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Archive for March, 2009

Slovakians and Hungarians

For a while now I’ve been thinking that it will be nice to get out of German speaking territory and into somewhere new. I hope that doesn’t sound a bit mean, but traditionally when you visit a country you just go for a week or something and I’d been there for ages. Enough to learn German almost perfectly.

But then, when I got to the edge of Austria there was this massive city made of white tower blocks gleaming away at me on the other side of the river and it all looked a bit unnerving. Every single place I’ve been to so far looks kind of the same with a little church spire poking out of a bunch of multi-coloured pastel houses, and this place looked totally different. I think it was Bratislava. It managed to shine even through the load of gloom which seems to hover over the Danube.

I carried on walking and then found that I’d accidentally walked into Slovakia (were you expecting that? I wasn’t) and then I walked some more and found I’d accidentally walked through Bratislava and out the other side passing precisely one open cafe to let me know it was a capital city. Then I met some people who apparently didn’t speak any English or German who I had a conversation with. They did a lot of acting, including something which looked like Minch’s impression of Kath (but I’m sure she can’t have meant that) and which I understood exactly none of. I did a bit of acting which they also didn’t understand, and then they gave me some biscuits which I did understand. Later I met a guy called Erik when I was putting up my tent and he invited me back to his house to sleep there instead and the next day he came with me. We walked for a few kilometers and were in Hungary. So I’ve picked up a co-pilgrim in every country, including Slovakia which (if you had correctly guessed that I was going through) you definitely wouldn’t have thought I’d have managed. And that’s what the Slovakians are like.

When I sat down for a rest in a pub in Hungary they gave me some soup and then another course (potatoes, rice and some sort of schnitzel – the food is getting stranger for sure) and then yesterday when I sat down in another pub they gave me beer and Jágermeister and when I said that I hoped to be in Gyor tomorrow and Budapest in a week or so and then Serbia in a month they laughed and shook their head and said “Gyor in a week, Budapest in a month and Serbia in three months” and I suppose I saw the logic in that so I stopped there for the night (in the basement of the pub).

Catholic Quiz

You get one point if you’re the first person to correctly answer in the comments, but you’re not allowed to answer straight away if you’ve just looked it up.

Who is:

  • The Roman centurian type character who is pouring water from a bucket on a small building, possibly a church, which is on fire?
  • The bearded Pope/clergy guy who is always holding a crucifix with Jesus on it?
  • The angel who is carrying a fish?
  • The saint who was tied to a tree stump and shot with three arrows?

I’ve seen these guys everywhere in pictures and statues.

Joiners

Here are some people who have threatened to come in order of how serious they sounded:

  • Jen – “I promise I’ll come”
  • Abi – “do you mean you think i won’t come and visit you? i will. i’d even come just to prove to you that i would come.”
  • Mum – “…if I were to join you (I’d love to)…”
  • Tommy Vore – “I just don’t know if, when and how it will be possible”

So far Abi has been talking about buying train tickets and such but I’ll only believe it when she turns up.

Thankyou

Here are a list of ways to say thank you in order of stupidness (starting with the least stupid)

  • Thank you
  • Danku (Dutch)
  • Danke (German)
  • Gracias (Spanish)
  • Merci (French – this is quite sensible because it’s a variant of Mercy, which isn’t really to do with thanks, but it’s in the broad category of words to do with nice things)
  • Chekui (Czech, I think. Well it’s something like Cheeky)
  • Checkuem (Slovakian and I’m reasonably sure it’s not spelt like that, kind of sounds a bit like Requiem which is totally inappropriate)
  • Multsumesc (Romanian and could be argued deserves a higher place because it sounds like Lots of Mesc, which might well be something you give someone as a thankyou present)
  • Kusumu (Hungarian. I have to remember that it’s a cross between Cosovo and Wassaname, which takes ages and is stupid).
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I was so excited by my first haul from a dumpster that I ate loads of it before thinking of taking a photo, but you get the idea - crisps and yoghurt aplenty.

I was so excited by my first haul from a dumpster that I ate loads of it before thinking of taking a photo, but you get the idea - crisps and yoghurt aplenty.

