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Bratislava – Slovakia 2014

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Winter was approaching quickly day by day and the possibility to take a trip on my motorcycle was becoming less and less possible. I packed my backpack for a short trip to Bratislava and put on my gear padded with warm linings and double gloves. It was almost the end of October, foggy and below 10°C. Since it would only be an hour away I figured it wouldn’t be too bad, but I quickly realized I was pushing the limit with the weather and my limbs felt numb, but I was already committed.

I was approaching the border between Austria and Slovakia when my gas tank lamp flashed on. I figured no problem, because I knew how long my reserve would last and assumed the next station would come soon enough. The highway stretched through rolling fields and small patches of forest, with dense fog and hardly anyone else on the road. The only sound was the humming of my engine.

I was starting to get nervous that I would run out of gas, but I found a sign saying gas station in the next town, so I got off and slowly drove through small villages in Slovakia. “Not a lot going on here,” I was thinking. It was the typical countryside; one street and a few houses made a town. I stopped a few times to ask for directions, and I followed some, ending up somewhere else and was getting increasingly annoyed. I just hoped I wouldn’t sputter to a stop in the middle of nowhere.

A few minutes later my bike made a gulp, sputtered, throttle didn’t react anymore and I came to a slow rolling stop! Great, now here I was on the side of the road pushing my motorcycle with emergency lights flashing, just hoping the next station wasn’t too far away. A few minutes later I saw an off-road track where people were riding 4×4 trucks, ATVs and bikes through a built course. I stopped and asked around if they could point me to the next gas station, but instead they gave me some gas for free and a Jägermeister for my troubles! Already a plus point for friendly people!

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Again, a few more minutes and I was in Bratislava, riding past the iconic castle on the mountain and to my hotel. I changed out of my motorcycle gear and started on the streets with my camera and backpack, looking for something interesting and some food. There seemed to be a lot of construction going on. I counted at least 4 high-rise buildings, new roadways and repaving of main streets, which appeared to be good signs of a healthy economy. In contrast there were a few old factories and rundown buildings where graffiti artists and vegetation was slowly taking over.

Most of the day was spent exploring the old district, going up to the castle and walking around the walls surrounding it. Nice park areas were included with big, tiered layered steps leading back down toward the city, with piles of autumn leafs and brightly colored trees.
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I went to eat at a restaurant after inspecting the menu, but wasn’t blown away by that particular meal unfortunately. I ended the evening hopping between bars that I found interesting and had a drink at each.

Maybe it was only on this weekend, or I didn’t find the right spots, but nightlife didn’t seem very lively in Bratislava. I went to bed late and ended my road trip with a nice breakfast the next morning, and left the city again on a day as cloudy, foggy and cold as the one before.
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Ibiza – Spain 2014

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After being frustrated with the cold, rainy weather in Austria, my girlfriend and I decided to book a flight to Ibiza for a summer getaway for 5 days to San Antoni. It’s a fairly small city on the north western coast of the small island. I was hesitant, because it was mainly known for big groups of young people flying there for a party vacation. It has the biggest club in the world and I had a feeling some of that would affect our stay. I was confident though, that there must be alternative activities to experience and other sites to see. I knew that those clubs would only be overpriced to hell, play music that I don’t have a glimmer of interest in, and be packed to the brim for profit so that you end up squeezed between sweaty, shirtless men until the early morning hours. All that was confirmed with later research.

Our flight was at 2:00 am and I couldn’t sleep, like before any flight. Once we boarded the plane I was confronted with the most agonizingly tight seats I’ve ever witnessed. I sat with my legs spread to the left and right with my knees borrowing into the seat of my front neighbors. So I knew the two hour flight would be restless with a slightly exaggerated fear in the back of my mind of a blood clot forming and killing me. Not sure if that would have been that bad though, when the front passenger started to repeatedly try slamming her seat into me while I was telling her “no luck this flight, sorry”. Then of course she is the one getting pissed.

