Saturday, June 23, 2018

Poľana – mať stará ohromných stínov

Poľana is an inactive stratovolcano in Slovakia not discovered by tourists. I’ve never been there, so I’ve decided to do a multi-day hike there with Ivan and Roman.

Friday

We got off the bus in Strelníky right at sunset. With our headlamps on, we hiked the steep slope to the shelter Partizán nad Mincou.

Hiking towards the shelter

The shelter was empty, so we had a very luxurious stay. At 4AM, we were woken up by a dormouse climbing the walls above us. We managed to scare it off and went back to sleep.

Saturday

In the beginning of our hike we had good views of the surrounding areas. Then we entered the forest and didn’t have views, but the forest was beautiful on its own.

Poľana forest

We ate lunch at the top of Strunga, with excellent views of the whole caldera. When Ivan read Andrej Sládkovič’s poem Detvan, I had goosebumps.

Poľana caldera seen from Strunga

The title of this post is the second line of the poem: Poľana – old mother of great shadows. Once the goosebumps went away, we all concluded that the poem is basically about sex, just like 90% of literature.

In the late afternoon we finally met the first hikers around the highest peak of the mountain range – Poľana at 1458 m. We slept at útuľňa Javorinka, a recently renovated shelter with awesome views.

Útuľňa Javorinka

Sunset

Sunday

I woke everyone up at 4:30 AM to catch the sunrise. Unfortunately, it was too cloudy. However, the Sun rose at the 55-degree bearing over Kráľova hoľa 55 kilometers away. That was an impressive coincidence.

Sunrise over Kráľová hoľa
We went to bed again for 2 more hours and then descended to Hriňová.

Old shepherd's shelter

Small farms of Hriňová, Slovak Tuscany

We ran out of water and tried to get it from the 3 different water sources, but we either couldn’t find them or they were dry. Luckily, we were saved by the helpful people in Zánemecká. From here on, we continued on the bus or train.

The end

After this trip, I only had one question in my head: Why haven't I been to Poľana sooner? It’s not too busy, has a lot of well-preserved nature and awesome tourist shelters.

Small selection of my photos is on Flickr and a bigger album on Google Photos.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Book Review: The Old Man, the Sea and the PhD by Martin Lukačišin

The best thing about The Old Man, the Sea and the PhD is that it’s very short. I read it while travelling to the airport and waiting at the security check. It reads very well and it’s packed with ideas. Each idea is presented using a parable which makes them very easy to remember.

The last chapter likens the life of a PhD student to Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea, which is where the name of the book comes from. I found this analogy the best and most memorable.

During my time in academia, I wanted to write similar thoughts in a blog post (or two) but I always deleted what I wrote, since I didn’t believe that academia could be fixed and thus my drafts were pure rants. The author is slightly more optimistic and tries to provide solutions, though he still admits that the book is very negative about academia.

I think academia will never get fixed, since it’s stuck in a bad equilibrium, just like schools, medicine, politics or airport security checks. We think academia is about science, schools are about education, medicine is about health, politics about improving lives of ordinary people and airport checks are about security. However, all of them are primarily about something else and the stated purpose is at best a secondary side-effect.

The real issue with academia—in my opinion—is that it’s primary about academics gaining prestige and status among other academics. Science ends up being a secondary side-effect of this process. The author hints at it in the very last paragraph of the book but unfortunately doesn’t expand on the idea. For this reason, I recommend complementing The Old Man, the Sea and the PhD with Elephant in The Brain by Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson. You’ll have a better understanding why the life of a PhD student is as miserable as Martin Lukačišin describes it.

Note: this review has also been published on Amazon.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Loptoši™ 2017: Slovakia off the beaten path

The theme of Loptoši™ 2017 was discovering Slovakia off the beaten path, with a focus on the east and mid-south.


The trip started with a streak of bad luck. A few hours before the trip we’ve discovered that our car rental has been canceled. And half of our crew (Palo and Roman) suffered from stomach flu in the first days of the trip.

In the end it was a great trip, full of interesting places and experiences. Instead of covering it chronologically, let me describe the 3 most memorable places.

Stužica, primeval forest

Stužica is a primeval forest that hasn’t been touched for 100 years by humans. I’ve been to forests that looked like they have been vacuumed, but I prefer messy unmanaged forest with trees left to decompose. We’ve experienced Stužica during wet and foggy weather, which created just the right atmosphere. Stužica thus became the top experience of the trip for me.

