Letters

Letters 07-28-14

Worry About Legals

I can’t figure out what perplexes me more, the misinformation everywhere in the media or those who believe it to be true. Take the Hobby Lobby case; as a company that is primarily owned by a religious family, they felt their First Amendment rights were infringed upon by the “Affordable” Care Act...

Stop Labeling and Enjoy

I have been struggling to find a simple way of understanding for myself the concepts of conservative, liberal, and moderation as it relates to our social interactions with each other...

Proposal One & The Public Good

Are you kidding me? Another corporate giveaway with loopholes for large corporations who rule us? Hasn’t our corrupt and worthless governor done enough to raise taxes, provide corporate welfare, unjustly tax pensions, and shut down elected officials with his emergency manager racket...

The Truth About Road Workers

Apparently Mr. Kachadurian did not catch on to the fact that the MDOT Employee Memorial in Clare is a tribute to highway workers who lost their lives building our transportation systems. It was paid for by current and former MDOT employees who likely knew some of these people personally...

Idiotic and Misguided

As a seasonal resident, I always look forward to reading your paper, if only because of the idiotic letters to the editor and off the wall columns...


Home · Articles · News · Random Thoughts · Biking to Budapest
. . . .

Biking to Budapest

Robert Downes - October 18th, 2007
Greetings from Prague, the “Capital of Cool” in Europe during the ‘90s. I’m happy to report that it’s still pretty cool with its cobblebrick streets, mammoth castle, clock towers, coffeehouses and cheap beer. Also, hordes of travelers from every land crowding its colorful streets.
After biking 225 miles down the Danube in Austria and bushwhacking various ‘bandit’ campsites along the river, I now have the benefit of regular showers and meals. The downside is losing the privacy of my soggy pup tent, which means sharing hostel rooms with up to seven strangers.
As mentioned in previous columns, I’m fulfilling a lifelong dream of traveling around the world -- close to the edge -- starting out with Europe on a bicycle. So far, I’ve biked up the lush coast of western Ireland and from sea-to-sea across England; then down Der Donau, as we call it in Austria -- about 700 miles.
I’ve been traveling on a 20-year-old mountain bike named Dulcinea, heavily loaded with camping gear and a half-sized backpacking guitar. We’ve made for a funny sight, like a rolling dragonfly with bulging panniers on the sides and the guitar’s neck sticking far out the back. The only thing funnier has been my mangled attempt at the German language, which always got a laugh out of the stand-offish Austrians.
Bike mechanics in Traverse City scoffed at the idea that my old junker would ever survive such a trip. Yet I’m happy to report that Dulcinea seems to have gotten stronger as the miles flew by and took on a sense of personality. I’m planning to donate the bike soon, when the backpacking portion of the trip kicks in, but will sure miss the old horse.
I’m the first to admit that this trip is terribly self-indulgent, but as the great Eric Burdon once said, “It’s my life, and I’ll do what I want,” so please accept a few observations from a wayfaring stranger:

• My ride is a measly affair compared to that of an Irishman I met who is biking to Croatia, where he says, “the women are beautiful,” or that of a British couple in their 30s who’ve spent the past six months biking thousands of miles to Turkey and back through Romania.

• I’ll never knock McDonald’s again. Ironically, the burger giant has been the only place in most countries that I could count on to get a salad. You really crave salads after a steady diet of fish-and-chips, shish kebab, or the stuff that passes for pizza over here.

• Do you fear foreign travel? And well you should, because I’ve been robbed several times by the Exchange Rate Bandit. The plummeting dollar is worth only 60 cents against the euro, and only about 50 cents against the British pound. It can also be staggeringly expensive here -- a cup of coffee in Amsterdam cost me $6. But there are paradoxes as well -- a bottle of wine in Austria cost less than a can of Coke.
The costs haven’t kept Americans away though -- I meet my countrymen at every corner, including riding far out in the country. It’s always great to hear an American accent and say howdy.

• To cut costs, I stay in hostels, which run around $25 per night to sleep in a small room, packed with bunkbeds. Often, women and men share the same rooms, which makes getting dressed a bit ticklish. You meet everyone from old guys in suits on business trips, to Asians traveling to new jobs or colleges in Europe.
It’s kind of fun in a goofy, Boy Scout camp kind of way, as long as you don’t expect to get much sleep -- especially if your bunkmates are a bunch of giggly, drunken teenagers who have a knack for turning up at 3 a.m.

• Biking through Europe has made me realize how lucky we are as Americans. Most of these countries have none of the roadside parks or restrooms that we take for granted, and even an old stone hut can be a private tourist attraction that costs $5 to visit. In much of Europe, there is literally no public property -- even the wastelands belong to some lord or royal family. True, the big cities all have parks the size of airports, but these are usually the former hunting grounds of kings that were seized in violent revolutions. Out in the country, there is little in the way of parks or campgrounds for the common person. It makes me proud of America’s public parks and sharing spirit.

• On the other hand, the Europeans sure have some sweet bike paths, and it was a thrill to cycle all around London, Amsterdam and Vienna. The Danube Cycle Way was broad and smooth, taking me along the pearly river through mustard fields, vineyards, orchards of sticky-sweet fermenting apples and 800-year-old villages.

But all that is behind this city rat now as I push on by train to Krakow, Bratislava and a jump-off point into stranger places from Budapest, Hungary. Within the next few weeks, I will be in two of the largest cities in the world, with populations of 20 million or so. Will let you know how it goes...

Robert Downes is on a four-and-a-half month trip around the world. Look for more foreign dispatches in upcoming columns.



 
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