Home Europe Turkey Iran Pakistan India Nepal Tibet Asean Australia USA

Büren, 10th of June 1998

Hi There!

Already a letter? Yes, already a letter. To me it seemed a good idea to send a letter from Büren (just south of Lippstadt - note that the village I come from lies 11 km away from a town named Buren in Holland). But let me start at the beginning.

When I finally had my bags in Nijmegen (they were sent to me by courier - within Holland - and after 3 days I decided to go and pick them up myself in Rotterdam) I could finally leave. For me my real leave of The Netherlands was therefore on Friday; Monday, my leave from home was already special, but on Friday something really clicked.

Already the first day cycling it appeared that I had picked the wrong season to leave: I cycled just under two hours without rain clothing! The first night I spent on a farm, but I wasn't too happy with it. Except for the fact that he allowed me, the farmer was particularly unfriendly. So the following days I find a legal camping.

On my way to Münster nothing much happens. Just rain, clouds and more rain. The first message I send home on postcards says: "Everything wet, still everything good." I have almost forgotten what the sun looks like by now! Even the "Friedenkorso" (celebration in honor of the Peace of Münster in 1648) drowns in rain. Other activities are canceled. And so, at ease cycling on, trying to enjoy every minute without rain, I arrive at a pimple in the landscape. Behind that lies Büren, but getting over that pimple is quite an effort.

Prague, 27th of June 1998

Hi There!

I'll admit it straight away, before I get complaints; it has taken me a damn long time to get here. Yesterday I entered a warm and oppressive Prague after a long detour. But let me start where I left the story: Büren.

It is around 16.00 h when I get back on my bicycle, my hand still aching after all the writing I have done. The previous letter was not the only one I wrote. Just in time I remember my farm problem and ask: 'Is there a campsite around?' Villagers say there is one in the neighboring village, just across the hill. It turns out not to be a regular camping: It is a Jugendlager (youth camp). What is the case? A group just arrived to celebrate together a Froh Leuchten weekend. Froh Leuchten is a Catholic holiday when they ask blessing for the village (for the materialistic part of the village that is). At night they invite me to join them for dinner (wurst) and after that I join them drinking, partying and gaming. To shorten a very long story, the initially planned one night ends up being four. In between I experience three fantastic days with sport, games and party (and ofcourse alcohol). I am still surprised about the hospitality of these people. They don't demand a thing from me, but I get the same rights as they leaders. Some examples. First: I am being asked to join the leaders in a separate room ('leaders only') to drink and talk. Second: I receive charter when I end up being fifth at the Camp Olympics. And third but best: as a goodbye gift they hand me four boxes of noodles. This group has become precious to me in those three days.

Parting feels almost as difficult as it was leaving home. But now I finally should cycle a bit. I won't make it around the world in three years doing just over 400 km (250 miles) in fifteen days! This attitude brings me over worse and worse roads, and there for more and more often on the Bundesstraßen (the busiest), without a day break via Kassel and Mühlhausen (Thüringen) to Leipzig. I just want to say two things about this stretch. Between Kassel and Mühlhausen I followed the German Fairytaleroad (Deutsche Märchenstraße) which honors its name; winding through the hills it creates a feeling in the traveller as if he were in the Middle Ages. Nothing important seems to have changed. I wouldn't have been surprised to see Snow-white or one of the seven dwarfs run in front of my wheels! The second thing I want to do is commend the West Germans on their efforts to integrate the Eastern part of their country. Only after 100 kms I find out that I have entered what used to be the DDR. Not so long ago there was a time that it wouldn't be so easy to miss that line!

In Leipzig I spend (partly because of a slight cold - it still rains daily) three days. In Dresden I stay only two. In between is a day cycling with, by surprise, real good weather. Although the British have put some extra effort on Dresden with their thud-irons it is easy to take it together: People who are looking for the 'former' Socialism are too late, for the ones looking for the even older culture it's too early; literally everything is scaffolded.

After dragging my bike across a path only suitable for walkers - stairs etc, it was the only alternative to a 40 km stretch of Bundesstraße - I arrive in the Czech Republic.

I suppose that there're not many people on the German side of the border trying to sell garden-dwarfs as on the Czech side there are hundreds; given the competition they should be cheap. And so should the prostitutes. One parking lot has garden dwarfs, the next (100 meter down the road) has a bunch of unappealing looking street hookers. The ideal combination in to start a long journey through countries of which I don't understand the language.

Going to and entering Prague is not so very difficult as there aren't many more roads than absolutely necessary; however they are pretty busy. I entered Prague via quite a big detour. On purpose as at 11 am I hadn't much more left that 30 km (19 miles). The surroundings are impressively beautiful (limestone has an interesting effect on plants), the weather has gotten better (now it rains at night and is oppressively hot during the day); in other words I'm terrific!

In Prague, in my eyes one of the most beautiful cities on the planet, I spent a couple of days on a camp site. The camping privately owned. The family has children themselves and perhaps therefore gives discount to students. With that as a base I explore Prague. I've been to this city before, so the biggest tourist traps I don't go to anymore. I just hang around and taste the atmosphere in this gorgeous and lively city. I also pay a visit to the shop literally named: "Potten & Pannen" which is the exact Dutch spelling for Pots and pans. No need to tell what they sell: Chandeliers.

Budapest, 13th of July 1998

Hi There!

Prague is the only thing the Czech Republic revolves around. It is practically the only place really worth visiting; well, now I don't do it justice. There's some beautiful countryside, and the people are terrific. Hospitable, friendly and poor. Already now I think that the poorer the people, the more they want to give away. And outside Prague it is even cheaper to get pissed than in the capital itself.

