Sunday, 28 March 2010
Wednesday, 30 July 2008
We live in a world of polymorphic international corporations that own the companies producing the goods filling our stores and supermarket shelves along with the ones responsible for pulling the strings on the puppets we see on our TV screens. And you have the innocence to believe they are not using their mass-media strength, the mightiest lever this side of tyranny, in determining people’s actions and choices, into making us frantically buy whatever products they churn out? If yes, think again.
I am not talking here about all kinds of overt or more subtle advertising like the already well known (but not less effective) product placement technique that makes any pimpled, teenage Tom Cruise wannabe go buy a Triumph SpeedTriple, even if he doesn't know how to ride a push bike, after seeing Mission Impossible, or a middle-aged accountant dreaming about stories of courage, intrigue and seduction, "empower" his wrist with the latest Omega watch or even indebt himself to the bone only to be able to feel like Bond... James Bond, behind the wheel of a DB something Aston Martin. No, I am talking about the much more perverse technique of scaring us away from each other and into buying (more and more) "things". The more they show us in their news(!) programs an unfriendly and perilous world “out there”, populated with natural or human generated disasters, with murderers and rapists, with gruesome accidents and the like, the more they turn us into a bunch of scared dummies, locked alone behind our doors, desperately munching on their pre-cooked, frozen food and guzzling on their carbonated chemical beverages, replacing any true and fulfilling experience and/or human contact with staring at their mass produced “safe” entertaining programs that do nothing else in reality but enslave us even more.
Divide et impera. Divide and conquer it is what they accomplished when they scared us into pathological levels of distrust towards our peers that we now come to perceive more as potential aggressors than potential allies, and into the consequently solitude, by feeding us their catastrophic “news” happening in our own neighborhood or on the other side of the planet alike. When the whole world seems nothing but a continuous menace, what can one desire more than the sweet comfort he/she might draw from the security of a new three-door-wattercooling-icecubepopping-digitaldisplay new refrigerator, wall size flat LCD-TV set, cold and “refreshing” Coca-Cola and pre-cooked Maggi dish or even worse, the ubiquitous “healthy” burger, pizza or spicy chicken wings?
I urge anyone to take a moment and ask themselves how much of what they see on TV news programs really and truly make them if not a better person then at least a more prepared one to face everyday life. Specialized professionals as airplane pilots or stock exchange brokers rely on specialized services for weather prediction or market analysis, they don’t get their vital information from TV! Emergency services, law enforcement agencies and finally coroners have direct means of dealing with accidents, catastrophes or crimes and never wait for the news programs to point out such unfortunate occurrences. So who really and positively needs the tide of catastrophic shit flowing out of the TV screens from the so called news channels directly into our subconsciousness? Well, the ones who want (and need) us scared and alone, protecting ourselves from a supposedly frightening world with whatever stuff they have to sell us, they need it!
Congregating people are less an easy to manipulate bunch, they don’t replace human contact with merchandise, they debate opinions, question what they are presented with as being the “truth” and ultimately forge up a live conscience hence a strength which is not to the liking of the mass merchants, the slaves of the spread-sheet reports and the mongers of the profit margin pie-chart.
We need to repel the attack of push media, we need to go back to reading (be it the printed word or the internet) and make our own choices about what we want to know. We shouldn’t accept brain-washed or cynical editors push their more than questionable choice of events in our ears, eyes and ultimately brains and souls because there is no single true benefit for us in this. We should be more open to other people even when not personally knowing them, gather and talk more, challenge the status-quo of how mass media presents the world, and maybe we’ll come to a point when we’ll need less “stuff” to shelteringly come between us and a world we might stop seeing as a constant threat. And maybe foremost we need to take the time to travel more as there is no better way of severing the ties that keep us pinned to our prejudices, our mental inertia and ultimately to our artificially induced feeling of insecurity. Abandon the "club-med"s, the sanitized impersonal resorts and make the true experience of the world as it is lived by the natives of the places we visit, and we’ll exhilaratingly discover that there are many more yet undiscovered friends out there waiting for us, than we have ever imagined.
