Today marks 7 weeks in Montpellier. Time flies here. It’s gotten quite cold now, even for these Southern climes. Thus, I’m glad not to have to sleep in my tent at the moment. Yesterday, I had to move though. Because I changed my mind to stay longer, the other little rooftop apartment wasn’t available any more. But I got really lucky. The studio apartment next door is even cozier. The view over the rooftops is pretty much unobstructed giving me full access to those sunsets I can never get enough of. And: I have a washing machine!!!!!! Incredible! For the first time since July my clothes will be thoroughly clean. Handwashing just isn’t the same. I never thought I’d be this glad to see a washing machine 😆.
Other than that, I’m heading to a classical concert in the opera house now. So happy that, even though Covid restrictions have gotten stricter again, entertainment venues are still staying open and performances are commencing as planned. Well, they are doing matinees instead of evening performances now, because of the curfew. But it’s a perfect workaround… and classical music after breakfast has never hurt anyone 😉. What a privilege!
The rest of my day will be spent studying French like a madman. My progress is slow because I forgot far more vocabulary and grammar than I thought I had (well, I pretty much forgot all of it after 30 years, on top of having been a very lazy and unmotivated student back then). So, I am utilizing my classes, plus extra exercise books, Harry Potter, and Duolingo to bring myself up to speed. I am determined and WILL leave here speaking French! Good to have a goal, too. It gives me focus and hope. Everything is so uncertain and I still have no idea where these trails will lead me, but somehow it’ll all work out.
The streets were immensely busy last night as all of Montpellier seemed to have decided to enjoy one more lovely and long night out before entering into yet another lockdown. I keep being astounded by the atmosphere in this town. The relaxedness, the joie de vivre, the golden sun, the dramatic clouds…
As I wander, I wonder, could Montpellier possibly be the place I have been looking for all my life? Essentially, home is everywhere on the planet for me, where I have good people who care for me and I for them. What I have always missed and looked for though is an actual home base. A place I enjoy to return to over and over again. And, so far, I have never really discovered anywhere that seemed a good fit. For a while, I thought Zurich might become my base. Yet it somehow felt too clean, too structured, and restricted. Plus the climate sucks. Brrr. Malta crossed my mind for its proximity to the ocean, its perfect climate, and its lovely people. Yet it does not offer the rich and diverse international cultural life I crave. Macau also made it to the top of my list for its fascinating cultural melange, its awesome location in the midst of all Asian destinations I love, and its invigorating and often inspiring expat community.
To be fair, many places can possibly fit the bill, yet none have so far ticked as many boxes for me as Montpellier has. It has almost the same climate as Malta, which means a very short and mostly sunny winter and a long, lovely, hot, and sunny summer. Palm trees are everywhere. The Mediterranean Sea is right at the doorstep. Art and culture are everywhere. Opera, ballet, dance, theatre, painting, sculpture, and photography exhibitions, movie theatres, book stores with English and French books, street art… you name it. Food and drink are excellent, too. And for a nature lover like me, the Occitanie region offers almost too many trails to explore in one lifetime. Looking just a little bit further, the Pyrenees, Provence, and Camargue are only a stone’s throw away as well. Plus, it is easy to quickly get anywhere from here for international job contracts.
Yes, I can really imagine Montpellier to become my home base. The place I return to, to come home and rest a bit before venturing out again to roam the planet for work and travel. Now, to just figure out a way to actually make a home here… I do lack the resources at the moment, but only just the fact that I have discovered a potential geographical harbor to stave my uprootedness is amazing. Something to possibly look forward to and grow into…
It is interesting to see what happens psychologically when you hike. When I left Switzerland in Juli, I was in the middle of healing from heartbreak and betrayal and also in the middle of trying to overcome all the practical and emotional challenges this subsequently led to. I figured, the best way to positively process my trauma as well as the added uncertainty brought on by Covid19 was to be on the move.
Nature has amazing power. During my hike, with few exceptions, it was just me and meadows and trees as far as the eye could see. I spent hours talking to myself in the forest. Having whole discussions with myself, in an attempt to process all that was twirling around inside my head. Sometimes I laughed, sometimes I screamed, sometimes I cried, and other times I was just quiet, letting it all flow through me and appreciating the beauty nature offered me along the trail.
