Saturday, July 21, 2012
Thursday, July 19, 2012
Dharamsala (by which I, like most white people, mean McLeod Ganj), because it's really pleasant. The Tibetan government and Dalai Lama live there, the climate is nice, and I found it easy to meet other travelers that I really got along well with. You can take classes in anything, do yoga, whatever; in another universe I just zoned out there for a couple months. I'm not sure if that would have been better or worse than the constant traveling that I did.
Ladakh, because it is really something else. Beautiful gompas, rugged mountains, usually-freezing weather. I am still a little frustrated I was sick my whole time here. If I had to make one trip back to India, I would take a friend or three and go hiking in Ladakh.
Switzerland, because it's all it's cracked up to be. Everything is clean and nice, first of all. The Alps, like the Himalayas, are cold and crisp and awesome.
Bosnia, because it's not. Great roads for motorbiking, rocky hills (or small mountains, if you will), great weather in spring, and super friendly people who gave me hours of their time even though I'm just some guy wandering through. Great food (if a bit heavy).
Other places I really like but didn't quite make this list: Bhutan, Darjeeling, small cities in the Czech Republic
Some other favorites (feel free to ask me about any of these if you're interested):
Favorite small city: Wellington, NZ
Favorite big city: Amsterdam or Munich but probably Amsterdam (this surprises me, as I used to think Amsterdam was kind of dirty)
Favorite artists: Frantisek Skala, Czech Republic; Amerigo Tot, Hungary
Favorite food: Bengal, Kerala, Nepal, and Bulgaria
Country I would most like to move to, if I had to move to somewhere: the Netherlands (although this is a cop out, because it's really just the country most like home)
Favorite beer: Germany. I can't count Belgium because I didn't go there, and I got to really like German beers this time. I think I prefer German beers if I'm going to be having a few.
Favorite language: Dutch (still, yes)
Favorite script: Tibetan. Because come on, this is the kind of script that wizards write in: ཀཁགངཅཆཇཉཏཐདནཔཕབམཙཚཛཝཞཟའཡརལཤསཧ
Sunday, July 15, 2012
The Police, Synchronicity- on my next long long distance bus ride, from Leh to Srinagar in the middle of the night, getting again a little freaked out by "Mother" and then just enjoying the slightly-adventure-spooky "Synchronicity II" paired with reading Lovecraft. Picking it up again months later humming "Tea in the Sahara" while drinking tea in the Thar.
Charlotte Gainsbourg, IRM- same as above. Leh to Srinagar by the full moon and songs about lobotomies or electroshock or something. Geez, couldn't I have picked something a little more uplifting for my first month diving into the deep end?
Cults, s/t- ah, but here's where things start to get a bit nicer, on somewhat-more-sane buses around the somewhat-more-sane roads of Himachal Pradesh to easy places like Dharamsala. This is fuzzed out pop rock, 3 minute tasty morsels that remind me that my college-radio life exists somewhere.
Big Boi, Sir Lucious Left Foot the Son of Chico Dusty- and let me tell you, there is nothing like stopping overnight in the dark and, well, very dark border town of Mahendranagar, Nepal, rousing yourself at the crack of 4am, drinking some weird bitter lime tea and slamming into the front seat of a bus that you know will take 12 hours, wishing for something to be a little easier, and then this record starts off with "it is on!" and you can just tune out everything else and thump along to this super fun slick rocking hip hop. Maybe the best album I've heard in the last year.
Friendly Fires, s/t- in Wellington, New Zealand, I had a week to indulge things that I enjoy: drinking coffee, underground theater shows, working on easy coding projects, and hipster indie music like this. Of those four, listening to this record had the least staying power.
Bill Callahan, Apocalypse- On a late 28x bus in Pittsburgh, listening to a rambling yet surprisingly sticky poem called "America!", not being able to decide whether it's praising or criticizing. Feeling about the same way about this country. It's complicated.
Bot'ox, Babylon by Car- Back to disorienting, this one had me mentally wandering while I was physically wandering the streets of Ascoli Piceno, Italy. Tracks like "Tout Passe, Tout Lasse, Tout Casse" served as a safeguard against getting too positive, I guess, while reminding me that I don't know languages.
Orbital, Wonky- techno, but... sometimes very human and optimistic? Meaning that "one big moment" is still good music to catch the sunrise on the ferry from Italy to Croatia.
