Saturday, July 31, 2010

Austria into Slovakia

An obstacle course to test your bike skills.

My last day in Austria was a quiet one. I loaded up early and was out of camp by 6am. I hoped I was bound for more entertaining waters. The first half of the day had me winding through the beautiful wetlands of the Donau-Auen National Park. Beautiful. Super scenic. Very fertile. Lots of trees. Tons of birds chirping in the morning light.

Donau-Auen National Park

Heading to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, would be a short 85km day so I took one big side trip to Austria's most important Roman ruin sight. I have never thought of Austria as having important Roman ruins, but I figured why not. It did not disappoint, but the ruins might have been the least interesting part. It was also an open air museum where they reconstructed some ruins using the old building techniques. It was great to see, and not need to imagine, what things were like. They even had real garlic, onions, and other food in the kitchen. They were not the fakes ones I am used to seeing in US exhibits. It is probably cheaper that way and maybe the staff gets to use them when they are a little bit aged? I don't know. Also on site, was a small hive of archaeologists uncovering more ruins. I am not used to that in the US. We have a lot more separation. If anything is being dug up, it is probably off limits to the public.

An old Roman amphitheater.

Archaeologists uncover ruins.

Reconstructed Roman buildings beside ancient ruins.

Rebuilt Roman ruins.

An old arch, thought to be for a victorious army to march through.

After a few hours in the morning sun at the ruins and an amazing ciabatta sandwich with mozzarella, basil, and tomato, I was ready to move on. My only other stop was in Hainburg, a small town that was valuable for controlling the Danube. The entire city was walled, had three gates, and fifteen towers overlooking the river. The wall and its gates still regulate access to the city by creating a single lane bottleneck. I can't imagine a better way to keep a city pedestrian friendly than by restricting access like this. I loved it, though I am sure I would hate it as a driver, lucky I am a biker.

Vienna Gate in Hainburg restricts traffic.

Next up was crossing the border into Slovakia. It was neat to cross the border, see the old guard booths, and just keep on going without even a single wave. I cannot imagine how much longer it used to take. I wonder if it was as bad as the US-Canada border crossings are these days. Ugh.

A typical scene on the trail (castle in the hills).

Actually, along those lines, does anyone know if we make foreign nationals show their passport to get a hotel in the USA? At every hotel I go to, they have to see a copy of my passport to collect my information for the local authorities. Do US hotels do this same thing, but with our driver's licenses? I don't even pay attention to the US process anymore. I pay cash here and credit there. Maybe they use my credit card to get the information.

For some reason, all the firewood in Austria is cut to this length, maybe a meter. I am guessing they just have bigger fire places.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Danube River Trail: Vienna, Austria, Day 6-7

Vienna did not jive with me. I may have just got there on the wrong foot, but something wasn't right and that was a bummer because I scheduled a rest day there. That rest day was put to good use for my legs and for getting stuff done back home, but I would have rather been playing in a city I enjoyed.

Franz von Assisi Church.

The reason I think I got off to the wrong foot was that I had a lot of difficulty finding lodging. I had looked up a campsite the night before and tried to go there after grabbing a falafel for lunch. Oh man, I missed falafel. For some reason, the rest of Austria doesn't sell falafel at their kebab shops because it doesn't sell with the locals. Anyway, I biked for an hour down the 21km wide and 250m wide Danube Island in the middle of the rerouted Danube river. The campsite was not at the end as I had believed. I came back to the city center, got on the internet, located it, and tried again. I had to cross the entire river, not just to the island, but I still didn't make it. At this point, my short 40km day had turned into 70km. I was moving slower and slower and giving new definition to the Blue Danube 3/4 time (does anyone under 40 know this reference?).

I love the contrast between the swimming pool and the Danube canal, old danube river.

I headed back towards city center and decided I would just pay for a hotel. I was tired. I was frustrated. I wanted to sleep. Unfortunately, the International Aids Conference was in town, which means that the ten hotels I checked and probably any other hotel anywhere near city center were full. A couple hotels called around for me, but found nothing. I headed back to the internet shop to call hotels instead of just biking around. I found one for 250 euros. It was an entire suite. Iwrote down their address, but called the camping place to see if they actually existed. To my surprise, they did. I took their directions and got lost again, but with the help of a ton of locals, I did make it. My favorite was a 70 year old man who gave me complete directions in German without any hand signals or map. Oddly enough, he was the one who actually got me there.

St. Stephen's Cathedral gothic style reminds me of the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning.

St. Stephen's Cathedral, built in 1147, redone in 1433, (done again in 1950? look at the roof).

Yesterday, someone asked how I get around without knowing the language because, contrary to popular belief, not everyone speaks some English (that is mostly in the tourism business or young people). This fallacy falls especially short in the country. The trick is to learn the basics of please, thank you, excuse me, and where. After that, you draw pictures, pantomime, and look at maps. One of my favorite times doing that this trip was when I wanted a tape measure to see how many meters my wheel moved in one revolution to get my trip computer set up. It took a while, but we got it, and it is such a rush of success when you can figure out even the most basic word.

