Where's Sam the Man

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

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

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Granola Ranchers: I've found you guys a new look for 2008!


You would take the leader's flute, of course, Gentry.

Kika: do you know how marketable you are?!

You wouldn't believe what they charge for a gallon of gas over here!

Czech Republic pics

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.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A word about Babushkas.

Babushkas. The foundation on which Eastern Europe is built. Their aggressive resourcefulness drives all the multi-various cogs of a civilized nation: child protection and transportation, pocket Kleenex sales, and hostel breakfast etiquette. When the younger generation falters it is the Babushka, with her iron-jawed determination, who slaps the weakling back into place. When you try to dip your mug into the hot water pot, it is the Babushka who berates you in your native tongue to get you to pour the water, instead. Babushkas are the fiery coals the heat the furnace of progress.

When one sees the efficiency of these skirted soldiers of discipline, you have to wonder: how does one achieve the ranking of Babushka? It can be no small feat, surely, considering the single-minded focus and untiring energy which they apply to scowling at young hostelers tip-toeing across a newly mopped floor. What mine field must they navigate? What sumo wrestler must they thump into submission? What predator must they kill with a glance? Or is it something less obvious, and more elusive?

I believe I have uncovered the answer.

Everybody ages into a Babushka. While people-watching one day, it suddenly struck me: there were no old men! None! You were able to see toddlers, children, the teenagers, the young adults, the victims of various mid-life crisises, but the chain of development abruptly stops...and then you notice all of the Babushkas patroling the streets.

The answer was so simple and natural, but had eluded me up to that moment. It seems that the qualities of Babushka lie dormant in the blood of every Eastern European, man or woman. I have never once seen an intermediate phase (i.e. a male dockworker with the requisite Flowerd Scarf tied over his head), which leads me to believe that the evolution is quite rapid -- perhaps even overnight. The women would adapt readily, no doubt, to wearing the Grey Skirt and Flowered Shawl, but I imagine the whiskered carpenter would struggle pulling on his Brown Nylons for the first time -- indeed, he may even feel some shock when he rolls out of bed one morning when he sees himself a foot shorter, and a general bulge throughout his body that may not have been there before. But the younger men that I saw seemed to courageously look forward to this new step in their life, calmly chain-smoking as if nothing was going to happen.

I suppose they would be comforted by the fact that they still had their whiskers.

This is just one of the many extraordinary cultural discoveries I have made on my travels! And perhaps they are only remarkable to me, as an outsider. Maybe I should not pity the men, who miss out on the Western joy of being a grandfather; it is not for me to hold my own expectations and traditions above others'. I hope to have the open-mindedness to see more of these cultural nuances, and the sensitivity to accept them without judgement. After all, without the Babushka, would we even have a Eastern Europe?