The choir from a church in Grein were out celebrating in the same restaurant as me, Archi and Josef. So naturally Josef asked them all to sing me a song, which they did. This is just a bit later.

The choir from a church in Grein were out celebrating in the same restaurant as me, Archi and Josef. So naturally Josef asked them all to sing me a song, which they did. This is just a bit later.

I met this guy going the other way. He also had a backpack and was the first one Id seen, so we bonded briefly.

I met this guy going the other way. He also had a backpack and was the first one I'd seen, so we bonded briefly.

I go past these signs every 10km and they get smaller by 10 each time. This one means Im 2000km from the Black Sea, which I dont need to tell you is about a billion miles.

I go past these signs every 10km and they get smaller by 10 each time. This one means I'm 2000km from the Black Sea, which I don't need to tell you is about a billion miles.

Lucas making us an espresso by the Blue Danube. Very occasionally the sky is blue and then if you stand at the right place, the Danube reflects it. I think you can see a bit of blue on this picture. Also were making the coffee with Danube water because when we asked the only local if he had any water for us he said No, but we could have some beer.

Lucas making us an espresso by the Blue Danube. Very occasionally the sky is blue and then if you stand at the right place, the Danube reflects it. I think you can see a bit of blue on this picture. Also we're making the coffee with Danube water because when we asked the only local if he had any water for us he said No, but we could have some beer.

Lucas making coffee next to his improvised tent.

Lucas making coffee next to his improvised tent.

Me, happy and dry with the Steckbauer daughters

Me, happy and dry with the Steckbauer daughters

Me, happy and wet a few minutes later, dripping on the doorstep.

Me, happy and wet a few minutes later, dripping on the doorstep.

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Route

Since I was in Passau I’ve pretty much kept to the Danube bike path all the way to Vienna, and don’t be surprised if I stick with it a bit more:

  • Passau
  • Esternberg
  • Engelhartszel
  • Au (the first Au)
  • Feldkirchen
  • Ottensheim
  • Au (the second one)
  • Linz
  • Mitterkirchen
  • Saxen
  • Persenbeug (where I felt insanely pleased with myself for going off the bike path for a little while to cut out a curve of the Danube. Later I walked about 3km down a spit which I then walked back, making it 1-1 that day between me and the Danube)
  • Vienna

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I’ve been in Austria now for ages and you’re probably wondering what Austrians are like. Well, they’re like this: when I first got into the country I knocked on someone’s door and asked them if they knew where I could put my tent and they said “Yes, there” and then, when I’d unfurled my tent they said “Or you could sleep inside if you like” and then because they’d already eaten they made me dinner and gave me cake and played football with me and Jan, one of the two sons, decided to come with me for 10km the next day and even though it was raining and not a particularly nice day for walking he did indeed come. Or, to put it another way, the next night I asked the same question to someone else and he gave me an almost identical answer except that he didn’t come with me the next day and he had a sort of B&B which I stayed in and I had dinner with his parents who spoke no English so as you can imagine mein Deutsche is sehr gut jetzt, oder? I think if you say “, oder?” at the end of a sentence it means “Innit?”

Or to put it in a variety of other ways, the bakery and pub owners in Over Austria have fed me without being asked. Or you might say that Austrians are a bit like Germans which I suppose isn’t massively surprising. Except I have a feeling that the hospitality I have been accepting has become a bit more practical. Less bags full of a selection of fruit and chocolate treats and more “Do you need bread? Here, take some bread”.

However, since I reached Under Austria I have altered my survival policy a little. The bike path took me past a supermarket and the carpark was empty and there was a dumpster sitting there and I thought… Hmm. I wonder if they leave food lying around in dumpsters in this country like Kath tells me they do in England. And it was so easy to go and have a quick look that I did and Lo, there was a massive pile of fish upon my wish. One bin bag full of unopened packets of crisps, one bin bag full of dairy leftovers – yoghurt, soft cheese, milkshakes etc. Most with today’s or yesterday’s date on them. Well naturally I piled as much as I could into my bag with much fervour and nervousness and then later checked what I’d got. Certainly enough to be able to sleep in my tent by the Danube instead of shoving myself in the way of people who would look after me. I had a princely meal of crisps dipped in some kind of cheese dip and loads of yoghurt that night, and made the first fire I’d made since Richard went home.

