Holidays snafu

And, I’m back from vacations, (for some time already). To prove that, I have pictures of everywhere I went, finally on the web (so people who were there too and forgot to take a camera can stop chasing me with a fork thank you). The vacations were as always totally messed up and all the very little planning that I did, has failed. But that’s the fun in going for vacations. So starting chronologically (or picturogically) first was:

GUADEC 07 in Birmigham, UK, this was actually before vacations, and long ago, but I didn’t have time to put any pictures online before now.

Next was a paragliding camp near Liptovsky Mikulas, Slovakia that I didn’t actually want to go to but was tricked into it by somebody’s evil tricks. I was going to go flying for a week in September, to a totally different place, but a friend called me and said I absolutely had to change the plans and go with her on the beginning of August (which was in three days from the phonecall) because she had already booked a place for her there and also booked the hardware and stuff, and I said ok. The only problem was she was in Italy at that time and had a ticket back to Poland for the same day when the rest of the group was leaving for Slovakia in a van, just they were leaving in the morning and she was arriving in the afternoon. So we settled on taking a train the next day. Ironically when she finally arrived it turned out that the baggage of everyone on this flight had not arrived with them, instead the baggage from a flight with a completely different destination, arrived here and the flight operator, Norwegian Air, said it would take them up to a week to find someone who knows how to hold a map and get the right baggage to the right airport. So, having already booked all the stuff I went to Slovakia alone on the next day to meet the rest of the group, most of whom I had been travelling with before. Unfortunately at some 6 am on the train, in some village still before Slovakian border and being the only person in the wagon I had an encounter with three individuals that robbed me of a lot of things that I would rather not get robbed of, like a phone and a wallet with more money than I normally use to carry. They were nice enough to give me back all the coins from the wallet and the pictures of my exgirlfriend that turned out to still sit in there. The use of violence was limited to accidentally breaking my headphones while one of the three guys started to perform monkey acrobatics on the metal bars often forming part of passenger wagon interiors (I must admit they also stimulate my own monkey instinct but there are usually people watching and also I’m not usually on drugs like these three guys). He accidentally hit my headphones with one shoe while also hitting one of his fellow thieves in the head so hard that he (the owner of the head) started to bleed, but fortunately this fact didn’t worry him much. The railway staff who I contacted soon and the police who they contacted after waiting some ten minutes for the 112 to answer, were useless, but I guess nobody expected anything else of them. I had all the documents and the train ticket still with me so I didn’t have any problems with going further on the journey except lots of wondering about what I could do to recover the phone and the money and not get hurt, accompanied by general hating the whole world (which I permit myself to do because I’m still a kid).

The first day of flying was quite good but the following six days it rained all afternoons and the conditions were rather poor also in the morning. Still, I’m glad I visited the places known by all gliders and also I had not done any thermal flights in the mountains before (as opposed to thermals generated by seas), and Mikulas is just in the center of Tatra mountains. The air is definitely more turbulent in the mountains but the lifts also don’t end at the height of the top of the nearest mountain, they’re often a couple of kilometers high. Another nice thing is we used the chairlifts that are used by skiers and snowboarders in the winter to get to the launch sites, so there was no need for one person (known as the shuttle bunny) to always stay on earth and drive the van to the landing spot. I also finally saw the Chopok mountain that I’ve heard a lot about from skiers but never skied there myself (but this was in the summer and the place was full of hikers and downhill bike riders now, who in the first moment looked at us like we were a suicide group).

When I came home I found out that the workcamp in Serbia for which I was trying to book a place earlier, was already full and the voluntary service association assigned me a place for me on a different project, which started on the next day after I arrived from Slovakia. I have never been to Serbia before and also the event seemed quite interesting, it was going to be making mountain paths and some cleaning and also helping out with some local music festival. Instead I went to the south of France to a camp that started a week earlier than I planned and was about renovating a sanctuary called Notre-Dame-de-Livron, the nearest village being Caylus. Pictures are here. It was absolutely the greatest experience of this summer, like all other workcamps that I went to. The group had 14 people and we were there for three weeks basically, after the work, having a non-stop party, visiting the region (called Tarn-et-Garonne, and its neighbour Aveyron and Rouergue) and also generally making idiots of ourselves in the eyes of the local villagers none of us speaking much French. It turned out though that maybe half of the population there spoke Spanish or Catalan to some degree because this was quite close to the spanish border. Also the nuns of the Carmelite order, that is the owner of the sanctuary, were mostly Spanish emigrants from the time of civil war, so we had no real communication issues there (worth noting that our group ranged from muslims to shintoists, and the nuns had no problem with that). As on other workcamps, I have tried a number of things that I had never done before in my life, some of them perhaps embarassing, but all of the camp was rather crazy and far too many fun things happened to relate here.

After the camp I had three days before a plane from Toulouse would take me home so I went on a short hitch-hiking trip around Rouergue region which is full of medieval castles and also the regular towns there in a big part are unchanged (architecturally) since centuries ago and are always constantly amazing people like me that only have a chance to see the south of Europe during vacations. I slept in random places (a la belle etoile) and hunted for free food in the cities and almost spent no money other than entrance fees for musea, which is what I call the real vacations. Moving around was rather easy, although hitch-hiking always involves hours of walking with all your things on your back and lots of other annoyances, too. The car drivers sometimes were very helpful to the extent of stopping in a town only to show me the place and let me snap pictures and some of them even did a good job at being a touristic guide (like the person who showed me Cordes), except for my piss poor French.

I think part of the route I made is called Rue-des-Bastides, which means something like the route of medieval towns (not sure). Very recommended.

Oh, ironically the flight from Toulouse to Warsaw, through Amsterdam, also lost my baggage, but it was found and brought directly to my home on the same day later.

Then I had one week at home and then went for a paragliding camp in Slovenia and Italy (actually at the border), in the Alps, which is where I wanted to go at the beginning but then thought I wasn’t going to go. We spent most of the week at Lijak, which is a mountain with launch point at only 530m but the meteo conditions were very good, for almost any style of flying. In fact it is said to have good conditions throughout all the year and it’s confirmed by the fact that you can see a couple of canopies on the google maps satellite view of the place at high enough zoom. The Lijak camping is just at the base of the mountain, some 2km from the official landing spot, so that I landed just in front of our tent two times. I have set my new personal records in all categories: 5.5 m/s raising speed, 14 m/s sinking (or rather falling?) speed (that was in a spiral), some 1300m max altitude over the landing spot, some 2.5 hours in the air from takeoff to landing. I experienced my first uncontrolled full-stall in which I lost 100m in about five seconds, for a moment saw the wing actually one or two meter below me partially collapsed (which scared me to death) because of too strong “overdeveloped” conditions. It was also the first time I have seen hanggliders (aka launch potatoes) and full-size sailplanes (that speed at over 150kmh) flying in the same place, soaring in the same thermals. It was unfortunately slightly overpopulated by paragliders of all levels of experience leading to some dangerous situations (but nothing fatal). Our team was a bunch of very enjoyable people, with three licensed pilots and six people in a second level course there.

Needless to say that left me with a long queue of things to do, mails to read, pictures to retouch, that I finally almost caught-up with this week. Tomorrow is the first day of classes at school again but I’m counting on having a little more vacations this month, just need to figure out a long weekend or a way to take the work with me. I spent a couple of mornings this and last week standing lines to the Russian embassy to apply for a touristic visa, which proceeded in an unimaginable, complete chaos, but I should have a two weeks visa starting from this Wednesday if nothing goes wrong now. I’ve never been to Moscow before and I should have a place to sleep in the dormitory in Moscow so it looks promissing.

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