Budapest > Tass 70km

Yesterday we spent the day in Budapest. It was great.  The morning consisted of a subway ride to the nearest market.  These two things (the metro and the marketplace) are a must for me anytime I visit a new city.  The metro and market are the beating heart of a city – they keep it running.  It is here where you get a feel for what everyday life is like.  Budapest’s metro was interesting, to say the least.  The first subway we got in must have been 80 years old.  The car was nothing more than a steel box.  No decorations, no fancy seating, no advertisements, no map of where we were going.  When the subway came to a stop the brakes let out a loud shriek that made Katy and my head spin but left the other passengers unfazed.  The metro we got on that afternoon was the “new line” and was clean, modern and made NYC’s subway system feel like the dark ages – a very interesting contrast.  The market was also great – for $2 I got a pound of delicious chocolate wafers and ginger vanilla cookies that Katy and I made quick work of.  The peaches were some of the best I’ve ever had.

The afternoon was a deviation from our normal trip.  We visited the Szechenyi thermal baths in the city park.  Situated in a very decorative old building, the thermal baths are quite the sight to behold.  The best part of the day was the trips between the 16C cold pools and the 80C saunas (which were so hot that just breathing caused your nose and mouth to burn).  Quite a rush.

Thermal Bathing at its best, its Budapest.
Thermal Bathing at its best, its Budapest.
Budapest, and its royal ugly dudes.
Budapest, and its royal ugly dudes.
I am the Earl of Preston.  And I am the Duke of Ted.
I am the Earl of Preston. And I am the Duke of Ted.

Fast forward to this morning – we attempted to fix a rear wheel/hub problem we have had for the past couple days, but we arrived at the bike shop at 12:30 only to find that they close at 1pm and so we’d have to wait until they open again on Monday at 10am.  We decided to push on, hoping to get the problem looked at in a couple days at the next large town in the south of Hungary.

Departing Budapest felt like entering no man’s land.  We have 1,000 km to cover before reaching Kotor, Montenegro and my sister Jessica and her son Charlie and so will venture through southern Hungary, Serbia and Bosnia en route.  We know nothing of these countries (other than that we’ve been advised by our WS host against wild camping in Serbia because “there are land mines which are a bit of an annoyance”). Yeah, I’d think so.

Sixty or so kilometers south of Budapest we passed a noisy gathering in a park beyond a rather dirty pond.  I quickly turned the bike off the road towards the festivities.  A large celebration of any sort is one I don’t like to pass up – the best way to learn about people is surely when you have a lot of them really close together and there is food involved.  The large crowd was seated on a long row of outdoor picnic tables and at the end of each table was a large black pot (and by large I mean a child could fit in one) hanging from a triangle of three sticks above a large pile of coals.  As I peered into the first pot large bubbles boiled up out of a dark red broth with the occasional potato, carrot or piece of meat coming to the surface.  Goulash, I thought.  Nothing else but paprika would turn the broth so red (this is one of the tidbits of Hungarian cuisine I have picked up in the last couple days) and paprika is a necessary ingredient in goulash. The next pot contained the same.  How can I get some of this? was the next logical thought to follow.

What is under those bubbles?
What is under those bubbles?
We should bring this practice to the USA.
We should bring this practice to the USA.
Katy and Ada.
Katy and Ada.

(Here I am going to go on a bit of a tangent.  Whenever I travel I want to get as close to a “real” experience as possible.  I don’t like the idea of being a “tourist”.  When I lived in Jamaica I saw loads of tourists show up on cruise ships, get corralled through fake markets where Jamaicans said things like “no problem man” and “Jamaican me crazy” in fake accents to goofy looking white tourists who happily shelled out a bunch of cash for lame trinkets.  They promptly got back on the cruise ship and sailed off to the next facade of a destination happy that they had been to Jamaica.  False.  They never ate chicken foot soup on a dirt floor in the hills, they never heard proper Jamaican patois, they never sat in an overcrowded bus from Porty to “Town” listening to Elephant Man and they never saw the great spirit and friendship of the Jamaican people.  So, when I travel I do my best to try and get past all the layers to really find out what a country is like.  Going to Budapest is great, but anyone can go to Budapest.  Cycling from Budapest to Belgrade gets Katy and I a little bit closer to reality.  Stopping at a local outdoor party where families are cooking traditional food – one step closer (even better when it is apparent we are the only English speakers present).  But now I want to sit down at that table, eat that food and (somehow) talk to these people.  I don’t want to see Hungary, I want to be a part of it (at least for a moment.))

So, how to get invited to dinner?  It can be a difficult area to navigate.  It’s awkward to walk up to someone you don’t know and in a language they may not speak say, Hey there, I’m from the United States, can I have a bowl of that stew?”  This approach may in fact be best but I’ve never been bold enough to execute it.  My strategy is always the same: show enormous amounts of curiosity and linger just a little longer than what might be comfortable. I spent a good three or four minutes at the first pot and hoping to make eye contact with anyone sitting at the accompanying table. But no dice, so I moved on.  Katy was already down the aisle, but I persisted.  At the next pot I did the same.  Within seconds someone pointed to the large gentleman at the end of the table and said in decent English “he’s the chef.”  Mission accomplished.  Once you have an easy in it’s as if you are already sitting at the table.  It’s a sure bet that if I approach with curiosity and fascination about local culture and cuisine then people will respond favorably (I mean honestly, who doesn’t like talking about themselves?).  What are you cooking? I ask.  The answer was a word I had never heard, but it wasn’t goulash.  Ohh, so is that the same thing as goulash?  Within seconds Katy and I were sitting down at the table (the chef had given us his seat) and we were having a bowl of stew (I still can’t remember or pronounce the name) being taught about all the different types of stew with their different ingredients and cooking methods.  Then came the homemade pickles, the raisin wine, the sauerkraut filled spicy peppers and fried fish.  Within seconds we became part of the family.  It was all so delicious.  The Hungarians very quickly changed from being curious “who the new faces were” to cracking jokes and treating us like friends.  By the time we left an hour later it felt like we were saying goodbye to people we had known for a week.  They firmly shook our hands and wished us well as we unfortunately told them we must be getting on the road.

