Monday, September 29
A series of minor losses has befallen me since I left Zagreb, oh so many (it seems) days ago. This began with an innocent misplacement of my pen, insignificant of course, but not unnoticed, and I swore I would be more vigilant as I walked among the palm, fig and lemon trees of Split, Croatia. I delighted in the great snack foods to be purchased under the ancient walls of the Diocletian Palace, a Roman bulwark here on the northern tip of the Adriatic.
I continued to Mostar, Bosnia, where I visited the Stary Most, a famous bridge across the river that separates the Christian and Muslim quarters. As I raced to catch a photo in the fading sunlight, I left my glasses among the smooth river stones. Such a small loss and easily replaced, but again I vowed to move more slowly and deliberately so as to avoid such mishaps. It was in Mostar that I met Susan, fellow "middle aged" solo (but married) traveler, coincidentally intending to travel in the same direction as myself, so we hooked up the next morning at the train station with another Swiss couple, Marko the Killer and his girl Nicole. This guy is a world class traveler, having come from the east through Turkmenistan, Kasakhstan and such exotic and difficult places. We had a nice morning train ride through the river gorge, trading tales and travel tips, until we reached our destination of Sarajevo, Bosnia.
Few of us would know the complicated history of this place, but suffice it to say it was war ravaged and bullet riddled in the conflict with Serbia in the mid 90's. As such the main attraction for visitors is to take the Tunnel Tour, a visit to the 800 meter tunnel that kept this city alive for 3 years as it was under artillery siege from all around. A visit to the old Olympic bobsled track and the high mountain trenchlines (all the while plied with tales of torture and such endured by our guide) rounded out the tour. It was after enjoying our included lunch and noontime beer that I would be called upon to pay a "war tax".
We were walking, Susan and I, to visit the old town when we were approached by a bent over, thickly shawled begger woman. Now my strategy for such characters, generally, is to completely ignore them, not even make eye contact. So as we stood waiting for the traffic to halt on this crowded corner, this woman kept pestering and pinching me, I resolutely unconcerned. She soon gave up and ambled, somewhat spritely, away. Minutes later, as I went to make a small purchase I noticed my wallet was...well, wasn't. It was not a huge loss, just the days money, maybe 70 bucks, and an hour of hustle to phone home to kill the ATM card (though replacing it will be a chore for a later day). Within a short while I had a new wallet, money, etc. and had accepted the lesson. For her however, the event had much greater meaning - for this night and many to follow, she would feast on meat and wine, regaling her admirers with tales of her prowess! Perhaps I flatter myself, I was just another dumbass victim of her ageless profession. You have to respect a job well done, no?
Wednesday, September 24
It has been a fine few days in the great outdoors of Northwestern Slovenia, truly a sportsman paradise. I went off to visit a spectacular cave in the karst country, and though it took a fair effort to get there and a good price to get in, is was worth the effort to view the largest underground canyon in Europe. The next day I returned to the Julian Alps and spent the day and this morning exploring the environs. Huge limestone walls surrounded the picturesque village, and I nearly had some climbing lined up, but the persistent rains prevented the excursion. Nonetheless, a fine bike ride and hike to the famed Vintgar Gorge satisfied my urge to spend quiet time among the rivers and trees.
I cannot deny that a slow sense of longing and loneliness is creeping into my psyche, especially during the wee hours of the morning, when I awake from very deep and restful sleep only to find myself wondering where I am...and why. I have experienced this before, and expected to feel this way by now, so I will just have to keep moving, keep looking for that priceless and elusive vista lurking just around the next corner.
Saturday, September 20
Did you ever have one of those dreams where you need to be running to something or away from someone but you just can get off your knees, like you are crawling through tar. I saw that dreamself in the real world yesterday as I was crossing the bridge over the Danube from Buda to Pest. This man, clubfooted, with a single cane, was virtually crawling his way across this enormous and crowded steel bridge. Who can know what he was thinking, it must have taken the better part of an hour just for that part of his journey. I am remembering often to count my blessings.
There has been very little sign of human suffering here in Budapest, such an architecturally artful place, I rate it as the most liveable capital city I have ever visited. Maybe it is the turning leaves of the beech trees, already beginning to drop in the cool autumn breeze, or the slow and timeless flow of the Danube, or the young couples kissing in its bankside parks. I am feeling at home in this place and moment.
But despite my casual and comfortable wanderings, I did feel a bit pressed to escape a particular vicinity. The long lines of police vehicles I had witness screaming down the avenues earlier that morning were there collected, for what reason I do not know. Secret service men whispering into their collars, lines of riot police scanning about, sirens everywhere and choppers in the sky. Later I learned certain right wing factions had battled these police during the evening. Fortunately my healthy legs had removed me from that scene.