When we arrived at our hotel after hopping off the transfer bus, it was 6:00 am and the receptionist told us check-in is only possible after 2:00 pm. We were exhausted, had no sleep and now had to wait eight hours until we could even get to our room. An odd start to a vacation that was already hard on my current financial situation. Slowly regret was creeping in, but I had to make the best of it. We ended up sleeping on the beach during the morning hours, bound to our possessions, to make sure no one stole them. We did find a 10 euro bill in the sand that paid for breakfast when the supermarkets finally opened.

The first day was spent occasionally power napping and strolling through the town exploring the possibilities of activities and places to eat.

Our dining experience that evening was uneventful; the food wasn’t that great, and while eating, pesky salesmen walked by trying to sell sunglasses, hats and hair accessories. That was our experience at most restaurants and two out of three times the service took forever. More signs that were making me doubtful of my decision to choose this holiday destination.

We went to bed and slight feelings of regret were keeping me up awake although I was exhausted due to sleep deprivation and a lot of carrying bags around and walking through town.DSC_1143

The next day picked up though, the weather was clear blue skies and hot temperatures so we decided to explore the beaches in walking distance. There were only two choices really, one big one next to the harbor which was fairly dirty and the water oily from the ships, and one further away, but still busy with a lot of people. There was sand, and walking into the water was also easy. The second one became our beach of choice to go to when we wanted to relax and lay in the sun.

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Day three, we wanted to see more of the island, so we rented a moped for a day. 14 Euros for each of us was a good deal and we took off riding down the western part of the island, where we were told are smaller beaches with less people. That wasn’t the case, because there were still plenty of others around us, but the spots seemed more untouched and natural. Also there was no club music thumping in the background, even better!

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That day we were at 4 beaches; Cala Bassa, Cala Conta, Cala Moli and Cala Llosar in the evening. We ate lunch in a small pub in Sant Josep. They served tapas and cheap sandwiches which were good compared to what we had so far. A few other aimless excursions through the landscape, and screams from my girlfriend claiming to be convinced that we almost crashed numerous times on the curvy roads, concluded the rest of the day. The sunset was claimed to be the most spectacular at Punta Galera, so we used our mobility to get there on a gravel road with giant potholes. It was worth the risk though when we sat on a rock looking towards a big rock formation reaching towards the horizon. We even saw a dolphin emerging from the water, which caused a lot of people to gasp and point. An idyllic ending to a more adventurous day than only laying in the sun.

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On the fourth day, weather changes were becoming observable so we decided to take the bus to Eivissa, the capital of the island, about 2.50 Euros each. There were older buildings, historically more interesting sights and more alternative, cozy restaurants and cafes compared to the city we were stayed. This seemed like a better destination for families or older travelers not interested in the party scene of Ibiza. The old district was surrounding by castle walls elevated slightly on a hill next to the ocean. It overlooked the city offering great views towards the airport and the harbor of Eivissa.

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On the last day, we both had our first experience with scuba diving. It was offered by a crew of divers who sold us a different story than what we got. Visibility was nowhere near 30 meters, and we didn’t start in shallow waters as advertised, but got in the deep water right away. We only had one instructor, instead of three which was promised to my concerned girlfriend, and total dive time was also a lot shorter than what we were told. Still it was a nice experience although we didn’t see anything exciting underwater, and due to winds, we had to drive on a cramped bus to the other side of the island. For 65 Euros it was affordable though, and although frustrated with them, I didn’t feel completely ripped off either. Floating around underwater being able to breathe is a unique feeling which is what I mainly paid to experience.

Conclusion, it was an interesting vacation and we made the best of it for what it was. At first I didn’t expect the club scene to be the most prevalent thing there, but it seems like that is what most people are there for. There are constant promoters on the street and the 8 or so clubs on the island have parties daily. With that come a lot of drunken people, tons of trash in the streets and loud nights when you’re trying to sleep. All that made a pretty trashy and dirty impression of the city we were in, with empty alcohol bottles stuck in the sand and a lot of obnoxious groups in the evenings. Besides that, the island didn’t have a lot to offer, and I wouldn’t recommend it for families or people wanting an experience outside of clubbing. I also don’t think I will go there again. Still we made the best of it and enjoyed our vacation!

