the USA Gymnastics
staff.
USA Gymnastics and the USOC did not provide a safe environment for me and my
teammates to train. We were subjected to Dr. Nassar at every National Team Camp
which occurred monthly at the Karolyi Ranch. His job was to care for our health and
treat our injuries. Instead, he violated our innocence.
I later found out that Michigan State University had ignored complaints against
Larry Nassar from other girls going back 20 years and had investigated him for
sexual assault in 2014. They never told USA Gymnastics. If they had, I might never
have met Larry Nassar and I would never have been abused by him.

A few things that are important to remember and have been consistent with each survivor coming forward:

  • The abuse started when she was underage and at USAG sponsored events (competitions, traveling, required training camps)
  • Nassar groomed her by giving her compliments and providing comfort during stressful times (training camps).
  • She was told that Nassar was “the best” and that the girls were lucky to be seen by him.

While USA Gymnastics was notified of the abuse in the summer of 2015, the organization took five weeks to report Nassar to law enforcement and also failed to notify Michigan State University, where Nassar was working after being quietly “let go” from his position with USAG. Similarly, MSU did not speak to USAG when, in 2014, an athlete came forward about Nassar’s treatments; her story did not constitute as a policy violation.

The 2015 World Championship Team (From left to right-back to front: Gabby Douglas, Brenna Dowell, Madison Kocian, Maggie Nichols, Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Mykayla Skinner)

After filing the complaint, CEO Penny called Nichols’s parents Gina and John to “discourage [them] from reporting Nassar’s conduct to law enforcement and pressured them to keep the matter quiet.” Gina told Sports Illustrated:

“I got a phone call probably the next day [from] Steve Penny,” Gina told SI. “He called me, I don’t know how many times, to talk to me about it and make sure that I understood they were taking care of it. When I have the president of USA Gymnastics telling me what to do, he’s in a position of power over me. We’ve given our whole family up to get our daughter to this point and [when] I have Steve Penny telling me this is what we’re going to do, we’re going to be quiet, I’m going to listen to him. I’m not going to jeopardize my daughter’s chance of going to the Olympics.”

Maggie’s mother was interviewed by CBS News and details the extent of the control USAG had over the athletes: “He was allowed as an adult man in his mid-forties or fifties to do whatever he wanted to as a physician with no supervision, we never gave parental consent….Nobody was ever in the room. He was allowed to do whatever he wanted to with his bare hands. We couldn’t even stay in the same hotels with her when she competed for our country all over the world, but then they allowed a molester to do whatever he wanted to our daughter as a minor. But we were supposed to trust USA Gymnastics. It’s not OK… Where are the other adults that were at the Olympic training center, allowing this to go on.”

After Maggie’s statement, USAG responded with the following:

USA Gymnastics admires Maggie Nichols’ bravery and encourages our athletes and others, like Maggie, to share their personal experiences with abuse. We are sorry that any athlete has been harmed during her or his gymnastics career. USA Gymnastics is focused every day on creating a culture of empowerment that encourages our athletes to speak up about abuse and other difficult topics….

Contrary to reported accusations, USA Gymnastics never attempted to hide Nassar’s misconduct. The suggestion by plaintiff’s counsel John Manly, who indicates that he is representing Maggie, that USA Gymnastics tried to silence athletes or keep the investigation secret to avoid headlines before the Rio Olympics and to protect Los Angeles’ Olympic bid is entirely baseless. USA Gymnastics kept the matter confidential because of the FBI’s directive not to interfere with the investigation.

USA Gymnastics reported Nassar to the FBI in July 2015 and to a different FBI office again in April 2016. When Maggie’s comments were relayed by her coach to the organization, USA Gymnastics immediately contacted her parents and hired an experienced, independent investigator to speak with her and others at a mutually agreed date and time. The information that Maggie and later a second athlete provided was important, but did not provide reasonable suspicion that sexual abuse had occurred…

USAG stated that they hired “an experienced, independent investigator to speak to her and others.” This investigator, Fran Sepler, stated that she was in fact “not hired as an investigator, I was only hired to conduct several interviews by USA Gymnastics who indicated they were conducting an investigation into allegations and needed someone who was a skilled interviewer.” Maggie’s dad, John, states, “When the Fran Sepler interview was arranged, I was under the impression that this was the FBI investigator. We were never told who she was, what her position was, and so we thought it was part of the FBI investigation.” Sepler is also the person who interviewed Aly Raisman on behalf of USAG.

Following the pressure to keep quiet, Maggie and her family were not contacted until a year after she first filed her complaint, days prior to the 2016 Olympic Trials. During this time, Nassar was still practicing both at Michigan State University and the Twistars Gym Club in Michigan.

The day following the USAG press release regarding Maggie, Aly Raisman responded Twitter: “STOP VICTIM SHAMING. Your statements are hurtful. If you did not believe that I & others were abused than why pressure & manipulate us? WE WERE MOLESTED BY A MONSTER U ENABLED 2 THRIVE FOR DECADES. You are 100% responsible. It was mandatory to get “treatment” by Nassar.”

Twistars and Michigan State University are “Immune to Liability”

Image result for michigan state university

This week Michigan State University and Twistars filed motions to dismiss because they believe they were not liable to protect athletes from abuse. In 2014, a complaint was brought against Nassar by a MSU student; while the complaint against Nassar was dismissed, the university did implement several protocols that Nassar was found to have abused in 2016, leading to his termination at the university.

Dr. Jeffery Kovan (former head of MSU sports-medicine clinic), Dr. William Strampel (former dean of the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine) and Kathie Klages (former MSU gymnastics coach) are the three former MSU employees listed as co-defendents in the lawsuits. MSU believes Kovan and Stampel, formerly in charge of Nassar, should be excluded from the lawsuit as they filed the graduate student’s complaint with police (law enforcement later cleared Nassar of the charges). The complaint, filed with police and Title IX stated: (explicit language below)

The woman alleged Nassar massaged the woman’s breast, even after she said it was not helping with her hip pain, she alleges in her lawsuit. He then massaged her vaginal area under her underwear, even after the woman told him to stop, the lawsuit says. The woman had to physically remove Nassar’s hands from her body, the lawsuit said, and she noticed Nassar had an erection.

Nassar was suspended for three months after the 2014 complaint were filed. He was allowed to return to work after he was cleared by the Title IX investigator.

However, the plaintiffs’ lawyers point out that Nassar was allowed to see patients while still under investigation by MSU police and that Michigan State never notified USA Gymnastics of the 2014 allegation involving Nassar.

While Klages received complaints about Nassar from multiple athletes over the years, because she was not Nassar’s supervisor, MSU states that she too should be released from liability (Klages, it should be noted, required her athletes to write cards to Nassar when he was arrested; she was released from her position in 2017). In their motion to dismiss the university as a co-defendent, MSU attorneys stated: “With the benefit of hindsight, Plaintiffs contend that MSU should have known that Nassar was a predator or done more to prevent his criminal conduct. But that is not the standard  by which Title IX liability is measured.”

