30 September 2009

Day 129

Run to Oropos 1, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

47 Kilometers.
I woke up just before 10 am, in time for the hotel breakfast (I had cereal, orange juice, an egg and some bread with honey). After eating, I went back to my room and fell asleep. This is the benefit and the problem with hotel rooms: when you have one, you will use it. I slept until just before noon, when I woke up and quickly packed my things before I had to check out. I noticed that my armpits smelled terrible despite my having taken a shower...so I gave them a quick shampoo, towel-and-sink shower before heading out of the room. Still classy after 129 days.
By the time I got through my Internet work and got something else to eat, it was well into the afternoon, and I needed to run to Oropos.
I maybe walked about 4 kilometers out of Thiva before I started running, on a dirt road that took me through all sorts of beautiful farms. Often times it wasn't a road at all...just a farm. Somehow I kept getting back on the path on my map, and the run went on on roads like this for about 15 km. It was beautiful. I ran by very many people herding goats and picking grapes.
The rest of the run just kind of dragged on, and at some point (about two hours in) I stopped in a small town convenience store to get something to drink. They charged 2.50 for a bottle of Powerade...but I payed it (bitterly) because I just needed it.
Towards the last 10 km of the run, I felt a strain in my left calf, like my muscles had just tightened up...but I kept running because it was getting late and there wasn't really anything I could do. I was, however, running very slowly.
In Oropos, I called Stefanos, who had contacted me after Giorgos in Kalambaka put my story up on a Greek blog. He had only sent me a very short email, so I didn't really know anything about him except for his name. Usually I meet someone or know a little bit about them before I bind myself to sleeping at their house. I was thinking "man, it would be really great if this guy was a crazy serial killer...right at the end of my trip."
When I got into town, I gave Stefanos a call and downed two bottles of "Milko" chocolate milk from a nearby kiosk. As soon as he showed up in his car, I could tell that he wasn't any of the crazy people I had imagined in my head. A really cool young guy. AC-DC was playing as I stepped into the car.
We drove back to his house (only a few hundred meters away) where I met his dog (a nice dog, in Greece!) and his mom. I sat around for a while stretching, drinking water and talking to them before we went out to go eat some Souvlaki in a nearby town (one that I had run through earlier).
At dinner, his older brother Babis showed up, and we spent the rest of the evening talking about a lot of different things. Their dad works on ships, and as a result they are pretty well travelled. Actually, we learned that their dad was working on the ship that I took from Brindisi while I was on it! A very small world.
After dinner I took a shower and had some home made rice pudding. We talked for a while about music (Stefanos is a big heavy metal fan) before I wrote a blog for the night and went to bed.
I fell asleep excited and a bit nervous for the coming day. It was destined to be one that I had been waiting for for a very very long time.

28 September 2009

Day 128

Soccer match, Thiva, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

45.7 Kilometers.
I slept late, and in the morning I informed Chris that I had decided to skip past Aliartos and run straight to Thebes (Thiva). He told me that his family would try to make some calls to see if they could find a friend to host me...which was pretty good news for me. After a couple minutes of phone calls, as I was working on the computer, Chris came over to inform me that he had found a place for me to stay. The Communist party of Thebes had paid to put me in a hotel room for the night.
This came as a surprise. The party has a pretty big crowd in Greece, and well...I guess they are pretty good and very close people. I don't generally go for the hotel, but it had been done, and as I ran I contemplated the amazing hospitality of so many strangers. I contemplated many things on this run, and crazy ideas ran through my head. I ran continuously except for one stop in Aliartos to drink a Powerade, a bottle of water, and to eat the "Crunch" bar that Chris had given me.
I had left rather late, and got into Thiva around 6 pm. I was disappointed to see that there wasn't any Sphinx, inbred eye gouging or lover's armies. I got a call from my mom for the first time in a while, which was nice, and we talked for a bit before I went into an Internet cafe to do some planning. In Gmail I got into contact with Chris again, and he contacted one of his comrades (awesome that he actually used that word) who would come and meet me to hang out for the night. Sure enough, Panayiotis came into the place and tapped me on the shoulder, and we went together to a very busy cafe to watch Panathinaikos win in a soccer match. I talked about many things with Panayiotis and his friends...a lot about politics and religion, and it was interesting to see where our ideals came together and where they diverged.
We went out for a drink together, and I spent the night laughing with some really cool people...and I went to bed around 1:30, in luxury. Thanks KKE!

Day 127

42.7 Kilometers.
I slept until around 11 am, when I got up and said goodbye to Sami. I was still a little tired and my legs felt like they didn't want to function, but knew that I needed to start running. Chris, who had found my story on the Internet, had contacted me and offered to give me a place to stay with his family. This was like a grail that I was running to: a bed, a shower, a place to wash my clothes and some people who wouldn't think I was crazy.
As I stepped out the door, rain was trickling down, so I went underneath the cover of the church gallery and wrapped the contents of my backpack in my space blanket. I got some breakfast at a little cafe. By the time I had eaten, the rain had stopped, and I decided to walk for a little bit to let my food settle. I made a couple kilometers before I got bored and decided to run. I had been feeling tired, and it took some serious willpower to make myself start running. As I took my first couple steps, the space blanket started rustling in my bag...every step I took, another crinkling sound. It wasn't raining, and the sound was driving me nuts. I wanted to stop and put things back the way they normally are...but I didn't. The sound wasn't that bad...I just wanted an excuse to stop running. I forced myself through the sound, and before too long rain started pouring down and I was glad that my things would be kept dry. As the rain came down, I got on a short section of dirt roads that carried me into a little town. I grabbed a piece of clear plastic litter and wrapped up my phone to keep it dry. I was running shirtless in the pouring rain, past people with umbrellas and people in cars who were looking at me like I was crazy...and by some miracle, I felt good. There was no sounds bothering me, just the patter of rain on my skin and over twenty miles of mountain roads in front of me. Run Run Run. On a highway, on an empty mountain road, on a highway again. I put on my trash bag and just kept cruising. I passed a bus that had broken down, and the people repairing it and the people inside gave me some curious looks as I passed by. Cars honked at me. It was a good run.
When I thought I was about 30 minutes out of Levadia (in actuality only about 15), I started feeling hungry, and pulled into a rest stop to grab a candy bar and something to drink. The bus that had broken down arrived at the same time (this is probably 20 kilometers down the road), and once again I got some curious looks.
In Levadia, I called Chris and he came out of his house to meet me. I went up to his place and met his dad, and they set me up with a clean shirt so that I could take a shower and wash all of my clothes at once. The shower was amazing, and I felt clean for the first time in a few days as I donned his "Panathinaikos" (Greek soccer team) t-shirt. He had a chocolate milk waiting for me in the fridge. I can't express how good it all was. The days before had seriously worn me down.
Around 9 pm Chris took me out to get some Souvlaki (very good in Levadia) and a drink. I was wearing his brother's jeans, the t-shirt and a hoodie. Whenever we would run into another friend of Chris, he would say "show them the shirt," and I would unzip my hoodie and show them the clover logo of Panathinaikos. "Hey, Yeah!!!" It was like a magic friendship shirt for those who liked the team. We went with a group of people up to see a beautiful spring in the heart of the town before going to a club for a drink. As we walked I spoke with one of Chris' friends who is one of 13 children. The rest of the night, we kept bumping into people, and he would inform me "This is my brother"..."this is my brother."
Somewhere around 2 am we said our goodbyes and went back to go to sleep. I went out like a light.

27 September 2009

Day 126

Tholos 8, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

48.4 Kilometers.
I woke up in Gravia, got a bite to eat (some sort of pastries that tasted oddly like breakfast "Hot Pockets") and started off walking towards Delphi. Delphi. Another place I was very excited to go.
I walked for almost two hours until my clothes were dry, and I was already thirsty when I started running. I stopped by a gas station before too long and downed a liter and a half of water, and kept going along the curvy mountain roads towards Delphi.
I missed a few "shortcuts" that didn't seem to exist in real life, so the run end up being a little longer than I had expected. When I got a couple kilometers from Delphi, I got on an ancient footpath that I ended up walking due to fatigue and pretty terrible terrain.
I was so excited to be in Delphi. All of those Core Curriculum texts from Columbia definitely made the place seem a little bit magical.
I got something to eat in town and went first to the (very nice) museum where I was surprised to see the Kleobis and Biton statues, and several other Greek masterpieces that I had seen in the early days of my Art Humanities class.
From the museum I walked over to the ruins and saw what was left of many buildings mentioned in ancient literature. Delphi was the religious center of ancient Greece, and it still has an air of mystery because of this.
As I got near the temple on the top of the hill, a woman informed me that I couldn't enter. The upper areas of the site were closed due to a recent rock slide. I guess the oracle wasn't in anyways.
In the early evening I went back into the town and started walking around. I ate a bad and overpriced dinner in a tourist restaurant and got going on finding a place to sleep. It had gotten late. I went and spoke with a man in a souvenir shop, and he seemed very nice and interested in my story...but once I told him that I needed a place to sleep, his expression completely changed. I am used to this. He told me I should try going around to hotels and telling my story. I didn't have anything better to do, so I went around and told my story at a large percentage of the hotels in Delphi. I told them that I wasn't looking for a room or a bed, but for just a place inside somewhere...even in a closet. I spoke with probably 6 hotels...and got nothing.
Eventually, I decided to just go to a cafe/bar and try that method. It had started to rain, so being inside was something that I needed. I ordered a coke, and slowly got into talking with the bartender. He charged my phone for me and tried for a long time to think of a place where I could sleep. As I was just about to head out to some parking lot where there was a trailer of some sort and a guy who might let me sleep there if I asked, another guy who worked in the place said that he had a room I could sleep in. Sami, who was there working from Egypt offered the place, but I had to wait until he got off work. I spent the rest of the night, until late, talking with the three young people who were working the bar. Around 3 am I went to Sami's house, where the lights weren't working and where took a shower in candlelight. It was too late to wash my clothes (they wouldn't be dry in the morning), so I resolved to just smell a little bit worse in the morning. At least I would sleep.

