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Fasten your seatbelts it's going to be a fun ride

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Austria - land of freezing rain & snow

So after 5 days in Buda Pest and my last night at a movie theater where they didn't sell popcorn but you could buy a banana I was ready to head on to Austria, my last stop and which came to be the scariest part of the trip...but let me talk of happier times.

I headed Southwest to a region where there is a large lake that most people from Budapest vacation to called Lake Balaton. This is the Ayers Rock of it.

See the fortified castle on the top left of the photo...and those dark ominous clouds? That's where I'm headed.

Here is a close up.

The back side of Ayers Rock

Stopped in a town called Bagot and found a cute inn. The lobby was full of drunk men...I was nervous but then again since Romania I've been nervous around groups of men.

They fed me well, I have to say that Hungary was the most disappointing in terms of food but here they made a honeyed chicken with onion rings, fried potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, corn, peas, green beans...ah hell just put everything on the plate for the starving girl.

I pulled my bike into their garage and the cheerful (and drunk) man who helped is a hunter.

Next the next morning to cross over into Austria. These huge crosses are in every town.

The border

had no one there so I blew threw and it started to get cold and of course, raining...

Now there is a photo missing here....of HOOTERS in Graz. Yes, that's right. I saw the big orange Hooters sign (which said 'an American restaurant' underneath) and no I didn't stop. I was pretty tired, cold and wet and just wanted to get to Leoben.

I went through a 9km tunnel, it was blessedly warm inside.

There were these signs at the turn outs, slightly to the right was the distance left going north, in this case 8km.

I actually *gasp* bought plastic bags in Budapest and wrapped my feet in them hoping to stay dry....when I finally reached Leobon Austria, cold and miserable I got a hair dryer from the girl and it took 4 hours to dry the inside of my boots.

This was a cute town. Raining and cold. I walked most of it. Not a lot of I went to the mall and found pineapple toothpaste!!! And a very nice girl in a cafe who spoke French so I could finally get a real hot chocolate milk. AHHHHH...

What I didn't know is that the worst part of the storm was to come. I was hoping to get some distance the next day but it was not to be. View of river from my room. It's 32 degrees so there's snow falling too.

You can see the snow capped peaks. In Europe everyone is in an uproar over the sudden dramatic change of weather. This is very unusual for this time of year.

This is the last shot I got out of my camera before it froze (on the inside of my jacket), it got a lot worst from this point on.

I made it another 60 or so km then stopped at a truck stop banging on all the truck drivers doors hoping to find someone to get me and my bike to Linz or possibly Prague. No luck.

This was one of the scariest rides of my life. I finally had Radek from Prague come get me with a van. It was just too dangerous. I sat in a big rig with a nice man from Serbia...we labored through language barriers to talk of Rakia, his bambinos and how smoking was bad for him.

So I am home and warm in 75 degree weather, jet lagged and doing tons of laundry to get the ashtray aroma out of everything. This trip was amazing, truly. It had its many moments of euphoria and extreme fear. Already planning the next trip to Turkey.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

6-8 Hungarian boys - Essay by Nancy Girouard

6 to 8 Hungarian Boys with the bluest eyes...dedicated to my friend Tran Peoples

Essay by Nancy Girouard

I am no David Sedaris but be prepared nevertheless to laugh possibly with tears in your eyes.

After over one month of roaming the Eastern European countryside by motorbike like a rich gypsy it is time to reflect upon my experiences and lament my intense desire to wake up, just for once, in my own bed.

It's not that the food here is bad but something chemical perhaps calls to me from the cheese powder packet inside a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese. Or perhaps it's the true homesickness that kicks in when I go to the bathroom to find sandpaper staring back at me.

But I digress.

6-8 Hungarian boys. Truly. They do travel in packs of at least 4 (never have I seen less) and up to 10. Of course to even the odds, the girls travel in large numbers too. At first I worried, does this mean the streets of Budapest aren't safe? After having braved some long, dark and desolate streets after the opera at midnight I decided that this was not it.