Overall, hiking across Europe wasn’t a bad idea. Even though all the practical and emotional challenges I faced at the beginning of my journey are (for the most part) still as acute and present as they were in July.
Which is why now that I have decided to make a longer stop-over in Montpellier, the grief and pain has become harder to deal with. Being on the move helped to keep my mind occupied. During my 2 months of hiking, I was far too busy dealing with physical pain, toe problems, finding shelter for the night, finding food and water, finding the trail, etc. to get really depressed.
Now, even though I am busy with studying French, little side jobs, and writing articles for TheatreArtLife, everything is consuming me again. Since about a year now (or rather two), I’ve been in an emotional roller coaster much akin to the rising and falling of the tides. When I move to avoid these tides, I seem to be ok. Not moving now, I encounter the neap tides during which I feel mostly ok. At other times, spring tides come rolling in with the power of a tsunami, and I feel like I am drowning over and over again. Thankfully though, these particularly high tides seem to come at lesser frequencies. They are still there and they are still awful when they hit me, but I know I’ll somehow be able to keep my head above water.
In many ways, staying still in Montpellier turns out to be far more turbulent than being on the trail and hiking through unchartered territory. But I do realize staying was a good decision. Actually, it was the only sane decision. Because I can’t keep hiking to the end of my days to avoid the tides. I need to let them crash over me as they come and I need to work through them to be free, and to become my old, confident self again. Trauma is there to be overcome and to be conquered, not to be buried.
There is still a ways to go, but I now also have 3 more months in this beautiful haven of a town. I will do my best to take it all in stride (and at times, I’ll invariably fail). I’ll allow myself to stay still. To curl up in a little corner and lick my wounds, to breathe, to cry, and to take all the time I need to figure out what to do with my life from here on out since it feels as if I need to start completely from zero again.
But I know it’s not healthy to live only in my head. While I do not want to be on the trail every day just now, the emotional processing needs to be balanced by something. Thankfully, there is much to explore that is only minutes away from my flat. Just today, I ventured into the outside world and went on a wonderful walk after school to discover more of Montpellier’s street art. Over the next few weeks, I’ll surely continue getting to know my surroundings here even better. I’ll go and take walks on the beach which is only 30 minutes away. I’ll walk along the river Lez. I’ll venture into every single little alley in Montpellier’s old town. And I’ll keep going on excursions throughout the Occitanie region, too.
Then, in January, who knows. I might well continue my Wonderweg and keep hiking for a while longer until I find a job. And, hopefully, by that time I’ll be able to enjoy hiking for hundreds of kilometers much better, because my heart will have recovered a bit more and the tides won’t feel quite so high anymore. It is definitely easier to put one step in front of the other on dry land as opposed to trying to wade through the deep water of inner turmoil.
Is it a good sign, that I am dreaming of the Pyrenees, the South of Spain, the Strait of Gibraltar, and Portugal? Is it a good sign that I am savoring French delicacies and already looking forward to Paellas, Sangria, Chorizo and so many other foods I love? Is it a good sign that I care about how well my French is developing and that I am putting a lot of hard work and effort into it? Is it a good sign that I enjoy laughing with my classmates at the often outrageous mistakes we make? I think it is. I am still broken, but I am slowly mending and becoming stronger at the broken places. I will never be the same again. But I am slowly learning to love life again with all my heart.
Since I remained pretty static in Montpellier lately, I’ve posted a bit less. Static physically that is ☺️. I did not find time to venture outside of Montpellier and go for any hikes because I was far too busy with school and everything else. What I did manage after a very intense last week, however, was to take a breather and visit one of my best friends in Paris for two days in the beginning of this week.
I had to laugh when the train suddenly stopped about an hour after I had boarded on Sunday, and the conductor said over the loudspeaker, “Ladies and Gentlemen can you all please evacuate the train in a quick and orderly fashion.”
Hundreds of people did just that. Surprisingly good-humored and efficiently I might add. There we stood, freezing in the cold, whilst security did a rapid and thorough search of the entire train. Apparently, there had been a bomb threat. 15 minutes later we were all back on the warm train and continued our journey to Paris. This year never seems to run out of surprises…
Getting out at Gare de Lyon was as always a pleasure. It’s just such a beautiful old train station. But Paris was sooo much colder than Montpellier! It’s amazing what difference only 3 hours in latitude can make. Still, my friend and I did our best to enjoy, went for long walks around town, and even went to a wonderful Christian Louboutin exhibition at the Palais de la Porte Doree.