26 September 2009

Day 125

Leonidas 2, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

47 Kilometers.
The alarm went off at 7, and I got up right before a woman came upstairs to clean up the place. I gathered my things and tried my hardest to look like a normal customer instead of a homeless dude. I can't really explain how I tried to do this, but I was trying nonetheless. I brushed my teeth in the bathroom, got something to eat and drink, and started running towards Thermopylae around 9 am. It was about 10 miles away, and the run passed fairly quickly despite the four hours of sleep I was working with. I thought about the Spartans as I ran, and that there was no way I could complain about having to run on a little bit of sleep. Those guys killed like 10,000 people on four hours of sleep.
Thermopylae isn't very impressive today. The actual battle field is covered by several meters of dirt, and the sea is many hundreds of meters away from where it was at the time of the battle. There is a cool statue of Leonidas though, and the famous inscription "Tell the Spartans, Stranger passing by, that here obedient to their laws we lie." If you happen to be Spartan, I guess I told you.
I had decided the night before that I wouldn't stop in Thermopylae for the night. Instead I would take a nap on a park bench for a few hours near Leonidas, and then head on towards Gravia. I did this, and tried my hardest to not look like a homeless person whenever people came by to look at the statue or to fill up their water truck at a nearby hydrant.
When I woke up I went over to the nearby cafe and got some lunch, and then went over and sat with my legs in the hot springs for a few minutes before heading out towards Gravia.
In Gravia, I went to the only place where there were people. I ordered a coke and sat there until the sun set, talking with the bartender and some of the young guys who were around the place. They thought and thought about where I could sleep, and we ended up resolving that the best place would be on a bench inside a partially open gallery of the church. The priest unlocked it for me, and Yannis brought me a blanket so that I wouldn't freeze to death during the night. Once we had resolved my sleeping situation, I went back to the cafe and had some drinks...Yannis and Yannis (two guys, one who spoke English and kept insisting that I called him "John") bought me a few rounds of Heinekens, and we had some good old Gravian fun.
Then I went to sleep on a wooden bench.

25 September 2009

Day 124

38 Kilometers.
I hadn't washed my clothes until late the night before. They were still damp in the morning and I had to walk for a while as a human clothes line before I started running. The run to Lamia was hilly. I felt very tired, like my legs wanted to stop moving so much.
In Lamia I bought some chocolate milk, a bottle of fruit juice and a large bottle of water at the first real supermarket I ran by. I drank the first two before leaving the parking lot. A stray dog also started following me, but it eventually left. Lamia is full of stray dogs. Greece doesn't seem to have a very good spay and neuter program.
The day was all in all pretty uneventful. I walked up the hill to the old castle that was closed when I got there, and spent a lot of time in various cafes, bars, and food establishments eating and drinking. Not only was I rather hungry, but I figured that if I bought a little something I could make conversation with the person working at the place more easily. None of those conversations seemed to work out, and at 9:30 I decided to change my strategy. My new strategy was to have no strategy at all, and to spend several hours sitting down and not talking to anybody, until it got too late for anyone to be around.
This wasn't quite what I was planning, but it is what happened. I saw a theater that was playing "Inglourious Basterds." It had been well over 124 days since I had seen a movie in the theater, and I have been wanting to do so since Paris. I miss summer blockbusters. Greece is the only country I have been in since Belgium that doesn't dub over movies (they use subtitles), so I figured I would take the opportunity to watch a good movie. An amazing movie.
The only problem with the movie (that I thought about before going in, but decided to risk) is that there are many parts that are spoken in French, German, and Italian. If I were watching the movie in America, I would see subtitles for these parts. Instead, the subtitles were always in Greek and I had to work hard understand what I was hearing. I think, in parts, that it was good that I had to do this.
Tarantino is a genius. My stomach was churning and I felt that "oh man, something bad is going to happen" dizzy feeling on many occasions. Then I realized that I was feeling dizzy because the camera was spinning around the actors. I think only great artists have this ability, to use a completely different sort of sense or experience to "fool" you into feeling another. Like a chef who changes taste through appearance or a composer who can to sculpt with sound. If you are vacation planning, and choosing between going to Lamia or watching "Inglourious Basterds," I would choose the latter. I guess I kind of did.
There was a 15 minute intermission/bathroom break in the middle of the film. Strange. I sat there anxiously, looking around at everyone like "You are ok with this?!"
I got out of the movie around 12:47 with nowhere to sleep and the imagery of a swastika being carved into a forehead carved into my memory. Time to start approaching strangers in the night, right?
Well, that's what I did, and after a few false leads I met some students (about my age) who took me around to see if any of the public buildings were open. None of them were. At the end of our search, they said "you understand it is strange to take you in to sleep in our house, yes?" Yes, it was strange, so said goodbye to them and went to grab a quick snack and then over to a 24 hour Internet point. I used a little bit of Internet, and asked if I could sleep either the empty upstairs or downstairs for a couple hours. After much pestering by friends, the young guy who was in charge of the place let me sleep on the sofa upstairs until 7 am, when I guess it would be a risk that the boss would come in. I went upstairs and set my alarm, it kindly informed me that I had 3 hours and 57 minutes until it would go off again.

23 September 2009

Day 123

Run to Domokos 3, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

50.8 Kilometers.
The four month mark. Also, a nice sequence of numbers.
I woke up around 10 am, still tired and said goodbye to Panos. I went with Lila to a nearby cafe where I sat in the sun and we talked until my clothes were dry. It was a sunny day, and I felt like I should maybe not have thrown away my sunscreen. We went to a nearby pharmacy where I got some free samples rubbed on my face, and I was ready to go.
I really didn't feel like doing around fifty kilometers of running, so after about 36 I stopped to grab a drink of water from a fountain and ate a melted KitKat bar that I had packed in my bag. I walked leisurely for about 7 or 8 kilometers, and passed by big cotton fields for the first time that I can remember. I picked some cotton and made some yarn as I walked.
Once I got bored with cotton, I started running again, and despite my legs feeling pretty sore, I made it up the big hill to Domokos. It was a nice dirt road that looked like it hadn't had traffic in years. At the end of the road I could see why. There was a big pile of clay, rock, and trash blocking the road. I had to climb up this to get into Domokos, and I arrived in the city sweaty and with orange mud all over my hands.
I bought a chocolate milk and went to the Police station.
Yannis (from the Bar Rouge where I slept in Trikala) had gone out of his way to make some phone calls for me, and I guess his brother is a police officer, so he got it set up so that I could go to the police station in the small town and then sleep in one of the rooms that the church had.
The guy in the police station had no idea what was going on (and I didn't meet one person who could speak English), but after some calls and waiting around I got hooked up with the right officer who brought me out to meet the "Papa" who let me into his church building and gave me a key to a room. It was really nice, with a clean bed and bathroom and fresh sheets on the bed. I went out to grab something to eat and came back in the late night for a shower and a solid 10 hours or so of much needed sleep.