Daedelus, Bespoke- not only is this the first Daedelus record that I would recommend to just anyone, it's the soundtrack to my putzing around Lublin, Poland. It's great beats and guest vocals, but a little eclectic and queasy. Kind of like I felt in this foreign place, with a few welcoming friends, but still wondering how to plan a trip around an indefinitely broken motorcycle.
Justice; Audio, Video, Disco- freezing through Alps and Poland on a motorcycle is made a lot easier if you've got something this pounding to be singing.
Yeasayer, Odd Blood- sitting in a tower on the old city wall of Pecs, Hungary, realizing that I've just been sightseeing for a month and a half and will probably continue to do so, but now I've got a day to myself to just wander around and this is fine; in fact I can just sit here and listen to this record for a bit and not keep moving and that is also fine; actually it doesn't matter whether I'm sitting or moving because this thing is so damn good. Please hurry up and listen the heck out of this. You can start here.
Sunday, July 8, 2012
Friday, July 6, 2012
Travels continue for a week, but they're a little less interesting to you, dear reader, as they consist of DC and Pittsburgh and Cleveland.
Wednesday, July 4, 2012
This guide is for you if you'd rather seek out a cafe than a museum, if you care about quality of coffee first and foremost (but you're also excited about a place that has good style), and if you like good drip coffee.
Cafe Coffee Day Square, Bangalore, India
CCD is India's Starbucks. Most of them are diabetes-inducingly awful. But in this cafe (maybe their flagship?) they're actually serving single-origin beans from around the world, including some from India.
People's Coffee and Brewtown, Wellington, New Zealand
Especially Brewtown. Run by a real coffee enthusiast. I think they lacked wifi, but they have all kind of stylish magazines and stuff.
Lamason, Wellington, New Zealand
Siphon/vacuum pots! Neat. They let me use the wifi after I asked nicely.
I mean, of course. My home base. If you're headed to Seattle, other A+ names include Vivace, Stumptown, Zoka, and Trabant. But Victrola is for me tops.
Miedzy Slowami, Lublin, Poland
The Polish cafe scene is in a sad state. So I was pretty stoked to find this one, complete with a wide array of Turkish coffees and shelves of books.
I walked in and saw a customer writing something with a fountain pen and a set of different-colored inks. Yes, this is the place for me. Actually good Americanos!
A bit outside the tourist center, but probably in the student quarter. Solid espresso, aeropress, and scones.
Screaming Beans, Amsterdam
They offer barista workshops, which is a good sign. A half dozen single origin beans on V60, Chemex, Aeropress, or French Press. Note that asking people for a good coffeeshop in Amsterdam might not get you what you want.
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
This shebang is winding down. Instead of real insight, I'll share some facts about houses in Europe.
- smaller fridges. Point: Europe.
- no garbage disposals. Point: USA.
- European windows. They have a handle and if you turn it down, it opens like a door, but if you turn it up, the top of the window leans into the room. These are great. Point: Europe.
- sometimes the toilet has a shelf. Stuff lands on the shelf, then the water flushes it down into the hole. Still don't get this. Point: USA.
- usually there's a hand-held shower head. This looks useful but is actually inconvenient. I need one hand to hold the shampoo bottle, one hand to put the shampoo into, and one to hold the shower head. Point: USA.
- sometimes there is a water heater. This can be kind of neat, in that you actually hear when the gas starts, so you get a little feedback that maybe makes you use less hot water. One guy I stayed with, though, he had to make sure not to ever turn the heater on while the shower isn't on, or it could start a fire. Usually you don't even notice.
Sunday, July 1, 2012
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Sunday, June 24, 2012
Total distance traveled: 5278 km (3279 miles)
Total gas consumed: 174.2 liters (46 gallons)
Gas mileage: 27.8 km/liter (64.5 mpg)
Average daily distance traveled: 222 km (138 miles)
Average time on road: 6:41
Average speed: 33.3 km/hr (20 mph; pokin' along!)
Longest day, time-wise: April 23, Fussen to Zurich, 9.5 hrs. Probably the most climates too. Included a summer valley, ski resorts, a big city, and yaks. Sort of freezing. Maybe the biggest ups and downs day.
