Friday, September 25, 2009

F*** Rick Steves. I'm Tom Boonen Bitch!

The saga continues undoubtedly. The last time we all connected was in Slovenia. I now write from the sixth story terrace of a flat in Prague, Czech Republic belonging to the Advisor of Foreign Affairs to the Prime Minister of this lovely country. How did we end up here? The answer to that is the long chain of circumstance, frustrations and decisions made known as the past. Lets take a gander.

Our assault on the Austrian boarder was thwarted for a few days by the complicated road network of Slovenia, a gigantic weather system and eastern range of the Austrian Alps. This, although we didn't know it at the time, worked in our favor. We only later realized that Slovenia, a land of beautiful terrain, fine people, and low costs was not ready to release us to her evil Northern sister Austria. We had a few stressful days of constantly dealing with and attempting to avoid the wet. It is hard to keep moral up after 5 days of putting on the same wet bike shorts and gloves on saturated fall mornings. We prayed for the sun and drank infinite shitty cappuccinos. We used any window of non-rain to slog our way North into the mountains. As we found our last road over the boarder there appeared a "No Bikes" road sign. We immediately bought some crayons and fabricated a sign that read "Klagenfurt, Austria" and put our thumbs out. Some locals found us and asked us why were hitching. They informed us the sign indicated that bikes were only "half-legal" and the cops, if encountered, would only shake their finger. The road was steep, some 22% grades, and involved a 1700 meter tunnel excavated by the prisoners of the Ljubelj Nazi extermination camp of WWII. This eerie light less chamber delivered us to Austria, wet and with few plans.

The Austrian landscape is some of the most beautiful we have ever scene. The roads are in miraculous condition and ungulate through the green pastures of mountain valleys. The camping was easy once found and included, as a few pictures indicate, a October Fest style replica village of a quaint little town. We figured that since no event was happening that night we should not have to pay admittance to enjoy the rain proof structures bestowed upon us. Although a beautiful country we were eager to pass through. The people were less inviting and the prices were twice that of the boarding countries. Who can afford to live in a land where a banana costs 50 cents? Not us I assure you. Luckily you can still find wine for 2 dollars a bottle :) It was in Linz (North Austria) that we realized we did not belong in the affluent cities and regimes of old money and aristocracy, but rather the projects and farm fields of less developed nations. This was confirmed as soon as we entered the Czech Republic to the glorious sights of Gypsy bazaars, logging operations, and cheap delicious pastries.

Our first night in the CR came quickly as we entered the country shortly before the sun set. We crossed a creek and posted up in the tall grass of a farmers field. The cover of night continues to assist us in finding supreme accommodations. The temperatures are steadily dropping and our once too warm of sleeping bags are now rewarding us. In cruising Northward we arrived at the delightful city of Cesky Krumlov. It is apparently one the finest preserved examples of middle age architecture in Europe. It was here that Brett stumbled upon a train schedule while we searched the tourist info center for the best cycling route North toward Prague. Should we pay the 20 dollars for the train to avoid two days of intense car laden riding? Instead of camping should we instead stay the night in town, clean ourselves and our clothes, and sample some absinthe and conversation with other travelers? Absolutely yes on both accounts. The rest is history.

So we arrived in Prague a few days early and in high spirits. We met up with our latest Couch Surfing friend Jana and she provided us keys to her flat and fantastic stories involving Heads of States from around the world. As mentioned earlier she works in the Prime Minister cabinet. She rocks and we are very thankful for all she has done/(is doing) for us.

After an adventurous ride to the Prague airport we learned that we must after all depart from Warsaw in less then two weeks. Our hopes of departing from here or Budapest were deemed "impossible" by another not so friendly airline representative. So little time left! We have opted to stay here in Prague as long as we can, help Jana paint her Flat, catch a football game, take a little trip to Slovakia to visit some other Chaprnkas, and ultimately train it back to Poland sometime next week. It feels strange to have a vision of what the last bit of this trip may look like. It is the first time on the trip that the end is in sight. It feels strange and comforting to both of us. But we do have WEEKS left and that is a great thing. I guess that until the last of the trip this is it. Thanks everyone for following along with us. You all have been a big part of this trip as well. Brett and I have been discussing the posts and constantly thinking about the States. Oh what a glorius land the States are! If anyone wants to party in Prague over the next week do email. You are all invited. Best wishes. Steven and Brett.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

How quickly Croatia came and left us. We are happy and tan and have learned many things about this rugged land. The most important thing to know about this country is that the South coast and the islands are the places to be. We immensely enjoyed our time here sleeping on beaches, riding through vineyards on coastal highways and jumping from island to island on impressive ferry boats. We first explored the island of Peljesac and then Korcula. The weather was perfect and camping was easy. Needless to say we took are time getting to the end of each. From the town of Vela Luka we caught a ferry to Split, on the mainland, and quickly realized the island vibe was for us. It was at the dock in Split that we found out the only ferry heading to our next destination was leaving in 36 hours from a port town 170 kilometers to the north. So naturally we threw down a 10 hour day of riding, camped in some industrial lot near the docks, and were back on a boat headed to the island chain of Losinj, Cres, and Krk. We had ambitious plans of lounging and maxing heavily at some pristine beach but as we rolled North the weather began to frown and forced us to trade in the swim suits for riding gear and long sleeves. So it goes.

