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Archive for September, 2008

Jim Durfey’s article on Bulgaria for the Enterprise

Monday, September 29th, 2008

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Published in the Livingston Enterprise the week of September 22nd, 2008.

Bulgaria Spans Spectrum of Benevolence

With Netzy in tow, my bike group raced across Bulgaria.  Our style is
usually more relaxed.  We like to take our time to absorb the sights
and sounds of places through which we bike.  However, our visa
situation permitted no lolly-gagging.

Americans don’t need a visa for Bulgaria.  Nakia, our lead vocalist
and only female when Netzy isn’t there, is from the Bahamas.  As we
quickly learned, carrying a passport from a small country isn’t
helpful while traveling through Europe.  Nakia’s disturbing odyssey
began at the Bulgarian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.  She spent days
in front of the consulate with other frustrated Bulgarian visa
seekers, but couldn’t even gain entrance to apply for a visa.
Finally, she got in line at 1:00 AM, nine hours before it opened and
spent the night on the pavement.  Even then, she only entered after
threatening to request a refund of money she’d already submitted to
the consulate.

All the time in Istanbul proved in vain, however; her visa application
was rejected.  In Edirne, a Turkish town on the Bulgarian border,
Netzy and I tried to do some groundwork at the Bulgarian consulate
there to assist Nakia in her second effort at getting a visa.  With
her gift for nagging pursuasiveness, Netzy talked her way past the
surly guard and all the way in to the consul himself.  She grilled him
on Nakia’s situation in between friendly inquiries about his family.
She left with a guarantee of Nakia’s speedy visa delivery.

However, when Nakia arrived later that week, the consul proved much
worse than his word.  Only after repeated visits, phone calls, and
paying another exhorbitant fee, did he agree to process her visa.  She
got it back to find he had given her a ten day transit visa.

We had never crossed a country in less than two weeks.  When we biked
into Bulgaria, we were resolved to travel as far as possible together
and then send Nakia ahead on a bus.  Given our experience with the
Bulgarian consular system and our impending deadline, you must fogive
us if our attitude towards Bulgaria were less than positive.

At first, Bulgarians did seem stand-offish.  They gave directions
helpfuly enough, but I thought I detected a dirth of happy faces.
Just as we began to suspect Bulgarian consular officials represented
the whole of Bulgaria, we met Dmitri in the small mountain town of
Gabrovica.  Dmitri works on he railroad.  When we paused near the
station to buy groceries, he offered to let us sleep in the break
house for railroad employees.  Delighted to have shelter, we readily

We unpacked and started to prepare a vegetable soup for dinner, when
Dmitri communicated that he would bring some beer.  Even better, we
thought.  Soon a young man lugged in an entire case of Bulgarian beer.
 Dmitri pointed to his junior collegue.  “Room service,” he explained.

We sat down at the table and offered our soup, the simple fare of
travelers on a budget, to Dmitri.  He turned up his nose, yelled out
the door, and smiled, saying “Room service,” again.  Soon the young
man was back, with a prodigious amount of sausage, cheese, and a raw
leg of lamb.  Dmitri gestured to himself, “meat, cheese, beer, no
vegetables,” he explained.

Before we had begun to drink the beer, another bulky Bulgarian man
showed up with a plastic bottle full of a clear substance.  Dmitri
took it and held it up with a proudly.  “Grappa!” he announced.  The
grappa was, as I had feared, homemade distilled liquor.  It’s as
strong as rubbing alcohol but doesn’t taste as good.  We all did a
shot in between soup and sausage.  Dmitri even convinced Netzy,
usually a staunch prohibitionist, to have a sip.

A woman arrived with a bowl of honey.  A man who looked seventy, but
claimed to be forty, joined us.  He had apparently enjoyed a bit of
grappa before his arrival, and demonstrated a much greater fondness
for Nakia than had the Bulgarian consular officials.  I delicately
placed myself between them.

Another woman carried a puppy into the dining room.  My mother cooed
over it.  Dmitri rolled his eyes.  “Puppy, soupa,” he said, suggesting
we spice up the soup by the addition of puppy meat.  Netzy and the
puppy owner joined forces to chide Dmitri.

We stayed up late, feasting on honey, mutton, sausage, soup and beer
and suffering through shot after shot of grappa.  Occassionally,
Dmitri would stumble outside, signals in hand, at the sound of an
approaching train.  We finally escaped to an unoccupied room of the
break house.  Long after we retired, we could hear our hosts carousing
into the night.

We woke up the next morning, a bit groggier than usual, perhaps, but
with our opinion of Bulgarians changed irreversibly for the better.
I’ve met many people a long the way who were angry at the U.S. for one
reason or another.  However, none of them ever held my nationality
against me.  Thanks to Dmitri, I won’t make the mistake of judging the
people of an entire country based on the actions of their goverment or
their consular officials.