Monday, 28 July 2008
If anyone should know what a city with problems is all about, than one living in Bucharest, Romania is maybe the best qualified for the position. A city of about 3,5 millions suffocated by the litter most people carelessly scatter around and that administration is unable out of incompetence and corruption to pick up, covered by a dome of foul air generated by the relentless puff of archaic busses, trucks and the remaining industry at the outskirts, not to mention the literally tens of tons of dirt floating in the air, make it a true “connoisseur’s choice” in survival challenges. If I would also mention the rotten roads and hysterically violent road manners of people using them, maybe the picture of the traumatic experience that this city can provide it’s unfortunate inhabitant, would get closer to reality.
With this kind of haunting background not far behind me I instantly developed a kind of concerned solidarity when the lovely woman from Helsinki I met a day before and that was now sitting in front of me casually sipping her coffee, told me the town she was living in was facing some “serious problems”.
As myself had over the past days the experience of a rather relaxed, clean and civilized city, my mind rushed towards dramatic hypothesis of bloody night time gang wars painstakingly covered by police and mass media alike in an effort not to scare away the money spending tourists or unaprehended serial murderers or rapists, or even the ravages of massive suicidal waves brought on by nordic weather induced depression. With the egoistic consolation that even rich cities in civilized Scandinavia are not exempt from trouble I urged my companion to tell me everything about in minute detail. And she did...
To my unadulterated bewilderment she went on to tell me that rabbits, yes, you read well, rabbits are becoming one of Helsinki’s major problems. The little brown fluffy and always scared creatures seem to roam freely in the city causing unrest and sometimes panic among the population that sees in horror their bushes and flowers nibbled with insatiable appetite by these little monsters in disguise. Hearing this I did not know what to do: laugh hysterically or feel insulted. And then the primitive streak inside me expressed itself bluntly: ”why don’t you catch them and eat them?" I asked with a savage innocence. It was time of my companion to come up with a long and confused face that told everything about what she thought and felt about such a savage and brutal idea. It seemed to say: “What do you think we are, animals?”.
And things did not end here. As if to try out my ability to come up with primitive stupid solutions to what was perceived as a grave problem for the city, she went on to tell me that the rabbit menace was not the only one, that another vicious attack threatened almost the fabric of their calm, orderly and polite society: seagulls!!! The cheeky and always hungry birds developed, due to the absence of any kind of coercition or repression, such an inconsiderate attitude towards the principle of private property that they dived skillfully and fearlessly to grab whatever the victim of their choice was eating, be it a humble hot dog on the street or a juicy noble steak on the terrace of a fancy restaurant. What a pest!
So that was it: rabbits and seagulls, the two grave problems the city of Helsinki had to face. For the moment I just felt mildly amused but then I tried to explain this naïve shift in perception on something that hardly can be called a “problem” by any standards. Was it that by nature we humans can’t just enjoy our good luck and need to invent problems just to give ourselves a sense of struggle that will give us purpose and direction?. Is our recently acquired, at the scale of human history, level of comfort in contradiction with our deep rooted atavisms? It very well might be so. As a species we had to fight for our physical survival for so may tens of thousands of years than not even a full hundred years since we seem to get it more easy in this respect (at least a fortunate minority of us..) just can’t wipe clean a long memory of struggle.
I dare coming up with a suggestion to the issue: let people in rich countries get their fill of anxiety driven efforts not out of some ridiculously made up situations but by the ongoing drama that is still very present in so many parts of the world. It might very well give every one of us a new sense of measure in evaluating our own personal universe.