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Prague – Czech Republic 2014

Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic in Central Europe, built around the river Vltava and offers interesting sights and activities for tourists and backpackers. They also have reasonable prices and still use the Czech koruna, because they haven’t accepted the Euro as currency. There are affordable, centrally located hotels and hostels. We ended up paying 70€ (~2000 koruna) per person in a 4 star hotel for 3 nights, which included a giant breakfast buffet. Tickets for public transport are also extremely cheap. Single tickets when entering cost only 1€ and connect you to any part of the city and its outskirts. The urban design of the city is laid out with big green parks for recreation and relaxing in the sun. Pedestrian zones are all over the city for strolling through the old town and iconic buildings and making it easy to explore.

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Prague is mainly known for the Charles Bridge, Prague Castle and the oldest still working astronomical clock tower. Those 3 things are the iconic image of the city, and there are plenty of souvenirs, paintings and photographs sold everywhere near of those locations. That makes them also the biggest tourist traps.

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We ate at a great vegan restaurant, www.lehkahlava.cz which offered a long list of different meals in a dining area that had the best interior design I’ve seen in a long time. I’d feel bad for not giving them a thumbs up and mentioning it here, even if it seems like blatant advertisement (I’m not getting paid for this, haha).
Across the river, opposite the Old Town Square and main part of the city is a giant park called Petrinske sady. It has a steep slope with Petrin Tower on top, which gives a great panoramic view of the place. It’s just south of Prague Castle, and makes for a nice daytrip on a sunny day to picnic in the park.

We also visited Prague Zoo, which took about 7 hours to walk through all the animal enclosures. They made a good impression with giant habitats, humane as possible treatment and cleanliness, for locking up exotic animals and charging people to visit and goggle at them. I took that opportunity to spice up my photo collection with more animals.

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On Sunday night we decided to go out for an evening in town, and went to a bar that was recommended by a local glass musician who makes music with wine glasses filled with different amounts of water. So I had a feeling it was worth a visit. I can’t remember the name of the place, but it was impossible to even tell there was something in there – we even walked past it. The windows were darkened with drapes and the double door was also not lit, and it didn’t have any signs drawing attention to it. Inside it was dimly lit and had two areas, one for smokers and the other for non-smokers. The furniture was all random and seemed like it was taken and recycled from people that were going to ditch it. Wood pallets were crafted and stacked to make benches to sit on and there was even a wood-burning stove. The old walls and intimate feeling made it a great place to grab a beer and listen to a live band that inspired other musicians present to just go up and play along with them.

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We stayed there most of the night, then visited an Absinth Bar that offered about 15 different kinds to taste. On order, the ritual was performed in front of you which involved a sugar cube and fire. Then you could sit down in the tiny place and start sipping your absinth with a giant mug of water to chase the extremely bitter and burning taste of it. Feeling tipsy and certainly not hallucinating like many believe, we left and strolled further aimlessly through the night before going home. I’m sure a nightly snack was also involved along the way.

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Passau – Germany 2014

Passau 2014

Named Die drei Flüsse Stadt, translated roughly to The City of Three Rivers, is located in southeast Germany, near the Austrian border. To the north of Passau runs the Danube, to the south runs the Inn. And at the tip of the old town district of the small city, the Ilz runs into the Danube, which flows through Austria and ends in the Black Sea.

This unfortunate location, during the flood of the summer of 2013, made the surrounding waters rise up into the city, damaging property and leaving a lot of the old buildings ruined. During my visit in February 2014, I observed ongoing construction and restoration work. While walking through the old town you could see obvious watermarks all around which gave you a scale of the damages, and helped visualize how deeply submerged this area was. The parking lot had pictures hung up as a recent reminder of what this small quiet town has gone through.