It wasn’t more than 10 kilometers down the road when we stopped next to a small restaurant/bar to check the map for directions.  Hey there, where are you from? a friendly looking 50 year old man asked.  Upon hearing our response he stated rather matter of factly (and as though we didn’t really have a choice) come with me, let’s have a drink.  After insisting we didn’t need a beer, we both sat down with a Coca-Cola Light.  After a short conversation it was again as if we were part of the family.  As Katy talked to Victoria and I chatted with Ernesto we thought, hmm, maybe this is just how Hungarians are.  Ernesto had a load of questions for us, including why we were doing this, how far we go each day, what we like about traveling etc.  (I also think he was somewhat proud to use his English that he had learned during one of his many fishing trips to Miami).  Then the food started.  First he offered us his dinner (which he hadn’t started yet).  It was goose liver and mashed potatoes, which he insisted we try.  Katy said no thanks, but I am a sucker for free food (especially food I’ve never tried before).  It was great.  Then I played some ping pong while Katy continued chatting with Victoria.  About half an hour later we were sitting down again debating whether we should get on the road to reach our hotel that was 30km down the road.  But then Ernesto insisted we could stay at his house.  It soon became dark and so we took him up on his offer.  However, as we chatted he decided he wanted us to experience “all of Hungary” (he kept using this phrase) and so he called the local restaurant and had some goulash, a type of fried fish and a traditional dessert (crepes with chocolate and some sort of nuts) delivered just for us.  This was after the multiple Coca-Cola Lights.  (I guess it is interesting to note that Ernesto has been in the gambling business for the past 26 years and it seems as though he makes a fair amount of money because ordering us multiple dinners and buying drinks for the rest of the table didn’t faze him).  Back at his house we got in the hot tub before finally retiring upstairs to bed.

My competition was a Hungarian gentleman who wore an Extreme Sport shirt and spoke no English.  It was an intense match.
My competition was a Hungarian gentleman who wore an Extreme Sport shirt and spoke no English. It was an intense match.
Ernesto and Victoria.
Ernesto and Victoria.
Gypsy in action.  Otherwise known as the Roma people, they have a very interesting history - worth looking into.
Gypsy in action. Otherwise known as the Roma people, they have a very interesting history – worth looking into.

And so, it’s been an interesting day.  One that I didn’t expect from the outset.  I guess we will have to add Hungarian Hospitality to our list of things we like about Europe.

Expenses Day 1: 1200HUF HotDog, 820HUF Bakery, 1000HUF Patch, 2100HUF Subway, 365HUF Fruit, 790HUF Drinks, 600HUF Cookies, 8200HUF Thermal Bath, 1230HUF Burger, 6950HUF Blue Rose DInner

Expenses Day 2: 1420HUF Fruit and Cookies, 2300HUF HotDog, 1130HUF Aldi, 600HUF Drinks, 38€ for non canceled hotel

Gyor > Budapest 140km

“So did he come into you ass up?”  That’s not the question I was expecting from Katy.  But it made sense.  We were riding between the towns of Zsámbék and Páty on our way to Budapest and the damnedest thing happened.  A giant bee or something had flown straight into my chest, apparently stinger in front, and had lodged right into my skin.  It hurt like the dickens and I immediately looked down to see what appeared to be a miniature dart still stuck in my skin (I was riding shirtless today, as I have been lately, trying to remove this awful cyclist tan from my arms) and so I ripped it out to show Katy the evidence of my wound.  It was just moments before that I heard Katy let out her own shriek of pain only to turn my head backwards to see her frantically trying to rip her shirt off to remove the offending agent.  She complained that she had been stung and so I stopped pedaling and allowed the bike to coast for awhile (its easier to keep balance on the rear of our tandem when you don’t have to pedal) while she fixed her problem.  I just thought to myself, whatever – how much could a bee sting really hurt?  But then the same thing had happened to me and it was the worst stinging pain I can recall.  I’m not sure what types of bees live on that short section of the highway but they aren’t too be messed with.

Along with these two near simultaneous attacks, Hungary has also been the land of other “firsts” that we hadn’t previously seen in Europe and weren’t exactly prepared for.  The first “first” I’ll mention is poverty.  On our way into Hungary we cycled on a bridge that went over a railroad track and the neighborhood along the railroad track had the all too familiar sights of what I became accustom to in Jamaica – dirt paths, rubbish looking fences, corrugated metal, people washing in the river.  It was a familiar scene but one we hadn’t seen in the last 8 weeks.  Later that night while getting ice cream in Győr a kid approached us and held out his hands asking for money.  It kind of caught us guard.  

Next, obesity.  We saw little to no fat folks in western Europe.  But then all of a sudden in Hungary they just started appearing.  Walking into the supermarket, driving the mail truck, sitting on the side of the road.  Large round fat people.  When we asked our WS host Andi why she thought obesity was prevalent in Hungary she cited poverty as the region.  “Yes, the poor people just eat a lot of bread and so they get bigger.  It used to be okay but now people are realizing that being so fat isn’t good so people are trying to eat better.”  

And the other big change that has reared its ugly head right in our way is potholes.  Now I’m not talking about the gigantic-man-eating-Ann-Arbor-sized potholes but the ones that are large enough that you’d rather not hit head on with a fully loaded tandem going downhill at 40mph.  Which makes avoiding them on a shady road tough cause it ain’t easy to swerve on this bike we’re riding.

On a different topic – yesterday was Katy’s birthday.  I tried to get her to take the train from Gyor to Budapest (pronounced Budapesht) so she could spend the day at the thermal hot springs enjoying a spa and massage instead of the 140km ride of the day, but she refused.  So it was a quick ride (we were on a time crunch to meet our WS host by 3:30) so we cranked out 140km in just under 6 hours.  It was a grind, especially when the hills showed up.

Dinner was a delicious 8 course meal at Csalogany 26.  I’ve never had 8 courses before (unless you count refilling your bowl with more cereal and milk a course) and it was rather tasty. And then an evening walk along the Danube.  It’s nice to be on the road.

Expenses: 530HUF Lunch, 220HUF Apple Pastry, 1300HUF Kebab

Hungary.  Lots of corn.
Hungary. Lots of corn.
The best part of the day is always the "middle of nowhere" part.
The best part of the day is always the “middle of nowhere” part.
On the road again.
On the road again.
Getting closer and closer to the source of this lifesaving cuisine.
Getting closer and closer to the source of this lifesaving cuisine.
Parliament builiding, Pest.  FYI - Budapest used to be 2 cities, Buda on the west of the Danube and Pest on the East until they were officially joined in 1873.
Parliament builiding, Pest. FYI – Budapest used to be 2 cities, Buda on the west of the Danube and Pest on the East until they were officially joined in 1873.
The Danube.
The Danube.

Bratislava, Slovakia > Gyor, Hungary 90km

I guess our suspicions were correct, I told Katy as she had another gigantic spoonful of Fisherman’s Stew with Catfish.  We were having dinner at Martoz, a small restaurant near the city center of Gyor, Hungary.  It was obvious that we were the only English speakers around and that the amount of English speaking in town was limited to Yes and No.  But that’s okay.  The complete lack of English assured us that the Hungary we were seeing was authentic.  Earlier in the day, as we followed the levee and saw fields and fields of agriculture, we talked about the comparisons between south west Slovakia and Eudora, Arkansas.  They look very similar (although I am sure there are other differences).  And so as Katy was enjoying her catfish soup it was confirmed, the Pannonian Basin has more in common with the Delta than I would have thought (they are the only restaurants I’ve been to where the first thing on the menu was Catfish).  And the meal was delicious.  It only cost 4,480 Hungarian Forints.  Which I think is around $20.  We paid with a 20,000 Forint bill, and so counting our change was a bit challenging.

