This website was the blog we kept...
Sunday, September 30, 2007
This to me looked like a war-torn area.
We expected Bulgaria to be worse than Romania, and we found Romania a little uncomfortable at times. Were we in for a surprise. As soon as we crossed the border last week even the truck drivers seemed to slow down, the fields were ploughed and relatively clean road sides... the first hotels we found were reasonably priced for a change, the food was really nice... and the towns we came upon were great!
Yes, although this is Cindy alongside a Bulgarian highway, Bulgaria is still cleaner than what we have been getting used to....
Interestingly the Black Sea coast shuts down after the peak tourist season. We are pretty much in the last week of it, and many hotels, bars and restaurant just shut down for the rest of the year it seems. Especially the Romanian part. The crowds are down, which is good, but all camping sites are shut it seems, most hotels and restaurants are closed as well. Even the fancy hotel we booked via the Internet for Constanta (our first Black Sea destination where we had KFC), a Savoy Hotel, was pretty much shut down. No one in the bar to serve you, the restaurant was pretty much out of food and the bar out of beer (despite being a 4 star hotel only one kind of local beer was available in one size bottle and at a ridiculous price).
The hotel was meant to be a bit of a treat to mark the Black Sea arrival and it was our hardest day on the bike. Turns out the hotel was nothing like in the picture, was not freshly renovated (in fact in need of renovation!), and was not in Constanta at all (despite the map on the Internet showed it to be in Constanta). We had to ride an additional 10 kms that day to get to it!
Anyway, that was Romania. We then rode into Bulgaria a few days later. As we are no longer on the official Euro Velo 6 bike route for which we had the bike books we have to basically follow the main road. Maps are hard to find and inaccurate. The Nokia N95 we have with mapping on it is pretty much useless - it takes 20 minutes to know where it is to begin with - and the Garmin GPS's we have only have basic maps for these remote regions. We are driving on very busy dangerous roads. Dead cats and dogs strewn bloated and disfigured on the side, others try to attack you (we have seen waiters in restaurants with air-pistols in holsters shooting at unperturbed cats, maybe we should arm ourselves on the bikes). Trucks and buses fly past, and traffic is pretty horrible. Especially when we come to the bigger towns (cities really) it is a bit of a death defying ride in and out. David does an excellent job navigating through and around where possible and we do it, but don't ask how!
In between the towns and cities we now have small mountain ranges to traverse. We were hoping for nice quiet roads along the Black Sea, but we do not often get to even see it as we ride. The road goes up and down now and my legs sometimes run out of 'mojo' as David calls it. I then need to stop and re-fuel with Heather's concoctions of nuts and dried fruit. We are pleased not to have scheduled long distances here, and the day's ride is often only 3-5 hours long.
Just recently my little pinky gets tingly after the ride. Very odd. Must be some pinched nerve issue. In the beginning my nether region would suffer from the occasional numbness whilst riding, but that went away. Then a month ago I had a week where occasionally my feet and hands were a little numb during the ride. Now I have none of that during the ride but my little pink goes numb after riding! Oh, and in case you wondered, the butt-aches are completely gone. After a month of riding most of our discomforts in those areas had sorted themselves out - none of us suffered too severely from them fortunately.
Around about lunch time the support vehicle SMSes us the GPS coordinates of the hotel they found for us (we always hope to find a camping but have pretty much given up on that despite the numerous signs), and we plug in the details into the Garmin and ride in. On arrival it is often past lunch time, and we are starved and exhausted - well, speaking for myself actually (David does not really get tired... ever). We all dole around doing our things, wanting to do everything at once.
Walter looking for some spare Kleenex tissues...
Last night we arrived in Nesebar around 2pm, and we all wanted to do a million things. The hotel was fantastic (each next Bulgarian Hotel just gets better and cheaper the further we get into Bulgaria), we want to eat in the restaurant, drink a beer, swim in the pool, shower, go into the World Heritage Ancient City of Nessebar, walk on the beach, we want to do it together... But you try organising 6 people all with slightly different priorities, and none lucid enough to discuss 'the plan'. Makes Lucas's life hard, trying to film us! We all end up doing something and often end up together - mostly. Occasionally the one room key ends up in one pocket with another room-mate spending hours looking for it. Sometimes five of us end up somewhere and a sixth feels left out. But we are all happy to have some down time too!
Troy and I got to Nesebar at the same time as Lucas but we never found him there... We stupidly left 10 minutes after him, instead of at the same time. Lucas did try, but Troy nor I had any real idea of what we really wanted to do for the next few minutes - and sitting by the pool with a beer seemed the thing to do.
