USA – My essay

I have to admit that I liked the pun in the title… What you are about to read is far from an essay… It is more some random thoughts on my time in the States and my view of the American lifestyle as I experienced it for 3 months, riding from Boston to Miami (The Atlantic Coast – 2850 km). I was hosted several times by locals and I spent considerable time with them and their friends. I have to clarify, though, that I don’t mean any generalisation and, also, that the text below has no proper structure – it is just some random thoughts on my subjective experience, as they came to me at the time of writing (after my time in the States). So, I may write about stuff that one wouldn’t bother mentioning or the opposite – not writing about what should be the case for writing.
Well…

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17 Dec 15 – 15 Mar 16

One may be very critical about the North American culture, the extent of capitalism, the ideals of consumerism, the importance of making money. And one should be very critical about all these. However we have to admit there is another side too.

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New York City  – China Town – December 2015

My first raw feelings had to do with amazement. With excitement. I still remember how jaw-dropped I was even from Boston, looking at the skyscrapers and walking in the University of Harvard’s yard. USA is thriving in so many sections… Science, sports, business, education… One may say again, “yes, but everything is so industrialized, from food to… faith”. Yes, it’s true, but we still have to admit that advanced research is taking place in almost every field, there is low unemployment rate, there seems to be equal opportunities in the labor market, there is certainly high quality of life for a good portion of the population…  [- “but still, the gap between the rich and the…” –  “yes, I know, I wanna write about the other side now, please” – “ok”] Myself, from the very first moment in the States, I got the idea that this is a proper country. I mean a functional society. Laws are enforced, infrastructure is great, things do happen, and most importantly, you are respected.

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New York City – Times Square

All of the North Americans I met were wonderful. Super polite and friendly. Open. Most of them welcomed me at their places, cooked for me, provided me with the necessary, left me alone at their homes even if they knew me for a few hours (!!!) They trusted me. But I think it’s a more general trend – a North American will offer help if someone is in need. While riding, or in general when I was outside, it was very easy for me to ask for anything, anywhere. It was not uncommon to have a conversation with a stranger while waiting for the bus or when at the supermarket. When I was with the bike, people were very often asking me stuff (where am I from, where am I going, if I enjoy my time etc.)… I am typing these words and I have countless faces in mind – outside the super market, at the gas station, at the port, at the ferry, outside MacDonald’s, at a monument… People were showing interest… From a point and then, while going South, I was feeling awkward cause people were gritting or smiling at me in any random encounter. I remember in a gas station in Rodanthe /Outer Banks I thought that the guy who just had gritted me was confused, that he knew me or something.. But no, it was typical.

I don’t know if it was just about me, or the persons I met were special… I mean, I am sure there’s a lot of bad guys in the country, but myself I never ever felt I am threatened or that someone somehow wants to harm me.

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Washington D.C. – The White House

In regard to the American lifestyle I ‘d like to say one word :  CONVENIENCE!
They have thought of everything that could make their life easier. Yes, you may say, they have the money (average income in 2011: 50.000$), but that’s another story. Where should I start from. Simple in-house stuff: you don’t need to regulate how much water you ‘ll get on a shower. There is a fixed flow. You can throw papers in the toilet. You can throw food in the sink(!) There are no air condition devices. Air-conditioning is usually embedded into the house, you just choose the temperature. Beautiful, big televisions connected to the internet was a typical thing. Big houses with great backyards was the norm in the suburbs, while in the big cities (like Boston and New York) I found mostly small, shared apartments (as the rent was very expensive). Paying too, couldn’t be easier! 85% of all my transactions in the States took place with an American Express card I had from Greece (NO fees, no comision, nothing!) just by swiping my card in the machine (no pin, no signing (not always)). Feeling like not paying..

It’s also extremely easy to navigate around, as most of the american cities have been built in a grid.. You may have some main roads with names that separate the neighborhoods, but then most of the rest is numbered.

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Upper East Side – Manhattan – New York City

Βig car is the norm in the USA. You just feel smaller next to a car… The gas is so cheap (2.5 times cheaper than in Greece! – 09/4/2016) that people really don’t mind having a 4.600cc car. And the point is they don’t mind going fast either. The driving experience I had in terms of speed was like 1.3 times faster in comparison with Greece. But, it’s not only big cars… this over-size issue is kind of omni-present. It applies from the size of coca-cola you can get in Seven Eleven to the vast, chaotic super markets or hardware stores…

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The Home Depot – Boca Raton, Florida – March 2016

And now I said supermarket… Oh my God.. Sometimes I was spending so much time and energy in just going around and trying to decide… You want peanut butter, you go to the shelf and you see 20 brands with 20 varieties etc… You can’t decide… You need time to learn what makes this peanut butter different from the other, and what do I really want. And.. wait a sec, do I really need peanut-butter, or this super-flashy offer made me think “it ‘d be good to eat some peanut-butter”, oh…

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And this brings me to another word that hops off the business sphere to all aspects of social life. MARKETING! Oh my… Marketing! Promotion, advertisements, offers, fancy paragraphs, huge smiles (dude, your teeth are real?), feedback questions all the time – sheer exaggeration.

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“Damn’t! I am so excited with my new honey oats! They are so sweet and yummy – oh, my God! Flabbergasting!”

It’s fun reading these kind of texts on “what we do” (sorry, “what is our area of expertise”), with a ton of adjectives, with clever syntax, with the right colors. So many times what they say is so misleading.. So far from reality. Smaller letters, asterisks, awkward prerequisites, very quickly read texts at the end of an ad. The first day  I was in the States I was so annoyed. I went to buy some fruits. Took some apples that were already packed in 6. The price tag though had a price for the apples P/lbs! I didn’t notice that and I had to pay way more than in the label, as my apples were more than 1 lb.. But they are so experts that you can never accuse them for false claim or something. And so many offers. Buy 3, get 1 free. Buy 6 in the price of 4. etc. I was so frustrated cause myself I always wanted small quantities. I don’t need 6 packs of cereals..

And marketing I think is everywhere. Donald Trump is the most vivid example.
(While his political views are extreme and while I hadn’t met not even one supporter of him (and I was often talking politics), he is so popular! The same holds true for Hillary Clinton.. So unpleasant, but so professional… I saw her in a TV show and I couldn’t believe how flawless her speech was, how appropriate her gestures, her smile… True actress!)

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White bread, probably the worst bread for your health…
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You can’t pay close attention to all products at all times, can you? Gr…

USA is literally the land of immigrants.. The majority came from Europe. But there are also a lot from Africa (African Americans), Asia (mostly Indians and Chinese) and Latinos (from South America, they are also called Hispanics). Why am I saying this, because I want to point to the need for so many people of different origins and walks of life to live harmoniously. (I suppose) That’s why meritocracy, that’s why respect and “equal opportunities”. That’s why the significance of “personal space” and “private property”. That’s why there are so many rules – so everything is properly clarified.

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There is an over-explanation mania, I think, in the States. Labels everywhere, guidelines, rules.

But most importantly, the acceptance of diversity. I really felt that (especially in New York). A feeling I had throughout my stay was that I can look like whoever I wanted to. Never felt I was judged or criticized. I could see that there is respect to one another, no matter what. I could also feel what they say about the American Dream was real. Like “I can be whoever I want, if I try” – I could feel meritocracy. I had a lot of conversations with Greeks that came very poor to the States, and, not necessarily made a fortune, but they enjoyed their time and they now have a very high quality of life.