 

Olympics Day 4 - Gymnastics - Artistic

John Geddert at the 2012 Olympics.

Head Coach John Geddert of the Michigan club Twistars also filed a motion to dismiss his liability regarding athletes abused by Nassar in his gym. Geddert was the Head Coach of the 2011 World Championship Team and 2012 Olympic Team; both teams have not only three known survivors of Nassar’s abuse, but 2011 was also the competition in which Maroney details the assault where she was drugged and woke up with Nassar in a hotel room. His attorneys stated that “neither Geddert nor Twistars is required to report suspected child abuse, based on the state’s Child Protection Law, which lists mandated reporters.”

Geddert was listed as a co-defendant by a few of the first survivors to come forward to IndyStar in 2016. One survivor testified that Geddert walked in and made a joke when she was being “treated” by Nassar: (graphic statement below)

VICTIM G: “I remember, John, my coach walking in and that’s kind of why I remember because I did feel uncomfortable that he was in there.”

AG: “And then what happened?”

VICTIM G: “Mostly all I remember is him doing the treatment on me with his fingers in my vagina and massaging my back and with a towel over my butt and John walking in and making a joke that I guess my back really did hurt and then I was uncomfortable because John was in there during that.”

Geddert also came under scrutiny when he hired former MSU coach Kathy Klages as a  “fill-in” in his gym. After initially denying the report, Geddert admitted she did in fact worked a few days at Twistars.

These suits are similar to the one filed by USAG that also states the organization was not required to report instances of abuse.

Marcia Frederick “Forced” To Come Forward After Complaints are Ignored

Image result for marcia frederick gymnast

Three days ago, the first ever World Champion for the United States came forward with not only her story of abuse at the hands of her coach, but how USAG ignored her complaints and allowed him to continue to train gymnasts. Marcia Frederick won the gold medal on uneven bars at the 1978 World Championships, marking the first time an American woman earned a world title in Artistic Gymnastics. Frederick was coached by Richard Carlson, a man she says abused her from the age of 16 (right after she won her gold medal) until her retirement from the sport at 18.

Frederick first told other coaches, the organization, and other adults about the abuse in 1980 but was ignored. She alleges that “Carlson had her engage in sex acts” for two years while she trained and competed for the United States. “Two years,” she said, “For me seemed like 10 years.” Her frustatrations with the failure of USA Gymnastics to continue allowing Carlson to coach even after her interview with the organization in 2011 forced her to go public this week.

In 2011, USAG interviewed Frederick regarding coach Don Peters, a National Team Coach accused by three teenagers of forcing them to have sex with him in the 1980s. In November of 2011, Peters was banned from the sport. He also coached Nassar survivor Jeannette Antolin before the ban. While Frederick denied that Peters had abused her, she told the organization that Carlson, who continued to coach gymnasts in 2015 and instructed at USAG-sanctioned clinics, had. USAG responded that the investigation only concerned Peters, not Carlson, and no further action against Frederick’s coach was taken. Two days before Nassar left USAG in 2015, Frederick lodged a formal complaint against Carlson with USAG after her 2011 interview was largely ignored.

Carlson’s attorney stated: “I guess he would deny any of her allegations dealing with impropriety,” Colleluori said, “Rick just wants to live a nice, quiet life.” Colleluori added that Carlson has considered suing Frederick for defamation but “he won’t do it. He’s too good of guy.”

Simone Biles is Third Member of Final Five to Publicly Come Forward

Related image

Yesterday, the most decorated American gymnast in the history of the sport joined her teammates in coming forward with allegations against Nassar. Her statement, released on Twitter, describes her abuse and struggles with publicly discussing surviving sexual abuse. Biles, who won four gold medals at the Rio 2016 Olympics and is arguably the greatest gymnast of all time, is also known for her outgoing personality and love for the sport:

DTnJoImVwAAl7FL.jpg

Here is the response from USAG:

“USA Gymnastics is absolutely heartbroken, sorry and angry that Simone Biles or any of our athletes have been harmed by the horrific acts of Larry Nassar. We are our athletes’ advocates. USA Gymnastics will continue to listen to our athletes and our members in our efforts of creating a culture of empowerment with a relentless focus on athlete safety every single day.”

To which I have one reaction:

Image result for sure gif

Sure, Jan. Okay.

To Recap: 

The Case Against USA Gymnastics:

While USAG may believe they held no liability for athlete safety and that they handled the sexual abuse allegations with accordance to the law, the point here is that they DO and they DIDN’T. This organization made its money off of the backs of the girls and women who won gold medals and the clubs and organizations that pay to be a part of the USAG organization. USAG created a culture of abuse, then turned its back on the athletes that sacrificed so much for their sport, protecting the molester that abused them instead. Here’s a recap:

  • Gymnasts were not allowed to have their parents or guardians with them at the mandatory monthly training camps held at the National Training Center OR at domestic and international competitions. Cell phones were also limited at the National Training Center.
  • Nassar was allowed to tend to gymnasts in their hotel rooms and the rooms they occupied at the National Training Center.
  • When allegations against Nassar were filed, USAG insisted to the parents of Maggie Nichols not to report to police, that their silence was needed for a more thorough investigation; they finally reported the abuse to the FBI five weeks later.
  • The “investigator” (USAG’s words) sent to interview Nichols and Raisman was not an investigator at all, but rather a person that specializes in sexual harassment and work disputes. When asked to speak to her a second time, Raisman was denied and also told to remain quiet, that the organization was handling the case.
  • USAG allowed Nassar to quietly leave the organization in 2015 and did not notify Michigan State University that he was under investigation for sexual abuse; Nassar continued to treat athletes at the university.
  • In 2016, USAG filed a settlement with 2012 Olympian McKayla Maroney for $1.25 million to remain silent on her abuse at the hands of Nassar.
  • In December, USAG files a motion to dismiss as they have “no legal duty to protect plaintiffs from Nassar’s criminal intent”.

Related image

Now What?

Nassar should be sentenced this week or next (depending on how long the 88 victim statements take to read) and will most likely serve the rest of his life in prison for both the abuse and child pornography charges. That small comfort–knowing that he can not hurt another person–I’m sure is at least a little justice for the more than 140 women that have come forward and the countless others that most likely have not shared their story.

DToDOfKVwAEeC-2.jpg

Simone and Aly in 2016.

While this case does not have the publicity that Weinstein or Penn State has received, the fact that so many high profile athletes have come forward–Maroney, Raisman, Douglas, and Biles–has propelled the allegations into a greater light. With the #metoo and #timesup campaigns gaining more traction, I believe women are feeling more comfortable with coming forward. There’s strength in numbers.

