Tag Archive | europe

Why I Travel Blog

Church of St. Alexander, Warsaw

Church of St. Alexander, Warsaw

There are the obvious reasons why one travel blogs. To share travel adventures, through photos and words, trying to encapsulate an experience to the reading and viewing audience. To imbue in others the same excitement, curiosity and inspiration that the blogger felt whilst traveling. To pinpoint exact emotional exaltation.

Palace of Culture and Science, Warsaw

Palace of Culture and Science, Warsaw

This is also the general sentiment of why I travel blog as well. The intricacies of it are way more personal. Solo travel for me only started at 24, with a trip to Brno, Czech Republic with a theatre show that ended up, with a very unexpected job in Prague and then a 4-month expedition, tracing my family’s heritage through Eastern Europe. I had never a train before and was thrilled with sticking my head out of the window, letting the wind make my eyes squint, a tornado of my brown hair, like a dog in a car ride. That same trip, I was introduced to couchsurfing. Travel took on an entirely new meaning, where it wasn’t simply placards and buildings and other travelers, it was local people, personal accounts, trans-ocean humour, Ipod music exchanges, one or two dance sessions, a game of golf in Dijon, foraging for dinner in Groningen. All I had read about travel came from books and those books laid out the foundational blueprints of how to travel. Yet there had to be something else, something more expansive and less focused on the MUST SEES and the MUST EATS.

Warsaw Uprising Monument, Warsaw

Warsaw Uprising Monument, Warsaw

So blogs. First big websites like Trip Advisor (which I still use as a base for exploration), then more obscure travel sites like Atlas Obscura (which, if you haven’t checked out, is the best source for Off the Beaten Path travel oddities), to the worldwide blogosphere of adventurers, trippers, dream followers and spontaneity experts. I was hooked to their words, as many of them weren’t simply telling me what they saw, but how they felt, how places impacted them or didn’t. Blogging is personal creative writing, an individual’s take on the world through their eyes, through their pens, through their keyboards. It can be laced with superlatives, poetics, judgment, digressions, failure, no words at all, all visual. I blog, even if only a few read it, to show them my version of cities and towns, of nature and of bike trips. They are my visceral accounts of the world. They are my endorsement of decorative language, trying to squeeze out the true emotion I felt in a singular moment, possibly written days after. I cannot prescribe nor would I ever want to, a reaction to what I write or how it effects where people decide to go. I hope that the few who do read it, have an opinion or an idea that sprouts from it. I hope, as that’s all one can do with putting writing into the public’s glance, that it pushes people to either travel or challenge themselves, ask questions, look unto other blogs to continue planning or imagining a more complete global sphere.

All You Can Eat - Japanese, European and......everywhere else in all time and space? Babalu's in Warsaw. Felt so so so sick after this.

All You Can Eat – Japanese, European and……everywhere else in all time and space? Babalu’s in Warsaw. Felt so so so sick after this.

I frequently embellish memories. I cannot remember exacts, so I shameless fill in the blanks. I blog because I love to write. I love to reimagine what I have seen, to reinvigorate the recollections with verbose imaculations and neologisms (such as imaculations). Though, recent travel, via bicycle gives me the space to write as I travel. I stop where I want and if I feel the urge, I jot down the day, in summation or elongation. I write in a blue tent, where one of the poles is partially snapped due to a crow landing on it, by the waning sun, drifting behind the red mountains just outside of Santa Monica. That is an actual memory. The things that I lock into my brain vault are sometimes obscure fragments. Sometimes, due to my prior habits during travels (drinking copious amounts at night), memories are literally slits of narrow light with broken and blurred images. I write as form of self-preservation, because one of my greatest fears is loosing it all to time. Not necessarily as a legacy of what I have accomplished, but more as something for myself to look back on and simply account for what I have done. Not as somewhat of a CV for pomposity, but more as a timeline that I existed.

