It’s only money…

I could tell something was wrong by the look upon the ticket agents face, but I had to wait all the while she discussed in Dutch with her colleague exactly how to handle the situation prior to discussing it with me. Like a fool, I actually caught myself crossing my fingers that something good would come out of their discussion. I should of been so lucky. “Sir, I am sorry but there is a problem. You are only allowed 20 Kilos of luggage and you have over 50.” Shit I thought, how much was this going to cost me? I asked her what could be done about it, and she apologetically told me that if she let it go as is, she would get in trouble. Then we had the whole discussion inquiring if I knew about the allowance and where was I coming from. I played stupid about the allowance and as for where I was coming from, not only did I not know what to say, but wondered its relevance. I would come to find out that traveling in the US, you are allowed twice what is allowed in Europe. If you are coming right off a plane from the US and catching a transfer, I believe they will let you slide provided you show documentation. Thinking of the ol’ adage that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react, I just remained calm. That was until she told me it would be 10 Euros (dollars) per kilo over the amount, in other words, $300+ dollars to go to Budapest and logically, $300 dollars+ to come back. Anyway, without going on and on with this story, she suggested I consider sending part of my luggage via cargo, on the same plane. Compared to the alternative, it would cost me about $100 dollars but I would have to pick it up a few days after my arrival. This was all crazy to me as it was going to be put on the same damn plane I was told…

So, as I said, there I sat on the pavement in front of the main airports entrance with about an hour to kill smoking my stogie. I opened my shirt and just laid on the pavement, absorbing the hot midday Holland sun. I was certain I thought, that years from now, when I am an old man with a head full of memories of my travels, that perhaps I would run into a young smart ass like myself who would be so anxious to tell me of his adventures. And upon his doing so, it would not be the $200 extra dollars it cost me to go from Amsterdam to where I am now in Budapest story I would tell him, but rather that of the one like I am about to share with you.

I had never flown the Hungarian Malev airlines so I was not really sure what to expect. We were to depart from Schipol at about 4:15 in the afternoon for a two hour flight, arriving in Budapest at 6:30. If all went as planned, my dearest friend Kriszta would be waiting there to meet me. I had asked her to do so as Hungary is a whole other can of worms when it comes to being a tourist. Not in a bad way mind you, but rather in relation to how few people speak English, or “American” as I will often ask them. I was fortunate to have been seated next to a young Hungarian girl who spoke fluent English, returning from England where she was studying in Newcastle. I had to chuckle as that is where the lovely couple I had met earlier in my trip is from and it gave me a chance to pick her unbiased brain about the city and whether I should put it on my itinerary. I tried not to bother her too much, but she seemed ever so eager to talk to me in addition to trying to teach me some basics about the Hungarian language in the process.

The flight was as nice as it was short. They served us a nice meal halfway through and we actually landed right on time, if not a little bit early. Would Kriszta be there I thought? Would my luggage arrive I thought? Well, within minutes I had the answer to the latter question as my bag was one of the first off the carousel. Whew I thought. Customs really didn’t amount to much, as there were a few different lines, some with a sign for all EU passports, and still others which read “All Other Passports”. I wondered why the man was looking at me funny as I approached his countertop for admittance into what I consider my homeland if you will. What? my face must of read to him. He pointed with his pen to a sign that read “Diplomats Only”. I quickly found myself straightening up to look all diplomatic and his expression changed to that of a smile. Its ok he said as he stamped my passport and waved me through with a grin. Out in the main hall, Kriszta was no where in sight. I told myself I’d give her until 7:30 and then find my own way in to Budoärs where I would spend a complimentary night at the lovely Holiday Inn. (see my I Suggest link…) As I was going through my luggage to try to find her phone number, a guy engaged me in a conversation for one reason or another. I told him a bit of my situation and he offered me his mobile phone as well as a ride to Budoärs (buda – ursch). Of course I was somewhat cautious as to his generosity, but when you consider he looked like Gomer Pyle, I really didn’t have to much to worry about I thought. One thing about the Hungarian people I come to both discover and appreciate and love is their pride and love in their country and their eagerness to help you out. This is not always the case, but more times than not it is.

I found Kriszta’s mobile number and my new found friend dialed her number only to give me the phone thereafter. “Hallo” I said as she answered the phone. She was just walking into the airport and before I could ask her where she was, she came into sight. She looked great I thought at the same time thinking how fortunate I was to have met her a few years ago and befriended her. (as I side note, being Father’s Day and all, I should probably mention that I owe my gregarious personality to my dad and only my dad. I can’t begin to tell you how often as a child I’d watch him engaging complete strangers in conversation. I know find myself inadvertently emulating him right down to his mannerisms and expressions. One of my favorites is after having made someone laugh, I (he) will often say, “You laugh. I used to laugh” Sitting here in this tea house just a few doors down from my new “home”, tears come to my eyes as I think of him. I came close to losing him this year, but by the grace of God, and only by the grace of God mind you, he is still with us.) She didn’t seem too impressed that the guy there would drive us to Budoärs for one reason or another. I told her it might be nice to get a bite to eat, if only for her benefit, and then if she could help me to the spot in Budapest where the Holiday Inn shuttle would pick me up for a ride to the hotel. We had to take a bus which took us to a station where there were lots of gypsies. Kriszta told me to watch my belongings as we passed one sidewalk vendor/bum after another. We found our way to the metro and within an hour of us meeting at the airport, we were sitting at the Soul Cafe on Raday street where we had had dinner last year on the night of my departure. I loved this street I thought as we walked past one cafe after another. It was Friday night and the patio tables were full of both locals and tourist alike. (little did I know that the next morning, I’d be moving into my flat which was just around the corner!) Kriszta ordered a beef or pork dish and I a nice one of pasta. I am pretty sure she doesn’t eat out very much and I am always so willing to treat her to a nice dinner as she helps me out so much. Unlike my previous visits to Budapest, this time she has a boyfriend and her free time would be limited she told me, which I totally understood.