We mostly all do what we want to do in the 'time-out- period. I for instance have taken a liking to massages here in Bulgaria due to the favourable price factor. A young man gave me one after dinner in the hotel (as arranged by the reception) and that was probably my fourth in 3 days or so! I think this was my last one as well as I have had enough now. The firm therapeutic massage administered over a 90 minute period by an older woman really sorted out some knots in my back (knots I did not know I had which are now still sore!), the wine and chocolate wraps administered by some dandy lady were titillating and relaxing, but the dude tonight was pretty good all round I must say - after I got used to a man touching me like that (I am not normally a massage kind of person).
Troy at the old gate into the Ancient World Heritage listed City of Nesebar..
Lucas sampling the Rose we took on a boat ride. I think we are corrupting this young man... or should this be written in the passed tense?
Tonight I am in a bed in a hotel room, my laptop on the bed in yet another fantastic seriously well priced hotel in a lovely Bulgarian Black Sea town (Cosopol*?) where I found a random Wireless Network on my laptop that said call this phone number 80123456. I dialed it and had wireless Internet arranged with some IT enthusiast in the vicinity in a matter of minutes. Today I clocked over 4000 kilometers and tomorrow is our last Black Sea ride before heading inland towards the Turkey border. We will miss Bulgaria.
On October 1 we have Cindy's birthday (how many birthdays can 6 people have on one trip???) and I will start back on antibiotics in preparation for Istanbul, prolonged inactivity and pollution, driving 3000km back to Amsterdam, flying home...).
* The town spellings in English vary a lot. They are all in Cyrillic script here, which is what the Bulgarians use, just like they do in Serbia. This makes it nigh impossible for me to use the Nokia N95 for navigation as it will not work with co-ordinates.
Deserted beaches in Bulgaria - end of season!
Saturday, September 29, 2007
Here are some photos meant to accompany the last entry (sorry, I need some education on how to make them come up in proper order).
We are by the sea again in Nesebar. Have had lots of huge, long up and down hills with hot temperatures - we love it! Today's 40kms ended with a huge, long downhill where the girls beat the boys and one recorded km/hr was 62!
We are surprised, a little, by signs of prostitution everywhere. Young women stand in the bushes on the side of the highway, some clad in barely more than g-strings, waiting for pick-up. Billboards for malls have a naked woman with a shopping bag barely covering the goods...
photo 1 - turm right, Cindy! Women are from Venus!
photo 2 - sunset boat ride
photo 4 - first Istanbul sign - we must be close!!
photo 5 and 6 - view from seaside hotle in our favorite place so far - Balchik.
photo 7 - our boat for the evening and our hotel in behind.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
That is right, we barely recovered (6 weeks ago) from the extreme hill climb to celebrate David's birthday and now Heather claims to celebrate her 25th birthday again! We had found a birthday party pack in Constanta which with a little hand-grease was palmed off to the hotel staff where we were staying. The birthday breakfast saw us seated at a specially decorated table with balloons and hats, the works! It was a rest day so we had a 9am breaky start, by which time most of us were starving except for Cindy who was still blow-drying her hair in the girls' room with sea views.
Birthday dinner was celebrated a night early as when I checked into the hotel (whilst Heather and Cindy were doing their extreme best to locate a camping) I mentioned our birthday girl. A little bribe here and there seemed to have worked well as Heather got the entertainer of the night to sing her a happy birthday tune and the staff present her with a luscious looking cake complete with a rocket motor candle - which was un-extinguishable while it burned its load. Appropriate amounts of alcohol were consumed again.
There were no presents as we had not passed any bike shops lately. Had we passed one Troy, David and I had all planned on getting a bike-stand each for her. Not sure how three stands would work.
Anyway, the birthday girl was treated to a massage as well. As Heather wrote earlier, it was such a nice day we are doing our best to repeat it again today! ere I sit on a lovely deck with pleasant music, free wireless Internet and very affordable prices everywhere. We understand why Bulgaria is such a well kept secret.
Nothing like a little sun and sea for rejuvenation! We are waterfront in a cute little resort-like town called Balchik, just north of Varna, Bulgaria. We passed through the border on Sept. 24, again with no troubles – even when Cindy and I were singing, Hit the Road, Jack while they checked our passports (we’d found a great radio station!). After the successful crossing, Cindy and I headed on in the van with big ambitions to find a campsite for the night.
For the past month or so, it has been quite difficult to camp, what with lack of open spaces, security and, well, official campgrounds, but our road map looked promising, showing us many tent logos along the sea. In a 100km stretch, the map showed at least four potentials – we were pretty confident that we’d find somewhere to laze for the evening.
We drove the whole distance seeing no camping and ended up in the big city of Varna, where we had a tricky time finding an info centre, (by the way, KFC came through for us again when it offered a much needed toilet, refreshing juice and an info package!). Once we did find the info centre, the poor woman didn’t know much about camping…
We got back into the van and started back tracking to where the map showed tent sites. In all but one place, there was nothing but dirt and abandoned gas stations. The one place we did find was perfect. It had a security gate to get inside, actual tent sites, looked like showers and everything and - !
