I love thunderstorms. Always have. Usually, I either go for a walk as the storm builds up or, if I can, I sit outside with a hot cup of tea or a glass of wine and calmly enjoy the forces of nature. Now, from my terrace, I can see the weather coming again. It’s the greatest thing. I remember, when living in the Maldives, I could see thunderstorms coming from miles away already. It was like a dark wall slowly moving towards us. And, after a while, I was able to predict precisely how long it would take before the storm would hit.
Thankfully, by now the storms in my life have calmed a little. I love my new place. Coming home to it every day is a real treat. Also, I am so fortunate to have my little, old, toothless street cat JoJo. He is a beacon of love and so soulful. Currently our relationship is shifting and he seems to want more personal space. If I don’t respect his boundaries and am too needy, he wraps all four legs around my arms and starts biting, or rather gumming, me. It’s probably the hot weather, changing life circumstances (me being away for work many hours of the day), the fact that he can now roam free on a big terrace (he loves having his own, save outdoor space), and simply that he now feels much more confident about his new place in the world. So, I am giving him space and enjoy every moment we get to snuggle together. As always, this old tomcat is teaching me a lot.
Where do I even start… well… as you know I was looking for a job and an apartment here in Montpellier. I was even looking with a friend. She has a French passport but is not registered in France at the moment. I have an EU passport. And we wanted to find something affordable together, to share. Can’t be that hard, we thought…
It’s incredible how many bureaucratic walls we ran into. This was even more surprising to us since we have both lived in multiple countries already. Neither of us has ever encountered so many bureaucratic barriers before. Anywhere.
To sum up weeks of going from Pontius to Pilatus in two sentences: Basically, no one wanted to rent anything to us unless we had our tax revenue in France first. And no one wanted to give us a job unless we had an address in France first.
A conundrum which might have been funny had it not completely destroyed all hopes of my friend and I being able to begin a new life here in beautiful Montpellier at this time.
I pondered for a while if there was a workaround, because I really wanted to stay in Montpellier. Start a new life. New country, new city, new language, new job, maybe even a new profession. But, since I am by now already living on borrowed money, it didn’t make any sense to rent AirBnBs until I’ll be able to find a loophole in the local bureaucracy.
So, with a heavy heart, I decided to let go of Montpellier.
Immediately next came the question of where to go instead. Move onwards to maybe Spain or Portugal? But there as well I will be faced with extreme uncertainty and no idea of when and how I’ll be able to get a foot on the ground and find a roof over my head… and a job.
Instead, I have now decided to go back to the place which has already been my home twice for altogether 17 years: Zurich. In fact, each time I moved there, Zurich became my safety net after great turmoil. This will be the 3rd time. And, third time is the charm they say, isn’t it?
I have an amazing network of friends and acquaintances in Zurich. People who are close to my heart. That’s a definite plus. The climate is a definite minus. Brrrrrr.
So, onwards I go, in hopes of finding a better future. My little feline buddy JoJo and I will rent a car and drive to the Swiss border on January 10th, 2021. There, good friends will pick us up with their car. JoJo is now a registered French “cat-izen” and this will be his first ever time to cross a border as an international cat. Not bad for an old toothless street survivor.
Once in Zurich, I want to continue studying Le Francais, because I am still aiming to become fluent. And, I will begin another determined job hunt. Hopefully more successful than my last. If I can’t find anything in Zurich, in these Covid-stricken times, I might head towards other destinations after all. Malta, one of my favorite places on Earth, and a place I’ve already lived and worked in, has crossed my mind as well.
We will see. There is not much more JoJo and I can do than move forward with hope and as much confidence and positivity as we can muster.
We have roughly three more weeks here and JoJo and I both aim to enjoy our little rooftop flat which we will miss dearly. We’ll watch the golden sunsets together, and wave at our pigeon neighbors every night. I’ll miss those two love birds. So heartwarming to see them returning every single evening.
It’ll be a good Christmas. With JoJo, two love-struck pigeons, and my human friend, before she retreats to a bureaucratically friendlier locale as well. I believe a bit of French wine will be involved as well.
Merry Christmas to you all! JoJo, the pigeons, and I are sending many hugs around the world xxx
It was. What a year… found myself completely homeless, unemployed, and penniless for the first time in my life. Embarked on the Oasis of the Seas in the Caribbean to manage one of the most beautiful aqua theatres in the world. Called my first high-risk acrobatics show. Went to Germany to help my dad during the 1st lockdown. Went on a long-distance hike from the mountains of Switzerland to the Mediterranean Sea. Discovered Montpellier. Learned a new language (work in progress). Found peace of mind again (also work in progress). Crossed paths with the most loving and gentle feline. And experienced incredible kindnesses from friends, old and new, around the world (thank you!!!). I don’t think I have ever learned more in one year. And I am profoundly grateful.
