My dear readers,
Today, I am going to my trip from Tunisia to Russia. These who read my story from previous trip: http://www.bromptonbike.com/CurrentEvents/Story/SilkRoad.html may remember that I was motivated on it by a childhood dream about Takla-Makan Desert. On trip before that to Himalayas: http://www.bromptonbike.com/CurrentEvents/Story/Tibet.html I was motivated by my mountaineering youth. This coming trip is also not without motivation. I want to go through the most luxurious places in Europe, such as French and Italian Riviera, the backpacker way (bosiatskim sposobom). Why the backpacker way? Because these places are very expensive and also because I do not like to travel the civilized way. I am motivated to this trip by two great Russian Travelers Romanych http://romanycz.travel.ru/ and Yuri Mossokovsky http://mosspower.w-city.net.ua Last one took a bold task to prove that the ordinary Russian citizen can afford to travel to Western Europe on a bike. He proved it, but lost 20 lb. on the way. I am going to prove that the ordinary American Social Seniority recipient can travel through Rivieras too. And I do not mind to lose weight ever. My preliminary itinerary is as follow:
1. Tunisia March 11-25
2. Trapani - Brindisi (Italy) March 25- Apr 5
3. Greece Apr 5- Apr 25
4. Brindisi (Italy) - Monaco, Apr 25- May 25
5. Monaco, Marseille - Dijon (along Rhone river) May 25 -June 6
6. Dijon, Strasbourg- Cologne (along Rhine river) June 6- June 26
7. Train or bus to St. Petersburg (Russia) June 26 -July 2
8. Return flight out of St. Petersburg July 15.
For information of my new subscribers:
You can read most of my travel stories at the site of the Russian/American Smirnov outing club in English: http://www.poxod.com/hotline/bike.htm and the priceless summary of my traveling experiences at: http://www.bromptonbike.com/CurrentEvents/Story/Alex.html
As always I will appreciate your comments, advices, criticism and so on.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION. These who will not reply for my letters for a prolonged period of time or at all, will be automatically removed from my mailing list by the smart software.
Your traveling correspondent
Security at the Geneva airport was nothing compared with American security. I think the authorities here are not afraid that Muslim extremists will harm Geneva, because it has so many Muslims in the city. They may harm their own. The airplane was full of terrorists, or at least people looking like them. However nothing happened. After we arrived in Africa, at Tunis Airport I unfolded my bicycle, orient myself by sun and map and stared to ride toward Tunis city. It is much better to travel on bike compared with these hermetically closed boxes, called buses and railroad cars. You cannot stop them where you want or make them to turn where you want. Bike is a lot better, I really enjoy the freedom of bike riding. I get lost a couple times and asked locals using a technique which I developed long ago. I repeated medina, medina, medina and turn my head in different direction. Eventually they understand what I want and show me way to medina. Medina is a sort of downtown. Every city here has a medina, as every city in Mexico has a zokalo. I expected that people here do not know English, but some of them after few moments of mimic and hands conversation told me in good English: Sir, if you want to go to medina, then please make a right turn....
Unlike America and England where Middle Eastern women wear scarf and garb (chadry i balaxon), women and man here wear European clothes. Their former president Bourguiba prohibit them to wear traditional clothes. He even prohibit them to fast in Ramadan! Like Ataturk prohibited Turks to wear feskas and like much earlier, Peter the Great cut boyar's beards. These guys know how to fight religious extremism.
Actually, the general population of most countries of Middle East wants a more radical version of Islam to be implemented. And government have to apply very tough, un-democratic measures to prevent their population from self screwing (samoistiazania). Most notable examples are Turkey, Egypt and Algeria. If governments don't do this, all these countries would be under Taliban type government by now. This brings an interesting point. Is it always good to do what majority of people want? Think about Russian history. If government do what majority of people wanted in former USSR, than some of my readers would not be alive by now.
I found a hotel with a leaking sink, but centrally located for 6 dollars and drank some local coffee with orange. They put quarter of orange in coffee, it is good, try it. Actually, this is paradise for coffee lovers. Coffee is excellent, better than in Starbucks and very cheap, cappuchino is 20 cents. Another interesting observation. They do not sell toilet paper here. Like everywhere in the East, people use water instead. So these who insists on doing their number two (kakat), a Western way have to postpone with this till returning home. Like it is usual in third world countries people like my bike and wanted to talk with me about it. It is nice. In Switzerland nobody paid attention.
Generally, I like it here. I expected something like Morocco, but it is very different. People are friendly and behave in a civilized way. Nobody grabs you by the hand and pulls you to his carpet or souvenir shop, like in Egypt or Turkey.
