JoJo and I are still in Zurich and will – if all goes well – make this our long-term home base. At the moment, I’m dealing with a lot of bureaucracy and it is as of yet unsure if I’ll be allowed to remain in the country. All will depend on me finding a job, which – so far – is proving as much of a challenge as it was in France. However, I am confident that with every week I’ll get a little closer to a solution. And, hopefully, at one point soon, I’ll be delighted to hear someone say, “We’re interested in offering you a position.” Keep fingers crossed.
Other than working on applications, I have started studying remotely at university which brings me a lot of joy. I love learning new things. I am also still with one foot – or rather one ear – in Montpellier to keep studying Le Francais.
One thing that is wonderful about returning to Zurich is that it has helped me to bring things into perspective. It used to be my home. A place I felt comfortable in and always loved returning to. Then, a few years ago when I moved back for three years with my ex-partner, I didn’t feel comfortable anymore. I just wanted to get away. What I have come to realize now is that it wasn’t Zurich that bothered me. I was under a lot of pressure at the time, financially and emotionally, and somehow (to protect myself and my partner and to be able to go on) I had shifted all the blame to Zurich. Projected all that was weighing heavily on my shoulders to a place, rather than searching for the root cause.
Now that I am back, with the wisdom of hindsight, I understand that Zurich was never the problem. My life had just been difficult back then and the pressure I had been under had been too intense.
This is something I’ll need to remember. Major note to self: If I ever begin complaining too intensely about a place again, I’ll need to stop and ask myself the question: “Ok Liam, what is wrong in your life? What do you need to resolve?”
So, hello Zurich. Third time is the charm, they say. I still don’t like everything about you, but no place is ever entirely perfect. What is important is that I have that comfy feeling again, as if I have just found an old pair of shoes in a long-forgotten suitcase. And I’m slipping into those shoes ever so easy, wiggling my toes, feeling good, simply thinking “ahhhhhhh.”
Since arriving in Zurich on the 10th of January, the days have just flown by. I was greeted by magnificent snow storms while, surprisingly, temperatures weren’t all that different from the South of France.
I got settled into my cozy new room. And found a home with a flat mate who is quite amazing.
Tons of pressure fell off my shoulders when I realized that for the first time in 16 months I am not living out of a suitcase or a backpack anymore. I can now just focus on studying and looking for jobs. I can focus on living without the constant pressure of needing to look for a new roof over my head.
JoJo approves, too. He likes the new place, and lounges on his cat tree, observing his new environment.
Now we, meaning I, really just need to find a job. Something long-term, so JoJo and I can have a bit of stability. Which will allow me to focus on the university studies I’ve signed up for starting next month.
I am also dreaming of further hikes. For now just on the weekends in the Swiss mountains. But whenever there are a few days in a row, I’d love to get out there and do bigger tours. There is still so much to explore. I’ve definitely caught the hiking bug.
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!
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.
A bientôt Montpellier!
Happy New Year everyone!
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
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 long long time since I have posted about Paralian.
With Covid, and things that happened in the year before Covid, I have been so absorbed, and left to fend for my survival, I could not really (and still can’t) keep up-to-date with all social media channels.
I also realize, I want to dedicate far more time to daily life instead of spending too many hours online. If this year has taught us one thing, then it is that life is precious, and our face-to-face relationships are more than precious.
I do want to update you all on the situation of my book though.
It is still and will keep being available as ebook on Amazon and on other platforms like Kobo, Apple iBooks Store, etc.
But it has gone almost out of print. Troubador Publishing still holds a few copies.
And Amazon UK still sells printed copies of the book as well.
But there can’t be more than 10 copies left. You can find and order used copies of Paralian online though.
And, once borders can be crossed again without quarantine, I also still have 30 books under my father’s bed. So, if any of you want to buy a signed paperback version at some time in the future, let me know. As soon as I have a chance to go visit my dad, I can send the book on its way to you.
I hope, one day, I’ll find an enthusiastic publisher who will pick it up and re-print it. And, I am still dreaming of having Paralian translated into other languages as well. I am so sure it will do well on the German market.