Longest day, distance-wise: June 12, Ceske Budejovice to Munich, 355km. The first half was fine, the second half was driving rain, but I was in a hurry to get back. Maybe the worst overall day.
Fastest day: May 12, Kecskemet to Miskolc (Hungary), 52.67 km/hr. This is the one where I ran out of gas and then had to get a battery jump. Started at 2pm, ended at 8pm with daylight running out fast.
Best day #1: Zurich to Savognin (Switzerland). Just alps. A lot of wind, high speed, good roads, good weather.
Best day #2: Split to Dubrovnik (Croatia). Mountains and coast.
Day I thought I was most likely to get lost in the wilderness: Mostar to Sarajevo. In an effort to find a more interesting road, I ended up on a dirt path for about a half hour.
Least favorite countries to ride in: Italy, Hungary, and Poland.
Favorites: Switzerland, Bosnia, and the Czech Republic.
Saturday, June 23, 2012
Maastricht's nice. It was only a little bit weird to go back there. Next we headed up to Groningen, the northernmost biggish city (190k) in the Netherlands. We planned to go wadlopen (hiking across mud flats), for which we did the aforementioned shoe-shopping, but all the wadlopen was canceled this weekend because of the weather. So now we're just hanging out here for a day or two.
Sunday, June 17, 2012
It's a nice town. It's got a castle and stuff. (My friend Brian informs me that I've been saying that about pretty much every town.)
The castle is nicer than most. It's old and crumbley and has the world's biggest wine barrel. There's also a hill called Heiligenberg next to the city. We hiked a bit through a Random Forest and saw an old Nazi amphitheater and a ruined monastery.
Now I'm in the Netherlands. Brian (sometimes known as "Beej") arrived yesterday and we've been palling around Amsterdam, along with Guido and Joyce, who I met in India. Guido and Joyce have been super friendly and welcoming hosts, and it's great to see Beej again too.
Not a ton to tell. Went to the Van Gogh museum, saw the Boom Chicago improv troupe (their main show was meh but their late all-improv show was spot on), paddled around canals, watched the Dutch lose a lot at football. Soccer. You know.
All's well! Having a good time in the Netherlands. I like this place.
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
6. I didn't get hypothermia. Seriously, Europe? It's June 13. Chilly temperatures, driving rain (NPI), and a distance of 355km to cover made for the worst day of the whole trip. Good note to end on, I guess; now I'm relieved to get the bike back to John (its owner) and move on.
But man, it's been fun. Goodbye, little Igel, and thanks for the memories. And thanks John for making this all possible! It's been the trip of a lifetime, and I couldn't have done it without you.
Monday, June 11, 2012
Luckily: my stomach is made of friggin' titanium? I don't know. Thanks again, genes!
2. Tenuous situation: my cash. If I get $100 poorer, stuff like buying food gets dire. I'm almost out of Poland, making good time, when a cop on a motorcycle waves me over. Shit! I was speeding! I've never been pulled over speeding in my life! I guess I blew through a god damn two-bit burgh without noticing the sign that said I was officially in a "city", which means the speed limit drops from 90kph to 50. So he has me doing 90 in a 50. (Kilometers, but still.) Yikes. We talk in German because ya nie rozumiem Polski. He looks at my papers. He asks: "Alkohol?" Stunned, I reply "Me? Nie!" He looks at my papers some more.
Luckily: he returns with one German word: "Langsam!" ("Slow") and lets me go. Whew, good thing I passed the sobriety test!
3. Tenuous situation: my bike. It just had its engine replaced, a veritable heart transplant, and now I'm riding it over 1000km at max speed in 4 days. Something's bound to go wrong, right? In the middle of day 1, I am driving down the road, when all of a sudden I lose steering control. Ever have a blowout on your back bicycle tire? It felt like that. I pull over, drive a few more feet to make sure I'm not imagining things, and pull into a gas station. It is 3:02pm on Saturday in the middle of nowhere in Poland. Everything is closed until Monday. You may note that a 2+ day delay would really ruin all sorts of stuff right now.
Luckily, part 1: this gas station has an attached diagnostic unit- for car exhaust or something? Like an E-Check booth? I don't know. There is one guy working there, just about to leave, and he has some wrenches and stuff. He's by no means a motorcycle mechanic, but he's able to look at my bike and figure out what's wrong. There's one particular nut missing. Zakrętka. You can get one from a mechanic, or a hardware store, but everything is closed. Also there is a bit of hose that has come undone and is kind of just flapping around.