That's it for now
9 pm Mar 12 2002
PS. My Russian reders now could read my reports in translation to Russian at: http://www.bicycle.spb.ru/lyrics/mumzhiu/
My last Travel Note created so much responses that I have to re-iterate my point. Ayatola Homeni was put in power by popular uprising. Algerian and Egyptian governments use all sorts of un-democratic tricks to suppress the Islamic fundamentalists. If there would be proper and fair elections in these countries, then Islamic fundamentalists would win the majority of votes. Islamic fundamentalism has sort of fatal attraction for the population of that region, similar to that attraction which ideals of Communism had to people who did not try them in practice. I moved to hostel located in Medina. Medina is an old town, surraunded by walls and made of a maze of very narrow and curvy streets. I got lost there and it took me two hours to get out. I entered again and using proper orienteering techniques found the hostel in another two hours. It is nicer in a hostel because you can meet other travelers. I met 3 other bicyclists there. The hostel is located in a nice historical building, everything is fine exept for the smell in my dorm room. Usually hostels don't smell too bad. But here, in Tunis, most visitors are French, and there are two guys in my dorm too. The smell is awful. A normal American guy would die here in a few minutes from suffication. Why French people have to smell so strong? Is it their trademark or what? However, the smell in Swiss fondue restaurant is about the same, but nobody complains. Everything is relative.
Hygiene here is not up to high standards. After few unpleasant experiences, I carefully selected a cafe to order freshly squeezed carrot juice. I selected this cafe because sales lady wear gloves. After she fullfill my order she continue to do what she did before to clean sink in the same gloves. These low hygiene standards have one positive side effect for me, I already lost some weight.
Today I visited Carthage (Karfagen) Everybody knows that Carthage had to be destroyed. Now I know why! Because it is a complete reap off. Sites are far away from each other, there are no signs or transportation from one site to another. In the museum, the explanations are only in Arabic and French. Carthage has to be destroyed. I learned eventually why Punic wars had such a funny name. A Puni is nickname for Phoenicians (Finikiitsev). This is why Romans called wars with Phoenesians a Punic wars.
Mar 14 2002
I came to the entrance to the Sahara at the oasis of Douz yesterday. It takes 9 hours and 20 dollars to cross entire country from North to South on bus. Berbers, the native people of this land resisted Arab occupation but eventually gave up and accepted Islam. But they practice a special branch of Islam, called sufism, emphasizing walking on fire and eating glass. Now I know where this custom came from to... Siberia. When I worked as a mountain climbing instructor for a surveying expedition in Altay mountains, I observed how some people eat glass to show off. They drink a glas full of vodka and eat the glass after this. It looked so easy, that I tried to do it too. You bite a piece of glass then carefully transfer it to your rear teeth and chew until it becomes fine powder, than swallow. Try it. I cannot guarantee superb taste, but you will get a feeling of accomplishment. I should add that people who eat glass were Russian bums (bichi, bomji) who usually worked in such expeditions. And they probably never heart about sufsm. I am leaving now for 3 day camel trek through Sahara with 2 other guys. Price 23 dollars per day including camelfare (rent verbluda) Douz
Mar 18 2002
PS. One knowligeble reader remind that When Napoleon was due to return to Paris, he told Josephine not to bathe till he got there. So French smell in national tradition and as such should be treated with respect
From Douz (described in my last Travel Note) I went to the place where the troglodytes live - Matmata. Troglodytes live underground, probably in order to save on air conditioning bills. It is hot here. I stayed in hotel La Troglodytes in pretty comfortable underground room. In this hotel some scenes for the movie Star Wars was filmed. Name of Troglodytes bring back again the reminiscent of Siberia. Troglodyt is pretty bad word in Russia. It means dishonest distorter And exclamation "Oh you damn Troglodyte"(ax ti troglodite poganii), usually announced the beginning of a fist fight between bums in my surveying expeditions.
Troglodites are really not very good people, using their position in the middle of this tourist trap, Matmata, they demand exuberant prices. I wanted to buy a battery for my camera and a salesman told me 13 dollars, I exclaimed "Ah ti troglodit!" And he answer we, we (yes, yes) French. From Matmata I moved to Jerba. The island where Ulysses paused in the course of the Odyssey and was lured by the local people who feed him with lotus flowers. I tried the lotus root, by the way, and I would say it is nothing to brag about. Imagine what he would do if they offered him sushi. For some reason nobody except for Japanese came up with this simple idea - to eat fish raw.
