Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Journal Entries: Waiting For My Wheel To Get Rebuilt

Today I’m spending my morning sitting in front of Delta Bisiklet waiting for my front wheel to get rebuilt with a new rim (my old rim is too thin). They’ve got the 2012 London Olympics playing on the TV inside. I’m sitting outside guarding the bikes, but I can still watch from my vantage point out near the sidewalk. I think I just finished watching some swimming qualifying rounds. Michael Phelps just won his heat or maybe just won gold—I don’t really know. Now they’re showing a women’s field hockey game between Japan and Netherlands. Boring! I turn to people watching instead.

Delta Bisiklet is situated between GYM Fitness Club and a Tea Salon. Sitting in front of the fitness gym is trainer smoking a cigarette patiently waiting for fellow fitness enthusiast to arrive. No enthusiasts yet.

Over on the other side the tea shop is doing better business. Seven groups of men are drinking tea or snacking outside on the patio. No women. Several of the groups are either playing cards or a board game, reading a newspaper, or rubbing their prayer beads and staring aimlessly out towards the traffic. Occasionally the owner comes out balancing a tray topped with small glasses of tea and a cigarette dangling from his mouth. Slowly he winds his way through the tables handing out shot glasses of tea.

Out on the road a garbage man (is that what he is?) is talking on his cellphone while picking up random trash he finds strewn along the street. His findings are thrown into the massive white tarp bag dragging behind a trolley he hand pulls around.

A cleaning lady is scrubbing the windows of an apartment three stories above.

Below two trainers at the fitness gym have joined the owner out front where they sit and chat while still waiting for fitness enthusiasts to arrive.

At Delta Bisiklet one of the sales guys (the one that, according to Kevin, wasn’t friendly) attempts to make a sale. He’s brought out several bikes and makes hand gestures over them. The customer listens to the sales pitch while sipping some tea he’s been given.

Up above the cleaning lady is now cleaning the outside windows by hanging out with one foot precariously balancing on a narrow ledge.

From with the fitness club appears the receptionist. She wanders off down the street.

Out on the street the garbage man is long gone. He’s been replaced by an old guy who has parked his little turquoise hatchback in front of the tea shop. He flips open the trunk and fires up a meat cooker he has stashed back there. Immediately he slaps on some burger patties and disappears down the street. Every now and then he returns to flip the patties and prepare the vegetables and bread.

The cleaning lady is now working on the windows on the balcony. She too has a cigarette hanging from her mouth.

The fitness club receptionist returns carrying two bags full of groceries. She goes inside leaving the two guys outside chatting and nibbling on pastries.

Out from the bicycle shop the customer, finished with his tea, emerges leaving the sales guy to restock the bicycles. No sale today.

Two more guys arrive at the gym. Rather than go inside and use the facilities they light up cigarettes and join the ongoing conversation occurring out front. One does go inside briefly only to emerge again with more pastries for snacking.

The sales guy at the bicycle shop comes out and calls the burger guy inside for a short conversation. He quickly returns, though, to resume flipping the patties.

Next door, just after one of the fitness guys returns from yet another trip to the grocery store, a water delivery man arrives with a flat tired trolley stacked with water bottles. The muscular trainers move well out of the way to give this scrawny delivery man room to unload the heavy packs of water bottles. After a short conversation and with paperwork and cash in hand the delivery man leaves. The trainers promptly reclaim their seats and continue chatting around the newly formed stack of water bottles.

A little girl hovers around the burger guy. Once and a while some of the men come out from the tea shop to look over the burger guy’s shoulder and inspect their order. Not ready yet they go back and take their seats again at the tea shop.

Kevin returns from scouting out another bicycle shop where we’ll go later to get chains and a replacement tire.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Balkans

After leaving Podgorica we decided to head towards Kosovo and skip Albania as the northern road there is poor and there have been reports of criminal activity (according to the travel reports I read).  The hills of course had to continue and there were plenty of them in the Balkans.  Seemed like every day we were climbing at least 1,000m. 

We exited Montenegro by crossing the border at Kula Pass and met a retired man from San Diego riding his motorcycle around the Balkans.  Into Kosovo we had a long downhill which was nice, but bad on the brakes.  Due to me being paranoid about the landmine situation in the former Yugoslavian region I have been insisting we camp in places where people have set foot on.  As such, we finally found a spot in Decan, Kosovo at a school.  There we waited until it got dark to set up shop.  Unfortunately there were some young punks around that never stopped bugging us.  A few of them were civil and nice but there was this one dumbass that was narcissistic and clearly enjoyed pleasuring himself.  He kept calling me ‘boss’, wanted to compare muscles, abs and chest sizes, and admired Trevor’s legs.  What really annoyed me was that he had to touch everything on my bike.  And try things on.  He didn’t know any English and I didn’t know his language so you would think there shouldn’t be much to talk about.  But he kept saying stuff to us and laughing.  He was making fun of us and all his buddies were laughing.  I really wanted to drop this guy flat on his face.  In the end we spent all that time waiting to set up shop but thought there were too many of them and there was the risk they could try something later in the night so we went and found a hotel to stay at.  I was pissed.   