Trees left to decompose

Hiking in the fog

Železník, former mining town

Železník lies deep in the forest high up on a mountain. The mountain used to be one of the largest sources of iron in the area. It was a prosperous lively small village/town, but now there’s very few people left. If you speak Slovak, you can watch a documentary about Železník.

When we arrived there, the Sun was about to set and Ivan was reading out loud an article about Železník from Čierne Diery. His captivating voice, the abandoned structures around us and the great view gave me goose bumps.

Old phone booth and post office

Sunset seen from Železník

Inside blast furnace near Železník

Čierny Váh, the biggest battery in the country

The Čierny Váh pumped-storage plant is a few tonnes of concrete in nature. A top of a hill has been replaced by a water reservoir.

View from the air. Photo by Achernar.sk.

People say that nature should be preserved, but this structure has enormous benefits. During the night, it takes the overflow electric power from power plants that are slow to turn off, like nuclear power plants, and uses it to pump water 400 meters higher. During the day, the water flows back down, generating energy. It’s basically a giant battery and the most powerful power plant in the country.

We could have preserved this particular piece of nature and instead built a plant that’s easier to turn off and start, like a coal plant, but the environmental consequences would have been much higher. Čierny Váh is still the least environmentally harmful solution.

Photos

A selection of my photos is on Flickr and an album merged from multiple people is on Google Photos.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Travelling by teleport to Tuscany

There exists a mode of transport that is as good as teleport: first you go to the teleport station and then you wake up at your destination. Sometimes you can even take your car with you. It’s called night train (overnight ferries also qualify).

In the last two years I've used night trains a lot, mostly because I find them more convenient and less stressful than flying. And they also emit fewer harmful gases.

Some night trains transport cars, which allows you to make a one-way road trip like this one:

Tuscany 2017

Me and Veronika had a great time in Tuscany, ate very tasty food, rested on the beach and loaded on vitamin D before the winter. Some places were crowded but you can avoid that if you go early in the morning.

I won't bore you with all the details, but feel free to look at the (few) photos below or read my captions in the complete photo album on Google Photos (to see the captions, press “i” on your keyboard). A smaller selection of my photos is also on Flickr.

Photos

Car is loaded on the train, ready for a 1000-kilometer journey.

After sunset on our balcony in Castagneto Carducci


In Piombino. The highest mountain is Monte Capanne on Elba. The low mountains on the horizon is Corsica.

First row on the beach

Siena

San Gimignano full of tourists

Happy to be in Florence

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore with a shade from The Baptistery of St. John.

Ponte Vecchio at night 

Inside a fancy perfume store (Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella)

Come join me in my bathtub

Florence gives you wings

We drove through a supercell storm and then saw another one in the distance. The top of the anvil and flanking line are clearly visible.

Shoes of Ljubljana

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Music Recommendations #3

The first two editions of Music Recommendations were sent to my friends via e-mail, so you won’t find them on this blog.

I sent my last recommendations in 2013, so there’s a lot of music that I’ve discovered since then. Some of it is older than 2013.

I’ve only listed albums that I think are worth listening to, so all my ratings are at least 7/10. You can listen to all albums in one Spotify playlist.

Two Fingers – Six Rhythms 10/10

Last.fm tags: to listen, grime, electronic, idm, dubstep, bass

I often hear people say, “There hasn’t been anything new in the music scene since the 80’s/90’s.” To which I typically reply, “Have you listened to Amon Tobin?” This work under Two Fingers is no exception. Make sure you have bass on full blast while listening to this.

Bonus: listen to Two Fingers DJ set from 2013 on Soundcloud or Mixcloud.

Metronomy – Nights Out 9/10

Last.fm tags: electronic, poptron, electro, british

When my brother first listened to this, he asked, “What are these guys smoking?” I said I had no idea, but it’s great music. Very crazy and full of contradictory rhythms.


The Kills – Blood Pressures
 9/10

Last.fm tags: indie rock, garage rock, alternative

After the end of The White Stripes, this is my go-to rock band. They have great vocals and the style of the songs varies a lot.