22 September 2009

Day 122

Panos' Design Studio, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

26 Kilometers.
I slept until a little after ten, waking up once in the morning to explain to a guy who worked at the bar what I was doing sleeping in the storeroom. I ate for breakfast the food and water that had been given to me the night before (sandwiches, cake, cookies) and spent a long time working on the Internet before getting my things together and heading out of town. As I packed up my things, I decided to drop some weight by throwing out my sunscreen (it has been pretty cool recently) and the eye drops that I had bought the day before. Thankfully my eye wasn't bothering me anymore.
It was another short run to Karditsa, and I arrived in the late afternoon. It was a bit cold, and I walked some random circles around town into the early evening. As it started getting dark, I walked past a nicely lit office with a sign that said "Design Studio." I saw Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona chair, so I figured that was enough reason to walk in.
[Enter me, smelling/smiling, holding two dirty running shoes by the laces]
Panos: (Something in Greek)
Me: Den Milao Elinika (Translation: I don't speak Greek)
Panos: What are you doing here?
Me: Oh, just looking.
Panos: This is not a store, it is my studio.
Me: Yeah, yeah...still, just looking...
Somehow from this slightly awkward start, we got to talking and I showed Panos my website and some of my work. As we talked, I met his little brother and his father, and he offered me a place to sleep at his apartment. Just awesome.
His friend Leila (an architect) came over to the studio, and I ended up going with her to get some dinner and see her studio as Panos went back to his apartment to get some work done. Leila had just started her own studio, and wanted some advice on a facade she was working on. I was so incredibly excited to have the opportunity to think about architecture again. It has been a long time. I gave her some drawn out opinions, and we talked a lot about architecture in general. I made sketches, and used Autocad and Photoshop for the first time in ages. Ohh, I love those things.
Around midnight we went over to Panos' apartment and I took a shower and washed my clothes. We went downstairs to a bar and stayed out until around 3 am having drinks and talking about design. A good good deal.

21 September 2009

Day 121

Sober in Trikala, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

22.5 Kilometers.
I woke up around 9 am and had the hotel breakfast. I made a legit bacon, egg and cheese sandwich for the first time in a while (I had been talking with Giorgos the day before about how one thing that I really miss is a good American breakfast). I spent the late morning and early afternoon walking around some of the monasteries and nunneries of Meteora. It was a foggy morning, which wasn't great for the views...but it was all amazing nonetheless. As a light rain came down, I took a footpath back to Kalambaka where I took a shower and packed up my things. It was around two pm when I said goodbye to Giorgos and started running towards Trikala. It is kind of funny that I think of 22.5 kilometers as a "short" run, but it did go by quickly...along one straight road that passed from Kalambaka to the center of Trikala.
About an hour into the run I had a sudden strange sensation in my eye, and thought that I caught a little piece of something in it. I tried all the techniques of getting things out of your eyes that I know, but nothing seemed to have any effect. I still don't know what it was, but my eye was trembling and itchy and red, and tears were pouring down the right side of my face. I figured I couldn't do anything about it on the side of the highway anyways, so I just kept running, hoping that maybe some fresh air would make it go away.
In Trikala it didn't seem to get any better. I spent the afternoon wandering around town, checking things out through one good eye. I grabbed a bite to eat and found an open pharmacy where I bought some eye drops. The person couldn't speak English, and the package they gave me wasn't in English either, but I figured I would give it a try. Some of the only words I recognized on the container were "Boric acid" and "Sulfuric acid."
"Umm...I guess I'll put a couple drops of this stuff in my eye..."
My eye didn't seem to get much better after that either. I spent a decent amount of time in an Internet cafe with liquid running out of my itchy eye and nose. Wasn't a great feeling. I guess the symptoms point to allergies, which I've never had a problem with before.
I waited and waited for my potential cs host to call me. He had gone away for a business trip, and told me the day before that he might be back in time to host me. I called him a few times but never got any response.
I wasn't feeling quite as social as usual. It is a bit more difficult to approach random strangers when you have your hand over your eye and it is bright red and tearing. I got some dinner, and around 9 I went into a little bar along the main street. The place was kind of empty, but it was the only bar that I thought I could tolerate. The rest of them were packed, but were playing loud music with all sorts of flashy lights. The kind of bar that I never really like to go to.
Anyways, I had a Guinness and then asked the bartender if he knew of anything going on this evening in order to start conversation. He told me to go to the historic part of town, where there were more real bars...and I went there.
I walked around for a while before walking into a little bar that had a few people in it. I stood at the bar by myself and ordered a Heineken. I smiled to myself as I thought about how long ago I had been at the old brewery in Amsterdam. My eye seemed to be getting better, but I was still in a bar by myself with nowhere to sleep...still kind of hoping that the couchsurfing guy would give me a call back. I think the bartender (Sotiris) could see my sorry situation, and he poured a shot of Jack Daniel's for each of us. "Cheers," he said. Down the hatch. Little by little I told him my story, as he poured drinks for the people that were slowly coming in the doors. Another Heineken, another shot. Another Heineken, another shot. Another Heineken, another...
It was a lot of fun, and certainly one of the better times I've had drinking at a bar.
There came a point, however when I realized that I was past that line of feeling good when I went to sleep. I cannot handle alcohol extremely well, and this I know. I stopped worrying about sleeping, and instead about doing whatever I could do to keep myself from vomiting all of the liquid fun out of myself with enough force to pop all the blood vessels in my eyelids. The good thing about Greece, is that they always serve a glass of water with your drink, no matter what it is...so I had been drinking water consistently. I stopped with the beer and worked on just taking in as much water as I could. Sotiris knew what I was up to, and kept my glass of water constantly filled. Around 2 am I decided that I should pop out to grab something to eat to slow down that Jack from absorbing into my system. I asked Sotiris if I could close up the tab, and he asked me to remind him how many drinks I had.
"Hmm, I think 4 Heinekens and however many-"
"4 Euros."
"What?! No no...not four Euros, please..."
He wouldn't take my money. I got wasted in a nice bar for 4 Euros. Incredible.
I wandered around the streets for a while, stumbling into a pizza place where I got a small cheese pizza and a big bottle of water. It was very very cold outside, and my drunken plan of using alcohol to numb the cold feeling didn't seem to be working that well. I had to be inside, so I went back to the bar and had another glass of water before saying goodnight. I asked Sotiris if he had any suggestions, but he lived very far away and I decided to try out the train station. The train station was pretty far away as well, and I had no idea if it would be open. On the way there though, I passed by the bar that I had been in earlier, and the bartender waved to me from inside. I went in to say hello and to ask if the train station would be open. I talked for a while with the all of the people who worked in the bar who were closing up shop, and they informed me that the train station was closed. I sobered up significantly as we talked, and they offered me a place to stay in one of the storage areas that the bar had nearby. They gave me a box with some food and a couple bottles of water and brought me over to my sleeping place. It was so nice to not be sleeping in the cold, and just as incredible that I had become sober enough to not puke all over their storage closet. I slept on a desk with my feet extended onto a stool, using my backpack as a pillow. I fell asleep very easily.

20 September 2009

Day 120

Meteora Panorama 4, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

27 Kilometers.
I woke up around 7:30 and had a light breakfast (homemade bread and marmalade, and eggs from their chickens) before saying my goodbyes. I walked up the hill to the church with the mother before heading on towards Kalambaka. The run was mostly downhill, and shorter than I had thought it would be. There was a cool breeze and I could see the rocks of Meteora sticking up like big molars miles in the distance.
When I got into Kalambaka I got some drinks (what do you think?) and called Giorgos my couchsurfing host. He picked me up in the middle of town and drove me a short distance to where I would be sleeping this night. His family ran a hotel in town, and I would be sleeping in a room. Very comfortable (If you ever go to Kalambaka by the way, you should stay in the Odysseon). I took a shower and spent the rest of the morning and the afternoon with Giorgos. We sat around the garden drinking tea and talking about travel until his brother came to take his shift and we went on a drive through the windy roads of Meteora. Usually when I am running on a windy road, I get angry when people drive at crazy speeds around the curves. Driving with Giorgos on those rocks definitely made me understand why they do it though. Lots of fun.
Meteora, by the way is another UNESCO world heritage site, and is an incredibly amazing place. The rocks jut up like towers and were shaped by more than a handful of years of water, wind, goats and hermit monks with spoons. There are swarms of monasteries and hermit dwellings built on top of and into these rocks. It is an incredibly majestic place, where the architecture seems as impossible and extraordinary as the nature upon which it is built.
I had lunch with Giorgos and in the early evening he dropped me off at some monasteries near the town that were built into the side of the rock. He told me how to get around a fence and where to find a secret trail and let me go. I followed his verbal treasure map exactly, and emerged from a tunnel of trees at the upper monastery. I climbed around the rocks in solitude for a while, enjoying the views before I noticed a staircase carved into the rock. It didn't seem to go anywhere but a big dimple in the rock, and it even stopped well before that. It took me some bravery to climb carefully along the rocks to reach this dimple that I was hoping was a very deep cave with a treasure inside (why else would someone carve a steps into the stone to get to it?). Some of those monks had to be incredibly fearless, and very good climbers to make this stuff. Anyways, I finally got into the cave, and was surpised to see that it was a little deeper than just a dimple. It went back far enough to where I couldn't see because of the dark, and couldn't see the goat poop that I was putting my hands in. I am so amazed at the places that mountain goats can go. No treasure, but a good little climb.
I went the hard way back to Kalambaka and spent the rest of the evening lounging around the town and the hotel. I watched tv by myself for probably the first time in months. It was a random episode of "LOST" with Greeks subtitles, and considering that I hadn't seen any of the episodes before or after, I was considerably lost. Somehow I still managed to be enthralled when some random twist that I didn't understand was revealed every 30 seconds.
I had some dinner and went out for a drink with Giorgos and his brother before going to bed. I didn't fall asleep quite as early as planned as a result of the flickering box above my bed, which was playing movies I would have never have bothered with back in the states.