We arrived at the mainland city of Rijeka, Croatia a few days ago. We used the time to clean everything, most importantly our clothes which had not been washed since Belgrade, Serbia, and loosely plan the rest of the trip. It was good night to have accommodations in the hostel because there was a hellish rain storm that we were forced to bike through in order to retrieve our clean clothing on the other side of town. It is all part of journey. We have opted to avoid Oktoberfest for a few different reasons, mainly because everything about it would be wicked expensive. It is also hard to party like a rock star downtown Munich when we would be needing to find our camp site by dark. So we decided to focus our energies on Prague. We hope to find a lovely couch surfing friend or friends and maybe stay in the city for awhile in order to really get the feel, and also heal from all this riding. It no longer seems strange spending 6 or 7 hours a day on the bikes.

We are currently in Ljubljana, Slovenia while it drizzles outside. We have about 1.5 hours before we have to start looking for camping. Brett is nobly requesting couches in the Czech Republic while I work on the blog. We should be in Austria by tomorrow were we will stop at the airport, find the Swiss Air counter, and demand information about our return flights. Both of our itineraries have been changed to unknown degrees. So it goes. The climate has cooled and leaves fall from the trees as we pedal. The stores and products are more familiar and western while bikes, for the first time on the trip, are perceived and respected as a acceptable form of transportation. Hurray for bike lanes. We cross our fingers that the sun will fill the sky soon. Oh how the weather plays with our emotions and plans. It seems the only reasonable thing to do is have not plans or expectations, only an empty space to be filled with whatever will come. Best wishes. Steven and Brett.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Well, we have a great deal to catch up on. I believe the last entry had us in Belgrade, the only shinning light of Serbia. I actually hear the mountains to the south are lovely though we did not see them. Our final night in the town turned out not to be our final night. We were prepping for a night of dancing and laughing with the local tour guides when it started to storm uncontrollably. We gave a ring to our friends and as it turns out, no one goes out in the rain in Serbia. No one except Brett and Steve. To a make long story short we headed to the bar for shots of whiskey, Jim Beam specifically, then discovered beer by the 2 litter (thats 64ozs) for about 2 dollars at the market. Then while drinking in the alley we met 2 new friends, one fisher/trapper hooligan ex-prisoner and his side kick the bookiet, neo-Nazi, Free-Mason intent on crushing all diversity, including Americans. Needless the say we spent most of the evening with them drinking shots of brandy, beers, smoking cigarettes, acting Canadian, and letting them pay the tab. Thanks guys. I managed to lose my rain jacket and mind while Brett tried to explain exactly what religion he was to these fellows. It took about 12 hours for me to rally guts to leave town, leave Serbia, in search of more hospitable terrain.

We decided to take the shuttle to Bosnia. This was a fine choice as the maximum dangerousness of the shuttle ride itself, on the awfully narrow crumbling mountain roads to Sarajevo, only reinforced our decision to not ride the bikes. We also saved 3 days of riding and were able to put the Serbian plight behind us quickly and efficiently.

Sarajevo is amazing. We ended up finding a yard, rather a garden, to pitch our tent. It was at the house of a local named Salih we found on CouchSurfing. He proved to be very helpful and insightful drawing us very small confusing maps to the best places. These included kabab stands, sheesha dens, and old fortresses overlooking the city. He was also able, along with some of his friends, to put words to the war that we all saw on television 15 years ago. 1000 mortar shells would rain into Sarajevo on a daily basis while rape and other torture were used to break the will and spirit of the people. It is quite compelling hearing the brutally honest accounts of his in half broken English. His neighbor told us, Nobody win in war. All I want to do is work and live, that is it. On a more positive note though it seems the war created a city that prides itself on the fact that everybody gets along. There is felt acceptance between religions and genders and the people are proud of this.

Unfortunately we had to move on from Sarajevo after only a few nights. But it is the nature of this trip to move and see and keep moving. So onto Mostar, Bosnia. This was a challanging day of riding and landed us in the middle of nowhere. We rode for 70 miles or so and after 5000 feet or climbing, a great deal on dirt roads, we camped in an magically quiet high plateau of Bosnian sheep country. We dined on a can a tuna Brett carried from Poland (unable to open due to lack of can opener), slightly under-smoked salami, Sarajevo local cheese, and a few bits of chocolate. Not quite enough after our ride but we felt fortunate because we undershot our planned destination, or put another way, we were ass lost. So it goes. These things often work in our favor.

The next day we arrived in Mostar but could only stay for the afternoon. We had a nice swim under the famed bridge, a quick tour around the shelled and bullet ridden infrastructure left from the war (much like Sarajevo), and ate a pizza-like sandwich filled with spicy sausage and boiled egg before we departed for our camp which for that night was abandoned stretch of highway with views of an ancient castle and the valley below. What a place to end our time in Bosnia! And then onto Croatia. It would take a miserable day of underestimating distances, elevation gain, Mediterranean temps, food and water necessities to land us in Croatia.

That was yesterday and we are still recovering. The ride was brutal and ended in night on the busiest highway we have ridden yet. We are posted up at this apartment/hostel in Debrovnik and are waiting to see what kind of trouble we can find tonight. And then onto the islands and ferries of the Adriatic. Well, so much more to say but what can you do. Hope everyone is well and finding creative ways to enrich the days. We will let you know at the next turn.