Overall, Kosovo was pretty crappy.  The place really looks like it is still war torn with beat up buildings and filth everywhere.  What we did find peculiar is that there are many foreign plates everywhere… not sure if they are there to help the recovery process or they are nationals that immigrated to other European nations.  Because we saw many German and Swiss plates.  Pretty sure they weren’t there on vacation because Kosovo is definitely not on any hot travel destination list that is for sure. 

I had a few conversations with people I like to call ‘WTF just went down?!?’.  The first was in Skopje, Macedonia.  We spent the night at a park in the city centre and this guy approaches us on his bike and asks if we are foreigners.  I reply we are and are from Canada.  Since his English isn’t all that great I really don’t know what else to say so I continue cooking my pasta.  He then just starts to stare at me for the next minute and then all of a sudden says ‘sorry’ and cycles off.  I guess he thought I was a little annoyed at him staring at me which has some truth but I don’t think I showed it.  In any event, I was confused. 

The second conversation was with this pretty attractive girl in Plovdiv, the second largest city in Bulgaria.  She and her pregnant friend pull up to the McDonalds we were chilling at for the free wifi (nice to have that back albeit momentarily) and she tells me her car ran out of fuel and if we had any petrol in a bottle.  I say no, sorry, but there is a Shell gas station right behind you?  She then goes into McDonalds with her friend to use the washroom and sit down for a small chit chat.  Then they come back out and she asks me if I have any food because they are hungry.  I reply no, don’t have but you are standing outside a McDonalds and there is a Billa Supermarket just across the street.  Again, I was left dazed and confused.  Believe me this girl has to have some money because she has the breast implants to show for and they were on display for the world to see.  I’d like to think maybe it was a pickup line and I just didn’t clue in but I doubt that.  Pretty sure she was just trying to bum something off of us.

In other news Trevor bought a whole new wheel in Sofia after the rim broke while the mechanic was replacing the hub.  We did meet a couple of nice gentlemen while waiting for the new wheel.  One Bulgarian man told us how bad things are in Bulgaria and offered to let us stay at his place in the south. 

We are now in Istanbul after a few days of intense headwinds which was not fun.  Lots of nice Turkish people though.  One guy at Bim’s Supermarket gave us 2 free chocolate bars and then snuck me a loaf of bread from the delivery truck.  This other guy in his car stopped us on this intense hill we were climbing and gave us some refreshing towels.  Thought at first maybe they were teabags but nope, refreshing towels… we’ll take it! 

Tomorrow we cross the Bosphorus and enter Asia… 

The Balkans… and its many mountains. 

Another find!  This time 3 bags of Clipsy snacks.  Who tosses 3 unopened bags on the side of the road?  Really?  I don’t understand.  Still though my best find was the Apple headphones I found in Germany.  I am currently using them now after my old headphones died.       
This is the school we were going to stealth camp at in Decan, Kosovo.
Trevor navigating us out of Prizren.

As we were nearing the Macedonian border in Kosovo we turn a corner and there is this cow eating grass on the side of the road.  Unfortunately it gets startled by us, and then books it across the road and bam!  It collides right into this van.  The cow falls to the ground and I thought it was done for but it manages to get up slowly and staggers off.  As you can see the van took some damage too.  The driver was left distraught. 

Me at the centre of Skopje, Macedonia in front of a statue that bears an uncanny resemblance to Alexander the Great.  The Macedonian capital isn’t a bad place to cycle as they have a nice path that runs along the river.  Skopje exceeded my expectations. 

From Macedonia we went through Serbia to avoid what looked like a busy road to Bulgaria.  Here is some nice lake we passed in Serbia.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia.
Here is the spot where I had that conversation with that girl.  As you can see Trevor is sitting outside a McDonalds and behind him is a Shell gas station.  You would think all her troubles could easily be taken care of here right? 

Had another quick cycle through a country, this time Greece.  It was easygoing there as the road we were on had a generous shoulder, something we hadn’t seen in quite some time. 

Doing some washing up in Turkey.  After another few crappy nights where my stomach acted up again I have decided to buy water in Turkey and onward.  I still am not sure what was causing my bloating and gas problems but I think the water may have had something to do with it. 

Trevor most impressed with the Aya Sofya.