I know it is harder to feel more connected to the drama of people some thousands kilometers away than to the petty inconvenience taking place on your front lawn but the effort is well worth doing. The technological society is giving us the means to be in real time contact with even the remotest parts of the globe. Wouldn’t it be healthier for us as a race instead of wasting our time in think-tanks of what to do with rabbits chewing on our back gardens to make a sincere and real contact with realities in other parts of the world and learn about people over there and THEIR problems. This could be the first step to a wider frame of conscience that most of us refuse to develop by cowardly sheltering ourselves from experiencing of how an important part of the planet’s population lives. Even when we travel far form our insulated bubbles of comfort we do so in closed circuit resorts that look and feel aseptically the same all over the world, only to be left undisturbed in our indifference. If we go on like this let it be of no wonder that we’ll feel increasingly alone and unhappy in our soft cocoons. Only solidarity and the action into making a positive difference in the dire state of the world today can fill the emptiness people in western societies are confronted with, brought by the absence of a true sense of fulfillment and ultimate purpose.
Sunday, 22 June 2008
Exposed to this kind of incredible beauty, like most of us do, I find refuge in the stupid or ridiculous to vulgar things, first because of a deep buried fear I could not cope with the emotions that such an encounter can generate and maybe in my particular case by the haunting thought that I will not be able to convey, to put in proper words the emotions I might come up with. Would this be the hubris of someone who feels words are one of his choice instruments or just the tragic intuition about us as species being too small and insignificant to a larger “scheme of things” that expresses itself also through forms like this? And I don’t mean by that the manifestation of any kind of deity. People who know me are accustomed to the kind of irreverent disrespect even the concept of God gets form me. We are a (growing) bunch of little hairless apes with the unique, among other living creatures on this planet, capacity to conceptualize, nullified none the less by our tragic incapacity to surpass our primary animal instincts as fear, rage, aggressiveness, need of hierarchy (most of the time enforced by primitive behavior), etc. witch leaves us trapped in the condition of our more hairy cousins who also can count but don’t know that this can lead to fractals or advanced mathematics, not any more than we know our capacities can lead to significant and fulfilled lives if we could just see beyond our selfish selves.
How can one return to a life where the struggle for an even larger flat screen TV, futile fashion accessory or better car is the driving mechanism, after being confronted with THIS?
But enough with the ranting. One of the conclusions out of the improper way I managed to maintain updated this blog is that it’s probably not going to be a travel journal after all. I will probably have not the time nor the verve to come back to write about Prague let’s say, as I promised in my previous post, if since then I had been through the experiences of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Sweden and Norway, as it is the case now. I might very well write about experiences I had in any one of the previous places, but any sense of chronology will be probably lost. I will try though to maintain some kind of temporal continuity through the maps of the itinerary. In this respect I have decided to create a separate section for them so they could be followed in a more flowing sequence. To come soon.
Friday, 6 June 2008
Is there yet a first important idea, lesson or conclusion that these first 3 weeks offered me? Yes, I have learned that nature in itself is beautiful and impressive absolutely everywhere, majestic mountains, rolling hills or ever-stretching plains. Beside this, what people inhabiting it have been and continue doing in and with it carries exceptional influence on how one relates to and remembers a place or another. In other words the nature of this world is wonderful but it is in conjunction with the particular cultures of every region that it gives us the entire magnificent gift of living in it and having the unique chance to discover it.
The Hungarian, Czech or Polish flatlands that I have crossed might not be as impressive as the breathtaking Alps but their rich and almost endless green, undulating hills and sense of tranquility stir no less a lasting emotion in the traveler. The major differences in perceiving and relating to a place are determined by the contacts with it’s inhabitants and the way they exist in their own environment. The aspect of villages, the cultural heritage of the cities (large or small), the attitude and expression on people’s faces make the difference in the way we ultimately perceive places. Here we can also discern a very fine balanced mix between the cultural heritage of a place, usually to be discovered in stone and metal, i.e. in it’s monuments and buildings, and it’s living spirit that comes out by the more or less silent concert of it’s people. The way they dress, walk, look around and at others around them, greet strangers or their neighbors, deal with side effects of every community (poverty, trash, the public/private space dialog), what they dress, eat and what (and how much) they drink, are just some things building up to one’s personal experience of a place.
