Category Archives: sport

From the Atlantic to the Black Sea

Eurovelo is a network of long distance bicycle routes, most of which are still under development as of 2012. Eurovelo 6 is a path from the Atlantic to the Black Sea. It leads accross Europe through France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania.


See where I slept on a larger map

Why bicycle touring?

Travelling is healthy for the mind, cycling for the body. I’ve been a fan of both for a while and wanted to combine them. Turns out there are extra benefits to bicycle touring: It is the right speed to travel. Cars are too fast, walking is too slow. Cycling is fast enough to reach places, and slow enough to see them. The locals will love you. They’re tired of buses full of tourists who jump out, take a picture of the famous castle, jump back in, and speed off. A bicycle rider, you are out there in the open where everyone’s equal. You get to see both the expected and the unexpected, the mundane and the extraordinary.

Some more advantages include being able to eat as much as you can of whatever you want without getting fat, not having problems falling asleep, getting leg muscles of steel, awesome tan, new friends, stories to tell. Today morning feels like years ago, so much has happened since. A month ago feels like yesterday, the memories are so vivid.

Expectations vs. reality

CouchSurfers

CouchSurfing is rather time consuming, so I planned to surf only in the beginning, when it was too cold, and sleep in a tent later on. However, it wasn’t just a convenient way to sleep for free, but primarily a great way to spend time with the locals and get to know the culture.

I cannot overstate the importance of CouchSurfing for my trip. All my hosts took excellent care of me and we had lots of fun.

The experiences were quite varied: I met travellers, students, teachers, photographers, programmers, (organic!) farmers, pick-up artists, baristas, flutemakers, dumpsterdivers, CEOs, builders of self-sustainable houses, psychotherapists, nuclear power plant managers, orangina tasters, hikers, bikers, artists, clowns, actors, soccer fanatics, etc. It has been extremely enriching and there just isn’t enough space here to describe it.

Bicycle tourists

A reminder that I’m not insane. Or at least not the only one. There were so many! If I felt lonely for some reason, only spending each evening with new people, bicycle tourists for the rescue! Perhaps unsurprisingly, most are either young (studying or just finished) or old (retired). Not many inbetween.

Here are the cyclists who deserve special mention for their heroic feats:

  • Olek, racing for three days, sleeping outside in rain with no tent
  • Salome, rode a fixed gear from London to Basel and now rides it as a bicycle messenger
  • Norman, from London to Venezia and then from Egypt to South Africa in 3 months
  • Martin, wanted to beat the bike around the world record, gave up and was doing London-Istanbul in two weeks with average of measly 150-270km per day (funny thing, we met in the rain after Vienna, next to the Donauinsel where everyone gets lost, just as Martin was coming back from the dead end while I was heading towards it).

Furthermore, Dad joined me for a week, Kev and Mat rode with me for two days, and Mauro and Jole let me camp with them on the Black Sea beach. Many more deserve mention, but there’s not enough space.

The Countries

It would be tiring to read my daily journals, so here are the highlights and summaries for the different countries. These reviews do not include CouchSurfers, it would send the scores through the roof (except Romania).

France
Glad to have started there. Apart from great bread, wine, and cheese, France had best signposted cycle paths with good surfaces. And apart from Serbians, the French were the most hospitable people. Once I was spotted by a group of about 25 elderly cyclists who were having a pique-nique. They waved and shouted at me until I turned my bike around and went to see them. I was provided generous amounts of wine, bread, cheese, saucisson, wine, cheese, wine, … Viva la France!

My only complaints about France would be the unreasonably high price of the pensions/chambres d’hotes, and the weather. Supposedly April is the most beautiful month. Everyone tells me I got unlucky.

Switzerland, Germany, and Austria
All three have very pictoresque towns and villages.

Switzerland is expensive! Nine francs for one beer was quite a surprise. In Romania, you can have a three course meal for that. In a four star hotel.