It's been awhile since I took 100,000 out of the ATM.
It’s been awhile since I took 100,000 out of the ATM.

Our ride today crossed another border:  Slovakia > Hungary.

Entering Hungary, I think.
Entering Hungary, I think.

The ride started out okay, but then 572 East out of Bratislava was not ideal.  A new road with little grooves/bumps every 10 meters on the road meant a rhythmic bump, bump, bump, bump for the first 30 km or so of the ride.  But then up and over the Danube and into Hungary.  We had been warned that “I cannot recommend for you to cycle in Hungary”.  These were the words of our WS hosts in Maribor, Slovenia.  They told us that roads lacked decent shoulders, traffic moved fast and often roads were accompanied with signs with a picture that translates to: No Tractors, No Horse Drawn Buggeys, No Bicycles.  And it’s true.  The first road we were on (for the short 10km or so from the border to Gyor) was accompanied with this sign.  No bikes allowed.  But these WS hosts told us that they just rode on all these roads because most of the times there isn’t an alternative road.  One time they got pulled over by police and were told they couldn’t cycle here, but when they told the police they were headed to Istanbul (they did a trip similar to ours) the police thought they were so crazy they were allowed to just continue on our way.  And so, I guess we will have a similar go at it.

The Sign
The Sign

Gyor is an awesome town.  Another situation where you expect nothing and get everything.  A great town center, very clean, good food, delicious ice cream (they give Italy a run for it’s money) and a river running through town.  All necessary requirements of a great town.

Expenses: 4400HUF Dinner (fish stew), 800HUF Ice Cream, 5€ Patch, €10 Lunch, 7000HUF Camping, 1500HUF Spar Groceries

Hungarian Ice Cream might be better than Italian Gelato.
Hungarian Ice Cream might be better than Italian Gelato.
Gyor.
Gyor.
Gyor Town Hall.
Gyor Town Hall.
Gyor, River.
Gyor, River.

Prague > Vienna (bus) and Vienna > Bratislava 75km

It’s well after midnight.  I’ve a bit of headache.  I’m sitting in a suede orange couch in the corner of my Freddie next to Mercury hostel in Bratislava, Slovakia.  The light over the makeshift kitchen (I think in America we call these kitchenettes) is supposed to be dim enough to turn on late at night while others are sleeping, so as to not disturb them, but I’m not really worried about it cause the dude in the corner seems to be out cold.

Today was our first triple header – as in we were in three countries today.  Woke up early in Prague.  But not early enough.  I was having a dream (or a nightmare) that I had to be up in a moment for school.  I was very distraught at the thought of going back to school, large amounts of anxiety (something I don’t feel too often) swept over my body until I finally awoke.  It was 5am.  Rise and Shine.  Katy wanted to head out to see some of Prague without the throngs of tourists – and although I would have liked some more sleep, I jumped out of bed and moments later we were out the door.  A light drizzle persisted throughout the morning, but that didn’t matter – Prague (and anywhere else) is always nicer without the throngs of tourists, and the early morning combined with light rain gave us the city to ourself, at least for an hour or two.

Church of Our Lady before Týn
Church of Our Lady before Týn
Morning at the  Kamenný most (Charles Bridge)
Morning at the Kamenný most (Charles Bridge)
Town Square
Town Square
Bright and early, except not really bright.
Bright and early, except not really bright.

Afternoon bus ride back to Vienna (after a stop at a Mexican place, Cacao for ice cream and a bakery – of course).  We arrived in Vienna at 5:45, twenty minutes later than we were supposed to.  And we were in a bit of hurry.  Having taken the last three days off, we were determined to get on our bike and head west to Bratislava.  We figured as long as we had a 7pm departure we would arrive around 10:30.

We rolled out of 99 Huttledorfer Strasse and our worst hopes were realized.  The rain had returned.  Oh well, we thought – sometimes it rains.  A final ride through Vienna and across the Danube and we jumped on EuroVelo 6.  The rain slowly lifted and the ride was beautiful.  A double rainbow on the way out of town (but what does it mean???) and then the sun poked through just long enough for it to set and cast beautiful light over the Danube and the fields and levees on both sides.

Then darkness came.  At first it was fine.  Then it got really dark, and we were just off on the EuroVelo 6 bike path somewhere in huge fields and on the levee.  Then we missed a turn and ended up walking down a muddy dirt road along the Danube.  Beautiful, but not ideal when it is 11pm and you are itching for a warm shower and some sleep.  We finally rolled into Bratislava an hour or so later than planned – but that’s the way it goes sometime.

A really muddy adventure to get to Bratislava.
A really muddy adventure to get to Bratislava.

So here’s to Slovakia – country #10.  I only know two things about Slovakia – it’s the second half of Czechoslovakia and it’s the home of Peter Sagan – the green points winner of the Tour de France for a couple years running.  Tomorrow we will learn more.

Curiously a KFC Qurrito.  When asked where this term comes from we were informed it is a Mexcian word. Huh?
Curiously a KFC Qurrito. When asked where this term comes from we were informed it is a Mexcian word. Huh?
Graffiti against Communism
Graffiti against Communism
25 cent ice cream sandwiches.  Kind of like DQ but not really.
25 cent ice cream sandwiches. Kind of like DQ but not really.

photo 2 (2)

Bright and early, except not really bright.
Bright and early, except not really bright.
View from our Airbnb
View from our Airbnb apartment
Vienna - a bike friendly city
Vienna – a bike friendly city
Off to Slovakia.
Off to Slovakia.

Expenses:

8/26:  €3 Bakery, 200 cK KFC, 88 cK Lidl,  200cK Kebabs, 100 cK Albert 1+2,

8/27:  100 cK Bakery, 135cK Mexican food, 112cK Cacao, 20 cK yogurt,  €6 Kebab

 

 

Wiesmath > Vienna 87km, Vienna and Prague

Oh no, a couple of days behind.  Consistency in life is always the hardest part.

Quick summary, it’s Monday morning right now, 9am.  We are at an airbnb host in Prague.  On Friday we rode the 87km from Wiesmath to Vienna.  Saturday was a day in Vienna.  Sunday morning we took a bus from Vienna to Prague.  Next week cycling to Budapest (pretty standard really).