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…!

In regard to “my personal space” – being respectful of someone’s body and space.. (To me this is a bit exaggerated). From my personal experience, people won’t easily touch you, or it’s typical that one will apologise just for touching you or for coming very close to you, or even because they block your view. Also, most probably, you won’t be seeing someone in a café sitting with his legs and hands fully extended like he is a king.

In respect to diversity, I would like to make a comment on the multitude of religious beliefs. So many different churches and christian denominations (baptists, methodists, anglicans, roman catholics, orthodox, non-denominational, etc…). All these together make USA the nation with the largest Christian population in the world – 247 million in 2014! I didn’t notice any mosque, despite their considerable rose from 1.209 in 2000 to 2.106 in 2010, an increase of 74% (!)

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Speechless

Before coming to the USA, I wanted to learn what’s going on with their Health System and Education. I would like to mention that after many conversations I had in the States, it’s not true, for most of the cases, that someone poor that has no social security won’t be treated in a hospital. The vast majority of the patients gets treated and the hospital is called to pay for him/her. Most hospitals have a specific budget for this kind of cases. However, I can’t believe that there is no free (or at least very low-cost) higher education. If you wanna have a bachelors, most of the times, you have to pay. There are student loans with relatively good terms but still, you need years to pay off… [“Public university students paid an average of almost $8,400 annually for in-state tuition, with out-of-state students paying more than $19,000… In 2014, U.S. student loan debt exceeded $1.2 trillion (!!!), with over 7 million debtors in default” (wiki) I was told that student loans is a way to keep the workforce in the States!

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Truly American

Food cost was rather high, especially fruits and veggies. There was always the choice of eating cheap, low quality fast food, or finding super markets that are extremely low cost, where everything is 1 $ and you can find some good deals.

Finding a place to stay was rather easy. Apart from the huge couchsurfing network, there is also http://www.warmshowers.org – a hospitality network only for cyclists! I used both and there were always people that would host me even if I let them know the previous day! As far as camping in the countryside is concerned, I had to be very careful as there were a lot of signs “private property”, “posted”, “no trespassing”. (I remember a sign “trespassers will be shot. Survivors will be shot again!” – haha 🙂

In regard to riding in the States, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, the road condition was not as good as I expected and in the Northern part of my journey, my surroundings were mostly urban… Which was boring. However, I can’t ignore that the vast majority of my riding was in a flat terrain, that it was very easy not only to navigate around but also to plan properly (as there were bike routes in google maps for the whole country). The drivers were paying attention to me for the most of the time and they were (in general) respectful of the traffic laws. Also, I was very well treated by all bike shops I ‘d been to. Last, I have to mention that I never felt insecure with leaving my bike outside the super market for 5-20 minutes with the camera and the gps and everything there!

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Finally, I would like to make a comment on the Greeks that are residing in America. I was very lucky to meet a lot of them (in Boston, NYC, Wilmington, Boca Raton) and I saw that these people love Greece so much. Independent of how many years they have in the States or for how long they hadn’t been to Greece,  they talked to me about Greece’s current situation with so much interest, in pain, actually… They watch the news, they are informed and most of them are in some way affiliated with a Greek Organisation or institution.. Somehow they help! They want to help!

Random Observations

– North Americans take care of their teeth.
– North Americans like their coffee a lot milky/creamy.
– North Americans are taller than me – hahaha.
– North Americans (at least in the suburbs) have good relationship with their neighbors. (It’s true what you see in the American movies, about invitations and dinners with neighbors)
–  North Americans like big back yards, building stuff on their own, and certainly they love their grass mowed (cut). There are neighborhoods where there is something like police for checking if the grass is in good condition, if the rubbish bin is where it should be, if your property is dirty…
–  North Americans love writing reviews. From products to places to services, you can find a review online from another customer for almost everything. (yelp, amazon, tripadvisor etc.)
–  North Americans like drive through. From MacDonald’s, to Starbucks, to Banking! Yes Banking. Apart from drive through ATM’s, you can do almost everything else since there is a vacuum pipe for sending and receiving  stuff and even a clerk if necessary. But you ‘ll stay seated in the car throughout the process.

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North Americans love zip lock plastic bags. There was no house that I went into without a grand variety of sizes and quality types. (One friend told me that this was due to the fast pace of life. It’s convenient to cook, freeze, take it to work, de-freeze, eat. However valid this may be, I saw these bags containing all kind of things, and being all around the house.)

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Fruits and Vegetables were very expensive… The northern you are, the higher the price!

And now enjoy the ULTIMATE USA FOOD COLLAGE – hahaha 😀

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Name of each and every food above you can find at the blog posts

All kinds of art, of course!

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Overall, I had amazing time in the States. It was a great experience for me to live what was accessible only through (Hollywood) movies or on-line. If you were asking me if I would like to live my whole life there, the answer would probably be… No. I don’t fancy the over-capitalistic approach, as it turns against society, it’s way too individualistic. However, what I loved in this country, and why I would like to go and study or work for a few years, is the fact that you have options, and the choices you ‘ll make are respected. You have so many options in all spheres of everyday life. You can choose at what state you want to live (there are great differences from state to state), you can choose at what neighborhood you want to reside, you can find the religious “institution” that is right for you, the job that is appropriate.. You can choose how you wanna “build” your life, and this is acceptable by the rest!

Weeks 18, 19, 20 – Βοca Raton, Florida

On the 24th of February I reached Boca Raton (mouse’s mouth). There I found my uncle, who I had many years to see, and I was VERY fortunate to spend the next 20 days with. Uncle Christos had already arranged for me to get a job in a renovation project, cause I had spent SO much in the USA – I desperately needed to make some money. I had 20 days to work hard, arrange all orders and deliveries in regard to the bike and the equipment and pack properly to fly to Colombia. It was 20 hard days but also 20 beautiful days. Very beautiful.

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Work & Tick

And this is mainly because I spent a lot of time with my Uncle… I am so happy about that. And I want to send a message to all of  you out there. Go spend some time with your relatives – your parents, your siblings, your uncles… go out, eat together, ask questions, do stuff together, tighten your relationships. Ask QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS. There are so many things you would like to learn but you didn’t get the chance to form the questions. There are so many stories you would like to listen to but you didn’t have the opportunity to wonder about. Details about persons, about incidents, about personal matters… Go interrogate your relatives – hahaha!

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The best!     😀     😀

In Boca Raton, apart from ordering and receiving stuff and working I also did a proper cleaning of my clothes and of my equipment. I bought a special cleaner and had my tent, mattress, sleeping bag (!!), waterproof jackets cleaned!

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I ordered so many stuff that needed replacement, or special spare parts for the bike, new (steel) rack, shoes from my new sponsor (DZR Shoes!), an international sim card, a taser (safety reasons), a selfie stick, nfc tags for my cell, plus, plus!

This is a short and funny (I think) video demonstrating my time working 😀

This is a short video of some random moments in Boca Raton, as well as my ride to Miami and back.

And this is my time trying to pack the bike with the majority of my stuff into the box (39 kg!)

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I Like!

 

Weeks 16, 17 – Carolinas, Georgia, Florida

This time I would like to share with you a story of cold days and wet nights. A story with many mood ups & downs. I would also like to introduce  you to some cool people I met. It is a strange story since there is not a common underlying theme (apart from the fact of rain & cold). It’s mainly my attempt to: stay dry and warm, make some new friends and ride A LOT (1126 km in 10 days) in order to reach Florida as soon as possible (since my 90 days visa in the USA seemed not enough)!