Luckily, part 2: the hose doesn't seem to matter. What?! I still don't know what it does. It's been disconnected for 2 days now and everything still works. ... okay.
Luckily, part 3: the guy's friend, who lives next door, just stops by. He thinks he has something. He comes back with a zakrętka that just happens to fit exactly. These two guardian angels vanish into the... mid-afternoon... without even letting me pay them. Two days later, the nut is still attached perfectly.
4. Nothing tenuous about this: I'm in the Czech Republic, and stuff's pretty again. I like this country. Here is a bit of Czech humor; my dad will be confused, and Brian Gray will think it's great.
One more day to Munich! In the words of Han Solo, "Hear me, baby? Hold together."
Saturday, June 9, 2012
A lot of stuff going wrong puts you in the mindset that things will continue to go wrong. Here's hoping that's not the case. Tonight I'm heading to Czestochowa, Poland; tomorrow to Olomouc, Czech; the next day to Ceske Budejovice (aka Budweis), Czech; and then Munich. Let's rock!
Friday, June 8, 2012
Went to the bank at 4pm on Friday to get some cash to pay them. I had 500 zloty ($140) in my wallet and needed 1750 zloty ($550) total. I paid off my Mastercard's cash advance (plus hefty fees) and luckily it had gone through, so I was able to withdraw $500 again.
... except it was denied. What!
Luckily, I had my Visa card too, and that has only a $250 limit, but maybe I could scrounge together enough extra cash. ... but that was also denied.
(My debit card, you may remember, is not working, because my bank got bought by another bank and they canceled all the existing cards. My new debit card is in the transatlantic mail as we speak, thanks to my wonderful parents.)
Turns out I never set up a PIN on my Visa. Note to self (and everyone else): set up a PIN on your credit cards. It's sort of stupid that this isn't automatic, but it's not, and you have to request it and then they mail (mail!) it to you in 5-7 business days. Argh, etc, but "not possible".
As for my Mastercard, general fraud alert on the account. Apparently one cash advance in Poland doesn't trip their system, but two does. At least this was fixable via a phone call.
Oh, one more thing? My helmet. I thought I had left it with Ninja Serwis, but it's not there. Our current hypothesis is that I left it with Skuteromania (the first guys who took a look at my bike). So first thing tomorrow, I'm going there to try to find it. Second thing, I'm going back to Ninja Serwis to (hopefully) pick up the bike. Third thing, I might actually get back on the road. Fingers crossed.
Where did the title come from? Why is it hard to be poor? Because your problems are all super urgent. While I've been traveling, I've had to deal with issues like "where will I sleep tonight?" And even so, my problems are easier than a poor person's problems, because even when I run into money problems (like now) it's just because the money is in a different place, not because it doesn't exist. Imagine being poor, and every night you have to worry about where to sleep. You can't concentrate on other stuff. You can't think about making a resume and wearing nice clothes and getting a job because you have to worry about scrounging together a few dollars right now to make rent, so you don't get kicked out on the street with nowhere to go. You have to worry about actually going hungry today.
Thursday, June 7, 2012
May 19: bike broke.
May 21: one guy finally looked at it and decided he couldn't fix it, so I took it to Ninja Serwis. They estimated about a week.
May 26: they realized it was seriously broken and they needed to order parts. They waited a few days to get a piston, connecting rod, and crankshaft.
May 31: I talked to them again and said don't wait around, just order a new engine.
June 1: They ordered an engine, it was supposed to arrive Monday, June 4.
June 4: No engine.
June 5: No engine.
June 6: "It's still not here, and we don't know why."
which brings us to today, June 7, which is finally the point where even if the engine appeared in front of them, they couldn't fix it up for me in time to go meet my friends Kemal and then Brian. This is also fine; now we consider other options like transporting it (how do you transport a motorcycle?!) or selling it (the bike's owner is cool with this). But like I said, I have to move fast. Every day counts.
Poland is very (96%?) Catholic. So whenever a Catholic holiday comes up, nobody is working. For example, the ninth Thursday after Easter is the Catholic holiday of Corpus Christi. Today is the ninth Thursday after Easter.
Enjoy your holiday!
