Ritual

I like ritual. During this trip I've had the fortune of experiencing rituals ranging from afternoon tea to being bathed by an older gentleman at a Hamam. Though some of these rituals push the edges of my comfort zone it still brings me to the realization that I appreciate the concept of rituals in my life.

Abbie and I ended up at The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, better known to folks from the States as The Blue Mosque, today just in time for the mid afternoon call to prayer. It was amazing hearing the Adhan called out by the Muezzin from the towering minarets all around us, as we watched crowds of worshipers make their way into the mosque. I guess our Americanism stuck out as we were approached by a member of the mosque staff and offered a free lecture on Islam in english, I’m typically a bit hesitant when it comes to strangers offering free stuff while traveling, but they really hooked us with the free snacks! After a nice refresher on the pillars of Islam, Abbie and I were the only two left with the lecturer discussing some of the finer points of Islam, some defensive language may have been used on both sides, but it was a good discussion in the end, which got me thinking about ritual.

I have a bit of an issue with religion, I don’t hide it, there have been countless atrocities committed in the name of religion i.e. The crusades,The Armenian Genocide, Witch trials, religious persecution of homosexuals, Native American genocide, slavery… The list goes on and on. But for the most part I believe that religion is a necessity that thrives on the bases that people yearn for community and ritual, which in itself can be a pretty great thing. The trouble seems to come when isolationism and hierarchy create an Idea of otherness and concocted superiority. But when you get down to the base needs of what religion provides is connection and familiarity.

Appalacian Service Projest

Appalacian Service Projest

I look back on my formative years in Florida and I realize that I felt out of place from middle school up till college. I tried my hand at football, wrestling, youth group and a plethora of other group activities, which somehow never quite provided me that sense of connection to my true self. I always felt on the periphery of these well established groups that seemed to want me, but seemed to want me to become them. It wasn’t until I started claiming spaces and starting rituals of my own that I truly started to feel connected.

It began with Midnight Mass, I spent most of my late teens into my mid twenties spreading the good word about mass. Most folks understandably assumed I was a catholic missionary, when in reality I was preaching the good news of a weekly two wheeled hoard roaming the baron streets of downtown Jacksonville, screaming “ride bikes” into the early morning air. This was an experience I yearned for every week, the familiarity of dozens and occasionally hundreds of reflectors greeting me on the steps of the Cummer Museum at 11:30pm ready to own the nearly car free streets for a few hours. Seeing the creativity that newcomers brought with their bike mods; bikes welded on bikes to create tall bikes, blenders powered by peoples back wheels for fresh bike margs, hooking up car batteries to massive speakers to DJ our sometimes reckless adventures.

Anyone could join mass, we would almost always have newcomers, some just came to hang out in front of the museum before the ride, where some of the best memories were made. Some didn’t have a bike so folks would run home and grab a spare or someone would just hop on someones pegs or handlebars. Sometimes folks would see us biking past a bar and join in and some would break off to go dance at the bar, and it was rare that we ever had a plan of where we were going, or that if we did that we would make it there. Midnight Mass was a weekly ritual that offered a meeting place, something familiar enough to feel comfortable but could spin off to a hundred different directions. You didn’t know if you were going to get a flat tire, but you knew there were a handful of bike mechanics that would get you rolling again, you didn’t know when you were getting home or who you were going home with, all you could know for sure is a bunch of folks were going for a bike ride.

I think I like the idea of ritual because it more or less gives you a familiar jumping off point. You know the basic steps and you can get into that nice cozy comfortable headspace that lets you know your safe. The trick is being willing to take that cozy space and build on it, take a step outside of it, or sometimes completely destroy and reinvent it. Without progress ritual can turn into addiction, addiction that yearns for a feeling that can never be sustained and can isolate one person or group from another. I am so grateful for the rituals I’ve gotten to experience around the world and the people who were open enough to share them with me. I’m excited to bring some back to the States with me to share with friends and maybe even tweak a few!

Post Hamam Bath

Post Hamam Bath

Favorite Rituals
Hamam
Tea
Nargile
Turkish/Bosnian coffee
Vienna Coffee House
Budapest Baths
St.Nicholas day
Budapest Circus
Cheers in different cultures
Mulled wine
Halloween on the danube
call to prayer
Shoes off slipper time

 

Climbing, Sailing, and Biking through Southern Europe

We flew from Istanbul to Ljubljana, Slovenia (via Paris), and what a contrast of cities! Ljubljana is a lot like Who-ville during Christmas time: constant street Christmas bands, chestnuts roasting on open fires, endless hot chocolate and mulled wine, Christmas lights and quaint stalls everywhere witha giant sleeping-beauty-esque castle and dragon draw bridges to complete the scene. No more Muslim call to prayer, warm weather, bartering stalls, or people who don’t identify as white. Recycling, composting, and bike lanes are huge in Ljubljana, as well as vegetarian options, which was quite convenient and comfortable for us.  We stayed in an air bnb right in the city center next to the giant Christmas tree and the general center of merriment for the season. We decided to take it easy for a few days, watching Christmas movies (Elf and While You Were Sleeping), and taking afternoon and evening strolls through the cobblestone streets absorbing the Christmas cheer (Joe more tolerated it while I ecstatically basked in it). 

We also reunited with our bikes, and met some awesome new friends: Oto and Matejka. We went out with them a few times, and I tried to not bombard them with too many questions about former Yugoslavia, how many paid days off social workers get a year in Slovenia (25-34 days!), and general culture questions. Everyone spoke English really well here, and when we asked about it, we found out it’s from a combination of movies/music being in English and it being mandatory for kids to learn in school at a young age so that Slovenians can communicate with the greater world (not that many people in the world speak Slovenian). For those of you who don’t know, Melania Trump is from Slovenia, and we joked about how Slovenia is feeling very safe at the moment because Trump would never do anything to endanger her country. Several people we talked to also commented on how Melania doesn’t speak very good English compared to the rest of the people from Slovenia, which I would have to agree with because everyone’s English in Slovenia is astoundingly impressive (However, I am not one to judge being that I only know one language, so more props to her for being more bi-lingual than probably most of the US). We were told that the tiny village where she is from had a huge party on election day, and is preparing for an increase in tourism.