Small island of Jerba has 213 mosques and 16 synagogues. Jews came here to escape deportation to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC. And they lived here relatively peacefully with surrounding Muslims for 26 centuries. They have here the oldest synagogue and the oldest Tora, taken probably from Jerusalem when Nebuchadnezzar approached. Most of them left to Israel, but small village near Jerba's capital Houmt-Souk named Hara Seghira stayed. Every boy or man on the street of this village wears a yarmalka.
From Jerba, I moved to the Tataouine and from here I visited the famous Ksar Hadada. It became famous after George Lucas filmed here episodes for the movie Star Wars related to the out of our galactic planet Tatooine. It is really difficult to find more out of this planet place. See picture. My camera stopped working after I put in a battery purchased from troglodyt. But fortunately there are so many post cards, you just have to imagine my bike in front. I spent half a day climbing and crawling there. For me it was most the interesting place I have seen in Tunis so far. Ironically, they do not charge a fee for entrance here while they charge it for the entrance to any other shitty ruin. The Ksars were Berber's fortresses doubled as granaries (zernoxranilisha) They were built as protection against Fatimids and South Egyptian tribes (Halalians) invasion in the 11th century.
Next Monday I will go by boat to Italy.
1. Jerba Synagogue
2. Ksar Hadada
3. Another, out of this planet structure - Jerbian mosque
March 29 2002
In three weeks in Tunis I gained a better understanding of Arab/Muslim mentality and even the mechanism of Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I had several conversations with young Tunisian people, which usually started in attacking style. As soon as they realized that I am from America they start to ask me anguerly: "Do you Americans think that all Arabic people are terrorists?", "Why do you Americans hate all Arabic people?"
I realized that in order to have a meaningful conversation I have to be quiet and reasonable. I told them that we Americans do not hate all Arabic people and do not think that all of them are terrorists. But, I told them, could you imagine that 19 Americans hijack 4 TunisAir planes and crashed them into Habib Burguba palace, his mausoleum and his favorite camel. What would you think about Americans.
Then the conversation started. What surprise me was their amazing solidarity with other Arabic people. It was no one Tunisian between hijackers. There are no terrorist group in Tunis. They could say: "it was not us, it was other Arabs". No way. All Arabs are brothers and sisters they said.
I would like to remind that Arabic people are descendents of these Arabs who occupy North Africa and Middle Eastern countries soon after the invention of Islam from the territory of current Saudi Arabia, in seventh sentuty. These countries are Morocco, Algeria, Tunis, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Jordan Iraq, Saudi Arabia. Iran, Turkey and Pakistan are Muslim but not Arabic countries. Unlike Mongols who occupied even larger territory, but leave later, Arabs stay and assimilated native people of these countries such as Berbers. There are practically no Berbers left in Tunis anymore, only Beber's amazing fortresses (ksors) are left.
Another leitmotif is religion identity. All Muslims are brothers and sisters too. Arabs and Muslims can fight between each other, it might happen in a family, but other should not interrupt, they say. For example, America was wrong when it interrupted the Iraqi Kuwaiti conflict 10 years ago; and was wrong again when it came to Afghanistan now. It is our Muslim business, not yours. This was the main point.
What I wrote to you before turned out to be exactly right. Governments of all countries of this region have to hold down their people, who desperately wanted to go to fight with enemies of Arabic people and Islam, real or imagenary. (We saw them on TV from Pakistan after Sept 11)
I read sometime ago the interview with one Saudi Arabian official. He said if we (Saudi government) allow them to exit country, all of them will go to Jihad. It is not an exajuration. Tunisian also want their president to stand more strong on defending Arab people and Islam from its enemies.
However as you may remember from my previous observation about boys and bikes, this society is a very authority obeying one. Tunisians want their president to go to fight, but president said "NO, I know better what to do, do what I told you to do" and they obey.
Why majority of population is so fanatical? In additional to their strong sense of national and religious solidarity you should keep in mind that Islam is more intense and virulent religion then any other. Every day in 3 weeks I was woken up at 5 am by muezzin who started morning pray, translated by loudspeakers very loudly. Muslim have to pray 5 times a day. They pray when the time of prayer comes to them, in the street, in train, anywhere. Communists could only dream about such a powerful propaganda machine. So for Muslims, the religion is not a social club, it is way of life. And if enemies attacking Islam and Arabic people, they are ready to die, defending their dearest values. It doesn't matter that America was attacked first. Now America is hurting Arabs, so let us go to fight America.
Westerners will not defend a person who committed the crime only because he is the same nationality or race as they are, Arabs will (nashix biut). This is the major difference in our mentalities Fortunately, as I said they are auturity obeying and all governments of this region including such countries as Libya and Algeria have to work hard to contain their fanatical population.
