Category Archives: Travel

Climbing Course Weekend, Ardennes

Last august I went to the Ardennes for a climbing course. The course took from friday until sunday and if all went well I’d receive my Toprope Certificate from the NKBV (Dutch climbing association). It was an amazing experience, overcoming fears both on the wall and in my head.

I often ask myself why I actually climb. I’m not particularly talented and I have a fear of heights that isn’t easily subdued. Going on this weekend brought the additional fear with it of taking my CPAP device on the road with me for the very first time. What would people think about that and would I be able to live up to my high standard of quality climbing?

Teaming up

Luckily I didn’t have to face this alone. One of my oldest and best friends is a true athlete and his presence always has a calming effect on me. Sure, I seem to like the weak one in this collaboration, but who really cares. We met up in the Ardennes with the rest of the crew. Three ladies and us two would be trained by Andries and Harry. Andries is a full pro, who does this as a freelancer with his company Zelan Outdoor. He’s a sports teacher too, so he has that sensitivity to peoples feelings and vibe. Harry is an old school climber with a bag full of stories. In between the two, we had an interesting mix of knowledge, expertise and passion.

We got to know each other a little and then went to practice and learn some theory about the climbing due to the heavy rains coming down all the time. When we finally did get to go out, we could try a little bit of climbing and some abseiling. After one attempted ascent the clouds broke and after having holed up in a cave for a bit, we dashed back to the Tukhut (an NKBV owned establishment for mountain bikers, hikers and climbers). I didn’t make it dry and a wet pair of shoes would be my penalty for the next two days.

Running into walls

Surprisingly the team was very nice about my device and actually complimented me on the soundlessness. This was very pleasant and bolstered my travel lust for the future. I felt quite comfortable when we headed out to hit some walls in Hotton. There are some low-level routes that can be pure fun to climb, but also some harder material. After getting our toes in the water on some easy warm-up routes, we felt ready for the big work and the group split in two. Part of the team went climbing some easier, shorter routes. Climbing levels differ and clearly the trainers knew how to deal with that.

We went climbing some more complex routes and… I choked. While climbing a steep chimney with small grips the fear took hold of me after a few slips (there’d been some downpour and water was still pooled up in some cracks). With just some slim holds and mostly using body pressure to go up I got hold of a small jug but completely lost my cool. Disappointed and angry I went down. On the next route, I successfully jammed my hand in cracks to pull myself up, pushing some new techniques, but my body had cramped up and my wrists were very painful. I let myself down. I was ashamed and I connected this to everything else raging around in my head.

Mental walls

While climbing I was thinking of my new job I’d start on Monday. I also thought of the choice to not pursue studies this September, what was my original plan. Thinking of the 2 months of mental turmoil I’d been suffering through since I received my CPAP therapy (more about that here) filled my head. Because of that I crashed and burned. Later I fought myself through an easier pitch, but that hardly cheered me up.

Trainer Andries took me aside when we arrived back at the hut and asked me if I was ok. I sort of muttered and stuttered my disappointment and how much I had hanging on those few climbs. On my back I carried my worries, so I was climbing with a mental pack. Not sure how, but he made me feel a bit better. We had dinner, some drinks and then it was time for a good night sleep.

First ascent

I’ve climbed a lot in recent years, but some climbs matter more. We went back to the same walls the next day. It was the last day of the weekend and I needed to redeem myself. Humbled and more focused we started to climb. Halfway up the longest route, full of great grips I started to sing to myself. My head emptied out and I felt the pure bliss of hitting the rock. Every thought was followed by a movement. Every limb in harmony with the others, one by one I ascended the wall.

The next climb was a tricky start with some hidden pockets, but smooth sailing up to the top. I asked Andries to help me lose my fear of falling and he did. Falling is scary, it’s a moment of complete panic and submission to the elements. It’s toprope though and in fractions of seconds, you’re securely hanging on your harness. It’s about trust in your partner and knowing what happens.

Harder, Higher, Heavier

Then we went to the tougher stuff. I joked a bit at the start of a tricky route. It went up in a crack between the rock wall and an outstanding slab that stuck up int he sky like a monolithic tower. With trepidation, I started the climb and on my way to the top, a change came over me. I stopped being afraid, this was comfortable climbing. This was up my sleeve and within my comfort levels. I could do this one without any problem!