On the other hand, these campaigns and the public statements from such high profile athletes has made others question the legitimacy of their claims, which I fear will grow as more people tell their stories of abuse. I want to take the remaining space to combat some of that.

My New Years Resolution was to stop reading online comments but this morning I couldn’t help but take a peak. Simone Biles was truly THE gymnast of the 2016 games and most people know her (or of her) because of her endorsements and TV appearances. Finally, I thought, this abuse would reach even greater headlines (which is a shame because the popularity of the gymnast shouldn’t result in more people knowing about Nassar, but that is the world we live in). Wow, was I wrong. I could screenshot some of these comments, respond to their words, but instead I am just going to answer the most popular and disgusting comments I saw today:

I don’t want to hear about all the pervs out there. Give it a rest. Whether you like it or not, these “pervs” are out there and it is through these voices that we learn more about how perpetrators abuse their victims. Every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted. We DO need to talk about this. We DO need to teach every single person consent and signs of abuse. “Stranger Danger” is fine to teach, but you are more likely to be assaulted by someone you know. #metoo and #timesup might make people feel uncomfortable because there are a ton of stories now public. It can be overwhelming, I get that. But for many survivors of assault, these stories ring true. If it makes you uncomfortable, good. You’re learning that a lot of instances are buried, un-reported, or simply not discussed. We shouldn’t have to “give it a rest” when there is real work that needs to be done.

What happened, her endorsements dry up, need some cash now? Not that it matters, but Simone’s net worth is close to $3 million. As athletes, Simone, Aly, and McKayla went pro prior to their respective Olympics and did make money off of their medals and endorsements. Maggie, Jamie Dantzscher, and Antolin, for example, remained amateur athletes; they didn’t accept a dime and instead went on to compete in college on an athletic scholarship. Steve Penny, the CEO of USAG, was fired from the organization last year and given a $1 million severance package, nearly the same amount the organization gave to Maroney in an attempt to (illegally) keep her quiet. Because these women have come forward as survivors of assault does not mean they will even see a penny from the lawsuits. The organization however, made money from clubs, elite competitions, and endorsements, while simultaneously protecting a pedophile. Biles, for example, may not even be one of the survivors that are a part of the lawsuit; if she is, that shouldn’t matter. The abuse still happened to her, as a child and against her will, at the hands of a pedophile.

I wonder about these claims. Having a very difficult time believing these women! A majority of victims of abuse are the ages of 12-17. 93% of these

Maggie, Simone, and Aly in 2015.

cases are perpetrated by someone the survivor knows. Two out of three instances of assault go unreported for many reasons including fear of retaliation and not understanding if the act was actually assault. EDUCATE YOURSELF. It is not the obligation of survivors to come forward. These athletes were conditioned that Nassar was the best and they were lucky to be seen by him. I am sure the number of gymnasts coming forward has given the more recently public survivors the confidence that they have each other, unlike the MSU student or Marcia Frederick, whose independent stories of abuse were largely ignored. Former gymnast Kathy Johnson-Clark said: “If we don’t at some point connect the dots to say, ‘You know what, this goes so far back,’ it’s going to keep going on in the future.”

On the other side, there has been a ton of support from fans and athletes. Thankfully, many of the survivors will have their day in court today, but a lot won’t. Regardless of the sentencing, we need to look at the structures, factors, and mentalities that allowed Nassar to abuse so many people for so long. Changing the culture and institutions–this is by no means an isolated instance of abuse–is the real victory for us moving forward.

tumblr_p2ao29GRUT1qceecko1_500.jpg

Via Oklahoma’s Twitter. Maggie is a returning sophomore and reigning National Champion with the Sooners.

 

Special thank you and appreciation to Gymcastic for their unrelenting coverage of this story.

Currently Listening To: Uncivil Season 1

 

 

“And Here Sweet Wine Makes, Once Again, Sad Eyes and Hearts Recover”: Bled, Slovenia

IMG_5890

Last year Chris and I spent our 11th wedding anniversary in the absolutely breathtaking city of Bled, Slovenia. Once again, I never thought that Slovenia would be at the top of my list of travel destinations, but the country is so beautiful and fun that I would recommend planning a trip here ASAP. We randomly stayed in Bled the weekend of Bled Days, the most famous event for the city.

Where are we?

Screen Shot 2018-01-09 at 4.08.44 PM.png

History of Lake Bled: 

The city of Bled is located on Lake Bled, situated in the northwestern corner of Slovenia, 30 miles from the capital Ljubljana, and south of the Kawawanks mountains. The lake has a really interesting geological history (nerd alert) and was formed by both tectonic and glacial movements. During the Pleistocene Era (2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago), the Bohinj glacier developed the landscape around Bled, while the tectonic activity formed the valley for the location of the lake. Erosion caused the softer ground to be worn away, leaving behind the topsoil that now holds the lake’s island and castle.

 

IMG_5880

 

Earliest human activity near the lake can be traced back to the Bronze Age; Old-Slavic settlers arrived in 7th century. The first written mention of the town occurred in 1004 (!!) when the German King Henry II gave the land to the Bishop of Brixen for their assistance with the Church; Bled remained under the lordship for 800 years until the settlement fell under Austrian rule in 1808.

Passed back and forth between Brixen and the Austrians (and following the fall of Austria-Hungary in 1918), the settlement and the castle were given to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Tito, the Yugoslav king (and later president) used the castle as his home. In 1919 the castle and lake were sold to hotel owner Ivan Kenda, which marked the first time the settlement was officially owned by a Slovenian. The Germans annexed this portion of Slovenia during WWII and following the war, Bled became an official town in 1960.

The Sights:

Bled Castle:

I’m pretty meh about castles (I know, I know) but Bled Castle was a beautiful sight to visit. Pro tip: Make a reservation with the castle restaurant (more on that later!) and you can tour the castle and museum for free. It’s a steep hike up to Bled Castle, so dress like you’re going on a hike, not like you are attending an anniversary dinner at a castle (me).

IMG_5928

The castle was first mentioned in 1011 and is the oldest castle in Slovenia.

IMG_5842

While the Bishop of Brixen technically owned the estate, they hardly ever inhabited the castle. Instead, Bled Castle was managed by a staff of people according to feudal order.

IMG_5840

The Bishops decided to lease the property and the first official inhabitant was Konrad von Kreigh, whose family occupied the castle for 200 years. 

IMG_5834

Herbard Auersperg of Turjak then took over the lease of the castle and attempted to purchase the land, but was unsuccessful. Under Herbard Auersperg, the castle became a Protestant stronghold for the region and the leader of the Slovenian Protestant Movement (Primož Trubar) visited the castle in 1561. 

IMG_5837

View from a castle window 

IMG_5810

The Bled estate was nationalized in 1803 and even briefly the home of Napolean Bonaparte, before passing multiple hands and ownership over the next 150 years. 

