Sunday, November 12, 2017

Budapest - a great place to meet up with friends

We arrive Budapest by overnight train from Krakow.  All our gear (16 saddlebags and 4 bagged bikes) and the five McFerrins fit into one 6-bed train compartment laid out for sleeping.  The beds were 3 bunks high with a foot-wide aisle between them.  Good thing a sixth ticket holder and the possible inhabitant of one of the beds didn't show!
Our first night in Budapest was spectacular.  The monumental architecture built between 1850 and 1900 was showcased in lights.  Here is the Chain Bridge linking the past towns of Buda and Pest into the modern day city of Budapest.
Jackie, Jonny and Buckshot (others know him as Aspen), friends from Calgary met us in Budapest.  We spent the week loving a 8 month old baby and seeing the sights.  Self-guided walking tours, museums, mineral baths...Buckshot did it all.
Jackie, Buckshot, Tarn, Markos, Rick, Tanya and Ronald Reagan???  Hungary existed behind the Iron Curtain following World War II.  In 1956 a people's revolution was squashed and not until 1990 was the country released to independence from the Soviet rule.  In the 1980's Ronald Reagan spoke strongly for the freedom of Hungary which is why his statue is here in Budapest.  If you are ever in Budapest check out the House of Terror...a grim museum detailing the life of the Hungarian people under Nazi and Communist control.  The last Hungarian sentenced to  imprisonment in Siberia was finally released in the year 2000.
Some Hungarian fare.  Delicious, yet a practice in patience and diplomacy.  The five meals we purchased equaled 24 items on our receipt.  Do you see 5 items on each of these two plates?  Turns out they charged us separate for the paper plate, the dressing on the salad, the sprinkle of parsley on the dressing....and had added five items they could not identify when we went over the receipt with them.  We don't like to make an issue  but when our bill totaled 24,000 Hungarian Forint (about $100 Canadian) at a supposedly "economical" food market, it's time to check the numbers!!!
Maisy, Elsie, Sampson, Tarn, Markos and Jordi.  We got connected to a New Zealand family of five, kids 12, 10 and 8 who were backpacking for a year.  It was great to spend the day with them hiking up to the Citadel, sharing a picnic, and exploring Budapest through younger eyes. 

Square donuts...they completely fulfilled exceptional expectations!

Sampson and Timo.  Timo drove with his dad Andreas and brother Kai from Stuttgart to Budapest to meet us for the week end.  Sampson and Timo became great friends this past Spring when Timo attended Western Canadian High School as an exchange student for three months.

And so, we say goodbye to Europe.  It's been three months of autumn, kind people, and cultures that form the base of our culture in North America.  Our experience has been foundational for the great unknown in the countries new-to-us that lie ahead. Tomorrow morning we travel to Mumbai, India.  A modern mega-city of 18 million and a culture that Sampson, Markos and Tarn are only familiar with through movies and the people from India that they have met.  Rick and I traveled Rajasthan and the area between Delhi and Nepal by bicycle in 1999.  We are now headed to the more tropical regions of India.  The states of Goa, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.  We are excited for the adventure that lies ahead!!!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Fall comes to a close in Poland

My adoptive family. Jerzyck, Karolina, Franek, Kuba and Gucio.  They took care of me through my saddle sore recovery and here is our good-bye selfie.  After two weeks of laying low and letting my body heal, I am ready for the train.  I loaded my bike and gear on two trains connecting to Krakow and met my boys that afternoon at our reserved Air BNB.  It's so good to be back with my family, and due to the care and graciousness of my Warm Showers hosts, my experience away from my family was a true asset to our journey.
Marta (blue shirt on right) is the grandmother of my Warm Showers family in Poland.  She invited me to a typical Polish dinner with other extended family members. After the meal I joined her at a "Hula" workshop.  She takes Flamenco lessons weekly and this was a special event for members of her dance cohort.  On the plates are cooked barley, pickle compote, a meat dish (pork I think) shredded and fried, pale coloured meat balls and cooked buckwheat.  To start was a delicious leek soup - one of three to choose from.  Marta is a soup guru and had made three different soups earlier in the week.  She stored them in jars, ready for this meal.
Sandomierz, Poland.  Sampson, Markos, Tarn and Rick stayed in this town on their journey through eastern Poland following the Green Velo cycle route.
 Sampson navigating a muddy road.  Despite the inconsistent road conditions, the boys followed the Green Velo route for the  majority of their two week cycle to Krakow from Bialystok, Poland.