Leaving Wiesmath (pronounced Vizemat) was a hard thing to do.  It would be our departure out of the mountains and rolling hills and into the flat lands for the next couple weeks.

Lukas Rehberger, Wiesmath, Austria
Lukas Rehberger, Wiesmath, Austria

The flat roads are somewhat boring, if you ask me.  It’s why when I’m in Ann Arbor and am asked, “So do you think you will stay here and work long term?” the answer is always the same “when the Rockies come to Michigan I think I will be able to stay”.  No offense to Michigan, but the mountains speak to me.  After a delicious breakfast with Lukas (and him then offering us all of the previous two meals leftovers, we were on the road).  I told Lukas (and many of our hosts) that I hope they come to the States so we can repay the favor, I hope they take us up on it.

A quick descent out of the hills of Wiesmath and we were on the EV 9 cycle route headed north to Vienna.photo 2

The Danube
The Danube

Vienna.  Now this is a city.  After it was a military camp for the Roman Empire it was later the capital of the Babenberg dynasty (976-1246), the Austrian Habsburgs, the Austrian Empire, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and now the Republic of Austria.  It’s also interesting to note (and I really wish I took a European history class before leaving on this trip) that in the year 1913 Adolf Hitler (you know him), Sigmund Freud (psychoanalysis), Joseph Stalin (USSR) and Josip Tito (Yugoslavian dictator) all lived in Vienna and likely visited the same coffehouses (interesting conversations to eavesdrop on??)  And today: it is ranked the #1 (or #2 depending on what survey you use) most livable city in the world.  (If Eli or my dad were here this statistic would likely generate a lot of sarcasm.  For example walking around town and seeing things like benches, buses, garbage cans and other normal items would surely be followed with comments of “oh wow, this place is so livable.  I could live here.  And I’m not talking about just staying alive, I’m talking about really living.  I don’t know how we’ve managed back in Utah for so long?)

photo 2 (1)
Daniel Kremmel and Lanie
photo 1
Vienna at night.

And so it is with this backdrop that Katy and I hopped on the tandem after a nice dinner with Daniel and Lanie and had a ride through all of downtown Vienna.  It’s truly an awesome place.  So much to see.  As we rode up the driveway of a beautiful white building, sculptures everywhere, a copper statue with water fountain, cobblestone road (the things you start to expect as normal over here) Daniel said, this is basically our White House – except you are able to ride your bike up to the front door and if you are lucky you will catch the homeless bathing in the fountain 20 m from the front door.  It was a great evening.

Daniel Kremmel and Marlaine (spelled wrong most likely)

Saturday in Vienna.  Slept in.  Then went to Figlmüller for our traditional Austrian meal.  We try and make sure that in each country we have at least one very traditional meal.  So in Austria it was Wiener (again, W’s make a V sound) Schnitzel at Figlmüller.  And a BIG SHOUT OUT AND THANK YOU to Kory Jackson for this vicarious living offer.  Wiener Schnitzel is veal that has been smashed out into a frisbee like shape and then fried (it’s nice to see that golden color again, it’s been too long).  It was rather tasty, better than I would have thought.   We washed it down with a nice Almdudler (my new favorite Austrian beverage, a soda with Alpine herbs).  We also had some amazing potato salad.

Wiener Schnitzel
Wiener Schnitzel
Figlmuller
Figlmuller

photo 3

Then a walk around town.  First to the Naschmarkt.  It had a surprising blend of foods being sold – a good amount of local cuisine, but also French cheeses, Belgian chocolates, Gelato and Pizza (all of these things we are familiar with) but also lots of olives, hummus, falafel, gyros and spices, spices, spices (these things we really have yet to see).  And then across a small street from the food market was a flea market – hordes of people dug through huge piles of clothing that lay in the street, trinkets of every type were randomly strewn about in no logical manner, a small kid was shouting in his best English: shoes 50 cents, a large display of old or broken tools were carefully being examined by some 30 year old men.  The people present were almost entirely of Middle Eastern or African origin, very few Austrians or Europeans were present.  And so it appears that we have reached the “border” of Western and Eastern Europe.  Vienna is either the Far East of Western Europe or the Far West of Eastern Europe.

Flea Market
Flea Market

Which brings up the topic of gradual change:  When Katy and I set off on this bike trip we were reasonably comfortable with the idea of cycling through England and France etc.  But Serbia, Albania, Bosnia and Turkey?  For these countries we were a little less sure (I think our parents more so).  But, an interesting thing happens – although culture and cuisine sometimes changes quickly and dramatically (like crossing the street from the Naschmarkt to the Flea Market), at the same time the change we have seen has been slow and gradual (falafel was unheard of in France or Italy, sold in one place in Ljubljana and now somewhat commonplace in Vienna).  We were talking to Daniel (our WS host) about this the other night and he said “I’ve been to London a couple times, but I had just flown there.  And it’s so strange, I’m here in Vienna and then I get in a plane, the curtains go down so to speak and then, voila, I’m in London.  It’s so different but I have no idea how that change occurred.  How did Vienna turn into London?  And then when I did my bike tour from Vienna to London (still Daniel speaking) I got to see how that change occurred, I got to see every kilometer from my house to Big Ben.”  And it’s the same for us.  We don’t magically get thrown into Ljubljana or Vienna or Budapest or Sarajevo.  We see the slow and ever present changing of the countryside, the people, the food, the architecture, the culture and customs until when we arrive at a place it sometimes feels very normal.  Everyone we stay with always says, the best way to travel is by bike, and I think this is part of what they mean.

Then we took a bus to Prague.  Vacation from our vacation, so to speak.  Actually, Katy and I both agree that this doesn’t feel like a vacation.  It just kind of feels like life has changed.  As we sat on the bus whisping north to Prague (5 hour ride, I watched the Hobbit on the English language section of free movies in the headrest in front of you) we were happy to be going on vacation, but sad to see us pass up so many kilometers we wouldn’t be able to ride/experience.  As great as cities are (and they often feel like mini destinations) traveling slowly through the countryside reigns supreme.  I guess it’s where we feel like we experience the “true” Europe.  Away from the mobs of tourists, the touts selling every type of sightseeing – boat rides, segway tours (the absolute worst), hop-on hop-off bus rides and the list goes on – Katy and I say to each other: you want sightseeing?  how about you rent a bike and ride around for a couple weeks, there are some sights. (If you didn’t know, I’m pretty cynical of cookie-cutter travel/tourism.)

Prague
Prague

photo 5 (1)

We had dinner at Smíchovský radniční sklípek.  A rather authentic Czech restaurant (recommended by our Airbnb host) complete with boneless pork knee with dumplings and kraut for Katy and I had spicy chicken wings, roasted pork ribs and garlic toast.  Our appetizer was deep fried camembert with thick slices of bacon.  It was the most meat we’ve eaten in a long time.  And rather tasty.