But first, a poem I wrote in Myrtle Beach. Feeling like a still body receiving a fierce wave.

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This intro takes me to another place

And, now let’s move on to the typical… map of the days:

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I left Wilmington being full of feelings of gratitude. Deeply moved I was cycling thinking how privileged I am and how cool was my experience in the elementary school. How many beautiful people I met and how warm and lovely humans can be. I needed some time of rest. Mental rest and concentration. I reached Myrtle Beach. I had never ever in my life seen so many hotels/motels next to each other. The beach of Myrtle is approximately 8 km and you can only find places to stay. Nothing else in both sides of the street! I wanted to stay 3 days there but I stayed for a week, cause I needed more time to edit my videos and… spend some time in organising what I will need in Miami, who do I need to get in contact with, etc. I didn’t want to be in a rush, like when I left Paris.
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One week of continuous computer-work on a mainly sleep-deprived daily schedule. I was also editing one article I had started writing since I was in Boston (on December!) but I had no time to perfect it. I was paying 28 dollars per night (which was insane for me) but I really needed my space and my time. However, the price per night for the weekend was 45$ ! I had no choice but to head again to nature.. I slept in my tent the two Saturdays that I spent in Myrtle Beach. The first was rainy and the second was… cold… very cold!

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First Saturday Camping Spot Be Like
Actually, on Saturday afternoon (one day before I left Myrtle Beach), I met Sammy. He was with his bike and just a bag! He told me he has no house for the  moment and he is just cycling from city to city until he finds a job somewhere… He asked me If I wanted to camp with him as I told him that I just left my ridiculously expensive motel. Of course I accepted. It was a rather peculiar encounter and the time we had together was well… intense.. We found a place to sleep into the woods, in between high trees and dense flora. We grabbed two beers and headed to the beach were Sammy cooked for me a delicious pasta with mushroom sauce. What stroke me was that Sammy was talking about Jesus a lot. He told me in whatever difficulties he has he thinks of himself as a soldier of Christ and that despite believing a lot in God he hadn’t been to Church lately.
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I Love this picture. “Friendship Baptist Church” in the middle. Christ is where you are looking for Him.

We went to our camp spot and then I realised Sammy had no tent and no sleeping bag and no mattress… I asked him where does he sleep every night and he told me “on the ground!” -What??? (It was -3 °C that night!), if you fall on the ground tonight you will be frozen!

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Second Saturday Camping Spot Be Like
At that point I thought how many people had provided shelter for me and also that Sammy cooked for me and bought the beers… I was like “ok, I have a sleeping bag, a tent, a mattress.. I am more than ok, I can share something. Sharing is caring (or maybe… scaring?) no, I am just kidding, scaring not! COLD – YES! I gave him the sleeping bag and kept the other two – I wore ALL of my clothes (9 top long-sleeved layers), but…. that was the coldest cold I have ever experienced. Not in terms of intensity, in terms of…. intensity/time… I can very well describe in words these 10 hours of “sleep” but I think it’s better if the picture below tells the story.
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The Face Of Cold – trying to show my 9 layers on camera
We split with Sammy on Sunday morning. He went to the Baptist Christian church and I went for the Orthodox one. The awkward was that when we woke up and after having packed, 20m from our spot, there was a police vehicle. We were not trespassing but still it was a bit awkward to pass in front of them with our fully loaded bikes. We waited for half an hour being fallen on the ground and right at the point I was like “ok, we are leaving, the Service has started”, the police left. We reached the road and started cycling (45 seconds or so) and the police vehicle is coming back!!
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That Sunday I couldn’t really ride. I had an awful sleep and I was feeling powerless.

I stopped cycling in the late afternoon, found a nice spot and slept for 14 hours! Next day, while I had decided to ride at night, rain started at late evening while being in a forest-like area. I found a church that had a little roof in front of the door. I didn’t pitch my tent as there was a camera just above me and also cause I thought (why?) it’s not gonna rain that bad… Result? In the middle of the night I woke up because of rain.. heavy rain.. (03:43 in the video below) Water everywhere.. I was so pissed off… I took 3 big black plastic bags, and put one in the bottom, one in the middle (vertically) and one on top. I opened a hole to breathe…

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I think I ‘ll never forget that night…!

2 days later I was in Brunswick. I couldn’t find a place to camp until an unfinished block of flats looked promising. Just at the right time to dry all my clothes and sleep without a tent and relatively safe. I was happy.

After 4 nights of camping I was hosted by Majd in Jacksonville. Needless to say I had wonderful time. With Majd we share the same faith (he is Orthodox Christian too). We had beautiful conversations in all subject matters, we ate a ton of sushi because we are xontroi (fat in Greek 😀 ) and went around the city. What was most beautiful though was the spiritual time we had together.. It was a boost for me 😀    شكرا أخي !  (Majd comes from Palestine)

After Jacksonville I slept in St. Augustine. Not very far from J. since it was Sunday and I don’t want to ride a lot on Sundays. This little town is considered to be the oldest city in the USA. Or, to put it more politically correct, “the oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement within the borders of the contiguous United States (1565)” (wiki) (hahaha). In St. Augustine I visited the St. Photios Greek Orthodox National Shrine, an institution dedicated to the first colony of Greek people who came to America in 1768. I was deeply touched by the beauty of the St. Photios chapel.

The following night found me in a place called Mims… I was desperately looking for a place with a roof to spend the night as the weather forecast was predicting rain. I got into a… what exactly was that I am not sure.. In a completely non-residential area, I found a “resort”/development (?) that had an entrance and an exit and something like 50 houses, the one next to the other, relatively cheap constructions. I found a tent under which I wanted to sleep. The bad thing was my tent is orange and it was way too flashy to pitch it before sunset. I Just had my sleeping bag out, got in, close it to the top. Where is the opening for my face, I put a small and breathable towel. This because there were millions of mosquitos around!!! The thing was that the night wasn’t that cold… and in one hour I was literally completely wet! After that, I set my tent and slept very nicely..
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Mims
After entering Florida, I met a touring cyclist named Mike. It was such a fortunate incident that we met. Not only because we had a great time and I got to know how it is to ride with some company, but also because the next couple of days were very windy and a lot rainy.. And yes, rain is not always an issue, but tailwind certainly is…!
Enjoy!
A

Weeks 14, 15 – Virginia, North Carolina

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

How can it be that good? Honestly. I am thinking what to write about and I bring in mind all these last days in Wilmington and then I read my last post about my days in Richmond and….. honestly, how can it be that good? Earlier today I caught myself trying to stop myself from laughing alone. It may sound silly/giggly, but while sitting here and recollecting my recent days, I started smiling and then laughing – I can feel my whole body exude happiness. And I say to myself “Hey, stop! Focus a little bit on what you are having now in front of you and start organising your future – time flies!” – “yes, yes, ok, of course, I have to sit down and write about this so very unexpected and goodness-me-so-amasing last week and, also, about the previous week!”

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Well… yes!