Germany is the country with no internet. But with cheap food and accommodation. Unless there’s a party going on, the Germans are rather reserved. Hello, thank you, good bye.

I’ll never forget the terrible headwind in Austria. Otherwise, Austrians are just Czechs who happen to speak German. Pretty cool.

Slovakia and Hungary
In and out of Slovakia. People stopped responding to my greetings. Starting to look like Eastern Europe even though you can still pay in euros.

Hungary is the country where köszönöm means thank you. First real language barrier. Good food, friendly people. Budapest is an amazing city.

Serbia
Serbians are the most hospitable people. They don’t have much, but are eager to share it all with you. Strangers bought me beers. When I was buying a couple of tomatoes and a bag of strawberries I got the bag of strawberries for free. Using Antoine’s trick, I asked for water near Belgrade, and the family offered me a tasty dinner and later a comfortable bed. They spoke Serbian, I spoke Czech, we didn’t understand each other much, and somehow it wasn’t a problem.

Apart from that, the bicycle paths go on rather reasonable roads with not much traffic and there are awesome funny/silly/wise quotes on the Eurovelo signposts.

Romania and Bulgaria
Andrei says that Romania would be a beautiful country if it wasn’t full of Romanians. That’s so wrong! Romanians are very nice, but the country sucks. There’s no internet, it’s full of rabid dogs, and there are no hotels anywhere except Constanta/Mamaia, where there’s 10km of nothing but hotels lined up next to each other. Perfect vacation.

There are no city centers, no main squares. In villages, there’s the Main Street. The occupation of Romanians is to sit on the benches in front of their houses on the Main Street and Greet Cyclists.

The kids high-five you while the elders wave and shout something incomprehensible. Unfortunately, the language barrier is insurmountable, as vast majority of Romanians only speak Romanian. I speak enough to ask for water and say thank you, so that’s what the conversations are limited to.

Bulgaria differs from Romania in two aspects: It’s about half the price and Bulgarian is a slavic language. Too bad I couldn’t spend more time there.

Where are the photos?

Well, that’s a bit of a touchy topic. I’m afraid of taking pictures of people. Most get scared of the big camera and start acting in strange ways. You need to be really careful. The Indians don’t let you take a photo of them because it takes away their soul. That’s wise. A photographer needs to be able to capture the soul without taking it away. Not sure I can do that. Not yet, perhaps.

So, I have a couple of photo galleries from my trip. Along la Loire to Orleans, rest of la Loire plus Saone and Doubs, Switzerland and Germany, Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary, and Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania. I’m even really happy about some of the pictures. But, I didn’t take the most important ones…

Summary

This trip was by far the greatest thing that ever happened to me, thanks to all the people I met. If you read this far, do yourself a favor, quit your job, go buy a bicycle and get a ticket to Saint-Nazaire.

Quartermarathon in an hour

It used to be that I could barely run few hundred meters. The two main problems were that I couldn’t catch my breath and that the side of my stomach started hurting.

I started running regularly few months ago in connection with my extra hour a day program. I abandoned early rising — nowadays I just get up at 9 during the weekend feeling completely drained, not to mention Mondays. Changing this to rising early again is definitely on my to-do list. It rocked, and it sucks now.

When I was starting, I ran a little over 3.5km at a very slow pace (almost half an hour). After reading few articles about running, I started paying more attention to proper breathing and few other things. I added a longer 6.5km route along the river to add variety to the routine. I found it surprisingly easy to run almost twice as far.

And now, feeling pretty comfortable with 6.5km, I connected the two routes to make it over 10 kilometers (I am not sure how far it actually is, but according to google maps it’s something between 10km and a quartermarathon (10.5km)). I ran it in 57 minutes on my first (and so far the only) try. I’ll try again the next weekend, if the weather is any good.