Brightly coloured bee boxes.  It seems most people in Poland have their own sources of honey, eggs, milk and garden vegetables.  The small stores found in the countryside sometimes don't have these items for sale - maybe because people grow/harvest their own!
Rick and Tarn work on a wheel.  The side wall went out on a tire of the tandem.  Aside from our tents and our dry bags, the majority of gear we are using on this trip has had previous experience.  We knew these tires would need replacement before long.  Rick hitchhiked back to a town and purchased two quality tires, knowing the other on his tandem would likely go too.
The fall is coming to an end.  It's been an incredible one.  Following the colours and the leaves since Finland, we've had our share of warm sunshine as well as our dose of cold and rain.  We now have our 60 day visas for India and flights booked to leave Europe from Budapest on November 13th, heading for Mumbai, India.   Prior to our departure we get to explore Budapest with two sets of friends coming to visit us there:  Timo, Sampson's exchange student friend from Stuttgart, Germany and Jonny, Jackie and Aspen, from our home in Calgary.

Just for fun I thought I'd list a few of our "staples" that we carried with us through Europe.  I'm guessing the list will be quite different for India and Southeast Asia!

water/wind resistant gloves
complete rain suits
soy sauce
hot sauce
salt, pepper and hot pepper grinders
fruits and vegies (apples, pears, bananas, mandarins, tomatoes, and a cucumber, a head of lettuce)
peanut and raisin mix
chocolate bars
hot chocolate
cheese, salami
canned fish
jam and honey

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Logistics and Planning in Poland

Gucio (age 3) riding his scooter bike from the car to his Kindergarten.  The location is set outdoors, with canvas/plastic yurts with rubber floors as classroom, eating, and sleeping space.  Kids spend the majority of their time outside, playing in the woods, climbing trees, digging holes and lounging in hammocks (and an option when you are ready to nap!)  Don't you think everyone should be able to spend their life mostly outside!

Franek (7), Sampson and Jerzyk (10) play Ticket to Ride.  My boys stopped through my Warm Showers host-home in Bialystok, Poland, to check in on me and make a plan.  I would be off the bike for two weeks, better three, said the physician.  Rick, Sampson, Markos and Tarn cycled on the next day.  I will meet them in Krakow (by train) when they get there.
My meds.  An antibiotic to kill the bugs, a good biotic to re-build my body.  A topical antibiotic cream to rub on the wound, and Ichthyol Ointment, a drawing salve to bring out the ooze.  After 7 days of treatment, my bum is feeling amazingly better.  I continue to do hot compresses on it 3x a day to draw out all the yuck.  This baby is going to be gone, baby gone and not come back.

Here is my photo Rick submitted with our visa applications for India.  Rick applied on-line and we received our e-visas for India the next day.  I will print them out and bring them with me when I join the boys in Krakow.  The boys have had continued cold, wet weather, which is typical of Poland this time of year. The Tatras, a significant mountain range, stand between Krakow and Budapest, Hungary, from where we plan to fly to Mumbai, India.  We'll figure out the Tatra crossing (likely train as a family) to get to Budapest.  The Tatras are covered with snow and have been used as a training ground for Polish ice climbers to prepare for climbing the Himalayas...I don't think biking through the Tatras in November is advisable.

And on the road... the boys keep sending me pictures of cake that they buy by weight.  They are pulling long cycle days so I figure, they deserve cake.  This is a very moist apple cake I'm told.

Another poundage of cake and check out Rick's beard.  Sampson, Markos and Tarn have to eat my won't be long and I will be cycling and eating cake also.

And so, life has been different lately.  I am part of a wonderful Polish family.  All members go off to work or school 8:30 to 3:30 and I have the day before me that is all my own.  I would not have planned this type of personal solitude into our year-long journey, but as it has been placed before me, I go with it.  The doc said 2 weeks minimum off my bum (no biking).  Next to the primary purpose of caring for myself (access to a shower, washroom, boiling water, pharmacies and the doctor for the check-up visit) I've made myself useful around the house.  By day three of antibiotics I felt up to getting out of the house.  Of course I had made lists...meals that I would buy ingredients for and based on my returning energy, make.  I've done laundry, cleaned the kitchen, watched chic flicks, worked my way through Sampson's English Language Arts novel, 1984, and been in better contact with my family members through Skype video calls and WhatsApp.  Though I've never been a cell-phone user, Rick bought a SIM Card for my device so that I could keep in contact with him wherever he was and also be able to check in with the boys daily.  Typically I talk or message them before they head out in the morning, during one of their cycling breaks, and at bedtime once they've found a place to camp/stay for the night. Day 10 now and tonight I'm going out with the Polish-only speaking grandparents to a "Hula" performance and then walking to watch the oldest and middle sons at their climbing wall activity - every Thurs night, three stories high and immensely wide, at the local shopping mall.  Rick, Sampson, Markos and Tarn are about 300 km from Krakow and I will meet them there this coming Monday.  To get there I'll navigate the train with my bike and gear beside (not under) me.  It is wonderful to be in the part of Europe where the trains go North/South.  When we were in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania all trains went East/West, to or from Russia.  Nothing heading south.

