Wednesday, July 29, 2009

swimming under the slovak sun: velky biel and more...

a treat: a transcribed page from my journal. word for word. minus the delicious penmanship.

swimming under the slovak sun: velky biel

nothing has happened int he last few days which hasn't been magical in at least some small capacity. our last days in Austria were spent under the most gracious roof of Mr. Wolfgang, under the supervision of one extremely enthusiastic, Daniel, of the Vienna Green Party. Austria, like many of the approaching countries which I have never really taken the time out of my day to think about (properly), has exceeded any expectations I didn't have. The friendliness, enthusiasm and generosity of strangers and new friends, the rich coating of a country whose history is so varied, and which has propelled itself to a city of romance and wild character, and the general air of delite which austria captures so well in its gorgeous landscape.

more to come on adventures in Austria at a later date. (**see below you lucky ducks!)

Goodbyes to Austria were handled with great class as sabrina, joanna, and i soaked up the white grape culture under a roof of vines and leaves in a 19th century farmhouse halfway through our ride to the border. Slovakia and its sunflowers awaited us, but our e.t.a. was not for another 3 hours , and i had a slight mission in mind.

Chris and Johanne, of sonneleiten farm in dear old metchosin, which i talk about way too often for anyones liking, had told me about the magical time of year when Austrian farmers open the barn doors to the public and signify their welcome by placing a broom on the door. The idea is you come in, enjoy their place, and drink great wine at cheap prices so they can liquidate for the new harvest season.

Realizing there were only mere hours to be spent in A-land, we set out to find such a miraculous place the Perger in Heinburg did the trick just fine. Three content girls with bratwurst, parmesan and olives... the owner gave us a bottle for the road, thinking we might need to chill once in a while along a 4000km ride. danka!

Our first sight of Bratislava came on the crest of a sea of sunflowers and forgive me if it sounds romanticized because over the last few days its been difficult to not see the beauty in everything around. Especially after experiencing the hospitality of our hosts in Velky Biel. (2okms outside of bratislava).

Velky Biel is 25kms outside of Bratislava, where we met at the National Theatre and were escorted the extra 25k by a man on a bike whose name I never learned.

We don't often get the chance to ride en masse, twenty as one, except for the times when an enthusiastic character decides we need to be excorted in or out of town. Bt we love it. The video function of all our cameras is turned on as we marvel at the ridiculous lime and tangerine coloured parage which is us. Arms flailing, impromptu songs being sun, slower riders being able to ride with faster riders as the pressure is taken off and we are all in the "resonably moderately paced" pod. The extra 25k away from beautiful bratislava is worth it though, as we arrive at the gates to our hosts house to a banner that reads "Welcome Global Agents for Change" and in small print it tells you that we are cycling from Amsterdam to Bratislava to Istanbul - which is almost exactly on par with how I envisioned the trip going down in my mind.

... unfortunately this is where my pen died, so now i have to think back to our day in slovakia, and will give you a brief description because i am actually in budapest currently, and its a crime to be inside on a computer. isn't it???


basically these hosts let us stay inside because of an approaching shower, cooked us 2 dinners, and a two desserts, took us swimming at the local lake, cooked us breakfast, encouraged us to dance all night long, sang us slovakian guitar acoustic songs in their outdoor barn shed thing with an open fire that sizzled sausages at 1am and later. it was fabulous.


and as i mentioned, we are in hungary. and i must go. to see my brother and maybe get something pierced within the next hour!

tchuss lovers and friends.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

hold me tight, vienna

for if you don't, i shall not stay long...