19 September 2009

Day 119

Trygona, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

42 Kilometers.
Somehow with occasionally waking up to rearrange myself, I managed to stay in the car until almost 11 am. From there I went to a nearby bakery where I got some delicious spanakopita for breakfast. I spent some time in the town waking up, brushing my teeth in a public fountain, using the Internet, and seeing people I had seen the day before. I think it was around two or three pm when I finally made it out of town.
The first 15 km were all uphill, and I peaked the Katara right as a huge downpour hit. Turns out my Wikipedia information for the height of the pass was incorrect. According to the sign it was only a mile high.
I donned my trash bag and kept running down the hill as the rain fell off and on. It was mostly a light rain, and as the rain chilled my forearms the sensation brought me back to many good memories of running in the rain.
I got into the town of Panagia after about 30 km of running, and stopped in to see what I could see. It was 70 km from Metsovo to Kalambaka, and I had the option of either stopping in Panagia or doing another ten kilometers to Trygona. There wasn't much in the small village, and I ended up falling asleep for a short while near the church before heading over to a "place" to find something to eat. I use the word "place" because in the small villages here, the restaurants aren't really restaurants, they are kind of like a community center, a cafe, a bar, and a kitchen all in one. Anyways, there I got some food which might have had something to do with the head of a cow from what the guy was gesturing to me and had a good amount of bread and feta. I didn't think I was going to have much luck in this town, so I decided to head on to Trygona.
At this point, it was the early evening, and I was planning on walking the ten kilometers or so as my food settled. My legs were also not feeling incredibly fresh. I walked and walked, and as a light rain began to fall, I put my trash bag back on. A car or two stopped to give me a ride, and I had to wave them away. I really hate walking for this reason. People always think you want a ride, even if you aren't on their side of the road and walking with your thumb out. I guess it is nice of them.
Well, somewhere the sun began to set and some clouds began to form in the sky, and when I turned around to see a red mass of clouds, I decided that I should probably just toughen up and run a few more kilometers. I packed up my pants and jacket, and ran with my trash bag...it seemed like an eternity to Trygona, and it got dark along the way. It also started to thunder, and the rain was falling like crazy. I felt crazy. I was soaking wet, running in the dark, lightning was crashing down and cars were speeding by. I had no idea how far I was from Trygona (the town wasn't listed on my phone maps) and I had no place to sleep when I got there.
Eventually, I rounded a corner and saw the lights of the town. I smiled as I swept the floods of water from my face and stopped in the first (and only) "place" that I saw. I took off my trash bag, walked past the tables of villagers and ordered a bottle of water (like I hadn't had enough). I must have been a strange sight, and I just kind of sat there and looked down at myself. I was soaking wet. Once again I thought to myself, "what the f@#$ am I doing here?!" It seemed like everyone else in the place was thinking the same thing.
One of the tables tried to ask me where I was coming from, and if I was on a bicycle. Nope, no bicycle. I tried to show them the route on my shirt, but it was soaking wet and the black one isn't quite so clear. I took out my little laminated card and gave it a shot for the first time.
One of them goes off for a couple minutes.
I am sitting there looking (and feeling) dumb. Soaking wet.
One of them says: "Ok, come...schlafen."
I instantly feel ten times better.
The online translation made enough sense I guess. Thanks to my friend Nick for laying out that card for me...
Anyways, I got in the car, and we drove a few hundred meters to their house. The evening was spent getting over language barriers and getting rested in a wonderful home. The mother spoke German, as many people here do (a huge portion of the population went there for work in the mid twentieth century), so I primarily spoke with her. She showed me photos of her family, and matched the photos of children with her three grown daughters who were visiting from Athens. Whenever one of them wanted to know anything, they would call up a daughter or a friend who spoke English, and I would speak into the phone, and then pass it back for the translation. It was a lot of fun. I took a shower, and had a huge meal of homemade food (every time I thought I was done they would put more on my plate. "Essen!"). We watched Greece win in basketball over Turkey and last but not least, I fell asleep in a bed. Some good luck and good hospitality at the end of a very wet day.

18 September 2009

Day 118

To Metsovo 9, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

58.7 Kilometers.
I left Ioannina in the early afternoon with the goal of making it to Metsovo for the night. There wasn't really a good stop in between, and my map told me it was somewhere around 55 kilometers from Ioannina. This seemed manageable if I walked a little bit of it. It would be almost entirely uphill, along the "Katara Pass" to Kalambaka. "Katara" by the way, translates to "Cursed," and at 1,746 meters it is one of the highest in Greece.
I wasn't sure if there would be any stores in between, so I bought a roll of Oreos and a big bottle of water and decided to walk the first leg. I figured I could keep hydrated for a couple hours of walking, and then start running when I got to a reasonable distance. I walked for around two hours, and chipped 12 kilometers or so out of the run and all the Oreos out of the roll.
I ran straight for the next two hours or so along windy mountain roads. I had chosen the old road, by the way...the new one was more like a freeway and involved some serious several kilometer tunnels. There was nothing along this road, and as packets of cars slowly passed by in the oncoming lane and honked their horns, I could see the surprise in their faces. "What is this guy doing here?!" The road wound and wound, in mountains and valleys, miles from anything. If you get carsick, this road is like your worst nightmare.
Luckily there was a little village at the 40 km mark, and I stopped to get some Powerade before diving into the last hour or so of running. I was all excited to get into the last leg, but after only a couple steps my legs started feeling terrible. The road was a constant uphill, and after thirty minutes more I decided to stop and walk.
I walked, and walked, and walked. I walked until I got hungry. I hadn't eaten very much this day, and my stomach was starting to feel like it was eating itself. There was nothing between me and Metsovo except more kilometers, and the only way I would eat was if I got there. If I walked I would have to wait longer to eat, but my legs were too dead to run...and I was too hungry to run. I walked until I was about three kilometers away. When I could taste the town ahead, and then I started running.
Oh, I felt terrible...but there was bottles of chocolate milk waiting for me in Metsovo. After eating and drinking a little bit I felt human again and started wandering around the town with the hope of finding a place to sleep.
My mom gave me a call. It was her birthday. "Happy Birthday Mama! Yes, your son feels like death and has nowhere to sleep tonight, but Happy Birthday!" Haha, it wasn't quite like that, but I do feel sorry for making her worry!
Someone told me about a monastery that was down the hill, so I walked down there as it got dark to see if I could find some hospitality. It was a long walk on my tired legs, and when I got there an angry woman with a broom shooed me away. I didn't know angry women with brooms were allowed to live in monasteries. It was the evening time and tourists weren't allowed to come by after hours. As I tried to logic with her she started making barking sounds to tell me "I will send a dog on you." I didn't find a place to stay, and I had to make a huge hike back up the hill into town, but hearing an old woman make barking sounds while waving a straw broom made it all worth it.
I got some dinner at a kind of "fast food" Greek place, where I talked to the guy about what road I should take in the morning. He suggested the new road, because there wouldn't be wild dogs or bears and there would be people to help me. After resolving that speeding cars and several-kilometer-long tunnels were just as dangerous, we decided that I should take the old road. He suggested that I go to the police station to find a place to sleep, but I went to a bar instead.
There I got talking with the young bartender and some of his friends, and after much thinking we resolved that I would have to sleep in his car. He got me a sleeping bag and brought me out to the lot where it was parked. It was a tiny car, and when I saw it from the outside I though "This is going to be hell." It actually wasn't that bad, and after about 10 different positions I ended up finding one that was comfortable enough. I leaned the passenger seat back, and filled the cavity where your feet go level with the seat (with my backpack and assorted random stuff that was in the car). I slept with my head on this pile of stuff (near the glove compartment) and my legs in the back seat.
I didn't take a shower. I smell terrible. More pass and another small village on the way to Kalambaka. I have a couchsurfing host there at least.

17 September 2009

Day 117

Storefront me, Ioannina, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

25 Kilometers.
I slept a solid 10 hours and woke up after ten. By the time I got my things gathered together, it was after 11...at which point I walked over to the bakery to say goodbye to Kostas. He gave me some more baked goods before I left, and I walked the first couple kilometers to let my food settle and my laundry dry.
Despite the run being much shorter than average, I was still chased on one occasion by a pair of nasty looking dogs and was still incredibly tired coming through the last 8 kilometers.
When I got into Ioannina I wiped the dead bugs from my chest, put on my shirt and went into the first grocery store I came across. The cashier started talking to me very quickly in Greek, and it took me some time to explain where I was from and what I was doing and that I did not understand Greek. She seemed very interested in how wet my shirt was. Eventually a woman who was shopping in the store joined the conversation, and she asked me if I spoke German. Once again I communicated to a group of people through a language that was secondary (or quaternary) for both parties. The grocery store had a huge selection of cold chocolate milk. I went with the "Milko" this time, and added a bottle of water and a couple bananas to my basket.
From the grocery store I went to the nearest Internet cafe, which actually was an incredibly modern gaming facility with huge computer screens and fast connections. I updated my blog and spent some time sending out couchsurfing requests. I also printed out (and later laminated) a little note card that had my route on one side and a little explanation of my trip in Greek on the other. My friend Nick back in NY had laid it out in Photoshop for me, and the Greek was computer translated due to a lack of time on my part. It kind of makes sense though, according to a local.
Near nine pm I met my couchsurfing host Giota, who had been studying for an exam she had the following day. We met up with a couple friends and went out and had souvlaki together.
When we returned home, we spent a little while talking about which road I would take the following day. The road I have on my map meant 53 kilometers up a mountain to get to the town of Metsovo. I guess there is a new road that is supposedly better, but it does not appear on my map, or on Google maps yet (Google is supposed to know everything!). I guess we'll see what happens in the morning. Overall, another good day for rest and planning. I think some tough one coming up ahead.

16 September 2009

Day 116

33.4 Kilometers.
I woke up a little before 8 am, folded up the blanket and mattress and returned them to the cafe where I had gotten them. I used the bathroom and brushed my teeth, and walked a few hundred meters to wake up before setting out running into the foggy and brisk morning. "Feels like the fall" I thought to myself.
Very fortunately, I had established a place to stay in the small town of Zitsa with Kostas, who I met through couchsurfing. The run seemed long, and I was taunted through the last 8 km by (what looked like) chocolate milk containers which littered the road. I was chased once again for about 400 meters by a pair of very nasty looking dogs. This time I just maintained the same pace and looked forward, hoping that no biting would occur. Eventually they got bored and turned around, and I comfortably continued forward. When I finally got into Zitsa, I went right to the mini market and bought the brown carton that I had been seeing in the street. I couldn't read what it said, but common sense told me it was chocolate milk. I bought two, and opened the first one half expecting it to be goats milk or some strange concoction that would make me vomit. Those glorious brown bubbles proved my chocolate-milk-hypothesis however, and one glorious fact was made certain to me: chocolate milk exists in Greece.
As I stammered about in the street, I heard my name called out. It was Kostas. I headed over to the nearby bakery where he worked to meet him. I spent the afternoon talking to Kostas, watching him make cookies and asking him questions about preparing bread as he offered me all sorts of delicious things to eat.
Around two we went over to the place where I was staying, and I met Jack, an English guy who was also couchsurfing with Kostas (a guy who has been roaming Eastern Europe and the Middle East for around 15 months). We had a long lunch with Kostas, his mother, and his Grandmother...and I was given enormous amounts of incredible food. The day was spent eating vegetables from his family's garden, bread from his bakery, wine from his family's grapes, and feta cheese from his family's sheep.
After a long lunch, I took a shower and washed up my clothes, and took a nap for a couple hours. Around 8 we met Kostas again for more food and drinking...and around midnight I went to sleep again.
There is definitely something good going on in Zitsa, and Kostas knew all about it. I got the recovery that I much needed, and the food and friendship that encouraged me to keep on running through the crazy (and wonderful) place that is Greece.

Day 115

Me and my Bed, Vrosina, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

46 Kilometers.
Woke up on a bench in a port feeling fresh and ready to go. I always wake up feeling fresh and ready to go when I wake up on metal benches in ports in Greece. This day was going to be a big one, so instead of getting started right away I procrastinated by getting some food, washing up, going back to the Internet cafe, buying a SIM card, etc...until it was almost one o'clock.
From there I got myself set up and set off on the 41 km run to Raveni. I had to stop a couple times in the first couple minutes to resituate the bag of cookies that was making rustling sounds in my backpack. I bought them in case there was nothing in Raveni. Everyone knows that a couple cookies will save you from starving to death in Greek mountains.
About two hours into the run I started feeling pretty thirsty, and luckily came across a little mini market where I stopped to grab some water. I didn't know the Greek word for water. I had bought a little phrase book in the port, but I was too tired to get it out. I was to tired to put on my shirt. I just stumbled into this little store covered in sweat and started pointing like an idiot at my mouth. With sweat in my eyes, I was looking around trying to find a bottle of water. I finally found a case and reach down to grab a couple bottles. Before I could though, the guy said one word that I understood: "Ice." It sounded good to me, so I waited until he came back with a cold bottle of water and wrote down the price on a piece of paper. I paid, downed the liter and a half or so, and continued climbing the hill. I gained almost 700 meters of elevation this day.
As I got close to Raveni I found a little box with a ribbon tied around it lying perfectly in the middle of the road. I went over and grabbed it, hoping that it might be a box of diamonds or something that I could maybe use to barter for a place to stay. I excitedly opened it to find 7 old Smarties. Not quite what I was looking for. Despite what magical powers they might have possessed, I decided to not eat them.
A little bit closer to Raveni, as I was wiped out and my legs were completely drained, a gnarly looking dog ran over a mound of dry grass and started barking and chasing after me. It wasn't that big, and it had those nasty hanging nipples that wild dogs often have, which I was sure would make it run slower than me. I've ran past some nastier bitches, so I didn't think twice...I just kept running as it's barks followed close behind. All of a sudden though, the barks got louder and fiercer, and I turned around to see that it had been joined by a crazy looking friend about the size of a big German Shepard. Not quite as pretty as a German Shepard though, and it was showing fangs and making some pretty crazy barking, hissing, and growling sounds as saliva spewed from its mouth and it rushed towards me...the other dog following close behind. I have to admit, I was frightened. I picked up the pace and tried to not look back...but each time I did the nasty dog was a little bit closer to my leg and making some noises which (granted, I don't speak Greek Dog) meant "I want to eat you" to me. A truck approached, and I looked towards it with eyes that read "save me please"...I was ready to jump in the back, but as the truck honked its horn a couple times, the dogs calmed down and went back home. My heart also calmed down, and I continued on to try to find a home of my own.
When I got into Raveni, a man and his wife were working in the garden, and they said some sort of greeting to me. I said one word that I knew that they would understand: "Supermarket?"...and they just laughed. There is no supermarket in Raveni. There is not a store. There is not a cafe. All there was was me and a few handfuls of people that couldn't speak my language.
I helped the guy move some buckets of dirt, and he brought me over to a friend of his who lived nearby. He asked the older gentleman if he spoke any English (I could gather this much), and the man responded to me with a "Sprachst du Deutsch?" I sure did speak a little bit of German, and I spent a few minutes explaining to the man why I was there and what I was looking for. He relayed the information to his friend, and I spent an hour or so sitting down answering questions and asking some of my own as they brought me some plates of Greek food, yogurt, water, beer, figs, baklava, and some kind of rose flavored gummy candy. They said that there was nowhere to sleep in the town, but that I should continue on about 5 km to the next town, where I would more likely find something. The town they named did not exist on my map, but I started walking that way anyways, figuring that I had enough food to last the night if I ended up on a road in the middle of nowhere.
Sure enough, Vrosina did exist, and I went into the one street town with high hopes. There was a little bakery and a couple cafe type places, but not much else. The town could be passed through in about two minutes of walking.
I talked to a girl that looked about 20, assuming that she would likely speak some English. She didn't. She was also not very patient with my hand signals. She definitely would not help me out with a place to sleep. I asked her if there was someone in the town that spoke English. She pointed to one of the little restaurant things, and I went there. The woman who was working the place didn't speak any English, so I just got a plate of rice with some meat and sat down to eat. After a while, another young woman came in, and I asked her if she spoke any English. She did, and like many of the people who I encountered, seemed a little bit bothered by my presence. She told me that there was probably a hotel in a town about ten kilometers away, and I asked her if she could help me with anywhere to sleep in Vrosina. "The church or something like that?" I said. She said that I could sleep in the church, and I later realized that she meant that I could sleep outside under the cover of the roof of the old church. She went away for a couple minutes and came back with a blanket and an old mattress pad, and showed me back to the church where I set up my bed to go to sleep. It had gotten dark, but there was a little bit of light shining on where I would sleep. I wiped off some of the cobwebs and dead insects from the mattress pad, set up my backpack as a pillow and worked on falling asleep.
Apart from the dogs of the down, which barked and snarled and made sounds like they were devouring each other and small goats and children all night, I had a pretty comfortable night of sleep, and wasn't bothered by anyone. "Greece is going to be crazy," I thought to myself as I fell asleep.

