Vienna, Paris And Now Greece: Why Travelers Will Relate To ‘Before Midnight’

before midnight premier julie delpy and ethan hawkeIf you’ve ever approached a good-looking stranger on a train, or kicked yourself for not doing so, you probably love Richard Linklater’s trilogy of films – “Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset” and “Before Midnight” – about a pair of travelers who met on a train bound for Vienna in 1995, rekindled their romance in Paris in 2004, and then re-emerge as lovers on holiday in Greece in 2013. I saw “Before Midnight” on Friday, and while I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first two films, I still believe that anyone who is passionate about travel has to see these films.

In the first film, Jesse, a jilted young American backpacker played by Ethan Hawke, convinces Celine, a Frenchwoman who is on her way back to Paris, played by Julie Delpy, to get off the train with him in Vienna. The pair fall in love while walking the streets of Vienna, but rather than exchange contact information when they part, they resolve to meet again in six months. (We learn in the next film that that meeting never happened.)

According to Slate, and a host of other publications, Linklater’s inspiration for “Before Sunrise” came from a stay-up-all-night evening he spent with a young woman he met in Philaelphia, who later died in a motorcycle accident after they lost touch. I saw “Before Sunrise” on the day it came out in 1995 and was deeply affected by the film.

I was 22, a couple years younger than Jesse and Celine, and had just graduated from college. I had no car at the time, and to save on bus fare, I took an hour-long walk from my decrepit $275 per month studio on Walnut Street to the cinema, down on Philadelphia’s waterfront. Jobless and with no plan for what to do with my life, I resolved on the long walk home to scrape together enough money to travel by train across Europe, where I imagined there were plenty of Celines waiting to meet me. It took me two years, but I did just that in 1997.

On that trip, I met a girl from Finland on a train bound for Prague, and we shared a few memorable days together before it was time for me to return to another dingy apartment – this one a $550-a-month, cockroach infested studio in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Unlike Jesse and Celine, I never saw the lass from Finland again, though I did get an amusing, somewhat incoherent letter from her a year later, clearly written in a state of inebriation.

Just weeks after returning from that trip, I decided to move to Chicago, where I met my future wife on my very first day in town. Leaving New York turned out to be the best decision I ever made. Our relationship has been a lot smoother than Jesse and Celine’s, but we still loved “Before Sunset” when we saw it in 2004. Jesse was stuck in an unhappy marriage and was trying to decide if he should stay with Celine in Paris; I was a diplomat who was depressed about the prospect of spending the next two years in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

I’ve been looking forward to seeing “Before Midnight” for at least a year. It feels a little like catching up with old friends you haven’t seen in nine years each time these films come out, and I was particularly excited by the fact that this film was shot in Greece, a country that I love. Linklater’s trilogy is about the big decisions we face in life and how we make them. Jesse always seem to face these crossroads while on trips – first in Vienna, then in Paris and most recently in Greece, where he tries to convince Celine to move to Chicago to be closer to his son.

The fact that the couple faces these major life decisions while on the road rings very true for me. When you’re far from home and removed from your daily routine, you can’t help but examine your life and ponder the big picture questions.

“Before Midnight” has received rave reviews but I wasn’t in love with this film. It had its moments and if you’ve seen the first two, you will want to see it, but I found listening to Celine’s litany of complaints, which are littered throughout the film, exhausting and stressful.

Despite that, I still enjoyed having the opportunity to think back to where I was in 1995 and 2004, and how I’ve changed since I saw the two previous films. Hawke and Delpy are still attractive but seeing how they’ve aged on the big screen is also a reminder of how quickly time flies by. To me, the last 18 years since I saw the first film have gone by in a blur, and the notion that the next 18 will go by just as fast is a little scary, but it’s also a great reminder that life is short, so you’ve got to seize the day.

The other redeeming quality of the new film, for me, is the cinematography. It’s a lush, almost sensual portrait of Greece at its very best – the crumbling ruins, the seaside tavernas and the heartbreaking vistas of the Aegean are all there. According to The Greek Star, the film was shot in the southwest Peloponnese, specifically at the Kalamta airport, and in the villages of Pylos, Koroni and Kardamili in the Messinia region. According to About.com, one of the scenes was shot in the former home of the legendary writer and traveler Patrick Leigh Fermor in Kardamili. The film is a great advertisement for Greek tourism, and since I’ve never been to this part of Greece, Jesse and Celine have once again given me another great reason to hit the road.

Touring The World War One Battlefield Of Isonzo

World War One, Isonzo
Sean McLachlan from public domain image. Original photographer unknown.

Like every other nation involved in World War I, Italy suffered terribly. It joined the war in 1915, throwing its lot in with the Allies against the Central Powers. Italy’s most immediate threat was its neighbor the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The border was mostly in the Alps and soldiers on both sides carved out ice caves from which to snipe at one another and used artillery to fire above each other’s positions in over to create avalanches. To this day, almost 100 years later, bodies of dead soldiers are being found frozen in the ice.

The most active part of the front was along the Isonzo river valley, the border between Italy and what is now Slovenia. For most of its length it cuts between steep mountains on either side.

I toured the Isonzo front with an organized bus tour from Gorizia. Without a car it’s the only way to quickly visit this long and rugged battlefield. Unfortunately, the pouring rain that had been plaguing northeast Italy and western Slovenia for the previous few days didn’t let up. In the higher latitudes it turned into a driving snow. This meant that except for a few glimpses of the terrain, the tour was pretty much a washout. At least we got an inkling of what it was like to have been stationed up here, and we did get to visit the excellent Kobarid Museum in Slovenia.

This is one of the best military history museums I’ve seen anywhere. While there are the usual flags and uniforms and weapons, the bulk of the exhibition is a vast collection of period photographs. These bring the visitor face to face with life on that terrible battlefield where half a million men lost their lives. Both armies are treated impartially and instead of glorification of the war there’s a frank, human look at the people involved.

%Slideshow-82%We get to see them at the front lines, perched high up on alpine peaks or hunkering down in trenches carved into snow and ice. A great amount of detail goes into how the vast armies were supplied, with displays on everything from cooking to handling horses. We also see the soldiers’ more relaxed moments, writing letters home or goofing around behind the lines.

There are some surprises too. One small display is dedicated to Ernest Hemingway, who was a Red Cross ambulance driver at the front and who fell in love with a nurse there. He used these experiences to write “A Farewell to Arms.”

The battles were mostly bloody stalemates, with the Italians making their only significant gains in the sixth battle when they took Gorizia. That was all undone in the 12th battle, better known as the Battle of Caporetto, when the Austro-Hungarians and their German allies shattered the Italian army. “Caporetto” has entered the Italian lexicon as a word signifying any horrible defeat, from a politician losing a landslide election to a football team getting spanked by their rivals.

The museum doesn’t shrink from the true face of war. In one grim display, we see photos of the dead lying unburied on the battlefield, and the grim portraits of some of the mutilated survivors. Some of these images are included at the end of the slideshow here, preceded by a warning. They are not easy to look at but I included them because I think it’s important for civilians to see what war really looks like.

Anyone with an interest in military history will want to see this museum. While visiting the remaining trenches and bunkers along the Isonzo front gives a feel for the terrain, a visit to the Kobarid Museum is essential for putting it all together and understanding the terrible waste of World War I.

Adventures By Disney Announces New Options For Europe And Beyond

Adventures By Disney go to Central Europe in 2014
Adventures by Disney

Adventures by Disney has announced that it is expanding its catalog of travel itineraries for 2014 with new options to Europe and several tours specifically created for the teen traveler. These new additions to the line-up will expand on the company’s already diverse group of tours that are designed to provide adventure travel options for families while delivering a distinctly Disney experience.

