Gypsy wedding

Gypsy wedding

Saturday afternoon in the UNESCO town of Bardejov in Eastern Slovakia and the medieval square is packed with cars for a tuning competition, sexy young ladies in microskirts and microshorts and, in the 15th Century Gothic Basilica, a gypsy wedding. These Romany (as they prefer their minority to be known) are obviously extremely wealthy to have such a location for a wedding. Gypsy musicians can be seen playing the bride out.

The Basilica can be seen here – http://slovakia.travel/en/church-of-st-egidius-bardejov

Me and my son, Brano

Me and my son, Brano

On Sunday, my son Brano and my brother and his girlfriend travelled to the High Tatra Mountains to go on a hike. The weather was insanely hot – about 36 degrees Celsius, and the track was basically loose rocks all the way. Extremely hard going. It was a long day with lots of driving but was well worth it. The area is beautiful – the Tatra Mountains are the highest point of the entire Carpathian range and the geography is Alpine.

Despite bringing lots of fluids we sweated profusely. Luckily, a lot of the hike was through dense forest which shaded us a bit. The steep trail follows a fast white water creek. We encountered some brown bear scat on the track at one point, which really reminded us where we were and what might be lurking behind the trees…

We rounded the adventure off with a meal at Humno Restaurant in Tatranska Lomnica. It’s an expensive place but pretty cool – they’ve got a huge snow cat sticking out of one wall and a Cadillac Espanade hanging upside down from the ceiling. The waitresses are pretty and speak English and the atmosphere is very friendly.

It was good to spend some quality time with my son.

School’s out in the Ukraine

School’s out in the Ukraine

This week I’ve had my father and his wife visiting. As it’s a country my father hasn’t visited yet, we decided to go to the Ukraine. This time we went by coach as it saves a lot of time at the border and removes the hassle of paying for security parking. Altogether, there were 6 of us – my father and his wife, my brother and his girlfriend, and my wife and myself.

Unlike last time I visited, we didn’t go to the Carpathian region but instead went to the reasonably large city of Uzhorod. The coach dropped us and a few others off at a giant market just outside of the city and we arranged a time to be picked up. After an hour of walking around the market we decided to hop on a local bus (an experience in itself) and head into the town proper. It was a boiling hot day and the town centre was packed. All schools closed for summer holidays so there were thousands of kids walking round, many dressed in traditional costume, shouting “School’s finished!”. It was hard to get a seat in any of the myriad cafes and restaurants because there were school kids everywhere.

While the market just felt seriously dodgy, the town centre was surprisingly elegant and had a good happy atmosphere. Since the disbanding of the police force, their lack of presence was extremely notable.

While our visitors didn’t enjoy themselves as they were expecting something completely different, it wasn’t too bad of a trip. As usual, I was just pleased to get back over the border again without any hiccups.

Boar and brother

Boar and brother

Yesterday, my brother came to my village house. He’d arrived at his mini-castle a couple of days earlier after a long drive from England. After dinner, we decided to go for a walk with his girlfriend and our dogs. It was late dusk and there were herds of red deer everywhere. Bizarrely, there was also a large sounder of boar grazing in a high grass field jut next to the abandoned road. There were perhaps 15 of them, including several piglets, although due to the tall vegetation and ridges in the hill side meadow, we only initially noticed a couple and they seemed quite some distance away. When we saw just how close the rest were to us, as they were just outside the treeline and barely visible at first, our mood changed.

Taking photos was difficult as there was little light and there was a strong wind blowing. I used my eldest son’s shoulder as a rest and had the Canon’s telephoto full extended, which meant all the pictures turned out blurry. What really freaked me was when I watched one particularly large boar charge at us. Luckily, it stopped maybe 20 metres from its group and then stood its ground. Unusually, the boars didn’t run off, instead the adults formed a barricade between us and the piglets, and then they carried on grazing. It was quite scary to see just how unafraid of us they were and that they were prepared to defend both their piglets and their grazing ground.

I don’t think my brother and his girlfriend realize just how lucky they were to see a group of boar at such close range, especially on her first trip out into the bush. I’ve had many people visit over the years and most have gone away without seeing these primal creatures. Last night really was like an advert for just how wild and wildlife-filled my area is. It was amazing – and adrenaline inducing.

Born to be wild or bike bondage?

Born to be wild or bike bondage?

Presently, the irony of the mythical image of motorcycle ownership as enabling one to be wild and free is making me groan. Sleepless nights, vastly depleted bank account, dealing with corrupt and vindictive officials, begging friends for favours, trying to find mechanics or a tyre service who will actually deal with motorbikes in my region, the list goes on….

I had wanted to learn about basic motorcycle mechanics when i bought Feisty, and my gods I’m learning the painful way. Something as simple as changing tyres requires driving to end-of-the-world villages (picturesque but remote) in a convoy of bike and car in one direction, hoisting Feisty up, removing the wheels and then driving to another end-of-the-world village in the opposite direction where I must then find a service which will exchange rubber. Then, hopefully if i manage to do so, go back again.

Every little thing on my bike requires ordering via the internet from far flung countries. Every time I fix something, another thing goes wrong (just replaced the rear brake switch and now the temperature gauge has stopped working). Sometimes i feel like giving in, cursing myself for not buying an old, locally produced (Czechoslovak) Jawa 350 where parts are aplenty and virtually every villager over the age of 40 can fix them in their sleep – they’re even basic enough for me to fix them alone.

But then, when I start Feisty up and hear her roar, and I sit in the saddle with arms outstretched and tear arse down the pitted country lanes, I discover I have a huge grin across my face and I remember why I put myself through all this. And, for a brief moment, I can hear the opening bars of Steppenwolf’s classic ringing in my helmet….

Four wheels move the body, two wheels (although not in her current state) move the soul….