But for the moment, it is what it is. Still available, but rather low key 🙂
As for me, I am slowly getting back on my feet. Thankfully, I currently am spending the cold winter days only thirty minutes away from the Mediterranean Sea as well.
As soon as summer will come along, I’ll need to get underwater. I am missing the big blue with every pore of my body. For now, it’s just walks on the beach, inhaling the salty air and dreaming of getting my toes wet.
Best wishes to all!
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.
And… lockdown continues… Yesterday’s election results in the US were an unexpected boost. I was so happy to see democracy in action. People voting and making their voices and needs heard. So now, hopefully, finally, one of the largest countries on Earth won’t be governed by a raving narcissist anymore. I am usually not voicing my opinions on politics much. And, honestly, I don’t want to give a monster like Trump any space in my head… because we created him. We gave him way too much space in our collective heads as well as in all the media, even though he doesn’t deserve a second of our attention.
On a personal level, lockdown is proving hard for me yet again. I have too much time on my own again. I am alone with too much pain again. And, as I try to process an accumulation of trauma, I need to stay alert so as not to be consumed by it. As I work through it all, I realize I have spent way too much time throughout my life smiling, taking care of others, being the strong one, and being ok, whilst inside of me turmoil was raging.
In order to overcome, I need to have the courage to be vulnerable. I need to allow myself to have needs, too. And there has to be the honest admission: Yes, I can function. Yes, I am strong enough to weather through it all. But, no, I’m not ok. I will be some day. But, right at this moment, I’m not ok.
However, I am also lucky and so thankful for all the kindnesses I’m experiencing. Like my dad, who always has my back. Like my therapist, who knows I currently have no money and who has offered to do weekly sessions with me for free. “You need this right now. I’m worried about you. And I trust you. You can pay me when you’re back on your feet again. And I know you will be soon.” Her faith in me as well as coming to my aid means more than I will ever be able to express in words. Then there are my friends who embrace me as I am, and let me know they’re happy to have me in their lives. There is my current employer and friend who trusts me and always lets me know she values my input. There is my teacher at Alliance Francaise who writes me a worried message to see how I’m doing when I don’t show up for Zoom class. There is the entire team at Alliance Francaise, who are so helpful and human. They do and care far more for their students than their job description requires. And then there are my “neighbors”, the pigeon couple. They fly back into a little alcove across from my balcony every evening to cuddle with each other and spend the night together. The sight of them loving each other so deeply and authentically always warms my heart.
In the meantime, I’m not idle either and try as best as possible to give myself a kick in the butt every day. I don’t always succeed. But mostly I do. I aim to give myself a healthy structure. Every day, I go out for that one hour we’re allowed to, and walk. I write articles for TheatreArtLife. I photograph. And I try to pamper myself a bit whenever I have the chance. When I just need to collapse on the bed and do nothing at all, I let myself do that, too. I study French intensively. Zoom lessons, mountains of homework, plus additional grammar books, Duolingo, novels, and graphic novels. Thankfully, I stocked up on books just before lockdown. I miss the weekly book flea market underneath the sycamore trees, in the Esplanade Charles de Gaulles in Montpellier. And can’t wait for it to reopen. There is something magical in the way the light reflects off the sycamore leaves onto the literature beneath. There is a reflective calm as well, as people browse through the knowledge of the ages, as they enjoy the cover designs and imagine the worlds waiting behind those covers.
One such world I brought with me into lockdown: “Le Petit Prince.” I’m enjoying it all over again in French, the third language I’m reading it in.
“C’est une folie de haïr toutes les roses parce que une épine vous a piqué, d’abandonner tous les rêves parce que l’un d’entre eux ne s’est pas réalisé, de renoncer à toutes les tentatives parce qu’on a échoué… C‘est une folie de condamner toutes les amitiés parce qu’une d’elles vous a trahi, de ne croire plus en l’amour juste parce qu’un d’entre eux a été infidèle, de jeter toutes les chances d’être heureux juste parce que quelque chose n’est pas allé dans la bonne direction. Il y aura toujours une autre occasion, un autre ami, un autre amour, une force nouvelle. Pour chaque fin il y a toujours un nouveau départ.” So very true.
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.
