Sooo… I will stay in Montpellier for one month. And this morning is my first day of school… uuuaaahhhh… but let me start from the beginning…
I’ve made the spontaneous decision to replace smoking feet with a smoking brain. I am taking a 4-week intensive French course at the Alliance Francaise to finally be able to speak the language better. And, to hopefully also better my chances in the future when I apply to circus companies and shows that prefer that you speak French as well.
Et voila, school starts in one hour and I am a bit nervous because the class I’m joining has already done 50 lessons, and my French is, quite frankly, tres horrible! (Sorry, no accents on this little iPad).
I’ve also quite spontaneously rented a little rooftop apartment for a month. It’s in the center of town, old, cozy, super quiet with a view over the rooftops. I can’t even describe my absolute delight when I settled into my little temporary sanctuary last night. Ever since last October, when I lost my home, I haven’t had a space of my own. I couldn’t retreat anywhere where I can just be me. All those things we ususally take for granted… eating breakfast when and for as long as I want, listening to the music I like without earphones, binge-watching a series for as long as I want without earphones, stretching on my couch, hopping around naked (singing and screaming if I like), leaving things lying around, opening the window when I want, and shopping for my own little fridge, choosing my favorite foods, trying new ones, and just feeling home.
Last night, I did all that (except the binge-watching). And it was pure happiness. Being able to unpack my bag and hang my two t-shirts into the bedroom. Being able to cook (!!!) and enjoy a meal of my favorite spaghetti and a good glass of wine in my (almost own) home.
So yeah, I’ll enjoy this little haven for the next 4 weeks. I’ll also spend time at the beach which is only a stone’s throw away. I’ll find a favorite cafe to sit and write in, and I’ll work hard on Le Francais.
Check out my place as well. The house is awesome on the outside. If you look closer, you’ll see that the entire front isn’t real. It’s a street art mural. It looks even better in real life. The apartment is simple but has everything I could possibly need.
As for hiking, the Wonderweg is still on! It will just see me blabbering more confidently in French after the course is finished on September 26. The idea is still to head further West through France, Spain, to the Street of Gibraltar and then onwards to Portugal. I still have about 2’500 km ahead of me.
For this next month, I’ll most likely post a little less since my brain will be fried. But, I’ll still keep you posted about my adventures wandering and wondering around Montpellier. Probably every second day.
It’s time to share a map again, now that the third leg of my journey is done: from Grenoble to Montpellier. It was a mix of hiking and traveling by car, since during the last week I was lucky to be able to catch up – and catch a ride – with a couple old friends.
All-in-all, I have now been on the trails for almost 2 months, hiking from Brugg in Switzerland towards Portugal. So far, I have covered a distance of 500 km. 100 km were trains and cars. 400 km were tackled entirely on foot. Three days ago, I finally reached the Mediterranean Sea at Saintes Maries de la Mer. A real highlight of my journey!
Here some random observations and practical thoughts so far:
Feet: are ok now, but… oh boy. I can recommend to anyone who has spent years living in flip-flops like I did, to do a lot of smaller hikes before embarking on the big one. My feet took ages to acclimate to being in closed shoes again, all day long. Also, the heavier your backpack, the more strain you put on your knees and feet. Knee problems can easily be avoided by using walking sticks. But, the feet feel the heavy load all day long. This is one reason why I am strongly considering leaving behind even more of my stuff. I am at 12 kg now, but would love to bring it down to 7 or 8 kg. Will need to see what to do…
Gravel paths: the worst!!! So many hiking trails have gravel on them. I’ve come to hate those paths. They absolutely kill my feet. No matter how thick the soles of my shoes are, after a few hours I can feel every single sharp rock.
Water: is a real problem when you hike through the Swiss and French Jura regions in summer. I brought a water filter but was never able to use it, because all creek and river beds were completely dry. I ended up depending on the kindness and close proximity of farmers. In Switzerland, where everything is closer together, this wasn’t so much of a problem. In France, the distances between any settlements and farms are much farther apart. Sometimes more than a day’s walk. Additionally, many small restaurants along the way are currently closed due to Covid19. For the first time in my life, I experienced what it feels like to be thirsty and to be afraid, not knowing where the next drop of water will come from… and when. It all got a bit better once I came through the Rhone valley and the Massif de la Chartreuse. But, since it’s a very hot summer, the water situation remained precarious throughout.
