Friend Surfing 101

After a successful ride share from Berlin to Hamburg, I arrived with plenty of time to eat and explore the city before making my way once again to some friends who Greg and I had hosted through Warmshowers.org last spring. Johanna and Andreas are no ordinary hosts. On November 4th, they returned home after 20 months of cycle touring around the world. I could base this whole post on how awesome they are and how endless their exciting stories about the world are, but you should read (and translate from German) for yourself! www.cycle-the-world.de If I were to summarize what I learnt from their inspiring journey it would be to go to China. Apparently you can see everything you would ever want and more in China and although it was by far the most difficult country to bike through, they are both dying to go back and continue to try to understand the culture which is so utterly different from our own.

Nightime in the old storage house area

Night time in the old storage house area in Hamburg

So, not only was I  the first guest to stay in their new apartment, I arrived before most of their furniture! They had literally gotten the keys to the place 3 days prior. None the less, they went out of their way to make me feel at home. A highlight for me was acquiring a new spork from them. As a parting gift in Vancouver, they left a blue spork which has been my trusty companion these many months. Sadly, I stepped on it in Prague thus ending its functional life. I am now the proud owner of a brand new yellow one which among other things, will remind me of my great time and continued friendship with Johanna and Andreas. Hamburg is definitely a nice city and I found myself thinking this is maybe what Scandinavian countries feel like.

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It definitely felt cleaner, ritcher and more elegant than Berlin though it is too bad I was not there during the summer as there was promise of paddling trips and other such adventures if I ever was to return “at a better time of the year.” No matter the month, the famous Reeperbahn was bumping and we spent a night out on the town enjoying Astra (beer from Hamburg -2nd best in the world according to Johanna. A runner up to the beer from Loas) and some extremely cheap tequila shots 😉

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My next stop on this friend hopping adventure I seem to be having was Heidelberg where I arrived to be greeted at 6:35am at the bus station by the lovely Sarah Finckh! I met Sarah through the Queen’s Climbing Club when she was on exchange in my fourth year. Sound familiar? If you read Greg’s previous blog you will know that he stayed with a guy named Richard who fell under the same description. Sarah and Richard both stayed with us for two weeks after a hitch hiking trip to Alaska over two years ago. Greg and I often referred to this period of time as the glory days because of their stay with us and because apple cinnamon cheerios happened to be on mega sale at the local Buy Low Foods at the same time.

Sarah is currently finishing up her studies in Spanish, English and Biology (she is super woman)! We spent 6 days relaxing, exploring the very magical town and castle, catching up, drinking Gluhwein and biking around. I even went to one of her English classes where we discussed at length the meanings of various topics in the book Fight Club. It was inspiring – people actually discuss interesting things in some university classes…

Sharing some Gluwein

Sharing some Gluhwein

Sarah and I also took a trip to Frankfurt to visit a friend of hers. I can now say that I have seen the main train station and Sarah’s friends couch in Frankfurt… I unfortunately got some 24hr bug and spent the day between the couch and the WC. I stayed one additional day to rest before moving on to Lucerne Switzerland where I spent 2 days.
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The small Swiss town situated on the edge of lake Lucerne and nestled in the mountains lived up to its reputation for beauty . It also fulfilled its duty of burning a huge hole in my pocket in a matter of hours. Mike had warned me that Switzerland was expensive but it wasn’t until I was told that tap water was going to cost me 3 franks (just over 3 CAD) at a supposedly cheap restaurant I went to for lunch that it really hit me.
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I did some ferry boating, mountain summitting (by cable car) and walking but perhaps the highlight for me was an impromptu visit to the city’s transport museum where I spent a full 6 hrs exploring all the exhibits. I saw an IMAX and planetarium show, did a fully rotational flight simulation, drove a train, explored a full Swiss Air plane from the 50s and much much more! It is the most fun I have had at a museum since I visited the Toronto Science Center 3 years ago.
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Felicia and Colin my CS hosts in Lucerne provided me with some great tips and evening entertainment. Felicia is a great cook and Aries their male cat is essentially the cuddliest dog you ever met trapped in a cats body.

I am now in Ljubljana after a successful night train (nothing stolen) but I will keep this for my next post. Greg is currently in Montenegro and we are arranging to meet in Athens on the 14th to collect our bikes before we return home.

Back of the Bus

It’s 10:40 pm in Croatia’s capital and I have just arrived by bus. I have a couchsurfing host to look forward to but unfortunately he is at a concert and won’t meet me until 1:00 am. Until then I will wait under the Golden Arches.