Didn’t think we would get them the same day but here I am with our ticket into Iran.  Also if you look behind me there is a clothing store called ‘Paul Martin clothing’ and it says P.M.C. which I assume stands for Prime Minister Canada.  I found this kind of strange because I didn’t know our former prime minister is in the clothing industry, let alone having a shop in Istanbul?!  Maybe there is more to the story I don’t know…

After a stressful afternoon cycling around Istanbul trying to find a place to stay we ended it with a dip in the Sea of Marmara.  I wasn’t going to jump in but after seeing Trevor soaking it up in the water I couldn’t resist.  It was certainly refreshing because we were roasting.  Have to say Istanbul is not a place you want to cycle.  Steep, steep hills, loads of traffic, horn honking, crazy drivers and pollution of all kinds.  Trevor was almost hit by a taxi driver too.  Glad to be leaving tomorrow. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Tensions are Rising

Leaving Austria was alright but a stupid wasp or hornet attacked my face kamikaze style.  It swooshed right in and stung my lip.  So for the next few hours I had a fat lip.  I was a bit worried as this was the second time I had been stung since I had been treated for my wasp sting allergy years ago.  Luckily I didn’t react and blow up like the Michelin Man. 

From Austria we entered Hungary for a super quick hit.  We cycled quickly through and had the pleasure of being poured on by a few thunderstorms.  After that we entered Slovenia and it was pretty good on the whole.  We were low on water so I dropped into a bar in this small village and this nice, young Slovene girl filled up all our water bottles and answered my questions about Slovenia. 

When we entered Croatia we had our first border check since entering Europe.  Never like getting out the passport and doing the border control thing so it was nice cycling through the EU.  We cycled to Varazdin and there found a hardware store called BeauMax.  I needed a strong cylinder to keep my broken post for my tent together and found one there.  I then spent a good 30 minutes in the store cutting the meter long pipe with a saw.  Have to say my shop skills need some work but I got the job done and now have about 9 of these cylinders and the tent is holding its own.  Sweet deal. 

We detoured a bit west because we wanted to avoid Bosnia and Herzegovina as that country has many unexploded landmines and it isn’t wise to venture off the roads like we do when we stealth camp.  I still was worried in Croatia as they too have landmines but not as many.  As a result we picked our spots very carefully, that is, we camped in public places or in towns where we knew there couldn’t be any landmines.  Better safe than sorry.

From Zagreb we cycled south and met a few Croatians riding to the coast.  We rode a tiny portion of the way with them.  Later in the day I was again stung by some annoying insect that had a full on assault of my upper body.  It really stung me hard around my chest causing me stop.  We passed Plitvice Lakes National Park which is a nice spot with beautiful lakes and waterfalls but I didn’t go in because there is an entrance fee.  From there we cycled down to Korenica and Trevor’s bike all of a sudden seized up.  His cassette was spinning properly and essentially his bike turned into a ‘fixie’.  As a result we had no choice but to get a room in Korenica and do some research on how to proceed.  Unfortunately the following day was Sunday and nothing is open on a Sunday so we were stuck in Korenica for an extra day doing pretty much nothing.  On Monday Trevor hopped on an early morning bus to Zagreb with his wheel to get the thing fixed.  The axle cone in his rear hub turned out to be worn and the bicycle mechanic said he would need to replace it soon.  The only dealer we know of in the region is in Sofia so we have had to change our route up a bit. 

Getting past Split wasn’t fun.  So much traffic and we were honked at a few times as we probably weren’t allowed on the road we were on.  As a result we got off quickly and took a longer way around town.  From there the entire ride down the coast was unpleasant.  It was hilly and when we hit the coast we were met with too much traffic going down to Dubrovnik. 

We are now in Podgorica, Montenegro and are contemplating our next move on how to go about getting to Sofia, Bulgaria.  The road getting here was very stressful as the drivers don’t give much room and there are no shoulders.  So far this former Yugoslavian region is getting thumbs down from both of us.  

Taking a breather in a park in Hungary.  We passed a thermal bathing joint in Hungary which is the thing to do there and in hindsight we probably should have stopped for a dip because we both reek.

Quick stop somewhere in Slovenia for a water fill-up at a gas station.

Trevor exiting Zagreb.  Little did he know at the time it wouldn’t be his last and only visit to Zagreb. 

Trevor bored as ever in a park in Korenica waiting for the weekend to end so he can get a move on to Zagreb and fix his wheel. 

Trevor outside the bicycle shop in Zagreb.  Job done but he isn’t out of the woods yet.

It has been so hot we take cover when we can.  Here I am in a dirty bus stop.  

Hasn’t been fun riding along the Croatian coast but there is sure some nice scenery.

We didn’t avoid Bosnia and Herzegovina completely as we had to cycle a quick 10km stretch or so along the coast.  Passed through Neum which was kind of nice.