I hate playing music on the street

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

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We have a relaxing late lunch cooked by Dobrinka as the sun sets. Just when we want to do nothing other than stretch out and a take a nap, we have to go to work. We have to unwedge the bikes, drag out the guitars, snap together the trailer. We lug it all downstairs, pack it, and bike into Belgrade with full stomachs.

Once we arrive at a suitable location (no cars, lots of foot traffic), uncertainty teases our nerves. Will there be enough people? Will we annoy anyone? Will the cops harass us? In Bratislava they stormed through our crowd in the middle of a song, clapping authoritatively. “Do you have a permit for this spectacle?” spat one of the officers. For the fourth time that day, we repacked the trailer.

In Budapest a woman yelled at us for making to much noise. When we tried to set up in the square, we incurred the wrath of a violinist eager to guard her turf. The cops kicked us out of our spot next to Burger King. In Belgrade we arranged a disadvantageous sharing agreement with break dancers after they set up next to us. Street musicianship is the closest I’ve ever come to gang warfare.

Playing music has become more complicated as of late.  In Wienna I spent several hours being sent from one bureaucratic office to the next, only to be told in the end that permits for playing music on the street didn’t come available until October.

Once at a spot, we sit on the ground. Drew folds his legs Indian style for hours at a time. I switch the position of my legs between songs, but they still go to sleep. The physical and psychological pressure shortens tempers. We snappily disagree about the set list. Large gaps punctuate our performance. Passersby lose interest and walk off.

Give me a day job!

I love playing on the street

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

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The music itself solves the problems it creates. The butterflies in my stomach settle as our four part harmony drifts mellifluously across the square. The synergy of performing our own music lifts everyone’s spirits. Mid-melody I don’t care how much money we make or if anyone stops. I open my eyes, and we’re suddenly surrounded by a crowd. Some stop out of curiosity, but many stop because they like the music. Sometimes they settle down on the pavement and stay for the whole performance. Parents press coins into the hands of toddlers who waddle unsteadily up to the erhu case and slowly dispatch their parent’s appreciation.

The act of playing music justifies itself, with a crowd or no crowd. However, the most important part of street performance for FBR is meeting people. Now we’re in Europe. People no longer approach us of their own accord. With our bikes and white and black skin, we fit in, though a bit raggedly. Playing on the street demolishes communication barriers. We present ourselves for conversation and interaction in a way otherwise impossible.

playing on the streets of belgrade

We interact with the crowds we gather. Pete tells them about the trip, about how we’re trying to encourage biking. People we would never otherwise talk to smile and nod. It spreads our message, but also builds relationships. When the cops kicked us out in Bratislava, members of our audience argued with them for a long time. That night the cops got their way, but we certainly won the popularity contest.

Perhaps the best part of street performance is the individual folks we meet. Take Katerina and Theresa, Croation and Argentinian, respectively, whom we met on the streets of Belgrade. We inquired into what they did. Research, they said. Theatrical research. As they explained while we sat in a Belgrade park late at night, they’re part of an avant garde group of performers. They specifically sing African songs and try to determine what it is that makes these ancient songs powerful during ceremonies. They hope this will lead to a better understanding of how to achieve inner peace.

Here we are with a different Katerina we met in Belgrade.  She had us over to her apartment for a snack and a hookah, but wound up having us stay for the whole night.

Robert is perhaps our biggest fan. We met him in Budapest on our first day, and he and a Turkish girl, Ajam, accompanied us all the way back to where we were staying for the night. A chess champion, Robert brought his board over to our place when we ate dinner. He thrashed us and apologized for not giving us the fine wooden board as it was a gift from his grandmother. He met us later when we played in the streets again. He sat right next to us. It was a slow night and we played only for him. As we sang, his eyes glazed over, he entered a trance-like state as though our music was for him a sort of opiate. After each song his loud clapping echoed up the empty street.

fbr with Robert

We’ve met three or four people in Regensburg, and two of them are named Markus and all of them have been really great. The second Markus is an engineer who did his thesis on the acoustics of the didjeridu. An accomplished, uh…didjeriduer? himself, he invited us to his home after we finished playing on the street. We sampled some of his homemade honey mead, and then we jammed for a couple of hours. He brought out several didjeridus, most of which he had made himself. We accompanied his disco beat and he improvised to a couple of our songs. The didjeridu really made a great addition.

fbr with Markus

Playing on the streets is getting harder. We have to get permits or face fines, and often the best permits are only available months in advance. We’ve been playing in smaller cities lately, and that seems to help. Hopefully this great method of connecting with people (not to mention paying for our food) will remain a viable way of interacting with people through Paris and maybe even back in the U.S.

