What are Sarah & James Doing Now?

July 20th, 2009 by James and Sarah

Hello everyone!  Well, it’s been a long time – we’ve finished our year long bicycle tour and have been back in the United States, living in Seattle, for a year and a half now.  Time flies.  Erck.org is basically going to go into official retirement, but I’m starting a new blog at http://seattlefarmette.wordpress.com to follow us through a more hum drum type of lifestyle, so if you still want to see what we’re doing even though it no longer involves bicycles, come on over!

We’ve enjoyed the process of getting acclimated and settled into a more “normal” lifestyle, for the most part.  Here’s a brief update of what we’ve been doing over the past 18 months, including a sneak preview to our biggest news:

6 months

Living in Seattle, WA

We decided to return to the city we lived in before the trip. When we left Seattle back in November 2006 we thought we might never return.  We were considering a move to Austin TX, Minneapolis MN, Raleigh NC, Fargo ND, etc, etc.  When we re-entered the US in November 2007 we still hadn’t decided on where to live!  We spent a few weeks with each of our families while we explored our job opportunities and tried to figure out what we should do.  In the end, the pull of an established group of friends, plus an interesting job opportunity for Sarah, pulled us back to Seattle.  We do love it here, but we’re still not sure if we want to stay here forever…

Sarah’s Job

I am working for a small Business Intelligence company called Piraeus Data as their Director of Business Development .  The company was started by two of my friends & colleagues from Microsoft.  In fact, one of them (Sean) even met up with James & I during our visit to Croatia!  I started talking to them about potential work when we arrived back in the US, and finally decided that the opportunity to help build a small consulting company would be an interesting experience and a great fit for me.

James’s Job

James is working as a Software Developer, but he decided not to go back to Microsoft.  He’s currently working for a small company called Articulate.  There’s one interesting twist – the entire company works from home offices, spread out across the country!

Our House

We have been renting a house with a backyard & garden in the West Seattle neighborhood of Seattle for the past year.  We’ve had a lot of fun painting the house, planting the garden, and various other domestic chores.  It’s good to feel settled after a year on the road.  We were sickened by the amount of money we had to spend during the first year buying basic things to fill our house with: Couch, Bed, Dresser, Pots & Pans, Dishes, etc, etc.  Somehow James convinced me to splurge and buy a giant flat screen TV (which I totally regret doing).  On the other hand, I convinced James to buy a fancy new off-white couch that’s not very comfortable, which he regrets now (and I only sort of do).  Luckily we were able to get the majority of our things from craigslist & by scrounging through neighbors’ curbside garbage piles.

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Here’s our backyard & garden – one of the very best parts about living in a house!!

Backyard Garden

New Dog

Right after moving into our new house with a big backyard, we got a puppy!  We have been wanting to do this for a long time and are finally in a situation where it makes sense.  We have a house, a yard, and James works from home.  One of our ongoing conversations during our bicycle tour was what kind of dog we should get.  We went back and forth, naming breeds and vetoing each others, until we named a breed we agreed on.  James wanted Doberman, Sarah wanted Boxer, James wanted German Shepherd, Sarah wanted French Bulldog…we reached a compromise at Great Dane!  When it came time to actually go dog shopping, we actually decided to go to the Humane Society first to look for a puppy.  We didn’t have much luck – Seattle area dogs tended to be a mish mash of breeds we didn’t really want to own as our first dog: Pit Bull, Border Collie, etc.  So then we decided to actually put the Great Dane plan into action, began researching breeders, and ended up with our new baby – Greta!

Jamie & Greta:

Greta & Jamie

Sarah & Greta on the couch:

Greta & Sarah

Greta at 18 months:

Greta

Backyard Chickens

Another thing we decided to do with our new backyard was to get chickens!  We couldn’t believe it when we heard that in the city of Seattle people can keep up to three chickens in their backyards.  We spent last summer building a chicken coop from scratch (what an endeavor), and then got our three newest pets in the fall of 2008.  Agnes, Dora, and Betsy have been endlessly entertaining.  We let them free range in our backyard, feed them fruit and vegetable scraps, and they supply us with fertilizer and three eggs each day.