Belvedere palace gardens.

Belvedere Palace.

After a good night's rest, I set out to explore Vienna properly. I did it on bike to cover more ground, but the next time I have a rest day I think I will stay off the bike entirely. The city was good. It is beautiful. It has grand buildings, but it just wasn't as friendly as other places I had been. However, being so big, they did have a British bookshop that I could buy a Mediterranean Europe travel guide and a recreational book about biking from the lowest point on Earth, the Dead Sea, to Everest Base camp and then, I believe, climbing to the highest point on Earth, Everest.

Oh old friends' Starbucks, Burger King, McDonalds, and even United Colors of Benetton.

I think my favorite stop was at Hundertwasserhaus. It is a funky apartment complex. It had been recommended to me and my friends, Stu and Acadia, had also visited it on their bike tour. It was neat to be somewhere that they were just a short while back since I am using their bike maps. According to wiki, "the house was finished in 1986, features undulating floors, a roof covered with earth and grass, and large trees growing from inside the rooms, with limbs extending from windows."


I think my second favorite part of Vienna was very telling for and about me. It was an art exhibit by The Human Rights Project. It had the faces of people and current events. I love how picturesque the major cities of Europe are, but they don't capture my imagination as much as living people and current affairs do. I think the problem is that European history between the Roman Empire and World War II is an endless stream of conflicts, royalty, and religion that I get lost in. I cannot say that I know that much more about the battle for human rights in say Burma, but it still captures me more. I think it has to do with the knowledge that those people are struggling now. It isn't over and done with. It isn't history yet.

An art exhibit by the

More of the exhibit.

Someone asked me why I am visiting all these big cities in Europe if they are not what I love. Good question. Part of it is to see what everyone else talks about. When most people talk about Europe, they mention the capitals. Also, I am hoping for an unexpected surprise. I also get to see a ton in between the cities by bike and the cities are a great place to hop on the internet, rest up, and get massages, though I have not gotten one yet. If I had to explain how I chose this trip, I would say I wanted to see the natural beauty of Austria and Croatia. I wanted to see the ruins in Athens. I wanted to see the culture and ruins of everything from Istanbul to Cairo. The stuff in between was filler with hopes for moments of serendipity.

Ferrari store with only one car.

A jaguar at the camp site.

These last two picture might be my favorite. There is only a single car in the Ferrari store. I believe the company has more than one model. I am sure they can order more or if they sell it they make all their money for the year, but it was still funny to see just a single car. Every single picture in the store was of a red Ferrari too. Apparently, one car, one color. The other one is a jaguar at my camp site. I don't feel like those two normally mix in the states.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

My Father, Sheldon Brotman

My father, Dr. Sheldon Brotman.

While I was having my best day of biking, my dad, Dr. Sheldon Brotman, passed away after a short illness. He had been having tests for a couple weeks while I was at Worlds. My dad, never the best communicator, was not very forthcoming with information. The best my siblings and I could put together was that they could not figure out what was wrong, but we didn't get the impression that anything was life threatening. We believed the worst case was that he needed a liver transplant.

That wasn't the case though, and, we think, even my father was taken by surprise. Two Mondays ago, after going to work to give a lecture, my dad checked himself into the hospital. (This is the epitome of my dad to ignore his own issues to do his work.) Tuesday, he was in the ICU and unconscious/sedated. He never woke up.

My dad's vehicle to his favorite past time, the Whisper.

My father loved the sea and was a great sailor. Annually, for over twenty years, my father has raced from New England to Bermuda and in those first years my siblings and I were his default crew. Later, probably with more experienced crew, he won the race. When not racing, we sailed all the nooks and crannies of the Gulf of Maine from Maine down to Massachusetts when his vacation time permitted it. I can only imagine that he would enjoy having his sailing site come up first above his medical stuff when you google his name.

The Whisper

As a doctor, I can only imagine the void that will be left. My dad helped more people in his life as a trauma doctor than I can conceive of. He was very good at what he did. He always felt he had work to do. There is a shortage of trauma doctors and he seemed compelled to work ridiculous hours to make up for it. My sister swears that when he was preparing for the Bermuda race, studying for a medical examination, and working, he was not sleeping more than four hours a night. I would not be surprised. In his last few jobs, he was called into to start or save failing trauma centers. He might not have done it the nicest way, but you know he got it right. The same was true when when you were learning to sail with him.

My father.

Growing up, my father was a great provider. However, my relationship with my father beyond that was tumultuous. We were never close. As adults, I had hoped to fix that. It is a task that will remain undone. While there was progress over the years, I am not sure we would have ever got to what I was looking for. One of the last good conversations I had with my dad was in Michigan on my road trip. We talked about traveling to the Middle East, as I am about to do. He said that one day he hoped to have those same adventures, which (to answer the default question) is one reason why I hope to continue on my adventure after a trip home for the memorial.

My father was certainly challenging at times, but he had a good heart. He will be missed. Sheldon Brotman. 02/19/41-07/18/2010.