Wednesday, October 15, 2008

An Ending

So I assume that no one looks at this blog anymore, which is appropriate because it's been a while since I have posted anything. I just wanted to write once last post, I know I ended abruptly.

I was pretty sick when I was in Budapest. It's not that I wanted to end on a dramatic note. The reason I stopped posting was that, by the time I was feeling better, I had forgotten some of the great things I had done in Hungary. Also, I had forgotten some of the names of the people I wanted to thank for their hospitality. It seemed somehow better to avoid a social faux pas by feigning an unending illness. Anyway, thanks especially to Balázs and his family in Kaposvar, András and his family at Lake Baloton and in Budapest, and Anita, András' girlfriend. Anita deserves special thanks: she offered me her flat in Csepel for nearly two weeks as she was away. As I was really sick, it was incredibly generous for her to allow me to flop down there until I felt better.

It is starting to seem like a very long time since my bike journey. I sold some of my touring gear, fell out of shape relatively quickly, and got re-acquainted to constantly being in motor vehicles. I still have my bike in my parents' garage, and I still have my masquerade mask from Venice. I feel a little uneasy when I see them- that I should still be riding, that I don't have enough time to reflect on the trip because I am always getting ahead of myself.

Since I have returned, I have been drifting between Connecticut, Providence, Brooklyn, Pittsburgh and Ithaca. I have been working on handing in the last of my work for my Masters degree (done!), showing my New Orleans photography project at Carnegie Mellon, taking photos and preparing for a new exhibition with my friend Adam Ryder, chilling, and getting ready to move to Mexico City for a bit. I will be doing research on the history of parks and public space in the political history of Mexico. I leave this Sunday.

Some day I may add pictures of this blog to go along with the written posts. It will probably only happen if people let me know that they actually still look at it. So, in essence, I am requesting that you, dear reader, bug me.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


There is too much to say and I have waited too long. I am in Budapest after a four day, 110 km canoe trip along the Danube. The lifestyle of human-powered transport and camping does not die easily. Unfortunately, on this trip I got really sick. I had a horrible fever at night and stomach cramps all day, paddling against the wind on sunny days. Food poisoning? Water poisoning? Sun stroke? No idea. Either way, I am exhausted. I am starting to feel better now and I need to start thinking about what I will be doing here until I leave.

More to come, I hope, but I need a nap.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Portable Masquerade

When I was in Venice I picked up a paper mache masquerade mask- one that comes to a point, vaguely like a bird beak. I decided that it would be my one souvenir before I got to Hungary, and I have strapped it on to the back of my bike ever since.

The mask is white and is intended to be painted, but I thought it would be more fun to let it accrue mud, become warped by rain, and get chipped by my clumsiness. It can handle some abuse, but itś a constant battle to keep myself from stepping on it or destroying it in some other appropriate fashion.

Everything fun is made more fun by the mask, everything strange is made more strange, and everything awesome is most definitely made more awesome.

I am hoping I can save it and bring it back home with me.

Summer of my German Acrobats

Krisztian and I made friends with two German backpackers when we were at the campground in Bled- Larissa and Sonja. They are on break from school- one is studying nursing and the other physiotherapy. They happened to be heading towards Hungary too, so we have been hanging out for the past couple of days.

As the biking as impossible, we took a train from Bled, intending to get somewhere near Lake Balaton in Hungary. To get to the right train, we had to go to Ljubljana and spend a day. Having seen all of Slovenia, I am really confused. It seems to be full of big houses, perfectly clean and modern cities, and devoid of all Eastern Bloc-type architecture, spare some industrial buildings (still in use) near the train tracks. How did a country transition from communism in less than 20 years to look like this. In almost every way, it looks like how I would imagine Switzerland.

We didn´t have much time to spend in Ljubljana, but it was really nice- perhaps a little too nice. Everything was pedestrian and bicycle-friendly, it was full of British and German tourists, and the canals were lined with cafes, restaurants, and cultural establishments. It felt fabricated and I wish that I had been able to stray from the tourist spots.