Tiny sperm comets!

Tiny sperm comets!

We noticed that some of the Christmas lights had a rather “fertile” theme to them- lots of XY chromosome lights, a fetus looking light, and globe surrounded by sperm, and we were told that it is like that every year, I guess to encourage Slovenias slender population of two million to keep reproducing. Our new friend Oto offered to take us rock-climbing (which is huge in Slovenia), and then drop us off just over the border in Italy so we could catch a train to Venice. The climbing was awesome, with lots of different climbs for different skill levels. Climbing is great because you can do it all over the world, and it’s still the same knots, gear, and strategies- which is reassuring. I was a little out of shape, but Joe did awesome!

Joe climbing in Slovenia

Joe climbing in Slovenia

Then, we spent a whirlwind of 48 hours in Italy, taking 5 different trains (bikes aren’t allowed on the fast trains and the slow trains are cheaper). We spent an evening in Venice, where I ate some of the best pasta and house wine in my life, surprised that it lived up to it’s stereotype. We got off at a wrong station (two stations back to back with the same name- so confusing!) missed our transfer train, and spent a “Well, fuck it” night in an expensive hotel because we were stranded in a tiny Italian town. After another 4 trains, we made it to Montpellier, France - the start of our next bike tour route. Biking through Southern France has been amazing! It’s so good to be back on the bike, seeing different landscapes, experiencing life a little slower. This is one of the reasons i have loved bike touring, you get to see all sides of a city, and watch is slowly transition to the countryside, then back into a small town again, and then maybe a bigger city. On the edge of towns, there are usually Roma(gypsy) camps, or circus camps set up, and we will randomly see camels or zebras just munching on some grass. It’s been a pretty good ride so far- we’ve been going for three days and have covered about 120 miles, biking through mud flats, beaches, and vineyards. We have been using this website called “Warm Showers” that is like couch surfing, but for bike touring. Strangers take you in for free, and you sometimes they will offer you a yard to set up your tent in, to sometimes letting you stay in a spare bedroom. We got incredibly lucky for a warm shower stay near Set, France. Our host, Sofie, had a three course meal ready for us when we arrived, let us stay in her bedroom while she slept on the couch, and shared many crazy adventure stories with us.

Helping the sail out

Helping the sail out

As we were getting ready to leave in the morning after she gave us coffee and some chocolate eclairs, she asked if we if we had ever been sailing and if we would like to go out on her boat. Of course, we enthusiastically agreed, and had a great morning out on the water. Our host, Sofie, has crossed the Atlantic twice on a sailboat, and when I asked her if she ever got bored, she said she never did. This was obvious when we were on the boat because she was incredibly attentive to the wind and the water, and noticed even when the ripples changed slightly. Staying with her was such a good reminder of the kindness of strangers, and paying attention to the impressiveness of small details that are often overlooked. She biked us to the next village over, gave us directions for next section of our route, and we said our goodbyes.

Dreaming about all the delicious croissants I wish I was eating

Dreaming about all the delicious croissants I wish I was eating

We biked another day, camped a night on the beach, then biked another day to Les Barcares, where we are at now. Yesterday, there was a crazy head wind, and we had to make up some miles we lost from taking the previous morning off to go sailing. While taking a power nap/reassessing my ability to continue on the side of the road yesterday, another biker came over and started talking to us. He had been biking for 9 months, and had biked around the entire globe (flying over the oceans obviously). He was two days from finishing his adventure. He said he was surprised that we were American, because while he was biking through the US, he realized people in the US don’t take extended vacations, and even a 5 day vacation for his US friends would seem like a long vacation. Feeling energized by our conversation, we finished out the day- only 50 miles, but fighting a head wind made it seem like 100 miles. Now we are just taking a chill day, literally eating bon bons and cheese while we rest our muscles until we bike another three days to Barcelona.

Day Trip To Asia


We’ve settled down in the middle of the Karakoy neighborhood in Istanbul, not far away from Taksim Square or the main strip of Istiklal, where western shops line the pedestrian strip with H&M, Tommy Hilfiger, and Burger Shack. It’s become standard affair to come across these strips of western chains; Wenceslas Square in Prague, Alexanderplatz in Berlin. Sometimes it takes a while to get away from the familiar multi-national conglomerates and get a chance to check out the local scene of a city, but Istanbul seems to have an interesting flair for taking it’s local flair and throwing you unsuspectingly right into the middle of it.

As we attempted to dodge the shoe sales and buy 3 pay for 2 t-shirt deals of Istiklal, we found that every side street was luring us back into a glittering darkness of music, hookah, and food. As we skirted the maze of back streets lined with restaurants hype men pitched their venue swiftly attempting to decipher our country of origin, preferred language, and which of their specialties would capture us for a meal. What was truly alluring though was the sounds, it seemed every restaurant, cafe, and bar had it’s own musical performer bellowing from inside. Which at first, leads to some confusion, as there appears to be no stage or corner packed with cramped performers, instead as your eyes focus in past the flashing lights into the warm dimly lit caverns you discover musicians comfortably sitting at a table singing in tandem with the surrounding patrons.

In spite of the welcoming back streets of Kararoy, we still felt as though we needed to get a bit further away from the familiar, and what better way then to head over to Asia! The city of Istanbul straddles the Bosphorus, a body of water that makes up the dividing line between Asia and Europe, which for us means a $1.25 20 min ferry ride to the other side of the world. I’m not sure that we were expecting that significant of a culture shock taking a twenty minute boat ride to the other side of the city and in all honesty things aren’t that different, hell we traveled from a neighborhood called Karakoy to Kadikoy. What didn’t change too much in looks definitely changed in vibe. Kadikoy felt more like a neighborhood, still the hustle of people buying and selling, but many more people just spending time smoking hookah, drinking tea and catching up. The best comparison I can make is the vibe shift from Manhattan to Brooklyn. You have your area where you go for the cheap deals and then walk a few blocks and you're surrounded by artisanal wares, tattoo shops, and well hipsters.