14 September 2009

Day 114

Ciao Italia, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

4 km + (373 km)
Woke up for the last time in Italy, ate breakfast for the last time in Italy...and got dropped off at the train station where I was picked up the day before. From there it was an easy 4 km run to the ferry terminal. I got on board and was rather surprised at how nice the boat was. There were cushioned chairs and flat screen TVs (playing programs in Greek, and occasionally ancient US TV series with Greek subtitles. I even saw Jon Stewart doing some nineties acting on "The Nanny").
Anyways. The boat ride was around 9 hours long and nothing that eventful happened except for the fact that it ended with my being in Greece. I: walked around the boat decks while looking at my GPS to see where we were and what I was looking at. Slept for long periods of time in different chairs. Listened to my music for the first time since "Lodi." Ate some Greekish food from the boat cafeteria. Spent over an our taking the case off of my phone so that I could clean it off and change the SIM when I got to shore (the zipper had long been glued shut by my sweat grime). Got my first experiences hearing many people speaking Greek to each other...sure enough, it "all sounds Greek to me."
In the port I grabbed a quick snack and went over to the tourism office (which was open late) to ask some questions and see if I could find a place to stay. Nothing quite worked out, so I walked towards town to see if I could make something else happen. Along the way I found a bar/Internet point and went in to see if a couchsurfer in Igoumenitsa had replied to me. No response, but I used the time to get caught up on my blog and respond to some emails. Before I noticed, it was late and I was in Greece with nowhere to sleep. With the next day would come a 40 km trip through the mountains to a small village, so it would be nice to get some rest.
The guy working the bar seemed pretty nice, and he spoke good English, so I sat myself down and ordered a Coke. Again, before this trip I never drank Coke...and I still don't like to...but this one was delicious. I was getting hungry, and was ready to eat some good Greek food. Despite how much I loved Italy, I was ready to be out of the place. After 53 days of eating only Italian food every single day, you start to crave a little variation in your diet. I asked the bartender if there was anything to eat nearby, and he asked me what I wanted to have.
"Anything but another plate of pasta or pizz-"
"We have...pizza. You want a pizza?"
"Yeah, fine...I guess."
I had a pizza for dinner on my first day in Greece. I spent the night talking to the bartender Thomas, learning a couple words of Greek and telling him the story of my trip. It got to where it was too late to head into town and try to approach strangers, so I asked the bartender if he had any solutions. He lived with his whole family, so he couldn't help me out (I guess Greeks have that problem too)...but he charged my phone as he thought of possible solutions. Nothing ended up coming except for more phone battery, and around 1 am the place closed up and I said goodbye. Thomas gave me a trash bag to help with the forecasted rain of the coming day, and I headed back to the ferry terminal to get a decent night of sleep on a metal row of seats. Luckily the kind without armrests.

13 September 2009

Day 113

Last Real Run in Italy!, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

39 Kilometers.
Around 11 am I got up and started preparing for my run. I got some junk food from the train station cafe for "brunch" and changed my clothes in the station bathroom. I have felt more fresh on runs...but this was my last real run in Italy, so I definitely enjoyed it. I was feeling pretty crazy about being so close to the end of Italy. Hence the above photo.
When I got into Brindisi I was wiped out. I wandered around for a while and called Frederica, a cousin of Sasa, who I stayed with back in Parma. Her dad picked me up near the train station and we went over to a tourism agency where I booked my ticket to Greece for the morning.
I took a well needed shower and washed all my stuff, wearing just my track pants and jacket around for the rest of the night. In the evening we went out to their place on the ocean to hang out for a little while before coming back for dinner. Around 11 I went out with Frederica and a couple of her friends around Ostuni. There was a town festival going on, and I got to see my last cheesy Italian line dancing before we went and had a drink at a pub near the center. Around 1 am I went to sleep...in a very comfortable bed. I slept like a rock.

Day 112

Wedding Party, Ostuni, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

35 Kilometers.
I slept late and spent a long time in the morning and early afternoon working on the computer in an ancient and overly priced Internet cafe. It was after 2 pm when I ran out of Alberobello, and the run to Ostuni went by surprisingly quickly and smoothly. As I passed by a gas station somewhere along the way the old man that was attending the station shouted to ask if I needed any more gas. Sometimes I feel like a car.
Ostuni is famous for being composed of mainly white buildings, and I guess for this reason there were a lot of tourists there. I spoke with a lot of people this night, eventually in the late evening I came across some athletic group stretching along the road. I figured I would give it a shot, so I told them my story. No dice, but they suggested that I ask some guy at some bar in some general direction that they knew. I headed over that way, and ended up stumbling upon a fairly happening swanky bar. I went in and immediately felt awesome. The place had a very classy atmosphere and, well, you know my outfit selection. I ordered a beer and went outside and sat down. Before long I was in conversation with an American that was in Ostuni for a wedding party. Everyone was drinking and having fun, and I got invited to eat dinner with them. We went to a restaurant and had some drinks, and I definitely crashed the pre-pre-wedding dinner. It was a lot of fun, and there were about 20 people in the group who came from all over the world and spoke English. They were all staying in hotels so I wasn't really expecting to find a place to stay through them. This night was about enjoying myself...the next day I would run to my last town in Italy.
We ate and talked and I had a great time with a very fun group of people. We bounced over to another bar where I had some more drinks, and around 3 am everyone headed back to their hotels, and I was left to find somewhere to sleep.
I talked to all the people who worked in the bar, and got one offer from a guy who lived in a town far away. I would have to take a bus and a train back in the morning, so I decided to just rough it for the night. I started following the signs to the train station...which I didn't really realize was about 3 km out of town. As I wandered alone, slightly intoxicated along a long Italian road at 3 in the morning, I thought to myself "where the f@#$ am I?!" This is a question I ask to myself frequently...to which I always just answer with a smile and some inwards laughter.
Slept on a train station bench sitting upright. Around 5 I switched to another bench when people started bustling around me. Around 6 I switched to a bench across the street, moving occasionally to be less in the wind (or more in the sun as it came up). Not the best kind of sleep for an upcoming long run, but hey whatever. Being a university athlete and architecture student definitely prepared me for this kind of life.

11 September 2009

Day 111

Alberobello Light, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

29 Kilometers.
At 7 am Marco's alarm went off, and I woke up in a foggy car with some cramped legs. We simultaneously stepped out into the cold morning air stretched out. Marco and Gianluca resolved that sleeping in the car was not the most comfortable solution, and we drove to a nearby cafe to grab a pastry before heading back to Gioia where they dropped me off at the same place they found me.
I was still incredibly tired, cold, smelly and unshaven and didn't feel much like running. I stumbled over to the train station and went into the waiting room where I slept sitting upright for a couple more hours. Around 10 am the station attendant came in and woke me up.
"Where are you going?"
I got up and went back into town. I felt a little bit more rested, but still thought that it would be a good idea to shower and shave before heading out of town. I got a bite to eat, and after talking with a few people, a woman who ran a bed and breakfast let me in to have a shower and a shave in one of the rooms that hadn't yet been cleaned. It was glorious, and I emerged from the bathroom feeling many times more like a slightly respectable human being. I packed up my smelly clothes and got started on the easy run to Alberobello.
I had seen a picture of the town before, and knew that I was getting close by an increased number of "Trulli," an iconic type of architecture with a coned roof made of stone.
Alberobello is another UNESCO site, and I spent the late afternoon going through the town, walking in and out of various Trulli.
I went to the tourism office to see if they could help me out with a place to stay. I gave them some time to think, and around 8 pm the two girls working the office said that the best thing they could think of was going to the church and giving it a try.
It hadn't worked many times in the past, but around 8:30 I went over to the church and told my story. Before I could finish, a phone call was made and I had a place to sleep and a shower in a nearby church building. The guy who was living in the building made me an huge dinner, and I slept in some sort of classroom/bedroom that was painted with murals from Disney movies.
Next stop Ostuni. Then Brindisi. Then Greece.

