Archive for the ‘CouchSurfing’ Category

Northern France

Dienstag, Juli 21st, 2009

After Amsterdam I went to Lille, to meet Noémie, who was in my Bulgarian language course last year in Burgas. She invited everybody from the course to her home – unfortunately I was the only one who accepted the invitation. I was rather surprised to arrive on the French national holiday (July 14th), and we used to opportunity to see a military parade (which was rather boring) and fire works. I was wondering that the fire works were announced for 11pm, but it made sense, it’s bright really long in that part of Europe (and the sky looked just amazing before it got dark – I hope you can get an impression on the pictures). We saw the fire works from the central park, where they were accompanied by music and a story – the story of Europe after 2nd world war, as the day was the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall. It was impressive.

The rest of the days I spent sight seeing, in Lille and in Villeneuve d’Ascq, the home town of Noémie, just outside of Lille. It’s a calm town, a lot of green areas. And there’s a fancy automatic driver-less metro which offers a fast connection between to Lille. The architecture still has many elements which you can find in Holland or in Northern Germany, e.g. façades made from bricks.

As I still had a couple of days left until my flight to Vienna (on 22nd July from Brussels), I searched for more places to visit. Luckily I had talked to Ilona, one of my former flat-mates in Sofia some time ago, and she told me she will be in Rouen in July. So my next stop: Rouen, another 3 hours south-west of Lille. Ilona told me, she won’t be able to host me, so I searched for a CouchSurfing host, and I found Morgane. Ilona arrived a day before me, and I got an agitated message from her, that her people failed to pick her up from the airport (in fact they came, but 45 minutes late). So she went to Rouen on her own, and I asked Morgane if she could ask her … which she accepted, although it was already 1am (CouchSurfing is just a great idea).

On my way to Rouen I had a short stop in Amiens which I used for a walk. By the way. I could find a CityBike-system like in Vienna (they have the same in Lille too), sweet mini buses and some churches. One of the churches was strange, it was open to visitors, but there was nothing inside. No people, no benches, just a small altar. And apparently nobody had cleaned for several months, even the air was very smelly. Spooky.

In Rouen: churches again. I have to admit, they look really impressive, but after the third city they are getting boring, because they all look the same. And cold and grey inside. It was a real relieve to visit the modern church „Jeanne d’Arc“, just next to the place where she was burned. A wooden roof, which makes a very warm atmosphere. The architecture of the buildings in Rouen already looks pretty different, many FACHWERKHAEUSER. A big historic centre, with cafes, shops and people (but hardly any ATMs).

You might have noticed, public and alternative transportation is very interesting to me. So here are some more pictures to this topic:

Communication with people was hard, the prejudice, that French people only speak French is rather true. On the other hand I was really surprised how much French I still understand (I learned it many years ago in school), I remembered many words. But I totally failed to speak (no words, no grammar). But it was not really necessary, Morgane is translator for English and German (and French for sure), so no problem there. We spent a nice time together, talking, cooking, watching movies.

Right now I’m on my way to Brussels. I still don’t have a CouchSurfing-host for the night, I was very late to ask. I hope I still get a positive answer during the day. Tomorrow is my flight back to Vienna, and on Thursday I have to work again (after nearly 11 months).


Freitag, Juli 17th, 2009

The time in Amsterdam was not only dedicated to the OpenStreetMap, I had a life beside the conference. Manuela – cartographer and CouchSurfer from Vienna, who also attended the State of the Map – and I were searching for CouchSurfing hosts together. And we find a really nice community, the Casa Robino, a house of travelers. Nice thing about the Casa: Everybody there becomes host him/herself, there are no guests. Most activities are shared, e.g. cooking and eating (at least vegetarian, mostly vegan), dumpster diving (to save money on food and other usable stuff), cleaning (we had some unwelcome guests: mice) and social activities. The best evening we spent at the sauna Fenomeen (which is actually a squat), where entrance was for free (due to a sauna festival in Amsterdam) and which is a very nice place – there were even some guests playing music (saxophon, guitar, singing). If you come to Amsterdam, make sure to go there. Another evening we were invited to a boat trip through Amsterdam, which was very funny (especially as you have to watch our for bridges, to not hit your head). So much for Amsterdam, next destination: Northern France.

