For all Swiss-German and German speakers out there, here a little something to listen to on a relaxed Sunday afternoon: Marco Schaettin recently interviewed me for his fabulous podcast ‘Mis Coming Out’ (my coming out) and I told him about my life story… ☺️
The Wonderweg continues. Currently mostly just around Zurich. But it’s amazing. I have already lived here twice. Altogether, this is now my 18th year here, but I am daily re-discovering Zurich on a whole new level. Finding corners I’ve never been to before. Enjoying familiar corners with fresh eyes. Genuinely savouring every moment.
This picture was taken on Zueriberg. A hill above Zurich’s university. There is a small, steep path which winds its way uphill, and it’s called ‘Himmelsleiterli’ which means ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ Quite adorable really. And picturesque to boot.
Slowly, slowly after two years of couch-surfing and uncertainty about pretty much everything, the puzzle pieces are beginning to fit together again. A former work colleague alerted me to a position that was open in my old company. I applied and, voila, after several interviews and an assessment they decided to take me. I am over the moon about it, because one of my biggest worries was that I would have to take a job I don’t like, which would then have been only a temporary solution again. I really wanted to find a work environment and work content I’ll enjoy. To be able to settle a bit and stay long-term if possible. Now, I am so grateful that I ended up finding just that.
Then, only a couple weeks after signing my new work contract, I happened to stumble upon an incredibly cozy little rooftop apartment. I had been able to stay with a friend since I arrived in Switzerland beginning of the year. We had even thought of making it a long-term arrangement. But, after such a long time of not having my own home I felt ever more strongly that I needed my own space again. No matter how small it might end up being. I saw the rooftop apartment online. Applied straight away without even looking at it first. I just knew, this is my place. After I put lots of effort into an unusual application, the agency did end up taking me as a tenant. I am not sure exactly when I’ll move in yet. Which is fine. I am in no rush and will enjoy the last few weeks of living together with my good friend and flat mate.
Until I start work in a month, I’ll also spend as much quality time as possible with my toothless cat. I’ll wonder and wander around Zurich and the surrounding regions a bit more, too. Catch some sunshine and relax fully for the first time since the fall of 2019. It’s still step by little step. And no one ever knows anything for sure in life. But I am breathing a huge sigh of relief for now and am looking forward to continue starting a new life.
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!
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!”
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.
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:
The new shoes did a good job. I didn’t get one single new blister today 🙂 feet were hurting a lot though after 6 hours of intense hiking… but that was to be expected. It was a day of wild flower meadows, buzzing bees, gigantic ant hills, and cows. Hundreds of cows! We are now at Weissenstein, soon crossing over into the French-speaking part of Switzerland.
We can only ever find happiness in the moment, can’t we.
Nothing ever lasts.
All happiness we feel we have attained can be taken away in an instant, at any time, by circumstances, or even by the people we love and have learned to trust with all our heart… Unless we have found that immortal spark of resilience, self confidence, and joy within ourselves…
(Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash)