A quick breather yesterday at Lake Constance. It’s always amazing for me to find sandy beaches and secluded spots so close to bustling civilization.
Otherwise, not much new here on the aiming-to-settle-in-Zurich-again front. I must admit, I am exhausted. It’s been a good two years now of hanging in limbo on so many levels and I am starting to really feel it. At the moment, I am waiting to hear back concerning an application process I went through week before last. To be completely honest, ever since then it’s hard for me to focus on anything else. Because, out of all the jobs I’ve applied for so far, none have been a better fit. This job will be great for me in every respect. Such a wonderful mix of interesting work content, great team, and outstandingly good company culture. And I’ll be good at it, too. I am full of hope. And at the same time terrified. The most delicious carrot is dangling in front of me. I can almost touch it. And I had such a rare good feeling during the interviews. Now I’m unsure how I’ll handle it, if that carrot won’t be for me. Of course, I’ll have to just keep going. But oh boy, you know, when you just feel something is right for you. You know it with every fibre of your being. And you’ve done all you possibly can for it. And now the decision is out of your hands. All you can do is wait and hope that the people you talked with as well as the universe all agree with you that it’s the right path.
So amidst all these tumbling thoughts and obsessively checking my email every half hour yesterday, I went to visit my dad who lives right next to this immensely beautiful spot in Southern Germany. The wind, the sun, and the crisp air did me a world of good and transported me quickly from inside my head to firmer ground. Being in nature does that for me. It always restores balance and brings me back to myself.
Last week, I went on a 5-hour hike with a good friend of mine. Switzerland sure has beautiful corners everywhere. We walked from Schoenenberg to Sihlbrugg, along this incredibly tranquil trail. For the longest time, it felt as if we were somewhere far away in the wilderness. We barely met anyone else. Plus, following the water is one of my favorite pastimes anyways.
It felt good to be away from my laptop for a little bit. I’ve been incredibly busy these past few weeks, studying French, studying Psychology, and writing dozens of applications. I want to stay. I want to be able to fully arrive, let out a deep breath, and settle into a comfortable routine. Things have shifted massively for me. Sometimes trauma is a good thing. It has shown me more than ever before how important it is for me to belong somewhere, to have a home base. Many of my closest friends are here in Zurich. Some of us go back decades. We know practically everything about each other and no matter how long I’ve been gone in between, we always pick up right where we left off. It’s family in the truest sense of the word. It’s my happy place. My comfort zone.
Zurich is also my true birth place. It was here all the puzzle pieces fell into place thirty years ago. It was here I found myself. I guess that’s why I have returned time and time again over the years and why I have spent the majority of my time here. Seventeen years so far. No matter how much I searched for home elsewhere, life kept returning me here. It’s time to stop running and relax into this simple and quite beautiful truth: Zurich is home. In some ways, it took all the often extreme and painful life experiences of the last years for me to finally fully see and understand this.
In the end, my big hike last summer, my five months in Montpellier, and now the last three months here in Zurich have been about sorting through things, about decluttering, about spring cleaning my life, about slowing down, and about re-discovering and focusing on what is truly important.
I need to rave a bit more about this cat. It’s incredible to think that, had I not decided to hike from Switzerland to the Mediterranean Sea and, had I not spontaneously decided to stay in Montpellier for a few months, JoJo and I would never have met.
I rescued him from the streets of Montpellier when he was really sick and gave him the first real home he’s ever had. But let’s not kid ourselves here. He is not the rescue. I am.
JoJo has had a major impact on my life. He was there when I woke up from nightmares I had struggled with ever since some traumatic events two years ago had left me bewildered and breathless. He gently nuzzled my cheek and simply lay close to me, helping me to overcome, see reality, and move on. By now, the nightmares are few and far between.
Every day, as I sit at home writing articles, studying, writing CVs and searching for jobs, JoJo interrupts me several times. He hops up onto the desk and sits in front of me. If I ignore him, he gently touches my face with his paw. As I shift my attention to him, I realize how important it is to be in the moment. And to not be afraid. I don’t need to overly stress about finding a job and having a purpose. I will find a job. And I do have a purpose already. My purpose is to live fully.
JoJo is the most uncomplicated and loving cat I have ever had. He never runs away when I want some cuddles. He loves it when I use him as a pillow. In fact, he enjoys snuggling close every single time. And, since he has no more teeth at all, even his love bites are the cutest, gentlest thing I’ve ever felt. I keep his food open on the counter for refills. He never jumps up and steals anything. He only scratches the posts on the cat tree. He sits for hours on the windowsill watching sparrows pick up seeds right in front of him. Just patiently watches them and enjoys the show. He wakes me up for food but lays back down if I don’t want to get up yet. He loves binge-watching movies and series together and curls up in the crook of my arm for hours. Overall, he is so calm and Zen that a friend of mine recently said, “Next to him, even the Dalai Lama looks nervous.”