We stopped and bought a handful of socks at $1 a pair, wonderful timing as two months in has left us with about half as many socks as we started... wear, tear and forgetfulness! Then we stopped at a cool little restaurant where we got to dig into a delicious dish called Lahmacun, which is basically turkish pizza. Lahmacun is a super simple delicious flat bread topped with an onion and red pepper mixture tossed into what looks like a pizza oven then garnished with a bit of lemon juice and parsley; Oh, the simple things in life!

As it became late in the day we decided to hop back on the ferry and make our way back to the Euro side of Istanbul which offered us one of the most beautiful views of our lives as the sun slowly dipped behind the Fatih district. Surrounded by water we watched the golden silhouette of seemingly countless Mosque minarets. I deeply recommend the public ferry from Eminönü to Kadikoy, well worth the $1.25 admission. I’m sure we’ve barely made a scratch in the offerings of this city and we can't wait to see what else we come across. Till next time!

Sarajevo

Cityscape

Cityscape

Sarajevo. You may not be able to locate it on a map right away, and you may recognize the name and recall that there were some significant things that happened here (maybe it was Communism? Yugoslavia? Some sort of assassination maybe happened that caused a war?), but you can’t recall any specific facts. At least, this was my perception of Sarajevo before this trip. However, I have learned so much more about this enchanted city in the last few days, and it’s history and current existence is equal parts fascinating, disturbing, and inspiring.

Tucked in a mountainous valley, Sarajevo is shaped like a long, skinny rectangle, with neighborhoods working there way up on mountains on all sides of the city. When you walk around at night, it seems like the city is surrounded by walls of lights, but it’s just houses built on the steep hills all around you. It’s an impressively diverse city. It was the only city in all of Europe up until the 20th century that had Islamic mosques, Christian chapels, and Jewish synagogues all on the same block in several neighborhoods throughout the city. I have noticed on this trip that religion seems to have played a major role when European cities were first developing, with religious segregation being very common (there has been a designated Jewish Quarter in every city we have gone to, and it seems like they were developed around the 1700s). So it’s refreshing to take a walk around Sarajevo, and simultaneously hear church bells and the Islamic call to prayer- I guess it’s what multiculturalism sounds like. And it’s not just religion, but ethnicity too is very mixed here (with the exception of Black people. Joe has been the only one I have seen in Sarajevo). However, Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, Middle Easterners, Germans are all sprinkled throughout when you take a stroll down the street. And the architecture is unlike anything I have ever seen in an urban environment. With strong influence from both the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empire, one moment it will seem like you are walking down a quintessential Western European street with cobblestones, pillars, and fountains, and then you turn a corner, and you are in a typical Middle Eastern market with Turkish tea pots, rugs, and oil lanterns being sold in ornate wooden structures. There are an impressive amount of people out all of the time, sipping Bosnian coffee, playing chess in the park, drinking some domestic beer, feeding pigeons, smoking cigarettes everywhere, walking around looking fashionable-you almost forget that Bosnia (and Sarajevo) was in the middle of an ethnic cleansing genocide 20 years ago. However, as soon as you take a closer look, you can see the scars everywhere. A lot of the buildings still have bullet hole marks in them, or you’ll notice an arc of damage on a wall caused by a mortar shell. If you look down, you’ll notice “Sarajevo roses” all throughout the city. These roses are holes in the concrete where bombs went off, but they filled in the holes with red resin to honor those that died there (see picture).

Sarajevo Rose

Sarajevo Rose

The politics behind what caused the war, and the multiple parties involved with it, took me awhile to grasp. However, once I did a little research, the story sounded eerily familiar. An extremist leader was elected into office that felt like Serbians should be a ruling majority, and anyone who wasn’t Serbian should be treated as less than and removed from Serbian land whose boundaries were redrawn. From my research, it seems like there were a significant amount of students, intellectuals, neighbors that felts like this was too extreme, and protested for acceptance and diversity- both attributes it seems like Bosnians have prided themselves on for hundreds of years since they live in an area that is such a meeting of cultures. One of the books I read even had a line talking about this that struck me:  “We’ve lived openly with our different backgrounds for years in this country. There’s never been a problem. Do you think people are going to change overnight just because a madman is taking the reigns of government?”

Unfortunately, things did change and violence was incited by an angry, prejudice, power hungry minority (and some people wanting revenge against them). Eventually, hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives in incredibly brutal and violent ways with torture and rape commonly being used on civilians just because of their ethnicity or religion. Some of the stories are truly horrifying. Leading up to it, many people didn’t ever think it could happen, especially because it was the 90s and they believed that The West (US, Europe, United Nations) would never allow another genocide take place after World War 2 ravaged the continent. However, it took NATO three years to intervene, and it seems like there still is some resentment from the people towards the United Nations and The West for not coming in to help when it was very well documented what was going on.

I try to not let my brain go to too dark of places when I learn about the war, especially with the recent tension in the US amongst political parties. But, there are just so many parallels between what I am seeing people say on my facebook feed, and what people felt before the Bosnian war happened.

Bosnian coffee time

Bosnian coffee time

However, there are lots of differences as well, and I am not predicting doomsday by any means for the US. Overall, we are still one of the more progressive nations in the world- I have not seen very many public displays of LGBTQ affection while I have been in Europe, and it does not visibly appear to be celebrated and supported as much as the US (although there are still areas in the US that there is severe discrimination). More and more privileged people are becoming aware of injustices and Black Lives Matter, with many Christian church’s proclaiming their support for Muslims, and women’s rights are continuing to expand and are significant when compared to some countries. We still have a long ways to go, but let’s not forget how far we have come (without denying the atrocities we inflicted, and taking accountability for our prejudice actions in the past). It’s a challenging balance because our track record as Americans is full of human rights abuses, but we have also had some pretty incredible movements of social change and culture.