Sarah with new chicken Agnes & newly built coop behind us:

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Most of our friends and family can’t believe we actually got chickens for our backyard.  I think after cycling through Asia & Eastern Europe and seeing how common it was for people to keep free range chickens the idea became much less shocking and foreign to us, and we started to see it as a fun little side project with free entertainment (chickens are so funny!) and free food (eggs!)

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New Baby

This is the biggest news of all! We’re going to have a baby boy, due on October 7th 2009.  We can’t quite wrap our heads around it.  October is going to be a busy month for us: James’s birthday, our wedding anniversary, and now the baby’s birthday.

Here I am at seven months:

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I’m feeling great so far – no morning sickness, a brief period of cravings for hamburgers (which I have never liked before now!), and a baby that is starting to kick like crazy.  He seems to wake up at 10pm every night and go nuts…we’re getting worried that we’re going to have a night owl on our hands.  Now that we feel like we have something exciting happening in our lives we’re going to try to get back into the swing of this blog.  Stay tuned!

7 months

Reentering the Atmosphere

January 21st, 2008 by James

Two months ago we returned to the United States after our travels. Today we are back in Seattle, Washington - adjusting back to “normal” life and getting settled. Every day our trip seems more and more distant and honestly, it wasn’t that hard to adapt back to life in the good ol’ USA. That’s one thing that surprised us about our trip. When we set out, we left things open ended and we both wondered whether or not the trip was going to be some sort of drastic, life-altering event. It wasn’t. We came back as the same two people who left.

Sure, there were some things we learned along the way. There were big things, like seeing so much poverty and realizing just how lucky we are. Experiencing the friendliness and generosity of people all over the world changed our perspective too. And there were little things, like realizing just how popular television and Coca Cola are. No matter how destitute the place we were traveling through felt, we could always find those two things.

But America is our home, so while we definitely noticed the giant cars, giant malls, and giant people here when we returned, it wasn’t like either of us was about to have a nervous breakdown from the shock. On the other hand, we are definitely glad we gave ourselves some time before returning to work. After a year of zero responsibilities, it was good to add the stresses of normal life back slowly instead of all at once.

Before we embarked, we worried a lot. (Well, at least I did.) But once we were on the road, we never felt threatened by people the entire time. Dogs and monkeys were much scarier than the local people. Really, the hardest thing about this trip was deciding to go. Once we had made that decision, everything else was easy.

We never really got bored on the trip either. Some days you would wake up, start riding, and by 10am be thinking, “What the hell am I doing?” But something interesting would always happen or we’d see something beautiful and get excited about the place we were traveling through again. We did get a little worn down though. At four months into the trip, we were both thinking we could travel for two or three years easily. But then at 7 months we both started to feel like one year was the right amount of time for us. We knew we had made the right decision at the end because flying home sounded much more appealing that flying to South America and continuing on.

We get asked what our favorite place was quite a bit and its so hard to choose one place. Laos was probably the best cycling destination. It has everything a bicycle tourist could want: nice roads, low traffic, beautiful mountain scenery, good food, interesting and exotic culture, and low costs. Every single country was interesting though and we’re glad we visited each and every one of them.

Total cost: $39,205.97. Would we do it again? Hell, yes. Is there anything we would do differently. Probably. Here’s a list of little things (mostly gear related) that we wish we would have known beforehand.

Don’t fly so much. Do a point-to-point route. When planning this trip we wanted to cycle in as many parts of the world as possible. We thought we’d spend a month or two in one region, then fly to a totally new place. If we were to plan this trip over again we’d just fly to one continent and spend the whole year cycling there. Singapore to Istanbul sounds really appealing. Flying with bikes really does suck that much. Flying was a huge cost for us and on top of that most airlines have ridiculous fees for bicycles.

Consider a Recumbent. Before we purchased our bikes, I suggested that Sarah should think about a recumbent and she actually got mad at me. It was like I had suggested she should wear a permanent retainer. However, once we started traveling we saw a lot of people touring on recumbents and they looked more and more appealing. Comfortable. Perfect position for sightseeing. What’s not to love?

Bring a Laptop. We loved having our 10.6″ laptop. We used it for viewing our photos, writing journal entries, watching movies, and listening to podcasts. It was a great source of entertainment and was well worth the weight penalty. If we were going back to Europe, we would really look into cellphone broadband. Internet cafes are so expensive there that a cellphone solution might be cheaper. In the developing world, internet cafes were cheap but uploading pictures over the slow connection was a pain. Uploading video (even of YouTube quality) was just unbearable.