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…
It is interesting to see what happens psychologically when you hike. When I left Switzerland in Juli, I was in the middle of healing from heartbreak and betrayal and also in the middle of trying to overcome all the practical and emotional challenges this subsequently led to. I figured, the best way to positively process my trauma as well as the added uncertainty brought on by Covid19 was to be on the move.
Nature has amazing power. During my hike, with few exceptions, it was just me and meadows and trees as far as the eye could see. I spent hours talking to myself in the forest. Having whole discussions with myself, in an attempt to process all that was twirling around inside my head. Sometimes I laughed, sometimes I screamed, sometimes I cried, and other times I was just quiet, letting it all flow through me and appreciating the beauty nature offered me along the trail.
Overall, hiking across Europe wasn’t a bad idea. Even though all the practical and emotional challenges I faced at the beginning of my journey are (for the most part) still as acute and present as they were in July.
Which is why now that I have decided to make a longer stop-over in Montpellier, the grief and pain has become harder to deal with. Being on the move helped to keep my mind occupied. During my 2 months of hiking, I was far too busy dealing with physical pain, toe problems, finding shelter for the night, finding food and water, finding the trail, etc. to get really depressed.
Now, even though I am busy with studying French, little side jobs, and writing articles for TheatreArtLife, everything is consuming me again. Since about a year now (or rather two), I’ve been in an emotional roller coaster much akin to the rising and falling of the tides. When I move to avoid these tides, I seem to be ok. Not moving now, I encounter the neap tides during which I feel mostly ok. At other times, spring tides come rolling in with the power of a tsunami, and I feel like I am drowning over and over again. Thankfully though, these particularly high tides seem to come at lesser frequencies. They are still there and they are still awful when they hit me, but I know I’ll somehow be able to keep my head above water.
In many ways, staying still in Montpellier turns out to be far more turbulent than being on the trail and hiking through unchartered territory. But I do realize staying was a good decision. Actually, it was the only sane decision. Because I can’t keep hiking to the end of my days to avoid the tides. I need to let them crash over me as they come and I need to work through them to be free, and to become my old, confident self again. Trauma is there to be overcome and to be conquered, not to be buried.
There is still a ways to go, but I now also have 3 more months in this beautiful haven of a town. I will do my best to take it all in stride (and at times, I’ll invariably fail). I’ll allow myself to stay still. To curl up in a little corner and lick my wounds, to breathe, to cry, and to take all the time I need to figure out what to do with my life from here on out since it feels as if I need to start completely from zero again.
But I know it’s not healthy to live only in my head. While I do not want to be on the trail every day just now, the emotional processing needs to be balanced by something. Thankfully, there is much to explore that is only minutes away from my flat. Just today, I ventured into the outside world and went on a wonderful walk after school to discover more of Montpellier’s street art. Over the next few weeks, I’ll surely continue getting to know my surroundings here even better. I’ll go and take walks on the beach which is only 30 minutes away. I’ll walk along the river Lez. I’ll venture into every single little alley in Montpellier’s old town. And I’ll keep going on excursions throughout the Occitanie region, too.
Then, in January, who knows. I might well continue my Wonderweg and keep hiking for a while longer until I find a job. And, hopefully, by that time I’ll be able to enjoy hiking for hundreds of kilometers much better, because my heart will have recovered a bit more and the tides won’t feel quite so high anymore. It is definitely easier to put one step in front of the other on dry land as opposed to trying to wade through the deep water of inner turmoil.
Is it a good sign, that I am dreaming of the Pyrenees, the South of Spain, the Strait of Gibraltar, and Portugal? Is it a good sign that I am savoring French delicacies and already looking forward to Paellas, Sangria, Chorizo and so many other foods I love? Is it a good sign that I care about how well my French is developing and that I am putting a lot of hard work and effort into it? Is it a good sign that I enjoy laughing with my classmates at the often outrageous mistakes we make? I think it is. I am still broken, but I am slowly mending and becoming stronger at the broken places. I will never be the same again. But I am slowly learning to love life again with all my heart.
Since I remained pretty static in Montpellier lately, I’ve posted a bit less. Static physically that is ☺️. I did not find time to venture outside of Montpellier and go for any hikes because I was far too busy with school and everything else. What I did manage after a very intense last week, however, was to take a breather and visit one of my best friends in Paris for two days in the beginning of this week.
