Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Trip Summary

So my trip in Europe was a ton of fun, and it pretty much sucks to be back at school and having to work again. After Bulgaria, I flew into Brussels. The airline was Bulgaria Air, and it was a moderately terrifying experience to fly with them. I have never been on a plane before that taxied so fast on the runway, when we went around corners I thought it was going to tip over. The plane was pretty old, obviously they had bought it from United or something and retrofitted it for service. The landing was pretty horrible as well, I thought the wheels were going to break we hit so hard.

Anyways, once in Brussels I had to get to my hotel, since I couldn't find a hostel to stay in that Saturday night. It turned out to be about an hour walk with all my gear from the train station through downtown, but I eventually made it and had a decent night's sleep. I woke up early and walked through the city to check out the main sites. The famous statue of the peeing boy wasn't nearly as big as I thought it would be, a real shame, but I took a picture with it anyways.

I ended up buying a bike from a local bike shop for 180 euro, a bit expensive especially with the crappy dollar to euro ratio now, but it got the job done. It was an old Puegot, maybe from the 80s with a ghetto red paint job. It wasn't ready until 1 PM that day, but I finally got on the road with all my bike gear.

My original goal was to head to Gent, maybe 50 miles from Brussels, but things did not quite work out as I had hopped. The first 20 or 30 miles was pretty straightforward, I just followed the signed on the secondary roads, but suddenly those signs put me on an expressway, where I was freaked out for my life for about 10 minutes as I looked for a way off. Finally, I managed to get onto an overpass and away from the express way, but had no idea where I was. I spend the rest of the afternoon following the sun to make sure I stayed in a westerly direction, but if finally got dark on me and I decided to do some stealth camping.

I chose a pretty great spot in a group of trees behind a farmer's field, where I spend a pretty chilly night next to some cows. In the morning I woke up and proceeded to Gent, where I had a huge breakfast in the town square. Gent is a nice town with some really cool architecture, but I was in a hurry to get to Bruges that day and to a hostel, so I headed back on the road.

After some flat and uneventful riding through the Belgian countryside, I finally got to Bruges around 6 PM. It is a very touristy town, there were so many people walking in the streets I could barely ride through. Apparently, its the most visited town in Belgium because its got some really great medieval architecture. I guess it was halfway abandoned after the middle ages and so nothing really changed in it.

The hostel I stayed at was quite nice and cheap, only 11 euro for the night. I met some Australians who I had dinner with, and drank a wide variety of Belgian beers. I was a little hesitant about Belgian beers, mainly because a few weeks ago I went to the Cheeky Monk in Denver, where I had a terrible beer from Belgium. However, all the beers I tried in Bruges were excellent.

In the morning I went to the grocery shop to buy some food for the days ride, and proceeded to head to the Dutch border. I'm not actually sure when I crossed over, as I never even saw a sign, but suddenly the bike paths and bike signs greatly improved and I began seeing lots of windmills, a sure sign of The Netherlands. I eventually had to take a ferry ride to an island were the capitol of the Zeeland province is located, Middelburg. This was a small city, nice to ride through, but I ended up camping in a town a few kilometers past called Veere. I had to pay 10 euro to use the campsite, which really pissed me off as it was just a piece of grass to sleep on. If I had known better, I would have just stashed away in some trees again.

In the morning, I went into Veere in search of breakfast and continued on the ride. I rode over several islands and saw the famous Dutch sea dikes with there massive mechanical gates to control the tides. It was quite impressive. Unfortunately, it was consistently windy coming at me from the north, the direction I was headed although the weather was blue skies. This was particularly annoying because my guide book said the winds should be coming from the exact opposite direction, as they experienced when they rode through.

Around 2 PM I had lunch in some tiny Dutch town along the coast at a place called Food Planet. It was actually pretty good, I had a hamburger which was absolutely nothing like a hamburger in the states, and decide to head to Rotterdam and catch a train to Amsterdam instead of suffering through another day of wind. I got to Amsterdam that Tuesday night after dealing with the train system, and booked up at a hostel.

