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Aer Lingus gets you there

Posted 1 August 2007 - Cork (IE):

Hello all! Thanks for all the warm support messages and confidence in my project! As planned, I took off this morning from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, not to return before Christmas. I had a nice dinner with my family and Bas present as well, then slept for a few hours and got up to catch my flight. The alarm rang at 5h30 in the morning and everything ran smoothly inbetween then and now.

My flight was marvellous. A sad but equally exciting goodbye at Schiphol, followed by a perfect take off leading the plane right over the city centre of Leiden - goodbye friends - and The Hague - streets clearly recognisable and all. It was a clear and sunny morning, so I could follow all of it in the most precise detail, including the Deltaplan and the whole Zeeland province. Shortly after, I fell asleep. Woke up a very short moment upon reaching the shore of England, then over Cardiff and then only when we started our descent into Cork. We flew around the city centre and I noticed that downtown Cork was within reasonable walking distance of the airport. It took me about an hour or two to get into town and, upon arrival, I started to look for people to interview. I quickly noticed that it was not by any means easy to walk up to somebody and get the whole thing started. But that is what the project is like, so there was no choice but to get started. How it went, you can read on Us Europeans in a minute! All I can say here is that I spent most of the afternoon in a pub drinking Murphy`s Stout. Altogether, it has been an amusing and fascinating first day..

(© Cork - IE, August 2007)
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Discovering Cork

Posted 2 August 2007 - Cork (IE):

The second day of my trip has been just as great as the first one. Walking up to people and asking them all sorts of things is already becoming easier. The photos are going alright as well, but I still miss my old Olympus which forced but in a way also allowed me to take some more of people`s time. I spent the day walking around Cork and also visiting nearby Cobh, which was recommended by an author I met yesterday. The Cobh trip was interesting but took too much out of my budget, so next time I won`t travel without my luggage and/or intention to stay in that place or transit it on the way to another place. If that makes sense.. The 30 Euro budget does not allow for strange escapades. It`s really limited but I am trying to get the best out of it.

Tomorrow, I will be travelling (walking/hithchiking/bussing) in southwesterly direction, towards a place called Dunmanway. I have been invited to join some people going to the horse races that are taking place this weekend. Not something I would do at home, so that is why I am doing it here!

(© Cobh - IE, August 2007)
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Faire l`Autostop

Posted 3 August 2007 - Bantry (IE):

My first day of real backpacking ended just fine. I'm staying in a youth hostel in the small town of Bantry, about 80 kilometers south-west of Cork. Getting here was not easy but I had sufficient luck to make it. I got up this morning around 8 o`clock, packed my stuff and walked to the city centre to buy some bread and chocolate - my diet for the day. My water bottle was full and everything was ready for a good day.

Things started to become a little more difficult when I found out that I left Cork in the wrong direction. A truck driver at a gas station warned me and I had to walk back all the way I had just gone. I then found the right way and then got allowed into an Audi A8 - not bad at all for my first individual hitchhiking activity ever.

Desmond (62) and his Audi brought me about 10 kilometers out of the city and after that I was invited into a Fiat Cinquecento driven by Sushi-seller Tom (23). He was on the way to a local market, seeing if he could start selling his products there. The local market was taking place in the village of Bandon, exactly halfway to my destination: Dunmanway.

With 35 kilometers covered, I was left with another 35 kilometers to go. I had no luck and walked for about two-and-a-half hours before I got picked up by a man who had already seen me walking when he was on his way to Bandon. Now on his way back to Dunmanway, he picked me up at about 20 kilometers from that town and I happily accepted his invitation to drive along with him. This man called Dennis (62) even wanted to take me to the youth hostel, another 5 kilometers out of the city and away in the countryside. Then faith decided that the hostel be fully booked and I was granted a return drive into Dunmanway. What to do now? I thought it be good to secure a nice departure position to travel further north during and after the weekend and caught a bus to Bantry, another 25 kilometers away. The bus was quite full and I kept falling asleep when we started driving. In the back of the bus, three girls had drawn my attention so I walked up to go and speak to them. They were surprised by the un-detailed map I used and thought of me as a funny person. Two of them were Swiss, one was French. I took a glance at the Lonely Planet guidebook carried by one of them and found out that there was a youth hostel in Bantry. That cheered me up, because I was getting afraid that I would have to just knock on somebody`s door and ask if I could stay for the night. Although nothing was sure Yet. With the weekend approaching, there was a fair chance that this hostel was also booked.

And that's where luck struck again - when we arrived in Bantry, I easily found the hostel and a bed for the night! Relieved and all, I walked back into the city centre to complete my interviews for the day. Then bought dinner in the supermarket, had a pint of Guiness and prepared some sandwiches back in the hostel.