I’m also hopeful as I explore Sarajevo, because it reminds me of how resilient people can be. Most of the people I encounter were alive during the war, and were probably severely affected by it, but they survived.  It’s also somewhat eerie to have so much calm and happiness around, when you know there was so much destruction not that long ago. The people here have obviously worked hard to rebuild their city, their community, and their lives. I wasn’t able to talk to many people about the war because it was advised to not bring it up to strangers, but there definitely is the vibe or renewal in the air. Sarajevo is a budding metropolis, and people everywhere and sharing coffee and tea with people who have different beliefs than them. It gives me hope that even if the US has some hard times ahead, time will continue to propel us forward while we prepare for the worst, but hope for the best. War would be hell, but Europe has shown me that life can thrive even after the hardest of times.

Bye Bye Bikes, Hello Croatia

So...obviously the last week we have mostly been preoccupied with the election.While there’s a lot of thoughts/feelings/manifestos flying around right now regarding the future of the US with Trump as president, I am not going to go into our shock, fear, and sadness too deeply in this post because the wound is still too fresh to decide how it’s going to heal. Also, my brain needs a break, and maybe yours does too from thinking about it.

Yeah, I was totally crying in this pic

Yeah, I was totally crying in this pic

As we both recover from the election results, Joe and I have been spending our days processing, going on hikes, and trying to come up with our plan for when we get back to the states. Oh, and proposing to one another- which was amazing! We did it on top of a hill in Split, Croatia, and had it all planned beforehand. We decided to propose to each other because we are egalitarian like that, and we needed to keep up with our initial “hipster marriage” arc we are on starting with our domestic partnership we got back in August. Our proposal was the day after the election, and we weren’t sure we wanted to do it. However, I was feeling like I needed some hope for my future, and Joe agreed. We picked out rings while we were biking through Bohemia in the Czech Republic and stumbled upon a medieval town that had amazing Bohemian crystals, a bear moat around the castle, and awesome vegetarian food (there’s nothing like jewels, bears, and soy protein that gets you in the mood for commitment). The proposal ceremony was a much needed boost of reality, and helped me to realize that no matter what happens in the next decade, I know we will be by each other to dry our mutual tears, help each other process the madness, and get back in the ring of fighting for human rights. Also, the 3 Liter plastic bottle of wine, chocolate, and friends made the moment extra sweet.

We are still in Croatia, which I would highly recommend to anyone coming to Europe. The landscape is unlike anything I have experienced before- white rock cliffs dropping off into the crystal blue Mediterranean, pomegranate and citrus trees everywhere, with roadside stands that sell homemade olive oil and sweetened almonds. The only bummer is that we couldn’t bring our bikes to Croatia- when we tried to get train tickets here, they said bikes aren’t allowed on trains to Croatia during the winter season. I was pretty bummed about this, but luckily a friend of a friend offered to watch them for three weeks for us. Saying goodbye was hard, my Surly has been amazing to me this trip- not one flat tire or break down yet! However, I’m just imagining that she is getting a vacation too. We are visiting Croatia in the off-season- a lot of the coastal towns’ economy depends on tourism since the war dissolved Socialism in the 90s. Since it is the off-season, 95% of businesses are closed down, and resorts are ghost towns. This has been great because we can explore private beaches/coves without having to worry about security guards, and can afford to stay in beautiful condos by the sea because of off-season prices. The locals looked at us funny when we went swimming (for some reason the locals are bundled up like it’s the Rockies in January, but it’s been in the 50s and 60s the entire time we have been here), which was not nearly as cold as the Oregon Coast which I grew up swimming in.

However, every moment that we begin to get too comfortable in paradise, we remember the election and are slightly sickened. We are obviously privileged enough to be in Croatia on the beach as we process it- we recognize and appreciate this. Our less privileged peers are going to be even more negatively affected by this election, and might not even have the time or resources to demonstrate/process their feelings and fears. Of everything I’ve read online, this article has helped me best understand why/how this happened: http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-reasons-trumps-rise-that-no-one-talks-about/ You have to read it with an open mind, and I don’t completely agree with their point of view, but it laid the foundation for me to begin understanding Trump supporters and why the voted him. I feel slightly isolated because I am so far away from all of my friends who are also grieving, but am also simultaneously comforted by how passionate/vocal my friends are about social justice. We have missed out on some important moment with our friends- two weddings of our closest friends (Congrats Natalie/Jackson and Matt/Katie!!!!!!!!!)- and now this, and we have realized that our community is one of the most important things to us. Part of our commitment ceremony was recognizing how we want our friends a part of of our lives for a long time too. Joe has something to say now....

*Joe jumping in!!!* So, I am also quite excited about the commitment we decided to embark upon in Croatia, It’s a commitment that we decided to partake in a while ago, but it feels amazing to put it into a moment that we will remember for the rest of our days and are grateful to be able to share with close friends. It was strange to wake up on the morning after the election. Being 9 hours ahead of the west coast left us a bit in the lurch as 3am croatian time rolled around, with the knowledge of trump winning Florida and three hours left till west coast polls closed, so when I awoke at 6am, the nausea overwhelmed me as I read and re-read Trump President Elect and tried to figure out if this was a horrific dream or not. I still find myself several days later writing this post wondering if this might be a terrifying joke my brain is playing on me. But through this possible dream state that I’m concocting, I’ve found comfort in those that I’m travelling with. It would more than likely be a slow torture wallowing alone in the questions of how did this happen and what will we do? Fortunately, I’ve had great companions to discuss, despair, and comfort. Though as I witness the torment and vitriol shared on Facebook, I find myself curious as to my feelings if I were in the states. Is it better to be apart and process these feelings of betrayal and fear of the unknown away from the masses or is it more revealing to look in from the outside. It’s hard to watch as liberal, progressive friends suddenly swap roles with the conservative bros that we have all talked shit about. I had fears that after the election enraged Trump voters would take to the streets screaming of an unfair election, crooked Hillary, and threatening succession, turns out that probably would have happened with either candidate winning. More later on this…

 

*Abbie again. Lots of love to y’all! We are headed to Sarajevo and Istanbul next. Bye!

Bathouses, Bars, and Bedbugs in Budapest

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Hey friends! Joe and I have been living it up in Budapest for the last week, where we met up with our Denver friends Jen and Anna. What an amazing city- it has been our favorite so far. If you have ever considered going to Budapest- now is the time to do it before it gets too overrun with expensive tourist traps- (which can both have a positive and negative affect on an area). There many old decaying, buildings with leftover bullet holes in them from the Revolution in 56, juxtaposed with a burgeoning hip scene with delicious food and amazing coffee.