Two of my favorites: Croque Monsieur and Tarte de Framboises. Wherever I am in the world, when I see either one, I need to taste it. This morning, I found both in the bakery. Aaaaaand… that was breakfast sorted.
Today is a day of anxiety. Moderate. But, yes, I do have those, too.
As I walked around my neighborhood, I was (as every day since I arrived in Montpellier) baffled by the number of homeless people. Why are there so many? While I felt helpless faced with the sheer number of outstretched hands, it also put things in perspective and showed me how lucky I still am. Yes, I am currently homeless, too (and soon I’ll be completely broke). But, I am still able to rent a roof over my head for a little while. I’m still standing, I’m still hiking, and I do still have and see abundant hope and opportunities.
Whilst shopping for the weekend, I looked around, and became so aware of all the masks again. It has become normal for me now to put on shoes and mask before leaving the house. How quickly has our world changed. I miss seeing people’s faces. I miss being able to read their facial expressions. I miss being able to shake their hands, to be able to fist-bump them. And, more than anything, I miss hugs and kisses. We seem to become ever more remote from each other… The other day, I had a drink and an awesome conversation with one of my classmates. When we said goodnight in front of the pub, he gave me a spontaneous hug. How wonderful that was! And how rare. How can something that used to be so normal now have become so rare?
My sense of loneliness is excacerbated by my language problems. By not being able to express what I feel in French. I understand so much when people talk. I understand even more when I read. But, getting sentences out is like looking for pearls in a mountain of oyster shells. Only every twentieth shell seems to produce a word. I need to get better at finding more of those pearls. I know, I know, it’s all just about going out, meeting people, overcoming the awkwardness, and talking anyways. No matter how horrible my grammar currently still is.
I am also wondering what I’m doing. Hiking across Southern Europe, going to French school now, continuing the hike after. Sometimes, I fail at staying in the moment. I fall out of it. All of a sudden I am overcome with worries about where it all might lead, if anywhere at all?
Then, I sit myself down (to a Croque Monsieur and a Tarte de Framboise for example). And I tell myself, “You can’t let yourself be overcome by these worries. Yes, everything is uncertain right now. Yes, you don’t know when you’ll find a job. Yes, your money might run out soon. Yes, you are in the middle of a pandemic (and a 6-month hike) without a health insurance. But, you are on the right track. You are proactive. You are taking steps. You are learning. You are alive. Just keep on going. One step at a time. Cross those bridges when you get there. Don’t try to cross them all at once now. They haven’t even been built yet. And it’s ok to have bad days. You’re entitled to those, too.”
Sipping my coffee, I feel a bit better (or at least determined to not give up) already…
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!)
Arrived at my temporary sanctuary in Luescherz at Lake Biel. Thanks so much to an old friend of mine for making it possible for me to stay in this beautiful oasis for a few days!!! I’ve stocked up on anti-inflammatory Voltaren gel and pills before coming to this little village. Next few days will be foot maintenance and writing articles for TheatreArtLife, plus brainstorming a bit more about step4circus, our initiative, which is still in its infant stage…
This area around Lake Biel is so breathtakingly beautiful. The city of Biel itself is just gorgeous. I can’t believe I never made it here in all those years I worked in Zurich… only a couple hours away. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to explore more now, and am already looking forward to continuing my hike in a few days. I can actually see the Trans Swiss Trail across the lake from my window here… beckoning… 😉
After camping for a few days, we’ve now stopped for a couple days in the beautiful city of Biel. Yesterday was a lovely day of spoiling myself. I took a long, hot bath while listening to Cinemix, had a picnic dinner from Migros (awesome Swiss supermarket!), and went to the pharmacy to get some advice on why the soles of my feet are still hurting like hell…
Turns out, I have an inflammation in my feet. The pharmacist was helpful and seemed super competent. She prescribed some pills and a special ointment. I was a bit relieved to hear that, apparently, I am not especially whimpy, but this happens to rather a lot of hikers whose feet have troubles getting used to carrying the extra weight of the backpack in addition to hiking up and down through the Swiss Jura region. It doesn’t help that there are no cold creeks to hang your feet into in the evening.