Day 110

Pool, Gioia, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

34.1 Kilometers.
Francesco had left early for work and I slept until almost 10 am. When I left the apartment it was almost 11. I found an Internet cafe and worked for a little bit, but before I could get much done they closed for lunch (which in this part of the world is a three to four hour endeavor).
I went to a sandwich shop and got some breakfast/lunch, and before I left I made a ghetto package for the remainder of my Nesquik powder out of some of the paper used to wrap up sandwiches. It didn't make much sense to run with a giant yellow plastic jar.
The run to Gioia del Colle was beautiful, straightforward and flat. There was nothing but fields, and the last 10 km were on a narrow side road through some very pretty farms.
I felt good.
When I got into Gioia del Colle, I was very thirsty. There were no fountains during the run, and I was pretty happy to find an open supermarket right when I got into town. With four Euros I bought two apples, a liter of some tropical fruit juice, a liter of fresh milk and a six pack of cheap popsicles. I sat outside and mixed up a delicious bottle of chocolate milk with the remainder of my powder and proceeded to work my way through an apple and 5 and a half popsicles (they were small).
I spent the rest of the daylight hours wandering around town. There was an "Oktoberfest" party getting set up in a little piazza, and I walked past a Jazz club that would be open later in the evening, so I figured my night couldn't end that badly.
Around 8 pm the Oktoberfest crew started trying to draw a crowd: there were two people on stilts and a third guy who had a game where you needed to catch a broomstick. If you won, you got a free beer. I (like everyone else) did not win.
As the Oktoberfest started pulling in more people, I decided to check out the Jazz club to see if there was any good music going on (or some laid back people who wouldn't mind giving me a place to sleep). There wasn't any live music this night, but before I could leave I got sucked in to sitting down and having dinner at the restaurant. I was hungry and had a good and slow meal. There were a lot of young people working in the bar who kept coming over and asking me questions about my trip. When I finished my meal, I went over to talk to one of the guys from the restaurant who was sitting with two guys around my age. As we talked, to more of their friends came over and we decided to go play some billiards. One of the friends said that she had a room I could sleep in with a shower, so the rest of the night was pretty laid back. We went to a pool hall, and around 1 am we headed to a nearby town where they were all from. It was at this point that the friend with the key remembered that she had left the key to this room with her uncle and that it was now too late to call. We sat down at a cafe for a while before resolving that I would have to sleep in the car for the night. I drove around with Marco and Gianluca for a while, occasionally dropping someone off or picking someone else up. Right when I started getting incredibly tired, we pulled the car over and they threw back their seats and said goodnight.
I was confused for a minute:
"What are you guys doing?" (they are in the front two seats, I am in the back)
"Going to sleep."
"Why don't you go to sleep in your beds and leave me in the car?"
"We feel bad you have to sleep in the car."
"But...you have to work tomorrow morning. If you sleep in the car as well it will be more uncomfortable for all of us."
"Don't worry about it."
At this point it was after 3 am, and we had to be up at 7 so that Marco could go to work. I stopped worrying about it and started worrying about how much it sucked to not be able to straighten my legs. I guess all the worrying made me tired though, and I was asleep before too long.

Day 109

Matera 5, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

37 Kilometers.
I locked up the place I was staying and dropped off the key at the cafe before getting a bite to eat and heading out of town. The ankle problem seemed to have calmed down, and was most likely due to a twist the day before and some inflammation that hadn't had time to calm back down. I was able to run continuously to Matera without any problems (with the exception of one very desperate water stop 7 km out).
When I got into town, I was hungry and thirsty and in some serious need of chocolate milk. All the supermarkets were closed, so I stopped in the first cafe I came across that was open. Not only did it have little (200 ml) boxes of Nesquik (I normally buy the three pack and drink it all), but it also had a half sized container of the powder for sale. I went with the more economical option and bought the powder. A calzone, a plate of tomatoes and cucumber and two liters of extremely chocolaty milk made me feel much less hungry.
On the way into the historic part of town, I called Gino who I had contacted through couchsurfing. I wasn't really sure if he could host me, but we planned on meeting around 6:30 to find out.
Until then, I wandered around what Matera is famous for: the Sassi. Homes and churches carved into or built from the rock of the mountainside. It is a pretty amazing place...and while I haven't seen the movie, I guess it is where "Passion of the Christ" was filmed. Many of these cave dwellings were occupied until the 1950s, but now many are abandoned. While some of them were full of trash and in general pretty grungy, there was no shortage of places for me to sleep if I ended up on the street at the end of the night. Matera is like homeless dude heaven.
While the "Sassi" part of Matera (another UNESCO site) includes the buildings that are built from tuffa blocks, I was much more interested in those that were carved into the stone. When you are carving your house out of a mountain, it isn't quite the same as drawing out a plan on a piece of paper and then making it real. Instead, you are sitting there with your spoon or whatever (I'm sure it is not a spoon, but that is what I like to imagine) carving away at a wall. Because of this, the layout is much more organic and everything generally branches from the main portal. Every shelf and square inch becomes important when you are digging it out by hand. When you build a wall, you define an interior space by construction of the exterior. When you "build" a cave, you define an interior space by deconstruction of the interior.
When 6:30 rolled around I met up with Gino at the fair-trade market he worked at and he informed me that while he couldn't host me, I could take a shower at his place and he could find someone that could. Both of those things ended up being true, and I ended up having a place to stay with Francesco, a friend of his who had a spare bed. I did end up spending the night in the Sassi, but in a renovated apartment in the historic part of town. Significantly more comfortable than sleeping in a cave.

10 September 2009

Day 108

Run to Grassano 12, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

47 Kilometers.
In the morning I gathered up my things, locked up my little room and went over to the cafe to drop off the key with Rosellina. I bought a delicious sandwich from her and then a little package of wafer cookies to bring with me on the run. It was going to be another long one and considering the fact that my clothes were still wet, my legs felt like garbage and my ankle felt like it was sprained, I would be walking a little bit. To avoid taking the freeway I would also be taking a mountain road that didn't exist on my cellphone maps.
I walked the first 10 km. I followed another set of long switchback roads down to the valley with my damp clothes hanging off of my arms. I ate the bag of wafer cookies and spoke loud nonsense to myself as I walked. After a pretty long time of walking, I packed up my things and used a bit of my emergency toilet paper before setting out running. I don't know if I twisted my ankle the day before, or if it was just the high mileage, but my ankle was really bothering me. It didn't help that the second 10 kilometers of my run were entirely uphill. When I finally peaked the hill after 10 km of uphill running with some 18 percent grades my ankle was pretty irritated, and I decided to walk once more. Once again, the part that I walked was entirely downhill...but this time through a beautiful dirt forest/country road that I would have loved to be running on. Once again I occupied myself by whistling and gibbering nonsense for a couple hours.
When I got out of the woods, down the hill and about ten kilometers from Grassano I was starving. I only had 1.20 £ on me, and there wasn't much of an option for stores, but I settled for a bottle of water and some form of giant Hostess-type snack that I knew I would regret (but the only thing I had enough cash to buy). I ate and drank and started running, and once more my run ended on a giant hill. In this part of the world they just love building their towns on the top of the hill rather than in the valley. Great for views, rough for running. The hill was tough, and my ankle was bothering me, but the largest problem was definitely the constant feeling that I needed to vomit due to the large quantity of disgusting artificial cake in my stomach. Made it through though, and when I got into Grassano I started checking off things I needed to do from my list:
Get cash from ATM.
Get and take Ibuprofen (hoping to reduce the inflammation before the next run).
Get food.
Get place to shower and sleep.
The first three were easy, but the last one required a lot of walking back and forth on the main street while being constantly uncomfortably chilly (as soon as September hit, it started becoming more cool during the day, and freaking cold during the nights).
When I was getting tired I went into a cafe and ordered a Coca Cola. As I drank from a bendy straw and a glass bottle, the bartender asked me "why are you here?"
From that point came the story that I am so familiar with telling, and from there came a crowd of young people who wanted to help me out. One of them (Francesco) had spare room/studio thing that didn't have any electricity, and he offered to let me sleep there. Before going to bed I went to another apartment where I took a cold shower (no hot water) and washed my stuff. Francesco dropped me off and left me the key...and I had a long night of sleep.

09 September 2009

Day 107

Castelmezzano 6, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

47.0 Kilometers.
I left Potenza with storm clouds in the sky and a cool breeze blowing. It was going to be a long trip to Castelmezzano, but I was feeling fresh and ready to go. Once again, the day was filled with switchback roads, absurdly long climbs and amazing views. I stopped around 23 km to fill up (my stomach) on water and to eat the granola bar that Lieze had given me. It was a short break, and I went straight into the second half of the run feeling fresh and ready to go. 47 kilometers is a long ways, and the last 10 km were up one of the most insane hills I have done. Despite how tired I was, I somehow forced myself to keep running. At times the hill was so difficult that my stride was hardly the length of my foot. By the time I neared the top of the hill I was making the muffled sounds of a dying cow. I felt pretty pitiful...but considering the situation, deservedly so.
Castelmezzano was a beautiful sight. Built into the rocks of the Dolomiti Lucane, it follows the natural forms of the mountain and seems grappled to the towering rocks which lay behind. When I came into the city, one of the first things I noticed was a screaming man flying far over my head. He flew almost a mile from one peak to another, high above the valley below. Had I not already known what was going on, I probably would have been pretty surprised. This was the famous "Volo dell'Angelo": a massive zip line from one peak to another which allows people to "fly like an angel." It looked pretty amazing, and I went into the tourism office to see if I could give it a go. It ended up being 38 Euro, which I couldn't really rationalize. As I decided to hold off on shelling out around 60 bucks until the next time I found myself in Castelmezzano, the woman told me they were sold out anyway.
I spent the rest of the day climbing around the rocks above the town and sitting down to enjoy the views and give my legs a rest. There is a staircase that was cut in the rock by the Templars, and pretty much all of the rocks offer some nice view or another. The whole day I wandered around, every couple of minutes seeing some screaming person fly far above my head. I was definitely a bit jealous.
My legs felt terrible from the run, and every time I would get up from sitting down it felt like walking would be impossible. One step after another though, I managed.
I spoke to a lot of people about finding a place to stay, and wasn't coming up with any solutions. The cold mountain air was starting to worry me...sleeping outside would not be an option. I also checked my wallet (a ziploc bag) to see that I only had around 7 Euros. There was no bank in the town, and I laughed when I thought about how much it would suck if the next town also didn't have an ATM.
At the end of the night, Rosellina who ran one of the two bar/cafes in the center of town talked with her husband Antonio and they offered me a place to stay in a spare room/studio thing they had. There was no shower, but I wasn't about to complain. I wouldn't freeze to death, and that was what mattered.
Before going to bed, I spent some time hanging out with a huge group of locals in the town center...they were playing instruments and singing drunken songs, and I had a little bit of their sweet locally brewed wine.
Around midnight I went back to my little room and gave myself a sink/wet-cloth shower and rinsed off my clothes before going to sleep.