Gigantomanism in Bucharest

Montag, Januar 26th, 2009

After good sleep in the night-bus to Bucharest (the only notable thing was the bridge over the Danube – which is the border between Bulgaria and Rumania – near Russe. A narrow bridge with steep inclines on both sides – it looked rather frightening in the night), I spent two full days in this city. I had always thought, that Bulgaria and Romania are pretty similar – but apparently I was totally wrong. The language (Romanian is – surprise – a roman language) is not the only difference. The faces look different, as do the buildings.
Bucharest is a city full of contrasts. Nicolae Ceauşescu, the infamous leader of Romania between 1965 and 1989, tried to turn it into the „Paris of the East“. Huge boulevards cross the city, lined by monotonous block buildings. Boulevard Unirii (Unirii = Union) starts at the Palace of Parliament, which is said to be the second-largest building of the world after the Pentagon, and goes 3,2 km to the east – 6m longer than it’s prototype, the Champs-Elysee in Paris. If you go just one street behind these blocks, you can see the old structures – little churches, neat two or three story buildings – in various states, some of are empty and torn-down, some newly renovated.

Bus stops are hard to find – often there’s just a small sign with the name of the station and the list of line-numbers. If there’s a shelter at the stop (which is pretty common) you usually can find a map of the routes in Bucharest. No schedules, no information about coming buses. In contrast the information system in the buses belongs to the best I’ve ever seen. LED-displays inform about the next station and possible interchanges. Many buses also host an additional screen, which shows the exact position of the bus on a map and cycle through surrounding streets by highlighting them. In Bucharest there are also trams, trolleys and some metro lines.

Most of Saturday we (I was couchsurfing, which was a good experience again) spent with a group of photographers, who meet regularily to explore parts of the city together. The best was to see the reactions of the people living there, as the group of over 50 photographers invaded their neighbourhoods and took pictures of everything. The weather was just right for taking pictures, sunny and pretty warm.

On Monday, on the way to Braşov, I went to Sinaia, a small town famous for host two interesting castels. The nice thing: I met some U.S. peace corps volunteers, currently staying in Marocco and had a nice time with them. The bad thing(s): It was cold and rainy and the castles were closed, so we didn’t even bother to go there. And the town looks like a typical hotel ressort … Not very pleasing. So I took an earlier train to Braşov … but this is another story …

You will find more pictures on my photo pages, but please check again later ;)

A lot of things …

Donnerstag, November 6th, 2008

I really have to excuse, now there was a really long time without an article on my Blog. It’s not that there’s nothing to talk about, for sure I’m not getting bored that easily.

As I already announced I’ve been to a CouchSurfing-Meeting in Borovets, a skiing-resort in the Rila-Mountains at the weekend of October 24th-26th.
The Meeting started on Saturday, but I wanted to go there on Friday and use the whole weekend, especially as I was told, that this place is very good for hiking. I finally found some fellows – two more Erasmus students from Germany and Latvia and a CouchSurfer from Bulgaria (who did Erasmus at Vienna University of Technology some years ago and was studying at the same university here in Sofia too). We started our trip with an evening hike. We met in Sofia shortly after 6pm and travelled to Боровец (Borovets) by bus and taxi and started hiking around 8:30pm. So it was already really dark and we had to use our head lamps. After about two hours we reached our place for the night … a mountain hut. We were welcomed with a burning oven and candle light. We had some dinner and spend the rest of the evening playing cards.
Most of the next day we spent hiking, we hiked to one of the next peaks, Шатар (Schatar), with about 2500m over sea level. Unfortunately the weather was not very nice, it was very foggy and it even had some rain.

In the days after I got a nasty diarrhea with stomach cramps and fever … not very funny, but after three or four days it finally got better. So I spent a lot of time at home, in my bed or in front of the TV.