New to the Adventures by Disney portfolio is a nine-day escape to Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic that includes visits to the vibrant and cosmopolitan cities of Salzburg, Prague and Vienna. While on the tour, travelers will experience ice caves in the Alps, visit wondrous castles, tour a marionette workshop and get a private after-hours tour of the famed Vienna Zoo – the oldest in Europe.

If Italy holds more appeal over Central Europe, then the new Enhanced Italy tour may be more to your liking. This classic family escape will take travelers to the streets of Rome, Tuscany, Venice and Florence, offering VIP treatment along the way. Highlights include an after-hours visit to the Vatican and Sistine Chapel, a private pasta-making class and of course a special gondola ride through the canals of Venice.

Finally, ABD has announced three new adventures designed specifically with teenagers in mind. These options include escapes to Peru, Costa Rica and Arizona and Utah, and feature activities intended for teenagers at each of those destinations. In Peru, for instance, they can go stargazing around a campfire in the foothills of the Andes. In Costa Rica, they’ll take in the exotic and diverse wildlife of the rainforest and in Arizona and Utah, they’ll have the opportunity to go on a bike ride through Boynton Canyon in Sedona. Each of these itineraries was specifically crafted to engage teenagers and allow families with teens to travel together.

Since its inception eight years ago, Adventures by Disney has been providing high quality adventure travel opportunities for the entire family. These new offerings will only expand on the company’s award-winning service while offering more choices for customers. If you’re looking to introduce a little adventure into your next family escape, they can definitely help you accomplish that in a unique and well-crafted manner.

A Tiny Cruise Line With A Big Impact

cruise lineLike them or hate them, travelers have heard of cruise lines that travel around the world on city-like ships, ply the rivers of Europe or sail from convenient home ports around North America. Some have ships designed to be destinations in and of themselves, while others have purpose-built vessels with a shore-side focus, stopping at world class destinations. Between the brands of Royal Caribbean International and Carnival Corporation alone, millions of travelers take to the sea each year. A comparative handful of cruise travelers choose small, boutique lines that sail just a few ships to many of the same places with their own signature travel experience.

Lüftner Cruises, a family-owned Austrian company, is one of those tiny cruise lines. Lüftner operates Amadeus Cruises, a luxury river cruise line with just six ships that sail along Europe’s Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers in opulent luxury on voyages lasting four to 15 days.

Just launched, 443-foot Amadeus Silver is their largest and most luxurious river ship ever. The 90-cabin vessel is adorned in first-class interior furnishings, luxurious accommodations, authentic Austrian programming and an environmentally-friendly design.

Featured on the Amadeus Silver is Café Vienna, a traditional Austrian coffee shop serving Sachertorte specialties. An open-air lounge named the River Terrace is located in the ship’s bow and has special glazed windows to protect passengers from a windy or rainy day. The ship also has a two-story fitness studio, two restaurants and a sundeck with a golf putting green.

Passenger cabins are a roomy 172 square feet and have innovative French balconies with drop-down windows affording panoramic views. Spacious suites are 258 square feet and have walk-out exterior balconies with seating areas.

On the ship, activities include folklore shows, lectures on the history of the Rhine-Main-Danube canal and Bavarian evenings with live music. Off the ship, city excursions showcase the region’s rich cultural diversity and feature concerts in Vienna, wine tastings in Wuerzburg and castle tours.

Lüftner Cruises also has an uber focus on the environment, earning certification by Green Globe, the global travel and tourism industries’ certification program for sustainable tourism as well as Atmosfair, a climate protection organization with a focus on travel.

“We are well aware that tourism always impacts on the environment despite increasing efforts to offer environmentally-friendly travel arrangements,” said Dr. Wolfgang Lueftner, Founder and Owner of Lueftner Cruises in an Eturbonews report.

On board Lueftner ships, cruise travelers have the opportunity to positively impact the environment. Passengers can, and do, choose to offset their own CO2 consumption with a donation and are given the option to pay a suggested climate protection levy of €2 per day per cabin.

[Photo Credit – Amadeus Cruises]

Half The World Pedaled, Half To Go

Later this week, Vancouver firefighter and cancer survivor Rudy Pospisil will unpack his Giant Seek bicycle on the coast of Portugal, clip in and head for the Middle East. The road ahead stretches 9,000 miles, the distance between him and his goal of circumnavigating the globe on two wheels for charity. He knows he can do it, because he already has – between 2009 and 2012, he logged 9,000 miles completing the first half of his epic quest, surviving armed bandits, eating grass and riding one brutal 100-mile slog after another.

The 51-year-old’s day isn’t over after 10 hours on the bike. When he arrives at a destination, he’s often expected at a local fundraiser, has blogs to write and letters from cancer survivors to answer. This is Pospisil’s vacation – he takes off work six to eight weeks at a time to keep climbing this personal mountain, fighting a disease that has affected nearly every member of his family, including a dog.

Before his wheels started spinning in Europe, he talked to Gadling about Guinness Book of World Records requirements, why he’s not allowed to get a new bike and the trick to surviving machete-wielding bandits.

First, how is your health?
Health is good. I lose about 20 pounds on each ride, and I’m fit and trim from training before I go. But health can change the next day after a scan or blood test. You never know.

When you say circumnavigating the globe, what do you mean?
The Guinness people have rules that qualify as a true global circumnavigation. You must use the same bike, always go the same direction (I go west to east), cross the equator twice, travel at least 18,000 miles and cross two antipodal points (exact opposite points) on the earth.

One bike for 18,000 miles?
Yes. I have to get lots of repairs after and on each leg. I ship it, trusting a bike shop to accept it and assemble it. Another cost and logistics issue. Portugal customs just seized (their translation was “arrested”) my bike and equipment early this week. Wanted 600 euros, duties, import fees, “ransom,” etc. Then possibly more to process it. They wanted me to arrive in person to release it. It was unfounded, as the declaration stated it was “personal used items leaving the country.” They would not budge. I contacted my consulate and federal government in Ottawa. They then released by stuff. No apology.

Have you figured out what your antipodal points will be?
Portugal and New Zealand.

How does one apply for a Guinness world record?
You must provide passport stamps and pictures and video with you in them. I do that, plus Google Maps plots my GPS along the way. It won’t be a world record – only a record that I accomplished the global cycle and followed all the rules to qualify.

What kind of numbers have you logged?
Nine countries and 160,000 vertical feet of elevation. That’s enough to get to space, and halfway around the globe. I just can’t wait to get going again. It’s so hard to stop, go back to the fire station, then train all over again for the next leg.

Where have you been so far?
In 2009, I cycled from Munich to Budapest along the Danube River, through five countries, and started annual fundraisers in Prague and Budapest. In 2010, I cycled from Vancouver to Mexico along the Pacific coast. In Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, I met police and firefighters outside the city and rode into town together to a cancer fundraiser. In San Francisco I had a full police escort. They even stopped the traffic. In 2011 I was asked to circle Oahu with the Hawaiian Bicycle League to raise funds for a safer cycle network after an 18-year-old boy was killed by a hit-and-run driver. I stopped my global ride to go, and it was worth it. In 2012 I crossed the southern U.S. from San Diego to St. Petersburg, Florida. It was a complete adventure that included a robbery, a shooting, getting struck by a car and Mexican bandits that let me live because they like Canadians.