[But, before I move on, give me some time here to attempt answering the question twice set above. Firstly, I ‘d like to say: well, yes, it can be that good – this is not a dream or something supernatural. This is my reality for now. A trip around the world sounds really special and amasing and…WoW – well, it is! Why am I saying this? Because…… I built this reality! I dreamed, and thought, and planned, and acted, and tried and re-tried and left and rode and flew and rode again and now here I am, 105 days on the road. It’s real, it’s happening. Even if my trip was terminated now for some reason I would be satisfied. I would be full. This is a huge thing for me to say – myself I always want more. But I really mean it.  I AM NOT SAYING THIS TO PRIDE MYSELF – I AM SAYING THIS BECAUSE I REALLY WANT TO ANSWER THAT QUESTION. HOW CAN IT BE THAT GOOD – I DIDN’T KNOW IT COULD BE THAT GOOD – I DIDN’T KNOW THERE EXISTS SO GOOD A “SITUATION” – I WRITE THESE LINES IN ORDER TO POINT NOT TO ME; BUT TO THE POTENTIAL, TO THE POSSIBILITY, TO THE POWER OF CONSTRUCTING OUR CONTEXTS – TO THE BEAUTY OF PLACING OURSELVES IN THE WORLD WE BUILT FOR OURSELVES.. (Let me clarify though that I have some really bad moments of fear, extreme inconvenience, boredom, exhaustion, annoying uncertainty. However, my mood, my attitude, the way I feel in general is making me very patient at every moment of discomfort). YES!]

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I left Richmond the cold Monday of the 25th of January. I was planning to follow a bike lane/trail and reach Williamsburg.. But there was so much snow at the trail that I couldn’t really tell where the trail is. I had also some difficulty in getting out of the city because of the ice…. I fell twICE (haha) and I thought that if the road condition will be like this for the rest of the trip, I can’t really leave today. But, the road got better and I got happier. I reached W. and found myself in an astonishing house, located in a resort. Felt like being in a museum – paintings everywhere and you could tell by every little detail, that was a classy house! I was hosted there by Roy – a really welcoming, smiley, kind, open, friendly and really knowledgeable lawyer. He cooked for me a delicious dinner and I very much enjoyed his historical descriptions (names, places, battles, everything!) and … and you know what, next morning I was a bit late and he had to go to work and he just told me “just make sure you close the door, when leaving”. Can you imagine? He had this amasing house and he only knew me for 10 hours. Well, this is what I call hospitality and generosity and trust.

I left Williamsburg on Tuesday the 26th in order to go to Norfolk. All my previous days were so packed I was feeling I had to stop for a little bit and write down. Pause and reflect. I had my good chance in Norfolk. I went to the place where I would be hosted but there was nobody there. It was 21:00, I was very tired and for a moment I was like: oops.. now,what? I looked for the city center, searched for free wi-fi, searched for 24h McDonald’s. The plan was to spend my night there and do all my on-line stuff and prepare my blog-post etc. I found 24h McDonalds but “sorry sir, our wi-fi is not working today!” – Urgh. I found Taco-Bell but “sorry sir, our wi-fi is not working today!” – Oh my God, is this possible?? I finally found a 24 hr cafe called IHOP (International House Of Pancakes)…
How I got there??

 I spent 13 hours there (from 23:00 to 12:00)! I had 12 cups of coffee and I also ordered “All you can eat pancakes” BUT they stopped serving me after 6 hours there! (Urgh!) I was trying to put in order my internet life there, but, most importantly, I had a very serious phone-call…

[As you know (?) one of the goals of this trip is to visit schools for my dissertation in education. In order for me not to send e-mails in schools I know nothing about, I was trying to enter schools through the Global Network of Schools that is coordinated by UNESCO. (Yes, this “E” right there stands for Education – I didn’t know it either). After 4 months of writing letters, sending e-mails, making phone-calls and being in contact with the Hellenic UNESCO Committee, finally I got an answer that the schools that I wanted to visit are very busy and it would not be able for me to carry out my research there 😦 ]

So, right there, in Norfolk’s IHOP, in-between the 9th and the 10th cup of coffee, with my notebook-diary in front of me and a very rude server that refused to bring me my 3rd round of pain-killer pancakes, this dream of mine in regard to visiting schools around the world, started to fade away. And this because I had no time to send e-mails to unknown schools and tell them that “I am at your city now, can I visit your school”. I really had to go at least to 1 school in the USA in order to set the basis for a comparative research that is kind of all-inclusive (USA, Latin America, Africa, China, Russia, Europe). So, I was very sad and upset, as I couldn’t also find the time and the place to do all the preparation necessary to send e-mails in schools. I was about to enter North Carolina’s Outer Banks, be there for 5 days, camp and be alone for a bit in the wilderness (I had no camping yet in the USA).

But then again, while being very sad and disappointed, I did what always makes me feel better. I delved into my thing-self. (Your what?) Yes, it sounds awkward. By “thing-self” I mean all the tangible manifestations of my personality that are to be found in expressions of mine (in the form of notes, photos, poems, collages, drawings, plans etc.). I checked my notebook, I checked my electronic diary, I even checked my Facebook Profile and Page. And I saw myself’s submitted expressions of compact meaning. Right there, conscious and careful arrangement of things in a picture. Meticulous picking of words in a poem that is not a Poem, but a beautiful and meaningful (to me at least) and compact array of words. Stimuli that relate to memories that relate to songs that relate to people. All combined. And right there, in this spatio-temporal and bit artistic expansion of myself I said “Woohoo man! That’s interesting, that’s beautiful, that’s… you! I exist!”

 cogito ergo sum – creo ergo sum
(
I think, therefore I am – I create, therefore I am)

So, in looking at my notebook I also saw all this preparation I had done for this trip and all this effort I put into this, and I saw “Nορφολκ” (Norfolk) in a page I wrote  8 months ago, and I said “well… visiting schools is a part of it. You do your best from now on and when you get out of the Outer Banks, find a place, concentrate and send some e-mails to schools – you never know”. Before though I got to open my notebook, amid panic and sadness, I called my friend George. When things turn shitty he is my first line of defense (even when I can’t reach him – I am trying to think as he would do – I carry him) 😀

3 months on the road, today! The sun rises in Norfolk, Virginia and I open my preparation notebook and see Νορφολκ there, and the date was 2352015, 8 months ago!
Nορφολκ is there, in my preparation diary, 8 months ago… Sunrise, IHOPe

So, that was my time in IHOP, the last Tuesday of January. I was waiting for the rain to stop and I hit the road sleepless, moving to Outer Banks (OBX) – I had no idea where I would stop that day, where I would sleep that night.

(At IHOP I had some time to investigate online the wildlife of North Carolina, as I would be camping for the following 5 days at least. I saw that there were black bears there and I was a bit scared. I thought, though, that I will be sleeping in residential areas… I didn’t know what I had in front of me…)

I headed South and East until I reached the Atlantic Coast. From that point I would be riding only South, in parallel with the seashore. All good until that point. However, I didn’t really know what the landscape looks like in OBX and I also had another issue. A krak in the rack! On my way to the Atlantic Coast, an awkward sound from the rack hit my attention. I look there and… I kind of fixed that and moved on. At some point, before the sun set, I am in front of this:

Daemn’t! This was my only way to ride the OBX! I want to go this way! Urgh. I was very annoyed and I had an inner battle – what should I do? After taking some time I thought that “I am in a foreign country, in an unknown context/environment, where laws are enforced – I should obey and go back”. So, I just left! I started going back really disappointed. After a bit there was the wildlife refugee station – I thought I should ask – nobody there – It was closed. I saw 2 cars in the parking lot and went to ask for some advice. The first one told me “yeah, it’s closed now because it’s the birds’ mating season. It’s better not to go” The other one told me “yeah, it’s closed now, but it’s only 10 miles, make a quick and you ‘ll cross it in less than an hour. Since there’s nobody here, nobody will check and punish you. There are bears in the wider area, but they sleep at this time of they year, don’t they?” As  you can imagine, I followed the 2nd one. I went in thinking: “I ‘ll be fast and I’ll be at the other side in less than an hour” – (in retrospect, how silly was that decision!)) I was going fast in the unpaved road, having forgotten about my broken rack. After 1-2 kms… KRAK!, my rack broke at another point too and now it’s…well, useless! I  am at a wildlife refugee, in an area I shouldn’t be, where bears may be around, and the sun is about to set! OOPS! I put all my stuff in my shoulders and walked my way out thinking about where I will spend the night? and what about the bears? Pffff…..