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
My trusty bank, Watermark Credit Union, got bought by Sound Credit Union. I remember an email saying something like "we will send you a new debit card. You should use this instead of your old debit card." But you know, "should" means they won't mind if I wait a month until I'm back in the US, right?
Nope! Last night: it's Monday and my debit/ATM card is now completely unfunctional. I'm in Poland. I have 90 zloty (~ $25) cash. I owe a hostel $80 for 5 nights, and I'm leaving the next morning (Tuesday). On Wednesday I will owe a guy about $550 for fixing the scooter. (This is tricky even in the best of times, because my bank only lets me withdraw $500/day.)
All right, cosmic hand of fate, trickster god out there, let's rumble! Call up bank. (TGIM.) Can you reactivate my card for just a week? Can you overnight a replacement card to Lublin? No and no. They send me to 1-800-VISA-911, which is what it sounds like, except my new bank doesn't participate in their emergency card program. Okay okay. Western union? I guess, but then I've got to ask my family to wire me at least $630, and even that takes... a day? I can do better! Credit card cash advances. I've never used these, because they carry a 3% fee, but they let me withdraw (internet internet...) $500 and $250. Bingo. Of course I set up a PIN before I left home. My wallet is fat and I am happy.
(Except I'm still just waiting on a bike engine to arrive. I think it will be soon, but all the guys can say is "let's hope it arrives tomorrow." Kind of getting sick of waiting on this.)
Monday, June 4, 2012
I've been here for 4 days now, and this will be the last time I'm in the same city for 4 days in a while.
It's a pleasant place to spend 4 days: nice cafes and restaurants and cool sights. Reminds me of Hampi, India: I arrived somewhat spontaneously to kill some time before my end-of-trip plans start, saw some famous things out of obligation, met other people who were all partying a lot, but personally just relaxed. Both places occupy a strange place in my memory: they're cool spots but I am just too mentally worn out to do anything.
Oh, except I did visit Auschwitz. And I feel weird about that too: a bit sad and rather tired. As soon as I go to any museum and start reading things, my rational brain takes over, and it's not the kind of place best processed by the rational brain.
The sizes of things surprised me. Auschwitz is not big. Maybe 20 buildings that look like about 2 suburban houses each. You can see the whole thing pretty easily. Weird that everything that you've read about Auschwitz happened in that small area. (Well, and at Birkenau, which IS big. But still:) For the amount that has happened there, I expected it to be a whole city.
Next few weeks (fingers crossed): pick up bike in Lublin. Ride 1200km in 4 days to visit Kemal in Heidelberg. Ride 300km back to Munich to return the bike. Get up to NL somehow, meet Brian, head to Amsterdam, Maastricht, maybe Utrecht and the Hoge Veluwe, and Den Haag. Whew!
Friday, June 1, 2012
Also, in Big Cities in Europe the central squares are really pretty:
But Prague is all full of tourists, and tourist infrastructure, and tourist "infrastructure", which is kind of soul sucking. Instead of a generally pretty good experience like in a small city in Europe, you get a few really amazing moments (like the Strahov Monastery) and a lot of wondering why are there so many terrible souvenir shops and nightclubs.
Whatever. It's also got good coffee shops. And I got to spend some time with my ever-delightful friend Victoria, whom you might remember from Halloween in Uttarakhand last year. We explored coffeeshops, restaurants, and bars with many basements, cooked amazing zucchini/potato pancakes, and of course played Bananagrams. It was a good couple days.
Now I'm in Krakow, which is another Big City in Europe. It's got a famous salt mine called Wieliczka, which has a lot of tourists and is kind of soul sucking but also really cool. (sensing a theme?)
famous underground chapel.
Scooter update: they can't get a new piston, so they're swapping out the whole engine for a new one. ETA Tuesday? Wednesday? It depends on when the engine arrives, so there's nothing they can do, but I hope it is no later than that. :O
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Second: It's not very culturally different from Poland. I guess eastern Ukraine is. Western Ukraine (for reasonable historical reasons) is not.
Third: so I'm a bit Ukrainian. Okay. Given that it's 80% just like home, I'm not sure if I learned anything. I mean, the guy I stayed with in Lviv was (entirely coincidentally) an almost-coworker at Google. I've seen some old-style houses in Ukraine and in Poland at cultural museums. All this ancestor-following kind of confirms what I imagined: in Poland/Ukraine it's dark and rainy and you make fences out of bent slices of wood because nails are too expensive; in Italy it's beautiful and you hang out on piazzas and drink wine. (guess stereotypes exist for a reason?)