The men had already gone ahead and booked into a hotel.
After the initial shock wore off that we had spent five hours looking for dirt and the guys had given up and found a hotel 30kms up the road, we were excited to learn that the guys had generously left the last sea-facing room to us girls – nice!
Except reception thought the two cyclists who’d come in just before Cindy and I, were us and gave them the room…
Luckily, the horseshoe up Wally’s butt was working yet again, and he managed to get Cindy and I a room facing the sea – yes, we are spoiled – must be that Walter Charm!
Later, it was massages for Wally, Cindy, Lucas and I at a near-by hotel. The prices were surprisingly affordable. I had the wine detoxification massage, though was disappointed to learn that she didn’t pour wine all over me. But not as disappointed as Wally, when he also found that the chocolate body massage didn’t include real chocolate – in both cases, it was just yummy smelling cream. We licked Wally’s arms, just to be sure, though.
Last night, we had a gorgeous sunset float out on the sea in a boat for an hour. We’ve decided we like this place so much, we are staying another night!
FYI: our hotel here is only 50 lav (about $50) per night for two: so for a resort town, that is a killer deal, being right on the water. We have paid up to $100 night in really crapy hotels, or had to deal with 'the only hotel in town' prices. They sometimes see us coming a mile away. With our sponsored van and flash team jackets, we must look like we can afford more because in more than a few occasions, we have been quoted a price and when we've gone to pay the next day, the price has suddenly gone up and no one conveniently speaks english anymore.
So it is nice to find little gems like Balchik, Bulgaria!
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Photo 1 - a brisk dunk!
2 - lunch
3 - it gets a little boring on those long days, Go Fish!
4 - 5 lunch for champions!!
A great day of rest! Wally and Troy were successful in finding the KFC and champagne, and the beach was calling. We later got inspired (forced?) to jump in the sea BRRRR! couldn't someone have thought of this when it was over 20 degrees this afternoon?
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Constanta, the Black Sea
(Check out our new slide show below this entry. If you click on the image, you can see the photos better.)
Wow! We have made it from the English Channel to the Black Sea, which awaits us in its glimmering beauty, but first - an update!
I know I keep saying this, but yesterday really was our longest, toughest day yet. Just a hair off 150km, this time with wind, hills, rabid dogs and even a nasty little kid who ran after us and tried to grab stuff off our bikes! We were only an hour or two into the day - very slow going as most of us were up all night involuntarily listening to the music from yet another wedding. We were riding through a small village along a cobble stone road, when I heard a kaffufle and then David yelling. I turned to look and saw a young boy, about 12 or so, running alongside him grabbing at the bag on his back pannier rack. He was a quick little brat and ran fast to keep up with us. He laughed and fell behind a bit, but then re-powered and sprinted after us again.
It all happened so fast that no one knew how to react at first. You'd think we could have run him off, but we were on a hill and no one wanted to get off their bike, leaving it at another theif's mercy. Then a dog came up and started barking at the kid, who told him to get us and so now we had a dog and a kid chasing us. I was trying to find rocks to throw at the dog (or the kid!) but again, we were just peddaling as fast as we could.
It is sad that some little punk got us all in a tizzy, but we are rather paranoid about our stuff and what we have heard about gypsies and theives, so the best option was to keep moving. Nothing was stolen in the end.
I guess after 3500 km plus, we can expect a few mishaps. Our only regret was not having caught it on film!
But Lucas did get a bit of doc material when I had a nervous breakdown on a few dogs at the end of the day. Since we entered into Croatia, I seem to have 'something' that dogs sense and like to chase. On more than a few occasions, I have been seen in the distance, franticaly peddaling my ass off while hounds chase me down and leave everyone else alone. So far, I have managed to outrun them, but my nerves are wearing down. Cindy tells me the best tactic is to stand firm ground and snarl back at them. I was reluctant to use this beta as I thought standing my ground would give a canine the perfect opportunity to latch onto a limb and drag me off.
Yesterday, however, I was at the end of my rope. Our last 20km was in aggitating traffic. We were getting honked at, mowed down by fumes and gusts from giant trucks and riding along a shoulder about 2ft wide. Personaly, I'd had enough. We had just started off after stopping to figure out diretions to our hotel: a truck flew past, a car honked and two dogs came out of nowhere, snapping and snarrling and chasing. I screamed a really bad swearword at the top of my lungs and they stopped in their tracks - I even heard a whimper, but I think that was from David in front of me....