New Photos up…finally! Hungary, Austria, Germany, and some old India shots

Friday, September 19th, 2008

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I had difficultly uploading photos lately, but I finally got them up, from Hungary to our current location in Regensburg, Germany.  I’ve also been shuffling photos around into a new themed album of portraits of people we’ve met along the way that you might want to check out, as well as adding a last bunch of photos from India, mostly in Jaipur city, that I had forgotten about on a different card.  Some of these also trickle into the “Best of” album.   And you know about our new music up too.

I hope you enjoy checking out the new stuff!


Thursday, September 18th, 2008

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We managed to get some more crummy recordings up. Check them out on the music page. If you like it, stay tuned for the album we will hopefully record when we get back.


Thursday, September 18th, 2008

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Our original route fled winter and chased spring. There should have been no need for warm clothes, so we all economised. Indeed, I’ve spent much of the trip wishing for cooler weather. However, just as we crossed the border between Germany and Austria, fall has caught us (even though it hasn’t officially begun).

We suddenly found ourselves wearing everything we had. Clouds suffocated the sun. The temperature dropped to about fifty or sixty degrees farenheit. Doesn’t sound too cold, but try spending a week outside in that weather and a good portion of it with a steady 18 km/h or so wind to give the air an added bite.

We paused at supermarkets and gas stations, clustering in the heated foyers to warm up. I once came into a bathroom to find Pete hopping about on one foot while trying to warm the other beneath the hand dryer.

Cold isn’t so bad, but cold with rain is a different story. Water provides evaporation: the same principle by which your freezer cools itself to ten degrees farenheit.

Nakia tries to dry out and stay smoke free.

In Straubing we escaped the rain by camping under a bridge with piles of guana and road noise to lull us to sleep. We luxuriated in our dry fortunes and the fire Drew ingeniously provoked despite the dampness of the wood.

I finally broke down and bought pants. Cheap articles of other clothing also presented themselves after surprisingly little searching. As we stay in Regensburg we are slowly massing our resources to do battle with old man winter or his early scouts. We missed the last winter, so I am personally excited for the one on it’s way. Perhaps, though, it will be courteous to hold off just until we can pull safely into Minneapolis.

Vegetable soup for the not getting hypothermia.

Join us from Chicago to Minneapolis: Added American leg starting Oct 21st 2008

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

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Today on Jims birthday in Vienna Austria, we have taken the biggest step since starting our long journey nearly one year ago on Sept 16 2007, and have bought our plane tickets ‘home’ from Paris, arriving in Chicago on Tuesday October 21st. This has wrapped up numerous loose ends for us, not only solidifying our end date but also Nakia deciding to for sure join us for our newly added 2-week American leg of our bicycle journey. In the spirit of our mission to help build bridges of understanding and peace across the world, and to promote all people to bicycle more and drive cars less because of the inherent goodness of bicycling environmentally, physically, and socially, we have decided that the only proper way for us to arrive ‘home’ in Minnesota is by bicycle.

We hope that you will consider joining us for all or part of the way. This is your one and only chance to experience life on the small roads with Fueled By Rice.

Our roughly planned route (to be updated) will take us through Chicago, Aurora, DePaul, Madison, LaCrosse, Rochester, and Minneapolis, arriving in Mpls roughly around Nov 7th +-3 days. If you live along this route, we warmly welcome invitations to camp in your yard or sleep on floors! Please e-mail me at if you are interested in hosting us.

Whether you can or can’t join us on bicycle, we would like to celebrate the end of the trip with you at a late afternoon picnic at Lake Calhoun in Minnapolis upon our arrival around Nov 7th 2008, exact date and details to be determined and posted later.

Other ideas for activities after we arrive are:

-A presentation at St. Johns University-College of St. Benedict open to friends and family to share a bit of our year of bicycle travel

-A fundraising concert to help Nakia buy a plane ticket home from Minneapolis to Nassau, Bahamas in time for Christmas. This is the cost of having the privledge of her joining us to bring FBR in complete to the US to share our perspectives, stories, and music in America.

-Recording our music professionally

For now, in celebration of Jim and Drew’s birthdays this week, I am taking the gang out to a Chinese lunch buffet to again be truely Fueled By Rice instead of by bread, our first restaurant experience since a celebatory Pizza Hut buffet run in Istanbul after we earned more in street performing than we expected.

This afternoon, we will continue westwards along the Danube River through the Apls towards southern Germany: Regensburg, Heidelberg, and into France via The Alsace and on to Paris.

Thank you for all of your continued support!!! Get out there and bike!