My frustration went away in a matter of 5 minutes, as I reached the station…
But.. let’s take it from Norfolk…

So… I woke up at 05:45 am at a camping spot I shouldn’t really be, I pack my stuff and head to the ferry. It was a 2 and a half hour trip so I had time to prepare myself for the following journey. I didn’t know where I will stop or sleep. The plan was to reach Jacksonville (135 km) and maybe a bit more, then wake up on Sunday morning, ride the rest and go to Church in Wilmington. But it was already 10:00 am…

I had severe saddle sores so I was wearing 3 padded shorts in order to be able to ride. That was an epic journey!

I reached Wilmington at 2130 – exhausted as I were, I hit the city center and… guess what, I looked for a free wi-fi in order to find a place to camp. So there I am, on a Saturday night at a very central point (full of bars), with well-dressed people all around me. Myself is looking more like a homo sapiens on a fully loaded bike, rather than someone who is looking for the best bar in town to listen to an awesome live music show and enjoy some cheap beers. Well….  I was both!!!

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30/1/2016 – 229 km – 9:47:26 riding + 11:42:11 total time – 23,5 kph average – 5.825 cal – 23 kg load – no electric assistance  (tinyurl.com/ztznos9)

A man (Josh?) approaches me  with his bike: “you need help? directions?” – “actually I am looking for a place to camp” – “follow me!” – “yes, sir!”. We are in front of Scrap Iron Art Gallery, Wilmington Downtown. Josh introduced me to Murphy and Murphy introduced me to Brandon (the owner of SIAG). I was to camp at his backyard but after the live music show I fell asleep at the sofa and he let me sleep at his bar without him being there! He asked me “can I trust you?” – I assured him and he said… “just make sure you close the door, when leaving” – again, the same! What a country?! What a people?!

I woke up next morning, Sunday the 31st of January of 2016. I could hardly sit on the saddle, honestly. I found the church (St. Nicholas). I enjoyed the Service a lot and the sermon. Right upon the end of the Liturgy ms Stacey (Anastacia) approached me and started talking to me – being interested on who I am, what am I doing, etc… We started talking and it was such a pleasant surprise. She was the wife of Deacon Thomas, and they invited me at their place for lunch… Well… they hosted me for 3 nights!!! I am so grateful to them. Not only for the provision of food, shower, a place to sleep, but also for their lovely company, their wonderful family. I felt like a family member, really. We had a lot of discussions on spiritual issues and I was so interested to hear about their journey until they found the orthodox faith. It was such a boost for me…. You see, people who are spiritual wanderers and finally they find their “port” have a lot to teach to us. Things like being consciously and voluntary a member of Church, like being grateful for inheriting the faith of your forefathers, like being a soul that seeks God everyday. Thank you!

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On Sunday, when leaving Church with Deacon Thomas, we saw mr. Alexandros. He approached us and was very interesting in who I am and how come and I am in Wilmington etc… Next day, Monday the 1st of the 2nd, I went to Starbucks in order to organise myself and send e-mails to schools… Mr Alexandros had called Deacon Thomas in order to learn where I was.. so he came and found me at Starbucks!!! We discussed a bit on my trip and I expressed him my disappointment about  UNESCO schools. His wife, professor at the University in Education, may could help. She came at Starbucks to meet me and at the same night we had a dinner at Giorgio’s restaurant, along with mr Nick and Ms Nena and Mr Yannis and Mr Alexandros and Ms Eleni! Apart from enjoying their company so much I loved getting an insight of what it means to come from Greece in America looking for a better life, or what it is to be a Greek born and raised in America. It was such an enriching experience for me.

But, back on track, at this dinner I let the company know about UNESCO schools  and about my dissertation project and Ms. Nena said that it may be very possible to visit a local private school. She asked for CV, documents, etc., I turn on my tablet and in a matter of minutes I send the e-mail with all the documents necessary. They print it there and on Tuesday morning (the nexrt day!) at 0930, I get an e-mail that I can visit the school at 1230!! Hoorraayyy!! Amasing?

I spent 3 days there, observing class lessons and interviewing one teacher and I was… fascinated. I can’t reveal anything else as research matters are a bit sensitive. I ‘d like to let you all know, though, that I gave a presentation to the kids of the school, showing them some pictures and demonstrating the bike. IT WAS FANTASTIC! Thank you all at the school for this warm and wellcoming hug of yours!!!

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Finally, I ‘d like to let you know that I am deeply grateful to Mr. Yannis Kartsikaris, from Edessa! What a man?! Generous, helpful, warm, friendly. Without him my short time in Wilmington would be a lot harder!!! He hosted me at his place, he showed me all around Wilmington, he introduced me to his kind and very interesting friends, and he was always taking me from place to place with his car. (You know… it’s not the best to go to a school for research being sweaty…). 😀 😀 😀

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The Fernandez Family , Ms. Eleni, Mr Yannis, Mr Nikos and Mr Alexandros!

I got into some details here only to draw the picture better…to make clear how… one thing leads to another… how sometimes making no plans is better.. but most importantly how people can be very polite and warm and showing love. Love! So many lovely people out there!

During these days I learned that no matter what’s going on, how hard it is… you should just “keep walking”…. “just do it” and things will get better. I always say this to myself in difficult times. “it’s just a matter of time Angelos, nothing is infinite. It will be over”HA!

As a goodbye, a realisation I had when cycling on the sand, upon entering North Carolina.

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It is hard to leave your mark…

Riding on the sand like the one you see above was sometimes difficult and sometimes very very difficult! But there was no obvious reason why this difference. I mean the sand was looking exactly the same at every moment. The point is that when I was looking back at different times I could see my trail when it was very difficult to ride, but there was no trail when it was easier. The conclusion is. It is hard to leave your mark, but it’s worth trying!

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…but it’s worth trying!

 

Weeks 11, 12, 13 – New York, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C

Τhis is Monday, the 18th of January, 2016
Washington DC – 14:32

I am writing from a Barnes & Nobles / Starbucks – bookstore / cafe right now. If we consider myself and my equipment (all the stuff I carry in this trip) as one, I am so spatially  e x p a n d e d  at the moment. I am sitting at a very certain seat here so I can look on my left, outside the store, for my unlocked bike, and on my right, 10 m away, for my phone which is charging at the tablets’ exhibition space. All my stuff is at the Hostel, but I can’t really go there right now as I have checked out and I just have my bags there temporarily. Why? Because I would have been going to a couchsurfing host for today and tomorrow, but she cancelled. (However, she told me she is asking a friend of hers if he is available, so I am waiting for an answer now). Not sure where I ‘ll sleep tonight.