And so, with all energies forward, this boil will be gone once and for all and I will reunite with my boys to travel as a complete family again.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Creative travel in Poland

Sampson caught this Halloweeny pic of a spider on her web under the lamplight that was enabling us to make dinner in the dark.  Days are shorter now.  We camped out at a hotel/campground in Augustow, Poland, as a planning point for what to do with a saddle-sore
Train tracks again...notice me approaching the boarded up station (I bought a ticket on the train...which did arrive as posted.)  The plan for a mom that can't sit down is to send her ahead to wonderful Warm Showers host family in Bialystok, and allow the boys to ride on an enjoy the sunshine that has finally returned!!!

Just kilometers down the Green Velo route in Poland, the boys encounter water that has swamped the road.  Instead of having to turn back, a Polish man, with some English and the aid of a mobile phone connecting his English speaking friends to Rick, saves the day.  The boys catch a ride through the swamped road and end up with night to remember.  A wild jeep safari to a whooping crane migration rest spot.

Sharing food and libations in a warm home,

and jamming Red Hot  Chili Pepper tunes with a didgeridoo, a drum and Sampson's guitar.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch....just a pic of roadside life in Poland this time of year.  I believe this man has a turnip harvest in his tractor-pulled trailer.

Jerzyk and I playing Qwirkle in Bialystok - he won.

And so...I wait to heal up and the boys journey forward.  I've been researching saddle sores all morning and I believe what happened was...we've been riding in wet conditions for weeks.  I've been using "Bag Balm" which is a skin conditioner and bike-chaffing deterrent, but in my case, may have sealed in a hair follicle that in the right conditions (when I'm warm at night) develops into an infection.  We rode a 120 km day and an egg-sized hard leathery lump appeared on my right sit-bone area of my bum.  SUPER painful.  I rode the next two days, in excruciating pain and then did the smart thing - got off my bike.  Now I'm in the recovery process and learning a lot about saddle sores. Though I always change out of my cycle gear right away after riding, I need to be diligent to wash up my saddle-area immediately after a ride so that the Bag Balm "sealer" doesn't seal in the wrong thing (nice little bacteria!)  Hopefully, the information I'm gathering on the internet allows me to keep future saddle sores at bay.  I await a call from my travel health insurance with an appointment time at a local General Practitioner doctor.  So far it's the fourth day off the bike and my plan to meet up with the boys in two days will see me ready to ride (hopefully!)  If not, I'll jump further down the road by train and meet up with them again.  It's hard to miss their adventures, but I'm thankful for kind hosts and the opportunity to take care of myself.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Loving Lithuania

Big smiles on our faces!!!  Crossing the border from Latvia to Lithuania was an accomplishment.  The road from Riga, Latvia, had been pot-holed, mud and dirt secondary roads.  Now five days into Lithuania, we are happy that though the rain has continued, the roads have just been water soaked and not full of grit for our chains.
This is the cutest teeter-totter I've ever seen.  We thought to camp near this park but didn't find someone to ask. We rode on and found a little campground with a great heated kitchen/school room for our boys while it rained and misted outside.
Fall colours continue, as well as the avenues of neatly planted trees.
The town cafe was closed, we were soaked.  In our search for a sheltered place to eat our picnic lunch Rick talked to a young man who pointed us to a building that appeared to be part of some kind of school housing.  Low and behold, inside one of these buildings was a cafeteria room where they were just wrapping up the daily student cafeteria.  We cleaned up their remnants for 1 Euro a plate.  Pickles, beet salad, chicken fried steak, a hotdog and a plate of dumplings - all hot in a room that was dry.  A god-send.
This is a typical small building alongside the road.  A dog outside, several tumble down out-buildings, a flower-filled garden and muddy fields around .
Lithuania brings good, paved secondary roads and delicious yummies.  Little ginger flavored soft circle cookies with a fruit gel hiding inside (quince?). Pastries in the markets for .30 Euro that make a cold, wet person happy.  Interesting lodging and eating opportunities induced by the cold, wet weather.  We've camped just one night out of our five now in Lithuania.  Lodging nightly, though not planned in our budget, is not exorbitant and renting random flats allows us a little more insight into life in Lithuania.  Water taps usually are hot on the right side.  Throw your toilet paper in the waste basket.  Of course hang dry your clothes, "dryers" like those in the western world are a rare item last seen at our friends' in Norway.  Lithuanian countryside has less of the dense forest that we saw in Latvia, and a sudden switch to small farms, chickens, goats or sheep and tethered cows.  The chained large dogs at most residences are common to Latvia and Lithuania.  In Lithuania we've received consistent smiles and friendly honks - something that has been absent up until now (people just seemed to ignore us.)  Lots of care in wood-carved sculptures and beautiful, flower-filled gardens.  Dahlias and roses.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Living Life in Latvia

Our first Warm Showers hosts in our travels, Valmeira, Latvia.  A super fun family and warm welcome!!!
The remains of the grand hall in the fortress in Cēsis.  The tower next to this space was more complete and was intriguing to explore!