Does this mean that they need someone to always have the torch burning so at all times a cigarette can be lit. No, cheap plastic bic lighters abound and they crush out one but not until the next is burning like the Olympian torch. Perhaps I long for a look of disdain when anyone even so much as thinks of lighting up...

Perhaps it is to have equal numbers for a match of pick up when said male band of brothers encounters giggling gaggle of sisters? Yes, I think that's it. One girl for every boy.

I live in an IKEA fun house. After snooping all over my apt, found the universally known “drawer of manuals”. Everything here was bought at IKEA, the furniture, TV & DVD player, washing machine and stove, heaters, rugs, sheets, light fixtures. I should think anyone wishing to stay here should be given an Allen wrench attached to the key ring. Heaven forbid you rattle the bed loose with your house guest who speaks no English.

Generally I find that when travelling abroad and faced with a menu in a language I cannot decipher, I find it relatively safe to ask the server what their favorite dish in the assumption that they know good food.

However after paying for two very expensive meals that were incredibly salty, I wondered if they had come to my apt to take salt from the only two bags of it in the pantry. I passed in front of Gundels, considered by most, the best restaurant in all of Hungary and laughed out loud as I passed thinking to myself, oh no, not again.

But do not despair. I finally had a great meal...and it came from a jar. Bolognaise sauce to be exact.

There are so many little luxuries that we have such as drying machines that make tigger look cute again. Quality soaps and detergents compared to the dollar store quality of the products here. Massive 64 oz bottles of conditioner and shampoo because let's face it, Americans waste.

But what makes a trip truly memorable?

Easy. The people.

Were it not for everyone I met, it would never have been as amazing as it has been. Taking a shower with a heated pot of water from the stove and a cup. Seeing men hauling through the house bags of hand picked grapes to a hand crank press.

Finding yourself crying from a pain level you have never experienced before being inflicted on you by a man old enough to be your grandfather without a word of English...and blessing his name and family the next day over the remarkable improvement in the mobility of your arm that you were ready to saw off.

Relaxing in the capability of exceptional hosts who take care of every detail and leave you wondering if they are mafia being so well connected and seeming to always know just the right person to fix things at border crossings.

Marveling at the probability of finding two people in a city of 15 million then later meeting one special person to show you that there is more to a baked potato than bacon, cheese, chives and sour cream.

Having the perfect traveling companions who are like a warm dry bed after hours of riding in the freezing rain.

Of all these experiences, the growing intensity of my dreams of my friends from San Francisco make waking up every morning a bit more difficult. It's people who bring us to tears and laughter and we are nothing without them. I can't wait to see you all...7 days and counting to some good champagne and macaroni and cheese. Amelie wine bar on Polk starting at 6pm Oct 17th until Nancy can't lay down without holding on to coin Dean Martin's favorite saying.

Should any of you wish to trace my final ride, it goes a little like this:

From Budapest, 100 KM SE to Kecskemet to see some horsemen and hopefully unload all the Rakia I have to drink. Unless it rains, as it's forecasted to which means I will skip that and head straight to the lake region of Hungary on my way to the Austrian border.

Veszprem then Balatonfured for some lakeside twisties and hopefully find a campground where no film crews are hiding.

Zalaegerszeg, say that 3 times fast...heading towards the Austrian border.

Graz then Leoben to find the hills alive with the sound of music.

Steyr, nearing the Czech border.

Then Cesky Krumlov, Hilary's favorite city (wait, I thought she hated cities...) Then Prague the 15th eagerly packing, drinking their local champagne which as I mentioned before is quite good and wearing something NEW!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Buda Pest

So Budapest is actually Buda on the East side and Pest on the West (pronounced Pesht)

I found an apt rental company that thankfully had their outgoing message in French! I was so happy to reach Kinga when I arrived in Budapest by phone and after riding through some construction areas and earning the ire and some laughter from the workers found her office.
This image is painted on the window across from my door.

Where is tigger...