When I get to the border - on a Sunday - I wave my passport at the guards, and without looking at it they tell me (almost annoyed) to keep going. How stupid am I to think they want to see my passport? Well, fine by me! Welcome to Slovakia.

Slovakia isn't a very interesting country. After Prague, Bratislava (the capital) is actually pretty boring. Oh, they do their best. It is being restored, they have some things of their own. The city center is illuminated by red and green lasers which is a real art. Perhaps I have not too good feelings about Bratislava - although it isn't the Slovaks fault - because I watched the Dutch soccer team loose in the World Cup. Takes me back shortly to the Czech Republic as, although they weren't playing, they watched it passionately involved. When the Germans lost I heard them saying things like: 'Damn Germans, finally got what they deserved.' I think it is pretty silly still to be angry at the Germans for the second world war... But I was in Slovakia. And area of Slovakia that is nice is the part east of Nitra. It is slightly hilly so the straight and square communist street plan couldn't be built. Therefore the countryside is real pretty and still has some character.

And then, all of a sudden, the Danube comes in my view. A large slow running river dividing Slovakia and Hungary. Over the glittering water I can see the cathedral of Esztergom standing proud on top of a hill. While passing the border guards getting onto the ferry to Esztergom I get my first stamp in my passport. The first one on my fourth international boundary!

Esztergom is surprisingly impressive. The dome of the Cathedral is inside 71.5 meters high and on the outside 100 meters. Easy math to figure that the ceiling is 28.5 meters thick! Further investigation proves that in the ceiling there is about 5 meters empty space for builders and tourists to walk through. Still 23.5 meters massive stone which they carried up in the beginning of the 19th century. Except for the impressive size (100 by 50 meters floor space) its also impressively beautiful with paintings and church art.

Sighisoara, July 28th 1998

Hi There!

Budapast, on one day cycling from Esztergom, is a nice city but nothing more than that. While I visit the castle hill I had the feeling of standing in Prague. The same building style, the same way of trying to attract tourists: portret and caricature painters. The rest of the tourist industry runs on what they built in honor of the Millennium party in 1896. Yes, Hungarians are a hundred years ahead! In 1896 they celebrated the 1000 years existence of the Hungarian empire. And it was some celebration I've been told!

About a hundred years after that they opened in a national park near Opusztaszer a open-air museum about life in they early days. How the Magyars arrived and what they did. They are decedents of some Mongolian race and when they started traveling they liked the Hungarian area. So they came and killed the locals and made the land their own; the way it always goes with human mass migration. This is btw the reason that Hungarian is a totally different language that that of its neighbouring countries.

On the campsite in Mako, between Szeged (Hungary) and Arad (Romania) I encounter the results of the floods that flushed Romania this year: Also here the river has been real high and now there are billions of mosquitoes. Although I'm eaten alive by those bastards, I wait a day because here I meet some real Hungarians and I learn a bit about their life. I eat typical Hungarian snack: melt a big block of bacon above a fire and let the fat drip on bread and flush away with something alcoholic; the stronger the better. Slowly I'm getting used to the heat. Last week I still complained about cold and wet, now it is 30 degrees Celsius (85 F).

And then I cross into Romania. A country for which I have been warned again and again. After 40 kms it lives up its reputation: My camera gets stolen. That's why I don't have any pictures about Hungary. But after that I experience nothing but good times!

People are willing to help, friendly and hospitable. Nobody tries to rob me or tries to do something else scary. After this experience of traveling in Romania I have the opinion - and I'm not alone - that Romania doesn't deserve its bad reputation. In what country are no thieves?

This bad reputation lives on since the 15th century when here in Sighisoara Prins Vlad Dracula was born. And he thought it funny to put people on stakes. The old city center of Sighisoara still reminds the wanderer of him. It all seems a bit creepy. But Dracula lives on in the Romanians memory as a good ruler. When the Turks came to Romania they took Dracula and his father to Turkey. There he saw (and learned) how they tortured people to death. As he grew up he managed to get back to Romania and found his country in despair. Travelers weren't safe, the country wasn't ruled, is was used by thieves. Dracula called himself king and decided to clean up the mess. Within a year he publicly tortured some people to death and after that the country was safe. It is a way to do it...

Russe, 17th of august 1998

Hi There!

Well, what else to say about Romania. It is a divided country. With in the north (including Transilvany and Siebenbürgen) a gorgeous landscape and very friendly and hospitable people. The far north is only for day tourists, the center - and culturally most interesting part - is well equipped for tourists and travelers. But to the south of Bucharest the countryside dries out. It is flat, agriculture and poor. So also the hospitability of the people dries out. They don't look at me as if I were a human, they try to find out how many dollars I'm going to bring them. I don't find it really charming. So I start cycling on a higher speed, to get to Bulgaria or better to Turkey.

After Veliko Tarnovo I decide to hurry on to Turkey. Somebody advised me Veliko Tarnovo as a very beutifull city, but that is history since the European Union as spent money on the "Beautifull Bulgaria Project." This Project 'fixes' some of the places in Bulgaria. In Russe, the poorest town I've been in so far they fixed up the center square and the courthouse; it would not fit in Amsterdam, it would be too glamourous. Same with Veliko Tarnovo. The ruins are being restored with European tax money, but it is proof that restauration can easily end up being destruction. The mysticism old ruins often carry is completely gone.

Quickly into Turkey. So far I have felt that every country is something like a hall. At the end of the hall there's a door which opens only once for me. There's no way back; home lies in front of me, I can't go back through all those doors. In two days I race through the hills to the appealing looking door of the Turkish hall. When I am about to open it, doubt hits in, but just for a short while. During customs I wonder, Is Turkey as good as it seems? Or is it a continuation of Bulgaria, which I hated. Well, I don't have to wait long for the answer...