Bring a waterproof handlebar bag. My Jandd bag was labeled as “stormproof.” We’re still not sure what that is supposed to mean, but no matter how you look at it the bag was a huge disappointment. Sarah’s bag came with a “rain cover” that didn’t keep out any rain at all. What a joke! We carried our maps, money, passports, and camera in the handlebar bags. It was obviously important to keep that stuff dry, so we were reduced to packing it all up in a big plastic bag inside the handlebar bag and fumbling around every time we tried to buy something or take a picture in the rain.

Bring padded cycling underwear rather than spandex cycling shorts or mountain bike shorts. The cycling underwear is easy to wash out in the sink and dries overnight. You can wear them under any type of shorts or pants in hot or cold weather. I only brought mountain bike shorts which are more difficult to wash out in a sink, take too long to dry, and are useless in cold weather. Sarah bought Loeffler cycling underwear in Germany after riding without any sort of padding for 6 months and loved them.

World Mapping Project and Rough Guide maps were the best maps to buy before we entered a country. In Europe, the best thing to do was stop at the first gas station we saw and buy a detailed atlas for about $10.

Don’t bother with a front light on your bicycle. Instead, bring a strong headlamp which is really useful for all the typical camping uses and can also be strapped around your handlebar bag as a makeshift headlight for situations like tunnels.

Bring brightly colored panniers rather than all black. Sure, our black panniers don’t show dirt but you stop caring about the beauty of your panniers really quickly. We’d rather have bright red or yellow ones to increase our visibility on the road.

There is no such thing as gears that are too small. If we were to do it again we’d go out of our way to get the smallest gears possible. Good for your knees and good for climbs that last all day long.

Don’t bring waterbottles. Just buy a couple bottles of Coke and re-use those bottles over and over again until they get gross. Then you can recycle them and start over.

If you’re even considering it, bring an altimeter. You are always going to be wondering just how big that last climb was, how high you are right now, and how many meters you did in a full day of ‘undulating hills’ in New Zealand. We love having the ability to quantify what we just climbed.

Bring one decent outfit. You will undoubtedly meet people that will invite into their home our out to dinner. It is worthwhile to have decent clothes to wear to these things because it feels very disrespectful and rude to show up in nasty cycling clothes that are about to fall apart.

Make your own mini-phrase book if you are passing through many countries in a short period of time. It is not worth it to buy a phrase book for each country, and they usually contains tons of words and phrases you’ll never use. In places like Cambodia where our attempts to pronounce words were usually met with blank stares, we’d try to use our phrasebooks by pointing out relevant words rather than saying them. Usually people couldn’t read the words because they text in most phrasebooks is so small. If I were doing it again I’d just spend an hour or so making my own cheat sheet. There are only a few things you really need to know to get by. Basically everything else is just easier to communicate with charades. If you get a flat tire or something, you don’t really need to know the sentence for “I have a flat tire. I need a new tube to fix it. Can you please help me find a bicycle shop nearby?” In fact, even if you had your phrasebook sitting right in your handlebar bag you’d realize that it quickly becomes ridiculous to look up the sentence and then laboriously read it out to your audience. They’ll just laugh and have no clue what you just said. It’s much more efficient and effective to point to your flat tire. 99% of people are going to understand that you need to fix it and will help you if they can.

Homecoming

November 23rd, 2007 by Sarah

At 5:30am our laptop’s “Banana Phone” alarm song went off for the last time.  We each put on our one clean outfit (saved especially for the plane ride!) and packed our meager belongings into our new suitcases…rather, our two cardboard boxes.  Here I am posing with our new luggage set.  I suppose our belongings can’t technically be called meager; they are bigger than me!

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We’d reserved a van to bring us to the airport in the morning and for the first time didn’t get ripped off on transportation in Istanbul.  A porter with an extra large trolley cart met us at the curb and we decided to pay him to help us navigate the check in lines.  He went over and above his duties and actually spent the entire time we waited in line maniacally smothering our boxes in multiple layers of tape.  The check-in lady told us that our boxes were all under the weight limit, but we would have to pay a fee for our bicycles anyway.  We were really annoyed (as usual) because people with super heavy golf clubs or scuba equipment are never charged a penalty fee, but after an unsuccessful try at telling her that bicycles were supposed to be free on international Turkish Airlines flights, we forked over the 80 Euros required.