The sun was setting and with a dark face shield I was getting nervous if I could get to the apt, then get the bike to storage before dark. With her helpful directions and kindness it all worked out. She even took me grocery shopping...where (drum roll please) I found LEMON toothpaste.

Now those of you who know me well also know I hate brushing my teeth...not anymore. I love this stuff and as you can see, I bought 4 tubes of it as well as other essentials like laundry detergent.

My huge bedroom..tigger is looking mangy again. damn this keyboard has the z where the y is and vice versa. I might just say the hell with it and start tzping weird. See what I mean?

First stop, get an opera ticket. Since I was too drunk on Champagne to enjoz the one in Prague, I got M Butterflz and a verz nice box seat too, right above the stage on the right. Most expensive seat in the house.

This is the opera house.

Juggler in the street...he was fun to watch.

In front of one of the MANY famous churches in Budapest.

Why bother? Just get a car ding dong

All the old train stations have been converted into indoor markets where there is plenty of helpful men behind the counters that would rather follow me around than work.

Everywhere you look it is beautiful here.

My first bad meal in Budapest. Expensive and salty. The next day I decided to pack my own lunch and it was much better. Now Dad, are you sitting down? I ate an apple. GASP. I got tired of finding banana puree in my bag so I have opted for more pratical fruit. (Julie I giggled thinking of you)

The interior of my apt building. Notice the detail in the iron work railing. Gorgeous and quiet.

Found this cool cave church like the one in Lourdes France

View of Pest from top of mountain where I walked...up some stairs, just a few

This is real

I think this is my favorite bridge of the 9

The next day I set out to visit a park that is on an island on the Danube between Buda and Pest

Found some cool grafitti

Definitely Fall, the trees were raining leaves like drops of water

The park had these busts of dead men everywhere

Beautiful gardens of flowers

And ponds

Stopped for least there is no salt.

Cross another bridge and found these old Roman ruins

and composed my essay 6-8 Hungarian boys

Now I am never sure if I have the correct bathroom...but unless men change the diapers I think this was the right choice....there was even toothpicks!

Found some thermal baths that have techno nights....arrived at midnight and left at 3am...feeling a little like the photo.

Leaving Budapest tomorrow....ready to move on to Austria

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Serbia - Land of angry nuns and RAIN

So after a white knuckle ride on the highway through the lower part of Serbia, I finally found Hilary and Johan in Nis. Fucking miserable day. Pouring rain, even my boots had water sloshing around inside. I was freezing. We finally checked into a hostel and this market was behind...

Lot's of peppers...

This guy loves his job...we were trying to decide where to eat

Serbia is the land of meat....these shops are everywhere.

This is quite possibly the worst meal of my life. I have no idea what the hell it even is, pork, beef, goat, chicken. It was disgusting and expensive.

Neat castle along the Danube...

Every turn was just gorgeous

There was a scary looking stairway down to the water inside

These signify a wedding. I found them everywhere. They even put a rolled up towel on the side mirrors of the car to signify that they are driving with the wedding party.

When I finally arrived to Opovo where Goran's parents live, I found this nice man to bring me to their house. Turns out he went to school with Goran's sister Mira.

I drove 500 km this day...through some beautiful back country and along the danube to finally reach Opovo. Milorad his father, Angelina his mother and Mira his sister. We ate and ate and drank some rakia.

Mira's room. I was so comfy!

The next day, Johan and I went to Fruska Gora and saw this tower, probably bombed in the war and not repaired.

Neat signs in national park

Beautiful twisty roads through national park

We came upon some horses, they ran with us for a while.

This nun was angry that we drove in front of the monastary

Another one where Johan desecrated holy ground.

Stopped at Novi Sad castle for a quick snack before a long boring ride back to Opovo.

Milorad makes his own 50 gallon jugs.

Drinking on the porch. Electricity went out, no problem, just have another drink.

Stuffed cabbage yummy!

Angelina wearing my boots. She braided my hair in a french braid before I left.

And gave me this rose that lasted until Budapest

Cutie at the gas station that deserved a return visit.

Next stop Budapest!!!