Black Sun Empire – From the Shadows 9/10

Last.fm tags: drum and bass, neurofunk, darkstep, dubstep

I thought drum’n’bass was dead but then I found Black Sun Empire. This album is dark, which makes it hard to listen to at times. It usually lifts my mood, though.

Jungle – Jungle 9/10

Last.fm tags: electronic, psychedelic, jungle, techno, soul, dancehall

The slowest album on the list. Great for evening chill-out.

Mujuice – Mistakes and Regrets 9/10

Last.fm tags: electronic, idm, minimal, russian, glitch, experimental

Mujuice blew my mind years ago at Wilsonic music festival and continues to do so to this day.

The Knife – Shaking the Habitual 8/10

Last.fm tags: electronic, experimental, dark ambient

Such a dark and strange album. I keep changing my mind about it. 4 years later I still haven’t been able to fully digest it. Getting used to it takes a lot of time.

Bonobo – North Borders 8/10

Last.fm tags: downtempo, electronic, chillout, trip-hop

Nothing can ever beat Bonobo’s album Days to Come, but he still keeps his standard.

Caribou – Our Love 8/10

Last.fm tags: electronic, experimental, indie, poptron

After Swim, which is an album out of this world, Our Love was a disappointment, but still worth listening to. I think I like Caribou more when they play faster than this.

Skalpel – Transit 8/10

Last.fm tags: jazz, nu-jazz, ninja tune, electronic

This album makes for a great background music. Worse than the old ones, but they also kind of keep their standard.

Clark – Totems Flare 8/10

Last.fm tags: idm, electronic, warp

I originally thought Clark would be very boring, but this album proved me wrong.

FM Belfast – How to Make Friends 7/10

Last.fm tags: poptron, electronic, synthpop, indie

This is dance music that even Richard Štefanec is willing to listen to. Unfortunately, the few very good songs are accompanied by many mediocre ones.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Hölloch – Weekend in a Cave

Hölloch is currently the 10th longest cave in the world (it used to be the first). Spending a weekend there was a great experience that I can only recommend. It was also one of the toughest trips I've ever done.

Saturday

After a short briefing, we left the outer world and entered the underground. My mind wondered about a lot of things:
  • How will we cope with the darkness? Answer from the future: just fine.
  • How will we cope with narrow spaces? Answer from the future: mostly fine.
  • Will we be afraid of getting trapped between rocks? Answer from the future: yes, a few times.
  • Will it be physically demanding? Answer from the future: you bet!
The first 2 hours to the bivouac were easy hiking with occasional ladders and ropes. The corridors were wide and spacious.

First part was exactly like mountain hiking.

Under a the biggest waterfall we've seen in the cave.

We dropped our stuff at the bivouac and went to explore the cave. The corridors were getting smaller and smaller. Up to the bivouac, we were mostly standing upright, but now we appreciated every moment when we could stand up. We crouched, we crawled and everything started to hurt. I've also crashed many times into pointy rocks in the walls.

I didn't have to breathe out to pass through but Dano did.

We saw some of the best cave formations of Hölloch, but it was nothing compared to what you can see in the Slovak public caves.

These get destroyed during floods.



At about 8 PM, our guide asked us if we wanted to continue and I was the only one in the group who said no. Dano later told me that I just said what everyone else was thinking. The guide said that usually only one group per year goes further than us, so we still felt good about our stamina.

In total, we climbed about 1000 altitude meters in 10 hours. When Jakub told me about the trip, I imagined a light cave hiking with an occasional ladder or a rope, but this was some tough shit.

We went to bed but I couldn't fall asleep, because it was too hot. The cave has a stable temperature of 6 degrees Celsius, but it felt too hot in my sleeping bag.

Bivouac with sleeping space, kitchen and eating tables.

Sunday

We went for a fairly easy walk in the morning, checking out more cave formations.



I was impressed with all the infrastructure they have inside the cave. For example, there is a drinking water system that uses just gravity. Or you can send an SMS from the cave using very very long antennas transmitting long waves that pass through hundreds of meters of rock.

It was time for the local Rutschbahn (slide in German), where you slide on one shoe through a steep corridor. The record for it is around one minute, but we went much slower than that. We still hurt ourselves, though.

Before we exited the cave, we also made a small detour and took a boat over a small lake inside the cave. During rain, the water in the lake can rise up quickly and you can't come back the same way.

