Do We Need to Accept the “Other”?

Two days ago, my husband and I were sleeping in a hotel in Tallinn, Estonia. At around 3 AM we woke up to the loud sounds of two men just back from the pub.  For an hour, they talked together very loudly in the room just next to ours. They then came out of the room and continued their conversation just outside our and their doors. They had absolutely no consideration for other people in the hotel. They couldn’t. They were drunk. They were unaware that their behavior had any impact on anyone else.

The concept of “the other” has occupied my mind for years. There is always an “other”. Each of us is an “other” to someone else or even to many others. How important is it for us to understand the “other”? What happens when, no matter how hard we try, we do not understand certain behaviors the “other” engages in? Are there behaviors we can accept no matter how foreign and others we simply cannot accept? What happens when the “other” engages in behaviors we absolutely do not accept? Can we accept other aspects of that “other”? What if those behaviors we cannot accept have an impact on us, directly or indirectly? What kind of a relationship can we have with an “other” who engages in such behaviors?

Drinking alcohol is one example of a behavior that some “others” cannot tolerate. Homosexuality is another. Wearing the hijab or the face veil is a third. Smoking a fourth. Believing in God, not believing in God, praying in public, taking time off work to pray, eating meat, wearing too many clothes, not wearing enough clothes, public displays of affection, polygamy; these are just some things off the top of my head that one “other” feels very passionately about and another “other” feels very strongly against.

I have never understood why people drink alcohol. (more…)

Cycling Lisbon to Tallinn: Garmin Edge 810 Review

In June 2013, I, my husband and a friend set off to cycle from London to Paris in three days. Each person was responsible for navigating one leg of the trip. Each person thus carried one detailed map for this purpose. That was fine for the duration and distance of that sort of trip.

Cycling across the entire European continent over a period of 60 days is a whole ‘nother story.

I generally prefer paper maps to using GPS technology for navigating. I find them more dependable. Before my trip, I considered different options so I could use them. If I bought every map I needed before the trip, it would be a lot of extra weight in my panniers that takes up a lot of volume. I might not readily find the maps I needed en-route. Even if I did, buying a map en-route and then discarding it to save weight and space seemed like such a waste of money.

So I decided to go digital. My husband has a Garmin watch for running, swimming, and cycling. He loves it. I’ve used Garmin navigators in rented cars and understand them well. I decided to go with the brand I know and trust.

The Garmin Edge 810 had something the other versions did not: a live tracking feature. I wanted to be able to share my whereabouts with my husband while cycling alone. That was the overriding reason why I went with the Edge 810.

One issue I had before I bought the GPS was that I could not find enough detailed information online on the various features of the product. I had to go through many reviews, that also seemed generally insufficient for understanding everything it had to offer, to get a general idea and then make a decision.

Once I bought the 810, the problem continued. (more…)

Cycling Lisbon to Tallinn: The Gear

All in all, I have been very happy with the gear I took with me to cycle across Europe.

Parked in Monte Carlo

Parked in Monte Carlo

Before I left on the trip, the total weight of everything I had in panniers was in the 15 kg range. After the first couple of days, I barely noticed that my bike had any weight on it so this range seems to be acceptable for someone like me. I have created a gear list for people doing something similar who are looking for a checklist of sorts. Below it you will find my comments on some of the gear and what little I would change now that I have hindsight. I will post a separate review on my GPS in the coming couple of days.

 

GEAR LIST:

Trek Lexi SL WSD road bike
Tire change for the bike before I left: Schwalbe Marathon 25-622 28×1.00 700x25C
Two water bottles in racks on the bike frame
Bike helmet
GPS: Garmin Edge 810
Front and back bike lights
Speedometer: Cateye velo wireless (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 61: Lisbon to Tallinn – Mission Accomplished!

This journey I have been on for the past 61 days was not to end without throwing an important reality in my face: Do not feel too proud, Nadia. Do not think of yourself too highly. You may have determination. You may be able to suck it up at times. But, in the end, you are just a spoiled little brat.

On April 14, 2014 I set out alone on my bike from the European continent’s southwestern corner in Lisbon, Portugal. Sixty-one days later I reached Tallinn, Estonia in Europe’s northeastern corner. It took 56 actual cycling days, 43 of which I was totally on my own. My husband joined me for the remaining 13 cycling days. My original target was to have 59 actual cycling days with 9 rest days instead of the five I actually took.

I cycled a total of 5630 km to get from Lisbon to Tallinn.