Um, what? How did you get entangled with them? And more importantly, untangled?
It happened near a town called Guadalupe. The town was a rundown place with closed-down stores. Everyone was looking at me, like the stranger that rides into town in a Western movie. About five miles outside of town, these two guys in a lowrider-type car pulled up beside me and offered to carry my saddlebags up the forthcoming hill. I politely declined and said that three police officers riding with me, about 3 miles back, would help me. This was BS, but they weren’t sure. They turned around, likely looking for the officers. I turned it on as fast as I could but there were no side roads – nowhere to hide, just desert and scrub. The lowrider shot past me about 15 minutes later and parked on the side of the road. One guy was waving a machete. They said they would now help me with the bags. I said that I could just give them my wallet instead and save them a lot of room. I have what I call a dummy wallet with an expired credit card and some bills, just for situations like this. I was remembering the turkey vultures all along these roads I had seen, eating dead carcasses, and wondered if I would be next. They saw my small fundraiser Canadian flag with the globe and bike pictured on it. They talked together about it for some time. They looked further through my bags and drove off, just like that. I guess they figured that I was okay to go. My second chance at life after cancer.

How often are you in danger?
Many times. I was hit by a car in central Oregon. Forced off the road by rednecks in Texas. Had my front tire shot out in L.A. – either they were a bad shot and completely missed me, or a great shot and hit the front tire rim. Cramped so bad in Hungary I could not move for 12 hours. I have a small rearview mirror that sticks out a few inches from my handlebar. Three have been clipped off by passing cars. And I have met many scorpions and rattlesnakes in the desert.

What happened in Hungary?
I was in the country and really pushing, trying to make it to Budapest. I was exhausted, out of water, dehydrated and kept getting slight cramps in my calves. So I stopped to rest my legs. I started cramping in my hamstrings and was rolling around on the ground in this field. It got so severe I could not do much other than lie there. I knew I had to get water. I started chewing on grass, hoping I could get some liquid out of it, but that only cramped up my stomach. I drifted in and out of sleep, or maybe consciousness, only waking to cramp up. I must have been there at least 12 hours, until the next morning. I managed to get on my bike and get to a farmhouse. They made me scrambled eggs. I think it was the best meal in my life.

What’s your average day?
Eat, sleep, ride. Eat, sleep, ride.

Very funny.
Usually I am up at sunrise. I try to cook a nutritional breakfast. I try to stop every two hours to stretch and maybe eat an energy bar. I need to try to shower and clean the bacteria and salt from my skin. If there is no water I use antiseptic wipes. If you leave the salt on the skin, it will be like sandpaper and rub you raw the next day; it’s so bad it has stopped Tour de France riders as a result of infection. Then it’s time to eat. You must try to ensure the proper percentage of fat, protein and carbohydrates, as that’s your fuel. It’s very hard to do this in desolate areas. I have dehydrated meals sometimes. I eat a lot, then after an hour or two I’m always hungry again. I sleep between five and eight hours a night.

And you’re alone?
Yes. It gets extremely lonely.

How do you occupy your mind?
I try to think that I am never alone. My nephew, who died at 15, and my dad, who died last year of cancer, are with me a lot of the time. I look for animals in the fields and hills. I think about my blog and what I will write that night. How I will answer emails I got from sick people who had some hard questions. Sometimes I think a long time about what I might eat that night. Sometimes I get really lonely and sad and just want to go home, especially if it’s my birthday or Thanksgiving. So I spend a lot of time on positive, happy thoughts, as sadness and negativity are very draining and defeating.

When you plot your route, what do you consider and what do you avoid?
You might not think this, but one of the biggest challenges is water. It’s heavy, and you can’t carry too much or not enough. You must know for sure where you can get more. If you make a mistake, you might get dehydrated, delirious and possibly die. Where I go there are usually no cellphones, cars or people for long stretches. In the deserts, I have encountered temperatures up to 120 degrees. I have been in sandstorms, thunderstorms, the edge of a hurricane and freezing temperatures. I find the desert the hardest, as I’m from Vancouver and we have streams and shade. Here, I could survive easily.