Reflections of the day:
1) interesting how songs pop up in your head unconsciously. "Keep your head up, moving on" was one of them, and it`s not even a song I like. Then "Another 45 miles" from Golden Earring.
2) The exhibition 1000 Families is promoted throughout Cork county. It`s an interesting photo project and if you like, I`d recommend you to have a look at it.

Plans for tomorrow: Getting to Killarny, about 70 km from here, then to Limerick on Sunday and up along the river Shannon after the weekend.

(© Cork - IE, August 2007)
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Moving up north

Posted 4 August 2007 - Killarney (IE):

Today was not the easiest day so far and at the time of writing this, I am still not sure where I will spend the night. I`m in the town of Killarney, which is certainly a wonderful name but not the best place to find a spare bed at this time of year. I`m sitting in the pub next to one of the youth hostels in town, trying to secure myself a place for the night in case somebody doesn`t show up. I`ve become friends with the Polish manager and should be alright. I`m tired though and there have been a few difficult moments throughout the day.

The day started out bright and sunny, contrary to yesterday`s weather forecast. A group of thee Spanish friends allowed me onto their mini-bus tour to the ring of Beara. I only paid a shameful 10 euros to them, but got away with it and the ride was wonderful. Views over cliffs, lakes and the Atlantic Ocean were highly enjoyable and photogenic. We arrived at Kendare around 3 in the afternoon and I still needed to get 35 kilometers further north because there was no place to stay in Kendare and I wanted to get further up anyhow. That was too far to walk so I felt obliged to take the bus. Another 10 euros off the credit and I started to worry about the countries to come. And about a place to stay for the night, which was not obvious given the affluence of tourists all over the south-west of Ireland. Spent some time contemplating on all that while being transported to Killarney. When I arrived, it had started raining and the outlooks were not at all positive. More rain expected for the night, nowhere to stay and expecting to spend more than the daily budget. And not sufficient input on the subject of the day: music in Ireland.

I tried a first youth hostel and a second one, but without success. I then decided to try and make myself some friends in the pub next door, where I am still sitting now. Martin, the manager of the pub drove me around neighbouring streets to find me a B&B but none of them had any vacancies, so here I am. Polish Marcin of the hostel next door is playing cards here with his Polish friends and told me not to worry: he suspects that one person who had made an advance reservation will not show up. He assured me not to worry so that`s what I`m counting on now. Tomorrow, I intend to take a bus to Limerick, hoping that I can visit Sinead's mum who is still living there. It`ll be a visit with conflicting memories, but I`m prepared for that and will deal with it.

Updatum: I can stay in the hostel next door - Yeehee!

Updatum 2: The European Union website is publishing my reports, go here to check out the link.

(© Castletownbere - IE, August 2007)
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Reflections from Killarney

Posted 5 August 2007 - Killarney (IE):

Sunday in Ireland and I have once again been a lucky bastard. I arranged to stay for another night in Killarney, in spite of my initial plan to leave for Limerick. That trip has been postponed to tomorrow and after that, I intend to continue to Sligo and Donegal in the North-West, then off to Londonderry and in a slow descent towards Dublin by next weekend.

Since it`s Sunday, I thought it would be a nice idea to write about the influence of the church on people`s daily lives. That led me to attending three different masses: a methodist one, an anglican one and a catholic one.

The mass in the catholic cathedral appealed to me most as the others abunded in either praising the lord for every tiny thing (methodist) or focusing on the everlasting sins of mankind and related appeals for forgiveness (anglican). I wish for both to get familiar with the words Nelson Mandela used during his inaugural speach in 1994:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, `Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?` Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won`t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It`s not just in some of us; it`s in all of us. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

The catholic mass was attended by a huge crowd. The priest partly followed a set protocol, familiar to most of the public, and told a few anecdotes on the way. It was pretty down-to-earth and lighthearted, while centered around everyday reality. More so than the catholic masses I was attending as a child.

After church, most people went back into town. I went for a walk in Killarney National Park, which was on the other side of the street. It was partly sunny, partly drizzly, pretty much like all of the past few days. I ended up at Ross Castle, scenicly situated on the lakeside. When I had enough of it, I walked back to town to work on my interviews. I did find quite some people prepared to talk, fortunately :) One of them was a lady selling bread and pastry on the market and when I returned to her stand to buy a giant chocolate dip cookie, I got three for the price of one! On the way back to the hostel, I sat in with a Dutch daughter and mum I had also met earlier on. The daughter had lived in Belfast for a few months back in 2005 and she told me lots of interesting details about the situation in Northern Ireland. That is a topic I intend to cover later on, so it was helpful to already gain some information in advance.

