Aug 18, 2011

facts of life: routines

After so much time of moving from one place to another on a daily basis, it feels like I've been doing this forever, and it feels strange if I stop somewhere. There's only a handful of us, everybody knows where the luggage fits best, everyone can carry someone else's stuff without mixing shoes, sleeping bags or mats, things just flow naturally and the mood is pretty good.

When exactly did this become normal to me? Or even to the others? Can you even call this a routine if you never sleep in the same place, or talk to the same people, or pack the cargo in the same way, or use the same currency, or hear the same language?

I was probably too busy to notice when this change took place, but now I'm wondering what it will be like when I go home and everything changes back. Then again, it might never change back. I've become a different man.

So, to all of you out there, that joined the Ride and went back home: how are you doing?

rider profile: Thomas

Name: Thomas Huber, aka the Doctor
Age: 27
From Austria
Graduated Medicine

"If you do this again next year, I will pay for t-shirts."

day 24 - Olomouc to Potstat

Our schedule in Olomouc was pretty tight. We started the day at the Palacký University, where we met with the Vice-Rector for International Relations, Jakob Dürr, and with the head of the International Relations Office, Yvona Vyhnánková. They had carefully read the Manifesto and took some time to discuss with us our concerns and the goals of this project.

We learned about the restructuring of the Czech Higher Education system and how well it turned out to match the Bologna changes. We were also presented with some facts and figures of the University and the city of Olomouc, along with a short History lesson on František Palacký. At the end of the meeting, we brought our Bike of Honour which was tested and signed by our hosts, both cyclists in their free time.

After a nice lunch with the whole ESN crew, we went to the City Hall, where we met Mayor Martin Novotný, notable for being the youngest person elected Mayor of a big city in the Czech Republic, and also for being the leader of a rock band. After we introduced ourselves, we explained our ideas, received words of encouragement for the challenges ahead and gave the GoCycle another spin.

Once the meetings were over, we went on a city tour, where we found an impressive architecture hiding behind the cover of a student city.

In order to shorten the way to Ostrava, we still had to cover some distance this afternoon. There was a lot of climbing, under rain, up to the small town of Potstat. We stayed at the local kindergarten and went out for dinner at the only place in town. We tried the local food, had a couple of beers and met a young man named Jan, who had to come and talk to us to practice his English skills. The fact is that, between all the meetings and events, we also enjoy talking to the locals, it lets us escape the routine - if we can call it that.

This was one of the longest days so far. We want to thank our local team for welcoming us on such a quick visit, we really enjoyed it!

You can see some more photos of our visit here.

Aug 17, 2011

RFYR is still hiring!

Would you like to join the Ride for your Rights! team on the road?
This is your opportunity!

We are looking for volunteers to ride in Boris alongside Tiago.

Applicants must be fluent in Serbo-Croatian, Hungarian, Slovak/Czech, German, Polish, Lithuanian, Latvian, Estonian, Finnish, Russian, Bulgarian, Italian and Portuguese something.

Applicants must also be able to type 120 a few words per minute, cut hair, edit HTML and PHP, change tires, cook vegetarian food, fix bicycles, tie knots, build shelves, assemble a GoCycle under one minute, know exchange rates for relevant currencies on a weekly basis, play the guitar, do the laundry and hold Andi's mic (no pun intended) and pass the bottle of water.

Other valued expertises include navigation, accounting, nursing and Tetris skills actually showing up.

We offer all the warm tap water you can drink and an endless stream of Bulgarian jokes.

Most important requirement: must have signed the Manifesto!

Apply to this comment box or via e-mail to rideforyourrights[at]

rider profile: Martin

Name: Martin Janovsky
From the Czech Republic
Studies: Telecommunications

"Try velo couché!"

day 23 - Brno to Olomouc

We began the morning meeting Deputy Mayor Jana Bohuňovská at the City Hall. It is important for us that the local government officials, especially in cities with so many students, support such projects and allow for more active citizenship from students and youth. After explaining the goals of our project, we received words of encouragement, a signature on our Manifesto and some reflectors to help keep us safe on the road.

Before departure we had time for some Portuguese coffee and we were joined by Georg, directly from Vienna to ride with us again, and by Martin, a local cyclist who showed us the best way out of the city and offered to help with contacts along our itinerary. Once again, we had a rainy day, but with such a small group we could stretch the day's ride to Olomouc.

After hours under the rain, we made it to the center of the city, where Barbora from the local ESN kindly welcomed us to her flat, which we instantly turned into a nomad camp. Without women in the cycling group, it's harder to remain civilized.

A short stop at the gyros and a not-so-long visit to the pub were enough to get all of us on sleeping mode. More than 100 km in the rain will wear anyone out.

facts of life: supply and demand in the job market

After hours in front of the laptop, with two slices of cold pizza and a raw eggplant for dinner, I finally managed to close shop and grab a beer. I joined the rest of the group in the other room, and after 15 minutes everyone went to sleep.

I'm working for too long, and I'm not as efficient as I should be. I need an assistant. I'm even willing to change our job offer and drop most of the prerequisites. I'll post it again in the next round.

day 22 - Brno

Day 22
July 24th

We had a meeting at the underground headquarters of ESN, at the Masarik University, with lots of food on the table again. We saw a presentation about beer (or was it about the Czech Republic?) and then a video about beer (or was it about Erasmus life?). Once again, we had a chance to talk about our goals, share experiences and then go for some beer.

We spent the afternoon playing a game incredibly similar to a city tour, only to end up at the train station, where Lukas and Ursi were beginning to think they would never make it back to Vienna. Given the low number of riders, we were all rooting for them to stay, but to no avail. Once they left, the city tour (or was it a game?) proceeded onto dinner time. We brought food for Julian and Tiago, who had left to work hours before, and continued with games until inappropriate hours.

It was a very easy going day with easy going people. Pity we have to leave, but there is still a lot of road ahead of us.

Aug 16, 2011

facts of life: the way to a man's heart...

... is through his stomach. If it weren't enough that almost everyone from ISC Brno interrupted their holidays to come and meet us, they put on quite a performance. I can't recall the last time I saw so many people smiling so much. And they topped it with trays and trays of food! And then they gave me raw meat!

At the risk of repeating myself, they totally win the award for the best reception of RFYR! Kristina, Alena, Martina, Marek, Danka, Lenka, Jakub, you guys are amazing! See you on my way back!

rider profile: Ursi

Name: Ursula Witzani
Age: 21
From Austria
Studies: Sports Sciences

"It was a great day with you guys, riding for a good thing. Long live student mobility!"

day 21 - Laa an der Thaya to Brno

Day 21
July 23rd

Our small and ever changing group left Laa and Austria, to add another flag to the pole. The Czech Republic now has the privilege to host Ride for your Rights!

With more merciful weather, we had a lunch break by the lakeside, where Julian decided to upset fishermen and scare little children by riding his unicycle (now finally accessible, thanks to Ferdinand's work).

The ride was comfortable, possibly because of yesterday's spa treat, and was crowned with the best reception we've had so far: the crew from ESN Brno were waiting for us at the dormitory with great snacks and the friendliest attitude we've encountered on our way. They really made us feel at home.

They took us out for dinner and drinks, with the promise of lots of fun for the break day. Looking forward!

facts of life: until we meet again

This morning I said goodbye to Christopher and Juliane, took Riina to the airport, took Majda and Mirko to the bus station, drove Niki and Jakob back from Laa, Nina and Christian will leave in the morning and yesterday I only managed to give Mario some Kofola from the back of Boris, before he returned to his Death Star.

The group I knew is gone, as all good things must come to an end. Less have joined, although we keep our hopes up. And I'm sure I'll see many of my new friends sooner than I expect, latest in the next time we do something like this...

rider profile: Lukas

Name: Lukas Zauner
Age: 25
From Austria
Studies: Sports and Theology

"I came, I saw and changed the world!"

Aug 13, 2011

day 20 - Vienna to Laa an der Thaya

Day 20
July 22nd

With a much smaller group than in the past few weeks, we began stage E with - you'll never guess! - a meeting in Vienna. We were contacted by the head of the Austrian National Agency, which deals with the very issues we try to address and wanted to learn more about the project. We couldn't pass on such an opportunity to voice our message.

We hit the road under a heavy storm, testing our waterproof gear and climbing up the hills on the way to Laa an der Thaya, just before the border with the Czech Republic.

There, we met the local Mayor, presented our project and rolled our the Bike of Honour once again. We believe that local government has an immense responsibility in motivating and supporting young people to start their own projects and not just search for opportunities in the big cities. We've seen much country side up until now, and it's a world of possibilities.

Before we checked in the Pfadfindergruppe house, we received a special treat: evening at the spa! Courtesy of the Mayor and Therme Laa, we had dinner and dipped ourselves into hot salty water outside. It was a very nice reward after riding in the rain.

special thanks: Karlheinz Toechterle

We would also like to thank the support of Karlheinz Toechterle, the Ẫustrian Federal Minister of Science and Research, for the interest shown in Ride for your Rights!