The first plane flew from Istanbul to Chicago - 12 hours of flying fun.  Normally I can sleep without a problem on airplanes, but maybe because this plane departed at 9:30am I was unable to sleep at all.  Neither could Jamie.  It wasn’t fun.

We arrived an hour late in Chicago and on top of that found out the panic inducing news that upon arrival in the USA all passengers had to collect their baggage, pass through customs, take a train to the domestic terminal, and then recheck everything back in!  What a nightmare, especially given that we only had an hour and a half until our connecting plane left!  We went into full panic mode and split up - Jamie waited for our regular sized boxes and I ran to the oversized luggage area to look for our bikes.  We shouldn’t have worried about splitting up and running around to reclaim our boxes because they were the last things off of the plane.  I did manage to have fun while waiting for the bicycles, though, because I was reveling in my ability to have a conversation in English with anyone! 

We finally gathered everything and loaded it onto a trolley to go through US customs.  On the plane we’d filled out a customs form which required us to list all the countries we’d visited since we’d left the US - in a tiny 2″ by 1″ box!  We’d been to 17 countries and Jamie told me there was no way I was going to be able to fit everything in that tiny space.  But I was up for the challenge!  I got out my super fine tip pen and went to work.  In the end I fit all 17 countries with room to spare.  Super-tiny writing ability is one of my secret talents, and I am happy that I was able to put it to good use on the trip.  We were a little nervous about getting through customs given how long we’d been out of the country plus the amazing amount of baggage we were traveling with, but it ended up being a breeze.  We told them we’d been on a one year bicycle tour, they said “Welcome back to the USA!” and that was that.

Getting our boxes on the train between terminals was no fun, and neither was rechecking our luggage.  We missed our connecting flight by quite a bit and I was starting to get really depressed about the thought of being stuck in Chicago for Thanksgiving.  However, there was another flight two hours after ours that we were able to get on, and amazingly enough this later flight still left us enough time to catch our final connection to Wilmington.  A Thanksgiving miracle!

We arrived in Wilmington around 11:30pm and our whole plane cheered as we touched down.  My mom was there waiting for us, and snapped a homecoming picture of us in front of the American flag.

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We waited around for an hour or so for our boxes, but three of the four never came.  Instead there were about 15 unclaimed suitcases that had been mistakenly loaded onto our plane.  Who knows where our stuff was!  This was great timing for losing our baggage, though, because we were pretty much wearing everything we needed. 

My brothers were waiting for us at home, and we all marveled at the fact that it’d already been a year!  The next day we had a big Thanksgiving dinner with my mom, grandma and grandpa, aunt and uncle, and brothers.  It was so much fun to see everyone.  And fun to eat a meal that hadn’t been cooked in one pot! And to be able to use a fork, spoon, and knife!

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Now that the holiday is over we are brushing up our resumes and looking around for our next jobs.  Seattle is looking like the front runner, but we are still keeping our eyes out for interesting opportunities in other cities. 

Finally, here are some things that feel really luxurious and strange to us, after a year on the road:

- Having a large, clean, well lit bathroom to yourself.  Taking a hot shower with good smelling products.  Drying off with a clean fluffy full sized towel.  Doesn’t sound like much, but feels like pure heaven to us right now!

- Eating meals that consist of multiple dishes.  A meat, a salad, fruit, and a grain dish.  Using utensils other than a plastic spork.

- Looking out the window and noticing that it is cold, rainy, and windy…and not feeling a dread about having to ride in it.

- Getting hungry, opening up the refrigerator, and being astonished at having so many options to choose from.

-  Walking through the parking lot of Target on Black Friday and marveling at the size and number of all the cars in the lot.

We’re collecting our thoughts for a final post with our impressions, advice, etc. Stay tuned.

The End of the Road

November 17th, 2007 by James

We’ve reached our final destination: Istanbul, Turkey!

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The 14th was our last day of bicycle touring. We considered taking a bus from Burgas, Bulgaria to Istanbul, but decided we wanted one more good day of riding to end our trip. The Black Sea coast of Bulgaria is too developed for pleasant bicycle touring. Traffic is heavy on the coastal road and you rarely see the sea at all. The weather forecast showed two days of sun before more rain started, so we left the coast to head inland to the border with Turkey. It was a nice ride up in the mountains and we enjoyed the fall scenery while contemplating where the year went.