And then I got to the last problem, to get myself on the top of the tower, where I’d be standing with only the wind and a wall to lean against. My rope had turned three times and fearlessly I looped it around myself once, twice and thrice. As I gazed out over the tree tops and the beautiful region, I felt completely at peace. I was free, not just of my worries, but of my fear of the fall. This was my first ascent and I had just completely fallen in love with climbing. I took a deep breath and started my descent.

Epilogue

I climbed another hard route full of confidence after that. Hard is a relative term. I’m no Alex Honnold or Chris Sharma, nor will I ever be. But I’ve started to love climbing with a passion. I fall regularly now, usually while trying more tricky 5+ routes or 6a’s (French ranking system). I’m doing lead climbing too now, but the fear of falling returns. There’s always the next leap.

More stuff:
NKBV website
Zelan Outdoor Website
Climbing Ardennes info

Pictures: Zelan Outdoor/Floris Teulings

Copenhagen: Cheap weed, sludge in squats and buffets

For my birthday, my lovely wife gave me a trip to copenhagen as a gift. I had been to Denmark very long ago, back in 1992 (starting my long affinity with Danish football as well), but not to the capital. I enjoyed my time here, though it’s a pricy place.

This was also the first time we used AirBnB, where you get to sleep in a persons house. Our host was a stewardess for a major flying company and gladly hosted us in her neat apppartment. Added bonus is that she owned a great coffee shop, where we could have breakfast. Extra super bonus is that this was a vegan/health shop, so we had the breakfast of dreams at the Coffee Queen.

Kristiania and Nyhavn

When you go to Copenhagen, you need to visit Kristiania. I was amazed at the long line of weed vendors, selling their wares on top of old oil barrels. Seriously, there was a liberty and randomness to it that made me feel that being Dutch was not at all what I thought it was compared to this place. I can’t say the rest of Kristiania was as impressive as the legends that precede it. It looked like a dump on most parts and others where highly commercialised.

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The same you could say about Nyhavn, the hip, go-to center of the city with the colorfull houses. It looks great, contrary to Kristiania, but hardly offers the complexity and fascinating aspects of the squat settlement. The center of the Danish capital is beautiful though and you would love to be in the cyclist friendly city with excellent public transport (the trams are even fully automatic it seems). I spend an excellent first day exploring these parts , just wandering around and enjoying the surroundings.

Exploring the city

Copenhagen is a city with wide streets, winding roads and a lot of old buildings. Just wandering around those is a joy. Obviously you want to visit the little mermaid statue. Perhaps you even get a glimpse through the hordes of tourists that stop their with full busloads. The harbor is obviously a nice part of the city to visit, since a lot of live was around these parts in the past and old buildings, statues and pretty parks will surprise you.

What is well worth visiting is the national history museum. You can literally spend a day here, soaking up the history from the ancient days all the way to the present century. The museum has a vast collection and some surprisingly impressive items, such as some of the well preserved bodies found in bogs. Not saying this to be morbid, but to be able to see a person froma  different age is something particularly special.

Northern Discomfort

I went to see the cool Northern Discomfort Fest as well in Copenhagen, which took place at the Ungdomshuset, an old squat commune where often bands play. The cool thing was the atmosphere and the affordable drinks and food. I really enjoyed this festival, which had some great acts and truly no bad shows going on. You can read more about that here and here. Again, public transport is your friend, though it does stop driving at some point and then an hours walk is not so bad through the streets of Copenhagen actually.

Noteworthy acts I saw were for example Alaric, the English post-punk infused band with melodic and melancholic vocals. Another one I liked particularly is Cult of Occult.

FC Copenhagen

Denmark has a very peculiar music culture. It really is baffling to know that hooligans interact and work together with the police. For some reason the Danish league is considered small and teams fuse, merge and fold a lot. Current champion FC Copenhagen only has been around for about 1,5 decade. I have always had affinity for football in Denmark. My parents took me there on holiday back in 1992, just after the European Championship.