As soon as I turn off the lights to go to bed, JoJo is right next to me on the pillow, clumsily stepping all over my face until he finds just the right spot which allows him to press his body as close to my head as possible. There he stays with me all night.
A few weeks ago, he developed a really heavy bronchitis. It became almost pneumonia. Thankfully, his body, which had most likely never received antibiotics before, reacted instantly and now he is as lively and as playful as an old, toothless little puma can be. The vet isn’t sure about his age. It could be anything between 11 and 15 years. What we did find out after several blood tests at the lab unfortunately is that JoJo has FIV, which is the feline equivalent of HIV. It can break out fully at any moment, or he can be fine for quite a few more years. The vet thinks this is also the reason why he had such horrible gingivitis when I found him on the street.
I am just so glad we crossed paths and that, however long he has left, we get to spend this time together. I know he feels safe, content, and happy to have found a home with me. I’m grateful I get to be the one who gets to spoil him a bit until he needs to go.
I am just in awe of his big, kind heart and soul. Sharing moments suspended in time with this little buddy is way up there amongst the best experiences of my life.
While long hikes with a heavy backpack are out of the question at the moment (until I can take care of my hernias), I still enjoy the odd short one. This was a few days ago during a hike along the river Reuss in Kanton Aargau in Switzerland.
An enchanting half day which began with mist floating and twirling above the ground. Then, as the sun pushed trough and the day grew brighter and warmer, the mist dissipated, leaving only the brilliant pre-spring banks of this beautiful river. My friend and I followed it for a few hours, at a gentle pace. Enjoying a landscape in which, for many hours, we were the only humans.
Nothing better to clear the mind than letting feet and thoughts roam free for a bit.
Currently, I’m waiting for news from the Swiss immigration office and hope they’ll be so kind and give me a permit to stay and work. My overthinking mind is making up so many scenarios… The typical Kopfkino (head cinema) as we say here. Time soon again for a short break in searching and studying. To take another walk, soak in some sunshine, and relax.
JoJo and I are still in Zurich and will – if all goes well – make this our long-term home base. At the moment, I’m dealing with a lot of bureaucracy and it is as of yet unsure if I’ll be allowed to remain in the country. All will depend on me finding a job, which – so far – is proving as much of a challenge as it was in France. However, I am confident that with every week I’ll get a little closer to a solution. And, hopefully, at one point soon, I’ll be delighted to hear someone say, “We’re interested in offering you a position.” Keep fingers crossed.
Other than working on applications, I have started studying remotely at university which brings me a lot of joy. I love learning new things. I am also still with one foot – or rather one ear – in Montpellier to keep studying Le Francais.
One thing that is wonderful about returning to Zurich is that it has helped me to bring things into perspective. It used to be my home. A place I felt comfortable in and always loved returning to. Then, a few years ago when I moved back for three years with my ex-partner, I didn’t feel comfortable anymore. I just wanted to get away. What I have come to realize now is that it wasn’t Zurich that bothered me. I was under a lot of pressure at the time, financially and emotionally, and somehow (to protect myself and my partner and to be able to go on) I had shifted all the blame to Zurich. Projected all that was weighing heavily on my shoulders to a place, rather than searching for the root cause.
Now that I am back, with the wisdom of hindsight, I understand that Zurich was never the problem. My life had just been difficult back then and the pressure I had been under had been too intense.
This is something I’ll need to remember. Major note to self: If I ever begin complaining too intensely about a place again, I’ll need to stop and ask myself the question: “Ok Liam, what is wrong in your life? What do you need to resolve?”
So, hello Zurich. Third time is the charm, they say. I still don’t like everything about you, but no place is ever entirely perfect. What is important is that I have that comfy feeling again, as if I have just found an old pair of shoes in a long-forgotten suitcase. And I’m slipping into those shoes ever so easy, wiggling my toes, feeling good, simply thinking “ahhhhhhh.”
Since arriving in Zurich on the 10th of January, the days have just flown by. I was greeted by magnificent snow storms while, surprisingly, temperatures weren’t all that different from the South of France. I got settled into my cozy new room. And found a home with a flat mate who is quite amazing. Tons of pressure fell off my shoulders when I realized that for the first time in 16 months I am not living out of a suitcase or a backpack anymore. I can now just focus on studying and looking for jobs. I can focus on living without the constant pressure of needing to look for a new roof over my head. JoJo approves, too. He likes the new place, and lounges on his cat tree, observing his new environment. Now we, meaning I, really just need to find a job. Something long-term, so JoJo and I can have a bit of stability. Which will allow me to focus on the university studies I’ve signed up for starting next month. I am also dreaming of further hikes. For now just on the weekends in the Swiss mountains. But whenever there are a few days in a row, I’d love to get out there and do bigger tours. There is still so much to explore. I’ve definitely caught the hiking bug.