One of the top reasons to visit is so that you can feel like a Turkish Princess (I know you all secretly long for this everyday) when you bath in any of the impressive bathhouse. Budapest is built on a network of thermal springs, which provides water to the bathhouses- and they are elaborate. I have never bathed somewhere so ornate and colorful before. And, it’s just a thing people like to do on the weekend together- go hang out together in warm pools, transitioning from pool to pool every 20 minutes or so. Some pools even had built in chess boards, but I wasn’t about to challenge the elderly men playing- they looked fierce with their gold chains and focused disposition.

Another thing Budapest is known for is it “ruin bars”. After WW2, the Jewish Quarter of the city was mostly empty because the majority of the Jewish population was deported to concentration camps. Since WW2, there hasn’t been much development in the area, so in the early 2000’s some hip kids started squatting and turning abandoned buildings into amazing bars with lots of mismatched furniture, art on the walls, and found objects. Rent/ownership was cheap, and regulations were minimal. Once people started migrating to go out in this part of town, food trucks and other bars started popping up, and y’all know what happens from there. They are called ruin bars because they look very old and decrepit from the outside, but once you go in, they are vibrant with color, live music and art installations. I guess this is in line with what our tour guide said about Hungarians- they appear angry and mad on the outside, but they’re actually bursting with ideas and creativity on the inside. They just learned to put a face on during communism because happiness was seen as suspicious. It does feel kind of weird to party in a space that you know was vacated for such an oppressive, murderous reason, but history is everywhere in Europe and reclaimed spaces seem to be a significant part of the culture.

Anyways, ruin bars are super amazing. It’s like Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Portland, Oregon had a crack baby called Ruin Bars. One of the ones we went to, Szimpla Kert, is consistently rated one of the coolest bars in the world, which I highly doubted before I went because that’s a ludicrous claim. However, once i got there, it was hands down the coolest bar/community space I have ever been in my entire life. It was an entire apartment building converted into a bar, with graffiti, plastic baby dolls, tree branches, fancy map shades, decorating every room. You could seriously get lost in there, and every room turned up a new surprise. A room full of antique toys? Poetry classes? Saxophonist playing music to Retro porn? A room full of tvs hanging from a tree with ominous lighting? A car cut in two? Live Roma Gypsy) music? Farmer’s market? Pop-up tattoo shop by donations? It’s basically where hipsters go after they die if they’ve fulfilled all their stylish duties correctly. We had a very fun night hanging out there, exploring it’s caverns of wonder.

Also we unfortunately picked up bed bugs somewhere in Slovakia. Luckily, when you travel light, there’s not much to wash. We escaped with a handful of incredibly itchy bites, and the lingering sense of bugs crawling on you when you sleep despite there not being any. Joe and I have both traveled a lot- India, Africa, hostels in NYC, squatting in Barcelona- but neither of us have ever encountered bed bugs before. I guess there is a first time experience for everything, and was another adventure to bring us closer together.

I’m bummed that we will be leaving here two days before the election, because the embassy here is putting on an election party with “authentic American election decorations” and an American food buffet. I also didn’t talk about the history much of the city, but it is super

fascinating- the revolution of 1956 seems to be one of the more impressive feats of the Cold War.  We also went on a haunted river cruise for Halloween- boating down the Danube with the city all lit up was magical. Tomorrow we are headed to Memento park, which is a space where they moved all the Soviet statues once the country became democratic. There’s still a lot more to explore here, and I would HIGHLY recommend adding it to your travel list if you are planning a trip to Europe soon. Not too many tourists yet, a rich thriving history, amazing architecture, and dynamic culture- just do it!

Checking in...

Some of you might be thinking lately: I wonder how Abbie and Joe are doing? Or why haven’t Abbie and Joe posted more blog posts? There’s a myriad of reasons and responses to these questions, but we mostly haven’t been writing because we have been too busy experiencing. However, we are going to try to do better because y’all are very important to us and not a day goes by that we don’t talk about one of our friends, or mistakenly think we see one of our Urban Peak youth walking around Europe.

Here’ a quick update/overview on how we are doing and what our future plans are: We are just over a month into our trip, and overall, we are physically stronger, more knowledgeable about history, and less stressed about work and Urban Peak. We’ve tasted some amazing beer, ate chocolate almost everyday, and have had more falafel than we cumulatively ate in the last ten years. We’ve both cried at different points (me almost everyday we bike long distances because it’s challenging, Joe when he finally got to see his first Egon Schiele painting in real life), and we’ve both thrown up from food (and maybe diarrhead in our pants just a little). We’ve met some amazing people, and come across some surprising things: Joe got to jam out in Austria with an impressive accordion player and saxophonist, and one night we stumbled upon a 13th century castle that had a bear moat around it, with real live bears still in the moat! We’ve had some moments of frustration with each other (considering we spend a significant amount of time with each other), but have also had some unbelievably romantic moments and lots of opportunity for our relationship to grow.

I’ve been surprised at how similar Europe is to the U.S.- western capitalism is still ubiquitous with lots of advertisements, shopping malls, and people our age trying to define what the “American Dream” means for us now. The welfare system and garbage/recycling systems are far superior over here, but there are also a lot more cigarette smokers and people have not caught on to cleaning up after their pet. They say you can tell a tourist from a local because locals look down when they walk (to make sure they don’t step on shit). There’s the same right-wing Donald Trump-esque movement going on here (refer to previous blog posts), and young people are worried that the welfare is not going to be around once they retire. However, a significant difference is that the young people in Europe are not crippled with debt- which is HUGE difference. Most college is free or very cheap here, so it would be very rare here to meet a 25 year old with any student debt, let alone the the $37,172 average debt that the class of 2016 has in the U.S.

Our future plans?