I had to laugh when the train suddenly stopped about an hour after I had boarded on Sunday, and the conductor said over the loudspeaker, “Ladies and Gentlemen can you all please evacuate the train in a quick and orderly fashion.”
Hundreds of people did just that. Surprisingly good-humored and efficiently I might add. There we stood, freezing in the cold, whilst security did a rapid and thorough search of the entire train. Apparently, there had been a bomb threat. 15 minutes later we were all back on the warm train and continued our journey to Paris. This year never seems to run out of surprises…
Getting out at Gare de Lyon was as always a pleasure. It’s just such a beautiful old train station. But Paris was sooo much colder than Montpellier! It’s amazing what difference only 3 hours in latitude can make. Still, my friend and I did our best to enjoy, went for long walks around town, and even went to a wonderful Christian Louboutin exhibition at the Palais de la Porte Doree.
I’ve never been a shoe person and have always chuckled a bit when I saw people spending hundreds and even thousands of dollars on their shoe collections. While I would still never want to own more than two or three pairs at any one time myself, I do understand shoes on a whole new level now, after seeing the Louboutin exhibition.
Shoes are works of art. Extensions of your body, the lines amplify your natural elegance. Shoes are exclamation marks of beauty. They are statements of energy and sensuality. Quite incredible little accessories really. So much more than just things to walk with.
I never thought my hike would lead me to a greater understanding of shoes and a love of Christian Louboutin’s work. But here you go.
The sign in the entrance to the exhibition was especially inspiring. Louboutin grew up close to the Palais de la Porte Doree during his childhood. Every time his parents took him to an exhibition, the sign alerting visitors to not wear high heels was in the entrance. The red bar drawn across the shoe sparked Louboutin’s idea of his trademark red soles. Amazing 🌟🌟🌟
Over the last three days, the “What a Trip!” festival took place in Montpellier. A wonderful nature and travel-related documentary film festival. I went and saw three of the movies. Have you ever heard of the underwater explorer and photographer Laurent Ballesta? His work is incredible. I felt as if I was diving with him and as if I could sense every drop of water caressing my skin. He just published a new book, ‘Planete Mediterranee’. It’s absolutely incredible!
Here is his website: https://laurentballesta.com
Another movie was about the French nature photographer Vincent Munier. I don’t think I have ever seen nature photography like this before. Vincent is so sensual about the whole experience. He somehow becomes one with the animals he photographs. He recognizes their souls and manages to manifest this in his photographs. See for yourself, here is the entire docu about him: https://youtu.be/lUJQRMeYFqM It’s an hour of your life you won’t regret!
The third documentary feature was just as fascinating. It was about a group of scientists and divers calling themselves ‘Under the Pole’, and about one of their expeditions in French Polynesia. On this specific endeavor, they were on a quest to learn more about corals. Amazingly, they found corals at depths as far as 150 m below the surface!!! Something that was long thought to be impossible and might show that corals are changing with their environment and becoming ever more resilient and adaptable. It’s a ray of hope for the oceans, for our entire planet, and for humanity.
Needless to say, traveling all over the world in a cinema at a time when traveling has become incredibly complicated if not nearly impossible was invigorating for a nomad like me.
Even better, to be able to see all this in one of Montpellier’s oldest movie theatres. Merci beaucoup pour ce voyage extraordinaire!
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.”
I’m still in Montpellier. Next to studying beaucoup de Francais and working on articles for the online magazine TheatreArtLife, I do a lot of walking through town at night. I love wandering around aimlessly, listening to people speak in French, with me just floating through the conversations, soaking it all in.
Each night, all the street cafes are bustling with customers. Everyone enjoying each other’s company, a few glasses of good wine, and the warm autumn nights. Temperatures are still surprisingly mild.
Ever since a friend alerted me that one of the pieces of street art I photographed is from the famous ‘Space Invader’ I’ve also made it my goal to find as many of his subtle, little pieces as possible. So far, I’ve already found more than a dozen…
I love the lights in this city at night. The many hues of warm yellow and orange. And the colors of the sky, changing from a bright blue at sunset through the most amazing palette of dark blues until they come to rest in an intense purplish black.