Fried Cheese and Bacon
Fried Cheese and Bacon
photo 1
The Czechs like their meat.
photo 3
Lonely Planet describes Czech cuisine as “cardiologist not recommended”.

Then an evening walk along Charles Bridge.

Charles Bridge
Charles Bridge

Expenses:

Friday:  €4.20 Ice Cream

Saturday: €15.20 Subway, €6.55 Country Patch, €8.60 Market, €6.50 Ice Cream, €16.30 Food

Sunday: €70 Bus to Prague, 60CK Spar, 100CK, Burger, 90CK Veggies, 98CK Food, 535CK Dinner, €4 Country Patch, $93 Airbnb

 

Graz > Bad Tatzmannsdorf 92km and Bad Tatzmannsdorf > Wiesmath 42km

The last two days have been glorious eastern Austria rolling hills cycling. 

The road less travelled.
The road less travelled.

Beautiful views, decent climbs, good weather.  A great two days.  The hills are alive, with The Sound of Music (although, according to every Austrian we have asked, this is a movie they know American’s have all seen and associate with Austria, but none of them have ever seen it).

Two nights ago we stayed with Angela and Sevi, a young couple in Graz, Austria.

Sevi and Angela.
Sevi and Angela.

As Katy chatted to Angela about Sevi’s recent bike racing, and plans for RAAM (Race Across America) next year Angela said something that has really stuck with Katy, “I don’t want to go to America to watch Sevi race RAAM cause I don’t want to see him hallucinate.”  Which, for most average people, is a legitimate concern.  But for endurance cycling (at the top level) it is just part of the sport.  To explain: RAAM is the premier event of endurance cycling.  Some may think that this honor should be given to the Tour de France, but the two races are very different.  The Tour de France is a stage race, each day over the course of a month cyclists compete a different stage of about 100 miles, and when that stage is over cyclists are free to rest/eat/sleep until the next day’s stage.  The best cyclists in the world compete in the Tour de France.  Endurance cycling is different.  Here, cyclists race against the clock.  The way RAAM works is that a stopwatch is started in Oceanside, CA and the first cyclist to Annapolis, MD wins.  Sleeping, although beneficial for someone riding their bike across the country, just gets in the way of getting across the country first.  And so the winners of RAAM typically sleep 2-3 hours per night for the 8 days it takes to get across the country (and hence the hallucinations).  This also attracts the world’s premier cyclists, but a somewhat different breed.

Graz, Austria happens to be right smack dab in the epicenter of endurance cycling.  The most recent winner of RAAM, Christoph Strasser lives here (and happens to be a good friend of Sevi, our WS host).  Also, Jure Robic, a five time RAAM winner lives in nearby Slovenia.  Sevi just recently competed in the Race Across the Alps, a 1,000km race around Switzerland which he won (in 36 hours) and is now raising the necessary money to pay for his crew to fly to the States next year so he can race RAAM.  All this to say, I am extremely jealous and am wondering how I can fit these types of ambitions into my next 5+ years of school and residency.

Last night, was a bit different.  We checked into ThermenCamping, what appeared to be a rather run-down dilapidated campsite that has likely seen better days.  We had previously stopped at a B&B but no one was there, so it was back to the campsite.  The definitely overweight older gentleman with almost long white hair was friendlier than I would have guessed, and he spoke good English, so we struck up a conversation.  It wasn’t long before he was offering us his dinner (which we followed our rule – never turn down anything, spicy sausages with a roll and mustard) because, according to him – “I’m just getting bigger and bigger, as he pointed to his belly.”  I told him he would still be considered “little” if he came to America, wish he got quite the kick out of.

Rain threatened, so we took a small cabin for €38 instead of pitching our tent.  It was actually great and quite a nice place.  Cooked a nice little pasta dinner, hot shower (and a good shower curtain – a key item often overlooked in Europe), watched the last half of The Sound of Music (Katy insisted, and then promptly started snoring).  Then in the morning slept in, went for a walk, some yoga, a nap, lunch – it is incredible how wonderful the little conveniences/simplicities in life can be (especially after they’ve been absent for a while).

Dinner (that we made).
Dinner (that we made).

And now tonight’s host: Lukas.  Lukas lives in the small town of Wiesmath, perched atop the tallest hill in the area overlooking the most beautiful rolling hills we’ve seen.  It’s as if God spent a lot of time and energy creating the landscapes of Europe, but when he got to the Midwest, USA he just said, Oh forget it, flat and boring will just have to do.  Lukas is one of the most conversational 28 year olds I’ve ever met.  We had a long 3 hour chat over dinner/dessert about his hometown, Austria and then the conversation turned to the Mormon church, missionary work, the growing trend of people leaving their parent’s church, personal conviction, the restoration and his thoughts on Catholicism and Austria (and how they are so intertwined – he said that the Austrian government collects money from its citizens and then gives it to the church the individual is registered member of – mandated tithing essentially – and the most interesting thing about this is that this system was put in place by Hitler, and although all of Hitler’s other institutions have been removed, this one remains).

Blue sky, nice fields.

Blue sky, nice fields.

Hmm.
Hmm.
Austrian Hills.
Austrian Hills.

IMG_20140821_105650675

Good views today.
Good views today.

Tomorrow to Vienna, what appears to be the far east of Western Europe.  It will only be another day’s ride before we are in strange places like Bratislava, Slovakia.

Expenses: 

Day 1: €13.50 lunch, €2.20 ice cream, €3.67 pasta dinner, €38 wooden cottage

Day 2: €9.80 lunch

Kamnik > Limbus 120km and Limbus, Slovenia > Graz, Austria 75km

That’s a lovely accent you have there, New Jersey?

Austria.

Austria????

Well, then g’day mate!  Let’s put another, shrimp on the barbie.

Let’s not.

Country, #7.  Austria.  It seems that from here on out countries will be much shorter stops. With England, Scotland, France, Switzerland, Italy and Slovenia down – we are still looking forward to Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Belgrade, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania, Greece and Turkey.  It’s kind of like when you drive to Bear Lake and pass through Randolph and Woodruff – don’t blink or you might miss it.

So we’re here at the bakery having our first apfelstrudel.  It’s so interesting how you can travel a mere 10 or 20 km and culture and language and food change entirely, compared to back home where you have to travel hundreds of miles to see the slightest of variation.

Slovenia, it’s over.  It’s rather unfortunate.  Of all the countries we’ve been in thus far, it consistently packed the greatest punch.  Yesterday was a picture perfect ride.  The colors were amazing: a bright blue sky that stretched across the sky, a multitude of greens (corn, trees and fields all having their “own” green), the traditional orange clay colored roofs of homes sparkled across the rolling hilly countryside and homes that were mint green, lemon yellow and turquoise.  It truly seemed that any moment of our ride yesterday could have been put on a postcard.

