Saturday, July 24, 2010

Budapest by rail… among other things…

I arrived in Budapest yesterday and have thoroughly enjoyed exploring the city. Though Ash recently posted on her blog that public transit may inspire fear (even as it also inspires excitement), but I actually find that public transit is one of the most fun and stress-free parts of my travels. Subway maps everywhere are the same: you find the dot with your station on it, you look at your map to find a station near your destination, and you get on, either counting the stops or watching the posted stations as you go. You always get where you expect to be, even if it takes a few tries and turns. As I sat down on the Budapest underground (one of the first ever, apparently), I felt a sense of calm that was an incredible relief after the craziness of Keleti Station.

Given this, you can imagine how excited I was when I read in my guidebook that the Buda Hills (northwest of Budapest, but still quite close) are best accessed by the most bizarre modes of transit possible? After visiting Castle Hill today, along with a Canadian hostel-mate and new friend, I explored the hills and also went to the Bartok museum, which was small but lovely. In the course of these things, I rode the following forms of transit:

  • Tram: these electric-powered (I think) silent bus/trains are awesome, though they are terrifying as a pedestrian
  • Cog-railway: not a silent mode of transit at all, and a bit bumpy, but through some really pretty neighborhoods out toward the hills
  • Children’s Railway: a small-gauge 11km railway built by Pioneers (apparently Soviet scouts), it’s still run almost entirely by children aged 10-14
  • Chairlift: back down part of the hill was a lovely ride with a view of Buda, the river, and Pest
  • Bus: perhaps a more mundane mode of transit, but Budapest employs some rather old models that are entertaining (pictures to come)
  • Metro: also classic cars on view here

Am looking forward to another fun day in Budapest, but also to a happy return home in a few days…

Monday, July 19, 2010

Bill Gates answered my question!

AIDS 2010 – the International AIDS Conference – is off to a great start.  I went to some satellite sessions (organized by groups other than the conference, but reviewed by the conference for relevance) yesterday before the opening, and attended sessions today from 8:30AM-8:30PM with only a brief dinner break, and I’m still ready to start at 7AM tomorrow…  Famous people I have seen speak:

  • Deputy President of South Africa, Kgalema Molanthe
  • Former US President, Bill Clinton
  • Head of his own foundation, Bill Gates

Before Bill Gates spoke they were handing out note cards (fancy conference printed note cards, but basically note cards) for questions.  I didn’t yet know what he would say in his talk, but thought it would be interesting to hear him talk about what parts of the AIDS epidemic can be addressed with technology, and at what point we would run into the problem of brain drain and workforce issues.  After he spoke, the moderator took up a stack of cards, but only got to 3-4 of them.  Mine was one of them!  I was a little disappointed because he didn’t really talk about those issues directly in his talk, and his answer wasn’t amazing, but it was still pretty cool. 

I will try to post some pictures soon, but am also trying to sleep!

Saturday, July 17, 2010


To prove that I am alive and well, I am posting this slightly fuzzy picture of me at Festung Hohensalzburg. The fuzziness is a result of the intense humidity (and my hair’s reaction to it) and also my failure to realize that if I autofocused my camera, and then put it on the tripod and used the remote to click the shutter, the focus would not adjust to my face.

Salzburg has been all that Ruti promised; a lovely little town that you can see most of in about a day. There are clearly things further afield that I haven’t seen, but I’m ready to be on my way this afternoon.

Yesterday I walked around the old town and saw Mozart’s birthplace, as well as a bunch of churches and other lovely buildings. On my way home, I stumbled onto a performance of traditional Austrian dancing in Mirabell Gardens – where part of the Sound of Music was filmed. It struck me as a combination of Scottish country dancing with Rueda Salsa. It’s nothing short of incredible that all of these partner-changing, circular dances spread across the globe.

I got up early this morning (to avoid the life-sucking heat) and went over to the Mirabell Gardens again. I walked around and took some photos, and enjoyed the cool weather. From there it was still a bit early to head up to the fortress (Festung Hohensalzburg), so I meandered through the old city. In my walking, I found some stairs that appeared to go straight up the cliff, so I climbed, not certain where I was going. It turned out I was scaling Monchsberg, one of the hills in Salzburg, and unwittingly heading up the hill toward the fortress. I kept walking and although I missed the funicular ride up the hill, I did get to see some pretty neighborhoods in Salzburg. The fortress was notable for it’s elaborate state rooms and lovely collection of torture implements.