Oct 26th through Nov 2nd- Budapest

Nov 3- 10th- Serbia/ Sarajevo

Nov 10th- 17th- Dubrovnik, Croatia (Amazing coastal city where they filmed some of the Game of Thrones scenes)

Nov 18th-28th- Biking up the coast of Croatia

Nov 29th- Dec. 7th- Ljubljana, Slovenia for St. Nicholas/Krampus Celebrations

Dec 7th- 10th- Italy (Fly to Portugal)

Dec 11th- Going to an Elton John concert in Lisbon Portugal!!!!!

Dec 12th-20th- Bike down Portugal Coast

End of December- January- Morocco/Africa

Potentially Fly back to Florida the end of January

So that’s just a brief update. We love and miss everyone! We have lots of exciting stories, new ideas/thoughts, and perspectives to share when we get home. I have to go pack up because we are about to bike to Bratislava- only a 40 mile day today so not too bad.

Bye!

Black Man Abroad

Turns out the best way to avoid a horde of Neo-Nazis is to ride your bike to another country! Okay, maybe a bit of a dramatic opening, but seriously Dresden is apparently packed with the largest consolidation of nationalist socialist this side of the Mississippi, unless you count Mississippi then who knows. I’ve found myself in some hostile spots in my travels, but Europe has always felt like a bit more of a racially neutral spot than the American south. Perhaps It’s been wishful thinking on my part or maybe the racist guy with the millions of racist followers running for president, or the mass shootings of African Americans by police in the states has me more focused on my personal safety as a black man, either way I’m excited to bike away from Dresden!

Growing up in the south got me used to things that no one should have to get used to, like hearing the phrase, “you probably shouldn’t head out to Orange Park tonight, I hear there’s a big KKK rally tonight”. These fun statements along with silent glares screaming at you don’t belong here, boy, or the occasional random scream of Nigger from a passing car as whatever is at hand is projected towards me and my bike, left me with the intended lesson of knowing “my place”.

It’s not that I believe that I should’t be allowed in certain places because of the color of my skin, it’s an understanding that when I’m not at those bars out in the boonies, or on the west side during a potential clan meeting, then I’m not on edge worried about some random individual that I’ve not exchanged one word with would wish to stab, shoot, beat, drown… just because I’m the black guy in the room. Because of this “understanding” I stuck to the devils I knew in downtown Jacksonville Florida, where you were at least getting beat up for a reason you might understand, such as fooling around with someone’s girlfriend, or someone thought you stole their bike, or maybe everyone just drank a bit too much and no one remembers why the fight started, reasonable stuff!

I recall the last time I was in Europe back in 08’ Obama was running for president, everyone I met abroad was excited that maybe the US was coming around to being one of the cool kids again now that ol’ near beer Bush was on the back end and we we’re finally getting around to getting a brother in the white house. But I braced myself, I prepared myself to come across those good ol’ boys that exist every where, ready to put me back in that place because they’d rather have an African lion in the Whitehouse, than a Lyin African.

As I explored and met people old and young, French, British, Spanish, Italian I started to get this strange sense that the conversation that those folks were having with me, weren't between them and a black man, it was between them and an american guy, and it felt strange to talk to people and come to the perception that my race may have run secondary to the fact that I was american. With this new found perception came a melting of that idea of my place and always being forced to be aware of it. It may have been in my mind, but it put my head into a space where I felt liberated and safe to explore the land without that weight of fear passed down from generations of otherness and superiority complexes, and instead just being free to be me.

The memory of that feeling stayed with me for eight years and I’d like to believe that it allowed me to seize opportunities and push my way into spaces I would have been terrified to cross the threshold of before. When preparing to come back to Europe, I recalled that feeling and I was excited to re-up on that sensation of a weight lifted. I was excited to go to countries where the cops aren't so traumatized by their jobs that they aren't immediately hostile and perhaps trigger happy the moment they experienced the other. I was ecstatic to not have to process what it means if someone is sporting a rebel flag, or perhaps worse a trump sticker. I was ready to get away from knowing my place.

Then it started in Poland, “Oh, you’re biking through Bavaria, you might wanna be careful, there’s a lot of neo Nazis down there.” Now, I’m having to strategize with Abbie, “maybe we shouldn’t bike together through the right-wing rally it’ll probably just piss them off more,” We’re coming across confederate flags in a punk themed gift shop in Prague that say ‘The south will rise again.’ Funny thing is, in a town surrounded by Nazis, I’m still not as nervous as biking around the american south on a Saturday night.

Unity and Radicalism

Happy German Unity Day!

Joe and I found out after we booked train tickets to Dresden for today that our trip also coincides with one of the biggest German holidays- Reunification Day. There is a giant celebration with the German president and chancellor, as well as thousands of people also descending on Dresden today to celebrate the coming down of the wall and the reunification of Germany in 1990.

Unfortunately, in today’s political climate, it also means that radicals also are coming out with violent demonstrations of xenophobia and racism. Two IEDS bombs went off earlier this week in Dresden (one in front of a Mosque-no one was hurt), and three cop cars were set ablaze over the weekend, both acts determined to be in protest to Unity Day and the amount of refugees from Syria Germany has taken in. Police have increased security for today, while many people have been discussing the increased conservative radicalism that has been happening in Germany, with Dresden being a hot spot for it. Upon further research, it turns out that Dresden also has one of the largest Neo-Nazi and right wing radical communities in Germany, with gatherings sometimes attracting crowds as large as 20,000 people.

While I am both surprised that there is such violent, prejudice behavior happening here (I guess the US isn’t the only place where xenophobic rhetoric is gaining serious political ground), I am also fearful for our future. We have spent the majority of our week in Berlin going to museums and seeing historical sites from WW2 and the Cold War, both wars in which violent oppression of minorities played a large role. This has led me to inevitably compare the political climate that allowed Nazism to emerge to our current political climate and Trump’s dangerous, hateful rhetoric. When a political party’s foundations is based on illogical/xenophobic statements, fear, propaganda, and exalting a superior few over specific groups of people- disastrous results typically ensue.