After a night of rumbling thunderstorms and quite the lighting effects show, the sun is (almost) out again today. The entire Occitanie region seems to be resisting the arrival of autumn with all its might. Temperatures have dropped but otherwise it is another brilliant day, contrary to the deluge that had been predicted by the weather services.
Good for me as I am exploring the hiking trails around St-Guilhem-le-Désert. This is an incredibly – dare I say cute? – little mountain village. Apparently, it is called ‘le Désert’ because when they were building the village many many years ago in this hot, quite unforgiving climate, it felt like labouring in the desert.
Nowadays, St-Guilhem-le-Désert is quite famous with the pilgrims who set out on the Camino towards Santiago de Compostella in Spain. Because here, in the church, a little holy treasure can be found. Allegedly, Saint Guilhem was given a splinter of the original wooden cross of Jesus Christ for safekeeping. Now, pilgrims and tourists alike come in troves to look at the little piece of wood.
The village itself has only 200 inhabitants. However, each year approximately half a million people make their way through here. Luckily, today St-Guilhem-le-Désert was quite deserted (unintentional pun). I enjoyed walking through the narrow alleys for a little bit, then set out to hike up the mountainsides encircling the little community.
The view from above was worth the walk as you see. High up on the left you can also spot the remnants of an old fortress in which Saint Guilhem apparently once hid when his village was under attack.
Back in the village, I couldn’t help but notice dried silver thistles (Cardabelle) hanging on almost every door. When I asked why, I learned something fascinating. No matter how long these dried thistles have been dead, about a day before rain comes, the leaves encircling the flower begin to roll up. Thus, people in the village always know without a doubt when rain will come.
A bit more hiking and contemplating… to the Pont de Diable which stretches over the Hérault river. The sky is pressing down today. It wants to rain, yet somehow it doesn’t. Instead, the air is becoming ever more humid, feeling almost solid and laborious to breathe. My weather app tells me lightning is only 8 km away. Please get over here dear storm, so we can get it over with and clear the air!
I went on a hike today after school to contemplate what to do… The little villages and surrounding landscapes were a bit distracting though. They were so gorgeous, I had to keep interrupting my thoughts to take a picture. Horrible.
At this moment in time, I really have no idea how to continue my Wonderweg. The only thing that seems clear in these puzzlingly unclear times is that I won’t find employment any time soon.
3 of 4 weeks here in Montpellier are already over. My French didn’t improve nearly as fast as I’d hoped it would during this time. I am wondering if I should sign up for one more month of language school to do it right and invest as much work and time as I possibly can?
On the other hand, the Spanish border is only about a week’s hike away from here. It’s immensely tempting to get back on the trail soon and see where it will lead. Then again, the trail won’t be going anywhere. I don’t need to rush.
Weather is another consideration. The rainy season will be starting here any minute now. However, the further south I’ll hike, the warmer and drier it should stay…
Money is another thing to think about, as it will run out soon… even though I always keep everything as low budget as possible…
My hike today surely did not bring me any answers. But it was a beautiful afternoon. The clouds were hanging low, the air was heavy and sensuously humid. Almost as I remember it from when I lived in my homes in Hong Kong and Macau. The landscape… as you can see… was a feast for the eyes. I am exhausted now, satisfied, happy, and as clueless as I was this morning.
Currently not much news from the hiking front. I am still in my temporary home in Montpellier, taking steps rather metaphorically and mentally at this point. Today, a major step in my life though: I have started reading my first book EVER in French! Only fitting for a Wonderweg that this book is full of little wonders! ✨✨✨
At this moment, I am not yet contemplating how and where to pick up the trail after Montpellier. But this journey is bound to stay adventurous…
Weekend steps… this time I’m just leisurely exploring around the neighborhood. So many cozy corners. Art and the memory of art can be found everywhere. Buildings, streets, and alleys are stunning. Good food and drink is available on every corner (No Liam. Don’t look. Keep walking). Street artists are doing their makeup, getting ready for a day of enlivening the streets. Everyone is out and about. Every seat in every street cafe and restaurant is taken. People are celebrating life, meeting friends, breathing the still comfortably hot autumn air.