Warsaw Uprising Museum

Warsaw Uprising Museum

While my travels include people and places, I also consciously set quests for myself. I blog to uncover gems, maybe not ones that were necessarily covered by layers of sediment, just ones’ that maybe overlooked, underappreciated, the map to get to them has been used as scratch paper or made into papier-mâché for a birthday piñata (what I am saying is that no one cares where this place is). Blogs and websites are full of hints and my duty with these hints is to test them out and confirm their validity. This description seems quite vague without an example. The city of Xian, China, was the ancient capital for hundreds of years. Tourists flock here to cycle the ancient walls and see the UNESCO approved Terracotta Warriors. What very few people know about, is that at the Tomb of Emperor Jingdi, a ways out of city, another burial plot was opened to revealed, miniature terracotta figurines, along with terracotta livestock and chariots. In total, over 50,000 pieces are on display. Along with this amazing experience, is a very beautifully set up underground museum, with large vaulted glass walls revealing the digs, but beside and below you, you are free to trapes around the tomb area, see several of the tomb gates, and watch an AMAZING hologram film about the history of the site (no 3d glasses required). This place is completely under the radar and when I got there, I basically had free range of the place (think Night at the Museum, minus the reanimation of historical items). There were a handful of different directions as to how to get to this place, since it was in an odd location of the highway, leading north of the city. Armed with a few of these Internet found directions, plus the Chinese characters to this place, I ventured out to confirm this place’s existence. Luck had it that the #4, the first bus I got on and was on my list, was confirmed by the bus driver to be the correct bus. For me, that could happen is I end up going somewhere else and possibly exploring something unexpected. So it’s a win win for me.

Warsaw Couchsurfing Dance Party

Warsaw Couchsurfing Dance Party

I blog to interact with people. Blogs are a dialogue, a community of shared experiences and responses, where the responses may come in the form of words or in exploration of what the blogs’ describe. I hope that as this site builds that this dialogue fills the forums and itinerary of the new site (which will be up THIS MONTH) with evolving dialogues and information that result in people testing the waters, unburdening themselves with limits by asking questions and seeing the blog reflect your inquiries, with maybe not always answers, but further explorations, adding points to the map that I will travel to confirm experiences and places or discover errors, saving you the hassle of a fruitless expedition to nowhere. My blogs and my travels will mirror your dreams, aspirations, desires, or highlight your wonderful memories, follow your deep incites, possibly making travel a more tangible possibility instead of something you do on free weekends or something you’ll do when your decrepitly old.

Babushka, Kiev

Babushka, Kiev

I blog, because it makes me feel wonderful. It’s me facing my fears as well. I travel around the world, yet I am scared of publishing my writing. I believe it is good, that it is informative and well written, but am afraid of it being said to be otherwise. This is my version of being bold and it holds more importance that what many would be considered a blip, not part of any creative career. But blips are my greatest assets. Microcosms are my favorite worlds. I am worried about not getting anywhere; I am worried about denouncing things in favor of acceptance.

Orthodox Priest.

Orthodox Priest, Kiev.

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Rome at Night – Untitled Gallery

Realism. An art movement attempting to capture the world as it is, without the idyllic visions of the romantics, the lamenting nature of the elegies or the beatified chiseled warriors of the heroics. The photograph took up this charge of the realistic painting, opening up an opportunity for those with no artistic skill to capture a second in their life. The monumental images and glorification of war, society or the satire  of government could still be staged and snapped and framed as art, but also the simple recollection of a banal moment in time could fill the pages of any amateur scrapbook affectionado. Here I present with little introduction, my amateur hour of manipulation, without schema or plan, simply an attempt to indicate a feeling, an individualized experience with the nights of Rome and how special they were to me.

The city breathes at night and wafts scents and sounds through haggard and higglypiggly lanes and chipped doorways, spilling with intoxication, conversations of love and hate and exploration. The yellow streets, though old, cannot overshadow the history crusted fountains and ruins, that give power to the casting shadows, over the juvenile flickering lights.

A map and no plans are some of the best days in Rome. Stumble upon secrets, recommendations and a blog or two pick of some hole in the wall vouched for by some subscriber to Tripadvisor. Do it, taste it, inhale its smoke, smut, savoriness and centuries.