While cycling the final 113 km today from Haapsalu to Tallinn, much of which was in the rain, I realized I had learned an important lesson (one of many) on this trip: When you do something difficult for the first time – like cycling in pouring rain – it may seem extremely daunting. When you do it the second time you recall your success the first time and you realize that if you could do it once then you could certainly do it again. When you do it for the 3rd, 4th, and 5th times, what was once daunting becomes somewhat challenging but doable. And every time after it is simply commonplace.

Over a period of 61 days I cycled through pouring rain; gusty winds; scorching, heat-exhaustion-inducing sun; over cold mountains; through flat plains; up and down and up and down roller-coaster hills; and on paved roads, dirt roads, muddy roads, crazily busy roads, and scarily empty roads. I’ve done balancing acts on the edge of steep hills, steered into ditches, coasted down steeply declining winding mountainous roads, through tunnels, along beaches, and besides forests. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 60: One Day to Tallinn!

Today was an absolutely miserable day. It doesn’t easily get more miserable. I loved every last minute of it.

We woke up this morning to the pitter patter of rain on our tent. No big deal. I’ve been in that situation before. I packed the wet tent. We would dry it out once we got the chance. Breakfast at camp was really good and wholesome: oatmeal with cinnamon, bread and jam, boiled eggs, cheese, and coffee and tea. The skies were dark so we put on all our rain clothes. We might as well be prepared for a long, wet today.

It didn’t stop raining all day long.

We got drizzle. We got moderate rain shower. And we got downpours.

None of that would have been a big deal. I’ve cycled in rain before.

If not for the 35 km of dirt roads.

I checked the route the GPS had for us today and it seemed fine. I could tell, based on two-months-worth of experience, that some of the roads were possibly dirt roads. Colin and I decided last night that we’d decide what to do when we reach them.

When we did reach the first dirt road, we both had a what-the-fuck-let’s-do-this moment; except we pretty much stayed in that moment the whole day. Staying on the dirt roads would save us a few kilometers as opposed to going on the main, paved road. As we saw that the dirt road was just going on and on, rather than backtrack, we just kept on it. You see, we had been on much worse dirt roads in Lithuania not long ago. That day, we had no choice but to get off the bikes and pull them through mud. The bikes almost didn’t make it that day. Even with us not on them they kept getting jammed with mud and wouldn’t move. Today, the dirt roads were wet, they had many puddle-filled potholes, there were big gravel stones we had to steer around to avoid toppling over and countless little ones that were unavoidable, and our back tires spit wet sand onto our panniers and backsides. It was an ongoing what-the-fuck-let’s-do-this moment. What can I say. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 59: The Final Countdown – Tallinn Minus Two

I cried today when we crossed my last border from Latvia into Estonia. I couldn’t easily

I have lots of pictures with fun poses in front of this sign. This is the one Colin took just before I composed myself.

I have lots of pictures with fun poses in front of this sign. This is the one Colin took just before I composed myself.

tell you why. It was mostly a feeling of exuberant accomplishment. I cycled from Portugal to Estonia. If you told me two years ago that I would do something like that I would have fallen down in a fit of hysterical laughter. I was also a bit sad that the sign we were standing under would be my last. Those blue signs with yellow stars and the name of a new country had been such a source of joy for me on this trip.

As our day of cycling came to end, all I could think, though, was that I was so relieved this trip was nearly over. Today we cycled more than 100km. I’m tired. I was very tired of cycling every day just before my husband joined me twelve days ago. But his arrival gave me a second wind. That second wind lasted about eleven days. Now it’s gone. I’m still enjoying the trip immensely. But I’m ready for its end. I’m glad I feel this way. Perhaps it will make leaving this wonderful journey behind me and going home a little bit easier.

Latvia and Estonia are both such beautiful countries. They are going to end up being

Some of you asked what the evil eye was. THIS is the evil eye. Just as we were finishing our commemorative pictures in front of the Estonia sign, Colin's bike fell, breaking the air inlet on the tire. He had to change the whole inner tube.

Some of you asked what the evil eye was. THIS is the evil eye. Just as we were finishing our commemorative pictures in front of the Estonia sign, Colin’s bike fell, breaking the air inlet on the tire. He had to change the whole inner tube.

among my favorite from the countries I’ve passed through in the past two months. After we cycled across the border into Estonia we immediately got onto a back road that took us along the coast of the Baltic Sea on our left with woodlands of birches and firs on our right. I wish you could record smell. I would have recorded the smell of Estonia for you. It is so fresh and fragrant. We passed through tiny little ten-house villages on the sea. They weren’t rich people’s villas. They were small middle class homes just standing there with the sea in their front yard and the forest in their backyard. I couldn’t believe there was still beach-side land anywhere on this earth that hadn’t been overtaken by developers and the rich. Children were walking all alone along the quiet road. It must be a safe place, I thought. This must be such a great place to spend a childhood. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 58: From Atlantic to Mediterranean to Baltic

I wish I was smart enough to have come up with that myself. It just happened. I knew

Getting my feet wet for the first time in the Baltic.