I wonder if they know how lucky they are to be living here? This must be my favorite town to date. And it’s not just the place itself but its immediate surroundings as well. Everything is only a short drive away: the ocean, the Camargue, the Pyrenees, the Provence, the border to Spain… ☀️
I made my way to Sète today, where I spent all afternoon walking and exploring. Thankfully, there weren’t many tourists. A rare opportunity to enjoy this (usually bustling) fishing port city a bit more peacefully. The locals lovingly call Sète the ‘Little Venice of Languedoc’. Rightfully so, since it sits right at the ocean, is the starting point of the Canal du Midi and, like the ‘real’ Venice, has canals running through it like a network of veins (albeit fewer and rather larger ones).
The cool thing is that many hundreds of years ago, the first villagers decided to name their village Sète based on the word cétacé which means cetacean (marine mammal). I like the way they were thinking! 🐳
I found and tried the local specialty here as well. It’s called Tielle and is a little pie filled with spicy octopus in a just as spicy tomato sauce. I found a small store which sells their Tielles fresh from the oven. One is enough, I thought. I sat gazing out at the canal whilst nibbling on my Tielle. Oh… my… God…! How delicious. I forced myself to eat slow and savour it. Immediately after, I thought, “Ah, whatever, screw it,” and ran back to the store, laughing, asking for a second one. What a feast. When I finally stood in front of the store owner’s counter a third time, like an over-excited kid asking for another lollipop, the lady started to laugh and gave me the third Tielle for free.
I loved Sète. The strong scent of the ocean was invigorating. It was great to walk along the canals (oh, btw, just yesterday afternoon they had a dolphin sighting in one of those canals!!)
The town itself had a rough yet beautiful fishing village charm. Ocean-inspired street art was everywhere. Even the chapel of La Salette sported ancient (and incredibly colorful) wall murals featuring oceanic wildlife. Last but not least, overlooking the town as well as the ocean, the Théâtre de la Mer (where this year at least they held the Cinéma de La Mer) was a treat to see. It is just an unbelievably picturesque performance venue. If they need stage managers next year, I’m in! 😆
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.
Carcassonne. On the photos it looks almost unreal, like a Playmobil castle. Yet when you walk towards its gates, it towers over you. An age-old behemoth, steeped in history. Once you get inside, it is even more humbling how vast the space (and bustling village) sheltered behind its ancient walls is. Apparently, it took almost 1’000 years to build the entire fortress. Imagine that…
It’s my second time visiting this historical gem. This time around, I also learned some fascinating things about the region. I had no idea, for example, that the Languedoc region has its own language: Occitan. All Occitan speakers use French as their official and cultural language, But Occitan dialects are still used for everyday purposes. And it’s an interesting dialect, curiously sounding very much as if it has both Spanish and French elements.
I also learned about the amazing culinary specialties of the Aude part of Languedoc, where Carcassonne is located…
There is Hypocras, a tasty aperitif which is made with wine, sugar, herbes, and honey. Deeeliciiious.
Le Cassoulet. Not a food in my opinion but a bomb of calories and energy!! It is a typical mountain region dish with the purpose of re-energizing hard-working outdoorsmen and women. Made of white beans, sausage, and other meats which are all cooked together for hours in a glazed terracotta casserole pot until they simply melt in your mouth… seemingly becoming more solid again on the way to your stomach… where they do re-energize you yet also sit like a stone. Fantastic!
Then, there are other things like duck thighs; crêpes with goat cheese, herbs, and honey; and a creme made from chestnuts.
Overall, this region (and France in general) is going to be my undoing. Everything (and I really mean everything) everywhere is so unbelievably delicious. And I am discovering more every day. Whenever I go into a restaurant, I want to order the entire food menu. Let’s not even start talking about wines. By the time I leave Montpellier, I’ll be a balloon. Good thing I’m walking.
Thankfully, after a huge home-made Cassoulet, exploring Carcassonne turned out to be a whole day of walking as well. I checked out all the cozy corners… climbed around on city walls and fortifications… whilst imagining the rich history of this place… the many feet who have tread on these cobblestones before me… the many people who have lived and died here. Just incredible.
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…