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So I went down to Telia Parken to see the local FC Copenhagen play Lyngby, one of their historic competitors. My tickets were not for the nice seats, but right in with the hardcore fans. It was great to join in with the chanting during the game with the passionate FC Co fans. After 45 minutes the score is 0-0. A few minutes into the second half Pavlovic, the Serbian striker of Copenhagen, scores a beautiful goal. The fans explode and fireworks are lit. Pavlovic continues to score three goals and the chanting never stops. A great experience.

photo’s by Justina Lukosiute

Monastaries, metal and craft beer in Sofia, Bulgaria

As I have in the past, I like to write about my travels. Though Stranger Aeons is not per sé a travel blog, travel is a great way to see the weird and wonderfull world we live in and the strangeness that it has to offers. This blog is about my trip to Bulgaria’s capital Sofia.

Arriving in Bulgaria, I was eager to find the Vasil Levski stadium. In this old, fifties stadium the Bulgarian National Team will play agains the Netherlands. Though I’m not highly national when it comes to football, I love the match experience and this I didn’t want to miss. Named after a revolutionary hero, the stadium may be old and lacking certain facilities, the pride of the fans is no less. Right outside the stadium you can buy cheap tickets and enjoy the game. I watched the Bulgarian underdogs beat my country by 2-0. The atmosphere was euphoric. A great start to my stay.

Clean streets and a clash of cultures

Sofia looks remarkably clean in the center, there is hardly any garbage to be spotted on the floor. The smaller shopping streets are filled with diverse buildings, wonky steps and really feel like Eastern Europe. Greece had a similar vibe to me and the Cyrillic writing definitely adds to the feeling of alienation.

If you look a little deeper you soon find that the nations checkered history is all over the city. From a Soviet time shopping mall to beautiful mosque buildings and orthodox churches. Being in the city at the end of March, I missed the fact that there were elections, so museums were closed, but plenty of ancient chapels and churches are easy to visit. The wondrous mystery of an orthodox mass, the patriarchs with their beards and robes, it’s a thing to behold. It’s a city that has many contrasts. From the fancy fast food chains and the shopping streets to the pretty university grounds, from the hip coffee shops to the market near the Alexander Nevski cathedral where they selll communist and Nazi artifacts.

Sofia has a rough charm to it, for those that can appreciate it.

Rila Monastary

Fortunately for us our hostel  (Hostel Mostel, great place to stay!) offered a bus trip to the Rila Monastary up in the mountains to the south. A 2 hour drive, but well worth your money and time. Stopping halfway at a road restaurant, you see the other side of Bulgaria. Impoverished, rather smelly and derelict. A family apparently ran the restaurant but calling it a restaurant might be a bit much. Still, it feels like the place is on the rise. Modern cars are parked next to the place and though garbage seems to be discarded randomly, there seems to be a pickup service for that.

The Rila Monastary is one of the most tourist parts of the country and in warmer months it’s crazy busy in the narrow valley with camping, barbecuing and partying people. We find the ancient monastary as a beacon of rest, impressive among the high, fog crowned mountains. Before visiting we drove a bit further to visit a cave where founder St. Ivan would have lived as a hermit. A strange place it was, with an era of mystery and the unknown, this place is special and surely worth visiting, though I doubt its impact may be as large in other seasons. Check out the amazing nature surrounding it, because you are in a fairy tale landscape.

Metal music on a night out

Though it doesn’t seem to be a massive scene, Bulgaria has a metal scene with some outstanding acts. The bar Live & Loud is hidden in a side street of the big shopping lanes and has a distinct industrial vibe. Drinks are cheap and the music comes from YouTube video’s. While we were there, the Ostring Bulgaria contest took place, a band contest for various countries in the east of Europe. We checked out Slave Pit, a band sounding a lot like classic thrash. It was good but we set our sights on another bar, but later we returned for The A.X.E. Project. A great place to check out for the metal loving traveller.

Food & Drink

Now, I’m a vegetarian, so finding out that my hostel offers both breakfast and dinner that is vegetarian really saved me a lot of work. There is plenty of street food available though for those who are not of this persuasion. Pizza, pastry and kebabs seem to be the main foods that you can purchase, but in the center a sandwich shop is easily found. I was surprised at the amount of vegetarian options in the city though and would particularly recommend the Sun Moon restaurant, with conscous food and a very friendly staff. It’s close to the center and hard to miss for it’s distinct look and little bakery.