Anyway, it was like heaven to see our hotel, all lit up from the evening's sunset and right on the beach! Today, we are all well-rested and are feeling the need to celebrate. Walter and Troy scoped out a Kentucky Fried Chicken on the way in, and are off to get the makings for our romantic beachside dinner: KFC and champagne, baby - nothing but the best for the COFE Team!
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
- The support team had found us a hotel before lunch so we already had that sorted out. Normally this is arranged after lunch. Imagine if we still had to look for a hotel after the whole affair...
- Troy had taken over driving after lunch as his knees were getting very sore. If Cindy and Lucas had the diesel/petrol incident happen to them we would have surely attributed blame to them! But with the support crew mechanic doing this it added credibility to the fact the pump was incorrectly marked,
- Troy filled up the tank straight after lunch and stopped to take a silly picture of some old trucks behind a fence. This meant he was in a safe position, he did not run the bad fuel into the engine - just could not start again.
- Being straight after lunch we cycled into them within minutes of stranding!
- Another fuel station right behind the car was very fortunate, imagine pushing the vehicle a kilometer or more!
- The owner who helped us took David in his car to get some other hoses and whispered to him that his fuel wasn't the best and we shouldn't fill up our tank with it! We took 1/3 of a tank after siphoning the petrol out and went to another petrol station to fill her up completely.
- We had the brutal wind on our tail and averaged 30+ to the hotel - which was 35km away, arriving just before dusk. Imagine riding bikes here after dusk! Death defying! The trip average for that day was 22.7km/hr! Not bad for 144 kilometers!!!
- Nothing bad happened to add to our woes for the day!
PS. Today I saw a large grass fire in the distance blowing a large smoke field towards where we were heading. I pulled out the video camera and recorded it. I then proceeded to film showing the hills we were getting into and got onto the bike. Within 10 seconds a small flock of sheep crossed in front of me with an old sheep herder. I felt lucky to film him. I then noticed the dogs helping him. As I filmed the dogs saw me and started chasing me up the hill! I was filming with one hand, pedaling up a hill, trying to change gear with my free hand and surviving the 1km chase. Hopefully this footage works out for Lucas, it was good for me trying to film two growling beasts with bared teeth chasing me. I am convinced they were in it for the chase as they probably could've managed a bite or two! Now let's knock on wood for 5 minutes!
One boy stands reading over my shoulder - can he understand? Who knows...anyway, I'll try to concentrate enough to write now.
We have had a very enjoyable couple of days, with 70km/day averages and gorgeous weather. As we head closer to the Black Sea, we get into hotter temps and today was a moist-upper lip day of 29 degrees.
We arrive at our hotels around 1pm and then usually go for lunch and beverages. The other night, we had a ripping game of cards and that nasty Slivovitz came out again, but there were no catastrophes to speak of this time - seems people learned from the last episode!
Unfortunately, because there were 6 of us in the small room that night,we had the windows wide open and noticed too late that the room was slowly starting to swarm with mosquiotes. As it was Cindy and my's room, we suffered the consequences - too hot to sleep under any covers, we tried various unsuccessful techniques, like laying fully clothed on top of bedsheets, or laying completely naked under thin sheets.
After about 2 hours, we both got up in maniacal frenzy, ran to Troy and David's room to get the key to the van, ran down to the van to get the mozzie spray and then I proceeded to spray everything in the room with the toxic shite.
That only satiated us until the coughing started from all the fumes.
Did I mention there was a wedding going on downstairs that was playing really loud techno music until 6am? Yep. Apparently, Romania has the largest concentration of married people (in the world/Europe?). We have definitely noticed this in the form of decorated cars and most restaurants where we might have to wrestle our server away from blowing up balloons to order.
At last check we were 5 days ahead of schedule and so to combat this, we are planning a few days on the beaches of the Black Sea, lapping it up and for some of us, contemplating our next move for when the trip is done.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
After a good 20km, done at about 12km/hr, we left the shoreline winds behind only to jump onto rocky, deep gravel for another 10km. Here was where we had a casualty with Lucas' bike seat - it just broke off. This was the kind of riding that vibrates your feet off your pedals, so it was no surprise that something would rattle off.
We put in an SOS to our support driver and continued on with David having swaped seats and now riding on the spinning gravel standing up. Soon after as we were riding through a small village and starting up a long, steep hill, a nice old woman stoped us as we rode by and handed out bunches of grapes, a very welcome treat!
As we were concerned about accomodation that night, our support vehicle left us after we grabbed another seat from them to check out the situation in the next town - 85km away. We were now 60 odd kms into the day with no food or water resupply - a slight oversight on our part.
Several villages later, we came across something that looked like a cafe. We were able to communicate that we needed food and water and they provided us with bread, salami and pickles and a giant bottle of pop and water. It seemed that upon closer inspection, it was really just a small mom-and-pop store, but we were welcomed to eat what they had in their fridge!
