Posts Tagged With: park bench

Sometimes No Planning Leads To Nice Surprises


Runners in the Krakow Marathon run "for Sparta!"

Runners in the Krakow Marathon run “for Sparta!”


It takes a certain amount of planning to have a fun vacation, but you can have just as much fun, and discover much more, by not doing much planning beyond arranging transportation to get there.  Lately, I’ve been doing very little in the way of reserving transportation or a place to stay. I decide – often last-minute – where I want to go and just get up and go. When I get there, I walk around the city or town,  do a bit of consultation with locals on the street, and decide from there where to stay. It doesn’t always work out in my favor, but more often than not it does, either in the way of meeting new people right off the street or finding a great bargain recommended by a local.

For Sparta!!!

For Sparta!!!

When I travel this way, I take into account the city, the season and the time of day I will arrive. I would not suggest you go to Paris or New York in spring, for instance, without a place to stay already pre-arranged. You just might end up sleeping at the bus terminal or overpaying for a hotel walking  in cold. If you are not an experienced  and resourceful traveler, book everything in advance. You  have been warned. 🙂

I’ve come close to sleeping on a park bench, but it so far has not happened. I am pretty resourceful and not shy about approaching strangers. I love talking to strangers, in fact. Usually, in case of emergency, I travel with a tent. Twice I used it – pitched it out in the woods in Argentina right next to a lake and it was amazing waking up alone in the woods, with just the sound of birds chirping and fish jumping. And rustlings by curious wildlife in the middle of the night. Sleeping out in the woods alone is not for the cowardly. 🙂

On royal grounds in Vienna!

On royal grounds in Vienna!

I also used it once in Colombia. There I slept on a sandy beach. But I was not alone. Other “campers” were nearby. But it was beautiful waking up with a view of the Atlantic Ocean, waves lapping and ships in the distance. Took a morning swim. It was nice.  kra3

Opening night of bar in ruins of vacant building in Budapest. With Irene of Milan, Italy.

Opening night of bar in ruins of vacant building in Budapest. With Irene of Milan, Italy.

A few days ago, I made one of those last-minute decisions to travel from Poland to some other place in Europe. I wasn’t sure where to go, but I intended to hitchhike, meaning no need to book flights, trains or buses to get there. I would simply decide in which direction I wished to travel, find a good spot to hitchhike and go. I love and I loathe hitchhiking. I have to be in the mood to do it, because sometimes it can take hours before someone offers a ride. On a good day, it’s a matter of minutes. When it happens quickly, it’s great. You often meet interesting people along the way all while traveling free. A word about hitchhiking: Do as much research about the dos and don’ts before you try it, especially if you are traveling alone and especially if you are woman. It is no accident women get ride offers almost instantly from men. They are just being men interested in the opposite sex. There are many things you can do to stay safe, but again, you have to do your own research.

Running waiter

Running waiter

When I decided to go, my roommate stepped up and said he, too, wanted to take a trip and that he would drive his car. That took care of the need to hitchhike. After changing our plans a few times, we decided to head south to Krakow, Poland, then to Budapest, Hungary; Bratislava, Slovakia; Vienna, Austria; Prague, Czech Republic; and finally back to Poland.

Hope his prayers were answered and he finished the race

Hope his prayers were answered and he finished the race

Doing minimal planning can produce some amount of stress if you are easily rattled by your circumstances. We decided to couch surf but oftentimes we did not land a couch until the very last minute. If you are the type of person who freaks out when every little thing seems to be going wrong, this sort of travel is not for you. And if you are traveling with someone who gets a panic attack because you don’t have a place to stay come nightfall, well, at the next stop ditch them and travel alone. Or don’t travel with them again – ever! 🙂

On the border with Slovakia, arrived Hungary!

On the border with Slovakia, arrived Hungary!

The cool thing about deciding last-minute, we encountered some cool events in some of the cities we visited. In Krakow, there was the Krakow Marathon. In Budapest, the Red Bull airshow and opening night of a very cool bar. And all along the way, meeting new and interesting people who took us to some cool places.

We found the Trololo guy in Krakow :)

Mateusz and I found the Trololo guy in Krakow 🙂

The idea behind this type of travel is not to be stressed over schedules, check-ins and check-outs. Just to relax and enjoy the time. And if you don’t see everything there is to see, so what?