You might be someone like me who likes his craft beer, but don’t bother going to the Ale House. It’s not the place you are looking for. A small menu and if you’re lucky an atmosphere of getting a pile of food, shoving it down and guzzling beers by the litre (if you’re unlucky it’s just empty). Surely you can go to the Irish Harp Pub, but if you really want to get some good special beers form this neck of the woods go to Vitamin B.  The craft beer shop has a modern vibe, clean and fresh with a wide selection of beers. Yes, they have a special Mikkeler connection, but if you are interested in the Bulgarian specials this is the place. Also, the staff actually knows the beer, even the taekwondo girl that served us was well versed in their flavors and keen to help.

So, should you go?

Bulgaria is a country often shunned, perhaps for the Cyrillic writing and the endless stereotypes. Sofia is a city with a long history though, but it is very much alive. Prices are very acceptable and the capital really offers a lot to those who give it a chance. Please go, you will love it here.

photo’s by Justina Lukosiute

Live Shows, Beers and Record Shopping in Gent

Yes! I finally had my weekend away from home and I went to Gent in Belgium to check out a live show by Earth and buy records at Consouling Store and Music Mania. Let me tell you a thing or two about it.

Gent is a beautiful city, brimming with life and vitality thanks to its student population. There’s always people about and things to do. I was especially happy to climb the Belfort tower and see the dragon (that was on top of the tower), which used to literally spit fire. How cool is that? So most of the weekend was spend with music, so I’m going to write a bit aout that.

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Earth Plays Belladonna Of Sadness

The film ‘Belladonna Of Sadneess’ is a fascinating Japanese animated film, based on french Writing and heaviyl influenced by a specific style of art like that of Gustav Klimt and Tarot cards. The film is an obscure production with many violent and sexual images of rape and erotic suggestion, but also bloody battle. Now, this film is in need of a soundtrack, so the showing of the film as part of the Film Fest Gent needs something special. Getting doom/drone pioneers Earth to take the honors is a pleasure indeed in the magnificent concert hall/cinema of Vooruit.

Trailer: without Earth soundtrack obviously

Frontman Dylan Carson introduces the bands effort today and stands with his back to the audience in front of the screen. When the film starts playing, the band kicks of with a droning music that melts in with the film. As a listener you sink away into the endless drones that keep pumping onwards, while the footage on the screen unfolds in its own special way. The combination is so fitting and completely allows the listener to submerge into the film. For a good one and  a half hour I’m mesmerized by the film and the skill of the band to keep working those notes without ever really shocking you out of the grasp of the screen on your eyes. A great experience.

Consouling Store

On the Baudelostraat, connecting to the Vrijdagmarkt where you can find the excellent café Dulle Griet (you can drink their house beer from a special glass, if you hand in your shoe), you will find Conosuling Store, the store connected to the well known label Consouling Sounds. Consouling Store is not a huge store, with an enormous collection, but has a clear own identity and also, something most record lovers will agree is a big plus, great coffee.

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Illustrative of its particular style was that a metalhead entered the shop with a bag of cd’s and owner Mike looked at them, seperating them in two piles: “These are the ones that I have an audience for, for these I don’t”. He explains, putting a Parkway Drive record on the ‘not’ pile. The strength of the shop and the label, but also of connected artists, is the strong identity. It’s somewhat dark, underground and ritualistic, but also strongly connected to art and creating something unique. This is also what you’ll find in the store, a load of gems that will speak to those who like the material that Consouling is releasing. So if you’re around, drop by this little record store and just submerge in the sounds that are playing and sort through the vinyl, cd’s and casssette’s, you’ll find treasures there.

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My purchases were mostly within the Consouling stable, so I purchased vinyl from Jozef Van Wissem, Kiss The Anus Of A Black Cat, The Black Heart Rebellion and some more… Yes, I’ve been enjoying them while writing this.

Music Mania

Around the corner of the Vooruit venue, you’ll find a small, but remarkably well stocked record store. On the day I was there, they had a vinyl market outside with 50% off. That was obviously a welcome surprise, so I purchased that Burzum best off record (‘From The Depths Of Darkness’) and another release in the series ‘The Abyss Stares Back’ with Hessian and Primitive Man (probably more of a breakfast record I suppose).

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The store itself is very well stocked, but also on the pricey end with many more popular releases. Unfortunately, I think this is not entirely the shops fault. Some artists just go for those prices, also through their own web shops or the labels. But there’s plenty of great stuff for good prices there. For the crate diggers and vinyl flippers, this is a great store to hang out, but due to its relative stuffiness, prepare to have to move aside for others a lot instead of easily browsing. The huge selection makes up for that for me (or the fact that I’m really a crate hogger, once I’ve found my section).