Walking alone: overall no problem. Each day seems to just fly by. After a few hours my feet start hurting and I need to take a break. But, ten hours of walking pass by so fast, even with pain. Which is something I need to be consciously aware of. It’s better to pace myself and not do too many hours in one day. I haven’t listened to any music yet. I love the sounds of the wildlife all around me and of the wind gently, or sometimes not so gently, blowing through the trees and over the meadows. And, I enjoy my own company. However, what I do struggle with is my homelessness. If I did this hike knowing I have my own little home base to return to somewhere, I would feel more at peace. As it is, I do not know when and where I’ll find my next job. So, I also do not know when I’ll have my own little private space again. I miss having an actual home. That’s why, sometimes, I wonder if I should have bought an old car, so at least I’d have a home on the road. A little mobile space that’s mine. But maybe that’s also something I need to learn: to be ok without that. In essence, camping has so far never been a problem, but it has been stressful nonetheless. I am the kind of guy who loves to have his little quiet sanctuary somewhere to retreat to after a hard day’s work. And, somehow, a tent in which I always have to anticipate people, deer, cows, wild dogs, etc. disturbing me, just doesn’t quite measure up.
Covid19 considerations: I always have my face mask in my pocket, within easy reach. As soon as I get close to too many people at once, I put it on. For their protection and mine. In Switzerland, social distancing rules were followed in some places and not in others. Some people wore masks, some didn’t. It seemed to be different in every single farm, village, and city I walked through. In France, the preventive measures so far seem to be in place everywhere. Most people seem to be quite disciplined when it comes to wearing a mask as well, even out on the street. I am surprised the numbers in Southern France are going up so much, because everyone I see is being so careful.
Horse flies and tics: I just really hate them. So far, thankfully, I have found every single tic that was crawling around on me before it latched on. Grrr. Tenacious little buggers!
This is all I can think of right now. I’ll stay in Montpellier for a little while. It’s just too beautiful here to leave quickly. And, after so much forest and nature (which I love) it is great to feel so much vibrant city life and culture around me (which I also love). More about the next steps in tomorrow’s blog post!
Here a few heartfelt thanks:
Big thanks to Maggi and Abel for picking me up close to Avignon. Thanks for letting me stay at your place for a few days! It was so peaceful and I loved our conversations! Thanks Lionel for driving so many hours just to come see me. I loved exploring Uzes with you and was glad we had a chance to catch up after so many years. Thank you Ute and Jim for giving me a ride to the Camargue. How awesome that we had a chance to meet and then hike for a couple days together through the beautiful Camargue! From now on, every time I hear someone burp loudly I’ll think of those strange flamingos, of the weird sounds they make, and of our bird watching adventures! Mylena, how awesome to meet you upon my arrival in Montpellier. What a great day! I could have continued forever. And thanks so much to Evelyne at Villa Stella. Thanks for sharing delicious fruits and coffees with me and for inspiring me with great conversations.
And, thanks to all of you who read this, for being there. Writing these posts is as much a means of letting friends and family know how I am, as it is a means for me to not feel so alone on the road and stay connected with the people I care about and with the world in general. Thanks for your support!
I’ve arrived in Montpellier. This bustling city is quite the contrast to the quietness and natural beauty I experienced in the Camargue during the last four days. However, albeit different, Montpellier has abundant charm and beauty of its own. I am quickly falling in love with this old town. Every street is rich in history, flowers, and an international mix of humanity.
I got lucky with my accomodation as well. For three nights, I am staying at this private villa in the middle of town. Upon arrival, Evelyne, a former journalist and the owner of this lovely jumble of rooms, provided me with a unicorn key, a street map, and great off-the-beaten-path advice.
Everything in this old building has such a welcoming atmosphere. Over the last few weeks, I’ve mostly had restless nights. In the tent – always – because it’s just truly far more uncomfortable than romantic. In the hotel rooms I take once a week, I don’t seem to feel comfortable enough to sleep deeply either. My mind is racing and seems to never quite calm down. Here, in this old villa however, it’s so comfortable and homy, I’m actually resting.