IMG_5812

Renovations on the castle took place in 1961 and the museum (a must see!) was completed in 2008. 

 

IMG_5925

You can also swim at the base of the castle for a couple of Euros. Even me, who refuses to swim in any body of water, couldn’t pass this up. 

Bled Days:

Bled Days includes handmade arts and crafts ( ❤ ), street food vendors ( ❤ ), music ( ❤ ), and a finale where they release over 15,000 candle eggs onto the lake ( ❤ ❤ not sure how that works waste-wise but it was beautiful to see). The event happens each year at the end of July and is definitely worth the extra cost and tourists! They also put in a lot of effort to make Bled Days a zero-waste event, which was really interesting and cool to see.

IMG_5967

A demonstration on how old-timey firefighters used the lake to put out flames. 

blog-ing_-sibl_-s16-20jul16-rev2_

The finale which includes 15,000 candles released onto the lake and a beautiful firework display. 

blejski_dnevi_stojnice_cesta

Arts and crafts, drink and food vendors (Via Bled.Si). I wish I had taken more pictures but I was too excited about everything!

Church of the Assumption:

Originally a temple for the Slavic Goddess of Love Živa, the pagan population was forced to replace Živa with the Virgin Mary when the community inhabiting the Bled area converted to Christianity in 745. The Slavic temple was replaced, and in 1465, the Gothic Church and Tower were built on the tiny island.

IMG_5867

View of the Church from Bled Castle

IMG_5956

View of the Church from our Pletna boat. 

IMG_5932

The Church also boasts a 99 step staircase. Tradition holds that the husband of the couple married in the church must carry his wife up all 99 steps.

The Bell Tower and the Ringing of the Bell hold a special legend for the Church:

Once upon a time there lived a young widow in the castle of Bled. Her husband was killed by robbers and his body was thrown into the lake. She was so inconsolable that she gathered all her gold and silver and cast a bell for the chapel on the island, in memory to her husband. But the bell didn’t arrive there. The bell, the boat and boatmen sank during a terrible storm. The desperate widow sold all her property after this accident. She offered the proceeds for the construction of a new church on the island. She left Bled and lived the rest of her life in Rome as a nun. After her death the Pope had heard of her misfortune and of her good deeds during her life as a nun, so in memory to her he decide to make a new bell. He said that anyone that rings the bell three times and believes in God, his or her wish would come true.

IMG_5936IMG_5938

IMG_5945

The Bell Tower stands at 52 meters high.

Restaurants and Pubs:

Public Bar and Vegan Kitchen:

IMG_5995

Chris and I both agreed that this hummus was amazzzinnnnggg.

While I’m not vegan, when I saw this amazing menu from Public Bar and Vegan Kitchen, I knew I wanted to stop by for lunch. I don’t have a lot of vegetarian options here, so it’s nice to find a spot with a couple of veg menu items. Chris and I shared the house burger and it was too much to eat between the two of us.

IMG_5964

Bled Castle:

IMG_5888

I also discovered my love for Hugo cocktails (Prosecco+elderflower syrup+mint+lime+sparkling water), which were available everywhere in the summer heat. 

Absolutely one of my favorite meals in Europe, Bled Castle has a great (and seasonal) menu with affordable prices. They also had an extensive variety of local wine and beer, not to mention a view that overlooks the entire lake.

IMG_5892

Slovenia is known for their white wines, which was a perfect choice for this particularly warm day.

IMG_5897

Poor kid has the sun in his eyes! Chris liked the HumanFish Slovenian IPA.

IMG_5905

IMG_5908IMG_5906

 

Okarina:

We stumbled on Okarina our first night in Bled. They were nice enough to seat us less than an hour before closing (ugh I hate being that person) and we enjoyed our dinners. They have a diverse menu–so there is something for everyone–and a really nice atmosphere that was needed after walking the lake’s super-busy edge.

IMG_5814

Red n Black Bled:

Located right next to our Air BnB, we stopped by Red n Black Bled for a quick breakfast of coffee and toasties our first morning in the city and ended up coming back each morning! Our server was AMAZING. She was incredibly kind and their ridiculously simple menu of either make-your-own porridge or toasted bread with veggies or meat was totally fine with us.

IMG_5827

We ended up hanging out to watch the FINA Summer Games (ironically being held in Budapest). Sometimes you just need a good old pub in your life.

18425470_1813627258956235_4414151421485741104_n.jpg

Their “Kremsnita” (Bled Cream Cake) was all the heart-in-the-eyes-emojis delicious (picture via their Facebook because I was too excited to take a picture!)

Troha Pub Bled:

troha-pub-bled.jpg

(Via Trip Advisor)

We stopped at Troha Pub Bled after our Pletna tour of the island. The pub has a gorgeous view of the lake and the castle, along with reasonable prices. Their menu also includes an impressive 3-liter mojito, although we didn’t try it. Apparently, Troha is THE nightclub of Bled but it was a super chill spot when we stopped by in the afternoon.

Kult Klub:

 

kult-klub-bled-bled-51919_clientHome.jpg

(via SlovenianHolidays.com)

 

Considering it was right next to the edge of the lake, Kult Klub was one of our first stops in Bled. They had a great selection of Slovenian craft beer and the outside seating was great as the sun was setting. We, unfortunately, weren’t there when they had live music, but we enjoyed hanging out listening to the crazy pop star Bled Days had performing that night.

Shops:

Trešpank:

IMG_5913

Trešpank is a super cool shop located near Red n Black. The owner repurposes bicycle parts into new things (including belts!) and sells a ton of different handmade products including postcards, pottery, clothing, and jewelry. I stocked up on a stack of crazy postcards before making the trek up to Bled Castle.

Galerija Mikame:

 

mikame-gallery-shop.jpg

(Via Trip Advisor)

Galerija Mikame is a super cute store on the edge of Lake Bled that boasts a ton of different art, jewelry, pottery, and postcards from Slovenian independent designers. The guy working in the shop was amazing and he told us a ton of fun facts about Slovenia.  I asked why he thought Ohio had the greatest population of Slovenians outside of the country and he responded: “I think it’s because we only like farming and working in factories, you know?” I picked up a reclaimed wooden ring from Brlogarka, a beautiful Bled painting by Ajda Primožič Lima, and a couple of hilarious CartsyFartsy greeting cards.

❤ Ashlyn

Currently watching: Big Little Lies (directed by Jean-Marc Vallée)

Currently reading: Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown

Currently listening: Live in Detriot by The White Stripes

Larry Nassar Sexual Abuse Part 3: “At Times, I was Unsure Whether I Would Open her Bedroom Door and Find her Dead.”

[A further update can be found at part four]

Please read Part 1 and Part 2 for the background on the sexual abuse allegations against Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics. Here is a timeline of Nassar’s abuse.