In German, we have the word “Kopfkino”, which directly translated means “Head-Cinema”. And, admittedly, I had a lot of that before going back on the road. What if the cat won’t get over the border? What if I didn’t think of all the papers he needs? What if I won’t get over the border? What if strange, expat Germans are not welcome right now in Switzerland with all that is going on? What if JoJo and I will get separated? What if the roads in the mountains will be blocked by snow? etc.
I often take great risks and follow my instincts. Because of that, many people may think I am not aware of the risks. What they might not realize is I that worry a lot, I reflect a lot, and my mind is conjuring up more risks than actually exist. Every time. I am always nervous before making another bold move, always scared before beginning a new chapter. But, if my heart tells me it is the right path to take, then I’ll take it anyways. Every time. Hands shaking as I go. Most likely with a plan B, C, D, and E already brewing in my mind, in case disaster strikes.
This time, yet again, my “Kopfkino” was far worse than reality. My lovely, old, feline partner JoJo and I rented a car and embarked on a 9-hour roadtrip from Montpellier to Pontarlier. I set the GPS to “avoid all toll roads” which added 4 extra hours to our travel time. But it was so much more picturesque and relaxing. All went smoothly and JoJo, who had most likely never traveled in a car before, was surprisingly calm. He was curled up on the passenger seat for almost the entire trip. He watched my every move and head-bumped my right hand or shoulder for cuddles every now and then.
After Lyon, the landscape got ever more diverse. Soon, little sprinkles of snow could be seen as well, covering the landscape like a thin frosting on a rather large cake. It is beautiful how defined all lines in a landscape become when snow highlights all shapes and edges.
The closer we got to Pontarlier, the more JoJo and I entered into a winter wonderland. By that time, he was fast asleep and didn’t react to my continuous exclamations of “Uuuhhhh”, “Ahhhhh”, and “Wake up JoJo, you have to look at all this snow!”
We returned the car in Pontarlier, where two Swiss friends picked us up in their car. As we drove towards the border, I thought, “This is it. I hope we won’t get stopped.” We didn’t get stopped. In fact, both the French and Swiss border stations were closed and we just drove on through with no one bothering us at all. Et voilà, from one moment to the next my French street cat turned into a Swiss cat.
We spent the night in a romantic old farmhouse in the mountains. I was spoiled with cheese fondue and the good company of fabulous friends. JoJo was spoiled with tiny morsels of pâte. He was also very excited by the sound of little mouse feet within the walls of the ancient building. Overall, I was in awe of how Zen old JoJo was. When he wasn’t running after potential mice, he just looked at me with big eyes and purred.
Now we are back in Zurich. We have covered a distance – that had taken me two months on foot – in only one day by car. We found a beautiful new home with a friend who has space for both of us. Currently, JoJo and I are on the couch, breathing deeply. We are glad that at least the “roof over our heads” part of the equation is covered for now. The next few weeks will be devoted to an extensive job hunt (For me. JoJo gets to relax on the couch and gets to watch birds in the courtyard).
If I find employment in Zurich, if JoJo and I get to stay in the country for a longer while, much of my free time will be spent on shorter hikes, exploring the wonderful mountain landscapes of Switzerland. Also, during vacation times I want to get back on the international trails. For example, I am still itching to do that gorgeous hike from the Strait of Gibraltar to the South of Portugal.
Wherever JoJo and I are, wherever we go, the journey continues. Stay tuned for more trails and adventures!
Alright, this is it. One more sleep in Montpellier. Then, tomorrow morning, I’ll hop into a rental car and drive north, towards the Swiss border. All luggage is in the car already, so we can get a running start. All I’ll need to do at 6 am is to throw some cold water into my face, drink a coffee… and off we go.
As you can see, I am leaving with quite the little family in tow: a fish, a stingray and, most importantly, little JoJo, the sweetest old street cat in all of Montpellier. Most likely in all of France ;).
Today was a full and exciting day for JoJo and me both. In the morning, I said goodbye to yet another new friend I am grateful to have crossed paths with. We went for a walk in the old town and got my favorite donuts one last time. Sooo good. Afterwards, JoJo and I went to the veterinary to make sure his travel papers are in order. I wanted to go get a Covid test, but the line was about a mile long. After one hour, I gave up waiting. Hopefully, this won’t cause a problem tomorrow… but that’s a bridge – or rather a border – I’ll cross then. Bottom line: Cat is ready. I am not.