Ira

Checklist Traveling – Seeing the World as Opposed to Experiencing It

Sometimes it's tough to just sit and let nature entrance you. I use it during stressful times in travel as "a bring me back to earth" tool.

Sometimes it’s tough to just sit and let nature entrance you. I use it during stressful times in travel as “a bring me back to earth” tool.

Tourism in China is a weird thing. The Olympics of 2008 in Beijing spotlighted this once stigmatized powerhouse in a new light and the influx of tourists, curious to discover it’s rich history and culture, came pouring in from all directions. And the Chinese government sort of understands the process to deal with this. People want to be able to access the sites, the flavors and people that Maoist China tried to subjugate, repress and ultimately uniform (They use none of those terms, nor did the Maoist government do ANYTHING like that).

A temple way out of Beijing. Jietai Temple and Tanzhe Temple were beautiful daytrips, off the beaten path, that we could enjoy at our own pace without the throngs of people, as well as not feel the need to SEE it out of innate urge to complete something.

Temples way out of Beijing. Jietai Temple and Tanzhe Temple were beautiful daytrips, off the beaten path, that we could enjoy at our own pace without the throngs of people, as well as not feel the need to SEE it out of innate urge to complete something.

Their solution to this semi-new venture, tourism, is what’s strange. Like a flawed translation on many English signs throughout China, there seems to be a bit of a miscommunication of what international tourists are interested in seeing and how what their interested in seeing is expected to be presented. That’s a vast generalization, but for myself, if fly half way around the world to see something, I want to see something that is at least somewhat authentic and real. That’s the difference between seeing it in person and via media. Attached to this authenticity is an indescribable feeling of achievement, a connection to something beyond one’s own world, and the thrill of experiencing, immersing and discovering something new for yourself. Yet China’s approach to their unique cultures, languages and especially places, is reconstituting, rebuilding, modifying rather than preservation. Many of the historical sites that survived the Red Guard are being remodeled to provide a Disneyland-like, rather than an emerging experience in history. The grit, the real businesses, even the buildings themselves, have been replaced by five star accommodations, vendors selling chachkies and pre-fab, historical facades. One of China’s famous UNESCO heritage sites, Lijiang, almost lost it’s heritage status for attempting to rebuild the ancient black tiled roofed town as a resort, after one of it’s many earthquakes. It’s everywhere. Look in your China guidebooks. 9 times out of 10, the historical building you are standing in has been rebuilt. From Qianmen Business District in Beijing (torn down and rebuilt exactly the same) to large sections of the Great Wall.

Lamont, Alberta. Never heard of this place? Very cute town near Edmonton. Buildings, like Churches, for me, act as inspirational places during travel to just sit in, engage with, immerse yourself in and possibly be inspired. These structures, are many intricate parts woven together that are worth paying attention to, exploring and considering. Imagination runs wild in these places, all you need to do is let it.

Lamont, Alberta. Never heard of this place? Very cute town near Edmonton. Buildings, like Churches, for me, act as inspirational places during travel to just sit in, engage with, immerse yourself in and possibly be inspired. These structures, are many intricate parts woven together that are worth paying attention to, exploring and considering. Imagination runs wild in these places, all you need to do is let it.

Though maybe this is a very North American stance on tourism. Maybe China is focused on local tourism, since for Chinese nationals, it’s very difficult to impossible to leave the country. On that subject, I simply have my observations of large buses, unloading their leader with their volumed up megaphones and umbrellas, followed by hoards all wearing the same hats, so they know who they should follow, blending into an earthen colored mass, filling up quaint, quiet and historical places with bursting commotion, noise and refuse. Pictures are snapped, mechanically, fingers are held in peace signs, or two hands come together to complete an unbelievable heart, occurring in no matter what venue, winding cobblestoned street or tranquil holy temple. I fear though that the “real” China that the international community strives to locate is fast becoming theme parks, parades or simply, like the hutongs of Beijing and Shanghai, being demolished for shinier, newer facilities, that cheaply emulate something that could have stood for a thousand more generations.