On these grounds and despite the mythology about people of the two countries not being to friendly to each other (well, at least in Romania it is believed that Hungarians are not friendly to us...) I was most impressed in such a good way by Hungary among the former East European countries I have been through by now (Czech Rep. and Poland). The Czechs might be more “joyful” and the Poles more ... well, I don’t precisely know how they are yet as I have some conflicting impressions, but the Hungarians are the more “stylish”, more elitist and somehow more fancy of them. I also don’t by what determination, collective effort or general behavior they manage too keep a country more clean than you might ever expect in Eastern Europe. I haven’t seen for tens if not hundreds of miles a plastic bottle or any other kind of trash on the side of a city or country road. It really doesn’t feel like the East as in Czechia or Poland, where although both very nice and burdened with history, the “clean” aspect does not seem to be of prime importance or of much interest to their people. Not that they are filthy in any way, but the places just don’t have the "shine" they have in Hungary. What to mention about my home country in this respect? Any comparison with any of them would put us to very much shame...
But after the rather long time since I last posted and the countries I have been through already I am tempted to write too much so I’ll stop here, as abrupt as it is, and come back later with more crystallized thoughts and impressions, but not before making a short note of praise to my beemer: Almost 9.000km on the clock and not even a single glitch! I love this bike.
Thursday, 29 May 2008
Sunday, 25 May 2008
So going back to sleeping bag manufacturers, I wish I could be told what the fuck they really mean by that temp. graph indicating the degree of thermal insulation, that any normal person would read like this: high temperature figure (in the case of my bag, +9 C) next to color RED – would normally mean being steaming hot inside if confronted with outside temperatures above that figure, I mean like pig sweating; the graph continued by lower numbers and colors changing towards the cold side of the spectrum to reach blue (on my bag, -9 C) when one can assume that although well tucked into your sausage like outdoor sleeping gear, you’ll get frostbite. Reasonable reading, isn’t it?
Well, all that decent interpretation of what otherwise seems like a rather intuitive way of presenting CRITICAL information about a product (not to mention that the vendor confirmed this when I bought the damned thing) was blown to hell by last night’s +14 C temperature that saw me, completely cocooned in the treacherous sac, uncomfortably cold to this very moment. That is, not even after tucking my head in as well, risking asphyxia for the sake of a bit of comfort thinking that breath warmth will improve my “thermal comfort”, I did not reach that elusive sensation of wellbeing. I presume that by confessing that instead of going out, enjoying the place, having a nice HOT cup of tea, or anything else a happy camper would do, I am still shut in my tent writing about all this, will give you an idea about how unpleasant the whole overnight experience was.
But let me not be unfair for picking only on equipment when reporting on this, I wish singular, camping experience. Yes, I was cold and uncomfortable on my high-tech slim air-mattress, all wrapped in my mico-fiber sleeping bag, but the “delights” of camping did not end here. Some ignoble jerks kept kicking a ball next to my tent until about 11pm, small and very upset children cried their way to sleep deep into the night, low grunt diesel vehicles (I presume more camping gear, this time on wheels) kept coming and going all night and to top it all, in the very early morning, when I was praying for a bit of sleep, THE BIRDS! All the singing birds of the world came to life in an unbearable chorus of chirps and whirls and twirps...
Lovely creatures, after a good night’s sleep I so much would have enjoyed their singing instead of savagely whishing them all stuffed!
Tuesday, 20 May 2008
Get a load of this wide space. Not long after I entered the country I understood why one of Hungary’s flag colors is green. I should have filmed the scene for the sensuous waves answering to the whispers of the afternoon wind where just a continuous flow...
... with a hypnotic effect and I just couldn't stop and just lay in the fragrant and vibrant bath green for a while.