The next evening when I was approaching Grein I was overtaken by two jogging men who said something friendly to me in German so I said “1. I don’t speak German and 2. Where can I put my tent tonight in Grein?” but I had to start jogging a bit so’s not to disturb their rhythm. After a little thought one of them, Archi, said “Would you like to sleep in a bed instead?” and so we became friends. The next challenge was that I was jogging with my backpack on and if I’d carried on then I would have probably died within about five minutes, so we made a meeting point in town and I couldn’t have been happier. Or so I thought.

Just before I got there I noticed a big Aldi or something on the path and I thought maybe I won’t be holding Archi up too much if I just quickly pop up and check their bins. And I found another fish upon my wish. Namely, the only thing that had been missing from my life up till then, more than a kilo of cheese. And with my new haul I arrived at the meeting point at the same time as Archi and he took me out to dinner with the other jogging guy and I put my cheese in his fridge and he almost persuaded me to stay with him for another day but two days off in one month is a little decedant so I contented myself with a massive lounge in the morning. Also Archi was a conspiracy theorist, with theories of conspiracy about the moon landing, who started WWII, who organised 9/11 and something about aliens landing in ancient Babylon… I’m not sure I got the details of that last one exactly right.

Since then I’ve found quite a lot of food in bins and have been surviving more off that than hospitality which is quite exciting to start with but certainly more lonely. Luckily for me I met another co-pilgrim. The… seventh? I’ve lost count. Lucas was biking to Tanzania and stopped when he saw my rucksack for a quick chat which turned into him walking with me for the whole day and then camping with me as well. He only had a tarp, which is what cool people call a piece of tarpauline. No tent. Pretty hard core, I thought, and he also had other cool things like an espresso maker and an axe which I was quite jealous of. I tried to show him the joys of dumpster diving but everywhere we tried we found nothing. Comes of trying to show off.

Another thing that happened which is quite funny is that I slept in a sort of container in the Steckbauers’ garden. When I had dropped my stuff there I followed Herr Steckbauer back to his house (a walk of about 30 seconds) and had dinner with them and chatted etc. When it was time to leave I was mildly concerned that I might not find the container (even though I had instructions and had also walked it before) because my sense of direction isn’t very good. Also when I first came through their garden I remember having a small conversation about the pond which, Peter told me, was 3m deep and you could swim in in the summer. My worries proved to be founded when I walked out of their house, down the first 5m of their path and SPLISH into the pond, breaking a thin layer of ice as I did so. It wasn’t so bad, I bounced back.

And another thing that happened is that one night the stars came out. I’ve been thinking about the stars every night for over a month and every night it’s cloudy, so I was quite immoderately delighted. And it was warm enough to watch them and check my map and find new constellations and such. I reckon to be able to identify Zwillinge, Fuhrmann, Kleiner Hund and Grosser Hund, Grosser Bar, Cassiopeia and I think Polaris and Castor and Pollux. Which is a big step up from just Orion, but soon I’ll know all of them. Now I need a map with pictures of the animals on it because although there are about 20 stars in the Grosser Bar it still doesn’t look anything like a bear, but it does look a bit like a scorpion. If that slightly overindulgent paragraph doesn’t reflect how much I think about the stars, I should also mention that after about a day in my company, Lucas said “Whenever I see the stars I’ll think about how you are enjoying them.” It occurred to me then that maybe I’d been banging on about them a bit too much.

Bizarrely my own father has requested more information about the lavs here, so if you are of a nervous disposition, skip to the next bit. I suppose anyone except Dad should really skip to the next bit, but then maybe you already have. Well they do of course have those ridiculous shelves which catch your poo ready for inspection. That’s a scientific fact which you will believe if you have been to Germany and probably won’t if you haven’t, but they really do. The drawbacks of this system are that:

  • it stinks
  • the flush is often not powerful enough to sweep the poo away
  • there isn’t necessarily enough space

and the advantages are:

  • you can inspect your poo.