Even as I recollect romantic vienna and the musical hills of austria altogether, my memory is slightly fuzzy as I am already two countries away, having weaved my way along the danube, spending a brief yet filling 24 hours under the slovakian sun, and later coasting into the big paprika... also known as Hungary.

but vienna, my magical, mystical, romantic friend... we were torn to leave you. you inspired us, brought us in close, gave us a whirlwind tour of your finest streets while old folks with austrian outfits and bug eyes stared as we tranced around your town like a gaggle of smurfs on primitive vehicles, dressed in bright green and orange breathable tees. but honestly, we are a sight to behold.

accomodation hasn't proved to be the easiest thing to find in the large cities we visited. a campground in amsterdam that was paid for by the generous bahai community, a centre for troubled youth on the outskirts of prague that was found upon arrival to the city, and countless communications from daniel, of the austrian green party, to find us a church parish for our stay in vienna.

daniel and the green party's hospitality did not end there however. our day off in the city was planned around a photo shoot for local media at 9am, followed by some on camera interviews for the local tv station, a tour of the united nations complete with lecture (for which i regret my eyes would not stay open), and last but not least, an absolutely amazing dinner at a RESTAURANT called 'lux', which was nothing short of luxurious, hosted by the green party for us ridiculous young punks. this is where i learned to love sweet cheese strudel, maybe a little bit too much - but that stored energy would prove to come in handy for the events that followed dinner as a few of us decided to explore vienna's nightlife after the sun went down on our cobblestoned candlelit dinner party.

a short wander brought jake, jenika, mark and myself to a nearby park where the enchanting sounds of opera music bellowed from the base of a large gothic looking church in the distance. obviously intrigued, we pushed our bicycles along a path lit with tiny lamps that shone on the faces of lovers and families and friends who were seated on the the benches listening and laughing. as we got further, the park opened up to a giant film fest where Carmen, the opera, was playing on an enourmous screen to an audience of thousands gathered at the foot of this church. beer tents and romantic purple and yellow lights set the tone for good times, while behind the church steeples flashes of lighting played tricks on our eyes and fooled everyone into thinking it was a well timed light show playing in tune with the staccato and baritone sounds of the opera.

needless to say, the four of us trekked closer, leaving the crowd and running into the windstorm that was funneling leaves into small tornados behind the church. we lay on the grass in the open, staring at the lighting storm above, until grey clouds covered it up, and then we lay there a little longer. enough to feel the first rain drop, and then the second, and then the third, and soon enough we were drenched. rain doesnt hit often in vienna, or this part of europe, but when it does, its hard and pounding and fast and furious and flooding.

our minds escaped us as we ran toward the closest wall to protect us from the harsh winds. we chose a covered space on the opposite side of the street from the subway station, and waited out the 15 minute flash storm, but not before having the opportunity to have the wind pick up my bicycle and thrash the big spiky chain poker thing into the back of my ankle for a dramatic bloody effect. so there you have us, 4 shivering kids with bikes and blood, soaked and slightly lost. trees were falling all around and branching toppling onto the cars that had quickly blocked the streets as the previous opera party goers piled into the roads to get home toute de suite. later, we would find out that this storm had killed 8 people throughout europe, and debris and cracked tree frames lined our entire route into slovakia the next day.

in those moments while we waited out the storm and met other wet and random strangers (including a very strange woman who seemed to have swept through the park after the storm to find a few treats that others had left behind ... a bottle of croatian iced wine, top notch olive oil and homemade honey - to name a few)... in those moments i thought it would be impossible for us to pick up the next day and leave this city and its beauty.

but thats the nature of this tour.
we ride, we ride, we ride. each day is new. and just over 12 hours after the storm we were looking at signs notifying us that we would enter bratislava in less than 12 kilometres. mon dieu.

one day in slovakia - and a most grand reception to be had...

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Yield to snowflakes; slow for hedgehogs; stop for roadside cherries - South Bohemia

First let me say that yesterday morning I woke up on a couch in a kitchen on a farm with a little orange kitten asleep on my neck. And second, that option B’s sleep included an enourmous high-ceilinged attic inhabited by bats. (yee yeah!) Thirdly, let me begin this blog by stating, in order of appearance…

…Rain rain rain rain RAIN rain rain rain rain RAIN cycle cycle cycle cycle…

Not only have I surpassed my wildest expectations of kilometers cycled through unknown territory in such a short amount of time, but the weather has also been striving to break the cycle of normalcy here in Eastern Europe. And its been doing a good job. In fact, I wouldn’t hesitate to thank the consistent rainfall for my lack of writing journal entries, for it has succeeded in drenching my lovely thick-paged handmade journal and rendering it impossible to dry for the last 6 days at least. da.