I don’t avoid hills or mountains. I avoid cities. A big city you’ve never been to is a real minefield. Texas was pretty bad with 85 mph speed limits and very aggressive drivers. In sections I had to go on the interstate. Blown tires and steel belt wires from tires caused numerous flats.

Tell me about your charity work on the road.
My goal was $50,000. I have raised just under $20,000 in Canada. I’m not sure how much has been raised in the other countries. I contact firefighters in cities ahead, or the area’s cancer agency. For example, in Switzerland I will cycle from Basel to Zurich with the Swiss Cancer Association and firefighters from Zurich. We will have an event in town where the mayor comes out, media, etc. I raise funds for their charity, The Race Against Cancer. I try to write a blog each day on firefightercycle.com. People follow me, as I have a GPS. I go on Vancouver radio shows each week, and sometimes newspaper reporters track me down. It’s very draining, writing each day after riding, answering letters (sometimes sad ones from cancer patients) or attending an event when all you want is a shower, a meal and to sleep.

Logistically, how do you arrange something like this?
Logistics is a huge job. I have to try to avoid cities but yet get to cities for fundraisers. I have to arrange fundraisers, try to find a deal on gear, flights, food, etc. It’s extremely expensive to do this, so I do what I can to economize. I wish I had a major sponsor. I have filmed the entire journey and have over 25 hours, some amazing footage. I’m hoping a producer might contact me to make a documentary. That would be huge for awareness and fundraising.

What were some places you’d bike again, and some places you hope to never see again – at least on a bike?
Cycling the Danube from Munich to Budapest was great. It was all on a trail, and there was plenty of food and water. The people were great. Mexico and the Texas border were terrible. There were people crossing into the U.S., border patrol chasing them day and night, and everyone seemed to carry a gun there. The heat was extreme, and west Texas was as barren as the moon.

What are some of the most cycling-friendly places you’ve been?
Western Europe, likely Hungary. There is a great cycling infrastructure in Europe. Cycle paths are built alongside roads to make it safe and get bikes away from cars. Also, there are not a lot of fences at the side of the roads, so you can go into a field and rest or camp and feel safe. The food is quite good and easy to come by.

How does a leg end? Do you have a traditional celebration?
The last leg ended at the Atlantic Ocean. I dumped in water and sand from the Pacific, then I jumped in and swam. I had an inflatable globe, added my website and sent it out to sea. Finishing a leg is usually quite emotional, as I have gone so far and had so many experiences and close calls. It all comes out. Sometimes I cry.

It’s one thing to start something epic with good intentions and some resources, but it’s quite another to finish it. Life tends to get in the way. What keeps you going?
I think of Terry Fox, who ran halfway across Canada, a marathon each day, on one leg. He died from cancer halfway through the journey. He grew up in my city and was my age. Rick Hansen pushed himself in a wheelchair around the world. But mostly it’s the letters from people telling me to keep going and the donations. Sometimes I find the poorest people give the most. A girl working at the counter in McDonald’s in Washington state donated $50 to the Cancer Society when I stopped there. That really inspires me.

A lot of people want to have an adventure, but they don’t know where to begin. How can someone take that first step?
So many people tell me that at events, “I wish I could do what you do.” Fact is you can. You don’t have to ride around the world. Join a charity and help them. It will grow on you, and you will meet the best people of society in these organizations and will just want to do more.

What is your ultimate goal?
That my global ride will inspire many other people to start fundraising efforts around the world. To get pharmaceutical companies to all try to work together and share information to find a cure rather than a profit. I am sure that within 10 years almost all cancers could be a treatable chronic illness, not a deadly disease with limited survival rates.

When do you expect to wrap up?
I may finish the global circumnavigation within 24 months, but I will never wrap up. I will still continue either by riding, giving talks or joining other ongoing efforts worldwide.

You can follow Pospisil’s progress through Europe to Iran and find his scheduled fundraisers on his website, firefightercycle.com.

[Photos courtesy Rudy Pospisil]