The only advantage would be considered a disadvantage by most right-minded people, but I come down on the side of the Germans on this one. I think overall it’s good that there’s a country mental enough to have produced such a thing and obviously good that that country wasn’t England.

Anyway, that’s enough about lavs, what about my bowels? Well you may not know this but I have self-diagnosed Irritable Bowel Syndrome which is kind of like an amusing game you play with your body. At any time I might suddenly need to get to a bog within five minutes. And you know the classic Bond-style bomb defusing situation where you’ve only got five minute and it’s all going well and then you cut the wrong wire and suddenly it drops down to five seconds? Well that happens too. And rarely enough so that I let my guard down quite a lot. Naturally this pilgrimage is a particularly good opportunity to play Bowel Roulette because I’m often in situations where it is totally inappropriate to suddenly have to go to the lav, like the first time it struck when I was staying in someone’s house and had just eaten a huge amount of their food (not unconnected, I think) and they were kind of watching me arrange my bed area and their child was using the downstair lav to have a shower. I got through it with reasonable success but I think I can confidently say that my host family were not unaware of my situation.

This is where you should skip to if you skipped that last bit.

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Doktor Früwirth checks my vibrations with the headphones and the computer analyses it and then he clicks on the bad bits and the headphones vibrate me a bit and Zap! the bad bits get better. Notice the little bottle of water on the desk which was also being vibrated. Since then I have drunk ten drops of that water (nearly) every night and of course I have no idea if it has had any effect.

Doktor Früwirth checks my vibrations with the headphones and the computer analyses it and then he clicks on the bad bits and the headphones vibrate me a bit and Zap! the bad bits get better. Notice the little bottle of water on the desk which was also being vibrated. Since then I have drunk ten drops of that water (nearly) every night and of course I have no idea if it has had any effect.

This is stuff I have amassed in Germany mostly. From the back and left to right: Snack sack (full), star map, my woman (bottle), holy water (blessed on the feast of the three kings), vibrated water (ten drops a day), batteries, pills (not legally sold in Germany, imported from Holland), string, matches, religious literature, a mountain of maps, money, rosary, socks.

This is stuff I have amassed in Germany mostly. From the back and left to right: Snack sack (full), star map, my woman (bottle), holy water (blessed on the feast of the three kings), vibrated water (ten drops a day), batteries, pills (not legally sold in Germany, imported from Holland), string, matches, religious literature, a mountain of maps, money, rosary, socks.

Jan Klaffenböck, my sixth co-pilgrim, posing in a particularly Austrian way. Notice how even though it was raining and stuff, he still came.

Jan Klaffenböck, my sixth co-pilgrim, posing in a particularly Austrian way. Notice how even though it was raining and stuff, he still came.

Everyone knows that Catholics are a bit crazy, but check out this church. Actually, thats not that crazy.

Everyone knows that Catholics are a bit crazy, but check out this church. Actually, that's not that crazy.

But that is! There is a real dead person in a glass box in the church. Actually there were four. What on earth is that for?

But that is! There is a real dead person in a glass box in the church. Actually there were four. What on earth is that for?

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This is me cutting my first kebab with the Donerman. He referred to himself as the Donerman a lot, making me think of him like a superhero. He also hugged me and gave me two kebabs and some chips and other food and was super friendly and nice. He said the thing about Germany was that the people weren't as friendly and warm as in Turkey, so I suppose I don't have anything to worry about if I get there.

This is me cutting my first kebab with the Donerman. He referred to himself as the Donerman a lot, making me think of him like a superhero. He also hugged me and gave me two kebabs and some chips and other food and was super friendly and nice. He said the thing about Germany was that the people weren't as friendly and warm as in Turkey, so I suppose I don't have anything to worry about if I get there.

 

This is Christain making a cocktail. The ingredients are half a litre of white wine and half a litre of lemonade and then you lower a shot of Kirsche into it as demonstrated where it sits at the bottom until someone knocks it over. He then buys the next one. If you make it at home you have to make two because you've opened the bottle of wine.