Still in the Camargue. I could easily stay another few weeks here. I feel like I’m getting more sensitized to the local flora and fauna. With every hike, I’m spotting more little plants and critters. Today, Ute, Jim, and I went to the protected area ‘Les Sentier des Rainettes’.
I now have a new favorite plant, called “Saladelles” – Sea Lavender.
Apparently, as the grass dries out during summer, sea lavender takes over and begins to bloom everywhere. We saw whole fields of it at the nature park, buzzing with dragonflies. Beeeaaauuutiful!!!
Hiking through the Camargue today was just wonderful. I don’t even know where to start… let’s see…
Flamingos! Flamingos! Flamingos! So many and so close. And… they are hilarious. They mooonwalk through the mud like Michael Jackson to stir up critters and gobble them up. They stick their entire head in the mud, coming up cackling and squabbling with the other flamingos around them. The noises they make sound a lot like a mixture between a fart and a burp… I just couldn’t stop laughing while at the same time observing these beautiful (elegant and gangly) creatures with awe.
There were so many dragonflies as well. I got quite ambitious photographing them. You tell me… what do you think of my favorite dragonfly shot of the day?
Then, I saw a couple birds of prey, black storks, lots of herons, several beavers, and lots of white horses.
The Camargue landscape is a thing of beauty in and of itself. Rarely have I seen such warm and intricate compositions of sunshine and foliage. I am utterly in love all over again (I was here twice before) and will surely be back again in the future!
Tomorrow will be one more day of hiking through the Camargue together with my friends Ute and Jim. Then onwards and westwards, towards Montpellier…
Yesterday, I explored Arles a bit. It was great to visit the Arenes d’Arles, a two-tiered Roman Amphitheatre. I was happy to see all the scaffolding and seating, which gave the strong impression that there is just a little pause… until concerts and plays will be back…
Overall, the town had abundant charm. Lots of little corners that made the photographer in me go wild. Some places just looked so inviting, I was tempted to settle in and never leave.
Other than this, tomorrow I’ll move on towards the Camargue where I’ll stay for 3 days to explore all over the place without my heavy backpack. A couple friends and I will go hunt birds (with a camera). I’m looking forward to seeing flamingos again, and many other beautiful bird species. And, of course, I’ll finally reach the ocean! Ahhh, beautiful deep blue sea. I can’t wait!!!
Before Covid19 hit, I worked as a stage manager, mostly for circus shows. It is one of my greatest passions and something I worked hard towards for many years. Now, as I hike and travel through Southern Europe, no matter how beautiful it gets, sometimes it’s hard for me to stay in the moment. I can’t help it. Even as I am passing breathtaking vistas, I catch myself hoping that, someday soon, I’ll be able to work backstage again.
I miss the daily challenges and joys of being a stage manager. I miss life backstage, the vividness of a show family, the collaboration, the continual growth, training, learning, and stretching of limits and boundaries. And then, to see what we have created come to life. There is nothing quite like that concentration of energy and dedication at top of show just before all our hard work materializes as magic onstage…
At the moment, like so many of my peers, I have no idea when I’ll be able to get back to work. Until then, I will continue to travel. Througout my hike, I am stopping wherever I stumble upon a theater. I am working on a photo series of old village theaters, just like this one. Whenever I get the chance to speak to someone on the way, I interview them and through this endeavor have already discovered wonderful people and places. But I also draw on past experiences, or interview people around the world for my articles in TheatreArtLife. It is my little contribution of keeping the ghost light on until we are back. Celebrating and keeping the performance arts, the arts in general, alive.
Then there is #Step4Circus, an intiative, still in its infancy, which will hopefully grow over the next months. The idea there is to build up a long-term international foundation to help create projects and shows within the circus community. Anyone will be able to help us achieve this by organizing small (or big) events to raise funds for our initiative. So that eventually we’ll be able to utilize these funds to make a difference and create new opportunities around the world.
Until Monday, I am in the beautiful village of Montaren, soon heading to the Camargue, and then after to Montpellier. I might stay a while in Montpellier if I can find a good intensive French course to do what I have put on hold for years: refresh my French and finally get a chance to get closer to being fluid in it.