Worst case scenario would be, if these people would be allowed to do what they want. This is exactly what happened in Israel. Unlike the other countries of the Middle East, Palestinians do not have strong governmental authority with army and police to contain them. So they do what all other Arabs would love do if they we allowed to: go to death for their beliefs. It is a win win (besproigrishnaya) situation for them, because they will go to heaven, where 20 virgins are waiting for them with watermelons and honey.
After saying all this, I should say that, when their dearest ideals are not offended (or they think they are not offended) people are very normal and reasonable. I ride my bike through narrow streets of medina many times and sometimes accidentally kicked people and knock over the fruit stands. I imagine in Russian market it would cause at least heated conversation. Here it doesn't. People show it is OK, don't worry. They also don't overcharge foreigners much, just little. Nothing compared to St Petersburg taxi drivers for example. Also when I asked for directions people always were polite and helpful. So it is better one time to see then ten times to hear.
You could not imagin how difficult to sent E mails
April 02, 2002 8:43 AM
1. Sahara camel trek group
2. Hand glyder above sahara desert
3. Tunisian tualet, You supposed to put this hose in your ass (sebe v jopy)
Going to a restaurant in Italy always was a problem for me. As a language idiot, I am unable to remember any foreign words except for a few hundred English words, which I managed to remembered in 22 years in the USA. And I am using them in my Travel Notes. A few days ago I went to a restaurant and ordered something from the menu, I did not know what. It happened to be 4 large Mediterranean shrimp. I never had such good shrimp before. But it was not enough, I was hungry. So I called a waiter and explain to him on fingers that I want to have something else. He suggested something and I agreed. It was macaroni with tomato paste, pretty ugly. I guess the Italian waiter thinks that these people who do not speak Italian are pretty dumb, and they accordingly should like pretty dumb, dull food too. So the conclusion is: do not order what the waiter recommends, any random choice will be better.
I went camping near Palermo. I found an un-populated piece of shore Near Svaracafallo (5 mi) from Palermo. Wonderful place with rocky mountains extending from the sea, like Kara Dag (Crimea). It was no road there, so I had to carry my bike.There was no flat ground, only pricky volcanic stones, and I had a chance to use my "Therm-a-Rest" sleeping mattress. It worked fine. Igor G. and John W. thanks for your advice. As night fell, I made a little fire and made soup with beef bullion cubes and noodles. And before the soup I had a good shot of pure alcohol (95%) sold in local food stores. Romanovich, thank you for advice. There were no people or any lights around, only the quiet Tirrenian sea below and shear rocky walls above me. It was the happiest point of my trip so far.
And I thought how lucky I am and how thankful I should be to the God. But which God? After visiting so many countries (58) and seeing so many religions, I got confused. Closest to my heart however are Christ and Buddha. In India I got familiar with Bhai religion. They have a majestic temple in Delhi. They believe that there are no different Gods for different people, that there is only one God, but he appears to people of different nationalities in different forms, I like this approach.
My thought was about so many people whom I know and who are better people than I am and who live in misery. I thought about my co-students from Leningrad Technological Institute (Lensoveta) who are mostly in retirement now and surviving on miserable pensions of 40 dollars per month, and I think about many other people who cannot live the life they like because of money, time or health problems. While I was not a good student in school or in college, probably because I was not so clever, I should admit that I was lucky during my entire life. There is a Russian saying: "Ne rodis bogatim, ne rodis krasivim a rodis scastlivim", don't be born wealthy, don't be born handsome, but be born lucky. I am married to a girl I love, but married herfictitiously because we hadn't gone out before at all.Well, this is a long story. However we are married already for 35 years and have 2 children. When I came to America, it was a recession and everybody around got fired, but I found a job, and my first job title was a principal engineer. And there have been many other examples like this during my life. And now I travel the world as I always dreamed about. I am not superstitious to say this, because most active part of life is behind, I was laid off exactly 4 years ago and did not work since, and my children are grown up.
Soon I will have my 65 birthday and I am inviting all of you for an Internet birthday party. Watch for advertisement.
Apr 12 2002 8 pm
PS: I just get an information that the synagogue, the picture of which I sent you from Tunis, one of major Jerba Island tourist attraction was bombed: http://www.usatoday.com/aponline/2002041118/2002041118244700.htm No doubt in my mind that it was intentional and also not a result of any organised terrorist group activity. Government of Tunis cannot do more to prevent their citizens from harming themselves and others. However, government cannot do anything about free flow of information from the West. And then Tunisian see wounded Palestinian child they want to go to jihad. It doesn,t matter for them, that the child was injured in retaliation attack for previous day sueside bombing attack on civilian also. I wrote to you before, they think differently then Western people.