We and our friends walked up a hugely steep hill to get to a park and castle, and our attempts to push the bikes up a steep gravel path were comical and painstaking. when we finally got to the top we ate lunch and Krisztian and I tried to teach ourselves to walk on our hands and do handsprings on the grass. As it turns out, Larissa and Sonja were on a high school circus team, and they had plenty of acrobatic tricks, which they could actually do, to perform for us. It was so cool that I had to take a nap in the grass.

They took a 2 am train to Hungary, but bikes were only allowed on the 7 am train. We slept on the edge of a park across the street from the train station. Rather, Krisztian slept and I laid there and resented him. We had managed to become official vagrants in Ljubljana in less than 24 hours. This city seemed so safe that there was something a little creepy about it- people didnţ even bother locking their bikes.

After a long train ride, a two hour bus detour, another train ride, and 60 km of biking, we arrived at the campground on the Northern shore of Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Central Europe. This trip, it seems, is becoming a lake tour, and I am totally fine with that.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Things I Miss about America

family and friends
my good camera
Mexican food
American music (the good kind, I hear plenty here)
peanut butter
my laptop
the ability to eavesdrop
open space
wooden architecture
warm food
amnesia towards the insurmountable time frame of history

Drinking the Landscape

When I was in Avignon I called my mom to check in. Among other motherly topics such as being careful and remembering to pay bills, she asked if I was doing anything besides riding and drinking. The short answer is... sort of.

I never was that into wine before I came on this trip, but the majority of our route has been through wine country. We don't have many ways to keep ourselves occupied at night, so we often pick up a bottle of wine. Red wine can just stay in the pannier bag, white wine gets stored in a river for an hour.

This is, in some ways, a defense of the amount of wine I consume. No offense, mom! I am in the best physical shape of my life, and my metabolism is really fast. Besides overdoing it in Avignon, I have yet to have a hangover.

Maybe this is a bit of a bullshit argument, but I think drinking local wine is another way to connect to the landscape that we slowly travel through. We always try to find wine from a local vineyard. I am no connoisseur, but I am starting to taste how the soil, amount of sunlight, and age of a wine creates variety and nuance. Well, maybe a little bit. It also helps me go to sleep when coyotes are howling or giant Italian bats are screeching through the night.

Drinking wine offers a perfect balance to a day of exertion, of movement. And besides, bread and wine are the two things that are cheaper in Europe. If you still doubt my argument then answer this: is there any coincidence that wine bottles fit perfectly on the water bottle holders on our bikes. I rest my case.

Slovenia is a Real Place

When we left Venice, Krisztian and I decided that we would cut through Slovenia instead of heading down to Croatia. We were already close and itś just a small country between Italy and Hungary, right? HAHAHAHA.

A few nights ago we crossed into Slovenia from Italy. Once again, there was no one to check our passports at the border. In my ignorance, I didn't know whether Slovenia is part of the EU or not. It turns out they are presiding over the EU right now. Opa!

Ever since we left Venice, the Alps loomed over us, far and too the left, as we rode past vineyards on perfectly flat terrain. As we finally approached Slovenia, it became immediately apparent that the Slovenian landscape is unfuckwithable. We had managed to ride through the Pyrenees and smaller parts of the Alps, but within a few kilometers we found ourselves walking our bikes for the first time in the trip. There is no way to ride a fully-loaded touring bike up a 15% grade for two kilometers in the hot hot sun. No way. We were humbled by Slovenia.

To contextualize the formidable terrain of Slovenia, within five miles of the border we came across a railroad bridge which contains the largest free-standing stone arch in the world. During Franz Ferdinand's reign of the Austro-Hungarian empire, the only way to connect Slovenia to the economic network of the region was to make a giant, giant, giant railroad bridge over a river valley. It was beautiful after a long mountain climb. The alpine river was so cold that I could barely swim back to the shore and didn't feel that I cut open a few of my toes. It was well worth it.

A huge thunderstorm commenced as soon as we made it to Nova Gornica, a valley village with a grocery store. We found shelter under the canopy of the vacant border station, a strange refuge indeed. I wish I could put pictures up right now. By the end of the night, muddy and slightly miserable, we had crossed the border at least four times looking for a place to set up camp. Our campsite was pretty sketchy and obviously on private property, but it was getting dark and we resolved to leave by 6 am. When we woke, of course, there was a very elderly woman walking down the dirt driveway. She was non-threatening and said nothing, but her evil eye instilled in us a sense of guilt that I haven't felt in a long time.