After dinner we found our way to the bus stop and the rest of the evening was pretty uneventful. I had a scotch and my “last” cigar I thought before going to bed. Angela, the manger of the hotel, had requested I give her a call when I got in. She was ever so kind to have found the flat for me to rent which is in her apartment building. She wanted to tell me that she would have the shuttle driver drop me off special at her (our) apartment building on Köztelek street, number 4/a to be exact, fifth floor, flat #2. The next morning after a great breakfast, one of the best of my travels as for a hotel that is, I decided to go next door to a large shopping mall and pick her up some flowers and a small gift – the Norah Jones CD which I thought she’d like. Next thing I knew, I was on the bus, holding my breath the whole while hoping that my flat would be acceptable. It had to be I kept telling myself, Angela lived there… When we arrived, Angela came down to meet us. She looked great! Dressed all in white, she had a warm and friendly smile on her face as I handed her the flowers. She thanked the bus driver and we were off, me still holding my breath. I was under the impression that I would be meeting an older lady who owned the whole apartment building, but rather it ended up the lady just owned the flat I would be renting as well as the one two doors down. When we walked in, I let out such a sigh of relief as it was just beautiful! Right away, I saw that it had everything I would need, to include a TV which I would later come to discover would get both CNN and BBC news channels. There was such a flurry of conversation between the older woman, Angela and myself that I can’t remember most of it, but I do remember that one of the first things I wanted to get out of the way was the rent. I counted out 80,000 Forints in 20,000 increments on the table in what would be my dining room. I’d need 6,500 Forints in change I told Angela. The lady who would be my landlord name is Sule Gabriella, or something like that. She doesn’t speak a word of English, but she was so intent on showing me everything. The shower, the toilet, the stovetop, the fridge – with water and juice in it for me, and of course my sleeping arrangements. If I didn’t like the color of the sheets I was told, there were more in the large closet which took up an entire wall. She then made sure to tell Angela that she would be coming in once a week to clean for me and if I wanted some good Hungarian meals, just to knock on her door in the evening! You have got to be kidding thought. (the thoughts of the $200 dollars for the luggage were so far removed from my mind) After the initial introductions were done, Sule Gabriella left Angela and I alone for what would be a lovely visit. She loved the Norah Jones CD as it played while we looked at some of my travel photos. One of her most adorable features is that of her smile I thought as we sat there and talked. She has a means by which she will position her mouth in the mouth interesting ways when she talks, especially when she smirks. Anyway, within an hour of my arrival, I was all alone in my new “home” – and I loved it!

I had decided that this weekend would be that of a relaxing one before buckling down on Monday and getting my butt in gear to get some work and studying done. I have been putting off a Penile Enlargement web site for a Dr. back home and that would be the first thing on my agenda come the first of the new week. I unpacked my bags and before I knew it I was walking the shore of the Danube. It felt like home is all I can say. I stopped for a cappuccino at a cafe and engaged a lawyer and his wife in a conversation. They were from Phoenix and we shared some good laughs for awhile. When I left the Danube and meandered my way into the center of the city, I had a couple of objectives on my mind. One was to find an internet cafe and another was to buy a phone card and a monthly pass for the metro, trams, and buses. Don’t ask me exactly how it happened, but before I knew it, I had my own personal Hungarian tour guide named Andras. A guy about my age, he was ever so eager to help me accomplish all of the before mentioned and then some. I have no idea why he was so willing to help me, but he kept citing it would give him a chance to polish his English. Could that be all I kept thinking. We ended up at the main city library which was just beautiful I thought and would be perfect for my studying during the week. Little did I know that my flat would also be just around the corner as well. Andras and I walked for some time before ending up back at my flat where I shared some of my pictures with him and he shared some of Hungary’s history with me before we parted with the understanding that we’d meet next week for coffee or tea. As he left, I couldn’t help but to wonder if it was because he was a Christian that he helped me as he had told me as much earlier in our conversation. What a great guy I thought as he walked down the street in one direction and I in the other, looking over my shoulder occasionally as I found myself wondering about him.

I spent the night walking the various streets near my home, occasionally feeling sorry for myself as a big city can get quite lonely. That really is all there is to say about my first day in my new “home”. I slept very well on my pull out couch bed, occasionally being awakened by a scooter going by or some dogs barking off in the distance. I’d take a train to Keskemet the following morning I thought as I dozed off.

The next morning, this morning as a matter of fact, I got up a bit late but still decided to go to Keskemet to see if I might track down my friend Kata whom I had met last summer during my travels. Her cell number had been disconnected and even though I could of dropped her a card in the mail to tell her I was here, I decided to spend a day traveling there. It was a good decision. The train cost me about 2,000 Forints (there are 210 forints to a dollar) and only took about an hour and a half to get there. Once on the train, I felt safe enough to pull out my laptop and do some work on the penile web site. (you should see the before and after photos, and no, I am not going to exchange services on this job 😉 ) When I got to the town, I easily remembered my way to the small cafe where she was working last year. I had learned from Kriszta that she no longer worked there, but I thought perhaps a friend might know how to get a hold of her. No such luck it would turn out. My next option was to go to the home on the address she had given me. A nice hotel clerk sold me a map of the city and did his best to direct me to the number 1 bus, or busza as they say here. Within about a half hour, I found myself walking what was actually a rather nice neighborhood amidst what those of which were anything but nice as I traveled on the bus from the town center to its outskirts where she lived. When I got to her home, she was not there but the lady from who she rented was. Lets just say it was quite a comical scene as we sat at the kitchen table trying to communicate with one another. I left her a note written in English (American) for Kata, but also decided to staple a thumbnail photo I had left over from the previous days bus pass adventure to the letter so there would be no doubt who had left the note for her as I knew she’d have to have the the letter translated. I left with the assurance that she still lived there and would recieve my letter and photo.