Before we start, I want to provide a little context as to why I felt it necessary to continue this series of posts.

what-it-means-when-women-say-me-too-2-18053-1508277359-1_dblbig

With all of the survivors coming forward during the #metoo campaign, many people have been asking how sexual abuse can happen not only so frequently, but also in seemingly every aspect of American society. Whether at the governmental level, in the workplace, in Hollywood, in sports, survivors have been sharing their stories of abuse over the past few months.

Some people are shocked, many of us aren’t. “But how can this happen? Why has it taken so long for people to come forward?” Because we’ve been scared. We have been living and working in a culture that promotes these systems of abuse, that place blame and responsibility on the victim, rather than the perpetrator. Because sometimes we don’t know if what we experienced was actual abuse or just “normal.” In many instances, because the ways in which institutions are designed–whether it be for-profit, non-profit, in a family setting, in higher education–do not include protocols in place to recognize abuse and support survivors in a way that protects them enough to feel comfortable coming forward.

“Wherever there is a position of power, there seems to be potential for abuse.”

-McKayla Maroney in her Victim Impact Statement

Over 140 survivors have come forward with allegations of abuse against USA Gymnastics and Michigan State doctor Larry Nassar. “How can this happen?” Because these institutions–responsible for protecting the athletes they profit from–silenced victims while continuously supporting the perpetrator. The institutions themselves chose to honor a pedophile while placing blame on their athletes. Today, it was released that USA Gymnastics paid Olympic gold and silver medalist McKayla Maroney $1.25 million dollars to remain silent on her abuse to the public.

“Why has it taken so long for people to come forward?”

Let’s back up here.

Coming Forward: Three Olympians Share their Story

Brazil OLY Rio Medal Prediction

The Fierce Five wins Olympic gold at the 2012 London Games. Three of the five gymnasts have now come forward as survivors of Larry Nassar’s abuse: Douglas (second from left), Maroney (middle) and Raisman (second from right). Nassar was this team’s official physician during the games.

In October, Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney–known best for her “not impressed” face after winning the silver medal on vault–released a statement as a part of the #metoo movement that detailed Nassar’s abuse. Nassar began molesting Maroney at age 13 in the official USAG Olympic Training Center (owned by the Karolyi’s) until her retirement following the 2013 World Championships.

“For me, the scariest night of my life happened when I was 15 years old,” Maroney wrote in her Twitter post. “… He’d given me a sleeping pill for the flight, and the next thing I know, I was all alone with him in his hotel room getting a ‘treatment.’ I thought I was going to die that night.”

Following McKayla, two-time Olympian Aly Raisman also came forward with allegations against Nassar. In her book and through social media, Raisman noted that USAG not only allowed Nassar to conduct examinations alone and without a chaperone, but also in the girls’ personal rooms at the National Training Center. The “master manipulator” groomed the girls for abuse by earning their trust. In her book, Fierce, Aly notes that she didn’t understand that Nassar was abusing the gymnasts until USAG sent an investigator to her home to interview her personally on the doctor’s treatments. After realizing the extent of her abuse, Raisman called USAG to provide more information but was told to keep quiet about the abuse while they conducted their investigation.

Asked if she thought she was receiving medical treatment, Raisman said, “I didn’t know anything differently. We were told he’s the best doctor, he’s the United States Olympic doctor and the USA Gymnastics doctor and we were very lucky we were able to see him.”

Why are we looking at why didn’t the girls speak up? Why not look at what about the culture? What did USA Gymnastics do, and Larry Nassar do, to manipulate these girls so much that they are so afraid to speak up?” (via 60 Minutes)

5-181121

Raisman, Douglas, and Maroney

A few days following Aly’s statement, teammate and three-time gold medalist Gabby Douglas also released a post on Instagram stating she too was abused by Nassar. Prior to her statement, Douglas was accused of victim-shaming for stating on social media that women should “dress modestly” in order to avoid assault. Following her apology, she posted her story on Instagram where she details the culture that forced the gymnasts to remain quiet:

23734831_1632541756806465_1230772283677605888_n.jpg

Nassar Trial and Victim Statements

5a2aa82ffc7e931c2d8b4568

Larry Nassar in court in 2017

While Nassar originally claimed innocence in the charges brought against him, he decided to plead guilty to federal child pornography charges in July (officers found more than 37,000 images in his home, including photos of infants). Then, in December, he also pleaded guilty to ten first-degree criminal sexual misconduct charges. Prosecutors pushed for Nassar to be given the full punishment–sixty years in prison–and hoped to allow the survivors to read their statements during his sentencing hearing.

On December 7th, the U.S. District Court dismissed the motion to allow the women (Maroney and Raisman included) to read their statements in person. Judge Janet T. Neff stated that the hearing was not the “proper forum” for victim impact statements against Nassar; Judge Neff did allow statements read in court by parents and lawyers of the gymnasts. Maroney’s mother stated:

“I … learned a few weeks ago from my daughter that at the world championships in Tokyo, [Nassar] drugged her, made her lay nude on a treatment table, straddled her and digitally penetrated her while rubbing his erect penis against her…She was only 15 years old. She said to me, ‘Mom I thought I was going to die.’

This experience has shattered McKayla. She has transformed from a bubbly, positive, loving, world class athlete into a young adult who was deeply depressed, at times suicidal. At times, I was unsure whether I would open her bedroom door and find her dead.”

Maroney’s own words:

“Because the National Team training camps did not allow parents to be present, my mom and dad were unable to observe what Nassar was doing, and this has imposed a terrible and undeserved burden of guilt on my loving family.

Larry Nassar deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison. Not only because of what he did to me, my teammates and so many other little girls – He needs to be behind bars so he will never prey upon another child. I urge you to impose the maximum sentence upon him.”…People should know that sexual abuse of children is not just happening in Hollywood, in the media or in the halls of Congress. This is happening everywhere. Wherever there is a position of power, there seems to be potential for abuse. I had a dream to go to the Olympics, and the things that I had to endure to get there, were unnecessary, and disgusting. I was deeply saddened by the stories of my fellow Olympic teammates that suffered as I did at the hands of Larry Nassar. More than 140 women and girls had to say, ‘#MeToo’ to Nassar’s sexual assaults and hundreds more were victimized to create the pornographic images that fueled his evil desires.”
A question that has been asked over and over is: How could have Larry Nassar been allowed to assault so many women and girls for more than two decades? The answer to that question lies in the failure of not one, but three major institutions to stop him — Michigan State University, USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic Committee…”

Raisman, also hoping to read her statement in court, published her full letter to The Players’ Tribune. I strongly encourage every single person to read her statement.

“I am not a victim. I am a survivor. The abuse does not define me, or anyone else who has been abused. This does not define the millions of those who’ve suffered sexual abuse. They are not victims, either. They are survivors. They are strong, they are brave, they are changing things so the next generation never has to go through what they did. There have been so many people who’ve come forward in the last few months. They have inspired me, and I hope, together, we inspire countless more. Surviving means that you’re strong. You’re strong because you came out on the other side, and that makes you brave and courageous.