On my way down the hill I stopped at Nonnburg Abbey, another setting for the Sound of Music. As far as I could tell, the cloisters are still cloisters so visitors can’t go in, but I did go in and see the church.

Finally, I stopped and had lunch at Spicey Spices, a vegan Indian restaurant I noticed yesterday and which was also recommended by the Lonely Planet folks. It was lovely and delicious, and now I’m back at the hostel checking e-mail, etc. I’m about to catch the train back to Vienna, where I will check into my hostel and perhaps take a nap (still a bit jetlagged) and then finalize my plan of attack for the conference and Vienna.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Travel Day

Soon I will post a photo of my bag carefully arranged to avoid counting my poster tube as an extra bag…

My flight from DTW was fairly uneventful; I managed to sleep a reasonable amount and the woman I was sitting next to was lovely. She was on her way to Scotland after winning a free tour by submitting to her tour company a picture of herself and fellow tourists (in the more literal sense here) having fun in Egypt last year. Needless to say I was envious of her previous trip to Egypt and assured her that Scotland would also be beautiful, though there will clearly be fewer mummies, which I view as a bit of a drawback. I started watching “Un profete” – a French film about a Muslim man in a French prison and had to turn it off. It was good, but disturbing, and I long ago decided that disturbing films are not good plane fare. Instead, I watched “Pirate Radio,” which I enjoyed a great deal and which was not disturbing at all.

Though airplane food is usually unremarkable, I had a rather strange meal last night that begs description, if only to convey the sheer volume of carbs that were involved. As usual, I requested a vegetarian meal when I booked my ticket (having learned the hard way that there are rarely extras on the plane), but I think (if I recall correctly) that I requested an “Asian Vegetarian” meal, though I didn’t really know what that was. Turns out it’s fairly bland Indian food. It wasn’t particularly tasty but wasn’t bad, but included the following items:

  • dinner roll (just like everyone else)
  • “naan”
  • rice (filling 2/3 of the main portion)

Upon my arrival in Amsterdam I had about an hour before my flight left for Vienna. Silly me assumed that this would be easy and that I would have plenty of time. I had delusions of finding a bank machine and getting some cash so that when I got to Vienna I would be ready to go. Then I encountered the most disorganized customs line I have ever seen. This includes all of my travel, anywhere. It was very calm, but completely disorganized and took what seemed like an eternity. Ultimately I made it through with no problems, and also through security again, and arrived at my gate about 5 minutes before we boarded.

The flight to Vienna was short (and I had a bizarre breakfast of half of a cheese sandwich – not unexpected – and half of an egg salad sandwich – a little unexpected). I managed to get a bus ticket into the city and also some cash, and I was on my way. A cultural observation: nothing here is air conditioned and everyone is sweaty…

Now I’m riding the train to Salzburg (though there is no internet here so this will obviously be posted later) and taking in the lovely Austrian countryside.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Gratuitous Walter photo!

This is from last week when it was so hot. No modesty here…

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Yotel Schiphol

Sometimes you make a mistake and don’t realize it until sometime later. If you are lucky, you realize it while it is still potentially funny rather than tragic. This is what happened to me last night…

When I booked my flight for Vienna and the International AIDS Conference, I was really excited to find a flight that didn’t leave Vienna until 8:30PM on my departure date. I thought that would give me a delightful amount of extra time to get back from Budapest and to the airport, and maybe even enough time to do something fun and interesting on that last day. Now, I am usually quite careful when booking flights. I know I checked the departure times, and while I saw that I arrived a day after I left, I considered this par for the course since I wasn’t leaving until 8:30PM. As I was mailing out my itinerary last night, however, I saw that my flight arrives in Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport at 10:30PM, and departs for Detroit Metro at 8:30AM. This is not the kind of layover I thought I was booking. I don’t know how I missed it, and can only chalk it up to the overall stress and craziness of this summer. Thankfully, however, I realized this while it was still ridiculously funny followed by a frantic search for lodging rather than a most unpleasant shock followed by a night at the gate. After a thorough search of the Schiphol website, I discovered this: Yotel Schiphol.

Although it is what you might generously call a “budget” hotel, it offers a surprising number of amenities, including free wireless internet. When I clicked looked around to figure out why the pictures looked nice and the pricetag also looked reasonable, I discovered that Yotel Schiphol is a “design hotel,” and that the “rooms” could best be described as “pods on a spaceship” or “weird isolation cabins.”

This did not deter me from booking a room however, as it contains the only amenities I need for my brief stay in Amsterdam: a bed, free wi-fi, a shower, and easy access to the terminal.