The Wonderweg (“Weg” is German for “path” or “way”) truly is full of wonder. Often also doubts, worries, exhaustion, and breathlessness in the face of, at times, almost overwhelming uncertainty. But, I am hopeful, bursting with creative energy. I do the best I can to make the most of the present, learning more to stay in the moment every day. At the same time, I feel ever more ready to tackle all that will come my way.
The Southern sunlight and olive trees. For me a near irresistible combination.
Since yesterday, I am close to Avignon, staying with friends.
The landscape and flora have changed. I have longed for this for weeks. To be out of the cold Central European forests. To escape the chilly, heavy dampness at night, that permeates your body through to your very bones. Now, there is a gentle warmth at night. And scorching heat during the day.
Olive trees are shimmering silver, like beings from another planet. Tough and delicate all at the same time.
The light has changed, making all colors so much more intense. As Antoni Gaudi once said, “The Sun is the greatest painter of all.”
I didn’t sleep much in the hotel last night, but it was peaceful lying awake in the dark, watching the lightning through the skylight in my room.
Waking up, I took it easy, had a real coffee, and read a book. A few hours later, I went outside, had another coffee, and attempted to have lunch. Which was harder than I thought due to a whole group of incredibly pushy doves. This is just two of them, sitting on the plates that had been left on the table right next to mine. The doves ended up squabbling so much over all the pieces that half of the dishes and cutlery crashed to the floor. Then, they tried to grab food off my plate as I was still eating. They succeeded in stealing the cake I had looked forward to for dessert. But, the cheese baguette was and remained mine!!!
I’ve thought a lot this past week. About life. About being homeless. About all the uncertainty. About what I am doing (not entirely sure…).
I’ve thought about my trip. And about how to continue. Whilst my feet and mind were moving in tandem, I realized something. It’s no coincidence that I love being a stage manager. Apart from feeling at home backstage and enjoying the challenges of battling with the unexpected, I also love structuring, planning, and scheduling. It seems to be in my blood. So in a way, without noticing, I’ve stage managed my hike as well.
Then, there is plain old stubbornness. Sometimes, there are two trails, and I actually like the other one better. Yet, I feel the need to keep following the E4 Long Distance Path because I said so. Keeping my word to the point of masochism. There is ambition there as well, and personal pride, and my German perfectionism. Somewhere along the line, I’ve gotten way too serious and overly relentless about this. Way too concerned about following the trail rather than experiencing the journey.
Amazing, how an extreme endeavor like this really does bring us closer to ourselves and shows us more clearly who we are.
I need to take this opportunity and jump over my shadow. This is not the time for planning and structuring things. This hike is a time for me to enjoy, be spontaneous, change direction, change my mind, follow my heart, do what makes me happy. I don’t need to prove anything to anyone. Not even to myself. I don’t need to follow a specific route. And I don’t need to arrive. This is about the journey. It’s for me. And it’s for #step4circus. No matter what shape or form it takes.
So, I’m going to liberate myself ☀️
I‘ll start with “jumping over” the Vercors mountains. Yesterday marked 6 weeks of me hiking through mountains. Frankly, I’m a bit “mountained out” at the moment and need a change of scenery. I am craving rolling hills rather than steep ups and downs… and I’m craving ocean! Also, the Vercors mountains hold beautiful memories of a life that’s over… which at the moment will break my heart all over again…
Instead of hiking three more weeks south through the Vercors mountains, I’ll take a train to Avignon tomorrow. Then I’ll spend a few days near Uzes seeing friends.
And then… well… we’ll see 😁
I need to research a bit these next few days (There I go again. Relax Liam. Not too much planning). But, I am thinking to definitely move as close to the Mediterranean Sea as I can. Find paths that will get me close enough so I can jump into the deep blue sea every so often, but also paths that lead me a bit further away here and there so I don’t end up enveloped by masses of sunbathing tourists.
Onward and southwest-ward bound is still the general idea. But following my heart more and not forgetting to have fun as well along the way is the prime objective.
As a good friend of mine said a few days ago, “If you stop looking for the trail signs and instead go forth with your head held high and remaining in the moment, your journey will take you to the right place no matter where that may be.” (Thank you for reminding me, dear David!)