Back in the youth hostel, I cooked my little bag of Bolognese sauce which unfortunately did not include any pasta! A German girl advised me to take some pasta from the `undefined owner shelf` in the kitchen to make up my dinner and so I did. And now I`m typing away my stories, hoping to post them in a short while.

For those people who have not received e-mail from me yet: I have some problem sending out e-mails from Outlook Express and sinon I simply do not have a lot of internet time to write personal messages AND most of what I want to tell people can be read on this side. I hope that will do. I do like receiving e-mails and that bit of the program works fine so if you like: don`t hesitate. I`m not particularly feeling lonely (yet) but it`s nice to read about what is going on back home and/or in your lives.

(© Killarney - IE, August 2007)
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From Limerick to Sligo

Posted 7 August 2007 - Sligo (IE):

I slept well last night and was taken to the bus station by Sinéad's dad this morning. The day commenced lots sunnier than yesterday ended, which was definitely good news. OK, I would spend most of today on a bus, but the landscape is still much prettier when the weather is nice. I received some critics on the format of Us Europeans and last night, and decided that I would use the bus ride to contemplate on how I could improve it. I will make a first effort to do that tonight. Don`t expect massive changes - it will just be differences in the detail, aiming to increase the overall legibility of the articles.

Beside thinking, I also planned to use the bus ride to interview people about language: the Irish language, foreign languages, expressions and words. I met some nice people during the ride and got to Sligo by three in the afternoon. My first impression was not too positive and neither was my second. The city was a bit smelly and the hostel in an industrial area of the city. I was lucky again, securing the very last bed in the hostel. Both for tonight and the night after. I then walked back into town and got a bit sad because I didn`t know how to make the Us Europeans reports more attractive and then started to think that the whole project was not very useful either. But I turned off those voices before they started insisting and then met some nice people, did some good interviews and took a nice photo.

I had white beans with sausages for dinner, together with a yellow pepper (grown in Holland). Wireless internet is provided by the hostel, so I have some more time to be online and chat to people.

I will stay here until Thursday and will then head for (London)Derry and after that I think I will go to Dublin in one go. There I will spend my last days in Ireland and then go on to the next country on the list: Lithuania. Time flies... by tomorrow I will be away for a week but it almost feels like forever. There`s forever behind me and forever in front of me - a wonderful feeling!

Today`s photo is from the second day of my trip. I will concentrate on new photos tomorrow, but for now I am posting this one. Just a window in a street with an airplane and a bull on the shelf. Nothing special, yet touching.

(© Cork - IE, August 2007)
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Sligo part 2

Posted 8 August 2007 - Sligo (IE):

Another day in Sligo has ended. Sligo is certainly not the most exciting town I have visited so far, and my main reason for staying here another night is of budgetary nature. I hope to move on to Londonderry tomorrow, even though it seems like al hostels are full. I have for the first time tried to apply for a couch but that has not been successful either. Too bad, it's nevertheless time to move on.

I spent most of this morning fixing some informatics trouble with outgoing mail. It took a while but it's working now. Sending out e-mails was complicated before today, now it`s easy again.

I thought I was going to write about the average Irish working day but I decided it would be sports instead. I attended today`s local horse race in spite of an evil black man who did not want to allow me onto the car park so I could secretly watch the race.

I still have issues getting used to my digital camera. It somehow doesn`t fully obey to me yet like the analog one used to do. Also the type of photos are different because I can`t play with depth of field as much. In order not to end up talking about techie details: it means that most photos I take now are sharp from the foreground to the background. For portrait photos, that is not the most suitable and it influences my other photos as well. I am not sure whether that is a bad thing, it`s just different. And it makes me feel less at ease with my camera, sometimes to the point I get angry with it. Nevertheless, I yesterday received an email saying that the wedding photos I took before I disappeared on this trip were very satisfactory to the people photographed. A good start, because it may sound strange but that was still the first wedding album I ever produduced...

Today was the first time I thought back of my street in The Hague and walking to the supermarket with no backpack on and/or on slippers. I have now been away for a week but if I look back, home is really far away. I hope tomorrow will bring some interesting new stories about the issues between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. And find a place to sleep...

(© Sligo - IE, August 2007)
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Derry Day 2

Posted 10 August 2007 - Londonderry (UK):

I had a lie in this morning and only got my ass out of bed by half 9 (=9h30) in the morning. I was planning to write about school uniforms today but just in time came up with another subject: tourism in Derry. So I`ve been doing some decent tourist spotting today. In the afternoon I met up with Matt, an American living in Northern Ireland this summer. I got in contact with him through Couchsurfing and although he had no couch available, it was still nice to meet up. He introduced me to some of his Northern Irish friends, Marc and Bobby, with whom I went to see tonight`s football match of Derry City against Longford. Derry is the only Northen Irish team to play in the Irish Premier League, I forgot to mention that in the Us Europeans report about sports in Ireland. That`s why I`m doing it here and now.