The last thing to mention (last the best of all the game) about Slovenia is their food.  We have read a bit lately that a large movement towards “Slow Food” is present in Slovenia – a return to sustainable agriculture, locally sourced food, small farms and food prepared the way your grandmother would make it.  And no where was this more prevalent than with our WS Hosts Chantal and Luca last night.  They are a young couple, about our age, who met during one of their many travels in New Zealand.  Our dinner was a delicious traditional stew of potatoes, corn, onions and beef (the way to best understand Slovenian food is to assume you’ve been working in the field/farm all day and return to your home late in the evening and you’re looking for something warm and hearty to fill you up – and you’ve got some traditional grub).  Luca also enjoys experimenting with his own fruit and dairy concoctions (Chantal apologized that their kitchen looks a bit like a laboratory of many jars and bottles each fermenting and turning into a different treat – one of which was opened and sent fermented sour cherry compote flying across the room).  This morning we were led into Maribor to the market (they don’t use the American term “farmer’s market” because I guess it is assumed that if it’s food it must have come from a farmer) where we picked up some homemade cheese, sour cherry yogurt, sausage, a bag of slives (plums – which when handed to the lady at the stand, were placed on a scale and came to a total of €1.44, but the lady said, no, no, no, €1.20 this is okay, and so Katy gave her €1.20 and she gave us €0.20 back as change – that’s my type of shopping) and some pears and then at the bakery picked up the densest, heartiest half loaf of bread I’ve ever set my hands on (never before have I picked up a loaf of bread and my first thought was, this thing feels like a weapon, I wonder if you’re allowed to bring it on a plane?).

And then a ride north towards Graz, Austria to stay with another WS couple.  From reading this WS host’s blog, it seems as though a couple days ago he just won a 1,000km race around Swizterland (36 hours or so), so we will truly be in the home of a cyclist.  Just another Tuesday afternoon, life as usual.

Expenses Day 1: €9 Food

Expenses Day 2: €15 Food

Katy, Mojca and Aleš
Katy, Mojca and Aleš
Beautiful Slovenia
Beautiful Slovenia
Slives
Slives
Sausage
Sausage
Maribor
Maribor
Austria.
Austria.
Graz
Graz, Austria
Fuel for Katy.
Fuel for Katy.

Kamnik > Kamnik w/ a visit to Ljubljana

Ljubljana – the coolest capital city in Europe you’ve never been to.  And this isn’t just the “doctrine according to Clayton”.  Lonely Planet released their “Best of Europe 2014” and #2 on the list was Ljubljana, Slovenia.  To help with your slavic language pronunciation: the letter j makes the “ya” sound, so Ljubljana is loob-lee-on-uh.

Right now we are sitting in the kitchen with Ales and Mojca.  Dinner just finished and Ales is making some energy bars.  When Mojca got out a bag of nuts, she said, and what do you call these?  Those are walnuts, Katy said rather matter of factly.  Yes, she said, but in Slovenia we have Walnuts and we have American Walnuts.  Hmm, but in America we only have one type of Walnut, Katy responded.  Then after a look online (often the source of fixing these types of problems) we had our answer: American walnuts are what we know as Pecans.

Today no cycling.  R and R.  Hanging out in Ljubljana.  Such an awesome city.  Free public WiFi throughout the city, a downtown area closed off to traffic (this seems to be the standard here in Europe and one of the great downfalls of American cities), lots of musicians performing in the streets (Ann Arbor only has the werewolf dude), a castle high on the hill, a nice river running through town.  When Katy and I left on this trip we had one goal (among many others) to find a city to come back and live in for a couple years, and to be completely honest, Ljubljana jumped to the top of our list today.  Close to the mountains, close to the Adriatic Sea.  The best thing about new places is when you expect nothing and get so much in return.

Eating.  It happens.  A lot.  But today gave me a little insight into our “habits”.  Cycling for an average of 4-5 hours a day, 6 days a week, gives us an additional 12,000 calories or so to consume each week.  This should be broken up over 7 days, leading to a steady (but rather large) diet.  But this is often not the case.  After a long day of cycling, and especially when it is very hot out, my appetite lags behind my need for calories.  Sometimes lunch is just a giant watermelon (not the necessary 1500 calories a lunch should be, right?).  But then rest days happen.  And the appetite surges.  Breakfast was normal, but large.  Then lunch was delicious Falafel (I ordered the extra large one with all the toppings – made me think of Haifa Falafel in AA – how I miss you).  And then we had an ice cream cone.  It was good.  But then we stumbled upon Cacao, an ice cream specialty shop.  We decided we’d have another cone.  It was awesome.  Then another.  And then we said, why not? let’s have another.  (I think this is the internal dialogue you were hinting at Marcy, am I right?).    And so by the time lunch ended we were $25 deep into ice cream.  I would say I know my way around an ice cream cone, I have been to the factories in Tillamook, Oregon and the Ben and Jerry’s Factory in Vermont, I even have been known to enjoy a nice carton of Woo Pig Chewie from time to time (who knows where that one is from?)

Last but not least.  Went to Catholic Mass with Mojca and Ales this morning (we are staying at their place for 2 nights, and they let us sleep in their master bed while they take the other room, which I always feel so bad about but never turn down).  Major takeaways: they hold much more reverence for their chapel than us Mormons.  As soon as we entered a quiet reverence was present.  Children were held quietly in parents arms and not allowed to prance up and down the aisles.  Granted we were told many families go to the other Catholic church in town.  When the meeting ended the room remained perfectly quiet (similar to when a session of Bikram ends) and as people left a slight bow, hands to the cross and then they silently left the building (outside is where kids were running wild and catching up among church members occurred).  It made me think about the somewhat routine manner in which we all too often fall into when we attend church and take the sacrament (for example: the phrase “we’d like to thank the Priesthood for the reverent way in which they passed the sacrament and now excuse them to sit with their families – uggh, can’t stand hearing this every week).  The only other really cool thing was that I am pretty sure the Priest was the same guy from Princess Bridge (Mawage, mawage is what bwings us together today).

Side Note:  yesterday Katy and I passed through the town of Jesenice.  The significance?  This is the hometown of Jure Robic, the 5 time winner of The Race Across America.  The Race Across America is just that, a race across America, recently the route has been from Oceanside, CA to Annapolis, MD.  Anyways, during his 2004 victory, Jure completed the ride in 8 days 9 hours 51 min and only slept a total of 8 hours during the entire race (this of course led to hallucinations and the feeling that mailboxes were turning into dogs and chasing him).  And since RAAM is on my “list of lifetime things I should do” it’s just a little thing I thought I would add.