Now, we need to change the cycle of abuse. We need to change the systems that embolden sexual abusers. We must look at the organizations that protected Nassar for years and years: USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic committee and Michigan State University. Until we understand the flaws in their systems, we can’t be sure something like this won’t happen again. This problem is bigger than Larry Nassar. Those who looked the other way need to be held accountable too. I fear that there are still people working at these organizations who put money, medals and reputation above the safety of athletes. And we need to change how we support those who’ve been abused. I want to change the way we talk about sexual abuse and I want to change the way we support survivors of any kind of abuse.”

In her letter, Raisman details the struggles she has had with not only understanding the abuse that was done to her, but also the consequences of those acts. Depression, anxiety, and an inability to trust are just a few of the lasting effects this had on these survivors.

raismanpull2.jpg

Nassar was sentenced to sixty years in prison for child pornography, which he appealed. His additional charges have not yet been sentenced.

Response from USA Gymnastics

The federal charges against Larry Nassar are only a portion of the legal actions being pursued by the survivors of his abuse. USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee, Twistars (a Michigan club), Michigan State University, and the Karolyis are all being sued in federal civil court. Maroney’s lawsuit includes the claim that Nassar took photos of her without permission (and as a minor) that could have been potentially shared with other pedophiles.

While the other defendants are important, it is the response of USAG that I want to discuss further. As THE governing body for the sport in the United States, USAG runs all of the programming, events, and travel for both the National Team and developmental programs. Earlier this year, CEO Steve Penny and 1984 Olympic Champion Mary Lou Retton approached Senator Feinstein to convince the legislator not to pass a bill that would immediately require organizations to report sexual abuse allegations to authorities (it is important to note that USAG did not report Nassar to the FBI for five weeks).

deborah20daniels

The Bill passed. Under pressure, Penny was fired and provided with a $1 million severance package.

The same day as Nassar’s sentencing, USAG filed a motion to dismiss the Denhollander et al v. Michigan State et al civil case. USAG stated:

DQfEvqFUMAAC_-e.jpg

The full motion can be read here. Not only does USA Gymnastics state that they have no obligation to protect athletes (including minors) from an assault at their official training camps (required for all National Team gymnasts to attend), events, and travel, but they also note that they believe they do not have  the responsibility of warning other institutions about potential perpetrators. USAG did not notify Michigan State University about the allegations made against Nassar before MSU hired him.

“Their response has been heartbreaking because it has reminded me time and time again that our voices do not matter,” said Rachael Denhollander, a former gymnast who was the first person to publicly accuse Nassar. (via the Lansing State Journal)

On December 21st, 2017, it was released that USAG paid McKayla Maroney over $1.25 million dollars in exchange for her silence against the abuse she suffered at the hands of Nassar at USA Gymnastics events and training camps.

“I want people to understand that this kid had no choice. She couldn’t function. She couldn’t work,” Manly said. “They [USAG] were willing to sacrifice the health and well-being of one of the most famous gymnasts in the world because they didn’t want the world to know they were protecting a pedophile doctor.”

USAG responded to the report that the agreement was Maroney’s attorney’s idea and the gymnast signed the document in 2016:

DRhktrQWsAc08qm.jpg

Maroney could potentially face a counter-suit by USAG for publishing her story and violating the terms of the agreement.

Last week corporate sponsors P&G, Kellog’s, Under Armour, and Hershey’s dropped their contracts with USA Gymnastics.

It is also important to note that even though he was under investigation for abuse, MSU still allowed Nassar to treat patients during all of 2015. The president of MSU has yet to resign. Three of their employees (including a woman who, upon Nassar’s request, removed data from his computer) were allowed to quietly leave the institution.

What Now?

5867.jpg

Via a November 2017 press release by USAG

The Training Center where Larry Nassar abused gymnasts is still used by USA Gymnastics as the official gym for the National Team; gymnasts attended training camp as recently as last month. These athletes train and sleep in the same locations where Nassar sexually assaulted their friends and teammates.

“But how can this happen? Why has it taken so long for people to come forward?

My response to these questions is power and fear. We live in a society that produces systems of oppression that maintain power for those who hold it. It’s institutional. It’s taught to us at a young age. It’s being told to carry pepper spray when statistically you’re more likely to be assaulted by a white male and someone you know: your family member, your friend, boyfriend, teacher, doctor. We don’t institutionally teach signs of abuse, whether it is unwanted contact, verbal misogyny, or sexual assault. We punish students for wearing short skirts but don’t teach consent. We tell gymnasts that they are “lucky” to have such an amazing doctor treating them, then pressure athletes to keep quiet.

Fear of the backlash: what will my family think of me? Was it my fault? Will I not be selected for the national team? A former student told me last week that fear is the strength in holding power. I couldn’t agree more. What now? I believe the cases against USAG, Michigan State, and other institutions will continue to develop. Clearly, even after the assault that occurred at Penn State, American culture has not changed. Will it change as these allegations continue to come forward? Will it change after the #metoo campaign no longer makes headlines?

As Maroney said:

“Our silence has given the wrong people power for too long, and it’s time to take our power back.”

Indy Star and Gymcastic have been the best and most updated sources for all of this information.

Northern California Part 1: San Francisco & San Jose

This summer I stayed a month with my sister (Cat), brother in law (Skye), and their kids in Fairfield, California. Not only was I there for my niece’s and nephew’s birthday parties, AND my grandparents visited from DC, but I also did a ton of traveling around this part of the state! Previously I had only been to Los Angeles, so it was great to see different areas of California including San Francisco, San Jose, Fairfield, Napa Valley, and Red Bluff.

IMG_5115

While Trolls was not my favorite movie (after watching it five times) it may be my favorite birthday party theme. Glitter! Color! 

Where are we?

Screen Shot 2017-11-30 at 4.52.47 PM

Long travel days

This post will only discuss random travels in San Francisco and San Jose (part 2 will include Fairfield, Napa Valley, and Red Bluff). While these are very different places–and I’ll talk about them separately–they are all a part of Northern California. This isn’t a geographic designation, but a political one. The division between the two segments of California is usually at the 42nd parallel, which was the boundary established by Spain and the United States in the Adams-Onís Treaty (1819).

Of course I need to include the obligatory background of the region and Northern California has SO MUCH culture and history. The Shasta, Miwoks, and Yokuts all inhabited areas of now Northern California for hundreds of years before Europeans landed on the coast; these Native Californians spoke over 100 languages and 300 dialects! In 1770, Spanish missionaries began building settlements along the coast and Spain continued to colonize the area until the early 1800s. Around 90% of the Native Californian population died during this time, mainly from disease. After gaining independence from Spain, Mexico continued their colonizing work until the Mexican-American War in 1846, when the Mexican government ceded the entire state of California to the United States. It is important to note that the American government did not recognize Indigenous land titles. The Gold Rush and Trans-Continental Railroad increased the number of people, particularly Chinese immigrants and Americans from the East, to California.