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picture source from spiegel.de

According to media and weather experts, the flooding in 2013 was the worst that has hit central Europe since the 16th <span century, costing at least 25 lives and leaving damage all along the rivers in Germany, Austria and Czech Republic. I remember taking the train from Vienna to Linz during the peak of the storm. I stared out the window observing giant pools of water forming everywhere; flooding agricultural farmland, highway underpasses and surrounding towns with masses of water disrupting daily life. A few days later, the same train was shut down for a short period, because one of the tunnels was filled with water and trees that were uprooted and swept away by these natural forces.

I am glad to report that the city has recovered well. Visitors to the city have returned to see the old architecture and to dine at the numerous outdoor restaurants.  For me it was a day trip with my girlfriend. We just spent most of the sunny day outside walking through the streets, stopping here and there for short shopping sprees. In our opinion the town was small enough to see in a day and certainly had a nice flair to it, which makes it worth a visit!

Urban Exploration

Urban Exploration

There is something oddly satisfying when exploring abandoned man-made industrial machines and buildings, after human presence neglects the structure and there is no more activity and it is left to rot, rust and decay. Nature slowly reclaims it, breaking it down piece by piece. Artists come, cunningly ignoring the no trespassing signs to find blank canvases hidden from authority, with which to create amazing and complex murals with paint and spray cans. Skaters find a place to build routes and ramps, and paintball enthusiasts have a battleground to conduct war.

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In the end it is not really lost, it just gets used in another way by the community until someone buys it to tear down and rebuild something new on the property. But that process sometimes takes years. I enjoy walking through these “wastelands”, not knowing what to expect around every corner. An eerie feeling surrounds you, as if you are scavenging through a post-apocalyptic world trying to find shelter and items to survive a zombie outbreak.

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Obviously, depending on where you explore, there should be some safety precautions before engaging in such an activity. There is constant danger of collapsing floors and sharp objects everywhere you step. Homeless people and drug addicts could also be housed in bigger structures, so be aware and listen to what is going on so as not to put yourself in danger. Headlamp, sturdy boots and a particle mask would be recommend for toxins like asbestos and mold spores.

I’ve been fascinated by this hobby after exploring Ventura’s abandoned oil refinery near my home. It was there on the side of the freeway every day on my way to work, until I finally had the idea to take a look inside. I did that on a few occasions at different times of the day, and after heavy rainfall to get some nice photo shots.

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I’ve explored five similar structures so far, the most impressive being a giant metal refinery with three large office buildings, all abandoned with office equipment and old items laying around. I had to enter through a gate, and then climb a broken window that was at shoulder height to eventually drop down in to the reception area where there were switchboards and telephones. It’s a unique taste of adventure. There were multiple floors to explore, old electronics and a lot of sketchy situations that needed careful attention on the sturdiness of the structure under my feet.

I enjoy the aesthetics of black and white photos that can be captured in these places and look forward to more exploring!

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Community Links:

http://www.urbanexplorers.net/           &            http://www.infiltration.org/

Amsterdam -Netherlands 2013

Amsterdam 2013

Landing at the airport in Schiphol with a tingling sensation of excitement, a spontaneous 3 day vacation with friends was waiting in Amsterdam. We boarded the train heading to the central station to meet up with the others who arrived a day earlier. We got a great deal on a houseboat, just 10 minutes slow strolling distance from the center of town. A bedroom and couch bed provided enough living space to be called home for a short time – plus smoking was allowed inside, a big plus I suppose? The boat was surprisingly roomier than expected with high ceilings, another bonus for a big guy.

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The first thing I noticed was bicycles everywhere, all the time and at high speeds cutting through the city and up and over canals. The main train station alone had racks with ~4000 bikes chained to a 3 story parking garage, and the city is estimated to have a total of 900,000, yes it’s a lot. I enjoy mountain biking but it seemed a little bit scary to rent a bike and cruise through the city like the others, but in hindsight I do regret not doing it, I think I would’ve seen everything from a different perspective and have experienced more. Next time….