This is Christain making a cocktail. The ingredients are half a litre of white wine and half a litre of lemonade and then you lower a shot of Kirsche into it as demonstrated where it sits at the bottom until someone knocks it over. He then buys the next one. If you make it at home you have to make two because you've opened the bottle of wine.

 

On OldWomansKarnival, the old women get dressed up and go to the pub. This is Christian's mum and two aunts dressed in the height of politically correct fashion.

On OldWomansKarnival, the old women get dressed up and go to the pub. This is Christian's mum and two aunts dressed in the height of politically correct fashion.

 

You can do whatever you like on Karnival and no one minds too much.

You can do whatever you like on Karnival and no one minds too much.

 

Loud cracking noises and accordian music drew me out onto the street where I found these little urchins. At about 9 or 10 in the morning they seemed to be going from house to house cracking their whips and playing their accordian in exchange for booze, as far as I could tell. They were already boisterous.

Loud cracking noises and accordian music drew me out onto the street where I found these little urchins. At about 9 or 10 in the morning they seemed to be going from house to house cracking their whips and playing their accordian in exchange for booze, as far as I could tell. They were already boisterous.

 

In German parades, tractors feature quite heavily.

In German parades, tractors feature quite heavily.

 

The people on the floats shout something or other at the crowd.

The people on the floats shout something or other at the crowd.

 

If the crowd shout the same thing back, the get rewarded. Sweets for the children (thrown) and booze for anyone dressed up who asks for it (poured).

If the crowd shout the same thing back, the get rewarded. Sweets for the children (thrown) and booze for anyone dressed up who asks for it (poured).

 

This person in the foreground is clearly too old to be snuffling for sweeties. So was I.

This person in the foreground is clearly too old to be snuffling for sweeties. So was I.

I have seen tonnes of these signs and I still don't know what they mean, but I'm pretty sure the top one is referring to tanks. This is occupied Germany.

I have seen tonnes of these signs and I still don't know what they mean, but I'm pretty sure the top one is referring to tanks. This is occupied Germany.

 

Josef pours some blackcurrent mystery homemade stuff which was given to me by the Beidermanns the day before. They asked me if I had a woman, then gave me that (the bottle is the shape of a woman - torso only)

Josef pours some blackcurrent mystery homemade stuff which was given to me by the Beidermanns the day before. They asked me if I had a woman, then gave me that (the bottle is the shape of a woman - torso only)

 

Some youths I met, including Leo (far right) who I stayed with.

Some youths I met, including Leo (far right) who I stayed with.

 

Me and Nigel with a church in the background and the Danube behind the camera somewhere. Notice Nigel's highly flamboyant neckerchief - I was outclassed.

Me and Nigel with a church in the background and the Danube behind the camera somewhere. Notice Nigel's highly flamboyant neckerchief - I was outclassed.

 

This is quite a good example of the sort of crucifixes you find round here. Plenty of blood splattered all over Jesus and a woeful looking Mary at the bottom. Pleasingly this was put there in 76, which to my mind is quite recently.

This is quite a good example of the sort of crucifixes you find round here. Plenty of blood splattered all over Jesus and a woeful looking Mary at the bottom. Pleasingly this was put there in 76, which to my mind is quite recently.

 

Better light on this on, and INRI above his head - Latin for Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. A larger crowd of mourners and, strangely, roses above his head. Danube bike path in the background.

Better light on this on, and INRI above his head - Latin for Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. A larger crowd of mourners and, strangely, roses above his head. Danube bike path in the background.

 

This is my feet, taken after a nasty surprise when I took my sock off. No pain, but it certainly doesn't look very pretty.

This is my feet, taken after a nasty surprise when I took my sock off. No pain, but it certainly doesn't look very pretty.

 

Still not pretty, but in the morning they look less like the feet of a World War One soldier and more like the feet of a tramp. A step up, I think.

Still not pretty, but in the morning they look less like the feet of a World War One soldier and more like the feet of a tramp. A step up, I think.