Food/Drinks

Gent has an exceptional amount of great bars, where you can enjoy the Belgian master beers, but be wary, their is a price difference if you visit the ones like the ‘Dulle Griet’, which are very popular among tourists, and the more ‘local’ bars. In the Vleeschhal, you can eat traditional meals, but I can’t say that the Gentish Uufflakke was really my thing (sour head chease). There’s waffel stands and places to buy ‘Gentsche Neuzen’ everywhere.

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What is most special about Gent is its vegan/vegetarian tradition. Apparently the public institutions even have a day a week when its really just vegetarian food they serve at work. Pretty cool huh? I’ve had my view of vegan food reshaped this weekend, after eating at a place where they made vegetarian burgers (walnut burger, oh boy) and a place where we had mashed sweet potato with toppings. For vegetarians the city of Gent is a must visit. I guess the same goes for those who love beer, make sure to try the local goodness of Gruut and Crabbelaar (and gosh knows what other great breweries).

Great place, go there!

 

Photo’s: Justina Lukosiute

Tavera, Portugal: Travelblog #3

For some reason it has taken me some time to go continue about this holiday. Well, after having gone in the direction of commercial locations in Portugal, such as Albufeira and Lagos, we went east to Tavera.

Less touristic
If you go east from Faro, you’ll find the other Algarve, as I’d like to put it. Obviously, you’ll find plenty of tourists in this direction as well. The sunny town of Tavera has plenty strolling around. What you don’t see however are English pubs, fast food chains and tons and tons of little tourist shops. It’s a bit more the direction you go for the locals. 

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Tavera has an amazing harbor, which is around this channel, with tiny coffee shops, nice little restaurants and people will always be out here to walk around. It’s a pleasant spot to sit down for a moment and wait for a ferry to take you to the beach. The beaches to the east of Faro are all located on islands of the coast. No biggie in the sunny season, because there’s going to be plenty of ferries to carry you across.

Beach!
The beach island is 11 kilometres long and varies in the other dimension. One part is covered with a patch of forest, which is stuffed with restaurants, places to get a drink and some other forms of entertainment. Yeah, there it is… Well, you’d find that on any beach. In fact, this is better than the abandoned island restaurant with its monopoly and high prizes. It’s a busy place and an attraction for tourists.

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It’s a bit windy, but you know…

Transport
I think this is all I wanted to say about Portugal actually. Again, Tavera is easy to reach by public transport and it’s a gorgeous town to have a walk through, it’s sunny, friendly and open. If you take the train from Faro to this town, you’ll find plenty other places to get of and go to the beach.

Photo’s: Justina Lukosiute

Lagos, Sagres, Portugal: Travelblog #2

If you visit the Algarve, you should visit more of it than one place. There’s a beauty to this region and a strange emptiness when you go just before the season. Some options I explored here.

Transport

Faro is an interesting town on its own, but there’s much more to see in the Algarve. One would say that public transport is a bit chaotic, messy or untrustworthy, but it’s not that bad at all. Sure, you need to have a certain amount of patience but that’s public transport itself.  everywhere.

It’s not like there’s a dense network of public transport options. There are busses, mainly travelling to and from the hubs, and there’s the train, which basicly has one track going east and one to the west. There’s also the track from Faro all the way north to Lisbon. This line really ends in Faro. The train is a bit more expensive compared to busses and the track to the west ends at Lagos. From there on you need a bus.

Sure, you can rent a car, which greatly widens the range of options for touristy visits of cool places, beaches and whatnot. There’s no airco that can beat the heat though and the travel times are quite long, so just being able to sit back for a few hours is really well worth it.

Lagos

One of those places is the town called Lagos. It’s a 2,5 hour train ride from Faro through a stunning landscape (even when you’re in a wagon full of screaming children) and at the end of the railroad track. For me, that’s always going to be  strange feeling, to be at the end of the railroad.

Lagos
Lagos

If you walk into the town from the station, you immediately enter the Marinara, the harbor and when you cross the bridge you’ll find the bus station and the center. African sellers are lining up their bags and belts on the sidewalks, while smoking some cigarettes and vendors try to sell you a trip out onto the sea.

