Where It All Began - New York Countryside Tales


I grew up on the German countryside - and the rural areas are where I return to whenever I need some space to breathe, recharge, and most likely wallow in memories all too often or even put things into perspective. 

One place in particular, I hold near and dear to my heart, and that’s Balwinsville (short: B’ville), a suburban area of Syracuse (NY state), that boasts the greenest open spaces and provides a wonderful countryside atmosphere. Here, my American love story began, pretty much nine and a half years ago. Crazy. 

I flew into Hartford, CT a couple days before and had the best action filled time with skydiving and exploring new places. Then, on Monday, which also happened to be Memorial Day, my good friend Aly I was staying with dropped me off at the rental car place and off I was, embarking on a four and a half hour drive to what I like to call my ‘second home’.

I arrived in the early evening and had a very cheerful reunion with my former host parents, Kathy and Bob, who have provided a home away form home for me when I was 16, green behind the ears, yet hungry for getting a taste of the U.S. for a (that time) whopping 6 months as a high school exchange student. I fell in love with the way of life, the country (based on the tiny bit I got to see at that point) and have been back during summer vacations almost every year after that until I graduated school. The last time was back in 2012. Since college and work life happened after that, it was not so easy to just take a few weeks off and hop on the plane to the east coast. 

But here I was now, absolutely excited to be back - this time flying in from the west coast. Granted, the trip felt almost as long as coming form Germany, though. 

I was welcomed with quite a bit of humidity and also had to realize that B’ville hasn’t changed a lot. I guess it’s a good thing; some things change constantly, others remain the same. This is where you return to when you need something steady. 

We finished off this Memorial Day with dinner and, beyond our control, a huge rain-shower. I thought the world was going to end. Oh, wait, we had ice cream at Fridays, also. Almost soaked. Good old times. 

The next morning, I woke up to birds twittering - other than that, complete silence. Kathy and Bob live so far out from cute little downtown, that you don’t hear any airplanes, cars etc. The only thing you might hear is a shot here and there. Yip, people take their shotguns out and shoot. I mean, they have huge properties. Like, whole forests. Ever since Rickey took me the the shooting range here in San Diego (and I sweated balls because I was so nervous holding a gun), I kind of see the fun of it. 

So, the night before I found out that little B’ville has had a CrossFit Box for about one and a half years already. The first and only one so far. Say whuuut? Obviously, I couldn’t resist a drop-in (and workout, for that matter, as a competition was planned back here in San Diego for the following weekend). 

I was so psyched! I hopped in the humongous car Kathy let me borrow and drove through countryside roads towards sleepy downtown, windows rolled down, country on. 

Boy, was I one happy gal!

Endless roads, just me, no one else. Green, green, and more green…

…and good old barns. 

I was in countryside heaven. 

I know, it sounds so silly. But it gave me a feeling of warmth, of home, it’s hard to describe. Oh, well, and I legit had to go through an online detox and stay offline as the wifi was very slow and my text messages wouldn’t even send. Let’s not even talk about trying to talk to Rickey on the phone; the call wouldn’t even go through. SO yeah. Offline I was for two days and it felt so good, honestly. 

^ Spot the B’ville Diner on the left. How many milkshakes I’ve had there…boy. They have those really thick ones. Actual milkshakes.The group of friends I had during my high school exchange took me there numerous times. I loved it - and still do to this day. 

It was time to work out. What I love about CrossFit - and the answer is not new - is the community and the friendliness of the people when you drop into a box for a workout, or two. CrossFit Smokey Hollow kicked my butt, even though fairly new and not big. But I loved it so much that - spoiler alert - I couldn’t resist a second workout and thus returned the next morning. I am a proud owner of one of their shirts now. 

AND another thing that was so absolutely mind-blowing and is just another example of how small this world is: I bumped into a girl who I’d known through one of my former high school friends - during my exchange semester when I was 16 years old - and she happened to go to this CrossFit Gym. I thought this was crazy. 

I drove back, my Dunkin’ Donuts iced latte in one hand, the other hanging out of the window, inhaling the fresh air. My endorphins were throwing a party. 

How I love this little place on earth. It’s not just where my love for the States began, but where I also got a second family, where my desire to see more of the world was developing, and where I met my lifetime friend Aly, who I visited in CT just a day ago. 

It was…like traveling back in time almost. As mentioned earlier, nothing really changed in quaint B’ville. The only thing that was different this time was me having changed so much (to the better, in my opinion) throughout the last five years I hadn’t been back, so that this time, I had a different perspective on many things, just seeing them from another angle. Yet, I still felt like I was being thrown back in time, all of a sudden, being a teenage girl again, experiencing America for the very first time. 

Back home - I shouldn’t have told my host dad about my shooting experience -, Bob had the guns ready. We had our very own, private outdoor shooting range with empty beer cans. What great fun, I have to admit. 

It took me a little while to fully get comfortable with it, but I particularly liked the BB gun. Haha, I know, for those of you who own “actual” guns, this must sound like a joke. But hey, I am still not fully comfortable with that recoil thingy. This kind of “gun” was just my thing. 

Here are my first tries, with shaky arms after a challenging workout: 


I definitely needed to work on my standing position. Practice makes perfect, you guys. 

It was so fun and my arms were burning, haha. 

In the early afternoon, Bob and I headed out, PB+J sandwiches on board, to go for a little hike and embrace nature. 

It was fairly muggy and ticks are the only real disadvantage here. Pesky bugs.

Therefore, I look like a dork in this picture. I was wearing these socks to make sure no bugs were getting a bite out of my skin. Eww. 

We got back home just in time before it started pouring.

At six, Kathy, Bob, two of her friends and I drove over to a sports bar. They are avid Trivia players and so I joined in the fun, while we were having drinks, fries, and the iconic Utica Greens. By the way, we nailed it - and won. I could actually contribute with the answer to a question about Germany. Again, small world. Haha. It was a great finish to that day. 

The next morning - which was also the dawn of my last hours in B’ville already -, we squeezed in a quick shooting sesh before I went over to get my but kicked again by the CF Smokey Hollow people. 

Better form, better feeling, greater results - targeting was more fun and it wasn’t that shabby for a bloody German beginner. Haha. 

See for yourself. Bob couldn’t resist recording: 


I then hung out for a little bit while Bob was picking up his 3-year old granddaughter. Miss Lilly is a little princess and such a bright girl.

One thing I could not not do before flying back “home” to San Diego in the early evening, back to my two boys, was going to the B’ville Diner. And so us three drove over there for a hearty lunch. Again, memories came alive.

On our way back, we stopped at Beaver Lake. I used to go there often, rode my bike or ran, with my friend Alex. It’s a great, peaceful place. 

Miss Lilly was up for a photo (I was wearing my new Smokey Hollow CF shirt - ha). 

And then, it was time to say goodbye, until next time. I left the past, the oh so peaceful countryside and all the memories behind, and set my mind on what was lying ahead of me - life in San Diego. Hopefully, continued… 

Where do you go to re-charge? Where is this one place that you hold near and dear to your heart and love returning to?