I’ve never been a shoe person and have always chuckled a bit when I saw people spending hundreds and even thousands of dollars on their shoe collections. While I would still never want to own more than two or three pairs at any one time myself, I do understand shoes on a whole new level now, after seeing the Louboutin exhibition.
Shoes are works of art. Extensions of your body, the lines amplify your natural elegance. Shoes are exclamation marks of beauty. They are statements of energy and sensuality. Quite incredible little accessories really. So much more than just things to walk with.
I never thought my hike would lead me to a greater understanding of shoes and a love of Christian Louboutin’s work. But here you go.
The sign in the entrance to the exhibition was especially inspiring. Louboutin grew up close to the Palais de la Porte Doree during his childhood. Every time his parents took him to an exhibition, the sign alerting visitors to not wear high heels was in the entrance. The red bar drawn across the shoe sparked Louboutin’s idea of his trademark red soles. Amazing 🌟🌟🌟
I haven’t mentioned Step4Circus for a while because we were working on the details for the birth of this fundraising initiative. Now, we have come a step further. Several steps actually. Have a look at these “Steps 4 Circus” here on our brand new page on TheatreArtLife! Also, if you want to support us, consider buying a t-shirt or tank top and then wear it too, to spread the word.
My journey through Southern Europe is still dedicated to Step4Circus. The idea for our fundraising initiative started growing before I first set out on my hike… I looked around at what was happening and thought, “Why not use a journey designed to treasure the moment and spark hope to help get through my homelessness and being unemployed… to also spark something else entirely?” Almost all my peers from the circus world were and are facing similar difficulties as I do right now. Trying to survive from day to day. Trying to keep going, to grow, to lift each other up.
Every dollar we manage to collect, either through T-shirt proceeds, donations on our GoFundMe page, or donations coming in through other means, will go towards helping circus professionals to make it through these dire times brought on by Covid19 and the closing of all shows.
Right now this is our focus. We’ll start small, but in the future we hope to use our funds to support larger and more ambitious circus projects as well.
As for my hike. It still continues, even though I have currently decided to stay in Montpellier until January 2021 to learn French. It’s been a great 600 km journey on foot to get here. I had never done anything like this before and learned a lot about myself. Over the next few months, I’ll continue venturing on smaller hikes when I’m not in school. Each and every one of those hikes will be dedicated to Step4Circus. And then, in January, I’ll be looking at tackling the next 1’000 km from Montpellier towards the Strait of Gibraltar… unless a job offer materializes before then…
We can do this! We can get through all this! Huge hugs to everyone out there x
Over the last three days, the “What a Trip!” festival took place in Montpellier. A wonderful nature and travel-related documentary film festival. I went and saw three of the movies. Have you ever heard of the underwater explorer and photographer Laurent Ballesta? His work is incredible. I felt as if I was diving with him and as if I could sense every drop of water caressing my skin. He just published a new book, ‘Planete Mediterranee’. It’s absolutely incredible!
Another movie was about the French nature photographer Vincent Munier. I don’t think I have ever seen nature photography like this before. Vincent is so sensual about the whole experience. He somehow becomes one with the animals he photographs. He recognizes their souls and manages to manifest this in his photographs. See for yourself, here is the entire docu about him: https://youtu.be/lUJQRMeYFqM It’s an hour of your life you won’t regret!
The third documentary feature was just as fascinating. It was about a group of scientists and divers calling themselves ‘Under the Pole’, and about one of their expeditions in French Polynesia. On this specific endeavor, they were on a quest to learn more about corals. Amazingly, they found corals at depths as far as 150 m below the surface!!! Something that was long thought to be impossible and might show that corals are changing with their environment and becoming ever more resilient and adaptable. It’s a ray of hope for the oceans, for our entire planet, and for humanity.
Needless to say, traveling all over the world in a cinema at a time when traveling has become incredibly complicated if not nearly impossible was invigorating for a nomad like me.
Even better, to be able to see all this in one of Montpellier’s oldest movie theatres. Merci beaucoup pour ce voyage extraordinaire!