The Details. Yes it's a butterfly. They exist everywhere. but this specific butterfly lives where I was, within a specific moment I saw it in. That alone is special enough and can be appreciated without adherence to a standardized hierarchy of importance.

The Details. Yes it’s a butterfly. They exist everywhere. but this specific butterfly lives where I was, within a specific moment I saw it in. That alone is special enough and can be appreciated without adherence to a standardized hierarchy of importance.

The Do’s And Do Not’s of Bike Travel As I See It – Part Uno

Do and Do Not List seem to be popular these days, as reading has become somewhat of a lost art. Kidding. There are just not enough hours in the day to read elaborated written paragraphs, so I thought I’d try at least one point form list of travel via velo:

DO – updated your passport. If it looks like mine aka waterlogged, an over-read novel, a coffee coaster, you may have issues at the border of certain countries and they may try to deny you access. Not to name any names, Croatia.

DO NOT – Pet the wild life. This isn’t a zoo and certain animals that seem cute and cuddly, are most definitely not. Specifically DOGS. To you it may look as if some kind owner trusted his best friend to run around off the leash with a bunch of his pals. No. These are wild dogs. They want to eat you. Don’t let them eat you by using cutesy voices and trying to lure them to you with food. They will eat the food and then you are desert.

DO – Talk to people. Anyone and everyone is worth getting to know, whether briefly or over a pint. If language fails, beer never does. Humans, in general, communicate beyond language barriers with hand gestures, charades and laughter. It doesn’t matter if you can’t ask him or her about the adverse effects of the rise of neo-facism in his or her country. I shared a wonderful moment in Romania drinking with some Serbian priests and laughing at who knows what. You can have that much fun too, if you just keep open, listen and respond a lot. The worse thing that could happen is that don’t respond or chase you with a weapon of some sort. The second option, from my experience, doesn’t happen to much, unless that weapon is ice cream.

DO NOT – Be culturally insensitive. World War One monuments are not jungle gyms and religious icons aren’t photo ops for getting your cleavage pic with Jesus. Some people will tend to ignore you, even though inside their head they are running at you with a pick axe. Some may actually run at you with a pick axe. Not only does cultural sensitivity rely on your common sense, but it also begs you to learn a thing or two about the place you are visiting, so that you don’t blurt out something that is rude, disrespectful or in some cases, could have you trying to learn the phrase “not guilty” in a foreign language.

DO – Learn the traffic rules and regulations. They aren’t the same all over the world. In some places, bicycles rule the roads, yet in others cyclists live parelous lives in a world of no signs, lights or lanes. Only bike in areas that fit your comfort zone. Exiting that point  blank may add unwanted stress, panic attacks and a silly mistake that could prove not good at all. I am not saying to challenge your comfort level, because that is a very important thing if you want to get anywhere besides your back alley, but always have an experienced cyclist with you, to spot you, talk to you, and lead you in the ways of pedal wisdom.

DO NOT – Click click click photos like it is part of some part of automatic, necessary response system. People always look so desperate to capture moments and will do pretty much anything they can to get that right shot. There are a few problems with this. The first, being, that while you may have captured the image of a moment, and even color corrected later to the proper exposure and tone, a camera has no functional quality in capturing the feeling of a moment. Since you are taking the picture, you also reduce your chances of just being in the moment, taking in the smells, feeling the gentle breeze at the top of the Eiffel tower, really admiring a piece of art, nature or architecture. You then can only remember the moments in between the pictures and nothing beyond the pint size image your glued to in your view finder. And to be honest, the awful truth to some who think they are taking the most unique photograph the living earth has ever witnessed, will be distraught to realize that millions of pictures have been taken, from every angle you can think of, of all historic monuments, natural phenomena and other tourist interest points that you visit. I recommend being selective of what you shoot, because later, when you are sifting through your 8 billion photos, thanks to the digital age of mass proportions of knowledge, the images will quickly stream by with little care to what they were and are. Take photos of things that spark your interest, details, funny people, human moments, friends doing things, meals, a non-tourist destination. Those are the moments that you can use photos to jog memories, but again, they can never replace them.