I didn’t spend too much more time in town and decided to catch the train back to Budapest. Just as when I was coming down in the morning, I spent the trip on the way back working on my laptop. There was only one suspicious guy in the train car, and his curious stare was met with an intense one of mine. My dad has often told me that my size alone is enough to intimidate someone, and it is that that I try to remember (whether it is true or not) when I return the stares of guys in the various places I travel.

One of my hangouts near my flat, a tea house…

I got back to my flat (that sounds so nice) about dinner time and I could smell the aroma of the meals being prepared from the 1st floor to the 5th, where I stay. I decided to do a panorama of my flat and after it came out so nicely, I decided to invite my landlady over to see it. I was quite sure she’d be amazed at how it worked and she was. A young man who is a relative of hers and lives on the first floor had stopped by and through him I told her how appreciative I was for her letting me stay here. All of a sudden, she went to her flat only to return a few minutes later with a delicious home cooked meal. I of course for second time in as many days, planted big kisses on both of her cheeks, with her saying “Thank you!” in Hungarian all the while. I love people!

All of this brings me to where I am now, in my flat sitting half naked while watching CNN (not that you needed to know that). It is quite warm but pleasant for sleeping. I have a nice fan which continuously is providing a cool artificial breeze. It is almost 11 now and I will set my alarm for about 6. Tomorrow I have not too much planned except a walk to the Danube when I wake up, then I need to figure out how to get to the airport cargo facility and hopefully retrieve my backpack with my tent and camping gear I will need next week when I visit Lake Balaton in Hungary. I’m going to meet Kriszta at about one to show her my flat and discuss a money making strategy which if successful, will make both of us a nice income. I intend to go “door to hotel-door” selling my digital panoramas for 10,000 Forint each. I will give her 4,000 for each one, and keep 6,000 for myself. She will do my selling (in Hungarian of course) and I will do the technical stuff. I think we will make a pretty good team.

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Wrapping it up – Part One

Well, here is I sit in the Central Station barber shop of the small town of Haarlem just outside of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. The elderly barber just two feet in front of me is meticulously trimming the hair of what is obviously both a local and a regular. There is one more in front of me so I thought why not begin perhaps my final entry for this portion of my trip. Tomorrow, I enter a whole other world in that of Budapest.
Perhaps it is best to begin this entry with my departure from Stryn several days ago now. I woke up well past my intended 6 am goal, perhaps it was nearer to 8. Even though, as I pulled out of the farm with a destination of Andalsnes set for the day, the town seemed still asleep. The drive for the day would be a short one, compared to those in the past several days. I would stop at a glacier national park where the largest glacier on the continent is located, and then go straight to Asbjorns, my new found friend in this remote part of the world, to say the least. The musuem and park was quite interesting, and a nice way to spend a few hours out of the rain. Once I left, I began what was perhaps one of the more beautiful drives so far off my trip. I had to journey across a large range of moutains to arrive in a valley with spectacular views. At one point, I was quite amused to find at least two hundred mountain goats blocking the road. I got out to take their picture, and they were quite obliged to cooperate. Soon, I noticed they were chewing on various parts of my clothes and equipment. Then, I noticed one going at my car’s mirror. That had to stop I yelled at him.

I arrived in Andalsness to find a very, very small one-horse town if you will. Locating Asbjorn’s hotel was quite simple, as were the accommodations. Asbjorn couldn’t of been a nicer host, putting me in a nice room right away. Once settled in, we had a short visit where I showed him my photos of my travels. I also used this time to check up on my email on his outdated, yet functional computer system. We had discussed in our emails of various itineraries for my visit, but having reached the decision to leave the next morning for Olso and Copenhagen our options seemed limited. So, rather than go and do anything extravagant, we decided to spend the day relaxing. We walked up a mountain to get a nice view of the town below. In doing so, I noticed a hotel which was prominently placed and very elegant looking. I asked Asbjorn if we could stop on our way down. Once down there, I opened my laptop for the manager and was immediately hired to do some panoramas for the hotel. Upon final negotiation, I settled for 750 Kronen and a nice dinner that night. Reindeer ended up being on the menu and I got much more than I had bargained for. It had to have been one of the better meals I have had in a long, long time. Back at the hotel, Asbjorn took me downstairs to find a huge collection of all types of exotic birds he collects. They were everywhere and it was very dusty and noisy to say the least. I spent the rest of the afternoon doing laundry and getting ready for dinner.

As I said, dinner was incredible. Asbjorn showed up near the end of my dinner, (I should of invited him to join me for dinner) to have a drink in the pub downstairs. Once down there, he and I had drink and laugh after drink in laugh. We stumbled back to the hotel near two in the morning and said goodnight to one another, Asbjorn promising to wake me up in the morning at six. We’ll see I thought as I crawled up to room 207.

I left the next morning at about 8 and I intended to drive as far south as possible. I had heard that I could reach Copenhagen but it would be a long drive. The roads were fairly empty, as I passed one waterfall and moose warning sign after the other on the small two lane mountain highway. There was enough traffic though that I’d get caught behind an occasional truck or camper for what seemed like miles. On the map, I saw that I would pass through Lilliehammer (forgive the misspelling) where I would just stop long enough to see the Olympic Village and have a Big Mac. I arrived in Oslo that afternoon at about 3, right on the six hour prediction I had gotten from Osjbron. Even though I didn’t like Oslo very much, I would inquire in the center about a ferry to Copenhagen. It turned out to be way too much and I figured I’d drive. I left there almost as soon as I had arrived, weaving in and out of the various highway exchanges. The next city I would stop in would be in Sweden, that of Goetenberg just north of Copenhagen.