Running is good because:

  • it is rather demanding and makes you tired quickly (so that you can get back to your beloved computer as soon as possible ;))
  • you need no special equipment and you can run anywhere
  • runner’s high is not a rumour
  • it helps your health in various ways (I used to have half-asthma and after running few hundred meters I couldn’t breathe for another two hours (really), but now I trained my lungs and improved my breathing technique)
  • you have plenty of time to think when running, so you are bound to get various good ideas while running

Also, running is simply fun.

Tignes 2008

Friday: I couldn’t sleep well, sweating and waking up all the time. In the morning I didn’t feel any better plus I had a horrible headache. After measuring my temperature and finding out it was slightly over 38˚C, I knew I had a problem. A big problem.

Decisions, decisions… First thing, I’m not going to go to work, that is completely out of question with my head spinning at about 180 rotations per minute. The big decision was whether to take vacations or become officially ill. If I became officially ill, I obviously couldn’t go to France in the afternoon. So I decided to risk it, called my boss, explained the situation and asked him whether I could take Friday off. He wasn’t too happy but he actually didn’t have much of a choice…

Then I slept for few hours and after that went to visit the doctor. After explaining my symptoms, I got the expected “no way you are leaving anywhere today” response. I let her know that I’d really really like to go there, and after some tests (urine, blood, etc.), none of which ended up well, she concluded that maybe I could try it.

Off to buy Paralen and Smecta. Temperature jumping back and forth between 37 and 38˚C. Funny how it was completely in sync with my headache.

After getting diarrhoea, drinking smecta (I bet I could get some clay way cheaper than this) and sleeping through the whole afternoon, I was facing a decision: should I stay home, get healthy in three days and regret it for the rest of the week, or should I leave and die far from home? Opposed to advice from almost everyone, I decided to leave.

Those 24 hours in the bus weren’t so bad, I just kind of sat there and waited. Both high temperature and headache were practically gone, all I was left with was a diarrhoea. And smecta for the rescue (it really tastes like mud). I think I ate about one roll during the journey.

We arrived at Tignes a bit earlier than planned, so we had some time to just enjoy the sunny weather and look around the town/village.

Sunday morning was rather sunny. There were ~30 centimeters of fresh snow, which was, uh oh… very nice… at least for those who were able to ski in it somehow. As for me, I never was any good at skiing in deep snow. I think I fell about 4 times. Moreover, stale rolls + smecta did not exactly give me much strength to fight all that snow. Luckily, the weather got substantially worse in the afternoon, so I just stayed home and slept through it all.

I don’t remember much of Monday, except stale rolls, smecta, and bad weather. I slept through the morning and only went skiing in the afternoon, but I don’t recall the details too well.

Tuesday was the turning point: The diarrhoea stopped (well, almost), I tried some new food like rice and even had two squares of chocolate. Weather was perfect, there was no new snow (ie. the pistes were groomed) so we went exploring the surroundings.

You might want to consult the map, as I’m going to present some otherwise rather boring names:

After skiing on Tichot for over an hour, while my sister was getting her snowboard repaired, we went up from Val Claret through Tichot and Col du Palet to L’Aiguille Percee (2748), then went through Sache piste all the way down to Tignes les Brevieres (1550). Over 1km vertically down in one go. It was very nice and there was plenty of nature around, so we had a nice lunch in the forest. Then we returned to Tignes 2100. As there was still a lot of time left till the evening, we went over Toviere (2704) down to La Daille (1785) and then by “funiculaire” up to Rocher de Bellevarde (2827).