DO – Explore. Seems simple, but most people are drawn to the big signs that say “YOU MUST SEE THIS THING BEFORE YOU DIE” and then tend to ignore everything else. For me, I think it is important and interesting the see and understand a place beyond what the tourist bureaus tell you to go to. Go inside buildings that look fascinating, find out from locals cool neighborhoods, follow odd signs that catch your fancy, go beyond the map of the city centre, with all it’s advertisements for rip off restaurants and silly guided tours (not all silly, but sometimes they are substitutes for a lazy type of 5 star tourism that does not appeal to me).

Tuzrakter in Budapest. I stayed here due to the wonderful international community that is couch surfing.

 

DO – Couch surf. I won’t get into the grand scheme of couch surfing philosophy, but to get an in depth, personal and cultural experience that is unique to the individual perspective of the person you are staying with, this is the best way to go. This is the only way to be part of the local scene, go to the best local haunts, try the best local cuisine, see a slice of everyday life among thousand year old church spires and plazas. Maybe play golf in Lyons? Irish dancing in the Czech Republic? Who knows!.

DO NOT – Wear bike gear or purchase bike “stuff”, that you aren’t comfortable wearing or using. Okay, tools may be excluded from this, but clothing and pedal type and panier placement, that is all a personal choice. If you are going for 16 hours a day and you hate the sound of rain pants to the point that the swishing sound gives you a headache, chances are you should not wear them. The travel portion should be as just as much fun and stress free as the places you visit.

BE SPONTANEOUS! EAT NEW FOODS! MAKE FRIENDS! TALK TALK TALK! HAVE FUN! LAUGH UNTIL YOU ACHE!

http://www.couchsurfing.org

– Ira

Photo of the Day – A Horse of A Different Color

 

Quite obviously the best place to have a few beers?

Dear readers. I have no idea the name of this town. At the time of taking this picture I had already consumed a beer, eating a meal consisting of potatoes and a large ham steak and tried to hit on a German scientologist, which undoubtably was an epic fail for the record books. It’s in Germany and yes, that is a horse on a building, one of many of it’s kind that inhabited this nameless place. Enjoy.

Photo of the Day – Dutch Crash Museum

It's an aviation type of museum. Not as exciting as what my imagination could drum up.

We were rushing for the border. Day 3 and we were crossing from The Netherlands into Germany. And yet, our Dutch friends never ceased to amaze us. This museum sign is literally in the middle of nowhere on some back country road. Since of our hurry we never did get to check it out. Lucky for me, the internet let me have a second chance. PS, my friend biked all the way to Budapest, this being his only faux injury. No poles with museum signs were harmed during the taking of the picture.

The crash museum website:

Crashmuseum-Avog – UK

Photo of the Day – Svoge, Bulgaria

Adrian, a fellow cyclopedian, taking a higher resolutioned image of the beautiful scenery.

 

Svoge. A town like many others where we stopped to enjoy the lush scenery for a few, idling moments, just enough time to catch our breaths and then we were off, down another hill or along the side of another mountain pass. Time is so crucial when you’re on two wheels and have some place to be. You can’t meander as much as you’d like to meander, you can’t bask as much as you’d like to bask. But it gives you a postcard, a reminder of where you’d like to return to. I’d like to return to Svoge.

After conquering a few days before of torrential down pour, that made it so the road and the sky were one, constant, grey, maniacal flood, it was nice to have a middle of the road weather day, not too hot, not too cloudy, not to wet. The Bulgarian country side was new to us as we headed through beautifully lush, jutting cliffs, switchbacks that seemingly played tricksters, luring you to plunge from wheel or panier first into the brown, slow moving Iskar River below. Towns like this in the Sophia province, seemed to appear out of no where around every bend, looking like small hamlets, yet a bit more sterile and grey in architecture. It was quite a surprise that the lead up to Sophia, the capital, was miniscule, off tune slide whistle, as opposed to a whole cavalcade of wind instruments, blowing, red in the face, with victory!