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…
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.”
We hiked through a forest of vocabulary and grammar again at the Alliance Francaise in Montpellier. I was exhausted after. It’s only a few hours each morning, but my brain needs to get used again to studying… and to actually retaining information.
Besides learning and opening my mind, I do enjoy collaborating with my classmates. Usually, when I’m working backstage for a show, I am immersed in an international team, a show family. I love connecting with all those people from a myriad of backgrounds, listening to their thoughts and experiences on a daily basis. I miss it with all my heart. At the school now, we are only working together in the classroom for a few short weeks, but it’s still heartwarming to connect with people from other cultures again.
The four of us come from all corners of the world. Harry is British and lives in the UK. Nadja is Brazilian and lives in France. Sangee is born in Nepal and lives in India. Every day, we discover a bit more about each other’s world and its fascinating.
Sangee, especially, inspires me a lot. He is 24 years old and a monk in a Buddhist monastery in India. He told me that up until a few years ago, they focused exclusively on religious and spiritual studies in his monastery. But, due to their culture, every now and then, a monk who is the oldest son in his family has to leave to take care of his parents. Those who did in the past, entered life outside the monastery completely unprepared and clueless. Thus, Sangee’s monastery now makes sure to teach their monks as much as they can about the outside world. The monastery provides classes for them in the sciences, history, geography, and other subjects. And, their elders encourage the young monks to travel the world and study cultures and languages. In this way, if they ever have to leave, they will not be entirely lost in the “outside” world.
Sangee already speaks Buthanese, Hindi, Nepali, and Tibetan. Recently, he has travelled through England and has studied 4 weeks of English. His grasp of the language is already phenomenal. This is now his 2nd week of French. Without any prior knowledge, his French is about the same as mine even though I know far more vocabulary since this is my 3rd atttempt at learning the language.
Sangee and I have many wonderful conversations during our breaks. Also, through our exercises in class, all of us learn a lot from each other. Today, for example, Sangee told us (in French!) about the Indian human rights movement and about Babasaheb Ambedkar who campaigned against social injustice towards the untouchables.
I have to say, besides loving to learn from each other, Sangee also reminds me of my life and travels around Asia. His soft-spokenness and calmness, everything about him, reminds me of how much I love living there. It triggers an ache, a longing, as well as a feeling of happiness in me to be able to spend a little bit of time with this lovely, inspiring man.
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!)
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…
Whilst on the trail and enjoying each moment as best I can, I still think a lot about what will be. What will the future bring? Will I ever find a job as a stage manager again? So far, I have mostly big show and circus experience. Will circus be reborn? I miss my work backstage. It’s always been so much more than just a job.
As my thoughts run away with me, I tell myself to relax and not dwell on what will be, because we simply don’t know, do we? Best to enjoy the moment and make the most of it, be proactive, use my enforced downtime wisely, and let it lead me to where it leads.
On the trail, I meet so many who inspire me. Like Chriggel the other day, a 14-year old farmer’s boy who goes on hikes even though he has lost his left leg from the knee down and wears a prostheses. He has an awesome sense of humor and told me, “I want one of those new prostheseses they are developing. Those will be sensitive to touch and you can feel when something touches your toe. You can even feel water. Then my dad won’t accidentally run over my foot anymore.” I just looked at him with a big question mark on my face. “Yeah, he backs up the truck to park it, and if I stand too close it happens. And then, I want to walk away but am pinned down, and I need to tell my dad, hey can you back up a little more. You’ve parked on my foot.” We both laughed and he proceeded to tell me, “In a couple years, I want to hike from here all the way to Rotterdam, and then take the ship back on the river Rhine.” Chriggel was full of life and worked hard on the farm, helping his dad. He didn’t seem like he’d ever let anything stop him.
Or then, yesterday, an old man literally ran past us on the trail when it was at its steepest. A little later we caught up with him and got to talking. Fred had hiked over from Lugano in the Italian part of Switzerland which is a couple hundred kilometers away. He was now on his way hiking back home again. He was 72 years old and told us how he used to hike up Mount Everest with his alphorn. And how next year he wants to do the Little Matterhorn and play alphorn at 4000 meters before it is too late. He said, “I am not as fast as I used to be. I used to be able to hike up 2000 meters in 1 hour, now I need 1 1/2.” (At my current pace, I’ll need 4 hours to do that.) After talking with us for 10 minutes, he finished his quick rest and walked away at amazing speed. A minute later, he had already disappeared over the horizon. Oh, and he does his long hikes with only a shopping bag. When I asked him what’s inside he said, “A spare shirt and a bottle of water. It’s all I need.”
Making the impossible possible, stretching the limits, overcoming boundaries… It’s what we do in circus every day, too. And as we do, we bring magic to the world. At the moment, all shows worldwide are closed due to Covid19, but we’ll be back! After meeting Chriggel and Fred, I am more sure than ever.
For now, I’ll try to make a difference for myself by walking and absorbing the many experiences along the way… and I’ll try to make a difference for our circus community by walking for #step4circus. Check out these links if you want to find out more:
I just realized, I haven’t really explained where I’m walking at the moment. I’m on the Trans Swiss Trail which I will follow all the way to its end in Nyon. Then head on towards Geneva and the French border… and then crossing into France and onwards through the Vercours region and through the South of France. Yesterday my friends and I ended up somewhere close to Frohburg and set up our tents on this plateau with a view that isn’t half bad. I’ll need to do some blister maintenance this morning then we’ll see how far we get today. I’m really happy with my gear and thanks so much for all the good advice I received before taking off. Without it I’d be a bit screwed now 🙂. It’s great to start this off with friends. Andrea will stay only one more day. My old buddy Dave is open-end. We’ll see day-by-day how long he wants to tag along. The weather is outright fabulous at the moment. Not too hot but mostly brilliant blue skies. And the Swiss trail system is incredible. Yesterday, I even saw a sign pointing ahead and underneath (on an additional official sign) it said: 300 m along the fence then make a left… ahhh Switzerland, so delightfully quirky and perfectionist 🙂
Wonderful vistas on the Trans Swiss Trail yesterday. I did just 15 km due to blisters and feet and shoulders hurting quite a bit. Growing pains so to speak :). I’m hopeful that one week from now I’ll already be a bit fitter and in less pain. Yay, can’t wait!