Sunday, 18 May 2008
I left Bucharest on the 15th of May heading towards what should be an inspiring European tour. But if you read the previous posts you probably know by now the initial “blueprint” of this journey.
As a short introduction, here are some of the bike preps I made before departure:
- BMW GS Vario top-case and side panniers. Too early to comment on strength or reliability but unexpectedly crap key barrels. For what the GS12 stands for and for how much the bike itself and everything for it costs, BMW should show more German interest for quality, because if a part, no matter how small can ruin a trip by braking, deserves as much attention as the frame or the engine. So, for now I hope a bit of light lubricant will do the trick...
- Touratech windshield extension – worth every penny. The x-tra 7-8 cm in height work wonders in reducing wind noise and turbulence, at least for my height and riding position.
- Cylinder heads aluminum protections – good investment at least for the cosmetic damage it prevents from minor mishaps like the one I had by now: dropping the bike on stand still because forgetting to lower the side stand before leaning the bike over on it (silly, I know...)
- Although not a bike accessory, I want to make a LOUD note on how bad a 550Euro (800USD) Schuberth C2 helmet can be. How can one still trust the otherwise sound principle that the price of a (technological) object reflects the manufacturer’s effort and investments in research and development, investments translated in the end quality of the product? How can one explain the air current that blows into a C2 through the seal of the visor hard enough to make you risk safety and ride with one hand over the leaky area in order to avoid serous facial paralysis? I had a few years ago a 100Euro Airoh enduro-type full face helmet that had the same unacceptable flaw... but I had it for about 150USD so I did not suffer to much on separation... But 5 times the price on a Schuberth makes you expect if not 5 times more quality, at least the absence of major flaws. Well, in what the C2 is concerned, these expectations are in vain! And to think that BMW branded helmets are made also by Shuberth is also a tell tale sign that probably Germans are not that concerned with the quality of their products any more... shame.
And now to the epic.
I left in good spirits and touched by the surprise made by the presence of a few friends that I found standing next to my bike when I came out of the house totally unaware that someone would come to see me off. Cheers guys.
After a relaxed 100km from Bucharest to Pitesti when I first probed and nested my butt in the thicker cushion of a Baeher front saddle lent by a friend who decided for a second after-market model (thanks again Stefan), riding the new ring section of the highway around the later city, Romania appeared to me for a brief moment like a semi-decent place. Needles to say, the impression didn’t last long. Piles of filth on the side of the roads, horrific traffic control, oh no, sorry, the total absence of any traffic control whatsoever specially in the areas afflicted by the so called “works” and the ubiquitous moronic drivers, all brought me back to the usual routine of annoyment sprinkled here and there with disgust that I go through when riding in my home country.
But, with a few heavy showers on the way (if you ride a vehicle in Romania on tarmac roads in the rain it will end up looking like you crawled out of a pile of mud, yes, although you never left the asphalt) that tested the grip of the “Anaqees”, I managed to pass Deva and enter the magnificent landscape of Transylvania. The places here are so exquisitely beautiful that one almost forgets the litter on the roadside and the rather precarious state of the road surface. How on earth they manage to blow away this incredible natural potential by simultaneously failing to capitalize on it’s significant touristy potential and systematically destroying it in the meanwhile by suffocating it in filth or savagely chopping it down for lumber, will always stun me. But, by the admirable resilience of nature, the places, as I have said, still remain awesomely beautiful.
After paying way too much for what it was worth for a night’s sleep in a shabby roadside inn, where the woman in charge had the annoyed expression like she was making me a favor by accepting my money, the next day I left as early as I could for the Hungarian border. Not that I didn’t longed for a good refreshing shower, but the water (warm or cold) was barely dripping. That’s how things tend to be when accommodation alternatives are scarce...
After about another hour on a twisty and picturesque piece of road, penalized only by the poor surface quality on some bits, I was through customs and into Hungary in a blink and a few lighthearted jokes with the Hungarian customs officer.