Food!
Traditional food, in a small tavern.

The town was important during the seafaring days, when it also was the capital of the Algarve untill it was destroyed by a earthquake. Walking down the promenade, it feels very clean and open, which might have to do with how it was rebuild. The streets are beautiful and even in early pre-season swarming with people. We found a great place to have a simple, hearty Portugese meal and walked around through the town, enjoying its architecture and vibrant atmosphere.
Downside: Lagos is a haven for Brittish sun seekers, which means you’ll find little authenticity when it comes to bars, restaurants and such, specially around the Marinara. Lobster red elderly Brits are looking for shade in one of the ‘happy hour’ bars and watch the horse races. Home away from home I suppose.

Sagres

Source: Worldeasymap

It takes an hour or so by bus to get to our destiantion, which feels like literally reaching the corner of Europe and staring out onto the atlantic. Sagres is a sleepy little town around noon, for which the sweltering heat is one great explanation. The high cliffs offer a wonderful sight onto the sea and the gorgeous beaches, which are hidden from view unless you reach the edges.

Main attraction is the old fortress, which has served as an academy (allegedly) and looks over a beautiful bay. The town has been linked to prehistorical religious practise and throughout the ancient era as well by the Romans, Phoenicians and others. That always gives a peculiar aura to an area, specially this strange plateau on which the school/fort was supposed to have been. You can walk around there and picture yourself the folly that gripped man’s mind in the early age of Portugese discovery. Sailing out into the unknown. An age long lost it seems.

Sagres, land's end.
Sagres, land’s end.

If you are a surfer, Sagres is definitely the place to be I’ve heard, so check it out.

More places

We did skip visiting Albufeira, due to the long travelling time, but we lingered in Lagos a bit. Albureira is possibly the most touristic location on the southern Algarve and has some amazing parts to show, where millionaires build there houses and such. If you have the time, it’s definitely a place to either stay or visit at in the Algarve. Portimão is together with Faro one of the biggest towns and therefor a hub for the economy of the Algarve (during the off-season). Like Faro, it looks to the sea for a large portion of its income.

Going more inland is an option if you have your own transport, but it is very lowly populated. That might be your reason for going into it ofcourse. I guess bringing plenty of water is the best advice there.  From Sagres on, going up north seems like a great drive as well, though some preparation might be useful too.

Travel around

If you are not in Faro for very long, you can still see a ton of places. Make sure you bring a good book, always have a bottle of water and enjoy the train rides. You can also go east ofcourse, towards a more tempered climate and if you have the time even to see 3 countries.

Faro, Portugal: Travelblog #1

So I totally had forgotten about my trip to Faro, Portugal (it was cool), by which I mean that I never wrote about my stay in Faro. Due to some issues in our personal lives, me and the misses decided to go on a quick trip to the most southern point of Europe this far for us.

Sometimes the motivation to go somewhere is very simple: money and time. We didnt have the time we wanted to go see what we wanted, so we just wished to get away for a short spell. Five days of Faro was a cheap option so we took it. Originally we hoped to also see Porto, but well. I guess that makes the motivation bigger than the budget in this case.

Faro has some marvelous city gates, full of nestling Storks.
Faro has some marvelous city gates, full of nestling Storks.

We stayed in the New Faro Hostel, which is a small, quiet hostel with one of the most helpful and friendly (and chaotic) owners I’ve ever met. The building was across the street from the train station and had the air of an old house, of which kind you see many in the transit town Faro. For travelling its a hub, it connects the whole Algarve to the north and has its own airport. It may seem small and a bit run down, but Faro has a charm of its own, holding a university and some beautiful beaches.

The endless, empty beach on the deserted island, just off the coast of Faro.
The endless, empty beach on the deserted island, just off the coast of Faro.

There’s a clear flavor of history to the town, though it probably never was as significant. It’s the surrounding nature that holds the most interest, specially the Ria Formosa, a wetlands region, which is also a protected nature reservate. It feels like you are in the Mississipi delta (I haven’t been there, don’t judge me), when you go through it on a pond to the ‘Illa Deserta’ to lie on the almost empty beach. The zone is a joy to watch and teaming with life. Only this makes it worth to stay in Faro for one day. On the island itself, you can walk around it to end up on the beach. You can see the town from there and a wide view, with many birds nestling on the island.