PS . The haircut was awesome…

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Wrapping it up – Part Two

I arrived there at nearly 6:30 in the evening and was immediately intimidated by its sheer size, quite larger than the previous evenings stop of Andalsnes. I was undecided where I would spend the night, but if this stop seemed nice enough, I would perhaps sleep in my car. I found a space to park near the center and was caught up in the buzz of a busy Saturday night. I parked right on the main street in town for pubs, bars, shops, and restaurants. It took me only a few minutes to decide to spend the night here and to get a room. I found a small hotel called hotel Opera just down the street and after a shower in what I thought was a very old and outdated room, I headed for the strip if you will. Up and down the stip I walked, at one point asking a man in a pub’s patio where he got the nice cigar he was smoking. His name was Ruben, and let us just say he was/is a cigar fanatic. I would end up running into him later in the Palace Hotel bar for a nightcap where we shared some really good laughs. I had heard the Swedish women are beautiful and that would be a fair thing to say, if you like blondes. Having driven all day, I was very, very tired so as 11 neared and the party was just beginning, I found myself being very tired and headed home, even opting to not have my normal end of night cigar which I had came across in an interesting way. I had walked into a bar which had blackjack to buy a cigar. I paid a fair amount for it, and upon leaving put a couple of dollars on the table. I won. And won, and won, and won. I walked out a very happy man.
I wasted no time getting ready to leave in the morning as my destination was that of Copenhagen. I had dreamed of visiting this city for so long now, and like Nice of France, it had always seemed to elude me. Not today. The 4 hour drive south proved to be a very relaxing one. The highway was well marked and traffic was light. As I neared the border of Denmark, I found myself attempting to get rid of all of my Swedish currency so as not to have to bother upon my arrival in Copenhagen. I must of missed the northern bridge or ferry to get to Denmark, so I ended crossing over on a very beautiful bridge which had one side closed for a marathon in progress. It was exciting crossing the bridge to say the least. It reminded me of the Golden Gate back home. Not quite as beautiful and elegant, but technologically every bit as impressive. A guard on the Swedish side told me to take the first right after the bridge and I would find a campground. When I got over to the other side, I found it was next to the airport. I stopped for petro and directions and got so much more than I had bargained for. The girl in the petro station went out of her way just falling short of bending over backwards to help me. She called a lovely campground north of Copenhagen to reserve a space for me. Getting there would prove to be another story. Through the streets of Copenhagen I drove, my eyes witnessing one marvel after another. The girl had printed a map for me so I had that to guide me through the big city maze. I was in love I thought, with Copenhagen. What a charming, clean city. Unlike so many of the cites I have visited, this one was quickly capturing my heart, very much like Basel did last summer in Switzerland. The traffic this Sunday was very busy, as it was a three day religous weekend. The Danish would be spending the day at the beaches while most tourist gravitated toward the city center. The day was sunny and bright, but I had been warned of a pending thunder storm with a lot of rain. I set up my tent and headed into Copenhagen if only to preview what I would want to spend time with the next day. I caught a bus into the town and was unable to get my way to the new opera house where I was told there would be nice view of the city. So, I walked the streets for awhile ending up in a large open area near an amusement park and a square hustling with activity. My equipment warranted many a stare from the likes of various people. Their stare was always met straight on with that of my own telling them not to think of trying anything. By the time I was ready to catch the bus, the rain had begun falling. On the bus to the campground, it began pouring. I kept thinking I’d be sleeping in the car this night as my tent must be soaked. I was wrong. After spending some time in the campground washing room and kitchen, I found my tent perfectly dry inside in spite of the downpour. I went to bed early this night to the sounds of German, Swedish, Dutch dialects all about.

When I woke up in the morning, I decided to drive my car into town on a what would of been a busy Monday morning commute, but the streets were empty with the holiday. I found a place to leave my car by both the station and a the famous little mermaid in the harbor. My walk this day would take me through as much of Copenhagen as one could possibly bargain for in one day. My walk took me first to the fore mentioned mermaid and then on to the palace of the Queen. My attempt to take a panorama of the palace required a guard to come over and instruct me to not use the tripod. I managed to get about a 280 degree view. I left there to then go to an amazing cathedral whose tower had an outer staircase to see the whole of Copenhagen. Along the way I took a stroll down a famous canal in Copenhagen, very colorful with the lights of the various restaurants and storefronts shine in the water below. I came a across a girl who was a taxi on a bike. From where you were standing, she’d charge by a circular gauge placed upon a map to your destination. At the time, she had flat front tire and it was her first day on the job. On the way to the church, I met a young Swiss guy who was traveling Europe on a railpass and staying in the hostel nearby. He and I walked to the cathedral and upon arriving, were mesmerized by its beauty. I immediately began setting up shop to photograph which warranted the oberservations from the other tourist. At one end was an alter shining so brightly and adorned with the most beautiful carved angels and designs. The other end has a magnificent organ which seems to be ever so precariously balanced on the backs of two elephants. Quite I design I must say. When I began to set up my tripod, out from behind the alter came a lady who ever so assertively asked “excuse me, what are you doing?” With all of my enthusiasm, I told her I was doing a 360 panorama. She seemed intrigued and a gave me no indication that it would be a problem. It turned out she is the caretaker of the church. I offered her the fruits of my labor on a cd which I would give to her. She said they had a web site and would show it to me after doing the panorama from the top of the tower. I was asked to join her in the rear upon my descent.

The climb to the top was quite the challenge. Winding staircase after winding staircase with my equipment required some effort. The whole time you are squeezing by people coming down. When I got up, the view was incredible, but so was the wind. I thought I was going to be blown off like a kite. Just as I began to set up my camera on the very, very top, a old man came up and requested passage. I indicated it was the top. He simply wanted the last two steps upon which I was setting up. I had to squeeze by him and go down only to come right back to do it again. Anyway, I took two panoramas which came out really nice. When I got back down, Anne Meth was waiting for me. I looked at their site and told her right away it could be greatly improved. We chatted about some alternatives and then I was off and on my way. I found my way back to my car, stopping in yet another cathedral along the way to dodge the rain. There I sat in my car editing the days pictures and just relaxing for about an hour. Before I drove back to the campground, I headed toward the center to check my email and get a bite to eat. I found myself in perhaps one of the worst parts of Copenhagen which was mainly porno shops, alcoholics, and homeless people. It was just near the busy station. I bought a nice pizza from a local shop whose line was out the door. It was only take-away as they say over here, so I sat on a stoop with my pizza and coke watching life pass me by. I remember a man walked buy who seemed a bit irritated and drunk. A large plastic bag blew across his leg and much to my delight, he yelled in Danish what must of been “God Damn Garbage!”.