Wednesday was also great. The weather was excellent, so we headed straight over Col de Fresse and Rocher de Bellevarde to Val d’Isere (1850). Then up to Solaise (2560) and down to Le Laisinant. From there to the fifth (!) and (as we thought) last valley. There we went down to Le Fornet (1930) where we had lunch (mmm, cheese). “Signal” was possibly the steepest red slope I’ve ever seen. We were rather surprised that Glacier de Pissaillas and the slopes on it were in yet another valley, it certainly didn’t look so on the map. And boy it was cold in there. So, after going Cascades once, we headed back using Leissieres Express, which is a silly chairlift that takes you up on one side of the hill and down on the other. Alas, it was the only way to get back. We returned in basically the same way from here (Solaise, Val d’Isere, Rocher de Bellevarde, Col de Fresse). As there was still some time left, we went to funiculaire Grande Motte, and then to the huge cabin (they call it “cable car” in English, but I don’t think that describes it well, “fucking huge cabine” describes it much better, imho). At 3456m, this was the highest point we reached in Tignes.

The weather worsened significantly on Thursday. We spent the morning on Lanches, with the occasional funiculaire not to get bored. As the weather was so-so, we lunched back in our appartment. After the lunch we went to Tignes 2100, where we spent the rest of the day.

Friday morning, clouds and fog everywhere. Plus 20cm of fresh snow and still snowing. First few rides were an ordeal, I tried skiing the way I’m used to (long turns accross the whole piste, mostly carving, sliding slightly on steep slopes to keep the speed under control). After getting no answer from my dad, I watched others and noticed most of the people who seemed in control of the situation were doing very short turns. I think it almost trippled my speed when I discovered (almost simultaneously) two very important things about skiing in deep snow:

  • It is vital to only have your weight on one leg at a time (I used to be very precise about this, but with carving I kind of forgot, since there it is not very important). If possible, try to have the other leg high enough not to get it stuck somewhere.
  • To greatly increase your stability, you should try to move your body in a constant direction at a constant speed. Make extremely short “turns” just with your legs. These slow you down considerably, while constant direction and constant speed of your body provide perfect stability.

Actually I didn’t fall at all on Friday, which is very good considering the zero visibility and huge amounts of snow (which got irregularly scattered during the day). There were many (dozens) cases where I almost fell down, but always somehow miraculously prevailed.

We spent the afternoon on Bollin and Tichot, as all the other lifts were closed.

The journey back home took a bit longer (slightly over 24 hours) as we got stuck in a traffic jam, but otherwise it went ok.

All in all, it was a great week, I further improved my carving skillz, and I finally learned to ski in deep snow. :-)

Walking as a means of transport

I have always hated public transport.

I prefer walking or going by bike. Alas, bike is not always feasible — sometimes the weather is not good, or there’s nowhere to (safely) park the bike, or I am somewhere where I don’t even have a bike. On the other hand, walking is always available.

Walking enables you to feel the city/town. You will see many interesting things apart from the usual tourist attractions. You will see what the city really is like. And you will be surprised how much you remember after walking one path only two times, there and back. Even for someone with a pretty bad memory (me :-)), it’s basically impossible to forget (you will forget some parts, but when you return, you’ll remember them instantly).

“You walked all the way from there???” accompanied by a puzzled look is the usual response of inhabitants of almost any city I walk in. They have lived there for dozens of years, yet they have never walked from the train/bus station to their home/school. They always use tram/bus/subway — “it’s faster and more comfortable”. Well, I have to admit that public transport is often faster. But the difference is usually minimal. Or at least much lower than they think.

Plus the time spent walking is not wasted — walking is healthy. I don’t have time for sports (’cause I have to sit at the computer and write this post ;)), so walking kind of substitutes that. A bit. I hope.

And finally a real-life example:
I used to walk slightly over 5km to school (and then 5km back), which took 40-60 minutes depending on how much in a hurry I was. Going by tram and bus instead took about 35 minutes. There was a guy who went to the same school, but lived closer to it — by about 1km, which made it 4km distance for him. Going by tram, he had to go through the center, so it also took him about 35 minutes. He could have easily walked instead without losing any time. And he’d be healthier. And save some money, too. Yet when I asked him about it, his response suggested he never even considered walking, it never occured to him that it was a viable option. And he definitely thought I was being weird…

To sum it up: Walking as a means of transport…

  • …is actually much faster than people realize
  • …is healthy (and safe)
  • …enables you to see what the city really is like
  • …saves you money (at least enough to buy a nice map!)