Fourth: well of course people who lived 100 years ago don't have much bearing on my life now. It's just cocktail-party interesting, like Myers Briggs tests or astrology.
Monday, May 28, 2012
Hi! I'm in Prague. My poor scooter will take another week to fix, and I don't want to miss the chance to visit my friend Victoria in Prague, so I went ahead and did that. Lviv, Ukraine to Zilina, Slovakia to Prague, Czech Republic in just 20 hours.
European trains are different than Indian trains, and I was trying to articulate how, but then I realized it is mostly just this: they are ten times as expensive and half as full.
You can still get tea. (And it's still pronounced "chai".) That is ten times as expensive and half as sugary.
All is well! I feel like an international superhero, hopping countries every three days. It's a tough life, right?
Saturday, May 26, 2012
Language confusion is sort of the best and the worst here in Ukraine. I guess it is one of the least English speaking places that I might normally go to, at least according to one guy. I muddled through Pimsleur Russian enough that I can invite Mr. Pronin for a beer at Cafe Savor (unless he would prefer wine), but western Ukraine is the most Ukrainian-speaking (and least Russian-speaking) part of the country. Nevertheless, the languages are close enough, and enough people speak both, that you can get by with Russian just fine. ... if your Russian is good enough to also understand Mr. Pronin's response to your invitation, which mine isn't.
In short, it's the hardest place to get around. I know less Polish/Czech/Balkan than Russian, but whenever something serious has come up, there's been an English speaker near enough. Ukraine is the only place where I've felt that we might just have to abort the conversation.
Me, in broken Russian: "Do you going Yaremche?"
Bus driver: something I didn't understand.
Me: "Uh, you travel Yaremche?"
Bus driver: "No."
Me: "Okay, thanks." (gets off bus)
Bus driver and everyone on the bus: kind of looks at me funny out the window
Me: (getting back on bus) "I don't understand. Yaremche, da?"
Bus driver: "Da!"
Me: laughs, sits down.
Bus driver: "Hah! I don't understand!"
Everyone on the bus: laughs.
Anyway, Yaremche was nice. There's a waterfall totally surrounded by souvenir stands. Where am I, Nepal? I guess there's also a nice trail to walk on.
Me: (again, broken Russian) Where is the "way of Dovbush"?
Guy: (laughing) Go autobahn, there. (points to road)
Me: Okay, thanks.
Guy: (still laughing)
Me: Excuse me, where is the Way of Dovbush?
Lady: (pointing, says something I don't understand.)
Me: Uh, okay. (starts walking one way)
Lady: (something else, pointing the other way, the way I just came, where there is clearly no Way of Dovbush)
Me: Oh! Okay. (I start walking the other way, then pause, turn around, and scurry past, the way I was originally going, while she's talking to someone else.)
So I didn't go hiking.
Ivano-Frankivsk is nice too. Anna gave me a thorough tour. It has lots of iron art sculptures, because there's an iron-art festival every year.
It also has this cool pond.
Thursday, May 24, 2012
Monday, May 21, 2012
* whenever I say something like this, I want to put a lengthy disclaimer about how "they speak English" is sort of incidental, not the reason that I think it's in good hands. I feel weird pointing it out. Interesting thought: talking about speaking English feels like talking about race.
Sunday, May 20, 2012
In Lublin, I've been hanging out with my friend Anu from college, who is now in med school, currently studying for some exams. She also goes to this circus group sometimes. They juggle, spin poi and hoops and staffs, slackline, aerial silk, and other amazing things. So that's cool.
We juggled and spun with them on Friday, then hung out afterward and drank and talked and stuff until the sunrise. (that is not quite so late here; it's summer, it's far north, and it's on the eastern edge of the time zone, so we're talking 3 or 4 AM. still.) Cool folks! They're very friendly, and we can communicate well enough, due almost entirely to their speaking English. Some students, some other young people, all very creative.
Anu and I have also walked around and seen things in Lublin. There is a very cool cemetery. There is also a castle and a pretty old town. (there must be an old town factory in Europe. every city has one. maybe it's the same factory that makes Chinatown gates.)