Expenses: €12.40 Bus, €3.64 Roasted Almonds, €9 Falafel, €14.70 Ice Cream, €4.50 Hamburger, €3.30 Bakery Items

Catholic Mass
Catholic Mass
Ljubljanica River
Ljubljanica River
Ljubljana
Ljubljana
Ice Cream, cone number 5.
Ice Cream, cone number 5.
LJubljana
LJubljana
Kamnik
Kamnik
The sculptor who made this must have been having a rough day when this piece got finished.
The sculptor who made this must have been having a rough day when this piece got finished.

Bled > Kamnik 55km

Our theme song, I guess I never shared it before.  To be discussed later.

I woke up this morning in a 6 bunk bed, 12 person, room of a hostel along the lakefront drive of Lake Bled.  (I would assume the word bled has a different meaning in Slovene, because this lake happens to be the tourist destination for all of Slovenia).  I slept surprisingly well considering the 11 other folks in the room, I’m guessing this has something to do with the difficulty of yesterday’s ride.

Sleep.  It’s an interesting thing, sleep is.  By the time I die at age 90 or so, about 30 years of my life will have been spent lying on a bed with my eyes closed.  For me, that’s the equivalent of waking up from a long nap (one that started shortly after birth) sometime next year, having a nice stretch, saying “alright, that was a nice, let’s get this show on the road”.  For something that consumes 1/3rd of our life, it is very poorly understood.  After 50 years of intensive research on sleep, a famous sleep scientist, William Dement, founder of the Stanford University Sleep Research Center was quoted as saying, “As far as I know, the only reason we need to sleep that is really, really solid is because we get sleepy.”  Throughout my life I have had changing opinions on sleep: as a child I hated it, in high school it almost became my only hobby and as a missionary I couldn’t get enough of it.  But lately (prior to leaving on this trip) sleep has just seemed to get in the way.  I’ve often thought if I didn’t need to sleep I could get so much done in my life.  (I mean think about it, 1/3rd of your entire life is basically a waste.  Pretty flawed creation/evolution design if you ask me.)  But in the last 6 weeks sleep has taken on an entirely different role – likely the role it was designed for: rejuvenation.  Never before have I laid down at night absolutely exhausted, I mean spent, tired, achy, muscles don’t want to move, can’t keep my eyes open fatigue – only to wake up feeling like an entirely different person – awake, alert, refreshed, ready to get back in the saddle.  It’s been truly amazing.  I’m not sure what is going on, but I like it.

About our day: a morning walk around Lake Bled, a bus ride to Bohinj, an hour in a rowboat on the lake, lunch at Strud’l (great lunch by the way, Slovenian food is HEART-y), hitchiking back to Bled (which means our modes of transportation now include an airplane, cycling, a ferry, rental car, train, bus, and hitchhiking).

Lake Bled
Lake Bled
Lake Bled
Lake Bled
From the artwork on the church walls, this church must be dedicated to???
From the artwork on the church walls, this church must be dedicated to???
Lake Bohinj
Rowing on Lake Bohinj
Yum.
Yum.
Zgornji Brnik
Zgornji Brnik

Then off to Kamnik to stay with Ales (pronounced alesh) and Mojca (pronounced moitza).  They stopped us on the road yesterday (while Katy was using it – but don’t worry, she’s feeling better) and invited us to stay at their home (and so we obeyed our only traveling rule: never turn down an offer, of anything).    When we reached their home we were greeted warmly (with handshakes instead of the previously customary cheek kissing) and brought inside.  We placed our bike against the hallway wall and were given slippers to wear.  I like this, I thought.  Then, Mojca took her husband Ales by the hand (Ales is blind, for what reason I am not sure) and then after asking permission, took Ales’ hands to the bike so he could “see” what type of bike we were riding.  And that really took me by surprise.  With a quick glance, everyone we have passed can learn so much about our bike: what type of seats we have, the thickness of the tires, the type of handlebars, the way our frame bag attaches to our frame, how our panniers are situated, what types of pedals we are using and the list goes on.  But when Ales is told by his wife “they are on a tandem bike” – the window is still wide open for what “type” of bike.  And so for the next five minutes or so he slowly felt every part of our bike – the handlebars, seat, couplers, pedals (feeling very slowly – likely to discover which brand they were and if they had clips on both sides), wheels, spokes, tires – the entire thing.  Wow, how incredible is sight.  And what a different world to live without it.  However, this has not deterred Ales at all.  They own a tandem bike (he rides in back) and he likes riding more than she does.  I started thinking to myself, hmm, I wonder what he likes about cycling – cause I like cycling cause it is a way to go slowly and see so much.  But, take away the “seeing” and what do I like about cycling.  At first I thought that cycling without sight might lose it’s joy, but as I thought about it more, I realized this is not so.  The feeling of freedom, wind in your face, the difficulty of climbing a pass, the feeling of accomplishment when the road turns downhill, the benefit of good health from exercise – all these things don’t require our eyes.

Ales and Mojca are great.  Dinner was a vegetarian lasagna, fried chicken and a tomato/cucumber salad.  So good.  The best part, obviously, was our first chance to sit down with some people who are Slovenian and ask them so many questions I have about this new country (and how to pronounce these words – so far I am 0 for about 30).  And then we were asked, “is there maybe a little more room for you to eat some more?” Always, I replied.  And so dessert was štruklji, topped with sugary bread crumbs and powdered sugar, a typical slovenian dessert, a dough filled with cottage cheese and then the strange part – wrapped in a wet rag and placed in the oven to cook.  Very different, very hearty, but also very good.  

Lasagna, chicken, tomatoes, cucumbers. Solid.
Lasagna, chicken, tomatoes, cucumbers. Solid.

 

Štruklji
Štruklji

 

Tomorrow’s lineup: church with Ales and Mojca  (can’t wait for Slovenian Mass) and then exploring Ljbuljana (first j is silent, second j makes an ee sound – actually the first rule I made up for this language is that a “j” is a vowel).

Earlier today I was FaceTime-ing my family and told them our very bad news – only 8 months left of vacation.  I don’t think I’ll ever readjust to normal life.

(Katy is currently in the hallway having a conversation with Mojca about the law of chastity, what the prophet teaches, what Mojca heard from her Pope growing up and how Mojca feels about the importance of church and the bible.  So many interesting facets of travel. Oh and Katy ironed my church clothes. I may look presentable after all tomorrow.)

Expenses: €5 Healthy Breakfast, €7.20 Bus, €6.20 Strudel and Yogurt, €11.60 Lunch, €1.80 Peaches

Bovec > Vršič Pass > Bled 85km

First off, let’s have a round of applause for our first “Vicarious Liver“.  Kory Jackson will be joining Katy and I (vicariously) for a delicious dinner of Weiner Schnitzel at Figlmueller in Vienna next week.  Figlmueller boasts to be “Home of the Schnitzel for more than 100 Years”.