Amsterdam was a fun city, I was there a total of five nights and pretty much saw all of it. I had my bike with me which made getting around a piece of cake, especially since every street has a bike lane on it. I've never seen so many bikes, it was incredible. I had a great time riding in bike traffic jams and scaring pedestrians that were spacing out and walked into the bike lanes. The only bad thing I have to say about Amsterdam is that it was incredibly overcast the entire time I was there, but since its so far north, it felt much darker outside than say Portland in the winter. It actually sort of got me down after a while and I'm glad to be back in Colorado, land of eternal sunshine. It also would have been more enjoyable to have someone with me on the journey, as I got tired of being by myself most of the time.

All in all, a good trip.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

In Belgium

I've made it to Brussels! All the hostels were filled up last night, so I ended up having to fork over $100 for a room, but besides that its been pretty easy going. I hit up the main tourist spots this morning, and now I'm waiting for the bike shop to open so I can get going on this trip! Food here is cheap and delicious, I had a croissant and coffee this morning for less than 3 euro.

One nice thing about Bulgaria is that many of the signs were in english as well. Not so here, I've been looking for a post office but haven't had any luck, which is probably because I don't know what post office is in french or flemish...

Alright, back to the cycling hunt!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Place visited

So today we had the afternoon off from the conference, and I went and checked this place out:


Its well known because of a painting that has jesus climbing into a space ship. Awesome!

Monday, October 15, 2007

In Bulgaria

Its Monday evening now, and I've been in Bulgaria since last night. It is a LONG journey to get here, or at least to Bansko, where I'm staying.

I started Saturday morning, flew to Washington/Dulles, then Frankfurt, and then Sofia, the capitol of Bulgaria. The flying actually wasn't too bad, in total maybe 12 hours actually on the plane. The worst part was getting to Bansko. It was a three hours on a cramped bus that had zero suspension on a road that was covered with potholes. I'm not looking forward to the drive back to Sofia Friday, although I can't wait to start my bike adventure.

Sofia itself is really run down, all the buildings (for the most part) are old communist block-style apartment buildings that haven't seen much in the way of maintenance. There is a ton of garbage on the sides of the streets, and the streets themselves are full of pot holes and there isn't any painted lines dividing the traffic. I would hate to try to cycle here, you would definitely get hit by a crazy driver!

Bansko is a big ski resort, I was told the biggest in Bulgaria. There isn't any snow here yet, but there are a ton of hotels under construction. I took a walk through part of the town and all there was to see is hotel after hotel under construction, but no shops of any kind. Its like a ghost town, but its the off season (skiing starts in December) so its somewhat understandable. I heard a few miles away there is a town center of sorts. Wednesday there is a tour in the afternoon I'm going to go on that should be interesting. I think we visit a village with a very old church...

Monday, October 1, 2007

Pooping of Pants Avoided

Well, I finally got my passport, although I found out last night I should have had it September 5th. I spent most of yesterday night and this morning freaking out about it and what to do when I managed to get ahold of someone at the passport office. Turns out they sent everything to 305 S 39TH ST instead of 365 S 39TH ST. I went down to that house today and sure enough, they had my passport and birth certificate sitting in their mail pile! Now I've got it and I'm set to head to Europe.

Besides that, I had a pretty terrific weekend. Rode the bike over Loveland Pass Saturday morning and then went to a wine party on the top floor of some huge office building in downtown Denver. It was for the launching party of this website, vinecatcher.com, which is like facebook for people who like wine. I also brought a kickass date with me, a nice change from the solo show. I didn't get to bed until late but had to get up early to ride up to Brainard Lake Sunday. I did do the ride, it was sunny all morning, but was pretty wiped at the end of it and I fell asleep at 7:30, getting a good 12 hours of sleep.