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We stopped by a few coffee shops, each having their own flair to them. A lot were packed and noticeably pricey establishments with elaborate decorations or glass floors with ornaments you walk over. Each place offered their own menu of smokeable treats, either in a bag or pre-rolled and ready-to-go. Most locals from what we observed just bought and left, understandable I guess, why hang out with the loud tourists walking around amazed by the relaxed drug laws, I am sure that becomes annoying after a while. Most shops offer a list of beverages and also good food. In the morning you can come for a cup of tea, coffee or breakfast items, in the day and towards the evening the selection widens to sandwiches and other meals when you get the munchies.

Other shops offered a more basic setup and were noticeably cheaper hole-in-the-walls. All they had were cans of soda, seating for 10 people on rundown wood furniture, and a small selection of low grade weed, which are probably top notch compared to what many think is good back at home. We eventually got tired of hopping around between the shops and continued on to stroll and take a bus through some of the streets.

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We stopped by the Heineken Brewery, which to be honest just wasn’t worth the money and an obvious tourist trap. I do feel like it’s the best beer in the world now because they convince you of that fairly quickly.

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I found the tiny 2 seat cars that fly by the streets and parks extremely funny for some reason. They were smaller than a smart car, built for tight streets and parking spaces, which I can imagine is very handy in this city.

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We continued on aimlessly through the canals and walked around in big circles at Vondel Park, where a lot of people were keeping up with their fitness routines; jogging and biking through the area, or couples romantically sitting around the endless benches under the shade of trees.

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I found the architecture of the city spectacular; the buildings all had very odd angles giving off a quirky illusion of leaning forward and sideways. At night a lot of the canals are lit with lights decorating the sides and the city is still very awake with a lot of people out and about. I noticed a lot of British people were there on vacation, which isn’t too surprising considering they aren’t too far away from the country.

The next day we stopped by the large Albert Cuyp market, that sells local food and cheap knockoff clothing. We loaded up on some supplies, mostly bread, dried meats and a few cheeses which the Dutch are famous for. After lunch and rest back at the houseboat, we planned our next visit to be at the NEMO Center, I wasn’t too thrilled by it because it didn’t seem like a very unique experience, but I didn’t have any better suggestions so I tagged along. It’s a great place for a couple or with your kids, there are a lot of scientific demonstrations with do-it-yourself devices that play with gravity, mirrors, water, games and sexual information. All spread out on 3-4 floors, in the middle a giant “Rube Goldberg” device that gets set off at certain times during the opening hours.

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It took about 2 hours to get through half-heartedly interacting with the displays when it wasn’t necessary to shove away some small pesky kids to have our own turn at childish fun.

After that we went to eat at the Sea Palace, a fitting name for a gigantic 3 story high, floating Chinese restaurant. The interior was very well designed with a lot of patrons at the tables. I don’t know much about the cuisine, but there were a lot of business men speaking Chinese on the table next to you so it seemed to be authentic. The menu was overwhelming with hundreds of choices, and it took a good half hour and a few appetizers and soups until we even knew what we were looking at, and half of our order was unknown until they were served, and even after consumption uncertainty remained. But still a delicious place to eat, although admittedly pricey in my mind.

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We took a longer stroll through the alleys on our way back to the houseboat, stopping by some small shops for postcards and t-shirts as gifts. The same night my friend and I visited a Goa party, which for me was obligatory to take advantage of while there, and the couple we were with had an evening to themselves. I stomped through the night in good spirits, with the music and visual projections next to me, until oddly enough the music all of a sudden stopped and the lights were turned on and the crowd clapped enthusiastically and left the building in a civilized manner. I guess that’s it, we were a bit perplexed because I am usually used to the music not stopping until the morning light. So we walked back through the cold night to our houseboat for the last night in Amsterdam.

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The next day we started off with some Irish breakfast in a pub, there wasn’t too much more we could think of doing. I was starting to get sick and wasn’t very motivated to do a lot besides walk around and enjoy some of the last hours in the sun of the summer near the canals, listening to the locals talking. Another place that was high on my to-visit list checked off, and I am happy for the experience I had. The only thing I would do next time is get a bike and explore more outside of the inner city canals. Also watch out for the bicyclists, they will run you over if you don’t look in all directions all the time!

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