Anyhow, the pharmacist recommends that I stop for at least three days to make sure the inflammation is gone, before I continue. I am gutted to be slowed down, but also immensely grateful to finally know why my feet feel like I’ve got half a dozen knives stuck in them.
Dave will continue on with his partner who is due to join us today. I’ll sadly remain behind for now. But I’m planning to continue on the trail by Monday, or Tuesday at the latest. Depends on those two rebellious feet. Fingers crossed!
Being here in Biel with time to think brings back memories. I shop in Migros, in awe at all the delicacies and realize that, while I lived in Switzerland, I probably didn’t appreciate all these little luxuries enough. Even after only one and a half weeks on the trail, my perspective is already shifting. It’s a good thing. Being more aware.
I also think back on the last few years. Life, work, travels. There was so much good. Like the best road trip of my life so far, in 2013, from Zurich to Barcelona and back… all the way along the Spanish coastline, through the South of France, through Monaco, to Cinque Terre in Italy. Then we drove straight north, over the alps, back to Zurich. Driving this entire route for the first time was like a dream. As was experiencing the FINA world championships in Barcelona or deciding spontaneously to go to the opera. Or drinking Sangria in Barcelona’s old part of town. Then we drove on, through landscapes that were ever-changing and magnificent.
I get all nostalgic thinking about life experiences like these and think about how lucky I was to be able to share it all with someone who loved it as much as I did. It’s good to hold on to these memories, to treasure them. Life moves on, forever changing, but certain things remain forever good. Like stars in our firmament, lighting the way for us in harder times.
And, every time we have another profound experience, be it on our own or when we share it with someone who matters to us, we widen our horizon a bit further. We end up adding another star to our own personal Milky Way… making it glow just that tiny bit brighter…
Another eventful day. We reached our highest point so far: Hasenmatt at 1435 m above sea level. The view was absolutely amazing as you can see. In the distance you can just make out the Murtensee and the Bielersee.
Since we are so high up now, the nights are freezing cold. I am wearing every piece of clothing I brought along with me but my teeth are still chattering. Looking forward to get out of the mountains in a week or so and be able to get a good night’s sleep.
Another problem we keep facing is water. The Swiss Jura region is very different from the Alps where you can find springs everywhere. Here, water disappears immediately in the pourous rock. We stop whenever we see a restaurant, to refill our bottles. But… most restaurants are closed due to Covid19. So, each day, it’s a bit of a gamble. So far, we always got lucky.
This mostly due to the amazingly helpful and friendly Swiss farmers. One lady whose doorbell we rang opened her door and asked “Water?” with a big smile before we could even say “Hello”. Last night, we slept on a meadow right in front of a farm house. Then, early this morning we were greeted with a hearty breakfast. Coffee, home-made bread, farmer’s cheese, milk and butter fresh from the cow. A true breakfast of champions!
Yesterday evening the sky turned into this, my weather app giving us severe rain storm and lightning warnings. So we legged it to Balsthal in Canton Solothurn where we took shelter in a cozy old hotel. We are staying here today. The sky still looks pretty much the same with occassional showers. Good chance to rest our legs, treat our blisters, and I bought new boots (but that’s a story for another day)
Today was kind of an amazing day, agony in shoulders and feet included. We had to walk mainly uphill and it was a hot summer’s day. Now it’s only 2 of us. Another friend left, but my good old buddy Dave is still along for the ride (probably for 2 more weeks).
I keep being amazed by all the Swiss people we meet on our hike (and am falling in love with Switzerland all over again). This region (the Swiss Jura) has practically no water up high. It’s dry as a desert (almost no open restaurants and all wells seem to be in the valleys), which has surprised us a lot, plus combined with the hot temperatures the lack of water sources poses a bit of a problem. Amazingly, every door we ring opens up to friendly locals who are more than happy to fill up our water bottles.
As for hiking itself, the learning curve is quite steep. I am learning that walking downhill with a heavy backpack is putting serious strain on my leg muscles. Walking with hiking sticks helps a lot!!! I am also learning all kinds of tricks and techniques to make those damn blister plasters stick the entire day.
As you can see with this photo, our efforts today were rewarded by pure Swiss bliss, in every way. Towards the end of our hiking day there was even a guy up in the mountain yodeling and serenading us with his alphorn. Such a beautiful sound echoing from one side of the valley to the other. We finished our day in a restaurant with a marvelous Wurscht Chaes Salat (a sausage-cheese-salad), and a couple of deliciously cold beers. Now, I am in the tent again, soon falling asleep to the sound of cow bells and rummaging foxes in the forest.