We knew it was impossible to ride through Slovenia, so we would have to take a train somewhere. We had met an American girl, currently living in Germany, in Venice, who suggested that we meet her and her cousin in a town called Bled. All we knew about it was that there was a lake and a lot of outdoor activities. And a cool name. So we hopped on a train and went. The train was full of cyclists, and we knew we were going to the right place.

We have now been in Bled for three days, Nhaving never got in contact with Meghan, our American friend, because her phone number isn't working. However, that lucky coincidence of running into her at a Venician pizzeria led us to one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. There is a perfectly clear alpine lake with a castle, huge mountains in every direction, cheap camping and an island with a historic church. We have been spending our days alternating between swimming, drinking wine, biking, laying in the sun, fishing, taking photos, and making friends with the hoards of English, Australian and other Anglophone people who are at the campground. I have heard more English here than in any other place on this trip. Usually I prefer to avoid tourists, but I really like being able to communicate easily with other travelers. This is definitely a place for tourists, but they are outdoorsy types and spend their days swimming, hiking and biking.

As much as I have gotten used to being stared at all the time, it's nice to be somewhere where I can sit on the ground and eat with my hands, wear garish spandex shorts in a grocery store, speak in English, and drink wine from the bottle without getting any odd looks. We are among our own.

This place is really magical.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Milan to Venice

We cheated and took a train from Avignon to Milan. Being tired of France and behind schedule, we went to the Avignon and asked for a train ticket to Northern Italy: anywhere in northern Italy: Turin, Genoa, Milan. It turned out that we could go to Milan the next day, so we bought the tickets.

The ride took most of the day and involved four different local trains, since those were the only ones that (supposedly) allowed bike stowage. On our last train switch, just beyond the border of France, the train engineer stopped us and said that bicycles were not allowed on TrenItalia trains. We took the bikes onto the train anyway, since we had no other way to get to Milan that night. Once we boarded we were harrassed by another conductor. Krisztian and I put on our angry faces, crossed our arms, and blocked the door so that they could not force us off. After some arguments with a compete language barrier, a third and more nurturing/reasonable (read: woman) employee showed us a pace where we could store our bikes. We were on our way.

We stayed with our friend Nadia in Milan. She spoiled us with the fineries of life: access to a shower, beds, delicious food, etc. Being from Sicily, she doesn't really like Milan and was planning on leaving the city. Her diagnosis of the city seemed to be pretty accurate: it was too expensive, fashion-obsessed, and FULL OF MOSQUITOS. Of course, there were still beautiful cathedrals, castles, and all of that other European stuff. Still, I think the combinedl volume of Milanese mosquitos would fill all of these buildings. Imagine: middle-aged women wearing Prada sunglasses and Yves St. Laurent dresses trying not to scratch the itchy red bumps all over their bodies. And Vespas. That´s Milan.

Here's a strange thing about Europeans- they don't have bug screens on their windows. They have shutters, balconies, and every other window accoutrement, yet somehow screens never caught on. So people (I) get mosquito bites all over my face at night. It was the same in Avignon. wtf?

One great thing that I got to see was a photo exhibition at the Palazzo Della Ragione called˝Unknown Weegee.˝ Not only is Weegee one of my favorite photographers, but I got to see a lot of his rare works on the inside of a somewhat-renovated medieval palace: above the typical white walls were worn frescoes and vaulted stone ceilings.

Our ride from Milan to Venice was probably the most successful of the trip. With a flat terrain and perfect weather, we covered about 325 km in three days. We camped on the edge of corn fields, bathed in irrigation canals, and were sometimes kept awake by huge, noisy bats and other mysterious creatures. We heard that Italians were not so lax about their regulation of informal camping so every night was a little nerve-wracking. It's no fun to get in a tent at sundown and not be able to talk or turn on your headlamp. While I loved Italy and found people to be quite warm, I wonder why they have such a different attititude towards privacy than their neighbors. Every house has a gate, for example.

Anyway, I could go in but internet is getting really expensive these days. Check out Krisztian's blog for more more more!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Avignon, Idleness, Tour de France

Forgive me, dear reader, it has been over a week since my last post. This is not because I haven't had access to the internet or because nothing is happening. Rather, it is because I have had more than enough time to write things down. Anyone who knows me is familiar with my procrastination skills.