Skiing in Risoul

I’ve just spent a wonderful week in Risoul (their web sucks big time, but I feel compelled to link it anyway).

It was a great trip, the weather was nice (mostly sunny but some clouds too, which was good because the snow usully kept bellow zero even in the afternoon).

Out of the six days of skiing, I fell three times:

The first one was classical – I was trying to do a left turn, but my left ski got stuck in a pile of snow. Subsequently, the binding let go and I fell in a magnificent way, providing entertainment for the few onlookers.

The second one was just plain stupid and boring. I was trying to brake by making a 180˚ turn at a very low speed (always a bad idea). Of course the heavy snow layer was a bit thicker than I expected, so I fell over.

The third one was nasty, I was just practicing carving skiing and was inspecting my last carved turn (carving turns usually throw you out at a fairly high speed). It was in the morning, the pistes were groomed and there weren’t many people. I thought it was all clear and easy, but apparently I missed the fact that the piste was going quite a bit uphill. As I approached this uphill at a fairly high speed and completely unaware, it cought me by surprise and threw me on my back. I managed to stand up without losing much speed, but after stopping, I noticed that my right thumb was really hurting.

After that, the thumb was growing for about an hour. It grew so much that removing my glove showed impossible (in the evening I somehow managed, but it took a lot of effort and it was rather painful). Now (after more than three days), I can move my thumb and use it for simple tasks that do not require much power.

I spent the first three days skiing the boring same style I’ve practiced for all my life. It’s quite elegant, but not quite as enjoyable. I just go down the hill, letting the ski slip vertically. I think I got quite good at it, but it requires quite a steep slope to reach a good speed, and I was always really bored on the less steep pistes, waiting for a place to gain some speed.

Carving style, on the other hand, is much more dynamical. You retain your speed, because by doing the turn using the edge of the ski, you effectively avoid skidding.

So I spent the other three days trying to learn carve turns and I think I succeeded. Because of the hurt thumb, I got rid of the poles and I found out that they were in fact quite useless.

Mhmm, this post is getting quite long, so I’d better stop it soon… anyways, if you have read this far — have a look at my photo gallery from Risoul!

Cross-country skiing

I’ve just returned from a four day cross-country skiing trip. It was great.

Although the snow was rather wet (temperatures above zero all the the time), the weather was nice and I hope we all had a good time (I did). We played various (mostly silly but funny) games, we talked a lot (there were some people with whom I haven’t talked for quite a while), and we were generally just having fun not having to do anything.

I was also happy to find out that I’m still able to survive a few days without the internet (actually I don’t miss it, it’s just a bit overwhelming to be back online and have dozens of people trying to talk to me).

Now I’m seriously tired and heading to bed… No, I’m not tired from skiing, I’m tired from talking to 3-4am (usually about religious or other quite difficult topics) and then getting woken up early (ie. before noon) by a guy who went to sleep before midnight (every day). Good night…

PS: Photos hopefully coming soon.

Bike path

When I was returning from the Mikulov tournament, I followed a bike path for last fifth of my travel. The path is about 3 meters wide and made of asphalt.

It was sunday afternoon, so the path was crowded. There were basically three types of people – walkers, roller-skaters and bikers. Bikers moving around 20-30km/h, roller-skaters 10-20km/h, and walkers 0-5km/h. The path is wide enough for 4 walkers next to each other, for 3 bikers and for 2 roller-skaters. It is used in both directions simultaneously, I guess that you can imagine the mess.

The worst were roller-skaters, who really like to ride in pairs next to each other, one taking up half of the path, so there’s no space left for anyone else. The only positive thing about them was that 80% of roller-skating girls are really pretty (I don’t know whether it’s the cause or the effect). On the other hand that makes it even more difficult to concentrate on manoeuvering through the crowds…