I will go see the protestant marches tomorrow and write about that. Then I will travel south, back to the Republic of Ireland. I still have some subjects to cover there, let me share with you which ones:

- What did the EU bring to Ireland;

- What is the Celtic Tiger and how long will the Irish economy remain `up`;

- The recently introduced smoking ban;

- How Dublin is different from the countryside;

Why people are travelling to Lithuania, that will obviously be on the day I am travelling to Lithuania myself.

I already made some arrangements for that country. I will be surfing somebody`s couch in Kaunas and also visit a Dutch girl who is doing voluntary work over there. That`s all for now, more news from Dublin tomorrow.

(© Londonderry - UK, August 2007)
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Marching the city walls of Derry

Posted 11 August 2007 - Dublin (IE):

For today`s story, I would like to refer to my report at Us Europeans. It is about the loyalist march that took place today. Here`s the photo to go with it:

(© Londonderry - UK, August 2007)
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Foot tennis and Hurling

Posted 12 August 2007 - Dublin (IE):

I safely arrived in Dublin last night and am staying with Pavel en Lenka until tomorrow morning. They are Czech and I met Pavel in Killarney, a week ago. Today in the morning, we played tennis-football with Libor, who is also from Czech Republic (photo). It was a nice replacement for my usual Sunday morning tennis. In the afternoon, we had a nice pasta meal and then I went into town to look for a youth hostel for three more nights, and to do my daily interviews. The weather has been sunny all day and I had some time left to wat the All Ireland Hurling Semifinals between Limerick and Waterford. Limerick won, and hurling is a crazy game.

I then prepared a salad for dinner at Lenka`s and Pavel`s place and played a game of chess. It resulted in an unfortunate loss, but it was still nice to play.

Four days left in Dublin. Time flies when you`re having fun...

(© Dublin - IE, August 2007)
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Dublin on a tight budget

Posted 13 August 2007 - Dublin (IE):

I left Lenka and Pavel this morning and moved my stuff to the youth hostel. I arrived there well before check-in time so simply left my backpack and went for a walk in the city centre. I was looking for people to tell me about the Celtic Tiger and managed to find quite a few. I enjoyed the lunch that Lenka had prepared for me in a jar, although I was not sure what it was. A mixture of beans and cabbage, and I will try to trace the name of it.

Until today, I had been able to mess with the electricity sockets to charge my computer, but in the hostel I stay in now, I have not been able to. So I sent myself on a mission across town to find the cheapest possible adapter, and one that worked as well. It took my one hour and I found one costing just 2 euros. Good news, but I will exceed my budget today because of the pint of Guiness I am having tonight with two Dutchies I ran into today (for the third time during this trip!) and I sent out three postcards. And a new 2 euro towel, because I unintentionally left the other one on the heating radiator in Derry. Nothing more to tell. I will have covered my first country within only 3 days from now and am satisfied with the way things have been going so far.

(© Dublin - IE, August 2007)
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Dublin day 3

Posted 14 August 2007 - Dublin (IE):

Today is the last day of my second week of travelling. Two more days and I will leap to the second country on my list. I am still enjoying Dublin for as long as I`m here. I have been receiving quite some feedback on the Us Europeans project, some of which was very helpful. Some stories may not have been the most exciting so far, especially to Dutch people, because the similarities between here and back home are not of the giant kind. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, because after all, this project is just as much about European integration as it deals with the cultural differences. In interview normal people, mostly of my age, because I think they will ultimately decide on the success of the European Union. I could also interview for example fishermen who are so old that they`d almost fall apart, but I have found other subjects more influential on people`s daily lives. I expect that Western European readers of Us Europeans will find more exciting stuff when I make it to Eastern Europe, where the things people do and the way they think about it is probably more different.

Where my personal objectives are concerned, I think that before leaving Ireland I will have a fair understanding of how the country is made up, which forces decide on what`s happening and which values are or importance to people. I am confident that whenever I read about Ireland in the newspaper in the future, I can fit that in with what I have experienced and found out whilst here. That means the objective for Ireland will have been achieved.

(© Dublin - IE, August 2007)
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Planning completed until 01/08/08

Posted 15 August 2007 - Dublin (IE):

Today is my last day in Ireland. I am leaving for Lithuania tomorrow and before going there I completed the itinerary for the remainder of the project (26 countries more to go, 350 days). Up until 1 Aug 2008, it should not be a problem for people who follow this website to trace me: check out this map. I will also post it on Us Europeans in a few days, but I thought I`d give my loyal Daily Photo audience a preview :)

I still have to go outside today to collect my stories and will post them in the evening.