Thursday, September 18
The sun finally broke out today, after 3 days of slow gray drizzle. And it did so in a most fortuitous place - I was hiking in the High Tatra mountains of Slovakia, trudging a trail though beech and fir.
As I rounded the bend I was greeting by a marvelous sight of soaring stone aretes, sheer rock walls and an army of stolid gendarme. All around were an assortment of hikers, Slovaks of all sizes and ages, some walking quite slow, but some of these pudgy old bastards were keeping up! After a few miles, upon reaching the heights where the seasons first snow was blowing wildly, I decided I had had enough.
The rain and somber skies were quite appropriate however, when, the day before, I visited Aushcwitz, the site of the Nazi German atrocities. All in a a very sobering experience, only broken by the flip and silly shenanigans of various school kids gathers in the cinema hall. Once the film had played however, recounting the horrors of this place, they were notably subdued, many exited having found something had gotten in their eyes.
And so my journey continues, a tightrope dance between blue skies and gray. Every moment invites a chance to learn something new, a new word, a train schedule, a particular way something is done here. Assumptions are often misleading, and though it may be easy enough to catch a train, getting off at the right station is not always straight forward. Last night was a case in point. Exiting the train station in search of the bus station, I began a cold wait in the darkness for the bus that might take me to the remote resort village that was my destination. After a half hour I decided to suck it up and take a taxi, and good thing. Later I learned that the bus would have not arrived for 3 hours and left me an impossible 20 minute walk from my hostel. Intuition is every thing in this game.
Monday, September 15
Yesterday was such an awesome day! I took a bus east from Prague to Trutnov, where nearby lives a most spectacular collection of rock towers and pinnacles, a veritable city of sandstone denizens. There, along my maundering, I met a couple of Czech climbers who spoke English and it was not long before we were sharing tales of places we had all been, in particular some equally enchanting towers of sandstone near Moab, Ut. It is always special to me to feel the connection some of us make in the space-time continuum.
What has struck me about this country (Czech) is how young and beautiful the girls are, just like in the US, no? But what is different is that they seem willing to talk to me (when I approach properly) and that unlike their US counterparts, they do not act young, nor do not they all have perfectly straight teeth, which makes me wonder if, were I 20 years younger and otherwise not the person I am, I might stand a chance to know them better. Dominika, how I enjoyed looking into your eyes as we spoke, I will not soon forget you!
Now to the present. It has been raining and gray all day as I trained into Poland. I am shacked up in what certainly be some kind of flophouse near the train station, sketchy characters here and there, and what is worse it is the most I have paid for a night thus far. Security seems a hot issue around here and so I expect to sleep light tonight. Still I have great hopes for tomorrow as I continue forward.
Friday, September 12
Last night I took the overnight train from Amsterdam to Prague. I shared the 6 bed couchette with a nice young man from Argentina, on a one month whirlwind tour by train of the European capitals. I awoke at 4am to say "adios" as he disembarked in Berlin, but he was in no mood for civilities, as his wallet had been stripped of cash in the night. I alway feel guilty when something goes wrong, did he suspect that "Kenneth did it"? I resolve to continue my vigilance, all my gear was under lock and key, but will that be enough? It is so hard to keep track of it all, the system of gear management is still evolving.
Today I treated myself to a restaurant meal of goulash and dumplings, quite good "dobry", but more important was the enthusiasm shown me by the cute and lively waitress, Toni. She reminded me that travel feeds the heart and soul - to see new things, smell and taste and hear the uncommon and unexpected - that is what life is about. She is a true fellow vagabond and to her I dedicate this posting. I expect I will be meeting many other members of my travel tribe in the days to come.
Wednesday, September 10
After a week of futher visits in the US, I am finally out of the country. It has been so good for me to feel the love and support from those who know me best. As I leave them, I wonder if they are thinking, as I am, that this could be our last goodbye. Is this not true every morning of our lives? Why should a long journey make this more obvious?
Tonight I am in Amsterdam, and I have deemed it appropriate to sample the characteristic delights of this unique city. I find a "coffee" shop and enjoy a small taste, which I must dole out sparingly as this White Widow will do me in if I am careless. I rent a bicycle and test my 2-wheeled urban saavy. I survive the traffic and confusing layout and find my way to the Van Gogh museum, but I am slow and clumsy. Later I visit the Red Light District, where I stay true (nearly) to my promise of "look but no touch". There will be no more of this type of silliness on this trip, but "when in Rome..."
Thursday, September 4
It has been an enjoyable and touching week along the Wasatch Front. We have begun the World Map Project at the parents home, a way to invite the family to share in the journeys of each other. My heart tells me that I will one day belong in Salt Lake, but for now I will continue East, to visit more friends and family.