I navigated the streets back to the campground as if I owned them that evening. I had found a cuban cigar in my luggage from two weeks ago, and though a bit dry, I’d enjoy smoking it that night on the beach by the campground. While smoking my cigar that night, I met the nicest of men who was cycling across Europe. He is retired and began in England on May 6th, the same day I left over a month ago. Wow I thought as I thought about his journey.

I slept well that night and woke up at six to find the campground’s water supply not working. I’d forgo the shower I thought and hit the road. I had two options. Drive south and catch a ferry over to Germany, or drive across Denmark to Germany. I chose the latter. Traffic was quite busy as you might imagine after a three day weekend. Once out of Copenhagen, it was open road toward Germany. I had set a goal to reach Harlingen by 3 or 4. It took me three hours to the German border and I was flying. I must of averaged 120 to 130 km/hr. Once in Germany, that average increased to near 150 km/hr. I never hit the traffic I was warned about in Hamburg, but north of their was slowed down for some highway repair. I reach Holland by about 2 in the afternoon, right on schedule. I thought of dropping in on Auke and Teatske Ann, but thought to do so would be impolite un-announced. So, as I neared Gronigen, about an hour east of Auke’s farm, I stopped in for a cigar and bite to eat. Once again I was in love. The city was beautiful and very busy with all types of activities. Buses, cars, and bikes everywhere. I found a small internet cafe and spent a little while in there before deciding I’d camp here for the night. No, not in the cafe, but in the city park that was nearby. When I got there, it was very, very impressing. Unlike in America, where many campgrounds are used by homeless people, this one was spotless. I found a nice area of lawn near a canal and set up my tent to the sound of a pending thunderstorm. It was very, very muggy and quite the contrast to a few days ago in Norway. Once set up, I was told it would cost 6 dollars a night. What a deal I thought. I spent the evening in Gronigen but had to return to the camp before the gate being locked at 11 o’clock. Once back there, I had one of the more relaxing evenings I have spent so far. I sat outside the tent smoking a cigar while listening to Vivaldi and Mozart on my walk-man. I could of slept right there on the grass I thought, but opted for the security of the tent.

Upon awakening, I couldn’t of imagined of how bad of a day I would have this day. The drive to Amsterdam required my arrival by 4 to return my car at Hertz. The drive in itself was nice, stopping in Harlingen on my way for a sandwich which had horse in it. But, when I got to Amsterdam, I had a hell of time getting to the car return on the southern part of Amsterdam, not the nicest of neighborhoods. Their office is located across from the prison and near a metro hub. I’ll make this short, but the damn kid inspecting my car saw a small scratch obviously caused by a rock along the road. He claimed it was not there before and it would cost me 350 dollars! Enough said. When I got back to Haarlem, I found Inge waiting for me at her lovely B&B on the south side of Haarlem. I was so anxious for a hot shower I told her, as I had had such a bad day. To make matters worse, I had just come from the part of Holland which has most of the farms. I have bad hay fever and all day I was sneezing and fighting a constantly running nose. I tried to relax the rest of the night but was unable to sleep with my allergy being so bad.

This morning I woke up to find a nice breakfast outside my door. I watched CNN and the BBC to get caught up with what has been going on in the world. I’ll tell you, try separating yourself from the media for 2 weeks and see how much you miss it all… When is the violence ever going to end in this world? I decided that today I had two main things on my mind. First was to update this journal. I have fallen behind and I know how easy that is to do. I am at a point in my travels where I do not intend to be so diligent in my writing. Several months ago, staring at the map on the wall in my room, I spied Budapest and wondered just what it would be like to go so far and just submerge oneself in another’s culture. I have been to Budapest many times, but only for short periods. From what I have seen, I like the society there. I may be mistaken and end up wishing I was elsewhere, but I don’t think so. I have developed very wonderful relationships with a few people here and am sure I will feel right at home. One of my friends is Angela. I met her three years ago. She manages a wonderful Holiday Inn which is always busy. She assisted me in getting an apartment for a month or two. This is not always the easiest to do as most landlords do not want short term rentals. Anyway, what means the most to me is that she lives there also. I’m not sure what floor she is on, but I will be on the 5th. Yes, there is a lift. If she lives there, I am sure it will be nice as she seems to have a lot of class. Other than that I don’t know what to expect. The place may or may not be furnished. It may or may not have phone… etc., etc., But, I’m sure Angela will help me out when possible. Yet another friend is Kriszta who has worked so hard to welcome me to Hungary. I met her in London three years ago and have kept in touch ever since. She is dating a guy from Belgium and will not have the time for being a tour guide, but we’ll hang out I’m sure. I am thinking of catching a train to various parts of Hungary while I am there, Kesckement and Szged and Lake Balaton to name a few. I also think I will go to see the concentration camps in Krakow Poland as well.

In closing this journal, I wish to let all of you back home that I miss you and you are on my mind often…

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The decisions of the road…

deciding on a small town just east of where Auke’s farm is, Gronigen. It is a very, very nice college town which is just buzzing the action. I set up tent in the city park which is extremely clean and friendly. The weather here is very, very humid and we had a thunderstorm earlier. I just had a pancake dinner on a ship in a canal and am wrapping this up before going back to the campground. I set up an appointment for a panorama of a cigar store tomorrow morning before my drive to Haarlem near Amsterdam. I thought I’d share some pictures with you though of the last two days. I’ll update the trip’s tales later on…
PS. I’m leaning toward visiting Krakow and Warsaw Poloand in July…

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An evening in Stryn!