07 September 2009

Day 106

Potenza Fireworks, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

I woke up in the morning all ready to run. I spent a long time getting caught up on my computer work, and before I knew it it was the afternoon. One problem: I wasn't sure where I was running to.
I spent some time punching in some walking directions into Google maps, putting in the towns that Lieze and Fabio had suggested that I see. I ended up coming up with a (I hope) more interesting route than I had before. Instead of running towards Bari and following the coast, I decided to stick to the mountain villages which seemed to have more potential for architectural charm.
It was after three o'clock when I searched the road from Potenza to Castelmezzano on my phone. It was close to 50 km...not the 37 that Google Maps had given me. I spent some time realizing that the complex mountain trails that were on the Google system were not on my phone, and that there was no way I would be able to navigate them if it got dark while I was running. 50 km was also a bit much to start at around 4 in the afternoon.
I spent some time pondering this dilemma, and Lieze came up with a good solution: stay in Potenza for the night and leave for Castelmezzano in the morning. I agreed, and spent the rest of the afternoon working on planning some of my stages in Greece and thinking about how I am going to survive there. I am going to try to get a little piece of paper printed out that says who I am, what I am doing, and what I am looking for in Greek. While shoving a laminated card in people's faces will definitely make me look like a mute beggar, it is the best solution I can come up with. If you happen to be fluent in Greek and wouldn't mind doing some translation editing of a few sentence description, please send me an e-mail at run@ryanlukejohns.com
Anyways, around 8 we drove up to a big hill on the edge of town where there was a fireworks competition, and we spent the night watching some of the biggest fireworks in southern Italy. It was a much needed day for rest and planning...some things I can never seem to get quite enough of.

05 September 2009

Day 105

Run to Potenza 4, originally uploaded by Ryan Runs Europe.

41.6 Kilometers.
Another very hilly run. The central part of Italy is very mountainous, and once again my run carried me along beautiful windy mountain roads, over streams and through villages. I didn't follow one road the entire way, but switched many times, cutting through alleys that ended up becoming mountain roads. I couldn't imagine a car passing through some of these roads, and was happy to see that my phone knew about them...despite the fact that this course meant that I had to stop every couple of kilometers to look at the map again.
I don't know if it was because I took things very easy, or if it was because I was finally breaking into my new shoes (maybe an explanation of the pain), but I didn't have too much of a problem running this day. I kept a continuous run except for a couple quick stops at water fountains and one stop to get some Gatorade and a banana in a grocery store in the town of Tito (last chance until Potenza).
I got into Potenza around three and just kind of wandered around for a while. My route had changed slightly to bring me here (having gone further south past Napoli to see Pompeii and Amalfi), and I had already figured out a place to stay. I was staying with Lieze and her boyfriend Fabio, and the story of how I met them is one of the longest ranging connections that I have had. I had stayed with Simonne and Joost on day 9 in Kalmthout, Belgium and on day 16 I had stayed with their relatives Lut and Philippe in Kortrijk. There, I spoke with their daughter Lieze on the telephone. She was living in Italy, and I was running there, so it was nice to talk. Now, 89 days and a couple thousand kilometers later I was in Potenza. That just seems crazy to me.
I met up with Fabio around 5, and I had a shower and put my clothes in the washing machine. I had an interesting conversation with Fabio about eliterature and Proce55ing before Lieze came home from work around 8 and we set off to dinner. I had a delicious dinner, tagliata with arugula and Parmesan in a restaurant that overlooked Potenza. It had been a long time since I had eaten a good piece of red meat, and I felt like shedding tears of joy with every bite.
Before I went to bed, Lieze and Fabio introduced me to some nearby cities that would be very interesting to visit, and I had to think about possibly changing my route once more.

Day 104

33 Kilometers.
In the morning I gathered my laundry that was still damp, said goodbye to Domenico and climbed up the hill to the edge of town in the direction I needed to go. I was hungry, but the only thing I could find that was open was the pastry shop, so I had two croissants with Nutella for breakfast (very healthy food). There was a little shop that had a computer in it, and the computer had a piece of paper taped to it that said "Internet Point," so I stopped in to try to do some of the work that I hadn't gotten done on the incredibly slow computer the day before. This computer wasn't much better, but it had a program installed that made a virtual cat walk back and forth across the bottom of screen, so at least I had that as I waited for pages to load.
I had a 35 cent piece of plain bread from the bakery (still the only place with food) before suiting up and heading out (I have a pretty regular routine of putting on sunblock, wrapping my coins up in paper to prevent jingling and properly orienting a shirt between me and my backpack to prevent chafing).
Once again the run was hilly and windy, and I made it about 15 km before the pain set in again. I managed to keep pushing for another 12 km or so before deciding to hike the last 6 km up to Caggiano. As I could see from 10 km away or more, Caggiano is built up onto a rock, and it was a pretty serious uphill to get there. I think I decided to walk for three reasons: One, the pain in my leg. Two, the desire to run a little bit less so that the next day I might have a little less pain in my leg. Three, the fact that the hill was enormous and steep and I was feeling particularly weenie.
When I finally got into Caggiano, I was hungry, tired an thirsty. I drank some water from a fountain and went into a bar to find something to eat. "All out" the guy said (as I looked around, I could see he wasn't lying...the place was empty). He informed me that the grocery store was shut and that there weren't any restaurants in town. "Hahaha" I laughed in the face of potential starvation.
I hiked up to the top of the town (and the historical center) to see if I could find something to eat. The place was empty, and it seemed like at least 60 percent of the population were incredibly old women with head shawls and canes. The town had a beautiful feel though, and I wandered by some amazing old "castles" and churches. On the upper edge of town (a cliff) there is a little Templar church that has no roof. The steps which lead to it are cut into stone, and while you cannot enter it, the view from this part of town is incredible. I sat down for a while and tried to take it all in. Just amazing.
Eventually, I went back towards the newer part of town, where I discovered a little general store that I hadn't seen before. I stopped in and got a couple apples and a boxed chocolate milk (an amazing find in a tiny Italian general store), and as the woman who ran the place made me a little sandwich, we got to talking about why I was there. Before she finished, she told me to come with her, and brought me outside to tell my story to all of her friends. "This guy walked here from Amsterdam!" (People often use the word for "walking" instead of the word for "running." It is always slightly harsh to hear, like when you get back from a track workout and someone asks if you had a nice time "jogging").
Anyways, I told a little group of people about what I was doing, and one woman (Nicolina) brought up the inevitable question: "But where do you sleep?" I explained that I normally sleep with hosts, to which she asked the follow up question: "Who is hosting you here in Caggiano?" I told her that I didn't have a clue, and she in turn offered to let me stay with her. With those words, a huge weight was lifted off my back and with the biggest of grins I said: "Really? Really?!" Nicolina confirmed that I hadn't misheard her, and I thanked her a thousand times with a very sincere "Grazie Mille."
I ate my sandwich as we talked for a while, and as a group began to gather around, I set out with Nicolina to her mother's house where I met her mother and her daughter and played fetch with a couple dogs. They were preparing tomato sauce in a giant metal pot over a wood fire, and her mom (82, I think) was working at peeling some vegetables. There were peppers drying under the sun and bunches of garlic hanging from the roof. It was easy to see that they took their time preparing their food the traditional way.
From her mother's house we headed back into the historic center of town with her daughter Alessandra, where they lived during the summers. Nicolina showed me around all of the abandoned places in the town center. The closed door that used to be her father's barber shop, the location of the old pharmacy and the old general store. The curch, the place where the people of the town met, and the place where she played when she was a child. Now it was empty, and there were only a couple old men sitting outside holding their guard. There wasn't enough work in the town, and many people had gone north to find a better life. It was a shame to see such a wonderful way of life disappearing.
Their home is in this beautiful old part of the city, and I took a shower there and washed my clothes before we drove out of town to get some dinner at the nearest restaurant. I had (rather fittingly, they pointed out) the "Vagabond" pizza, which was basically a mixture of everything that I would need to move on to the next town.
Before heading to bed, we sat around outside a bar and had a drink with some of their friends. Everyone in the town knew everyone, and the atmosphere of the place was wonderful. It was good to be part of it for a night, and it was a good inspiration for me to keep on going.