On Saturday night, Anu had to study, and I am on a surprising extra weekend in Lublin because of bike woes, so I juggled and partied with the circusers again. I think I have now seen more sunrises in the past week than I had in the previous 6 months.
Saturday, May 19, 2012
A nice guy at a local car shop called a bunch of scooter mechanics, but they were all closed for the
I clumsily walked it down the road to a scooter shop that I passed. They were just closing up, but they took it and will get to it on Monday.
This is fine. I had to quickly notify a few couchsurfers in Ukraine that I would not be there today and perhaps not at all but I don't know yet. I had to pass on the worrying news about the scooter to John, its German owner. I am inconveniencing my friend Anu and her roommate Tara by staying at their place unannounced for a couple more days. (I am attempting to make up for the last part by cooking them some good food.) But this is life; as a traveler I am continually inconveniencing a lot of people.
It is nice that there's no reason to get all fussed about all this. I am glad that the explodey incident did not go a lot worse, I'm glad that I'm safe and among friends, and I'm glad that today too has had too much life to write down. Thank you for everything, I have no complaints whatsoever.
Thursday, May 17, 2012
For the last couple days it's been about 50F, overcast, and spots of rain. It's about as cold as I'd want it to get to keep riding, but it's still okay. Yesterday was actually fun: I wanted to get to Lublin (and off the road) as fast as possible, so I drank a bit of coffee and blasted through a Brothers Grimm forest. Unfortunately, I can see where some people get the need for speed. (fortunately, I can't do much about it. also fortunately, 50mph feels pretty fast on my bike.)
Just previously, I stopped in Kolbuszowa, Poland, near Rzeszow, where a couchsurfer named Mateusz kindly invited me to stay with his family. It's a small town, but they have a neat museum area there were you can see how things were in the old days.
And then yesterday, I arrived in Lublin! Probably the northernmost point I'll hit on my bike. It's so far north that the sun comes up at something stupid like 4 AM. My friend Anu is in med school here, and I've arrived just in time to interrupt her studying for finals. I'll hang out here for a couple days, then head to Lviv, Ukraine.
My poor shirt has seen the end of its days. I wanted it to last the full year, but after a couple of rips I think that continuing to wear this garment
Oh yeah, and due to cold weather, the Cool hat has a new life as the Cool neckwarmer.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Went through Slovakia, spent a nice couple of days in Kosice, and am now in Kolbuszowa, Poland. Look that up on your map!
In short, all's well, Couchsurfing a lot which is mostly great, weather is cold, but the bike and I are still alive, so I'm doing fine. Details later!
Sunday, May 13, 2012
The land: I hate a lot of it. Much of Hungary like a Thomas Friedman book: Hot and Flat. (not crowded, though, thank god.)
I think I would have liked Eger (and Lillafured, in the national park between Eger and Miskolc), but I had to speed through as the sun was setting.
The cities: Pecs was pretty cool. Student town, bikers, people out in the main square, etc. Kecskemet and Miskolc were a little less active. As with other post-communist countries, Hungary is full of ugly blocky apartment towers. These are really soul-crushing.
Completely wild speculations about people: I've heard that Hungarians are kind of pessimistic. My hosts agreed with that one. I also heard that Hungarians were really smart (Erdos, Liszt, von Neumann, a bunch of nuclear physicists, etc) and my hosts could neither confirm nor deny that. I think Hungarian art is kind of neat, based on the one museum of modern Hungarian artists I went to. It's all a little blocky and abstract but not minimalist or nuts like Rothko or Pollock. This guy made some neat things. Also, all the restrooms have interesting yet recognizable men/women signs.
Food: again, I know only the junk food. Langos is my favorite Hungarian pastry. No wait, Pogacsa is my favorite Hungarian pastry. Cancel that, Kürtőskalács is my favorite Hungarian pastry. I guess they have goulash and peppers and all sorts of other things, but they do have good pastries.
Saturday, May 12, 2012
1. I was going through Heves, Hungary, about which my hosts had warned me "you probably don't want to stop there. A lot of gypsies."
2. As soon as I entered said city, my gas tank light went on. But I figured I had another 30km or so.
3. The next town, Fuzesabony, was hard to navigate; I wandered around houses for 15 minutes wondering where the hell the y'know businesses are.