Mateusz loading up in Vienna

Mateusz loading up in Vienna


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What Kind Of Man Kicks A Puppy?

A family readies to take a picture with the Saint Bernards. The smaller dog at the right is still a puppy. The man in the red baseball cap dragged and kicked the pup after it sought shelter from the sun under a park bench.

I was simply stunned. So was a woman standing behind me. We both confronted the man simultaneously with our outrage. We had just witnessed the man drag and kick a sweet, cuddly, lovable Saint Bernard puppy.

This was no ordinary man. And certainly no ordinary puppy. The man, you see, works in the Civic Center square with a couple of fully grown Saint Bernard, including the pup maybe a couple of months old.

MORE CUSTOMERS come to pose with the dogs, but little do they know...

He, and others who have also have Saint Bernard, offer tourist a chance to be photographed with the oversize dogs built for cold weather and used in snowy rescues. I love Saint Bernard. They are my favorite breed of dogs. They apparently also the favorite of hundreds of tourists who come to Bariloche, Argentina. They line up for a chance to pay up to $20 for a photograph with the dogs. I admit, I considered having my picture taken with the dogs as well, but I thought the quality of the photographs did not warrant the $20 cost. So a couple of days earlier, I had turned down the man’s offer to have my picture taken with the gentle giants of the dog world.

THE VICTIM heads for the bench. Moments later he gets a swift punishment

Fast forward two days later. I’m back in the square, watching kids and their parents go gaga over the dogs and agreeing to an 8 x 10 photograph. I kept my eyes on the dogs, as it was an extremely hot day and they seemed uncomfortable in the sun. In fact, when the man tried to pose them with visitors, the tourists taking their picture with the dogs didn’t seem to notice that the hot stone pavement caused discomfort to the dogs’ paws. The dogs kept rapidly shifting from one paw to another as if standing on hot coal. They also didn’t seem to notice the man was being rather rough with the dogs, shoving them and yanking them by the collar into position. That alone troubled me.

ONE DOG runs off to seek shelter under the arches. Sometimes the handlers give the dogs a break here. Sometimes it's an umbrella in the square. Sometimes nothing. But does it really matter? It's still hot even in the shade!

But the real troubling treatment came in between photo shoots. The puppy ran off to a bench in the square to seek shelter from the sun under the bench. He was looking for a cool spot. The man walked across the square, grabbed the leash, dragged the pup from under the bench and gave the animal a firm kick in the stomach.

“Woahhhh!”, I yelled out immediately. It was a spontaneous reaction. From behind, I also heard a voice scream out. The woman and I, strangers to each other, walked up to the man and berated him. “Was that really necessary?” I asked the man, as he walked across the square back to the waiting tourists. The woman shouted to him “How would you like me to kick you in the stomach?” He just looked at us and looked away as if trying to not draw any attention from his waiting customers. I was really tempted to make a sign that read “ANIMAL ABUSER!” and stroll the square, but then I remembered reading somewhere that it is illegal for foreigners to take part in any kind of protest in neighboring Chile, and I imagine it to be the same in Argentina. Automatic expulsion or who knows else. This is Argentina, where the police is not trusted by its own citizens. Corruption in their ranks is rampant, Argentinians tell me.

WIDER VIEW of Civic Center in Bariloche, Argentina

So I tried another tactic. For at least an hour, I walked the square talking to people who looked remotely interested in having their photos taken with the dogs. I told them what I saw. Some were just as outraged as I was. Others just saw a black guy trying to talk to them and refused to listen. So after a few more of those, soaked in sweat from the heat, I left, not before taking these photos of the dogs at work in the square and the man I witnessed mistreat the dogs. He’s the old guy in the red baseball cap, but there are others with the same breed of dog pushing photographs to tourists and who seem to not care about the animals, but rather about money.

So I am taking an activist stance here and telling everybody who travels to Bariloche: Do not pay these folks in the square a dime to have your picture taken with the Saint Bernard. You want a picture of the dogs? Snap one. They are in a public square and anybody is allowed to take a picture. To support these so-called human beings is to support animal abuse!

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