Breakfast for Champions - it's gonna be a day in the mountains.
Breakfast for Champions – it’s gonna be a day in the mountains.
Morning walk, Bovec, Slovenia.
Morning walk, Bovec, Slovenia.

Today’s ride might be the most enjoyable of the trip (Katy is still recovering from that brutal climb).  It was a ride like none other I have ever been on.  The day started in Bovec and followed the Soca River into Triglavski National Park, would cross over the Vrsic Pass to Kranjska Gora and then descend another canyon to Bled.  The website climbbybike.com (our source for “is this climb possible on our loaded tandem?” said that our climb would be just under 12km long with an average gradient of 8.4% (Little Cottonwood is 7.5%).  The difficulty (I think) of a climb comes down to two things: the grade of the road (how steep it is) and the gearing on your bike (with a very small ring in front and large gear in back you can just spin at a high cadence and go really slow – essentially making the climb rather easy – but it will take forever).  Our bike’s gearing is great for rolling hills but not ideal for steep climbs, especially not when fully loaded.  And an average gradient of 8.4% means that if we ever get some relative rest of 4% grades then somewhere we make up for that with 10 or 12% grades.

As we rode northeast along the Soca River we quickly realized that the mountains ahead didn’t seem able to allow the passing of a road.

The Soča River - as green as spearmint toothpaste.
The Soča River – as green as spearmint toothpaste.

A tall mountain range stood directly in front of the canyon floor, apparently blocking any possible way to get through.  “I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t look like there is anyway through that mountain,” Katy wondered aloud.

Julian Alps.  Not sure where the road will cross though.
Julian Alps. Not sure where the road will cross though.

Then the road took a quick left turn up a side canyon and our climb officially started. We took a deep breath and the thoughts of “okay Katy, we can do this” was palpable.  We climbed for a kilometer or so, but then the unexpected happened.  We started going downhill.  And then around another corner – still downhill.  And another corner – still downhill.  Oh hell, Katy and I complained near simultaneously.  We had learned from our days in England that going down always is followed by going up.  And it also means that if our “average gradient” is 8.4% then once this climb gets started we would really be in for it.  The road kicked up sharply and then we saw what only meant bad news: a road sign saying the next 9km were 14%.

The sign is misleading - it's actually 14% uphill (17% down the other side).
The sign is misleading – it’s actually 14% uphill.

Ouch.  My legs started burning just at the thought.  Now I’m not sure if the rest of the climb was really that steep, but I can tell you that the 2 hours that followed was the hardest climb we’ve ever done.  The climb never relented.  The highway was built during WWI by Russian POWs.  (This area was also the site of a number of significant battles called the Battle of Isonzo – where an estimated 1.2 million casualties occured).  Anyways, the Russians must have enjoyed symmetry because they put 25 switchbacks on one side and 25 on the other.  And so climb we did.  The road was so steep that even in our easiest gear our legs were barely turning around the pedals.  Our cadence dropped to the painful level and switchback after switchback we climbed.  Right turns on switchbacks were the worst (the road is super steep in that little turn) and switchbacks to the left were great (slight rest allowed).

These are the types of days I live for.
These are the types of days I live for.

And then we could see the Pass, and then the road got ridiculous.  So steep, barely moving, we chugged and chugged and chugged.  Then got out of the saddle (still in our granny gear).  Legs on fire, lungs just going at it, can hear your heart beating in your head – these are the things that I like.  And then we reached the top – to the cheers of everyone at the top.  I collapsed onto the handlebars.

Vršič Pass, 1611 meters, not that high, but it's the grade of the road that matters.
Vršič Pass, 1611 meters, not that high, but it’s the grade of the road that matters.
The last kilometer was a beast, but we made it.
The last kilometer was a beast, but we made it.

The descent was possibly better than the climb.  Another 25 switchbacks down, shouldn’t be too bad, right?  After a quick Snickers Bar and a tightening of the brakes we got rolling (the clouds were coming in and since we could see our breath, we figured staying dry would be a good idea).

Descent into the clouds.
Descent into the clouds.

Within moments we entered the clouds and flew down the mountain.  As we approached the first switchback I noticed a change of road – the nice smooth pavement changed to the unfortunate invention of cobblestone.  What? I thought.  Why do we have cobblestone up here on this mountain?  And then the next switchback, again cobblestone.  And then the next, and the next.  For some reason the Russians must have thought it a nice idea, cause every switchback was cobblestoned.  I guess Katy enjoyed that because it kept our speed reasonable.

25 switchbacks up and another 25 down the other side.  All cobblestone - an interesting choice.
25 switchbacks up and another 25 down the other side. All switchbacks were cobblestone – an interesting choice.
Cairn Corner - someone should start this tradition in the Cottonwoods.
Cairn Corner (named by me) – someone should start this tradition in the Cottonwoods.

Quick lunch at the Mercator.  I’ve never seen so many people stare at our bike.  Some even started taking pictures.  Well, I guess the Slovenians are a curious people, Katy and I mused as we jumped back on our bike.  It wasn’t 5 km until Katy told me that her stomach was “upset”.  And then she started yelling, stop, stop stop.  I need to use it.  Jump onto the shoulder and Katy darts off into the bushes (I guess this answers the question of Peter Carroll’s – where do we go?)  As I waited a car approached, slowed down significantly (I thought we were in trouble) but then I noticed a car full of smiles and pointing at the bike.  The car passed, but then stopped.  Hmm.  They flipped around and then pulled up next to us.  Two Slovenians jumped out, the woman in front leading her husband by the hand.  Nice bike!  Well at least they speak English, I thought.  My husband and I, we also ride a tandem bike.  But yours is so nice.  We ride a tandem because my husband doesn’t see well and so this way we can ride together.  The conversation continued, our nationality and route given, and then we got the invitation I’ve been waiting for: well if you need a place to stay tomorrow you can come to our place?  Of course, we will be there.  And this is the first time someone driving down the road has stopped, told us how much they like our bike and then suggest we come and stay at their home.  Although the English, Scottish, French, Swiss and Italians were more than wonderful, they never pulled a great move like this one.  Love Slovenija.

PS: Katy was munching on these nasty things today.  Don’t let that nice wrapper fool you (they were of inferior quality).  I guess everyone can relate to the strange phenomenon of “when you’re starving and exhausted anything can taste great”.

Cause when you're hungry anything will do.
Cause when you’re hungry anything will do.

Expenses: €4.80 Patch, €6.50 Food, €2.30 Burek, €4 Food, €34 Hostel, €2.50 Cake