On the weekend I joined my first Critical Mass in Sofia with a borrowed bicycle. You know, this is this an international movement of cyclists who meet and cycle through town to fight for more rights for cyclists and other alternative forms of transportation. Here in Sofia we are still a small group, we just were like a dozen people or so. Afterwards I was invited to the national radio for a concert – some psychedelic underground rock band was playing there, which was pretty got. I met the husband and a flat-mate of Rossi, the CouchSurfer where I spent my first two weeks. I had thought I might meet him there, because he is working at this radio.

On Sunday I went hiking again, this time on the Vitosha, the mountain close to Sofia, to it’s highest peak, the Черни Връх (Cherni Vrah). This time we took it easy and used a chair lift for a part of our tour. Unfortunately the weather was again not very good.

Most of the last days I spent with my computer, because I’m working on a new web application (I also should study, I will do it tomorrow, promise!). I told you about the OpenStreetMap (OSM) before, which is a free alternative to Google Maps (and similar applications) and consists mainly of user generated content. I’m not very satisfied with the default view, as the public transport routes are not being displayed (at least not if you enter them in the preferred way). I was thinking about generating an own map style for a long time, and now I decided to just do it. The project is progressing quite nicely, and I think the OSM community will be quite excited about it. But at the moment I can’t show you anything yet, I will write a special article on my blog when it’s ready to be announced.

I could actually need some help with this project. I’m not very good at drawing and I need little icons for train, tram, bus and some more things. So if you want to help the open source community, this is your chance. :)

So, thanks for patience. Have a nice weekend!

Ausflug Donauradweg

Dienstag, Mai 13th, 2008

Mittwoch wars, als ich ein Mail von Briggy bekommen hab, ob ich nicht Lust hätte am Wochenende über Pfingsten eine Radtour entlang der Donau zu unternehmen. Nachdem ich erstaunlicherweise für dieses Wochenende (nur 3 Tage davor) noch nichts vorhatte und ich wohlweislich ca. drei CouchSurfing-Requests abgelehnt hatte, sagte ich natürlich sofort zu. Eine Radwanderung entlang der Donau hatte ich schon lange vor.

Am Sonntag gings dann in der Früh mit dem Erlebniszug (so Spezialangebot für RadtouristInnen) nach Linz. Eine gemütliche Fahrt, die wir spielend und plaudernd verbrachten. Wir mussten uns auch noch mit einander bekannt machen, hatte doch Briggy über CouchSurfing einige Leute eingeladen. Insgesamt waren wir dann sechs Personen (Briggy, Eva, Susi, Andres, Roman und ich) wobei uns Roman am Montag in Melk verlassen musste, dafür schloss sich Esther dort dann an.

Am ersten Tag führte uns der Weg nach Ybbs (insg. 86 km). Wir hatten ziemlich mit dem Gegenwind zu kämpfen (wer rechnet damit, dass es Ostwind gibt), darum waren wir auch ordentlich geschlaucht, als wir endlich ans Ende unserer Route kamen. Dort wurden wir von unserer CouchSurfing-Host Martina empfangen, die uns tatsächlich zu sechst bei sich aufnahm :)

Am zweiten Tag führte uns der Weg dann zuerst nach Melk wo ich Verwandte besuchte, die ich schon seit langem nicht mehr gesehen hatte. Die anderen haben inzwischen am Rathausplatz ein Frühstück eingenommen. Danach gings durch die wunderschöne Wachau von einem malerischen Ort zum nächsten. In Krems war dann eine grössere Pause angesagt, danach sind wir noch nach Tulln weitergeradelt. Mehr wäre hätten wir wohl nicht mehr geschafft. Nur Briggy war übermotiviert, sie hat uns bereits in Krems verlassen um noch den weiten Weg zu schaffen. 106 km warens für uns an diesem Tag, das war wohl genug.

Ein toller Ausflug wars, der Lust auf mehr macht, auch wenn mir jetzt noch diverse Muskeln schmerzen :)

Zu den Photos