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After 90 kilometers and 1000 meters of climbing, we arrived in the small border town of Malko Tarnovo in Bulgaria where we spent the night. The most memorable thing about the town was that the hospital doubled as the hotel. The hospital looked like your stereotypical giant communist building and had no signs, so we had quite a time finding it. The room was clean though and we left with all our organs. The next morning we woke up expecting sun, but were instead greeted by heavy rain, so we decided to cycle 10 kilometers to the border-post and try to catch a bus into Istanbul from there. Finding a bus wasn’t as easy as we’d hoped though and we ended up waiting around for four hours only to have the first three buses refuse to take us. We were up at 800 meters and the rain had become intense, so Sarah began to panic and started to formulate an elaborate plan on how she was going to convince the next driver to take us. She was going to look as desperate as possible, tug at his shirt sleeve, and even considered shedding a tear. Luckily, that wasn’t necessary because the fourth bus agreed to take us immediately and we were able to avoid riding in the downpour.

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Since we arrived in Istanbul, we’ve been enjoying the sights, getting ready to leave, and getting ripped off. A minibus from the bus station to the center cost us 40 lira (~US$33) and a 15 minute taxi ride to the DHL office to pick up our airline tickets was 40 lira as well. Transportation has really proved to be the mother of all rip-offs on this trip. It’s not like we aren’t trying either, check out all the negotiation I attempted with the taxi driver below. When we first settled on the price for the taxi, the driver flashed three fingers which I interpreted as 3 lira, but he later claimed he meant 30 lira. When I was trying to get him down to something more reasonable, he kept insisting his patron would actually kill him if he accepted anything less than 40 lira.

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Other than the conniving transport vendors, Istanbul is a great city. Maybe the best city of the trip. This is actually our second visit here, but Istanbul still impresses. The city is filled with beautiful mosques and other exotic architecture. It’s great to just walk around the city and marvel at the spectacular ancient buildings.

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The food is awesome too. We’ve been feasting on various types of kebabs and other Turkish specialties. Our favorite so far is Adana Kebap which is a little spicy. We’ve also been drinking a lot of Ayran, which is a salty yogurt drink that you usually consume with a meal. It sounds gross but it’s actually really tasty! The city is a little more expensive than we remembered though; a meal for two at a Turkish restaurant costs around 15 lira (~US$12.5).

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Sweets are also plentiful. Every block has a few shops dedicated solely to desserts and candy. They sell so many different types of baklava, Turkish delights, and other unidentified sweets that it would take us weeks to try it all!

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There are also lots of fresh juice stands. We couldn’t resist trying the pomegranate. It had a different taste than the bottled stuff, a little more earthy.

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The most popular beverage by far, though, is tea. It is served in small glasses with two sugar cubes on the side.

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People drink tea everywhere, not just in cafes. There are tea vendors running all over the city carrying silver trays full of tiny glasses of tea which they serve to people hanging out on the street. Along the Bosphorus Strait, we saw many men fishing while sipping their freshly delivered glasses of tea. Looks like fun!

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We’ll be here until the 21st when we fly back to the US. We have been packing up the bikes, figuring out how we are going to get our excess baggage home, and how we are going to get to the airport. Bicycles are great when you are on the road, but they are a huge drag when you are trying to get on an airplane. We almost suffered another rip off when one bicycle shop owner wanted to charge us 20 lira (~US$17) for a single bicycle box. Luckily, we found another shop where we got two boxes for 15 lira.

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Next stop Wilmington, North Carolina, USA!

Sea and Snow

November 11th, 2007 by Sarah

We had a great four rest days in the coastal city of Varna. We managed to get a great deal on a hotel apartment unit that included a tiny kitchen, cable TV, and free wireless internet. The one downside to staying in Varna was the city’s water situation. We’re not sure what exactly was going on, but the entire city was without running water for almost two full days. We couldn’t take showers or flush our toilet, and had to wash our dishes out with bottled water. But having free internet, TV, and a few days in one place more than made up for the water problems.