The typical way of prepping seafood in the Algarve.
The typical way of prepping seafood in the Algarve.

The town itself offers plenty of locations where the thirsty or hungy traveller can indulge his or her wishes. The hidden Academic restaurant is one well worth visiting for no-nonsense local food, fresh from the ocean. Sardines will always be a struggle, but life is a bit like that. You make do, whatever way you can. Make sure to try the local fish cuisine if you ever end up there. You can smell the ocean, so you better be sure to taste it there, specially made in a Cataplana. This is a copper, shell-shaped pan that betrays the Arabic origins of many of the traditions in these regions.

Enjoy a glass of wine or a craft beer in the lovely little bar next to the harbor and just enjoy Faro. That’s what I did atleast.
There’ s a tiny chapel of bones in Faro too. Here’s a picture:

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Athens: Travel Report

Yes, I’ve returned from this ancient city that gave us democracy, a lot of statues and nightmarish traffic. Athens was a week of seeing and experiencing the city, but also good friends, good times, good food and a lot of laughter.

Traffic

What you notice soon, when visiting Athens, is that the traffic is a nightmare. Not that it’s stuck or slow, it just is totally random. People try to get ahead, slip in between, pass another by and so on in a total random fashion with a certain disregard for life. Usually, this is done while holding a phone or helmet on the arm. Beware of the pizza drivers and the souvlaki delivery guys, they are even more dangerous.

Statue of Zeus or Poseidon
Statue of Zeus or Poseidon

Old stuff

Greece has a lot of old stuff, statues, buildings and such. They take pretty good care of it nowadays and a lot is behind fences or under lock and key in the museums. Some items are weirdly accesible though, like old statues and vases in the archeology museum. You almost feel tempted to touch stuff, like on the Akropolis.

The collections are vast and you will see pieces of art that you probably saw on the cover of a book on ancient history before. The halls may look minimal and in some ways not doing justice to the importance of its contents. In a way that gives the works exactly the attention they need: it is placed at the very centre.

Quite a drive outside of Athens, you’ll find the temple of Poseidon in Sounia. A much more romantic and less visited spot for those who dare to venture there. You follow a road by the sea side for kilometres, facing some moronic traffic to reach this spot. It’s location on a cliff top makes for great sunsets that bring back a feeling of a forgotten past.

Sounia
Sounia

Athens: The City

The city itself is not so filled with ancient history and what is there is carefully preserved. The town itself feels modern and mediterranean. For those willing to see it or learn about it, it is clear that the city tells its own tale of its recent histories. It’s protests all the way back to the Junta government and the conflicts with Turkey or even the independence.

The city is strewn with coffee shops and places where you can buy some souvlaki or other quick meals. Greeks like to eat and they like to get some take-away, particularly on football days.

Roads in Athens are not always of the greatest quality and when it rains, you better put on some rainboots. When the sun shines, that matters little though. If you like cats, you’ll enjoy the city even more, because there are cats everywhere! Also pigeons, which are less loved.

Cats
Cats

Most of all…

The most important thing is the warmth and hospitality I experienced. I stayed with my friend K. who took great care of me during this week. Everyone has been remarkably friendly and that is definitely something that deserves some pointing out.

It was great to hang out with old friends and in a way, finally meet up in this great city, sharing drinks and stories. I hope this won’t be the last time.

"The Angels Of Death", Grombidal, Tyrus, Lovensand and Azdrubael.
“The Angels Of Death”, Grombidal, Tyrus, Lovensand and Azdrubael.

What we see in the media is angry protests, Golden Dawn radicalists and an unwilling government. That is not a story that just started, it is part of how modern Greece formed and shaped and grew in the last century. Protests have always taken place, for weeks sometimes. Golden Dawn is actually a marginal group that I have not seen a single sign of. Greece is a country with a heavy historic heritage, but a traumatic recent past. To understand that, visiting this country is a must.

Anykščiai / Panevėžys #2

After a lovely day in Panevėžys, it was time to see something more. Our lovely hosts took us and their two kids for a ride to the beautiful town of Anykščiai. The town lies in the north-east of Lithuania.