This tiny room was the bottom floor of a stone water tower.  We camped just outside after a rain-soaked day of biking gritty dirt roads.  Definitely a treat to discover!!!

Latvia - memories from the sister's grade 6 friend was from Latvia.  For a school project they had to cook and serve a meal.  With both of our families at the dinner table, my sister served me up a huge portion of my least favourite food...steamed spinach - which I had to accept, as of course' that was "good" manners, the way I was raised.  I hope my boys show good manners in the homes we are welcomed into, and I hope the situations like the one I was in are few!

Latvia through Tanya's looking glass:
  • Latvia is a country of gardeners, even the 700,000 residents of the capital city of Riga. (Latvia has a population of 2 million.) We entered Riga by commuter train and saw tons of little garden plots, each with their own little garden shed, turned earth, fruit tree and signs of active use.  Such a refreshing sight compared the usual city-periphery-carnage that is a more typical approach.  Short story for the train arrival: a soaking wet day, dirt/sand roads and grinding bike chains, a too hairy, no shoulder, fast-packed motorway,  and a commuter train option 1.90 Euro per person, .57 Euro per bike...we chose the easier route and are happy for it!
  • Latvia is more affordable. With the wet, cold weather, we've been looking for a dry, sheltered place for our picnic lunch.  Towns have a basic little cafe where it seems many locals find their way early afternoon. We arrived like wet rats in our first Latvian town at lunch time and ducked into the town cafe.  We looked at the extensive chalkboard menu on the wall (all in Latvian of course) and decided what we would order based on what we saw others walking away with from the counter.  My choice turned out to be a meat gravy with chunks of liver (I thought it would be beef) over boiled  potatoes.  The accompanying cold beet salad was delicious and I did my best to put away the not-so-yummy liver meat.  Very hearty though! Rick chose a pork knuckle with boiled potatoes and was very happy with it.  The desserts...easier to chose as they were displayed in a deli-type window, were incredible.  I selected a vanilla pudding dish with a large dollop of raspberry thick whipped cream.  Super good.  All in, five heaped lunch plates, two cups of tea, and five desserts were about 13 Euro. 
  • Latvia's countryside is fantastic.  Beautiful, continuous hardwood and pine forests and ruins of fortresses dating back to the 1200's.  We toured the restored one at Cēsis, complete with scaling tight stone circle staircases by candlelight to reach both the top of the tower and the master residence and the bottom cold and dank dungeon. Stories of the sieges and the attack by Ivan the Terrible of Russia were written on English language placards.  Since our travels began in Norway, spoken and written English is not the norm and we always appreciate when we cross paths with someone who speaks English, or when information/historical boards have English translations too!  Latvia's written signage is usually both Latvian and Russian.
  • People are out and about.  Kids scootering around, seniors with the pull trolleys or linked arm in arm, teenager groups cruising about listening to music. Lots of coloured hair on the girls, tones of pink to purple.  Women wearing heels walking to work. Men in construction/work coveralls doing various public projects.  I'm often staying with our gear and bikes while the boys go in for a daily grocery shop so I get daily observation time - one thing I love about our travels in foreign countries.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

We begin Eastern Europe in Estonia

These gigantic large-people communal swings pop up everywhere you look.

Asters - the flower of Fall.  Sampson took this photo of a butterfly on a late afternoon snack break the night before we arrived Tartu.

We spotted a sign for disc golf in a small village - this was an extended course, 18 holes and most long, par 4's.  Discs are an important part of our travel gear (up there with our solar powered tent lights.)
This type of black and white stylistic wall art has appeared repeatedly throughout Estonia.

Our tiny kitchen at the Air BNB in Tartu.  The clothes washer is the appliance in the corner, the shower door is a meter from the table on the wall opposite the window.  It was perfect for a rainy day off.
Tarn perusing the English language book selection at the hipster coop collective of Aparaaditehas, Tartu.

Great things about Estonia:
Fall days and sunshine. Quiet roads following the EuroVelo Route 2 and 4 so far.
Gorgeous, old stone masonry walls of houses, farm buildings and bridges.
Old, old, buildings.  Some refurbished and in continued use, others in ruin along the roadside.
A history to observe.  Manor houses remaining from the time of Germanic dominance, windmills upon hill crests.  Roads leading to tiny villages lined with planted mature trees.
A welcoming and kind population.  Easy camping and access to daily shopping and clean water.
Hipster black and white spraypaint art on city walls,
Kids' little plastic potties and child chairs in restaurants and gas stations.
Solid rye bread and more affordable prices on the grocery bill and boxes of wine.