The Adriatic Coast… nice.

Trevor looking overjoyed upon entering Dubrovnik.  He absolutely hated the city as he dislikes anywhere there are too many tourists that do the hop on, hop off, take a snap and go thing.  Plus the road was just horrible to cycle on.

Montenegro is super hilly.  But with hills you get nice vantage points like the one I am at here overlooking the city of Kotor.   

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Hills are Alive

 After we left Denmark we hopped on a quick ferry to Sweden.  From there we rode south towards Trelleborg and caught the early evening ferry back to Germany.  Sweden was pretty nice on the whole.  Quick and easy.  We arrived in Sassnitz around 22:30 and cycled in the dark until we found a camp spot.  While setting up camp my post snapped due to the corrosion from the salt that has been eating away at it.  That salt came from those storms back in Mexico.  Anyway, luckily I have this ring thingy that I put around it so it is holding its own at the moment.  But I worry that it too will eventually snap and I will be left with no home. 

Eastern Germany wasn’t as great as western Germany.  We cycled down many roads which didn’t have bicycle lanes nor any shoulder.  There were also parts where we had to ride on cobbled stone.

I didn’t end June very well as I had a very crappy day.  And I mean that figuratively and literally.  We cycle along the German/Poland border and Trevor spots an apple tree.  He has one but it isn’t quite ripe.  I try one and it is indeed bitter.  But I have a few bites.  Then later I have my flour mix with chocolate and/or vanilla and the last of my melted margarine.  Then we go to Poland and right off the bat there is a gas station with a free toilet.  We stock up on water but it is quite cloudy.  Later we cruise into a Polish town and eventually hit a dead end trying to get back into Germany.  I start to gas up but it isn’t bothersome.  Then we take this crappy road which leads to a sand road.  Complete crap.  Couldn’t cycle it and had to walk most of the 11km.  It was also very hot.  Finally get back onto a ride able road and manage to cycle it to a better road back to Germany.  Then we cycle to Gorlitz, a nice, picturesque town, and my stomach acts up.  I struggled with it in the late afternoon into the night.  Not sure what caused it…. the melted margarine, me eating too much dough, the Polish water, or the unripe apple.  I had numerous gas attacks and had to drop my shorts pretty much wherever I was on a few occasions in front of everyone to see.  Luckily there was a bush but still I provided a full frontal show for any passerby’s.  My stomach was a wreck.  We finally ended the day on the Polish/German border in a forest.  In the night I had to get up 2 times to relieve myself.  Gas, gas and more gas.  Loud gas too.  And the crap was crap.  The next day I didn’t feel great but eventually whatever it was got out of my stomach and I am now okay. 

Once we entered Czech Republic we were met with something we hadn’t seen it quite some time… a hill.  Not just one hill, but many.  On the whole I wasn’t a fan of the hills but Czech Republic was a pretty good country to cycle through.  They provided public toilets at gas stations and they have fruit trees alongside many of the roads we cycled down.  The cherries were in season so we had a lot of cherry stops.  Yum. 

We had a few thunderstorms in the night which I thought was a bit surprising.  The rain came down super hard.  I was a bit worried if it kept up that we would be flooded again.  Luckily it passed after a while. 

We are now in Stadtschlaining, Austria and will be heading south eventually towards the Balkans.  I am a bit worried about the mine situation in Bosnia.  Apparently there are still plenty of mines there.  Also some around Croatia.  We hope to not go deep into Bosnia and try and stick on the coast of Croatia.  We’ll see though.   

Here is Trevor somewhere on the outskirts of Malmo, Sweden.  These houses remind of those jelly bean houses we saw in St. John’s, Nfld.

In Germany we cycled through a number of roads that were surrounded by big trees just like this one.  Trevor says these roads remind him of World War 2.

A white stork and its babies perched high up in their nest in some German town we passed through.  

Trekking through the sandy road in Poland.  Not fun. 

Here I am down and out on that day where I fell sick.  Not good…

Trevor standing where Germany meets Poland and the Czech Republic.

Czech Republic gets big marks for having plenty of cherry trees on the sides of the roads.  They also have plum, apple and hazelnut trees but they were not yet ripe.  The cherries were quite nice.

Trevor washing himself at a fountain in Czech Republic.

This is the biggest vending machine I have ever seen.  You could get pretty much all your needs in there.  

Not how you want to go down a hill.  When you work so hard to climb a hill it sure sucks walking down some steep stairs.  Here is Trevor walking his bike down somewhere on the outskirts of Vienna.

Here I am just now in Stadtschlaining, Austria!  Great spot as I could dunk my head in the fountain behind me and I found this copy of the Economist.  Now I have some reading material for the next little bit.  Sweet deal.     

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