Once again, it is very important for us to receive support and to have a chance to speak to all stakeholders, in order to properly identify and tackle the problems of student mobility. The support of the Federal Ministry, we believe, is a step in the right direction and we hope to have more chances to address these issues in future. There will be much to do once the riders make it to their final destination.

special profile: Reinhard

Name: Reinhard Theifert
Age: 61
From Austria
Lecturer at the University of Vienna

"I wanted to support a great idea of young and engaged students. On a personal note, I felt like being taken back in time 40 years and enjoyed the adventure."

At this point, we absolutely must acknowledge Reinhard's contribution to this project.
He had his students take care of many things related to our stop in Vienna, as part of the course in Sports Management.
He lobbied for us with important institutions.
He helped with logistics.
He personally sponsored some equipment.
He joined the Ride!
He helped Stephanie meet us in Vienna.
He was always supportive and cheered everyone up.

The project has the Bike of Honour, but for the group, the greatest honour was to have him by our side.

PS: it was a bit strange to see him in a suit...

Aug 10, 2011

special thanks: Ideas on Tour

Now that we've made it to Vienna and are about to head North, there is one very important reference we need to make.

Throughout the last three weeks we have lived our share of little adventures within the bigger one. We overcame the heat, the wind, the sand banks and the traffic, and naturally we had a few mechanical problems. Also, we met great people along the way and always challenged them to join the Ride.

All of this was made much easier thanks to Nanond and Xavier. These two brave bikers had a great project of their own: Ideas on Tour, focused on Sustainability concerns. They rode from Sweden to Serbia and got to Novi Sad just before our departure. They took part in our opening ceremony and handed over their bikes to us. Since then, we used these bikes as replacement every time we had a flat or invited someone to join us on a city tour. The Swedish bikes have played a great role in our trip so far, and will continue to do so in the future (it's a bumpy road to Russia).

We'd like to thank them both for the bikes, for the tools, for the help and motivation, and wish them the best of luck in their future adventures. From a fortunate coincidence we've all managed to help each other somehow, and we hope to have more opportunities in years to come.

We invite our readers to check our their blog, where they have the whole information about their motivation for the project, their trip and all the workshops they had on the way. It's great reading, we can assure you.

As for the bikes, they're still safe and we will keep them safe. We even have a few thoughts on how to put them to good use after RFYR is over, but we'll come back to that later...

Aug 6, 2011

facts of life: language barriers II

Today, Boris got a makeover. The whole construction in the back never gave me any sense of safety and we all knew this day would come. So Julian called a gentleman named Ferdinand for help. The plan was to get rid of the shelves we had and build some new ones, that could safely accommodate all the crap we have to carry with us.

We got Swedish shelves to go with the Swedish bikes, measured the stuff carefully, secured everything to the structure of the van and dismantled the old shelves to use parts as slide doors. All extremely efficient and inventive. Now, there is room for all the luggage, the equipment is safe, no more boxes flying when I turn left and my life is generally easier from now on.

The interesting part of this story is, again, the language issue. I don't speak a word of German, nor does Ferdinand speak English. Julian was up on a hill, so we had to understand each other somehow. Fortunately, those three hours of non-stop work were facilitated by one of the most widespread languages of all time: we spoke carpenterish!

rider profile: Daniel and Berni

Name: Daniel Paulnsteiner
Age: 24
From Austria
Studies: Dutch Studies

Name: Bernard Rauch
Age: 23
From Austria
Studies: Sports Science

"Fietsen is lenk."

day 19 - Vienna

Day 19
July 21st

We had a city tour planned for the morning, but the skies had different and the rain beat the cyclists' will to see the city. Andi, however, is never deterred by the rain. He dragged Julian up the hills and recorded a special message to everyone out there, following us on our way to Russia. You'll see the video at the end of this post. In the evening we had dinner and concerts at Tüwi, in what would be the last night for many in the group.

Since tomorrow is farewell day, here's the best tribute we can pay to our brave riders: let their voices be heard. To all who are leaving us now or had to leave before, we wish you the very best things in life. Roll picture:

facts of life: citizens of the world

Tonight, at dinner, I had the pleasure of meeting my friend Arne, who had just returned to Vienna from Aveiro, on a crazy roadtrip. He was hours away from flying to Mexico, for matters of the heart, but still joined us for a sip of wine.

It seems the roads are packed with citizens of the world, these days. Hope to meet many more during the next couple of months.

rider profile: Theresa and Theresa

Name: Theresa Schmelzer
Age: 23
From Austria
Studies: Sports and Italian

"Whatever works."

Name: Theresa Gattinger
Age: 24
From Austria
Studies: Sports and Informatics

"Be yourself, everyone else is already taken."

day 18 - Vienna

Day 18
July 20th

Our first day in Vienna was rather busy, and also very rewarding. We rode to the House of the European Union and were welcomed by Mr Richard Kuehnel, the Head of the Representation of the European Commission in Vienna and one of the first supporters of Ride for your Rights! After the initial greetings, and with the presence of national media, Mr Kuehnel signed the Bike of Honour and joined the group for a spin, before inviting us all inside.