Okay, history lesson over. Let’s get to all the things:

San Francisco: 

IMG_5024

Places to Visit:

IMG_5023

Someone loves the ferry!

We traveled to San Francisco by ferry which was overall a great experience! It beats going by car (gas, parking, traffic, ugh) and wasn’t too expensive. The kids loved it and Caroline said she wanted to grow up to be a Ferry Conductor.

Aquarium of the Bay: 

aquarium-of-the-bay-underwater-tunnel-san-francisco-ca-jennifer-rondinelli-reilly

Via Fine Art America

The Aquarium of the Bay is AMAZING and a must-see if you’re in the area. Unfortunately, I didn’t take many pictures because I was enjoying the actual aquarium, but thankfully there are a ton of photos online. My favorite was the super cool river otter exhibit (featuring crazy otters running around everywhere) and the underground “Under the Bay” tour that was awesome, if not a little scary, to be surrounded by water. The Aquarium also helps run the San Francisco Bay Area Sustainable Seafood Alliance, which includes the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch, a sustainable seafood guide that we actually began using at the College of Charleston when we started tracking food purchases (they also have personal guides too, check it out!)

Golden Gate Bridge:

giphy

I had to include a Full House gif

Like a real tourist, I had to stop at the Golden Gate Bridge. The state has a pretty solid parking and trail near the bridge so people afraid of heights (me) can see the bridge without actually walking it (never in a million years).

IMG_5550

Shout out to Skye Thompson who parked with the sleeping kids!

IMG_5532

Built in 1937, it is still the tallest bridge in the United States

IMG_5524

Skye and I also spent the afternoon wandering around San Francisco on our very own brewery crawl discussing The Martian (book or movie better?), how we can make my sister less-stressed (a fool’s game), and Rick & Morty (thankfully, I let Skye talk me into a marathon of the show).

ThirstyBear Brewery:

IMG_5174

ThirstyBear was our first stop. The first and only Organic brewery in San Francisco, we really enjoyed our beer and the atmosphere. ThirstyBear boasts a Spanish-inspired menu (we unfortunately didn’t try anything) and an extensive beer list. I tried the California Common and Howard Street IPA.

21st Amendment Brewery:

IMG_5177

I loved 21st Amendment! We were able to grab seats before the game finished (perfect timing) to have a few beers and a snack. The 21st amendment is in my top five favorite Constitutional amendments so I pretty excited to visit a brewery named after the repeal of alcohol prohibition. I tried the Summer Saison and Brew Free or Die IPA. I’d love to go back and try their Winter Saison (whaaa?) which has the description: “You might not expect a Saison in winter. But the enemy didn’t expect Washington to cross the icy Delaware, either. Expectations be damned, we say.”

IMG_5178

21st Amendment also had TACHOS, which if you haven’t eaten tachos, please reevaluate your life; this was one of my favorite snacks in CharlestonSO GOOD.

Anchor Brewing:

1024x1024

Via SFGate

Finding and touring Anchor’s Brewing was a little bit of a disaster; the actual taste room was closed and the shop was almost closed as well. They were also working on the building itself so we weren’t able to tour the actual brewery itself, but picked up a couple of beers to take home with us. We enjoyed their beer (they’ve been brewing since 1896!).

Honorable Mention: Gracias Madre

IMG_5183

Not pictured: Me, sobbing.

Oh what could have been. After taking an uber in rush hour traffic out to Anchor’s, we were pretty far behind schedule for dinner AND making our ferry. Gracias Madre is “the one that got away” for me in terms of San Francisco. They were booked when we finally arrived, much to my dismay, as they are known for their amazing vegetarian cuisine. Next time!

IMG_5184

Always have to finish the day with an old fashioned (and Taco Bell, thanks Cat!)

San Jose:

We were only in San Jose for the afternoon (where my grandparents were staying the night before their flight the next day) but I’m glad we stopped.

Winchester Mystery House:

IMG_5132

The Winchester Mystery House is another tourist spot but cool to see if you’re in the area. Built by Sarah Winchester, the widow of William Wirt Winchester, the mansion is known for its crazy layout and number of rooms.

600px-shaun8

Yes, that Winchester. Go watch Shaun of the Dead

When her husband passed away in 1881, Sarah inherited more than $20 million, as well as 50% ownership of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, which provided her with $1000/day income; this equates to around $23,000/day today. Rumors state that Sarah was told by a Boston psychic to leave her home on the East Coast for the West to build a home for not only herself but also all of the victims of the Winchester rifle (known as “the gun that won the west”). As a result she built, and continued to build, her mansion in San Jose.

winchester-mystery-house-86

An overview of the House (via Amusing Planet)

Originally seven stories (now only four after the 1906 earthquake), the house has 161 rooms, 47 fireplaces, and 10,000 panes of glass. Because construction was constantly continuing (as instructed by the psychic) with no real purpose, there are a number of stairways and doors that lead to nowhere, as well as only one toilet (the other bathrooms were built to confuse the spirits that haunted her). Already a short person herself, Sarah developed arthritis in her later years; she had all of the staircases amended for short steps. As a result, all of the stairs are tiny and barely inches above one another (perfect for me and little Caroline).

©David Swann

via Winchester Mystery House

Sarah also slept in a different room each night. When she passed away, she left her belongings to her niece and secretary. The niece sold mostly everything in the mansion, which required six trucks working eight hours a day for six weeks to remove everything from the home. The house itself was not mentioned in her will and was considered worthless at the time–due to its insane layout and lack of completion–the mansion was purchased and is now held by a private investor that maintains the home’s integrity and hosts tours to the public.

IMG_5133

The property also holds a couple of museums and exhibits including one area dedicated to the different guns created and developed by William Wirt Winchester.

IMG_5134

Part 2 coming soon!

tumblr_myvwt588zn1t0demio5_500

My favorite Shaun of the Dead gif

Reading: Ghost Wars by Steve Coll

Listening: If You Leave by Daughter

 

 

 

“The World is Big & I’d Like to Have at it Before it Gets Dark”: Muir Woods National Monument Park, California

This summer I had the amazing opportunity to visit Muir Woods National Monument Park, just twelve miles from San Francisco, California. I’d always wanted to see the giant redwoods and jumped at the chance to travel with my family to the park for the day.

Where are we?

