Friday, October 4, 2013

Budapest to Krakow cont'd


Interestingly, literature was a major part of this bicycling trip. While we don't spend a whole lot of time reading once we reach our destination, long plane flights and waits at the airport are a great time to catch up on our reading. I have long been a fan of David Foster Wallace's non-fiction work, but his short story fiction work had not done much for me. Infinite Jest seemed to be required reading for any DFW fan, but I was frankly put off by the size of the undertaking. After nickel and dime-ing my long-suffering  wife with the concept of traveling light to the extent of leaving her camera battery charger behind (more on that later) what do I decide to take along with me?

Past vacations have been very much flavored by the book I took along, and Infinite Jest filtered much of how I absorbed this trip. While my exposure to Eastern Europe was short, I noticed that leisure time there is used differently than in the US. (IJ is about the role of entertainment and addiction in American culture) For good or bad, the region seemed to be from a different time, much less digital and more people-centered. Americans have become notorious for being screened-focused; although other nationalities seem just as afflicted by choosing to see the world through a phone or tablet screen.  I didn't see too many locals with a phone or laptop in front of them; they were hanging out with each other.

One highlight of this vacation was Litea, a bookstore in the Budapest Castle district. What attracted us were the large selection books and plentiful tables in a very large sunroom (catnip to Oregonians) together with coffee and other beverages. What made it special, though, was the generosity of one of the staff, who shared her love of her country's literature and art along with the sorrows of how the German occupation, communist rule, and the post-communist economy affected her country.

Hungary has great architecture, history and bicycling through the rural areas, but what we loved most about the country were the Hungarians- warm, generous and hospitable.

Freewheeling Adventures

As there were no other takers for our route and dates, Freewheeling Adventures gave us the opportunity for a refund or the discounted self-guided route along which included luggage transfers, hotel arrangements and 3 van transports through congested areas.  After deciding to commit to the self-guided option, we learned that we would be outsourced to another company that partners with them. 

Jan, a Slovakian gentleman, who resides in Banska Stiavnica, met us in Szentendre, where the Freewheeling directed portion of trip began. I mentioned earlier my decision to leave the Nikon's battery charger at home since we had two batteries and in past trips I had never needed to recharge my battery.  Well, I was focused on "traveling light".  Bad move- my dear wife is much more shutter-happy than I am and after just 3 days she had nearly used up the charge on one of the batteries. I asked Jan if he knew someone with a charger; he said he would ask around, but that off the top of his head he knew of no one with a Nikon DSLR. We would not meet him again until day 4 of our trip.

Luckily for us, in a low key way, Jan went out of his way to find said charger and charged our depleted battery for us. He then drove us to our next hotel, bade us farewell and informed us that one of his drivers would be taking over for him. We met Michal the following morning. Initially, he was somewhat reserved like Jan, but we quickly discovered that we had much in common- besides bicycling.  There was also carpentry, home-improvement on my part, music and teaching with Geri and quickly thanked our lucky stars for his company.  On our next to last day with Freewheeling, he pointed out Ovara Castle while driving us to our next hotel. He mentioned that was where Nosferatu had been filmed. I had seen the film many years ago. As a film buff and with one of the motivations for our trip having been a vampire-themed book, Ger and I rapidly regressed to kid flavored- Can we go there? Will that be an imposition on you?  Michal graciously and sincerely replied that he would be happy to take us there.  We arrived in the late afternoon, so our time there was shorter than optimal, but it was one of the highlights of our trip.

Our next destination was Hotel Kasper Suski, in Sucha Beskidzka, Poland, a former castle converted into a hotel and restaurant.  He met us for dinner and his company made for a wonderful evening.

As Infinite Jest was on my mind, when the topic of food came up, I brought up Consider the Lobster as one of the issues around mindful eating. Michal's account of his wife's visceral reaction to how lobsters are prepared was a more powerful deterrent against lobster dinners than DFW's essay.

Saying our goodbyes the next day in Krakow, we felt as if were we leaving behind a true friend.  We were quite grateful for the opportunity to spend time with Jan and Michal.  We hope to meet again one day. 

not done yet...