(© Cobh - IE, August 2007)
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Going East!

Posted 16 August 2007 - Kaunas (LT):

Hello all! I have reached the second country on my list! It`s Lithuania and I am quite excited about moving on. Ireland has been treating me well just like it did during the previous 5 times. It`s a cool country and I can recommend everybody to pay a visit. But more about today...

I got up early this morning to be in time for breakfast, then went back to bed for another hour`s sleep, then took a shower and headed for the bus stop. On the way, I has a stopover at the Irish National Photo Archive, where an exhibition by Colman Doyle was taking place. The photos showed the transition of Ireland from 1950 up to today and the photos were very impressive. They were realistic, with no added flavours: the way I like it.

I then got on the bus and to the airport. I thought I would grab some of my fellow travellers on the flight to interview them at the gate, but the first 5 I approached were all reluctant to collaborate. Fortunately, things got better as time went by. See the results at Us Europeans!.

Below is a last photo from Dublin, I will not see Ireland back for at least one year...

(© Dublin - IE, August 2007)
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More Lithuania

Posted 17 August 2007 - Vilnius (LT):

My first day in Lithuania was a nice one. I got up at 11 (9 o`clock Irish time) and enjoyed a complete breakfast that Vilda had prepared for me. She only needed to be at work by one o`clock so we could take it easy. We walked to the city centre, where Vilda went to work and I started my Kaunas discovery tour. I first walked to the end of the very long pedestrian street and then made it to the city hall, where a lot of weddings were taking place. The procedure was very interesting and if you want to read more about it, go to Us Europeans for a more detailed report.

I walked on some more, eating Irish muesli and still drinking water from Dublin Airport. I forgot to mention by the way that I managed to complete Ireland within the budget by EUR 5,71 :) Lithuania is a lot cheaper and today I was even able to afford to pay others a beer and eat in a restaurant!

At five, I met Vilda again and she told me she was planning to go to Vilnius with her sister, who has an apartment there, and whether I wanted to come along. That seemed like a very good idea to me, because I was already wondering how I could integrate a visit to Vilnius in the planning before going to the coast and make it to Latvia. Problem solved and since we left by car, I may even be able to see more than I could have if I was on my own and walking.

There also happened to be a Couch Surfing meeting going on and that was the evening plan. We met a lot of Italians and French people, had fun and there was a little dancing involved as well. Pizza afterwards and then off to bed. Tomorrow, we will probably do soms sight-seeing to the Geographical centre of Europe Park and a Soviet sculpture park as well.

(© Kaunas - LT, August 2007)
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Remaining plans for Lithuania

Posted 19 August 2007 - Kaunas (LT):

After a quick two-day excursion to Vilnius, I am now back in Kaunas. Tomorrow, I will move on to Siauili to go see the Hill of Crosses, then afterwards to Klaipeda and the peninsula. It will soon be time for country number three: Latvia. The first new country on the list, because I have never been there.

Below photo shows a monument for the commemmoration of people that were tortured in Lithuania during the many wars that have taken place on its territory. Another Never Again monument, but everybody knows that similar athrocities are taking place at this very moment, on many different places in the world.

(© Kaunas - LT, August 2007)
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Apples from strangers

Posted 20 August 2007 - Siauliai (LT):

It`s 8 o`clock in the evening in the Lithuanian city of Siauilai. I am sitting behind a small desk in the youth hostel, which is completely different from the ones in Ireland. Empty walls, long hollow corridors and no English speaking staff. One old lady is managing the whole place and all she wants to know is how many nights I am planning to stay and whether she can see my passport. I am alone in a room that offers space to four people. That`s not many beds, if you compare it to the 24-person dormitory I used in Dublin. For 4 times the price of this one.

The hostel is not the only difference with Ireland. Today was the first day I was feeling rather unconfortable just walking in the streets. And I would say the hostel is situated in the `better` outskirts of the city. One concrete road cuts this neighbourhood in two. All sidestreets have sandy, rocky and dusty surfaces. Some houses are made of stone, others of wood. Few people in the streets and many aggressive dogs behind the fences. People avoid eye contact or greeting gestures, so whenever you meet somebody in the street you don`t feel like you`ll ever be friends.

It`s not all the time like that. After I was taken to the Hill of Crosses by Rita (friend of Vilda) and Aurimas, I took a bus to Siauliai and got offered two healthy looking apples by an old lady. I ate them with pleasure although I did not know what made her decide to offer them to me.