Resupplied and caffinated, we flew threw the next 70 km with hardly any effort as we now had the blustery winds behind us, acting as a push. At times we were clocking 40km/hr on the flats. We made it into Calafat that night shortly after 6pm after staring at 8, and over 6 hours of ride time!
But that wasn't the end of our long days. The next day, the guide book showed no signs of accomodation for 145km as well. Lacking the adrenaline rush of the day before, we started out again an hour ealier than usual. Luckily, we had no wind that day and gorgeous blue skies again. The first 100km was noneventful and we did them all before lunch at 1pm. After a hearty feed of meat, cheese and bread, we set off to tick off the remaining 44kms to Corabia. About 10km down the road, we saw an unusual site - our support vehicle was pulled over with the hood up. Troy let us in on the catastrophy - gas in a diesel engine...Turns out WE were now the support team.
When he and Lucas had pulled into a gas station specifying diesel, the attendant pointed them to the pump that said diesel. With no reason to think otherwise, the tank was filled - all 80 litres and about 65 euro later. Two kms later, the car just stopped.
As luck would have it, we were within about 100 meters of another gas station. There was some discussion whether or not to push the car all the way back to the original station, but why? Try to get back our 65 euro or get the job done now and get out of here? We chose the later and after a lengthy discussion with the attendant involving a lot of hand gesturing and drawing on a note pad, we were finaly able to get him to understand that we needed to siphon the gas out and replace it with diesel. Easy, right?
Somehow we managed to be there for over three hours as several back and forth trips were made to find the right size and length of hose to stick in the tank. Then when the right hose was found, it still didn't work - anti-siphoning device? The only thing to do then was to methodicaly turn the key on and off to prime the fuel after the hose was removed. This leaked the fuel out at an agonizing pace while we all stood around and watched and tried to take filmage for the documenatry. The gas attendant seemed to be quite upset at seeing the camera and asked for us to stop. We became concerned about the rather large crowd beginning to surround us (for more details here, you'll need to check out our uncensored blog for which, if you don't already have the address, you can email us).
But as you can see, we are all alive to update you on our progress. Aside from donating a few litres of oil and prolonging our longest day yet (144km), we had success. All the fuel was hosed out and the new diesel replaced. The crowd was very willing to help and incredibly friendly - we were even invited for beers, but even that didn't tempt us as much as visions of or hotel and food did.
Our last 35 km was an impromptu race just to test our merit and we made it in a little over an hour and just in time for a gorgeous sunset from the views of our hotel, situated on the Danou River.
Needless to say, we are resting today! The sights we are seeing lately are very entertaining as we ride through village after village. It seems like we've stepped back decades into years where the horse drawn cart was predominant and people still spent all their times in the fields. We see the oldest, whithered faces and women bent 90 degrees at the waist still walking down the street. Children yell and stand on the streets with their hands out so we can high-five them as we ride by. Everywhere, we get waves and Bravos! We are really feeling that what we are doing is more and more of a novelty the farther east we go - it is true travel now!
Friday, September 14, 2007
Last big stretch we averaged well over 22km/hr average, and I was totally stuffedwhen we arrived with my eyes stinging with the very salty sweat running off my eye brows! Living with CF makes my sweat very salty, and getting that stuff into your eyes is like diving into the Dead Sea for those who have ever done that. The Dead Sea is 8x saltier than regular sea water; you can float in it and read a newspaper.
Just to recap some of the things we do. Troy drives the car almost always lately and with the aid of a navigator tries to find lunchspots and accommodation for us. Troy's job is probably the hardest of them all. But wait, there is harder; David does the navigation with the book and the GPS. He plans the day, briefs and discusses with Troy as to where to go, where to meet us etc, and takes blame for every wrong turn and unnecesary hill! David takes the job very seriously, unlike me who would just stumble on turn by turn as they happen. When Troy gets to a hotel he SMSes the GPS coordinates to David so we can find him with (relative) ease.
Heather's job is primarilly to keep track of what happens (too much to all write about really!) and after her day's cycling venture out into the new (scary) cities looking for internet cafes andput up with youths listening to bad music which they turn up when they see her coming. Heather often uses the laptop to prepare the blogs to minimise time in the cafes, and carries photos (which she takes as well) and content on a USB stick. Heather does regular shops too as she ventures into the towns, aided by Cindy or Lucas. First afternoon in Romania she went out with Cindy and us 'men' got worried about them when Cindy did not answer her SMS, and subsequent panic ones. Turned out she had left the phone in the hotel.