Now I don’t think Trump is intelligent enough (nor capable of any sort of empathy), to realize how much his off hand statements and ideas are threatening people’s lives in the real world. Having a world leader with access to the largest military condone xenophobic actions is only going to bring out more radicalism- amongst all extremists regardless of religion. And it’s not just a problem in the US. It is a hot topic here in the EU as well, with many countries concerned about the amount of hate crimes going on in their countries. While Trump might be too distracted by his wealth to recognize what exactly he is doing, people around the world will notice and take advantage of the situation.

Now, I know this is a travel blog, but I also think it is essential to document all of our experiences- even the political. The worst thing that is probably going to happen today is we are going to be searched a little more thoroughly, and they’ll probably harass Joe for his hair (this happens way too much)  and ask us numerous ambiguous questions about our travel plans. We might get a few extra stares/glares for being an interracial couple from the Neo-Nazis (my Aryan-esqe traits partnered with an African American? Hitler would be appalled!) However, the events of this weekend in Dresden and the political climate in the world could lead to way worse things if we don’t PAY ATTENTION. If you are on the fence about your support for Hillary, think about it less as a vote for her, and more of a vote against the hateful rhetoric and racist world that would be a Trump Presidency. If for some reason that isn’t enough and you need a more personal connection, consider your friendship with me and Joe, and our future kids and if you want to be responsible for them living in a world of more extreme prejudice than the many obstacles they are already going to have to face. If you are thinking I’m being dramatic right now- check your privilege and educate yourself.

Got to go catch the train to celebrate the holiday. Bye!

Copenhagen

Copenhagen, our first stop on this grand journey of ours. Home of Vikings, Nyhavn, Tivoli Gardens Ludefisk, and bikes, so many bikes! I began my love affair with bikes back in high school, which happened to coincide with my fear of biking in a land of cars and my search for any safe biking path to get me from point A to B. We were pleasantly surprised by the fact that google maps showed an impressively long green line denoting that our 12 mile trip from the Copenhagen airport to our Airbnb would be all bike paths! As we entered the central city of Copenhagen, I thought "Hallelujah, my eyes have been open to the truth!" We found ourselves in a land where every street is perfectly accompanied by a dedicated bike lane, every corner a bike stop light, allowing bikes and cars to co-habitate in a beautiful dance without fear of angry drivers screaming at bikers to, “ride on the sidewalk.”

Not sure what occurred the next twelve hours because the Jet-lag set in. In spite of a few hours of sleep on the airplane, utter exhaustion, and the fact that the sun was down, my brain was still convinced it was two in the afternoon. I was trapped on that horrid plane of existence where you can’t quite talk, move, or think… but you also can’t sleep! Just wasting time in the ether of fear that rest will never come and your entire trip will be spent as a biking zombie craving the sweet taste of a nap. Who knows when the sleep came, but it did along with the morning and sunrise. The jet lag made for a rough start, but the excitement and bike ride into downtown Copenhagen put that pep in our steps to kick us into gear for adventure.

Although the land was overflowing with bike lanes, we still had some adjusting to do with our biking skills. According to good old Wikipedia, almost 50% of commuters in Copenhagen ride bikes and you can tell. Those magical bike stop lights can quickly turn into a party with 20-30 cyclist gathered waiting for the signal to change, so through quick mimicry we learned the hand signals and habits of the Copenhagen bike commuter, and found ourselves at a beautiful canal lined by colorful old buildings (american perspective old).

A plaque informed us that we had stumbled into Nyhavn, a hot little port spot built in the 1600s and the spot that our buddy Andreas warned us was beautiful but expensive. He was right on both points, so after taking in the beauty and locking down our bikes we swiftly headed across the river to Christianhavn. Turns out Christanhavn we would later learn -thanks to a free walking tour brilliantly led by the Aussie Dan O- has some of the oldest surviving architecture in Copenhagen thanks to it’s ability to avoid the multitude of fires that destroyed the rest of Copenhagen several times over. This was due to the fact that it is an island located to the east of Copenhagen central. Beautiful churches and homes hundreds of years old stand side by side with massive Gattica looking Nordia Bank.

We stumbled upon a wooden archway connected by two totem poles bearing the word Christiania. Apparently, Christiania is a former military barrack that was squatted by hippies in the 1970’s and through the brilliant concept of squatters rights the city was unable to regain possession of the former military base. Now Christiania is an 85 acre anarchist community of 850 artists, free thinkers and weed dealers as we discovered walking down the aptly named Pusher street where we were approached at least half a dozen times over a 50 yard stretch about purchasing some prime hash. But beyond pusher street lays an amazing display of street art, Lady Blacksmiths, bike builders, music, food and beautifully crafted homes for the community, all surrounding a serine lake built specifically to act as a barrier for the invading Swedish, but now is a space for kids swimming and remote control clipper ships.   

Abbie and I spent a while sitting next to the lake discussing how amazing it would be to be a part of this community, what we could offer, how we could take the ideas of the space and create them in our own world back in the states or elsewhere, perhaps one day we’ll be able to come back and stay for a while and learn how to create a little utopia on the edge of a bustling utopia!

We spent the rest of our time in Copenhagen seeing all the typical sights and spending way too much on beer and food: I spent 50krr $8, on a beer and then tapped out from drinking at bars, french fries in the states seem like an affordable side item but are ctually the price of an entree in Copenhagen, and pizza can be a risky and expensive mistake depending on where you find it. I suggest finding a nice affordable falafel shop, buying beer from the store (because drinking on the streets is legal!) and you’ll be okay.

Now we’re off to catch a train to Sweden and then a ferry to Poland. See y’all on the other side!

Hesitations/Bike Paradise

First off, we are writing this in the middle of the night because jet lag sucks (but totally worth it). Leading up to the departure, we both had our our individual stresses. Here's a post I wrote when I was packing:

It’s not always pretty...

I’m taking a break from packing my bag. Or should I say my two rear pannier bags (about the size of two medium backpacks). My underestimation of the amount of space I am going to have, and trying to widdle my pile down to just a few items of clothing is proving to be more difficult than I thought it would be. My doubts of how I am going to be able to fit everything is turning into doubting other aspects of the trip-  am I really going to be able to do this? Why did I think this was a good idea? What am I coming back to? And gradually it leads to even more dramatic thoughts- what if I never see the items I’m leaving behind again because I die in catastrophic bike accident? What if I can’t keep up with Joe? What if we get super angry at each other?