Photos below: Hill of Crosses, a religious place before World War II, then a political and nationalistic statement during the Soviet era, now a religious place again and in the process of becoming a tourist attraction. Other photo: Still Life of Underwear and T-Shirt, just after I washed them in the youth hostel.

(© Siauliai - LT, August 2007)
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Hot day in Klaipeda

Posted 21 August 2007 - Klaipeda (LT):

With temperatures of over 25 degrees, today was the hottest day so far. If everything runs according to plan, it should not get much hotter than this for the rest of my trip. I left the city of Siauliai this morning in an old Soviet-style train with wooden window frames, curtains and double ceilings. I was not sad to leave Siauliai because I was not feeling much at ease around there. I instantly fell asleep on the train and the two-hour trip was over in a blink of the eye.

I am now in Klaipeda, a harbour city next to the Baltic Sea. I will be staying here for two nights before moving north. In total, I will spend another four days in Lithuania. Then onwards to Latvia, which from what I heard so far, should be quite similar to Lithuania. I will just wait and see.

(© Klaipeda - LT, August 2007)
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Curonian Spit Visit

Posted 22 August 2007 - Klaipeda (LT):

It was nice to speak to some friends again last night. It cheered me up and made me have a really good day today. I joined a Belgian guy named Tom, who was planning to go to the Curonian Spit. That`s the peninsula `next door`, right opposite to Klaipeda. We took a ferry and rented bicycles, then cycled all the way to the Kaliningrad border (=Russia). Lots of nice pine trees and dunes on the way. I had a bit of a cold this morning but most of that disappeared while we were cycling. The weather is still excellent and it was good to get some exercise.

It may seem as if I don`t take many pictures, posting only one photo a day on this website. I do take many more, but it`s too much work to post all of them. I made an effort today to post three: 1) Mature Lithuanian photo model posing for two men; 2) Secret photo of the mysterious border with the equally mysterious Russian enclave of Kaliningrad; 3) Ferry back to Klaipeda.

No plans for tomorrow yet - we shall see.

(© Klaipeda - LT, August 2007)
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Spell check active

Posted 23 August 2007 - Klaipeda (LT):

Another day in Klaipeda and it won`t be the last one. I have not been able to find any youth hostels between here and Latvia so the only alternative would have been to go back to Vilnius and travel to Latvia from there. But since I am planning to stay in some other places in Latvia before Riga, the Vilnius option did not work. Instead, I will go on a day trip to Palanga, another beach resort half an hour away from here.

I have good news for people who got annoyed with the many typing mistakes I made in previous articles. I downloaded Firefox to replace Explorer as my preferred web browser and it contains an automatic spell check. On top of that, my first note book is full. I already bought another one, but will first fill this one up completely, writing in a different colour and upside down from the backside to the front. Not much other news today. Photo: view on Klaipeda railway station.

(© Klaipeda - LT, August 2007)
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Playa Palanga

Posted 24 August 2007 - Klaipeda (LT):

Another day in Klaipeda and I thought it`d be nice to leave the city for some sight-seeing along the coast. I took one of the many minibuses to the sea resort `Palanga`. Here`s two photos of the beach:

(© Palanga - LT, August 2007)
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Leaving Lithuania

Posted 25 August 2007, Klaipeda (LT):

My last day in Lithuania has been a good one. I talked to many people, got offered a cup of coffee, bought and ate a piece of honey. While the Us Europeans project is progressing, I am finding out that it is more about similarities than about real differences between people. After less than a month, I have to conclude that Europe is more European than I thought it was. Countries are clearly in different stages, but these stages are part of the same continuum. Tensions between tradition and individual freedom, between `us` and `them` in the case of immigration issues - they prevail all over the place. Only the way people deal with these tensions is different and even those differences reside mainly in timing.

About a month ago, I was talking about wedding photos I took but couldn`t post yet? You can now view them on line: here is the place to be.

Holidays in Holland seem to come to an end, which is good news as it means that Us Europeans will soon be posted on more websites. I will let you know which ones. I am planning to integrate more photos into the project, to also include location photos, but I have not yet decided how to do it. Tips are welcome.

Tomorrow will be my first day in Latvia. I`m curious and excited to move on. Lithuania was good, I expect the same of Latvia. I already arranged to sleep at some people`s places through Couchsurfing and expect much of Latvia. It`s the first country on my list that I have never visited before.

Today`s photo: a popular fruit stand at the local market in Klaipeda.

(© Klaipeda - LT, August 2007)
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Latvia Day 1

Posted 26 August 2007 - Liepaja (LV):

Yesterday was my last night in Klaipeda and I went out for a drink with Francisco (ES), Anastasia and Barbara (SK). We only found one pub open and hardly anybody in the streets, but still had a good laugh. I learnt some Slovak words (Chladnicka - fridge, Popolnik - ashtray, Daznik - umbrella) and refreshed some Spanish ones, including melocoton - peach.