It was already hot and the exercise of pulling documents out of the “safe” crevasse of the luggage made me even hotter and sweaty. And here I will give for the ones that might be tempted to do the same thing a strong piece of advice: DON’T VENTILATE THROUGH YOUR SLEEVES BY NOT CLOSING THE FASTENING ZIPPER OR VELCRO BANDS AT THEIR END. The funnel effect that leaving them open provokes might very well be an effective way of cooling down but also a major risk. I might well have the habit of getting accidents in pairs, as that time when riding off road with a friend in the mountains when I got both tires flat simultaneously, but this time what happened was a bit more “stingy”. As I left the zippers at the end of my jacket’s sleeves open to enjoy the breeze that was rushing in, in a matter of no more than a few minutes of riding I felt a rather sharp sting in my right forearm and then in a matter of seconds one almost as intense one in the left one. I kept on riding for another few minutes almost in disbelief. I thought I might be imagining things or that they might be a new kind of cramp, but when the burning sensation became obviously suspicious I stopped fearing the worst. And yes, my fears proved right. By taking my jacket off and turning it’s sleeves inside out I could see that my cooling system had funneled in beside the air in both of my sleeves 2 large bees that doing what every one of us in such a circumstance would have done, stung the shit out of each of my forearm. I felt sorry for the little critters as they agonizingly crawled out the sweaty sleeves leaving their needles in me. After pulling the stingy little spears out of my skin I instinctively licked the injured spots but then I had also the decency to rub them with an antiseptic wipe. None the less, at the time I write this, about 36 hours form then, the large aching lumps have shrunk leaving in their place two palm size itchy red blotches. But I don’t complain because if I would have been allergic to bee stings I could have very well gone into shock and swollen to death on the side of a Hungarian road. So, a lesson well learned: When too hot or sweaty, stop, take equipment off, relax, dry and cool off and then gear up PROPERLY and continue riding.
My first destination was Gyomaenröd where I had in plan to visit a motorcycle museum I have read about on the net. Halas, when I got to the tourist information office in the above mentioned city, I have been told that that museum closed about 2 years ago. I could not refrain asking why in such a long time no one had the common sense decency to update the internet information (it was found on an official Hungarian tourist site) as not to let silly buggers like me come all the way for a thing it’s no longer there. Fortunately the kindness of the lady at the tourist information office and the genuine charm of the place made up for the loss and I decided to stay for the rest of the day there for a good relaxing swim in the large outside pool, a good walk around the very peaceful and welcoming surroundings and few rehydrating Czech light beers... Good choice!
There is a saying that goes that Romanian people are ingenious. Well, as much as I don’t feel comfortable being part of that bunch I had a pretty good idea the other day. I pushed a bit o string inside the rubber seal of the helmet around the area where the visor rests when closed and by doing this I managed to almost stop the air flow that was leaking in and that I told you about before. Once again shame that expensive, top of the range brands like Shuberth can’t be bothered to put more effort and care in the quality of their products. That reminds me of a friend (the same who lent me the comfy saddle) that had a System 5 Shuberth/BMW helmet that he painted black because he did not like it the original white and white was the only color available at the local dealer (I remind you he is in Romania...). Not long after that he gave it away for nothing because air was blowing in when the visor was closed and he blamed himself for damaging the rubber seals by using an improper paint that might have affected the seal. Don’t worry Stefan, you did nothing wrong, Shuberth helmets suck ass and blow air (in your face) as they come from the manufacturer. The only mistake you made was paying top price for one of their products. At least you should have ridden with it before painting it as you could have spared the extra expense for the paint job and the later guilt of ruining a presumed good piece of kit. I really hope that western equipment dealers or representatives of higher profile/cost brands offer test rides for helmets as well as at least what I am concerned I will never give my money on a piece of equipment I can’t try before. And bugger to all who said on forums that Schuberth’s are good. Don’t believe what this or that tosser is saying. Trust your own judgment and ask for a test ride!