I’ve been sitting in this garden behind our school a lot during breaks these last few days, enjoying the last few rays of warm summer sun. Just in time, too. The skies are still blue, but temperatures have plummeted from 25 degress to 10 degrees this morning. Brrrr…
The last 2 days were also decision time, since yesterday was supposed to be my last day at the Alliance Francaise, and today was going to be the last day in my little rooftop sanctuary.
Hiking on or staying a bit longer was the tough question. Financially, hiking on would have been the much smarter decision. Plus, it might have gotten me to Portugal in time for Christmas.
I followed my gut, however, and prolonged my stay here… for 3 1/2 months!!!
Crazy, I know. But here it is. All-in-all, I’ll be studying French and enjoying Montpellier and its surroundings for 4 1/2 months. During that time, my aim is to get my French to at least nearly fluid. Spain and Portugal won’t run away in the meantime. And the new year can begin with exploring Europe further. Something positive to look forward to during not-so-positive times.
The 15th of January 2021 will be my last day of school here. If, until then, I still haven’t found a job, I’ll hike onwards along the coast of Southern Spain towards the Strait of Gibraltar and Portugal.
The Wonderweg surely is staying true to its name in more ways (or rather trails) than one. My mind is completely open. If I make it as far as the Straight of Gibraltar, I might just hop on a ferry and explore Morocco for a few days/weeks as well. Practice my French over there, too 😁… Or I’ll stay on the European side of the Mediterranean Sea…
Everything is uncertain… everything is open… scary and liberating both at the same time.
Which is fine… because… (in the words of the ever-inspiring Antoine De Saint Excupery)… ”As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it.”
I’m still in Montpellier. Next to studying beaucoup de Francais and working on articles for the online magazine TheatreArtLife, I do a lot of walking through town at night. I love wandering around aimlessly, listening to people speak in French, with me just floating through the conversations, soaking it all in.
Each night, all the street cafes are bustling with customers. Everyone enjoying each other’s company, a few glasses of good wine, and the warm autumn nights. Temperatures are still surprisingly mild.
Ever since a friend alerted me that one of the pieces of street art I photographed is from the famous ‘Space Invader’ I’ve also made it my goal to find as many of his subtle, little pieces as possible. So far, I’ve already found more than a dozen…
I love the lights in this city at night. The many hues of warm yellow and orange. And the colors of the sky, changing from a bright blue at sunset through the most amazing palette of dark blues until they come to rest in an intense purplish black.
After a night of rumbling thunderstorms and quite the lighting effects show, the sun is (almost) out again today. The entire Occitanie region seems to be resisting the arrival of autumn with all its might. Temperatures have dropped but otherwise it is another brilliant day, contrary to the deluge that had been predicted by the weather services.
Good for me as I am exploring the hiking trails around St-Guilhem-le-Désert. This is an incredibly – dare I say cute? – little mountain village. Apparently, it is called ‘le Désert’ because when they were building the village many many years ago in this hot, quite unforgiving climate, it felt like labouring in the desert.
Nowadays, St-Guilhem-le-Désert is quite famous with the pilgrims who set out on the Camino towards Santiago de Compostella in Spain. Because here, in the church, a little holy treasure can be found. Allegedly, Saint Guilhem was given a splinter of the original wooden cross of Jesus Christ for safekeeping. Now, pilgrims and tourists alike come in troves to look at the little piece of wood.
The village itself has only 200 inhabitants. However, each year approximately half a million people make their way through here. Luckily, today St-Guilhem-le-Désert was quite deserted (unintentional pun). I enjoyed walking through the narrow alleys for a little bit, then set out to hike up the mountainsides encircling the little community.
The view from above was worth the walk as you see. High up on the left you can also spot the remnants of an old fortress in which Saint Guilhem apparently once hid when his village was under attack.
Back in the village, I couldn’t help but notice dried silver thistles (Cardabelle) hanging on almost every door. When I asked why, I learned something fascinating. No matter how long these dried thistles have been dead, about a day before rain comes, the leaves encircling the flower begin to roll up. Thus, people in the village always know without a doubt when rain will come.
A bit more hiking and contemplating… to the Pont de Diable which stretches over the Hérault river. The sky is pressing down today. It wants to rain, yet somehow it doesn’t. Instead, the air is becoming ever more humid, feeling almost solid and laborious to breathe. My weather app tells me lightning is only 8 km away. Please get over here dear storm, so we can get it over with and clear the air!