I was starting to feel at home in Klaipeda after waking up there for the 5th time this morning. But it`s time for a new country and - maybe secretly even more exciting - a new flag on the Us Europeans website :) It`s the Latvian one!

I slightly changed my introduction line for the interviews. It is of no use to explain people that I am travelling for a year and that I will go to all 27 countries and that there`s a website and and and. First of all, it`s too long of a sentence, and secondly, most respondents have either no clue or don`t care. So now I just say that I`m writing a book about the EU. That also works for people who are not fluent in English and a writing a book is considered quite a prestigious thing that you probably do to eventually make money. Which makes more sense than just doing it for fun or out of curiosity. Even though that still is the main reason.

Other news item, some Dutch traffic expert says that traffic mobility in The Netherland will almost drop dead over the coming years. Finally somebody who sees it too. I don`t know which plans will result from this gentleman`s observation, but at least it made headlines in today`s NL newpapers.

(© Liepaja - LV, August 2007 )
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Things Flat

Posted 27 August 2007 - Ventspils (LV):

I left Liepaja this afternoon and arrived in Ventspils, 2.5 hours north, in the evening. The youth hostel in Liepaja is quite cool: very modern and they even have a flatscreen TV/cinema with couches on top of each other to host an audience of up to ten people. Very nice but this is one of the things I have been thinking of quite a lot over the last few days. Some youth hostels nowadays are more like an entertainment area, party place etc instead of a place where people try to find a place to sleep for the night. Many hostels are completely prebooked so if you spontaneously knock on their door, even at 9 in the morning, you may find yourself kicked out as quickly as you got in. The first questions is not `Hi, how are you?`, but rather `Hi, have you got a reservation?`. Well, I shouldn`t complain too much: I have been lucky enough to find a place to sleep every night.

Apart from the flatscreen, the hostel also has a big kitchen. I went to the open market in the afternoon to buy some vegetables and then cooked some tasty pasta. I prepared my photos for uploading and headed off for the bus station shortly afterwards. I took the shaky little tram and got there well in time. The bus ride was pleasant: I kept falling asleep. Whenever awake, I tried to see some of the countryside. Very flat! It could have been Holland or Denmark instead! Traffic was a lot less dense (read: hardly anybody else around for the full 100 km) and I also found it interesting how property was unmarked. No fences, no barriers, no nothing, just land. Pretty disorganised land: none of it is used for agriculture, and trees and bushes are randomly scattered over the area. The combination with dramatic skies and lighting make the trip very interesting.

I got to Ventspils by a quarter past 8. Two Latvian ladies with whom I got in contact via SouchSurfing, Sandra and Anda, came to collect me at the bus station. They took me to the university dormitory and told me that they were just informed that they had to move apartments before 8 the next morning. We first went for a quick dinner and evening excursion, then spent some time moving stuff and fringes from one room to the other. After that, some interesting discussions about Latvia and travelling. The Latvian language seems to be a lot easier than Lithuanian by the way.

Today`s photo is from Liepaja, it`s one of the many city buses there. It`s not raining, the strange light is caused by condense on the inside of the bus.

(© Liepaja - LV, August 2007)
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Contemplations from Ventspils

Posted 28 August 2007 - Ventspils (LV):

It can`t be nice weather everyday and today was probably the worst day so far. Not that it bothered me - it was a nice excuse to stay in bed a little longer and to catch some fresh air by the end of the day.

I got up at 9 and typed the story I should have prepared the evening before. But hadn`t :) When hail and rain had passed, I went outside for a walk around the city. The weather stayed dry most of the time and some short sunny moment allowed for cool photos with dramatic skies (see below).

Today is the last day of the first four weeks away from home. Life like this is starting to feel normal, it is neither very exciting nor very boring, just normal. But I do know that I am working on something very unusual and I`m still happy about that. I have my doubts every now and then, of how useful it is, or how I should integrate it into any future career ambitions. What I should do with the end results, whether it will be worth publishing or whether I should see the writing as a simple support to some reflection process that is inevitably taking place on the unconscious level. About what to do when I come back. Join politics, be a teacher (in that case: geography, French, English, creative mathematics), study some more (political sciences, called Sciences Po in French) to be able to work at the ministry of foreign affairs. Be a full time photographer or journalist maybe. Opportunities, opportunities. But 11 more months to go to dedicate plenty of thoughts to it.

In the evening, my hosts Anda and Sandra took me to the beach where a good old-fashioned storm had taken possession of the sand and water. We climbed up a view tower and leaned against the wind, very refreshing and exciting - under a full moon.