Lucas is constantly on the go trying to fil each and every moment. From open coal mines to castles, but always looking for our interactions with locals -which are generally not planned. He has to recharge heaps of batteries and empty the SD cards (on which we record the 1080i video footage from our stealthy cameras!) when we get to the hotel room. He often tries to ride with us and charges ahead to shoot us coming up hills, or hangs back to shoot scenery and then race to catch up again. Not bad for someone who had trouble even mounting his bike at the start of the ride! Lucky he is young and has the endless reserves of power. When he is not cycling he is navigating with the driver.
Cindy helps rotate with the driver and navigator and gives massages to us at the end of the day. The massages do not end up in 'happy endings' and our wives/partners can be reassured. In fact there is absolutely nothing romantic about riding these distances and the resulting pains and aches focus your attention to food, shower and sleep (where does the beer come into it?). Cindy helps out all round, with everything from navigation to cleaning eskies and shopping, sharing Heather's bedroom, and keeping us all entertained.
Me? I feel I do very little except ride. The team says all I need to do is survive to Istanbul. I try do my bit where I can, help David translate the trip book we got from Hans and Marjan - without it we would have had enormous difficulties!
CF: No-one along the way knows about CF and we cannot explain what we are doing... We are seen as some corporate flash touristy thing with MONEY. No concessions or discounts, and not really raising much awareness really. The movie 'Coughing the Distance' is going to do that (read: donate and help us fund the post production!)! I saw a man in Romania along the road just sitting there, as all old people seem to do, but he had oxygen tubing on! I stopped and explained what we were doing. We both coughed and we understood each other. Heather filmed it, I took a photo of him (will post later!). He said he had been on O2 for 12 years (?!) and offered us drinks but we had no time to spare. I tried to give him money which he totally refused (his family stood by watching with horror as he denied the $$) so I hid it under his tubing in the window.
Today we found a nice hotel on the Danube and an internet cafe! The gypsies we see along the roads here have no need for internet or TV, although I have seen them with mobile phones! Nough for now, over and out!
Thursday, September 13, 2007
The following was written for the Blog by Cindy....read on, if your stomach can handle it!
I know Walter through Hash House Harrier – a local running group we both attend. On our first meeting, I could see that Walter had something I didn’t have: a bright smile, acceptance of everyone and always a joke. I wanted to find out why he loved life so much.
After our first run together, I noticed Walter coughing a lot. I suggested, ‘I would be home in bed with a cough like that.’ Walter said, ‘I’m living with Cystic Fibrosis’ and told me a little to satisfy my curiosity.
He asked me to come on the COFE trip as I was travelling Europe at the same time.
One day, I followed Walter out of Budapest after a rest day. The effects the polluted city had on his lungs was very obvious to me as I watched Walter struggling in front of me. Physically, he juggled balancing his bike in traffic between consistent coughing, blowing his nose, vomiting and just getting enough air in his lungs. This was a bad day for him.
I estimate the coughing/vomiting bouts were about every twenty turns of the pedal - even more if the terrain was uphill. Gradually, the coughing lessened, but what I hadn’t seen before was his breakfast coming up - masses of it over several coughing bouts.
As always, he soldiers on and continues riding. I ask if he’s alright and he says, ‘This is normal.’ It’s definitely not for me. If I had to cope with all this, I would be crying and home in bed.
Being on this trip has awakened my senses to Walter’s plight and made me aware of his daily routine: using the nebuliser at night and in the morning to cleanse his lungs and make them user friendly for the day. It reminds me of my worst experience with influenza, when you keep coughing until you vomit, and your whole body aches, just from coughing. I feel totally worn out from listening to Walter and have to leave the room because of the extremeness of the lung clearing he has to do to survive.
I now know how lucky I am to be supporting him in his efforts towards creating a positive awareness about CF. The next time you hear someone clearing their lungs, just think it may be a Cystic Fibrosis victim trying to live with CF.
Photo 1 - Most border crossings are all but deserted.
Photo 2 - First flat in almost 3000km - good tires!
Photo 3 - Mmmmm, eat that smog!
Day 47, Sept. 12
Just short of 3000km
The last few days has been a welcome relief of gorgeous scenery and fresh air. We have had 4 or 5 days straight now of heavy traffic and nasty exhaust fumes – we're all coughing the distance now!
We are back with our beloved Danou (or Danube as we know it) and the views as we ride up mountains, are of cliff faces straight down into the river and lush, almost tropical foliage (sorry forgot to bring those photos to the internet cafe...) . We are in more hilly areas now!
We are still having mostly wet, windy days, but the temperatures are definitely warmer.
Today we crossed into Romania and are now in a border city called Severin. So far on our trip, we have experienced no trouble whatsoever at the borders. Today we were even given VIP status and ushered past several waiting cars – must have been the sponsor stickers!