We left Varna on Friday and rode 70 km south down the Black Sea coast. We expected the road to follow the actual coastline, but it is actually a few kilometers west of the sea. Instead, we rode through rolling hills and forested countryside for the whole day. The trees here are all yellow and looked like they were glowing in the afternoon sun.

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Beginning about 10km outside the city of Varna we started noticing single girls standing alone on the side of the road. They were spaced out almost exactly every kilometer, in the middle of nowhere, and they were wearing crazy outfits. Stuff like micro-mini denim shorts with pantyhose, mini-skirts that were 3-4″ long, shiny white boots with stiletto heels, sequined tank tops, etc. They looked bored and lonely, so we said hi to them as we rolled past. I wonder what they were doing out there…? Just kidding.

We finally got to see the actual Black Sea as we rolled into the resort town of Obzor at the end of the day.

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The number of hotels in these Black Sea resort towns in amazing. They are everywhere and more and more are being built. This place must really be a madhouse in the summer. Right now almost everything is shut down for the season though, and rightfully so because today we departed Obzor for Burgas and ran into a snowstorm!

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The day actually started out sunny, but it turned nasty after about 25 kilometers of climbing. We were up at 500 meters, huffing and puffing along and admiring the snowdrifts on the side of the road, when all of the sudden the sky clouded over and it started to snow. It was funny at first but quickly lost its humor as the wind picked up and things started to get really bad. We had cycled into a blizzard. The Bulgarian drivers thought we were nuts; more than one raised his hands to us to say “What the heck are you thinking?” Luckily the storm disappeared just as quickly as it arrived, but the damage was done. We were now wet and the temperature had dipped to around 3 degrees Celsius. Not exactly ideal cycling weather.

So, instead of continuing on to Burgas we stopped for the day in Slancev brjag, another town of massive hotels. The good news is we still have 10 days to reach Istanbul, so we aren’t really in a hurry. We’ll continue to slowly make our way down the coast until we reach the Turkish border.

November Rain

November 6th, 2007 by James

There she is, the famous Black Sea.

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We reached the Black Sea in Varna, Bulgaria after a two day ride from the Romania-Bulgaria border marked by the cold November rain that is quickly becoming a constant in our lives. Oh well, nothing lasts forever…

We also hit another important milestone on our way here. At 12:48pm EET on November 3rd, while cycling on a cold, windy ridge about 9 kilometers north of Varna, Sarah hit 10,000 kilometers on her odometer. She has now officially entered the realm of cycling goddess!

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Since we arrived in Varna, we’ve been victory posing on the beach and wandering around the city. Varna is the most touristy city we’ve been in for quite a while. There is a huge pedestrian zone with upscale shopping and restaurants and a giant seaside park. The city is pretty quiet right now though; most of the discos along the beach are already closed for the season.

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Despite her impressive quads, Sarah is feeling a bit worn out from the five-figure odometer reading, so we are going to rest here for a couple of days before heading down the coast to Turkey.

Goodbye Romania

November 2nd, 2007 by Sarah

It was hard to say goodbye to Romania. We had one of our worst days ever followed by two of our best and in the end we didn’t want to leave the country.

The day after Jamie’s golden birthday brought us 80km and 5 hours of cycling in pouring rain and 10°C weather. Matters were made worse by a fierce headwind that not only made it hard to cycle but also chilled us to the bone. Not too fun. We resorted to saying desperate things to each other pretty early in the day. Stuff like “Only 50km left!” (FYI that’s over three hours of cycling), and “Can you go farther without eating? If we stop we will probably freeze to death!”

At the halfway point we gobbled our lunch of bread and cheese as quickly as possible while standing on the side of the road. Jamie said the rain made our bread taste like a baby had been sucking on it for awhile.

We got sprayed by passing cars and trucks all day as they tore through the standing water on the roads. As a result, we were completely covered in road dirt by the end of the day. By my estimate, approximately 90% of the “dirt” on the country roads in Romania is horse and cow manure. Gross.

I also developed what is known as an “ice claw” during the course of our ride. My gloves were so wet that after lunch I decided it was gross to put them back on. That was a stupid idea. Within 15 minutes my hands were frozen into claws molded around my bicycle handlebars. These ice claws lacked opposable thumbs and I believe best way to imagine them is to picture the hands on Lego Men.