Krisztian and I rode slowly to Avignon, wanting to give our friend Cecily time to prepare for our arrival. Also, we were trying to time our viewing of the Tour de France, whichhas a circuit starting in nearby Nimes. We stayed for about four days in her small studio apartment, which was called a "cruce." I have no idea how to spell that word or what it means, but that's what it was. Avignon is a walled medieval city in Provence, and it happened to be hosting the largest theater festival in Europe when we arrived. The streets were overflowing with people; there were minstrels and breakdancers and jugglers and unicyclists and every other type of spectacle imaginable.

It was strange for me to learn that what Americans might call a "show" or "performance" is called "l'espectacle" in French. If anyone else has read Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle, you might understand how I felt. Spectacles were constantly permeating the real, the everyday. Rather than the traditional spectacle of advertising, theater groups would come sing a song to a group at a caffe, hand out handbills, or attempt some other more clever way of getting peoples' attention. This spectacle took quite the strange twist for me.

I was walking with Cecily and some of her fellow literature graduate students who were in Avignon for the summer studying French. We we taking a long walk to a park on the banks of the Rhone and crossing a bridge when a woman ran up to us yelling frantically in French. She looked frightened, but I did not understand what she was saying and it seemed to be an especially disruptive attention-grab for a play. A few moments later, I was with a group of men pulling a man over the railing of the bridge and subduing him on the sidewalk. He was trying to jump. We held him there until the ambulance came. More than any time I can remember, I wondered why I happened to be there at that particular moment. And if it was my role to interfere with the fate of another life that I knew nothing about.

The incident at the bridge may be my most vivid recollection of Avignon, but I did a number of fun things there. I saw a Hungarian play adapted by Romanians and performed in French, I drank wine with these aforementioned Romanians, I ate mussels and french fries, we had a mini dance party in an overcrowded studio apartment. Krisztian and I also scaled the city wall by climbing up a dumpster and busting out some parkour moves. I am convinced time and time again that climbing things can only lead to goodness. We tried to circumambulate the whole town on top of the wall, but we didn't make it too far before we came up to a gate and had to retrace our steps. Regardless, I got to pretend to shoot arrows and pour boiling wax on invaders. AKA, getting medieval on Avignon's ass.

Sometime towards the end of our stay in Avignon, Krisztian and I rode out to to a small town called Saint Remy-en-Provence to watch the Tour de France. We had to ride up a small vestige of the Alps, the Alpilles, on the way. After the most difficult climb of the trip, we were rewarded by a high-altitude lake with a giant rock face and a late and luminous sunset. As we did for every meal, we sat and ate some sort of meat, cheese, a baguette, and some fruit with our hands. Sometimes I forget that utensils exist.

We ended up setting up camp on the edge of a parking lot for an archaeological site from the 3rd century BC. I wanted to climb another wall to get a look, but we decided it was better not to push our luck any further. Rising early in the morning, we found a site to watch the racers on a stone wall at the bottom of a two-tiered cascade. As we sat there for hours, drinking wine before noon because it seemed appropriate, people slowly began picking their own spots around us. Like so many Europeans, a man across the street and his son were wearing t-shirts in semi-coherent English: the son was wearing a "Street America" tank top, and his father was wearing my favorite of the trip, "Trash User." Eventually, Mr. Trash User and his friends invited us across the street to enjoy the festivities with them. They fed us, offered us wine from a local family vineyard, and plenty of an annis-based drink called Ricard.

We ran back across the street when the race seemed to be coming, but it always seemed to be a false alarm. Being drunk and excited about seeing the world's biggest cycling event for free, we were extra eager to hold up our "Tour de Awesome" banner for the film crews. There were so many false alarms, and the French tradition of spectacle continued. For two hours, cars and floats drove by advertising every imaginable product, tossing samples over our head and into the river. Finally, almost as an an afterthought, the lead pack and the peloton passed us in what seemed like 10 seconds. Some people left before the bikes even came by. That's like watching the Superbowl just for the commercials. Weird.