Two weeks ago I wrote from the studio apartment of a Romanian immigrant to Germany. I spent my first full day on my own revisiting Munich having first been there in 2003. It was actually surprising how much I remembered from that trip once I was seeing it again. I went up the same church tower and saw the same store where a bunch of people on the previous school trip bought beer mugs. Munich was a very safe location in all senses of the word to stretch out on my own.

Hill in the Munich Olympic Park area. I ate dinner and shivered as the sun set over the city.

In Prague I had contacted a former German exchange student to Queen’s who was in the climbing club with me. As it turns out he had just returned to Germany and was back in the town of Meersburg, population ~5000, across a big lake from the university town of Konstanz. I arrived by bus in this tiny blip to be welcomed into the home of the family that Richard lives with. Within an hour we were started in on a case of beer and within three we were at a masquerade party with unfortunately high compliance given that I was uninformed.

After all of the border hassle (crossing the street), I made it to Switzerland.

Other than the first late night my time here mostly consisted of sleeping in and playing countless games of Kniffel, also known as Yahtzee in more civilized parts of the world. The exciting exception was walking to Switzerland from Konstanz. From the ferry landing it is about 6 km to the city of Kreuzlingen. Actually I take it back. Exciting is not the right word because the only reason I knew I had crossed was that the license plates changed from one side of the street to the other. Still, things don’t always need to be exciting to be a good use of your time. There was also the incident at the dinner table where I said, “I’ve been there.” when I thought someone was talking, in German, about the nearby town of Überlinger to which Richard and I had cycled. It turns out they had been talking about puberty so I guess I didn’t lie.

Meersburg led to one more night in Munich with Liviu before setting off by rail to Ljubljana. With the depressingly short days most of my travel has taken place in the dark. However, this day trip took place in the glorious daylight and wound through the alps, countless tunnels, and the first snowfall I’ve seen this year. In Ljubljana I had arranged to stay with a young couple, Petra and Rok, and their baby, Vesna, in a block of buildings which typify the communist taste for right angles. We passed the evening sampling Slovenian wine and some fruit brandy made by Petra.

The next day I wandered the tiny capital alone until I met my new hosts in the afternoon.  Aljoša and Kaška were the highlight of my visit to the city as we spent every second of the next two days together. I felt like a spoiled child as they fed me, rented me a bike for a personalized city tour, and took me out with their friends. Kaška had also arranged a ride share to take me to the Škocjan caves which had come recommended by all of my hosts over the more famous Postojna caves nearby.

Bike ride to where the river is artificially split in Ljubljana to help alleviate chronic flooding. A couple of muskrats were swimming around and begging for bread.

Sparrows join me for lunch at the triple bridge in the center of Ljubljana.

The caves are typical of the karst region of Slovenia where porous limestone allows rivers to sink underground for dozens of kilometers. I had never been in a proper cave before and it looks exactly like pictures but they don’t convey the immensity and claustrophobia of actually being inside. To me it was a bit like the rush you get looking over a cliff edge but that might be because we were walking alongside underground cliffs with up to a 45 meter drop to the Reka river below.

To get to Zagreb from Škocjan I first visited the sliver of coastline that Slovenia has on the Adriatic sea and then hopped down to Pula on the Istria peninsula of Croatia. Here, again, I was hosted through couchsurfing by Aneta. Suffering from a two-day hangover she suggested taking her dog for a walk and getting a beer along the way. I think this is the first time I’ve actually seen someone use a drink as a hangover cure but she perked up noticeably after her half pint. We went for another long walk with the dog during the day and passed by the fort, market, and about a kilometer of coastline. Due to the imminent rain, the sea was a stormy grey instead of the deep blue typical of the Croatian coast.

Bridge 45 meters above the river in Škocjan caves.

And that is the end of this very play-by-play account of the last couple of weeks. Some whimsical musings The near future points toward some time on the Croatian coast and a longer stint in Sarajevo before finishing off the trip through Montenegro, Albania, and Macedonia.

Harbour in Piran, Slovenia.

Lindsay should be back next week to tell more about Berlin, Hamburg, Heidelberg, and wherever she might go next. I don’t even think she knows where that is yet but I think she is embracing that freedom.

Sixth* largest Roman Amphitheater in the world. Pula, Croatia. *Corrected from Third by Aneta.

UPDATE: I went to the Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb. It was the first time since the day we split that I felt truly sad but it was also therapeutic. It’s well done with a focus on healing rather than dwelling on the past but it is still a collection of items that used to bring happiness and now bring pain to the (former) owners. It’s a must-visit in this city.