I am moving on to Kuldiga tomorrow, the city that`s known for Europe`s broadest waterfall. In case I find cheap accommodation, I will stay there, otherwise I will move on to the capital city: Riga. That`s all for now, I will call for duty again tomorrow.

(© Ventspils - LV, August 2007)
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Gold Digga in Latvia

Posted 29 August 2007 - Kuldiga (LV):

Both Sandra and Anda had to get up early this morning and so did I. Sandra took me to the bus station before she went to work and at 8:30 I was on my way to Kuldiga. I was not really sure whether I would find a youth hostel there. Something was mentioned on internet, but without any prices or other information. I thought I`d just give it a go and if I could not find anything, I would simply take the next bus to Riga. It was quite cold on the bus and I wished I was wearing the jumper but it was in my backpack which in turn was in the baggage cabin. I changed my place in the shade for one in the sun and was quite ok there.

One hour later, I got off some 2 kilometres out of Kuldiga, because I thought that were we stopped was maybe the only stop. I later found out that it wasn`t, but what can you do.. Kuldiga was recommended to me by Vilius, two weeks ago in Lithuania. And it indeed looked like what he had described it to be: a lot of old wooden houses in original style. No tourists around, certainly at this time of day. I walked a random route towards the waterfall and after that to the guesthouse where I hoped to find a cheap bed. The first one shown to me cost 20 Lats (30 euro) but a little later another one only cost 6, so that was an easy decision. After that, I walked around town for a few hours. I checked the bus times to Riga at the bus station (upper photo), fell asleep for half an hour, walked on, talked to some people, had Solanka soup and some salad, then bought something to eat for the evening and then took another nap in the guest house. In the evening, I had a quick phone call with Sanne, who will come visit me when I`m in Sweden. That should be in five weeks from now. There`s still Estonia and Finland in between. I hope it doesn`t get too much colder than it was today (max 15 degrees), because otherwise I may have to buy some more clothes to make it through Lapland.

(© Kuldiga - LV, August 2007)
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Psychology of authority

Posted 30 August 2007 - Riga (LV):

After a very cold and lonely night, with no other guests staying in the same guest house (left on photo), I packed my bag again this morning to make it to Riga. The last capital city I visited was Vilnius, 2 weeks ago, so I guessed it was a good idea to go and look for some more representatives of my species. At Kuldiga`s bus station, I met a Greek-Lithuanian couple with whom I was chatting during the 2.5h trip to Riga. I checked some of my findings about Lithuania with her, especially the fact that some people kiss each other on the mouth for a simple greeting, and that`s not only lovers.

It was not very difficult to find a hostel in Riga. I intended to walk to one but found another one on the way, and thought I had heard people speak about it so thought it would be an equally good place to stay. Some things frightened me though: all around the reception desk I found alarming messages of what certainly not to do when in Riga. Also, some horrible adventures of people who did do those things while here. Being invited to a bar, then ending up having to pay a few hundred euros to get back out, strip club adventures that got mixed up with mafia practices, people changing money on the streets: most often Lithuanian coins for Latvian banknotes. Just before I got to the hostel, one guy even tried that trick on me during the 300m between the bus station and hostel but I kindly refused. Not because I knew what he was up to, simply because I thought it would`t be a good idea to take my wallet out or in any other way be helpful to this kind gentleman. But when I read all the stuff in the hostel, I for sure took the warnings for real..

I then walked through town, visited the Occupation Museum and got once again impressed with the way the psychology of authority sometimes works. Back in Ventspils, I showed Anda and Sandra the Stanford Prison Experiment (part 1) and (part 2) and the Milgram Electric Shock Experiment (part 1) and (part 2). They are only a small part of this, but very interesting to look at, also in relation to the European empire that is being created at this moment, the supremacy of the English language, the different us and them variations even in EU countries and the way the world peace that was expected to finally come true in the early 1990s is probably a fata morgana. It only takes one person and a little bit of timing to destroy a civilisation - that little piece of truth is being proved over and over again.

Umm, that was probably enough philosophy for today. I am going on a day trip to the eastern city of Daugavpils tomorrow. I have to get up very early and will be back quite late. I plan to find out more about the position of Russian people in the Latvian society and Daugavpils should be a good place for that. And I am looking forward to spending some time on the train - most of what I travel now is by bus and only short distances of max 100 km per day.

(© Kuldiga - LV, August 2007)
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Long train ride

Posted 31 August 2007 - Riga (LV):

I got up early this morning for a return trip to Daugavpils in the east of Latvia. The majority of the population in that area is Russian and I wanted to find out about the relation between the Latvians and the Russians. If you like, you can read more about that on Us Europeans.

(© Daugavpils - LV, August 2007)
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