In the evening, I went to get a rental car, maneuvered it through all the narrow one-way streets, broke out in a cold sweat while doing so, and finally found a parking space. It’s a great little car, and I’ve already prepared lots of cozy sleeping spaces for JoJo.
I still can’t get over these brilliant, azure blue skies here in the Occitanie region. I’m glad to be here for a few more days and, after that, am content to let my Wonderweg take me onto whatever trails lie ahead in 2021.
If things go at least halfway the way I’d like them to, then you’ll read about a mix of hiking journeys, relocations, and inward journeys over the course of the next few months.
Other than that, today is just a day and tomorrow is another day as far as I’m concerned… not a magical barrier we have reached after which everything will get better. I have no great expectations of 2021 and will just do the best I can with whatever challenges it’ll throw at me.
As a good friend of mine always says (right Matt), “It’s all an adventure!”
As we are nearing the end of this year, I’d like to say thank you to all of my friends near and far, old and new, for their support. Thank you for believing in me. There were so many acts of kindness… ranging from that little “like” of support for one of my posts, to sending notes and messages enquiring how I am, to chatting and trusting each other with our latest news and developments, to actively lending assistance. Thank you for caring and being there.
Special thanks go to all those of you who went out of your way to help me survive and find a fresh start this year. To protect people’s privacy, I won’t name anyone, but you know who you are.
Thank you for the many messages I received with links to job offers across the globe. I applied to all of them. No luck yet, but I so appreciate all your efforts and pointers.
Thank you to all those who gave me shelter for hours, days, or even weeks and who invited me to the odd free meal. It meant a lot and I just hope one day I will be in a position again to pay it forward and be able to do the same for someone in need.
Thank you to my parents for helping me on their already tight budget with the costs of studying and staying in Montpellier.
Thank you to the wonderful team at Alliance Francaise Montpellier, who were rather friends than teachers. They chauffeured me around to buy cat provisions, kept their eyes open for job and apartment opportunities, and never gave up on me no matter how slowly my French progressed.
Thank you to my good friend and almost-room mate for being there and also for spoiling JoJo et moi with the coolest impromptu Christmas buffet ever.
Thank you to old and new friends alike for offering to help me survive financially. To that regard, I want to thank two people especially. One is one of my best and oldest friends who is struggling herself this year but still lent me part of her savings. The other is a new friend who has never even had a real face-to-face conversation with me but still entrusted me with some of her hard-earned money. I am in awe and forever grateful to you both. Thank you for your trust. And thank you for being patient with my clumsiness. I am not used to need to ask for so much help.
Thank you to so many of you around the world who contacted me and offered me shelter whenever things got a bit hairy this year. Were it not for Covid travel restrictions and now being responsible for an elderly street cat, I might haven taken some of you up on your offer.
As it so happens, I did take one of you up on your offer and want to thank you so much for your help with little old JoJo as well as for letting us come stay with you soon. As for plan B, thank you to yet another dear friend who might have a whole house for us to take shelter in, should JoJo and I not be able to cross the border from France to Switzerland in January.
Thank you in general to the surprisingly overwhelming amount of people who were true to their word in every regard.
I apologize if I have not mentioned everyone and everything. The list of incredible kindnesses this year is a long one and will most likely fill an entire book. I will always remember.
Even the kindnesses of strangers were enchanting on a daily basis.
One memorable encounter was a cashier at the Carrefour supermarket around the corner who sent me twice to get a new box of mandarins. The second box still met her disapproval. When I looked at her, my eyes above the face mask big orbs of confusion, she opened both packages, and fished out the moldy mandarins I hadn’t seen hidden at the bottom. Then she began rearranging both boxes (with a long line of patient customers waiting behind me). I ended up with one box overflowing with Vitamin C goodness, while she kept the almost empty second box with the moldy remains. “Au revoir et bonne soirée” she said, eyes above her face mask twinkling, and sent me on my way.
One very special thank you goes to the little street cat who has chosen me as his new family. Your gentle purring at night soothed my nightmares which before you arrived disturbed my sleep so profoundly. Now, it is you disturbing my sleep, which I greatly prefer. Also, your paws trampling all over my face in the morning put a smile on my face and into my heart. You are a bit rough around the edges but you help me appreciate the things that ARE instead of mourning and feeling the loss of things that were. Thank you my little lion.
Et voilà, many hugs around the world from JoJo et moi!