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!
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.
It’s been a while since my last post. But, I’ll do my best over the coming months to keep you all posted on a weekly or at least bi-weekly basis.
Lockdown has become less strict here in the South of France which is quite fabulous. We can now venture out for three hours a day, and we can move in a radius of twenty kilometers from our home. Not too bad. I’ve been busy as hell, but aim to get to the beach soon to spend a few invigorating hours breathing salty air. Afterwards, I’ll make sure to post at least one awesome pic for you all.
At the moment though, I am mostly working on trying to find a job as well as an apartment in Montpellier. If any of you know anyone in town, can you connect us via a PM? A friend of mine and I are looking to move in together. It’s urgent, too, since little JoJo and I can only stay in the place we have now until mid-January 2021. So, any pointers any of you might have will be greatly appreciated. Also job-wise, if anyone has any ideas… I am an excellent writer, good communicator, have ample experience with organizational, administrative, and coordinating duties. I am good with people, empathetic, compassionate, and always throw myself with enthusiasm and dedication into any new challenge. I have worked for the tourism industry, for the management consulting industry, as well as for the entertainment industry. I speak fluent English and German, and am now on level B1 in my French studies (determined to continue and get fluent over the course of next year). If you have any ideas at all as to where I can send an application to in Montpellier, please do PM me.
The small amount of savings I had will run out completely next month, so finding a job is also very urgent. Not to mention that I really long to be able to work again. I am open-minded and up for anything at this time.
Other than that, not much new. I have put my French studies at the Alliance Francaise on hold until beginning of January 2021. I miss my daily classes already but really need to focus on finding a roof over my head and a way to survive financially first.
Old, gummy JoJo continues to get more and more comfy sharing his life with me. He snuggles more with me every day. Occassionally almost suffocating me by placing his entire body over my face while I sleep. He also watches my every move and I get the distinct impression that he finds me quite boring because I spend way too much time working on my computer.
I hope we’ll be able to find a place where JoJo can have a little balcony so he can soak up the incredible amount of sunshine this beautiful town has to offer. Plus, he does like to watch pigeons. He makes funny purring sounds as he does and breathes heavier and heavier, much like Darth Vader, the more excited he gets.
This is it from planet Wonderweg for this week. I hope this finds you all well, my dear friends from around the globe. I’m thinking of you and sending sunny vibes your way x
The Wonderweg has gone (and still is going) through some massive changes. It has always been just as much of an internal than an external journey. Two months of hiking have brought me from Brugg in Switzerland to Montpellier in France. A city I immediately clicked with on so many levels. Which is why, as most of you know, I decided to stay a while in the beautiful Occitanie region to learn French. Then the second lockdown hit us, and my little temporary home above the rooftops became ever more a sanctuary filled with thoughts and sunsets.
This is for the best in more ways than I thought. Hiking with heavy backpacks is cancelled until further notice. For weeks now, I’ve been in pain every time I lifted my right leg to put on my pants or socks. I thought it was just a twisted muscle. Or me getting old. Or muscle fatigue due to not moving enough with all the Covid restrictions. But it wasn’t getting better. Rather, gradually, it got worse. It turns out, somewhere along the line of jumping over rocks like a gazella whilst carrying a twelve kilogram backpack, I’ve given myself a hernia, or possibly two, on my right side. I’ll have to be careful with this since I can’t currently afford an operation. I have no social security or health insurance. Hopefully, the hernia(s) will not get acute before I find a job and have a chance to get insured… fingers crossed, this should happen some time within the next 1-3 months.
My industry being dead in the water, plus all the personal upheavals that started long before Covid, got me thinking a lot of where to go from here professionally as well as personally. In which direction am I going to point this new life I am forced to start from scratch? I have quite a few thoughts and ideas of complete changes which I’ll gradually share with you here…
I’d also like to introduce you to my new partner in crime: JoJo. A twelve year old street cat who was found starving in an alley with severe gum infections four weeks ago. After a few weeks at the vet’s and after getting all of his teeth pulled, he slowly got better. I’ve decided to take him in. JoJo has been with me for a week now and is getting attached to me incredibly fast. In this short a time he has gone from hiding under the bed and only slinking out to quickly eat a bite, to lounging on his new cat tree, watching pigeons, and suffocating me at night by snuggling close and pressing his entire body onto my face. What can I say, I love the little rascal to bits already. From here on out we are partners on this journey.