Yesterday I run my bike from the rim of Etna (3000m) to Catania, city South of Etna on Sea shore. How I get up there. By bus and 4 wheel drive vehicle Everything is well organized. Cost 40 dollars I paid half because I did not purchased return ticket I prefer 4 wheel drive because Ski lift is out of order, see picture. Good that I did it yesterday because today is all Italy on general strike. Etna too.
I run to train from Catania to Taormuna. Train works
Tuesday, April 16, 2002 2:45 AM
This is Trulli houses I promised to sent you
Sent: Thursday, May 02, 2002 8:27 AM
After I returned from the Greek Islands I went to Delphi. It is a very atmospheric place and aroma in the air is very special. In attachment is the most famous site of Delphi, the Athena Pronaia temple. Most bus tourists are not taken there, because there is no bus stop nearby. Poor bus tourists. The Delphi oracle is not the name of a person, it is the name of the institution which during 400 years gave exact forecasts of the future. There was a technology, developed for this purpose, which included a priestess (pifia) who under the drug influence produced some unrecognizable sounds and a group of consultants/interpreters who translated it for the report, delivered to the customer.
I used to work for the organization which continues this business today. The name of this organization is Arthur D. Little Consulting Company (oldest consulting company in America).
Like car repair shops usually cling to each other, the places around Delphi are spotted with other oracle sites, but none such brand named as Delphi. This is why instead of taking a bus, I rode my bike part of the way to Meteora. I rode through places with such names as Larissa, Katerina, Anfissa. For some reason these are popular Russian women's names.
Meteora is an extraordinary place. It is made from the rocks with vertical walls on which monasteries were built in the 14-16th century, see picture below. There is no access from behind as you may think. Vertical walls are all around. So the first monk, who climbed this, should be a good mountain climber. They are pretty tall these rocks, the tallest is 954 m. I rode my bike to them. There were no other bicyclists around, Greece is not a bicycling country. Every time I arrived, people applauded. Two pretty girls even wanted to be photographed with me and my bike. The film is not developed yet, I will send it later. And you ask why I like to travel so much. At home pretty girls don't ask me to be photographed with them.
Meteora rocks very much remind me vertical rocks in Cappadoccia, Turkey. I was there in 2000 and also wrote Travel Notes. But I was not so well known travel writer as now, so they are not published anywhere. I will forward you later one of my TN from this trip, with pretty funny picture of these rocks. I will go by train to Istanbul tomorrow, so I will give you some of my observations on Italy and Greece now.
When you arrive in Greece from Italy it becomes clear that you are on the way to Asia. Streets are not so clean, traffic is chaotic, sidewalks are taken by street vendors. Greece, like Russia, is half way between Asia and Europe. There is a lot of graffiti in Italian cities: "USA = Israel", "Free Palestine or Jihad". And in the streets you will see many possible writers of this graffiti, Arabic people. In Greece there is no graffiti like this, as well as no Arabs.
In Sicily on the street I sometimes see beautiful, noble, Roman faces, surviving centuries. None in Greece. Many Greeks looks like Turks. This is a shame about which Greeks do not like to talk. During 400 years of Turkish occupation Turkish garrisons staying in every city or town enjoyed the right of first night. So they altered Greeks genetically. It is a most interesting topic of historical science, how the ethnicities get born, live and die. Greeks believe they save the spirit of their nation even through genetics changed. There is a good book on this topic "Ethnogenes (ethnicity) and biosphere of the Earth", written by Gumilev (in Russian)
So talking about other ethnicities, I met many legal and illegal immigrants from Russia and the former Soviet Republics, who emigrated after the disappearance of the Soviet Union 10 years ago. They are exploited terribly. They work long hours, 7 days per week, without vacations or holidays. And they don't complain because things at home are even worse. The only escape they have is in the spiritual world. As many people in the former USSR, they live in a fascinating and spooky medieval world. They are under the influence of bad and good fields. They hear THE VOICES, they believe in spirits and black magic. They do not believe in official explanation of world events, and always look for a hidden truth. Recent earth quake in the Caucuses was caused by, guess whom--Americans of course. Being hopelessly materialistic I do not believe in all that stuff, but I learned that I should not argue because they believe it 100% It is amazing how fast, the forcefully atheistic Soviet Union get changed.
3. Olympic station in Athens on which next Olympic Game will be held
May 17 2002
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