Anyway, Mr. Trash User and his friend, a retired sheriff of Avignon, slowly led us back to their place in their cars, as we pedaled behind wobbly. After a long day of playing card games we didn't understand and drinking delicious wine, Jean Claude, the retired sheriff, gave us a ride back to Avignon in his 60s Citroen dune buggy. And gave us homemade honey. Really.

So, after our time in France, I have to conclude that French people are really confusing. I have found them to be the most welcoming AND the most standoffish. They honk at you in support and they honk at you in anger. They laugh with you and laugh at you. I had a great time in France, but it was time to hop on the train and skip some terrain. Next stop, Milan.

Monday, July 14, 2008


It's an extreme privilege to be a fugitive to circumstance, to have nowhere to be but to keep moving. The scene where I am sitting, almost a caricature of French cafe culture, seems more remarkable when juxtaposed with the many banal and interstitial spaces we enounter on a more regular basis. Last night I set up camp under cedars on a narrow strip of land between a highway and an industrial park. There are still needles stuck to my shoe.

Spending time in such "non-places" allow me to reflect on the way that landscapes are inevitably imbued with meaning. As a professor of mine once said, "every landscape of consumption has a corresponding landscape of degradation." Even more so, there are places that are so banal and commonplace that it takes extra effort to even notice their existence. Still, the needles of cedar made a sort bed and the whir of highway traffic yielded a strangely comforting lullabye.

Speaking of such non-places, I found out that Adam Ryder and I got a grant to do a colloaborative photo and mapping project about the spaces around high-tension power lines in Rhode Island. For both of us it will be a farewell to Providence, a place that has remained home even as I have moved on. We are planning to travel by bicycle along the power lines, so this trip is allowing me to reflect on how landscapes are viewed by the vantage point of a bike.

More than anything, it helps to think about the balance between getting lost and planning a specific route, organization versus spontanteity. From this trip, I don't know that either work as satisfying frameworks for getting to know a place. We need a map to deviate from.

In commemoration of the grant, Krisztian and I camped under power lines somewhere outside Montpelier last night.


Travelling has made me think a lot about what "home" means. I have nowhere to be, and there is nowhere in particular that feels like home. Home is more people than places, and my friends and family, like me, have dispersed. If I could magically lure all of these wonderful people into one place, I might still want to get away. For now, I have no idea where I will go for more than a month after this trip ends. I am living some sort of deliberate and privileged homelessness.


Two days ago we rode into a small town called Nissan looking for a place to buy water. The town was setting up for a festival, for what I still don't know, and we realized that it was Friday. As we rode further into town, a gaggle of teenage boys in matching blue t-shirts ran around the corner. We had seen them before pushing each other around on a float, in there very own parade. As they rounded the corner, they yelled something about cyclists and handed us each a bottle of unknown alcoholic concoctions. We drank as they jumped around yelled "allez!". After a long ride in the sun, we were equally excited about whatever it was that they were celebrating. Our new friends turned out to be an American football team, not a soccer team as we had imagined. It all made sense- out of context, the chugging ritual that I would have snubbed my nose at seemed perfect.

Compared to Spain, it seems that France looks much more towards American culture. From huge supermarkets to pop music to fashion, sometimes I feel like I am in the States. Some beach towns feel like they could be in New Jersey, down to the cover band playing "Fly me to the Moon."

Once in the rural areas, the landscape is covered with vineyards, hilly topographies yielding microclimates that I can feel on my skin. We drafted behind a tractor for for about 5 km- it was going the perfect speed and blocked the wind. It always seems like we are riding into a headwind, but at this point no riding conditions are too frustrating or difficult. I laughed to myself when, conversing with another pair of bike tourers, I described the Pyrennean pass from Spain to France as a "good hill." I imagine that we can ride forever at this point, but we have decided to ride hard in the mornings and evenings, leaving most of the day to wander around towns or hang out on the beach.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

On to France

We awoke with the sun at our Mediterranean villa. Riding early in the morning was a treat- it was cool and we covered great mileage. The climb up to the French border was of epic proportions, our first real introduction to the Pyrenees, and we were happy to drink a beer at the bar on top. There was a Customs booth on the road but no one was working there. The EU is magical.