Getting my feet wet for the first time in the Baltic.

when I was organizing my route that I’d be on the Atlantic in Portugal, the Mediterranean in Spain, France, and Italy, and the Baltic in Latvia and Estonia. I knew that. Then I completely forgot about the Baltic when the trip started. And I had never thought about this trip taking me from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean to the Baltic. I just hadn’t put two and two together.

I did though a few days ago. Since then, cycling towards today has been tremendously exciting. And now today has come.

Dudes, I HAVE CYCLED FROM THE ATLANTIC TO THE MEDITERRANEAN TO THE BALTIC!!! Woooooooooohoooooooooo!

It was an amazing feeling to get my first sight of the Baltic Sea and to wet my feet in its waters for the first time. I had never really thought about visiting the Baltic before. I live in a country that’s on two seas already. But now that I’m here, now that I got myself here by the sheer force of my own two legs, I am overjoyed.

We saw the Baltic for the first time midway through today’s ride. (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 57: My Body Told Me to Properly Visit Riga – My Body Was Right

Listen to your body. I’ve learned that time and again over the years. People about you will always have brilliant advice on what is good or not for you. They will have objections on your lifestyle. They will tell you what to eat and how to exercise. We all have common sense and most of us already know what is healthy and what is not.

I live what I believe is a generally healthy lifestyle. I listened to my body yesterday and it told me I needed a rest. So I gave it a rest.

This morning my husband and I slept in. What that means is that instead of getting up at 6am we got up at 7am. We ate our breakfast slowly, even though neither of us are ever ones to rush through what we feel is the most important meal of the day. We then spent the morning walking around Riga, Latvia’s capital city, and, because I’m listening to my body, I then took a short but much needed nap.

As a rather frequent traveler, I’m surprised and ashamed about how little to nothing I know about the Baltic states. I am incredibly impressed with Riga. It rivals cities like Vienna and Prague in its architectural beauty, in my opinion, yet if you asked me three months ago what the capital of Latvia was, I’d ask you, “Where the heck is Latvia?”

(more…)

Cycling Europe Day 56: Good Latvian Vibrations

When I grow up, I want to be a Latvian motorcyclist.

We crossed the border today from Lithuania to Latvia. The 70km ride through northern Lithuania was similar to the past few days: rural. Latvia, on the other hand, almost immediately had a more modern, urban feel to it.

After reviewing our maps, Colin and I found a route that would allow us to get to Riga, Latvia in one 153km-long day instead of my originally planned three shorter days. We decided we would give it a go and if we got too tired midway we’d find a roadside hotel.

It was a whopper. I was fine till kilometer 100. Then a truck passed me way too close. I screamed but kept the bike under control. That episode just took all the energy out of me. We stopped for a big lunch but nothing gave me my energy back. It was a rough 53km until we reached Riga.

Just after we crossed into Latvia and took our commemorative photos at the border sign, we started off on the major road we were on and heard a police siren give an attention signal behind us. I started to pull over, thinking, “This was bound to happen. We’re on a major road. It’s probably illegal for cyclists to use it. To stay out of Latvian jail, Nadia, CRY!” (more…)

Cycling Europe Day 55: I See Dead People

“What were you thinking about today while you were cycling?” my husband asked me while we were waiting for our lunch in a Lithuanian palace, as one does.

“The dead people,” I responded.

“Which dead people?” he asked rather incredulously.

“All the dead people,” I responded rather matter-of-factly.

“So we’re worrying about all the dead people in the world now, are we?” Colin always says that if I have nothing to worry about I find something to worry about.

Today while cycling I was thinking about and praying for family and friends I know who have passed away. Over the past 55 days, I have cycled by many cemeteries and countless roadside memorials for people who must have died in road accidents. Every time I see a roadside memorial, a cemetery, or even a dead animal by the side of the road, I whisper the Muslim prayer, “We belong to God and to Him we return.”

I’ve often thought about all the people who have ever walked this earth who are now long gone and buried within the soil. My grandfather died when I was in university. My father and uncles went and visited him in his grave when they could. My father is now gone as well. My siblings and I will visit him when we can. I will die one day and my children will visit me when they can. But it’s only one or possibly two generations of people who ever really remember a person after they have gone. When those generations pass away as well, the dead in the ground are remembered no more. (more…)