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“…if you consider myself and my equipment (all the stuff I carry in this trip) as one…”**

Maybe I should be worried, but I am not. If I can’t find a place to sleep I ‘ll stay at the hostel for 2 more nights. I can afford that. [Yesterday I was walking in Georgetown (Downtown Washington)  and I could see people sleeping outside… Can you imagine? At -7 °C !! Well, I definitely can handle uncertainty as to where I ‘ll sleep tonight]. I am staying for a bit more here in Washington DC as I need to get some rest.. I had a very intense pain on my right knee and on my left high instep the other day arriving from Baltimore.. That night, at bed, before I close my eyes I was kind of terrified. What if… my knee gets worse.. What if this pain is recurring.. What if.. I can’t continue… Brrrrr…

Thank God, it feels better – I guess because of the rest. I like a lot this phrase of Einstein:  “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. Not being insane myself I went and fixed the way I sit on the bike.. I had no other issues previously, but I really felt I had to change something on the way I ride… I had an appointment for a special bike fit session at The Bike Rack DC, that normally costed 125 $ – they charged me nothing and I am very much thankful about it. I also cancelled my flight from Miami to Bogota. It was on the 11th of February. No need to rush, really. I checked the weather in Latin America and Africa if I go there later and it seems ok.. I am also looking at travel insurances.. It is very expensive (1250$ for 12 months and global coverage), but this is the wise thing to do right now. My body takes me to the next city and I have to respect it.

Despite facing the aforementioned difficulties I can say I very much enjoy the USA. Ι am now close friends with the idea that I am not a tourist and that sightseeing is low in my to-do list. I don’t even like the idea of being a tourist, actually – tourists tend to consume sight-seeings, landmarks, museums. They seem to care more for taking pictures there rather than learning how-what-why and all the specifics. It’s not that I have a… touristic complex, no. Myself is this type of sightseeing-consumer sometimes. But now my priority is to meet people, spend some time with them, go out, talk on politics, on relationships, on the way of life is here, and this kind of things.

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“It’s not that I have a… touristic complex, no…” Hahaha, I ‘ve been waiting since Albania to make this joke 😀

Ah! I finally bought a camera – it’s a used Nikon Coolpix A, with 4 buttons that do not work. But I hope it will take good pictures – haven’t really tried it yet. I tried hard to open and service my old one, but in vain.

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New York City was fascinating… was… amazing. I planned to stay way less, but finally I spent 13 days there. Although I was kind of negatively predisposed, as New York may be considered the very center of capitalism (and capitalism is not my best friend), I super-enjoyed my time there. I can’t believe I didn’t actually go to the Liberty Statue or the Museum of Modern Arts or… but.. honestly I don’t care. It wasn’t that important for me to go there. What was of greater importance was to feel the city, feel the vibes, meet new people, discuss and have fun. All done. I can’t describe how happy and full I feel for spending time with my cousins there, Christina and Panos -and specially Panos, as I was living at his place. We had our walks, we had our nights out (not so successfully – hehe). I had greek souvlaki in Astoria, I played football with Panos, I met his friends, he showed me all the cool places around to eat.. from pastrami sandwich to chicken n waffle, to frozen yogurt or ice cream with salted caramel, to Shake Shack burgers… I had a glimpse of what his life looks like and I really really enjoyed that – sorry, no details on this 🙂 . I had a lot of walks around the city and even more rides, actually. It was very convenient to navigate in this city, as it is a grid – streets have numbers and not names. Descartes would approve 😉

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From multiple conversations with locals I got the idea that money and status do matter in New York City. When you meet someone, some of the first questions usually are where do you live and what’s your job. Or, you meet someone and you feel that he/she is trying to see how he/she can get advantage of you. This may very well not be the norm. But it is certainly there. I have to also let you know that Americans (or at least the ones I meet) are very straightforward. Some days ago, I was told in the Post Office in NY “look young man, I am very very tired and I am not gonna answer same questions twice.. you want this package shipped, yes or no”… Which was ok.. I like honesty. (although it is rumored that people from NYC are rude)

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I also have to mention one night out I had…. I went alone to a couchsurfing meetup event.. I met a Lithuanian and a Chinese guys who were currently living in the city. We went later to a Bulgarian bar that was… amazing.. It was just a room actually, not very big.. And you could see so many people from all over the world.. I was sitting at a corner and smiling as I was observing this multicultural atmosphere and as Vilus (from Lithuania) was buying me drinks.. (Thanks man!) You could see people from Asia, African-americans, Latinos, Americans, people from Europe… all dancing… every one in his/her own way… Unconditionally, unconventionally, free.. It was unique… (I am not sure how I made it home, I certainly know though I had a burger on my way back).

On Tuesday the 12th I left New York City to reach Philadelphia.. I had to take the ferry and then ride for 162 km..

I was hosted by Maggie in Philly for 2 nights and I’d like to wholeheartedly thank her for… waiting for me (as I was almost 2 hours late), for making for me a list with things to do and see and…eat!, and for having such a great time, actually.. We put some music we both like, we chat and sung a little bit…  she has an amazing voice! We had some beautiful conversations but something I kept was what M. told me about the average American. He/she may not be so interested on, not the President of the U.S.A in himself, but this level of Politics (congress decisions etc.), as he/she is more interested in the local politics, what the state does.

On Thursday the 14th of January I left Philadelphia to ride a good 192 km to reach Baltimore.. Well I didn’t actually did 192, but 172, cause I risked a little bit, and as a result I had troubles with the police…

The only unfortunate with my stay in Baltimore was that it was so short… I am grateful to Christine for hosting… I really much enjoyed going out for dinner with her friends.. I had this amazing crab patty (that I really ignored its existence, I thought it was only in Spongebob squarepants – hehe) and also it was very interesting talking with different people on what they do, if they enjoy what they do, what’s their view on politics (there was a political debate that night)… Christine was so kind to make breakfast for me and, also to take a neat picture of me ready to go.

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On Friday the 15th I left Baltimore to go to Washington DC. It was only 70 km and I thought it would be really nice and smooth… Well… not… I had a very strong pain in my right knee, so that I couldn’t really move my leg in a circular way. I was practically pedaling only with my left leg.. and this resulted in strong pain on my left high instep.. So, I took my time here in DC, in order to get some rest… The fun thing is I met in the hostel Antoine, from France and Alberto from Italy (they didn’t know each other) – we went in Georgetown for a drink (that was actually a burger, as I had forgotten my Identity). These guys have already been travelling in the USA for a month or so, and we had a nice conversation on American culture, on European Politics, on refuges, on Muslims.. So very interesting and fulfilling. The view of Alberto was that he could live in the USA as everything is in order and if you work hard you can certainly make money.. Which is indeed true..  But that was a long talk..

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On the realization that we are on the bus going home with the same man that we were on the bus when going downtown…

*  I meet a lot of people and this is so very much interesting as I can spot some things that are in common in people’s thought. In the American lifestyle, along with the social media wave comes the dating app fashion (Tinder, Hinge, Coffee meets Bagel, Hitch, Match, Badoo, etc.). I don’t want to be deterministic or dogmatic here, but I want to make clear I don’t like these apps myself. As one of the persons I discussed about it put it: we forget how we do it (meeting and flirting) in real life as just by holding your phone, you don’t take any risks. I was also told by people that “I don’t like it, but I do it”.

** I mean, my sense of self-space while on the trip is not only about myself. I feel I occupy more space as I kind of expand to encompass my “materiality”. I have to constantly know where all my stuff is. I change places very often and I have to be very aware of my belongings. I ‘ve already lost two bag rain covers, my helmet rain cover, my lighter, and… who knows what else?