Once we took care of the formal opening remarks, we began to explain the goals of our project and our opinions about the obstacles hindering student mobility. What was supposed to be a short conversation developed into a lively exchange of ideas that lasted for more than an hour. From each person's personal experience, to the actual role and powers of the European Commission, we had a fruitful discussion and a valuable opportunity to transmit our concerns to the European bodies.

After a short break, we moved on to a workshop on Non-Violent Action, led by Mr Harold Otto, originally from the USA, now working with the International Fellowship of Reconciliation in Vienna. We learned about the intelectual principles behind the concept, heard inspiring thoughts from Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr and other leaders of non-violent activism. We ended the workshop with some roleplaying, where Tiago incarnated an "evil" border guard (being the most experienced as of late), Niki as his assistant, Sasha as a clueless German tourist and Tanja as an annoying traveller behind schedule. Then we took the time to put ourselves in the other person's shoes, to better understand both sides of a strife.

After yet another short break, we met Prof. Neda Forghani-Arani, originally from Iran, now teaching at the University of Vienna. She led the second workshop of the day, dedicated to the subject of Global Education. We tried to analyze the way we identify ourselves, in terms of nationality and otherwise, and tried to deconstruct that same identity label. We then split into groups in order to figure out what it takes to be an agent of change. It appears that everyone agrees on the essential aspects (knowledge, values and tools) and that all the riders are quite prepared and motivated to bring about the change they seek.

Julian gave some closing remarks and we went out to lunch at a Pakistani restaurant. According to Sasha, when they say hot, they mean hot.

The afternoon was free for most people, but there's a small group that is always busy. A visit to Ciclopia was in order, where Julian had his bike serviced, Sasha felt like a kid in a candy store and Tiago managed to place the capacity of Boris at seven and a half bikes, plus luggage.

In the evening we had dinner with Mr Gottfried Bacher, from the Austrian Federal Ministry of Science and Research, who had joined us for the morning meeting and wanted to talk to us in a less formal atmosphere. Very familiar with the Bologna Process, he is the person to talk to when it comes to recognition issues, and we're very glad he showed so much interest in our project.

We went on to check out the Vienna night life, after one of our fullest days so far. Intercultural exchange at its best. And the Ride never stops.

facts of life: sleep deprivation

One of the things I've learned from working on this project is that sleep is overrated. An average of four hours per night over the last couple of months has aged me considerably and, but seeing so many people on bikes as I did today makes it all worthwhile.

However, there is a limit. For the last 21 days, out of the 18 nights I had the chance to sleep, I never managed to sleep in the same place twice - and it's killing me. We have three nights on our break in Vienna. If I manage to spend these three nights in the same bed, I'll probably go up in flames and be born again from the ashes. Then they'll kick me out for smoking in the room.

rider profile: Miriam, Tanja and Connie

Name: Miriam Koch
Age: 24
From Austria
Studies: Sports and Geography

"Clear eyes, full heart, can't lose."

Name: Tanja Willers
Age: 23
From Austria
Studies: Sports and Arts

"You have to lose your way to find it again."

Name: Corinna Matousek
Age: 24
From Austria
Studies: Sports and Psychology / Philosophy

"Travelling means living like life is travelling."

day 17 - Bratislava to Vienna

Day 17
July 19th

With the largest group so far, we gathered once again in Sad Janka Kral'a (really, it's a great meeting point!) and welcomed yet another two more cyclists. No ride in the park anymore, we're in it for a big one.

We hit the road, had a break in Orth an der Donau, had a little picnic, two more riders joined the group and we went on our merry way. We were joined by - whom else - our friend Reinhard, who can't resist tagging along with us on his bike and put together a nice surprise for us. We had a quick break in the park, before we moved our first big meeting, in front of the UN building.

By the UN building, we met disabled students and took some time to learn about a very important resolution. Students on wheelchairs, deaf students, they all encounter many more obstacles that the rest of us do, and their rights need much more riding from all of us.

For the final stretch, we crossed the Reichsbruecke into the center, and had a buffet at the University of Vienna. Guess who was there: Stephanie! This lady has no Boris, and yet she managed to reach Vienna in time to meet us again. Always nice to meet fellow travellers...

As most of the riders went home (more than half the group came from Vienna), the rest of us who live elsewhere made our way to Meininger Hotel, where we found the comfort we need for a couple of days of recovery. Much thanks to Pascal, who is our acting babysitter at the moment and, despite the attempted poisoning with Bulgarian rakia, he seems to enjoy our presence very much.

Stage D completed, eleven more to go.