We now know that close to 100% of our waterproof gear has failed at this point, after 10 months of cycling. Only one piece of gear is still keeping things dry - our Ortlieb panniers. Our jackets, drybags, waterproof gloves, and waterproof hiking boots are all leaking. We have given up on trying to stay dry during a day of cycling. It is better to focus on wearing enough clothes to keep warm and then finding food that you can eat without stopping so you can stay warm.

When we reached our stopping point of Oltenita we began to search for the one hotel the town was supposed to have. Wanting to find it as quickly as possible, I asked the first person that walked past us where the hotel was. Unfortunately I have quite a knack for asking crazy people for directions. Not kidding. So of course, this guy wasn’t able to help us find the hotel and instead he followed us around for the remainder of our search mumbling about French and English and sometimes offering his phone to me. In the end we found the hotel though and settled in to dry our gear and warm back up.

The next day was beautiful, with a blue sky and sunny warm weather. The ride was great with the only event of the day being a flat tire on my bike. This is only our second flat in Europe - not bad! After 70km we reached the town of Calarasi. We stopped at one hotel but the price was 150 lei (~US$65.00) and the receptionist wouldn’t negotiate so we decided to look around some more. After a little more searching we found another hotel on the other end of town and met Daniel the owner. He was a really nice 27 year old Romanian guy who spoke excellent English. After we got settled in our room, Daniel invited us to have dinner with him in the hotel’s restaurant where we tried some delicious turkey soup, pork stuffed peppers, and deer with polenta. He told us about his business, which organizes and leads hunting parties. His family has a gigantic ranch right on the Danube where they can hunt for pheasant, quail, wild boar, and much more. After dinner he brought us on a quick sunset tour of his beautiful ranch where we saw sheep, ducks, geese, and about 15 hunting dogs. We absolutely loved it and were blown away by his hospitality.

The next morning Daniel knocked on our door and invited us down to breakfast. It was fun to skip our usual muesli and yogurt and enjoy another meal with Daniel. During breakfast we were joined by his cousin, Aristotle, who also worked in the family hunting business. We’d originally been planning to continue on our way after breakfast, but when Daniel and Aristotle invited us to have coffee with them in their favorite cafe, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

After sipping some espresso and discussing life in Romania, we decided to pay another visit to Daniel’s ranch to see some of the hunting dogs in action. These are two little four month old puppies going nuts for some fresh chicken!

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The dogs were all so excited when they realized a few were about to get to go on a hunting expedition. We felt sorry for the ones that didn’t get selected for the outing.

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Daniel and Aristotle picked four adult dogs and the two puppies for a walk through the woods to look for birds. We all loaded into a truck to drive to our scouting location.

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It was so much fun to walk through fields and forests on such a beautiful fall day. The dogs went crazy running all over the place sniffing for birds, the puppies followed the adults and tried to copy everything they did, and we walked along with them spotting the birds they scared up. In addition to birds we found a place a wild boar had wallowed in the river mud and another place he’d scratched himself and his nasty mud on a tree trunk.

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As we were driving back to town from the ranch, Daniel turned to James and said, “Hey, do you want to get a haircut?” James was way overdue for a trim so we happily trotted over to the barbershop where James got a European-chic haircut. Daniel wouldn’t let us pay at the barbershop and then turned to me and said “Now it is your turn!” He brought me to his friend’s beauty parlor where I was treated to a trim and a manicure. I was shocked (and delighted) to say the least. Talk about hospitality!

James’s first mullet! Eurostyle baby!

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We then went back to Daniel’s hotel and ate more delicious Romanian soup and about 10lbs of grilled chicken and pork each. But the day wasn’t over yet! Daniel and Aristotle were driving the 115km to Bucharest that evening and invited us to come along. We were originally planning on skipping the city because it would be a several day ordeal for us, but a short car ride made it much more appealing, so we decided to join them. We left Calarasi at 5pm and arrived in Bucharest only one hour later. Here we are posing outside of The Home of the Nation.

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After taking a few tourist-style photographs we went to dinner at a nice restaurant owned by Daniel’s friend, called Palladium. It was delicious and so much fun to be hanging out in a fancy restaurant with our new haircuts and my new manicure! After dinner it was off to the giant shopping mall for the 3rd espresso of the day and then we returned to Calarasi and headed off to bed.

Aristotle, Jamie, and Daniel.