It looked like it was going to be a long wait as the line-up was long and slow-moving. Although we could easily get through with our bikes, we usually like to travel through these crossings with the car and all together. Of course, on the one day when we are able to jump the line, Wally goes missing. One minute he was there, all excited about his energy drink, the next he's not and has left us with his bike. We are literally right at the window of the customs agent, stalling and feeling bad about all the cars behind us, when he casually pops out of nowhere. He had decided to go to Romania to use the toilet....classic Wally, no?
We have been advised, both by our instincts and the Let's Go Europe book, that camping is not a good idea, so we have been hotel-ing it every night for about 2 weeks. Although camping would be nice and is cheaper, there isn't much in the way of nice patches of grass in most places as industry or huge piles of litter occupy all spaces. We have also noticed in these East Block countries that it is sometimes next to impossible to find a restaurant. We have been known to wander around trying not to look like tourists with cameras and wallets, desperately inquiring, “Restaurant???” to anyone who looks in-the-know. When we do find a hotel that has a half-decent restaurant, we are pretty excited.
The food is not quite as spectacular as France and Germany, but it is still okay. We do suffer a bit with breakfast when we are usually offered up white bread and tea (not even coffee seems to be popular and jam and butter are extra), and usually find ourselves gorging on sweet energy bars and bananas when we can find a store.
We had a very affectionate woman bless us at a small, cozy hotel we stayed at a few nights ago. We could hardly understand her, although she did speak a few words of German, which Walter could understand. In the end, we figured out she was telling us to put the little laminated angle she had in her hand in our car so as to avoid car crashes, then she kissed us a lot and stroked our cheeks and hair. It was a little like being nurtured again by our mothers. She was so sweet she even started crying when we left, waving while we rode away following her husband as he escorted us out of town. She gave us gifts, one which deserves a mention – a giant gord, which she told us was over 200 yrs old. We are meant to give it to one of our sponsors. We think. The odds that it doesn't get completely demolished in our over-stuffed vehicle is somewhat slim, but we'll certainly try to keep it in tact so we can send it to you, Brent!
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
(Illustration by Mirel Goldenberg)
Happy New Year to the Jewish Connection! It is Rosh Hashanah today on the Jewish Calendar and they are celebrating their 5768th year on the 13th of September 2007 our date.
You may well ask why I mention this here, it is because I am from Jewish stock and Cystic Fibrosis occurs more often in Caucasian and Jewish individuals than in other ethnic groups. Read more <here>
Sunday, September 09, 2007
Photo 1 - a few vices for the journey - the sport bars actually have rum in them!
Photo 2 - what Walter should really blame his tummy troubles on....
Sept. 6, Day 41
156 hours of peddling since Paris
Novi Sad, Serbia
We’ve only been in Serbia for six hours or so, but we already understand a big part of Serbian culture. It is called Slivovitz and it tastes something like tequila mixed with turpentine and makes you think you’re saying something really smart, but really you’re saying something dumb, like, “Why is this Slivovitz going down my throat again…?”
Our first encounter was when we went out for a late lunch. We’d had a cold ride that ended in a rather long, unnecessary hill climb when there was some confusion over GPS coordinates. Our day became a good deal longer than it was supposed to be and we were all irritable with hunger. Managing to find our hotel, change, shower and find a restaurant, we settled into the booth and opened the menu.
Great, friggin' characters and symbols.
Luckily, the owner spoke a little English and when we said things like salad and chicken and pig, she nodded yes and went to the kitchen. Soon we had a big basket of three different kinds of homemade breads to satiate us while we waited. Our meals arrived, which in some cases were terrific mounds of meats of all kinds: pig, pork, sausage and indecipherable flesh.
The owner came back several times and enjoyed us more at each passing. She soon brought us a business card and we gave her ours and told her our story. She clapped her hands and asked us if we wanted a drink.
Lucky for us, David once had a Serbian girlfriend. That was about 38 years ago, but apparently, she left enough of an impression for him to remember Slivovitz, which in Serbian translates to How to melt your esophagus.
After two rounds, we made a reasonable call to leave. Little did we know that an innocent card game of Slaves and Masters would unleash the Slivovitz again. Back at our hotel, trying to sober up, as it was only 5:30 PM, we decided to play cards downstairs in the foyer. The hotel owner motioned for us to use the dining room, which was empty and dark. She turned on the lights and cleared the cutlery away only too happily, then clapped her hands and said in halting English, “Yes, okay! So, in Serbia? Slivovitz!!” to which we groaned yet somehow found ourselves accepting, of course.
The last I saw of the COFE team, they were ordering a round of beer after someone claimed it would be ‘refreshing’.
Stayed tuned for “Hangover in Serbia…”
Day 43 - Hangover in Serbia...
Well, the Slivovitz Hangover stalked its victims early and, in some cases, it didn’t wait until morning to hunt them down. There was some reconsidering going on in the bathroom that evening and the next morning. The sufferers were not even comforted by coffee. We’d stumbled across the first hotel in our travels that didn’t have coffee as a breakfast option.