After crossing the border, we found the cheapest campground that we have paid for so far- 7 Euros a night. Our site was on a bluff overlooking a nature preserve and cove. We ran down, walked to the edge of a jetty of volcanic rock, and dove into the water. There were pebbles below that looked like I could stand on, but they were at least 30 feet below.

Later that night, we met some nursing students from Brittany and drank some anise liqueur and wine with them. They played us the Rolling Stones, Guns and Roses, and other music that we had been sorely missing. I can only sing the same Tom Petty and R. Kelly songs in my head for so long. They all thought it was very funny that my name was Brian, because there is some sort of stand-up comedy show with a character of that name. They kept on saying ¨Brian is in the kitchen¨and laughing uncontrollably. I have no idea. It was still really fun and welcoming for a new country.

I am nervous about being in France. First, because I cannot communicate in French like I could in Spanish. I´ll have to learn some, enough for people to interject with their perfect English.

Today we are spending the afternoon in a seaside town. We swam in a cove overlooking a medieval castle. This sort of thing never becomes commonplace or routine, it is simply amazing.

L´Estartit (Let´s Start It)

As we began getting closer to France, the names of places and businesses became more and more confusing. Some were in Spanish, but sometimes more were in French and Catalan. We ended up staying at L´Estartit. As we rode into town, we were looking for a smaller road on the map, hoping to find another ˝informal¨camping site. We started going up a huge, windy hill, and it was obvious that it was not the right road. Still, out of some macho self-challenging, delirium, and curiosity, we rode to the top of this road. I almost puked. Krisztian climbed up onto a wall to see the view, which was overlooking mountains, a cove, and a seaside town. We looked down below the wall and realized that we had found a abandoned villa. This became our home for the night. We hopped from the roof the the carport, which had a perfectly-placed rolled rug. After tossing our things over the wall, reverse-robbing the house, we went down to the beach, ate ice cream, and drank water out of wine glasses.


I haven´t posted in a bit, so this might come off as a bit encyclopedic.

Of anywhere on this trip, I knew that my experience in Barcelona would be amazing. Krisztian and I were staying with our friend Bernat, a Catalonian guy who was a visiting student at our department at Cornell. He lives with an Italian girl named Wilma in Raval, the medieval quarter of the city which has a reputation of being the (old) East Village of Barcelona.

Through some strange twist of fate, I also received an email from my friend Matt from high school, responding to the message that I had sent out to friends and family about the trip. It turns out he was walking across the coast of Spain in the opposite direction and would be in Barcelona at the same time.

Barcelona was a beautiful city, cultural center and also happened to have beaches. At certain points, the sheer number of tourists became overwhelming. When Krisztian and I went to Gaudi´s Sagrada Familia Cathedral, we ended up just walking around it and around it instead of paying the fee to enter. This is becoming a common theme on our trip. There were so many tourists from all over the world, mainly Europe. To entertain ourselves, we spoke in made up languages and tried to get people to take pictures of the sky by pointing our cameras away from the Cathedral. So, as it turns out, I have pictures of some people with very unflattering fanny packs (for you Brits), or seas of people all taking photos of some unknown thing in the distance. I never really understood tourist photography. Is the point of taking the picture to prove you were there, to conquer it?

That night I hung out with Matt and Tom. We went skateboarding at MACBA, Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, one of the hottest skate spots in the world right now. We drank 40s of beer, skated, and watched some amazing skaters. It was strange that we carried on such similar activities as we would have in high school, but in such a different environment. Later, we skated down to the beach and listened to people playing flamenco music.

By the next day, I thought Barcelona was probably my favorite city I have ever been to. We went to a big beach party later that night, and Krisztian and I went swimming with some people. In a short moment that I took my eyes off my things, someone had taken my wallet and taken our mobile phone from Krisztian. We felt pretty ashamed, but also duped. Supposedly it happens all the time there. I still loved Barcelona, but it left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Bernat was a great host. He showed us around town and led us on a bike tour of the city, followed by a ride to the town where he grew up, during which we took our first swim in the Mediterranean.

After four days, a few mishaps, and a lot of fun, we had to start riding again. The area between Barcelona and the French border, Costa Brava, may have been the most beautiful place I have ever seen. We rode along cliffs and hurtled down hills for an entire day, overlooking the sea.