Keep following us, if you’re interested in a more internal, South of France-based journey. Less mountains, but lots of palm trees, sunshine, and change. Lots and lots and lots of change. There will also still be hiking in the future. I’ve tasted how great it is to walk long distance and will surely do more trips. At some point, I definitely want to do the final leg of the journey I had planned: from the Strait of Gibraltar to Odemira in Portugal. But, for the moment, there will be no physical exercise for my legs beyond walking and swimming until I get this hernia taken care of.
Also, first on the agenda for JoJo and me is to find a place to live for ourselves in Montpellier. Because this little haunt is only ours until the middle of January 2021. What a year. The journey through it and beyond it definitely warrants to be called a Wonderweg. A journey full of developments, changes, and wonder… on an exponential scale.
Just one hour a day to go out is not enough. I try to make the most of it though and keep exploring the old part of town. There is still so much street art to discover. So many cozy corners, too. One place I visit every day is a square close to the big UNIQLO in Montpellier. On the square are four of these gnarly old giants. In the evening, just about the time I finish with my French Zoom classes, these trees are literally bursting with birds. You already hear them from hundreds of meters away. But when you stand just underneath those trees and close your eyes, the choir of birds fills your entire existence. Definitely one of the better open air concerts I’ve been to.
Other than that, there is really not much new. I am charmed by the Carrefour around the corner from where I live. It’s supposed to close at 6pm every night. Last night, I went there 5 min to six without realizing and was firmly reminded by a security guard inside that they’ll close in 5 min. But, many had come in late just like me, so the employees in the store just kept on working until the flow of customers ebbed somewhat. Today, when I walked past at quarter past 6pm they were again still open with long lines waiting. No one seemed to be really bothered by it and the police didn’t care either. That’s my kind of place ☺️
Speaking of police. They leisurely patrolled the streets on bicycles today, chatted with each other, did random checks of curfew papers, waved, and greeted “bon soir” as I walked past them. Another moment in time which made me smile. In the empty alleys, a guy played fetch with his Golden Retriever. I ended up crawling under the parked cars with both guy and dog to help them fish out the balls they had lost. Then, as I continued on my rounds, the sky darkened, and those beautiful old street lights turned on. They bathed everything in the warm, golden light I love so much here at night.
Now, “Les Exercises de Grammaire” are calling for me… I guess, I better answer those calls… 🧐
The latest lockdown here in France began in the night between 29th and 30ieth of October. Like many, I went for one last, long stroll on the 29th. The conditions couldn’t have been more perfect. A clear, warm night with sparkling stars.
It was hilarious as well as disturbing when I came across a demonstration of anti-lockdown and anti-mask protesters. There, they were, all bundled close together, none of them wearing masks, shouting “Liberté!” over and over again and making quite the racket. I wondered if it occured to any of them that trough their irresponsible actions they were actually taking the risk of depriving their fellow protesters of the ‘Liberté’ of health? Thankfully, it was only a group of about 50 Covidiots which gave me hope for the overall sanity of the French populace. Most onlookers were as puzzled as I was, kept sitting at their tables in roadside cafes, kept sipping their wine, and had an amused smile playing on their lips.
I shook my head and ambled on… enjoyed the warm yellow lights in the old town, and the purplish sky due to a full moon. It was close to curfew. So, many stores and businesses were already preparing to shut down for an indefinite amount of weeks. Five minutes before curfew, I came upon ‘My Donut’ and couldn’t believe it. Two months ago, I had found this cute little gem by accident and had savored one of their home-made donuts. Probably, and surprisingly, one of the best desserts I had ever come across. In the weeks after, I had tried to find the tiny cafe again, but there were so many alleys, I just couldn’t remember which alley it had been in. But now… here it was. As it turned out the incredibly short distance of two minutes away from my home!
Something to look forward to for when the lockdown restrictions will be lifted. I shall then visit ‘My Donut’ at least once a week and take the time to sit down for a strong espresso and a round, fattening delicacy!
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.