As I turn into a tornado of “What ifs” and start to consider writing a will in case I die- I stop myself. Why before a trip do I always get nervous and consider all the negative things that could happen, and don’t find myself in a tornado of happy thoughts of all the awesome things that could happen? I keep getting the comments that I am brave for quitting my job and buying a one way ticket somewhere, but I don’t always feel brave. There are times where I’m actually scared as fuck and totally doubting myself. However, when I have these moments, I remind myself of why travel is important to me (which will be a blog post at some point). Yes, it requires confidence, but it also requires you totally doubting yourself because then you know you are being challenged- you know there is potential for growth, transition, and change. Why would I want to remain the same person everyday when there are a thousand different ways to live it, to experience during our short 80 years on this planet? -09/17/16

Our first impressions of Denmark are limited- we rode 12 miles straight from the airport to our AirBnB and immediately passed out. However, during the bike ride, we were able to go through downtown. Our first impressions:

1) Copenhagen is bike paradise! Bike lanes are ubiquitous and luxurious compared to the US (yes, even Portland), and everyone seems to be aware and support bikers. Seriously- there were moments we were at stop lights and there would be at least 50 bikers within sight.

2) Nobody seems to lock their bikes up here! We passed rows and rowsof apartments buildings and restaurants, with lines of bikes along them and you'd maybe see one bike loosely locked up with a easily hack-able lock. I took a mental note to ask people about this while we are here.

3) There are more bike shops here than black people...by a lot. We saw two besides Joe, but bike shops- every two blocks.

We'll see what the next few days bring...

 

 

How to stop working and start riding a bike: Part 1

Our house after the tree fell on it- August 4th, 2016

Our house after the tree fell on it- August 4th, 2016

Step 1: Have a tree fall on your house
Okay, it may sound like the worst thing in the world to happen, but as long as no one gets hurt and it truly is an accident, (please don’t start a termite farm in the old oak in your front yard) then a good old act of nature can be one of the best things that can happen to you. Now some of you might be asking: How could a massive oak tree bashing through the front of my house be a good thing? First off, you instantly know what possessions really matter to you, in our case it’s our bikes. Sure, they’re expensive but it’s more than that, it’s all the conversations we’ve had about getting on those bikes and peddling through far off places, it’s the freedom that comes from knowing that you can propel yourself at a steady thirteen mph without having to worry about making enough money to fill up the tank, or worry about a $1200 blown head gasket fix.
Next, That lease that keeps you at least 6 months from making a great escape is probably as demolished as your front porch, so find a month to month spot or shack up with some friends while you scrimp, save, sell, plan… Just stay versatile and don’t get too comfy or else you might have to wait for that next tree, lightning bolt, black mold infestation etc. and who knows when that might happen. If by chance a natural disaster does not occur to your home consider subletting, or Airbnb that place out. If you really wanna get out odds are strong you can figure something out.

(Pro Tip) Having renters insurance definitely makes this a much easier experience. I suggest to all those twenty somethings living paycheck to paycheck, try to find that extra $8 a month to put towards renters insurance. It really comes in handy when your valuables happen to get crushed by said tree and it’s also nice to get set up in a hotel while you’re making a plan for your great escape!

Step 2: Pick a place
Now that you’ve gotten rid of that pesky roof over your head the next question is, Where do you wanna go? Is it finally time to put those four years of Spanish class to practice? Have you been dreaming of biking down the Pacific Coast Highway, maybe the Mediterranean is a bit more to your liking? Do you want to set off to Southeast Asia where you can find a cheap hut on the beach after a long day’s ride? Where have you been dreaming of, who do you hope to meet, what places seem the most beautiful, mind expanding, delicious? And, I’m not talking about the spots that everyone say’s you have to go to, Paris is great, Rome is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen, but the real adventure happens between the big cities and the tourist traps, it’s talking to locals and finding out about the waterfall at the end of the old road that you can also camp at, it’s randomly stopping at a bar in the middle of nowhere and finding a room full of new best friends who want to scream out Tupac songs in broken english all night long. It's finding out one of your favorite bands is playing in an old mansion in a tiny village on the coast of Spain and biking three days out of your planned route to have one of the greatest nights of your life. Wherever you choose just make sure you’re excited about the possibilities that place brings.

Step 3: Downsize
Now that you know what really matters to you and where you’re heading, take a look around you and figure out which of these thing are going to help and which of these things are just gonna slow you down. We’re all hoarders in one way or another, there’s something comforting about having our collected things around us. I’m sure it’s somehow connected to the olden days of hunting and gathering, where we would pack our caves as tight as we could with all the berries and deer jerky we might need to make it through the winter and then we could sit back and try not to freeze to death. Nowadays, our caves just need to hold enough food till the next time we have to hop on our bikes and take a quick chilly January ride to the store to restock, and now that all of our food is widdled down to a weeks worth of viddles stored in the old ice box we have all this extra room to fill with crap we don’t really need or maybe even want. But then, the lizard brain say’s, “keep it, you never know when that inflatable flamingo collection might save your life," and these day’s you never know when the sea levels will rise up and you’ll need that personal island made of inflatable flamingos, but lets run with the odds and say it’s a safe bet it’s time for them to go, along with the piles of books you’ll probably never read, those weird peelers that you were going to do vegetable origami with, the twelve bikes you swore you were going salvage the parts to make one badass bike. You know the stuff i’m talking about.

While sifting through the crap accumulated over years of stagnation, you’ll come across those items that you could never possibly give up, that hold memories of days gone bye, your grandma’s old cast iron pans, those books that you actually do want to read or read again, that shirt that you lost your virginity in or that you took off right before you lost your virginity. I suggest lengthy lending to those life long friends or family that are not planning to uproot their lives anytime soon, unlike your crazy ass. If you don’t wish to burden friends and family with your stuff then look around for a cheap storage spot, you can usually get your first month free and a year of storage is probably gonna be way cheaper than a month of rent.