Sunday, September 15, 2013

Budapest to Krakow

This blog initially began as a repository for bike ride tales and photos. Then it turned into a home improvement diary for a while as our little ranch house needed some work.  After last summer's big project, we decided we did not want to spend another summer working on the house and that it was time for a bike vacation. There were many options for location; what I didn't want was cold and rain as much as we enjoyed Iceland and Ireland. We decided on Budapest to Krakow as neither of us had been to Hungary, Slovakia or Poland.  Further, the weather there is mild and fairly dry during July and August.  Finally, we had both read The Historian, which takes place in Hungary among other locales, and were much taken with how it portrayed Budapest.  Finally, Budapest to Krakow just has a ring to it.

It was a serendipitous choice as it nurtured many of our interests and was a thoroughly engaging and satisfying trip. We returned with more than 2200 photo files and negatives; a few to be included in this narrative and a link to Flickr once I get around to formatting them. As for thoughts about the trip, they will be organized by activity/interest.

Initially, it was disappointing that we would not be able to be part of a group ride as we have really enjoyed our fellow travelers in past group rides.  I was a little worried about having a route sheet and a GPS as navigation; Geri was even more worried as she is aware of my penchant for piling up "bonus miles" (randonneur-speak for wrong turns).  Further, the roads are centuries old, often not clearly marked and in languages that have nothing in common with the ones we know.  As reassurance, we were told we would have a cell phone and a contact in case there was trouble.
Well, we did take wrong turns, one of them being over a rather long and steep climb.

The route was indeed often obtuse. Not being part of a group and needing help gave us the opportunity to engage with Hungarians, Poles and Slovakians; while often there was a significant communication challenge, we were quite charmed and taken with their efforts to be helpful. This proved to be a great alternative to the comfort of being in a cultural bubble with our fellow North Americans as had been the case in previous trips.

Prior to the trip, Geri had been examining the route topography maps in great detail and was concerned about the amount of climbing involved, especially on 3 of the days. The other aspects of the trip were so appealing to her that she figured the worst that could happen was that she would have to do some walking. I also kept reminding her that the reward for a tough climb is very often a great view, which indeed was the case.

Most of the time we did not have to deal with traffic. We seldom felt uncomfortable when sharing the road with cars and other motorized vehicles.  Another benefit of being in mostly rural settings while bicycling was the clean air.

Geri did indeed have to walk (so did I for that matter) but she came back from the trip a different cyclist.  Last week was the Portland Tour de Lab; in the past she has done the "puppy" route- 20 miles, fairly flat.  This year she was able to do "the Big Dog" a quite hilly 42 mile ride that had many of the participants grumbling about climbs.

My initial introduction to Hungary was through the history of photography. Hungarians are   disproportionately prominent in the development of the medium, especially in the first half of the twentieth  century.  Budapest, as I visualized the city reading The Historian, promised to be a great place for a shutterbug.  I had similarly high hopes for Krakow, as well.  Both cities did turn out to be as photogenic as anyplace I've been to.  The cities lent themselves especially well to street photography, lyrically described by Colin Ford as the "music of what happens".

Bicycling lends itself very well to travel photography as you don't risk causing a wreck if you want to stop for a Kodak moment; when walking or bicycling you are more engaged with your surroundings as well.  The route was a great combination of picturesque towns

and a nice variety of terrain.

I was looking forward to having the setup that had served me well in the pre-digital era- 2 Leica bodies with 35mm and 50mm lenses.  In the past one body had color film, the other  B&W.  I used the 35mm most of the time with the 50mm serving as my telephoto lens. The updated version was one body for digital, the other for B&W film.  Leica did manage to throw a wrench in my plans.  I sent my 35 Summilux and Noctilux lenses for repair in April to ensure that they would focus properly on the M9 that I recently acquired.  I had them install 6 bit coding that provides digital information on the M9, as well.  Well, come mid July the lenses were still not ready.  I was thinking very dark thoughts about Leica as that left me with only a 50mm f2.8 available 2 weeks before departure.  They did put a rush (as they understand the term) on the repairs.  Two days before I left, I received the Noctilux; at that time, they were not yet able to properly align the Summilux and notified me that 6 bit coding was not possible on that lens (that was no big loss).  As a stop gap measure, I bought a used older version 28mm f2.8 Elmarit; thus going on a trip with a focal length I'm not familiar with and two f-stops slower than the Summilux.  It turned out to be a great purchase.  Yes, I would have preferred to save up for a 28mm Summicron, but it turned out well.  A 35mm is my preference by far if limited to one lens, but a 28 and 50 is a great combination for travel.  Also important, the whole kit fit easily in my handlebar bag.

Geri used a Nikon D800 with a 35mm f1.8, as I seldom use the camera after getting the M9.  We left our only zoom lens (80-300mm) behind as it was too bulky.  The D800 produces files sufficiently large enough that one can "crop" to serve as a telephoto equivalent and still make up to an 11"x 17" print.

When old guys wax lyrical about Leica, the standard reaction is- "Does it make a difference in your photography?"  The best response to that was that Geri, after looking at our files from this vacation, now wants a M9.  Women in general, and Geri in particular, are pretty immune to needing/wanting anything from a camera other than results. The M9 is now on her Christmas wish list.  To end the Leica-centric portion of the travelogue, we wound up staying 3 blocks away from the Krakow Leica store (did not know that in advance- honest). Here is Geri's reaction the prices of new Leica equipment:

...To be continued.