4. Gas station #1 in Fuzesabony was closed.
5. Gas station #2 in Fuzesabony was closed. A couple guys in a truck driving by saw my plight and said "Eger." (Eger was 20km away.)
6. On the road to Eger there was another gas station. Said gas station had no gas. "Benzene. Nem?" "Nem. Eger."
7. 0.5km from Eger, I ran out of gas. It was all downhill from there. I rolled and walked into the gas station. Yessss!
Also today I almost blew up my bike, and some guys in a car worked some magic. Here is how this happened:
1. My battery died because of the gas thing I guess. I try it every five minutes just in case it will magically start working. Nope.
2. I asked the guys at the gas station if they could give me a jump. "Are you sure that would work, from a car to a bike?" "Nope, I'm not sure at all!" (confer confer) "Actually, it will not work. It would make your battery explode." Oh.
3. A guy in a scooter pulled in to get gas, and we convinced him to jump my bike. No luck. "Well, I think it is not the battery then."
4. "Ahh, it is Saturday evening, and all the mechanics are closed. There are mechanics in Eger, but it is Sunday tomorrow and they will be closed too. Do you have anyone you could call?" "Um, not really. Hmm." "Hmm."
5. Another car pulled up. The gas station guy conferred with him. "Can you start the bike?" "Okay, I'll try." It starts up!
Finally, today I almost did a dumb thing, but I was saved because nothing ever goes wrong ever. Here is an internal dialogue of these events.
1. "My bike is running! My bike is running! I will not turn it off until I reach Miskolc, where I am going to sleep. Worst case, I can deal with it in the morning."
2. "Well, the closest route is through the national park. 50km, no sweat."
3. "Boy, those clouds look threatening."
4. (25km into this 50km road) "I wonder why all those cars are stopping. Oh, a truck is on fire in the road. Okay."
5. (pulls over, stops the bike, instinctively turns it off.) "fffffffuuuuuu--"
(long pause while the fire department takes care of the truck on fire in the road.)
6. Nothing ever goes wrong ever, the battery was the problem all along, and it starts back up instantly.
Thursday, May 10, 2012
Sunday, May 6, 2012
Red = past, Green = future, peppers ("paprika" in Europese) = where I'm spending a night. Well, except Ancona and Split; I only spent one night between them, on the ferry.
Croatia! What a nice ride!
Not sure it was entirely worth it to go out of my way to visit Dubrovnik, as I am tired of tourist towns, but here's the thing: I don't know where else to sleep. Especially in Croatia. There are a million rooms along the road, but I am guessing they are all out of my price range. In Dubrovnik, a room costs about 50 euro; I'm sure it's less on the road, but I don't know how much. In a tourist town like Dubrovnik, there is a hostel, which keeps me in the 20-euro range. Oh and I guess it's kind of nice to have an ancient city there to walk around or whatever:
Same with Mostar.
So I guess nowadays I'm thinking:
1. actually talking meaningfully with people who live in a place is probably the best thing to do while traveling
2. hanging out with other travelers is nice too, about equivalent with:
2. walking around and looking at things
For #1, I have Couchsurfing. That's about it; I don't know how else to interact with strangers in a non-customery way. So when I can find a couch, that's a fun thing. When I can't find a couch (and my luck has dried up in Italy, Croatia, and most of Bosnia), I've mostly been looking at things. It is pretty solitary, but not in a bad way. I am kind of enjoying the chance to be totally anonymous.
And it's not like I have a ton of spare time anyway. Riding takes most of the day, by the time I suit up and get out, drive halfway, stop every so often for coffee or lunch or gas (and to get out of my helmet, which hurts after a couple of hours), get lost at least once, maybe end up stuck on a gravel road in the middle of nowhere (hup, today), arrive at my destination, find a place to sleep, and eat some food.
A friend said in an email "hope you're having the best time!" and I was going to reply something wishy washy about how I mean it's pretty good, but sometimes difficult, sometimes lonely, sometimes scary, sometimes worrying (why is the bike so loud recently?), sometimes tiring, and then I stopped, because if I'm going to quibble here, what the hell do I want?! There is a lot going on, I am seeing places and people and times shoot past at 100 figurative miles per hour, and that is the kind of diverse multicolored experience I was aiming for here!
So all's well. Sarajevo seems pretty swell so far too. Good night!