23rd of January of 2016, Saturday:

I am in the seventh heaven of happiness. I am now writing being seated on the sofa of the first floor of an egalitarian, anarchist, income-sharing community in Richmond Virginia. Complicated? Well… a great team of lovely people focused on living and working collaboratively under the same roof. I am so happy I ‘ll spend my days with them – So far, amazed by their DIY projects (e.g. bike-powered washing machine!) and their participation in the http://foodnotbombs.net/ (we ‘ll cook food tomorrow for people in need). I am having some very thought-provoking conversations here on all the adjectives above (egalitarian= non-hierarchical -> can be functional?, anarchy -> is it realistic?, income-sharing -> why??), but I ‘d like to stress 2 issues here that struck me the most.

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1) It is something Emmett told me… that he actually, by being here he… saves time… Time to spend on things that are really important – on personal growth. On meaningful interaction, on reading/learning, on creatively producing, on building his context of living on a more ecological and sustainable basis. Gaining time for what is more important…… Sounds so simple, but is so unconventional. Gaining time instead of…… well, working like crazy all day…. for who and for what? Intriguing, to say the least.

2) I ‘d like, also, to emphasize an aspect of the “income-sharing” part. And by income-sharing we mean that whatever income a member of the community produces goes to the community. Not a part, all of it. What I liked on this is its self-regulatory power. A system-of-living like this would make myself more conscious on what I spend and how much. E.g. I love chocolates and candies, right. If I wanted to spend 50$/month on sweets, this would be too much for the common-sensical way of distributing money. Same pot would force me not to exaggerate on things. Collective here can be a self-correction tool. Cool?

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Oh……. I forgot! Yesterday!  Yesterday was an amazing day, honestly.

I woke up in Fredericksburg in a beautiful, comfortable, well-decorated house with lovely people, Beth and Terry, who have a place in my heart now. [I was hosted there for 2 nights and I had a really great time. Apart from the super-tasty dinners and breakfasts, I had enjoyed a lot our conversations! I learned about American History (and in particular, Civil War) and also about the american health care system and more. I also enjoyed a lot our conversation and B&T’s input on personal matters. It is really fantastic how comfortable and close you can be in a matter of hours with some people. With some wonderful, warm, open, friendly people.. Beth & Terry thank you!]

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Terry-ble mistake there… Sorry tall man! 🙂

So I woke up at Fredericksburg and I had a rich breakfast (Omelette, cheese, mustard toast and pineapple on the side, coffee cake and espresso – yummee!). And then I had a very beautiful ride in the countryside, with next-to-no traffic, traditional american houses and I also saw 2 deers! I was going as fast as possible cause I wanted to reach Richmond before the snow storm arrives – but the storm came earlier… I was seriously afraid that it’s gonna be very bad and everything will be paralysed in 10 minutes. So I tried hard and I rode in the snow for 2 hours. It was a lot fun and a bit dangerous and I fell once because I couldn’t tell where the road ends. But after a while it was so good because I knew I was close to my destination… even the cars couldn’t move, and there I was, going slowly and smiley..! How cool!

So I get to this super-duper amasing place where I am now. I put my stuff in place, and later we all went to some friends (driving the jeep in the snow – slow and fun!). We ate, drunk, and went outside to slide in the snowy slopes of a park.. (I had none of this cause I was SO full). BUT, WHAT A DAY?!

It’s kind of…. awesome.
I go to bed and I think of my days… today and yesterday and what I am doing, who I meet, how I feel. I am so lucky*. I am close to tears on the micro-realization of how cool is my time now. And then I go to a macro-realization of where I ‘ve been so far and where I am going to be and I am ready to explode, honestly. My inner voice goes like this “gkigthwaefofna – you have work to do when you go back” – meaning, you are the receiver of so much love and you are having so much great experiences. When you go back to Athens you have a mission. To do something that expands. Something that reaches the many. Something beneficial for many. Something that shares the love back. 

*Luck is God’s nickname to me.

Weeks 8, 9, 10 – Massachusetts

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Hello World (part I),
28th of December of 2015, here.

I am typing these words having already spent 11 days in Boston. That’s a lot, but actually I am kind of stuck here as I am waiting for a package and I can’t leave before it arrives. It should have been here before Christmas, but… nope. And the thing is I don’t know when it will be here so I can make a schedule. I feel like a fish out of the water… I wanna ride! I wanna see USA! You may say, ok, look at the bright side, more days to explore Boston!

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Troubled.

Well, not exactly like this. I don’t know why-what-how but my situation is one I am feeling sleepy all day. I drink coffee but I feel sleepy. I had days during these first U.S.A weeks that I was sleeping for 15 hours at night and then had 2-3 hours of sleep during the day… Apart from that, I spend some time in Church, since it’s Christmas time. I have found an excellent Bulgarian Orthodox Church very close to where I stay and I am going there every other day.. I enjoy services there so much and I am very happy I met some young Orthodox people from the States.

I also had my bike repaired by Shean at Giant Boston bike shop… I am grateful to this guy because he was so generous… He cleaned my whole bike (which I hadn’t done for the last 2 months….), he replaced the chain and the cassette for free, and he also gave me for free a lot of stuff…Appreciated.

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Furthermore, it annoys me so  much that I am in the USA for the first time.. everything is so new and… special, and my camera is not working. The official service needs 300 $ and I have to ship the camera. The unofficial service needs about 150 $ but they don’t know how much time they need cause they have to order stuff and this takes time… The camera just gives me a black screen. All the indications is there on the lcd but no normal picture can be captured, only plain black.. I saw a lot of youtube fixes but none of them gives results. I like my camera so much. I am now dedicated to fix it myself.

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In addition, I am a bit worried about my budget running low faster than I estimated. I spent for food, accommodation and miscellaneous stuff for 7 weeks in Europe, 840 €. Which is…ok, I think.. But I also spent 220 € more for getting to the airport and buying extra kilos (and some 100 € on software for videoediting-timelapse).

Now, as far as the USA in itself is concerned… First impression? I am amased! People here are FRIENDLY, OPEN, KIND, GENEROUS, SMILEY, HELPFUL (so far, eh)… Example: When I landed here I was trying to ride from the airport to the city center without getting in the highways.. After some time and many attempts I was desperate and got into the mini market of a gas station. I asked the cashier if she knew a way to the city that is appropriate for cyclists. She didn’t know, but she started asking “Hey sir, do you know…”. After 3 minutes there were 5 people around me, something like a consultation, trying to find out what’s the best way for me to get to the city… I was smiling like a 7 year old..

But everywhere really – you go into a shop, you ‘ll probably find someone who likes the his/her job and is smiley – I went to a cafe yesterday and the lady at the cashier asked me “how are you today, sir?” – (yes, I know it’s part of her job, but I can tell when someone is unwillingly doing something or not).. Even random people on the street are very helpful. I am happy to ask for directions here, really. One lady at the bus stop just started talking to me about how people are afraid here of the strangers (and that they have guns at home) and stuff. We had a good 20 minute conversation.

There are also a lot of guidelines, here, on how to behave. Labels on the street, on the shops, everywhere. And also, do I need to mention that everything here is… extra large.. The streets, the cars, the supermarkets…

Oh, I should mention that I celebrated Christmas at the Annunciation Greek orthodox cathedral of New England. After the Liturgy I was invited at the house of Papadopoulos family at a festive meal that was such an experience for me and I enjoyed it a lot. These people just opened their house to a total stranger and I am so grateful about that. The father, Mr. Alekos, has spent over 40 years in the U.S.A and, in answering my questions, he was telling me how valid they are the “American Dream”,”…the land of opportunities” etc. (if you are working hard, of course, and you are relatively smart).