 

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I’ve made it to Passau which is on the Austrian border, and what better way to celebrate than by updating my blog? Here’s a joke I invented during one of the long periods in which I have time to think about important things: After walking for a long time, I was tired and looking for somewhere to sit down when I saw a bench! I was laufen all the way to the Bank.

Lent and Beer

On Ash Wednesday I was tucked up in my sleeping bag eating some chocolate nut treats when I heard the church bells going like crazy and after a while I realised that probably there was a service I could go to (my second of the day). They do the bells so well around here that I was one of the first people to arrive and then, to my delight, it turned out to be a service where the men sit on the right and the women sit on the left and everyone does a rosary together. The men say the first half of each prayer and the women say the second half, and then the roles get reversed for the next decade and there are various other complications to keep you on your toes. After a while I worked out what was going on and could even join in (in English) because I’ve been practising my Hail Mary. When we were getting to the end of our rosary the bells went again, more people arrived and the real service began with the ashing of the forehead etc. I’d gone to the special early keen-o bit.

Also, I think Ash Wednesday was the day I arrived in Bavaria because from then on, and without any kind of planning on my part, I had at least one beer (500ml) every day for the first week of Lent. It just kept flowing towards me, and then someone said “It’s normal, you’re in Bavaria” and that seems to explain everything. They always drink beer from not very far away and it always seems to be called “Hell” which I think means “light” or something. One of the beers I was given was called “Spital Hell”. Not for export, I think.

Regensburg

After I last wrote, I started to leave Regensburg by heading back to the Danube and someone noticed me and said that I could stay with him if I liked and he seemed friendly so I said yes why not, and he said ok, in you get (he was in a car) and I said “Well, no, I’d like to do it all by foot if you don’t mind…” and he said that he was going in the wrong direction so maybe that would be ok, and maybe I could get a bus but I refused and said I’d walk. Well it was quite a severe distance to be walking in the wrong direction. Probably 5 miles or so, but luckily half way there I met a bunch of youths who were sitting around a fire with two crates of beer and a bottle of whiskey and they told me the direction to go and then said “But, will you have a beer?” and then we became friends and I ditched the other man and slept at Leo’s house instead and ate most of his food. I get the impression that wherever I go I eat most of my hosts’ food. Then in the morning I walked back again, and generally got the feeling that I knew Regensberg quite well by the end of it.

Nigel

Dad had told me about a friend of his who lives in Germany who I might like to go and meet which I ignored because that’s like saying “Oh, you live in England, do you know Amy Forsythe?” Anyway I got an email from Nigel saying that he might drive out to find me if I got to the Danube and Regensburg is indeed on the Danube so I told him that and he did indeed drive out to find me. By fluke I checked my email the day after he’d written to me saying “I’m nearby and I biked along the bike path looking for you yesterday but I didn’t find you”, the email had a number, I called him and the next day we met up in Reibersdorf. So, you who were all thinking “I hope I’m going to be the fourth person to join Mikey’s pilgrimage”, you’re too late.

Reibersdorf had nowhere to sit and eat so we drove to the next town and I left my stick behind (purposefully, so I had to come back). We visited a church (not the church in Reibersdorf because I had set the alarm off and caused a totally unamused woman to come along and lock it – in my defence the alarm was very easy to set off) and ate some cake and Nigel told me very flattering things about the lawyers I’m related to and Christine, his wife, was also there but very insistant that I say as little as possible about her. She loaded me up with Catholic literature and holy water (blessed on the Feast of the Three Kings) and then they walked with me for a while towards Jerusalem. Thoroughly satisfactory.

Route

Nigel managed to write a massive essay about our meeting and I could probably do the same for every day I’ve walked, but I’m trying to get a balance between an amount that Mum could handle (infinity) and an amount that normal people can handle (pictures only, and even then less than I’ve put). So I won’t mention all the other stuff I’ve done or the people I’ve met. But I will update the route:

  • Regensburg
  • Donaustauf
  • Pitrich
  • Parkstetten
  • Reibersdorf (where I met Nigel)
  • Bogen (where we had cakes)
  • Sattling
  • Windorf
  • Passau, all pretty much along the Danube cycle path, north side. Now in the university library – good places for internet using.

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