Where's Sam the Man

48 countries, 12 months, one man, half a brain

Name: Samuel Hathaway
Location: Roaming..., Germany

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Continuing Adventures of Ol' Block and Chip-Off-The-Ol'-Block

You don't need to be a biker to appreciate the invitation of Spandex and sweat. It's an appeal to the inner barbarian in each of us, a call to the days when our hunter/gatherer ancestors would don tight black pants and go spear a mammoth. And really, when you're in the saddle, grunting up a hill, streaked with chain grease, and raspberry sport drink staining the corners of your mouth, it's not hard to see the similarity with early man. Except you're actually killing yourself as you suffer up the mountain, and not the mammoth.

However, regardless of who or what was going to die, my father joined me in St. Petersburg, Russia, for one month of bicycle touring in Eastern Europe. Along the way we delicately balanced time in the saddle and time in the streets. Beginning in the cool pine forests of the Baltic States and working our way down to the sun-baked minarets of Turkey, we spend time in Riga (see earlier blog), Praha (Prague), and Krakow in between days of cycling. A route of that scale offers an incredible display of diversity -- ecologically, geographically, and culturally. We watched pubs change into tea gardens, moist forests lose ground to dry scrubland, Orthodox churches give way to mosques. Although we never gave each location the time it deserved (but could you ever?), we had a delicious sampling of the best of Eastern Europe.

Although we rambled all over, we did the bulk of our cycling in the castle-encrusted hills of the Czech Republic. We arrived in time to enjoy Autumn in Bohemia -- one of the few places in the world that is truly exists for Fall, forming a symbiotic relationship with the season that allows each other's beauty to grow in a way that it couldn't on its own. The richly color-gilded hills and the Hapsburg fortresses that crowned the cliffs needed the other. The hills, flecked with autumnal scarlets and golds, would build in excitement on the slopes until they climaxed at the peak with the ancient castle, shouting for more attention than you would have given before. Flanked by this scenery, we were guided both through towns of quiet pastel cottages and the cultural bastion of Praha. One day would reveal the wealth and power of aristocrats, and the next would bring us pedaling by a family gathering mushrooms -- all made more glorious by the season.

Although we only noticed these things on the downhills, as we only saw our pain on the uphills.

The land had history to match. Praha was the seat of the Holy Roman Empire from 1355 to 1492, and so benefited from all of the wealth that the emperors chose to lavish upon it. With all of the hype that I had heard about Praha I was prepared to be dissapointed, but the ''mother of cities'' lived up to every excited description. In the other cities on my trip, there is a special, roped-off ''old town'' that is smothered by modern development. However, Praha is an old town. You can wander for hours along its cobweb of streets and and marvel at the grand architecure that forms each building, never seeing the same one twice and still marveling at the city's culture. And there is plenty there: a Gothic cathedral to rival Notre Dame, the historic home of the second largest population of Jews in Europe, the largest castle complex in the world... The creators of the city not only dreamed big, but followed through.

The cultural magnestism of Praha -- combined with some political pressure from the Emperor -- drew Holy Roman nobles from all across Europe to settle nearby. So even after my dad and I left Praha we caught glimmers of the aristocracy on the hilltops. The castles provided a nice backdrop for our cycling, but they also provided a fascinating insight the lives of the privilaged class. Most tourism pours through the castles and palaces of emperors and kings, but rarely do you see the life of the regional lords. To see their homes, and learn how their estates were managed, was a rare treat.

I could fill web pages with descriptions of the different peoples, places, and sketchy breakfasts that we experienced, but hopefully this small excerpt will give you an idea of the wonderful time had by myself and the first member of my family that I had seen for three months. I wouldn't have changed a thing.

2 Comments:

Blogger PaulJ said...

SAM!!!! How are you doing buddy?? I can’t believe your stories and pictures, it all seams so amazing and I am incredibly jealous. I got your postcard and I am so excited that you thought to send it to me. It is so great to hear from you! Even the thought of taking the time out of your amazing adventure to send something to a poor college bum like me :) Thank you! Anyways, you are not missing too much back here. My swim season is going good and I am really enjoying it. The new school is going great. Anyways, your trip looks so amazing, and I know that you are loving it. Keep posting those pictures, I like seeing the amazing sites that you get to wake up to. Good luck Sam and stay safe!
Paul Jerve

October 24, 2007 6:18 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Hey, Sam...I don't know if you know me, but I've been your sister Etty's pen pal from Washington State for the past...idk....8 years!! I think your trip sounds amazing..I've always wanted to go to Europe (idk if I'd bike it, though!!)
Keep safe and keep us posted!!!
Sarah from WA

November 4, 2007 1:27 PM  

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