At this point I wanna thank from the bottom of my heart Marios and Mihalis for their warm hospitality in Boston. It was really important for me to have my first days in the U.S.A in a proper and comfortable place.

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Mihalis & Marios, post-graduate scholarship students at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Well done guys and many thanks!

On a personal note, now,

Ι felt kind of lonely these days. I mean… I enjoy being alone, especially when I am riding – it’s fun. [Of course some company would make the journey less boring, sometimes]. But, these days, I don’t know – a bit lonely. Not some being-far-from-home-during-Christmas loneliness, no. I know there are people who love me and I can call them whenever I want and feel their presence.. I hadn’t really something important to share. But sometimes you wanna chat with a close person of yours just for everyday stuff. You know, just share some thoughts on ordinary stuff. How have I dealt with this feeling? I responded to my self with an “empathetic nudge”: imagine how many people live alone in small or big apartments, how many are alone in  hospital rooms, how many elderly don’t have someone. Or even, and that’s closer to my reality, how many fellow-Greeks may feel being abroad, away from their country, away from their beloved, distanced from a place they love. Conclusion: when I feel bad or awkward, I look from above, the macro-image, I place myself in a broader context. At the time, I felt being one with all these “stand-alone-units” around the world -> not alone anymore. Cool how perspective and thinking can change your feelings… (When I finished this paragraph,  i grabbed my coffee and I saw this on the cup )

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What are the chances???

Oh… and there is another feeling knocking my door these days. I think this is because I am not changing location for some time and I am pretty much alone to spend some time… thinking in retrospect.. It has to do with… well, how realistic is my travelling proposition. It is this fight between the colorful (dreaming and believing in the potentiality and in the inner hidden powers of yours) AND the neutral (living in a reality of limited time, money, energy).

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I think the seed was this animal cry in Paris… I got afraid my friends at that point. Fear. I had never experienced fear in my life. Like fear, real sense of wearef*ckednow. So, these days I am having recurring thoughts about encountering bears, about snakes. And all these obstacles I had so far, with the weather, with the road, with finding where to sleep. I mean, at the time  (when I was having all these issues) I had no negative thoughts or even negative feelings [cold? ok.. I am cold but hey I am out here – going around with my bicycle – from country to country – how cool is that? -> no cold) – you know, I was so excited. I am now, too, but now I can look back at the first completed part of the journey and look again in front of me. And be more realistic. Latin America.. Africa….Africa… Africa…

Of course I want to go there so much and see these people – how they live, how they are. I had no thoughts of by-passing a part of the journey. I am just feeling a bit afraid and… awkward and.. i-am-so-small-this-is-too-big.

Before we move to “Hello World (part II)”, which is below, you can have a look at how I get to Boston.. Or… 19 minutes on “25 hours in a day”!

Hello World (part II),
3rd of January of 2016.

4 days so far in New York City. What’s been happening….?
I couldn’t wait more for the package to arrive and I also didn’t want to ride on the 31st, so I left on the 29th in order to ride a good 370 km in two days and reach New York… Well, I woke up on the 29th and everything was white! (First day for this year!) I was happy looking the nearby roofs full of snow but my smile faded away as I saw the streets condition. And that was….. snowy, icy, waterish… 😦 I said “well, no matter what, I am leaving Boston to-da-y”. This is what followed.

So I said “ok I ‘ll take the train”.. I went to Worcester Train Station. There was no-one there. No tickets office at all. Just a security guy – I told him “I wanna go to Hartford, do you know..”, he said “I don’t do Amtrak, I do Security” (*Amtrak is the National Railroad company)… I went to the platform, I asked around, they told me “you can’t go to Hartford directly from here, you have to go to South Station and then take the train to Hartford”. I bought a ticket from the machine – it was just 10 $ and I am like “yes, South Station must be somewhere around here…”. Well… no.. I started talking with some people at the train and I realised that South Station is the central station of…… Boston! Goodness me, why didn’t they name it Boston Central Station – Boston Train – This Is Boston, People or something similar.. Ohhh (**then I remembered  the central train station of Athens that is called Larissa Station (Larissa is a Greek city pretty far from Athens…). I went to South Station and the last train to Hartford had left an hour ago… I spent 7-8 hours wet, with constant rain/snow/hail, I had 2  falls, my phone got wet and it’s not working, and I was again at the same city – Oh!

There was no alternative left – if I wanted New York for New Year I had to take the train. I didn’t fancy at all this option cause I wanted to ride to New York but I my choices were limited. However… bikes are not allowed at this specific route (from Boston to New York)! My only option was to fold it and take it with me as a luggage… And… this worked out! Thank God!

WIN_20151231_00_35_11_ProAt New York I am being hosted by my cousin Panos..! I am so grateful to him because he showed me some very cool places to eat in New York and we also had an awesome bike ride and party in New Years eve! I had such a nice time so far in New York..

New York is simply… amazing… I have been in some cities in my life but this is… extra ordinary. You step in the middle of an avenue and just look at the horizon…Everything is so big! Tall and pompous and majestic and impressive and imposing. Every 100 meters I am like “wow…just..wow”. Put this place at your travel destinations list and save some good money cause everything here is… expensive!

Now, I need to tell you about another incident with great importance to me. It was not just a moment or an event that fired like fireworks do. It was a continuous internal worry (like an upward slope) that peaked the night of the 30th of December. Panos (my cousin) put a tv series on (Long Way Down, with Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman) that had to do with 2 guys riding their motorbikes in Africa (from Tunisia to South Africa). I liked it a lot and it indeed bear resemblance to what I am having so far (in terms of the nature of the questions travelers pose). The only thing different was the landscape and the very very very poor infrastructure that you could see in the African countries. And also that these guys were riding motorbikes. And also that they had a crew, and cameramen and doctor..

I am alone.. and I will be facing some really big Questions… there.. Where do I eat, where do I find water, is this place dangerous to camp, where is the closest bike shop?  Ok, pretty much all these questions are familiar to the questions I was seeking answers to these 7 weeks in Europe.. BUT I failed repeatedly in answering them properly so far… That’s the thing. I was saying that Europe is a test to see if the whole trip is possible… so if that was a test I had really failed…  I enjoyed so much all the unexpected occurrences and surprises but this is not how I should proceed further on. I can’t imagine myself in Africa getting lost so much, looking for a place to stay at the very last moment, having surprises with animals in semi-forest areas, etc. I mean, I know these will do happen, but this should be the exception, not the norm.

I need to focus more on the months coming and plan accordingly.

So, there is only one big resolution for year 2016. Only one. I don’t know what exactly it needs this wish/goal to be fulfilled but this is it. Plain and clear.

“Do not leave stuff for the very last moment”

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The intention with the above sequence of images is to capture not only how fast years/time pass by, but also the need to pause and think and reflect upon our actions – stay alone a little bit and examine ourselves. I also liked the…reflections of the screen (image of me) into the glass (apple cider & whiskey!) – this is because I am pondering on my activity as performance mediated through Cameras-Facebook-Blog etc.)

The intention with the below sequence of images is to give you a glimpse of what Boston looks like. My camera being broken I acknowledge that it’s really nothing special. (More on New York at the next Post)