So, here I sit in the campground of Stryn which is several kilometers from the farm where I am most fortunate to be staying tonight while I wait for my clothes to dry in the campground’s dryer. Just next to me here in the tv/kitchen/laundry room of the campground are two boys from Finland who have come here for the snowboarding. Interestingly enough, the children of my host just came back from the mountain where they were also snowboarding.
The drive to Stryn was a somewhat uneventful trip. It took me nearly 2 hours from my stay of last night – Sogndal. Don’t even ask me how they pronounce some of these cities. My best means of trying to tell you how they pronounce Stryn would be like that of Streeeeen. Something like that. Anyway, I woke up in my car this morning in the parking lot of some store which I had guessed wouldn’t open until near 10. I figured I could sleep in if you will. When I woke up it was about 8 and I was bummed to see it had begun raining overnight. It wasn’t hard, but I knew it meant it would be a gray day. I quickly realized that I should be grateful as yesterday was spectacular and that is the day I took the fjord cruise. So, I rolled back over, if you can call it that in the cramped space of my car and dozed off for another couple of hours.

The town was busy for that of its size. I found my way to the supermarket as I had to use the toilet and figured I could get some breakfast. The clerk told me that the bathroom was across the street in the large building one block away. I acted so surprised and said, “you mean to tell me they make you go over there to go to the bathroom every time you need to go?” She said “Oh no, there is a bathroom here for us.” Typical I thought. When I got over there to the building she told me about, I was pleased to find a shopping mall which not only had the bathroom I needed, but that of a better supermarket. The other one is called Remi 1000 or something like it. I have quickly learned only to go into it if I really need something as it is not the greatest of stores. A K-Mart if you will… After getting some breakfast, I went over to the library, or Bibliothek as they call it, to use the internet. Once done with that task, it was off to the road.

My first stop one the road was a glacier museum near the largest glacier on the European continent. It cost me about 12 American dollars and even though it was quite small, it was pleasant none the less. I must of left there at about 1 as it is 2 hours from Stryn and I arrived here at 3. I was pleased to find that it is a rather nice city, located between towering mountain tops and a beautiful fjord. I wanted to check my email again so off to the library I went. I had to sign in for a 4 o’clock appt. which gave me time to put together my previous journal entry. This involves selecting usually up to 12 pictures, resizing and optimizing them, writing my story if any and then transferring them to something like a cd or disk to upload on the computer I will be using. Interestingly enough, often the most challenging thing about this is selecting the images I want to put up. Some days I have taken so many the choices are quite hard.

Having uploaded my images and journal, I headed to the tourist office here in Stryn where I got directions from a very cute girl in the center. Auke had told me the Norweigan girls aren’t very attractive as they tend to be rather large. He must not of seen this one… With directions in hand, off I headed into the Norwegian countryside. The farm is 3 km out of town and if I hadn’t gotten the directions I did, I would not of been able to find it. When I got there, I was somewhat challenged as there was not a soul was around. There was a barn and several small buildings, two of which were houses. A chained dog kept barking at me with his tail wagging the whole time while four beautiful Norwegian horses in the nearby coral looked on curiously. I walked about for nearly 10 minutes, including to the home up the drive which I figured was probably the owners’ house. There were no cars there so I didn’t even bother to knock. I went back to the tourist office and had the girl, yes the cute one, call them to see if they were there. She said they told her they would be home the rest of the night and they were sorry they weren’t there when I arrived. Not that they necessarily should have been as I arrived so late in the day and I seem to have recalled telling them I’d be there by mid-day at the latest.

When I drove back to the farm, I went up to the house above the several buildings before mentioned and was immediately greeted by the nicest of young ladies. (she was cute also Auke!) She asked me if I was “Tom Hall” with a smile as if I was some type of celebrity or something. I said yes and we exchanged a couple of kind words with one another. Then we waked down the hill to what I would discover would be my accommodations for the night. It was a lovely home with all the decorations one would imagine in such a home. The walls were covered with pictures and there were various knick-knacks all about. The young girl, whose name forsakes me at the moment, introduced me to her brother Hans who was with a girl named Janet whom he had met in New Orleans recently. She came back here to visit him in Norway. It was then that their mother arrived and greeted me, a lovely woman named Torild. We all chatted for a while and when my schedule came up, they invited me to have dinner with them. Mom wanted to make fish and daughter wanted tacos. After my disclaimer that I won’t eat fish, the tacos won out if only temporarily as the daughter who was to make them realized it was too late and she needed to work. So, as my heading of this entry stated, it would be pancakes for dinner. Torild showed me up two flights of stairs which in reality were more like ladders to the lofts above. I’d be in the loft she told me, yet I actually had the entire home to myself. She was so delightful to talk with and seemed to be fascinated with my journal, asking me about my pending visit with Asbjorn the next day. I chuckled as I realized she had been serious about following my travels on this journal. I find it is feedback like that that compels me to continue with my journal entries. After all the chat ended, I was left to myself to shower and do a load of clothes in a type of washing machine I had never seen.

When I was all freshened up, I wasn’t sure if I’d be summoned for dinner or I was to simply to go up to the house. I chose the latter. Upon arrival, I was greeted by Torild and her husband Amund. Amund was a very tall, thin and handsome man. I wasn’t quite sure how to read him initially, but towards the end of the night I would become quite fond of him. He had been born on this farm only to return some years later to assume the sole ownership. The farm had been in his family since it was built in the 1800’s and Amund actually attended school in the one-room school house on the property which served the community’s children up until 40 years ago. It has been kept in excellent shape and currently is used to teach riding skills to students who come to the farm to ride the horses there. Prior to dinner, I took the opportunity to show my slideshow from last year to Torild and Amund. In all the time I have been sharing this with people, I don’t believe anyone has ever enjoyed it as much as Amund. He couldn’t stop laughing at a picture of a highland cow from Scotland. Also, he made such an astute observation about a picture I took in Belgium last year of a sculpture on the facade of a building that had such a deep meaning. I knew then that I would make a copy of the slideshow for him to enjoy and study at his leisure.