This caused considerable irritation in the addicts, especially Walter, who, after riding that morning's kms without the placebo effect, took it out on his bike light when it fell off spontaneously. He stopped, picked it up and threw it as hard as he could onto the road. It didn’t smash into tiny little particles, which was not satisfying at all, so he tried that again and yelled this time. It still just flipped around on the tarmac so Walter abandoned it, but when it was recovered, it still worked, thereby frustrating Walter even more.
Five minutes later, my light also broke and fell off on a particularly bumpy cobble stone road. We like the lights because it helps people see us on these dark and stormy days we seem to be encountering. Hopefully we will find a bike shop in Belgrade, where we are today, and recover some necessary items.
Thursday, September 06, 2007
As you read in the blog we had some wet weather lately, but also had some sunny days. To me they have all been enjoyable and we now cover 100kms in a day with relative ease! No particular aches or pains or feeling sick. Today was the first day with hills (road signs advising of 6 and 8% inclines) where we covered 80+ kms at an average speed of 21.5 km/hr. Breaking the 20 has long been on my wish-list!
As for health, David thinks I look a little gray when reaching the top of a hill when I push it hard, but other then that I am fine. In Budapest I got my first belly aches of the trip. At home I make kefir which has kept my belly aches away for years now. Considering I have not had kefir for 6 weeks I was not too surprised. I think it was the rich Hungarian Goulash Soup I had that started it off. It kept me feeling bloated and tender the two nights we were there.
A small miracle occurred at the Gellert Hotel, where we had a few hours of bathing in natural spring fed pools and subjected ourselves to extreme cold and heat (steam). When we left the pools and waited for Cindy I found they sold kefir in the little shop there. So with the beers I ordered kefir! It turned out that all shops in Hungary sell kefir alongside with their yoghurts. We stocked up and my belly aches disappeared overnight (may also have been the more cautious eating).
The only medication I am on now is vitamins, salt water and pulmozyne in the nebuliser and Fluimicil (mucolytic). Not bad! And feeling very fit and healthy, and missing my wife awfully much :(
Click on photo for large display
It is our second day in Croatia and also our last. Tomorrow we will have a short ride into Serbia. We are starting to notice some not-so-subtle differences, like the weather: it is cold, windy and rainy. Yesterday was trying pretty hard to dampen our spirits as it rained pretty hard from the beginning to the end of our ride. Today was dry, but a dark sky threatened us all day. No rain fell, which was a welcome relief, and the morbid weather was the perfect setting for what consumed our attention for most of the day – bullet riddled buildings leftover from more than a decade ago when Croatia was at war.
All around us, we could see structures half destroyed and left unrepaired mixed in with restored buildings where people had found money to build new lives. It was kind of surreal to think that here we were, free to bike through streets where bullets flew not too long ago.
Another noticeable difference is our pathways which have altered from straight forward and paved to random bike-route posts on busy roads and wash-board dirt tracks that leave the teeth rattling in our heads. Well, we have had it pretty easy – bring on the rough stuff!
Our last day in Budapest was action packed. It started with an evacuation of the top three floors of our hotel after a water pipe burst and set the alarms off. We filed down six flights of stairs and met outside the lobby wondering what happened. When we were allowed to go back in, we discovered water leaking all over the place. Good luck with that!
Then one of our team members got ripped off at the money exchange for about $50, but that wasn’t the worst of it – after dinner one night, the same team member decided to go out for a walk while the other’s returned to the hotel. Within about 5 mins, he was approached by two young women asking for directions. Ever the gentleman, he offered his help. The two women then said, “Why not come for a drink?” and so he did. After a couple cognacs and special coffees in a trendy bar, the two women suddenly declared, “Oh! We only have 1000 forints (about $4).”
He looked at the bill and was rather alarmed as the amount was over 40,000 forints ($160) for 2 coffees and two drinks! While the women uttered threats like, “It’s customary for the man to pay in our country”, he thought about what to do. He knew it was a scam, but didn’t know how to get away. He tried, “I haven’t got enough money – I’ll need to go to my hotel and get more.” To which the reply was, “We’ll come with you,” from the bar staff.
He walked the short distance to the hotel and was relieved when they said they’d wait outside. He ran into the lobby and told the receptionist he was being scammed. She told him not to worry and to continue on to his room - this happened all the time and she’d handle it. In the end, he didn’t have to pay a cent. The moral of the story is – this scam works in your favour…
Sunday, September 02, 2007
I would just like to thank the fathers of the members of the team for raising such committed and passionate people which have been able to undertake this adventure, you are and should be very proud. I would also like to thank the fathers who raised those of us that are able to support this effort from home (thanks for giving us good sense).
Happy fathers day DADS from Katherine