At this point I was really tired and really looking forward to the exit. Vladimír was not and he needed to crawl through every little passage that fits a person.

Typical Vladimír.


The end

At home I discovered that I had a lot of bruises on my body and two bleeding wounds on my back. Every one of my muscles hurt, but it was definitely worth it. Caving is hard but beautiful.

Photos album merged from multiple cameras is on Google Photos.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Loptoši™ 2016: Georgia

After a year hiatus, my favorite event Loptoši™ was back with its 6th edition. This time it was only me and my brother Palo in late September.

Itinerary

Approximate itinerary on Furkot:
Note: You should try Furkot when planning your next trip. It’s the best thing since sliced bread GPS navigation.

Monday

We planned to hike from Mestia to Mazeri via Guli pass and then go see the Shdugra waterfall on the second day.

The beginning was very steep, but we were very soon rewarded with great views of Caucasus. These were some of the highest peaks I’ve ever seen.

Tetnuldi (4858 m) & Gistola (4860 m)
We continued together with a big Czech group also going to Mazeri. The ground was covered with snow from about 2600 meters altitude.

The descent was very slippery and we had trouble keeping balance with huge backpacks, so we both fell multiple times. After finding a great spot for a tent, we cooked dinner and just stayed in the tent.

I got a text in Georgian on my Georgian SIM and thought it must have been something very important. I sent it to my friend Mike who said that they fixed the sewage system in Zugdidi. That was very useful to know, given that we were camping 100 kilometers from there!

Tuesday

I slept like a baby for about 12 hours. Palo wasn’t so lucky and got a bad night in an old sleeping bag. It was freezing outside and we had plenty of frost inside the tent.

Frost inside the tent

Great morning view of Svaneti Range
We descended to Mazeri, where we left half of our gear and then hiked to Shdugra waterfall.

Shdugra waterfall

Mazeri as seen from Shdugra waterfall

Wednesday

We drove from the mountains to the coast of the Black Sea. It was raining and cold, so there was not much to do. We went to sauna and checked out the local fortress.

Kvariati must be very pleasant when it's warm and sunny

Thursday

Google Maps shows two alternatives for the shortest route between Batumi and Akhaltsikhe: 160 km long and 320 km long, both taking about the same time. Feeling adventurous, I chose the shorter alternative through the mountains.

Goats occupying the road

Choose your side

The road was getting worse and worse until it was only mud and no asphalt
The last 60 km took us more than 3 hours and it was very tiring to drive. Too bad it was raining, driving on this bad road could have been compensated with great views of the nearby mountains and valleys. When the bad road ended and we left the mountains, the country suddenly became very dry.


The monastery in Vardzia was spectacular, a labyrinth inside a cliff.

Five monks still live in this mountain

We then drove to Akhaltsikhe. Thanks to an EU grant, the Rabati Castle in Akhaltsikhe was recently reconstructed. Unfortunately, they used concrete almost exclusively, trying to make it look like old stone. It looks nice from afar but fake from very close.

Brothers in Rabati Castle

Friday

In the morning, we went for a short hike in Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park. After one hour, the rain stopped and we actually saw a bit of the mountains.


We also visited the Stalin Museum in Gori. Unfortunately, the museum didn’t mention Holodomor in Ukraine or Russian gulags. On our way to Telavi, we passed through Gombori pass during sunset.


Saturday

We visited the wine museum at Twins Old Cellar. Georgians have a wine-making method that is completely different from the one we use at home (and anywhere else in Europe for that matter). As a result of a different technology, white wine tastes similar to red.

Wine is made in large vessels called kvevri. A person cleans them from the inside.

We arrived to Tbilisi and chilled in the botanical garden for a few hours. In the evening we met up with Achi, cousin of my friend Mike from Stockholm.

Tbilisi during the day

Tbilisi at night

It was great to have someone local show us around. When we asked Achi how to send postcards, we learned that it is very complicated, since the concept of post is fairly new to Georgia. They developed other means of delivering important information, like small ATM-like machines on every corner.

The end

Georgia has a lot to offer: apart from high mountains, beaches and historic sites mentioned in the post, we had a lot of great and cheap food. I will definitely come back.

A selection of my photos is on Flickr. An album merged from our cameras is on Google Photos (if you click on “(i)” in the upper right corner of a photo view, you get to see my captions).