Dinner was pleasant enough with the usual small talk. There was pancakes with jam and bacon. You’d put some bacon and jam on the pancake, fold it in half and use a fork and knife to cut it. I actually enjoyed it and to be quite honest, do not know why we Americans don’t have it for meals other than for breakfast. After dinner, Torild was to drive Hans her son and his friend Janet up the mountain for a romantic evening the family cabin. Once up the mountain by car, a half hour walk would be required to reach the remote cabin. I assumed it to be a romantic evening for them as Janet made sure to inquire about a cork screw…

Once they had left, Amund took me upstairs to the computer where I could check email and upload my journal. About the time I finished, Torild returned and the three of us went down to the area where my “house” was and the barn. I wanted to take some pictures for my journal as well as some for them. We spent nearly an hour talking about the special breed of horse they raise as well as other things about the history of the farm. It was quite amazing, let me tell you. They are in the process of restoring a building for baking and brewing that dates back to the early 1800s. To appreciate the significance of all of this, you really have to understand how remote they were (and are) at this location. Amund disappeared and left Torild and I alone as she showed me both the schoolhouse and to my surprise, the family museum which was adjoined to the other holiday rental near that of mine and the barn. It was amazing, butter turns, weaving apparatuses (ok, I admit, I didn’t know how to spell that without using spell check), various tools from the period, and perhaps most interesting of note were that of the photographs. One in particular caught my eye and I thought it would be nice to share it with you. It was a series of pictures of the various men how had lived on the farm. The first was born in the early 1800’s and his name was Hans. It was quite apparent how proud Torild was of her heritage. As she should be, the people who settled this area were simply amazing in their accomplishments.

Torild and I said our farewell after the museum and schoolhouse tour as she indicated it was not likely that she’d be waking up at six in the morning to see me off, as is usually the case when I leave at such an hour with my host. And it is with all of that that brings me here to the campground where I am waiting for my clothes to dry. I probably shouldn’t be here as I am not camping, but it was the tourist office that suggested I go to the campground to do my laundry as there is no such facility in Stryn. I wouldn’t of felt so bad if I had had to pay for the use. Ok, I didn’t feel “so” bad…

Upon my return to the farm, all was very quiet. I contemplated having my cigar inside by a fire while looking at all the pictures on the wall, but thought better as it might have left a lingering odor in the home. So, outside I stood at near midnight having my cigar while looking down onto the fjord far, far below. It was a beautiful sight indeed, with the occasional car or truck headlights going down the adjacent roadsides barely even needing their headlights at this hour as it was very light out. I was surprised to see the horses were still out, as they had been in the barn earlier in the evening but were let out for me to photograph. It was about then that a car began coming down the hill. It was Amund and he must of been reading my mind as he said he came down to put the horses away. I wondered if he’d come over for a chat before going back up the hill, but he didn’t’. He gave me a pleasant goodnight and left me alone with my thoughts.

Nothing of any significance else happened this night with the exception of the terrible nightmares I had going to sleep. They were continual, meaning even when I would wake up and fall back to sleep they would return. Interestingly enough, one of the main characters in the nightmares was that of a girl named Madie whom I briefly dated last fall. No, she wasn’t a terrorist, but she kept telling me different things to do. Kind of like a honey-do list if you will, all the time while I was trying to fight the terrorist. I have no clue why I would dream of such things, especially about Madie, but such is life. I certainly can understand the terrorist aspect of the dream though as those thoughts play frequently on my mind these days. I am ever so cognoscente (did I spell that right) of people around me as I walk the streets in these towns. I left my flag at home so to speak, but I have to be careful when I tell people I am American. I think the majority of Arab looking people I see are Turkish as they seem to make up most of the minorities in some of these countries. It is not that I necessarily fear being directly subjected to such a direct attack as a dirty-bomb or biological or chemical attack, but I do live very close to a likely target back in the states and when such an event happens (yes, I said “when”) and the causalities are in the many of thousands, I do not particularly care to be around for the aftermath of major civil unrest. Ok, enough of that subject.

I guess that is all there is to write in this journal entry. I have fallen behind a bit in my writing due to both falling in love and my recent busy schedule. On my next entry, I will introduce you to a small one-horse town up further north in Norway and an interesting man whose name is Asbjorn. You’ll never guess what was in his basement… Take care…

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Would you believe?

Anyway… So I drive all day, probably 800 KM total and arrive here in this rather nice and large city whose name I can’t even pronounce. At one point along the way, I stop for gas only to find our little feathered (and dead) friend wedged in the grill of the car. As I tried to pull him out, various parts kept breaking off like his head, or feet or wing even. He was really wedged in there. Upon finding a place to park in the city where I am now in Sweden, I begin to walk to the central station to see if they have internet and to scope out my options for accommodations tonight. So, I am walking along this narrow street when all of a sudden I hear a splat! (see where this is going) I look up quickly to see where it came from and saw some pigeons flying overhead. After seeing the bird crap on the sidewalk, I thought what a close one – until I looked at my jacket and jeans. Bird shit all over them! I think it is often funny how life works… I’ll be updating later on regarding Stryn and Andalnes. Take care. x

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Pancakes for Dinner???

Being a bit short on time, I wanted to just share some of the photos I took yesterday driving from Bergen to the popular tourist location of Flam. When I arrived there, I took a four hour ferry ride which took me through some of the most spectacular fjords in Norway – enjoy!