If things are going to be crazy enough that I make uncharacteristically ridiculous mistakes, I can only hope that all of them can be fixed by such uncharacteristically ridiculous solutions.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

I did it!

Fear not, I made it alive through the ride yesterday. The last 20 miles were not what I’d hoped, and the muscle pain last night was pretty much incapacitating, but I’m still glad I did it. I have made a note for next year to do a better job of training, and to stop and stretch more before anything hurts on the route…

We had originally intended to start riding at 7am, but couldn’t drop Walter off at doggie daycare until 7am, so we actually got started closer to 8am. I knew things were going our way though, when we got up and realized that the ratio of water to more breathable less sticky things in the air had dropped incredibly through the night, leaving us with a relatively cool and shady day to ride, free of rain, heat indices in the millions, and other meteorological cycling nightmares.

I started out feeling really good. My legs hadn’t felt quite like themselves since the move (when I lifted more things that anyone should over the course of a week), but they were ready to ride yesterday. I was pretty adamant about sticking to a 13-14 mph pace which I knew I could sustain rather than getting excited and racing through the first 20 miles only to limp along for the last 40. We stopped at our first rest stop for a bathroom break and water/snacks at 13.3 miles and I felt great. We packed some bananas to take use through the next 25 miles before lunch, and went on our way.

I was a little tired by the time we got to lunch and was definitely ready to eat! We were 38.8 miles in and I still felt pretty good.

We had some delicious sandwiches and listened to one of the worst mixes of classic jazz covers, bluesy folk disasters, and other bad things while we ate. The group was well-meaning, and in general I try not to say bad things about other people on my blog, but we were to the point of speculating that they were there to move people out of the lunch site more quickly. In any case, we ate, stretched a bit (not enough, as I would later realize), and went along our merry way.

I realized I hadn’t stretched enough (or that something was more drastically wrong) when I had a weird pain in my right leg. I later figured out that it was a muscle on the inside of my leg that was clearly tight and pulling my knee in an odd direction, but it look me long enough to figure that out that I think I irritated/injured my knee a little bit, and it made riding a little uncomfortable. At that point about 20 miles left and I thought I could push through it. I did, with frequent breaks, but I was exhausted and sore when we got back. We made it in almost exactly 5 hours, maintaining a pretty constant pace throughout the whole ride.

Fast forward a few hours and no amount of cold water, frozen vegetable ice packs, icy hot, and ibuprofen could touch the pain. But sleeping (plus all of the things mentioned above) has improved it a great deal, so I can walk today, though strong use of my quads seems inadvisable… (As an aside, Alicia is fine, which I attribute to her lighter bicycle and inherent cycling abilities... She may also be a robot...)

Friday, July 09, 2010

At record speed…

And now, a brief update on the bicycling that has (or has not) been going on around here:

My training schedule was going brilliantly through June. I was getting faster, going farther, and in general having a great time. I hit my highest speed ever going down Glazier Way, and hit 1500 miles on my bike odometer.

Then the move happened, and a friend’s wedding, and the most ridiculously hot weather ever, and suddenly it’s been two weeks since I did a really long ride. In fact, I never made it to the 35-45 mile training rides I had planned, which means that 77 miles tomorrow sounds like a painful and slow plan. Instead, I think we will be riding the 64 mile route, which will still be the longest I’ve ever ridden, a great deal of fun, and a stepping stone toward longer rides later in the summer and fall.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

A ridiculous rock in a storm of boxes

Moving is a little crazy, and just a few days ago my apartment looked overwhelmingly filled with boxes:

Zooming in a bit, however, reveals the one thing that has been keeping me from going nuts:

As a friend kindly reminded me, if the dog is managing to keep it all together and not pee all over stuff, you can do it too. (I am paraphrasing, and when she said it it didn’t sound quite so much like I was trying not to pee on things myself…) Thankfully, Alicia helped me unpack a bunch of boxes yesterday and now it all looks much better. More pictures to come.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Summer’s Here

**Apologies again for the posting delays… I moved this week and will be back on a more regular schedule soon!**

The weather is still a little crazy, and I’m increasingly convinced that “global weirding” is a more appropriate term than “global warming,” but summer has definitely arrived in Ann Arbor. I took some pictures with my phone while I was out on a bike ride a week or so ago (because my camera is too big and too expensive to make it worth loading on my bike somehow), and even with the inferior image quality, they are worth at least 500 words…

It's amazing how little distance you have to travel in Ann Arbor to be out in the country!