Screen Shot 2017-11-15 at 2.44.08 PM.png

Muir Woods National Monument Park is located near San Francisco, close to the Pacific coast, and the Golden Gate Bridge. The National Park Service states that: “Muir Woods is the only old-growth coastal redwood forest in the Bay Area and one of the last on the planet. It is estimated that nearly 2 million acres of forest just like Muir Woods once covered a narrow strip along the coasts of California and Oregon. Today, 97% of this has been impaired or altered and most coastal redwoods now grow on protected second and third growth forests or managed timber plantations.”

IMG_5511.JPG

By the 1900s, logging industries cut down a majority of the Californian redwoods trees. The only remaining forest was owned by Californian politician William Kent. Kent, along with his wife, purchased the land with the hope of protecting the trees from extinction. In 1907, when a water company proposed plans to build a dam the Redwood Creek and thereby flooding the forest, Kent donated 295 acres to the federal government. President Theodore Roosevelt declared the park a National Monument in 1908 and under Kent’s insistence, named the land Muir Woods National Monument Park. A conservationist, geologist, and naturalist, John Muir was also instrumental in creating the United States National Park System.

IMG_5510.jpg

Today, Muir Woods contains 554 acres of old growth coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) and is one of the few locations of old growth redwoods in the area. While the giant sequoias (Sequoiadendron giganteum) and dawn redwoods (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) are also part of the redwood family, the coastal redwoods are the tallest living things. These trees can reach up to 379 feet high and, to put that in Ashlyn-terms of length and measurement, that equates to 74 feet taller than the Statues of Liberty.

tenor

The tallest redwood in Muir Woods stands at 258 feet high. A majority of the coastal redwoods are between 600-800 years old and the oldest tree is more than 1200 years old! However, these types of trees can reach 2200 years of age, which I can’t even comprehend.

tim-and-eric-mind-blown

Seriously, my exact reaction.

IMG_5393.jpg

Getting our national park on

 

Visiting the Muir Woods was an absolutely incredible and humbling experience. I 100% recommend planning a trip if you find yourself in the San Francisco area. The main trails were well laid out, safe, kid-friendly, and wheelchair accessible. Muir Woods also boasts a number of hiking trails and other sites as well.

Okay, enough text. I wish I could convey the overwhelming beauty of the park–which is pretty impossible–but hope my pictures can do some justice.

 

IMG_5581IMG_5583IMG_5413IMG_5407IMG_5424IMG_5418IMG_5421IMG_5425IMG_5435IMG_5470IMG_5494IMG_5471IMG_5488IMG_5468IMG_5497IMG_5401IMG_5439

IMG_5481

Baby Jack just wanted to RUN.

IMG_5455

– Ashlyn

Reading: The Power by: Naomi Alderman

Watching: Thor Ragnarak directed by: Taika David Waititi

80e90a2c8e0b61b89d73c9a73e6acf91--john-muir-quotes-rustic-wood-signs.jpg

 

Brunch, Pimm’s, & Windsor Castle: the Most British Day of My Life

Sheesh it has been a while since I posted any updates!

dw6vr

Forgive me for my lack of routine posts but I promise to have a ton coming up this month (California! Slovenia! Poland! All the things!)

Back to England:

Haley and I decided to visit Windsor Castle on my final day in England. We took the short train ride up to Windsor to tour the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world.

But first… BRUNCH.

source

Alright we didn’t order mimosas, but the concept is universal

IMG_4477

View from our table ❤

We stopped in Richmond for brunch and book shopping before heading out to Windsor. Haley’s flatmate recommended the wonderful Jackson and Rye for breakfast and I’m so glad we were able to secure a reservation.

IMG_4479

Too excited for our Bloody Mary jug that we can’t hold the camera still

When we saw the option for a Bloody Mary jug, there was no way either one of us could refuse. The server looked at us like we were nuts (justified) and the entire wait staff was visibly impressed (our server clapped) when we finished the whole thing.

IMG_4485

IMG_4486

Huevos Rancheros, the love of my life

IMG_4487

Avocado Florentine 

100% full and 100% satisfied with our Bloody Mary game, we traveled back to the train station to make our way to Windsor.

IMG_4495

Can’t say no to a LAVENDER pretzel as a train snack

After arriving in Windsor, we headed up to the castle, but decided to make one last pit stop so I could try Pimm’s for the first time.

IMG_4506

Bartender: “You’ve never heard of Pimm’s?!”

Developed by James Pimm (who ran an oyster bar) in 1823 as a “health tonic”, Pimm’s has been a popular drink in England for the past 150+ years. Originally gin-based, the Pimm’s #1 cup was the first version created and sold. In England, the fruit and herb based liqueur is usually mixed with sparkling lemonade but the liqueur is also popular in New Orleans, where they mix Pimm’s with lemonade, soda, and cucumber.

IMG_4513.jpg

So classy

After enjoying our Pimm’s, we walked up to the castle to purchase our tickets for the tour. The lady selling tickets instructed us to look at the flag flying on top of one the towers. Confused, we asked why and she excitedly responded that the Queen was currently residing in Windsor (Queen Elizabeth and I have similar travel agendas it seems).

IMG_4553

The Royal Standard flag is raised when the Queen is at Windsor

Originally built in 1098 by William the Conquerer, Windsor Castle has been used by the monarchy since Henry I; it is the largest and longest-occupied castle in Europe. The Castle’s 13 acres also contains St. George’s Chapel, which was built in 1275 by Edward IV. The chapel is burial site for many famous Brits including Henry VIII (known for his six marriages and separation of the Church of England and the Catholic Church). During WWII, the royal family actually stayed in Windsor, although it was widely believed they were at Buckingham Palace.

Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside of the castle or chapel, but it was a beautiful tour.

IMG_4521

Windsor-Castle-Crimson-Drawing-Room-CREDIT-The-Royal-Collection©-2010-Her-Majesty-Queen-Elizabeth-II-Mark-Fiennes

One of the drawing rooms (source: the Royal Collection)

IMG_4531

IMG_4533

IMG_4534

Grand Reception Room.jpg

The Grand Reception Room was one my favorites (source: the Royal Collection)

IMG_4537

IMG_4539

State Dining Room.jpg

State Dining Room (source: the Royal Collection) used to be just for the king! 

IMG_4544

IMG_4545

Queens Drawing Room_1.jpg

Queen’s Ballroom (source: the Royal Collection). I LOVED this room. It was beautiful and we made friends with one of the tour guides. We asked which was his favorite portrait was and he laughed, responding that no one had asked him that before! 

IMG_4551

View from the courtyard

IMG_4568

St George's hall.jpg

St. George’s Hall (source: the Royal Collection)

IMG_4571

Our sunny weather could only last so long

IMG_4573

Windsor is really worth the trip if you have time!

IMG_4607

 

IMG_4645

Classic nerds

Bonus brunch gif in case you need this in your life today:

635851090579262987-551976518_breakfast-food-cure-parks-and-rec

 

❤ Ashlyn

Reading: But What if We’re Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman

Watching: Baby Driver directed by Edgar Wright