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Simply Breathtaking!

that I have not only accomplished a dream of a lifetime to take a cruise through the Fjords of Norway – I steered the damn boat! Thats right, and it was incredible. Just like in the postcards. I left Bergen this morning after sleeping in my car of all places and headed to where I am now, the village of “Flam”. The drive took about 4 hours and it was breathtaking, almost the entire time along a river or series of waterfalls. When I got here, there is huge tourist facility and I was able to take a shower for 20 Kronen (Kronin?) I then learned there was a four hour boat trip from here through the most beautiful part of the Fjords. I was going to come back from this trip and take a famous train to the top of a mountain and camp out overnight but have opted not to as the ships captain gave me a better alternative. I am leaving Flam now and taking the highway through the worlds longest tunnel to a couple of cities north of here, one famous for old wooden buildings and a very nice church. Then, I will camp out or sleep in my car again tonight and visit the Glacier national park tomorrow before spending the night on a Norweigan farm. I am also getting quite excited about my visit on Friday to my pen pal of sorts for the past few weeks, Asbjorn. (forgive me if that is not spelled correctly) In closing this journal entry, let me just say “Mom, I love ya…” x

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I arrived in Bergen!

I left this morning from Dalen and drove nearly 6 hours through some awfully desolated highways and roads. At one point, I came to a mountain pass with snow capped peaks all around and there was a couple just sitting outside their camper having coffee staring off into a scene that looked like something out of movie. I thought I would high tail it out of here in the morning and head to Stryn but the gal in the tourist office pointed out a different route taking me through the worlds longest tunnel (24 KM) and then to within 300 feet of some really nice glacier I believe. I will sign off for now. Take care! x

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Bergen is a must!

So here I sit in the Åpen internet cafe only a few hours after having arrived in this lovely town by the sea known as Bergen. I can only say that after reading so many nice things about this location on the globe, I can certainly understand why.

The day started simply enough, after having spent a wonderful evening at the Hotel Dalen in Dalen which is about equidistant from Oslo and Bergen. There were a scattering of guest in the breakfast hall. I opted for the usual European breakfast of various meats, cheeses, breads and other breakfast items. I was uncertain of the days drive so I tried to eat as much as possible without over doing it. I said my farewells to the few folks I had had the opportunity to get to know and I was off for the route to Bergen. I had a little idea as to how to get to Bergen simply by looking at the map – route 39.

As I drove the small two lane roads up and down the mountains, I could not help but to think of the previous evenings events. I had been greeted at the hotel near 3 in the afternoon and surprisingly only had to mention my name. Usually there is the whole passport and credit card routine regardless if the nights stay is comped as this one was. Anyway, after taking a few panoramas for the hotel, I decided to walk to town. As I was leaving the hotel, a gal wearing large sunglasses, jeans and a t-shirt came out of the hotel and began walking in the same direction. I can only say she was a smart ass from the start. But I say that ever so affectionately. I came to learn that there would not be much to hold my interest in the town of Dalen itself as it is so very, very small. She was quite animated about communicating this to me. It turned out she is from Bulgaria and is on a two month contract to play the piano each night in the hotel. We chatted for a bit and then off I went to confirm her representation about the size of Dalen. She was right. On my return, I saw her again only to walk with her to the lake. I think she enjoyed my company as the majority of the guest are older and she doesn’t talk with them very much.

Dinner was served at 7 in the large dining room and the only regret I have of the evening was opting for a shrimp starter in lieu of that of a whale one. I should of had the whale. The evening ended near midnight as I sat on the porch of my room sipping some scotch and having a cigar. I couldn’t help but to chuckle to myself about earlier having sat in the parlor listening to Milena play the piano. She was ever so stiff and just kept playing sheet of music after sheet of music. What a contrast to the smart assed girl I had met earlier in the day. I kept pimping her to play a song from her heart and not to read the music as she had been doing. She finally did so choosing a song from Diana Krall, “Cry me a River”. Near midnight and after she had finished playing the piano, she came down to my porch and gave me her business card and to thank me for the two cds of Jazz music I had made for her earlier. I also had made a cd for another hotel employee. She was wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt and I couldn’t help but to think she looked like Diana Krall. She was beautiful and I told her as much. Anyway, we visited for about 20 minutes and she was off to check her email and I to my bed.

The drive today was a disappointment if only in that I didn’t see any of the scenery I had hoped to see in Norway. Often times, the pics in the brochures and on the internet are so beautiful, but miles off the beaten track. The most challenging part of the drive today was that of the tunnels, some taking 10 to 15 minutes to pass through. Some were very dim inside and narrow as well. Thank God only one or two vehicles passed me in them today. When I arrived in Bergen at about 3, I was impressed immediately. Unlike Olso, the city didn’t intimidate me right away. The highway sign for 39 was clearly marked, which is the highway leading to where I thought I’d be sleeping tonight at a campground. I was lucky to find a parking spot near the water and put 20 Kroners in for 1 hours time. The first stop was the tourist office just across the street. It turned out to be the best decision during my stay here in Norway. A young girl who spoke perfect English was challenged in that I told her I had one day to see Bergen and what would she suggest. She asked some questions to find I would be driving in the direction of Stryn and Andalsnes (I hope the spelling is correct) and then she laid out what seems to be a perfect route through the Fjords. I had intended on taking what seemed like a logical route, but after hearing her describe breathtaking Fjords and a glacier to boot, I began to get excited. I have been feeling a little down lately and this and the town of Bergen were just what I needed to pick me up. After thanking her, I put some more money in the meter and off I went for an hour or two of taking pictures. It didn’t take long to walk the major tourist areas.

When finished with my brief self-guided tour, I then picked up my laptop from my car and headed to this internet cafe. The town has quieted down considerably from when I started earlier today. I think there is all of three people in here right now. The owner of the cafe, a young guy, has given me unlimited free access to the net to upload my story in exchange for a panorama. It is so convenient to be able to swap services, not to mention money saving. I’m going to spend another hour or so here and then I am going to take a tram up to the top of a nearby mountain where there is a state park. The last tram is at midnight. Once there, I am going to pitch my tent and sleep for the night. I asked and it is alright as crazy as it sounds. Norway allows camping anywhere that is public land. I only hope it does not rain too hard as I will not be able to come back down until 7:30 in the morning. I’ll leave my car on the street as it will be fine until morning I was told. That is all for now, so until my next update, take care!

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