But in all honesty, the rain factor is just value added for this ‘lil adventure. Without it, how could I begin to describe how it feels to wake up on a mid-July morning on a hillside overlooking central Prague, after cycling 125kms of unmarked trails the day prior to arrive in Eastern Europe’s culture capital, to the most grandiose thunderstorm-rainshower-lighting crackling earsplitting orchestral fiesta you’ve ever bared witness to? Well, I suppose I just wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

Entering Prague and the Czech Republic all in one piece – for the most part- has not only signified entrance into an entirely different region and lifestyle, but it also marks the +1000km czech point (ha ha), and the fact that our ride is more than ¼ of the way through. We’ve grown accustomed to many combinations of jam, peanut butter, mayonnaise, mustard, nutella and random-condiment-with-wonder bread sandwiches (*no relish yet, mads&joel*). We’ve come to terms with body odour. We’ve taken long and winding bike paths 30kms in the wrong directions, and often opted for highways over bike paths, for better or for worse. And, we’ve danced like monkeys till 5am along the river ‘Elbe’ and woken up at 6:30am to ride it into loverly Dresden.

But it seems to me, this trip is taking on a new face as we reach the final stages of the honeymoon. And I think it all stems from Tabor, South Bohemia.

For those of you who recall, each rider was assigned to find the team accomodation in random cities throughout Europe. Some got Utrecht, some got Vienna, and I got Tabor – the most random place ever, in my opinion. For weeks I fretted and feared that it would be impossible to make contact with this mystery town. I googled it, couchsurfed it, and generally got displeased with the fact that I was responsible for housing my team in it. Until one sweet day, when both the cultural exchange station in tabor (CESTA) as well as Mike and Nicola Robinson both agreed to have us spend a night with them. Dream. Come. True.

Tabor is approximately 130kms south of Prague (took my pod 14 hours straight to cycle it – no jokes) – and it is the most beautiful region of my trip so far. Rolling farmland carved away by narrow brooks and streams, uphills that take your breath away as you race down the other side, cherries, plums, and peaches everywhere you look, and flower pots at the edge of almost every pink, yellow, & turquoise cottage’s window sill. The good Czech people mow their lawns in their panties, showing no shame, and far more skin than you ever needed to see. And a 14 hour long day is still ended in smiles as you realize that there is no way you would ever be able to have this kind of experience if not for your 2 wheeled bicycle friend, and the amazing people kickin’ it beside you.

Tabor was the first place we’ve stayed where our hosts cooked us a homemade meal, served hot and delicious as we walked through the door (a welcome embrace). It was also unique in that the two places we stayed in this region provoked some inspirational thoughts about alternative lifestyles, community engagement, and environmentally sustainable options – composting toilet and solar shower, anyone?
Taking a brief break from our +100km days allowed for a short ride between tabor 1 and tabor 2 and a welcome opportunity to spend more quality time with our respective hosts for the evenings. Mike and Nic had promised us a long anticipated hog roast, which even some of the vegetarians passed off as a “cultural experience”, and invited us to camp in their backyard underneath the most brilliant countryside lightning storm that you’ve ever seen. Streaks of fluorescent light rippling like veins through a pulsing palm trying to grab the sky. Thunder that cracks much less than 10 seconds later. The energy we needed in order to power through the relentless rain into Ceske Budejovice today. A 50km ride upon which my pod encountered at least four cute little hedgehogs squished and mangled spike-side upwards into the highway, and a few red triangular road signs with the picture of a single snowflake in the middle.

Thunderstruck, and dominating headwinds,
-gala milne