After quite a drive from Panevėžys, we arrived at the church in the middle of the town. It was possible to climb the tower here, to get a good view of the valley in which the town is situated. Everywhere you find the names of two writers who lived in this town and had a major impact on Lithuanian literature. Those are Antanas Baranauskas and Jonas Biliūnas. One has to take in mind that Lithuania has no such things like theme parks, so what you do find is a map of the town and surroundings, full of little things to do. This is really a fun day for the kids, since they get to see and learn a lot.

some good titles there!
some good titles there!

After the tower we cross the street for the Museum of Angels. A collection of paintings can be found here and a collection of angel statues. It’s not as impressive as it’s counterpart ‘The Devil Museum’, but that’s alright. We checked it out and it did have some pretty things. Props for the cool little library, with some great literature. The museum was also rather small, leaving us enough time to move to the next destination, which is the biggest rock (or second) of Lithuania, which has been turned into a memorial for the two pilots of the Lituanica (which I mentioned earlier). The trick is ofcourse to climb that rock, which I did without much problems.

Source: Baltictravelnews.com

The beautiful nature around is currently yielding its first treasures in the form of mushrooms, which are much loved by the Lithuanians. Our hosts are on the lookout for these nature treasures as well. We continue to the Horse Museum, which is a miniature open air museum, showing the history of horses and their use, but also the crafts related to it. The blacksmith is always interesting to me, due that I did some of that in the museum I worked for a while. This blacksmith smells a bit like alcohol though, and his work is sloppy and bad, but the kids love seeing the fire anyways. It’s still a win, just like the apples that grow on the trees and the games that can be played.

The internal traveller also needs something now and then, so we head back to town to get a bite. First we dropped by the bob sledges ride (sledges on rails really that go down a hillside). Unfortunately it is so busy that we have to wait for an hour back to town it its and on the dam in the river we have a bite at the restaurant. Potato pancakes with meat are a great filler for the stomach. They’re a bit greasy, but that is not taking away much of the satisfaction. Back it is to the slegde rides and after a long wait its full throttle down the hill. It feels a bit more exciting than what we did in theme parks actually. It was also a great occasion for a selfie.

Boblelfie
Selfie!

The final destination was the grave of Jonas Biliūnas on top of a hill. A tower is built over it, named the ‘beacon of happiness’. Apparently it is a popular site for newly weds or hen nights, since there’s 1 group of hens on top of the hill and two new couples climbing up when we are there. After this final visit, it is time to head back to Panevėžys. Tired but satisfied after a long and interesting day.

Panevėžys #1

We enjoyed a good evening with family in Panevėžys. The next day we took a walk around town. The unofficial capital of the region has been here since around 1500. It doesn’t look grand and lacks the so called ‘Old Town’, but Panevezys is nonetheles very neat and clean.

The lake in the centre of Panevezys
The lake in the centre of Panevezys

The town is named after the river that flows through it, the Nevezys. We wandered around town and a lot of information about the city was provided by our host. This was after watching some interesting training footage from the Lithuanian airforce, I have to mention. Interesting is one particular beer bar, where the owners nailed hundreds of keys to the tree in front of it. The place used to be abandoned and bums took over. They restored it though and now it sells local brews (which there are a lot of!).  We also visited an international exposition of ceramic art, which I think failed to impress.

The Bison says hi
The Bison says hi

Later we drove out of the city to see some views around. We visited a place of preservation of the European Bisons. A bunch of the big fellows were walking around here and one came up to greet us. They are magnificent creatures and amazing to see them in the wild. After this we also visisted a place were the partizans used to hide out in the forest. It was one of the biggest groups hiding out at this location, but eventually they were captured. The partizans were the ones to fight the soviets after World War II had been concluded. Something that rarely makes it into the history books, but this form of resistance lasted up to 1955 (some places longer).

reconstructed bunker
reconstructed bunker

After this it was time to have some food, which we did in the restaurant Cincinskas. Originally started as a beer bar for Soviet soldiers, it later became a restaurant that has been a succes the last 30 years. The menu is practically as unchanged as the decor and that still pulls the punters in. Not that strange though, with a main course for 3,- euro and a pint of beer for 1,20 euro. Visit this place if you ever end up in Panevėžys!

After that we enjoyed the town celebrations, with some live music and a lot of people around. A visit to the beer bar with the tree, mentioned earlier, was ofcourse also part of the plan. It was another long evening.