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The next day we woke up to gray skies and more rain, but we really felt like we should get on the road to Istanbul, so we decided to leave. We had so much fun with Daniel and Aristotle we seriously considered staying a couple of more days, but in the end we hit the road. The border was only about 10 kilometers from Daniel’s hotel but before we made it there another hotel owner pulled up in his car and asked us if we wanted to have some coffee and food at his hotel. Romanian hospitality is amazing!

Eventually we did make it across the border though. Now we will head southeast across Bulgaria until we hit the Black Sea where we will turn south.

Golden Birthday

October 28th, 2007 by Sarah

Happy Birthday to you, James William Welle!

Today Jamie turns 28 years old on the 28th of October, which makes this his golden birthday! Normally the golden birthday celebrant should enjoy an entire day filled with gift opening and cake eating, possibly topped off by a gigantic blow-out party in the style of MTV’s “Sweet Sixteen”.

However, we are in Giurgiu, Romania today, so there will be no blow-out parties or gift opening sprees. Instead Jamie’s celebration will involve a trip to the grocery store to pick out some Haribo gummies, a Romanian cake, and anything he wants for lunch and dinner (it must be cookable on the gas stove, of course). We also took some documentary pictures of Jamie at 28 for future reference.

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Jamie is very lucky that we’ve rolled into a town with a real supermarket on his birthday, which will make his celebration feast possible. Giurgiu is the first place we’ve found a supermarket since Belgrade, Serbia. Grocery stores up to this point have been small mini-markets that stock just a few basics, which in this part of the world means canned and tubed meats, bulk waffle-textured wafer cookies, candies, and various pickled vegetables. Also, all the food in the Romanian mini-markets is kept behind glass counters. To buy anything you must ask the cashier to get it for you which is frustrating for us because we can’t say the Romanian name for the thing we want so we are reduced to pointing and then saying “No, no, no, no…” until the cashier points to the correct thing. As soon as you walk into a mini-market you are subject to the cashier’s unwavering steely gaze. She expects that you know exactly what you want, will order it promptly, and get out. I am not familiar with the types of things they sell in Romanian mini-marts so I always want to look around to see what the options are, but the language barrier and intense cashier-gaze always fluster me into giving up my browsing dreams. That plus the limited selection of goods means that we have a very monotonous diet. For breakfast we have yogurt and muesli. Lunch is bread and cheese. Dinner has been pasta, canned tomatoes, and canned beans. Every few days we find apples that are not shriveled up. It seems like most people grow their own produce rather than buy it in stores, so the selection is usually pretty bad.

Here’s Jamie with his birthday cupcakes and goblets of apple juice plus fizzy water.

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Gettin’ Medieval

October 27th, 2007 by James

Romania is one of those countries where as soon as you cross the border it becomes apparent you’ve entered a whole new world. The first thing we noticed was the multitude of wells. They are all over the countryside and the villages.

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Most are the traditional pulley type, but every so often we would see one that involved a giant lever.

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Check out Sarah proving she is a true humanzee as she tries to figure out how to work this thing.

Along with the wells came an increase in the number of giant nests on the telephone poles. Every village seems to have at least three or four nests. Too bad we haven’t seen any of the giant birds yet!

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We also immediately noticed a big change in the people and villages in Romania. Everyone is dressed very traditionally and horse-carts and bicycles have replaced cars as the dominant form of transportation.

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We see dozens of horse-carts a day and they vary just like cars. You’ve got the antiques.

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The old guys crawling down the street.

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And even young guys hot roddin’ it up.

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In most villages, the geese and turkeys outnumber the humans and all the locals are either herding their birds or sitting on benches lining the street and watching the action. It’s not uncommon to see a bench of three old women knitting followed a few meters down the road by one of three old men smoking.

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There has also been a marked increase in the friendliness of the people here in Romania. Everyone yells and waves “hola”, “ciao”, “salud”, or “buna” as we pass. It’s a definite change from the severe stares we garnered throughout most of Eastern Europe.

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We will continue to cycle east in the Wallachia region for a couple of more days before we cross the border into Bulgaria and then head southeast to the Black Sea.

Happy Anniversary

October 21st, 2007 by James

Today is our one year anniversary!

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I guess this means we are no longer newlyweds, but the honeymoon ain’t quite over yet people!