A Good Day
It was a good day. I slept well in my little rooftop sanctuary, got up early, downed two coffees, and went to school. I am in a class with four other people. We are from all over the world: Tibet, England, Colombia, Switzerland, and me from Germany. My French definitely is the worst 😂 Lots of work ahead.
Now doing homework on the couch while sipping from a glass of French vin rouge. Tonight’s sunset over the rooftops isn’t all that bad either ☺️
From Smoking Feet To Smoking Brain
Sooo… I will stay in Montpellier for one month. And this morning is my first day of school… uuuaaahhhh… but let me start from the beginning…
I’ve made the spontaneous decision to replace smoking feet with a smoking brain. I am taking a 4-week intensive French course at the Alliance Francaise to finally be able to speak the language better. And, to hopefully also better my chances in the future when I apply to circus companies and shows that prefer that you speak French as well.
Et voila, school starts in one hour and I am a bit nervous because the class I’m joining has already done 50 lessons, and my French is, quite frankly, tres horrible! (Sorry, no accents on this little iPad).
I’ve also quite spontaneously rented a little rooftop apartment for a month. It’s in the center of town, old, cozy, super quiet with a view over the rooftops. I can’t even describe my absolute delight when I settled into my little temporary sanctuary last night. Ever since last October, when I lost my home, I haven’t had a space of my own. I couldn’t retreat anywhere where I can just be me. All those things we ususally take for granted… eating breakfast when and for as long as I want, listening to the music I like without earphones, binge-watching a series for as long as I want without earphones, stretching on my couch, hopping around naked (singing and screaming if I like), leaving things lying around, opening the window when I want, and shopping for my own little fridge, choosing my favorite foods, trying new ones, and just feeling home.
Last night, I did all that (except the binge-watching). And it was pure happiness. Being able to unpack my bag and hang my two t-shirts into the bedroom. Being able to cook (!!!) and enjoy a meal of my favorite spaghetti and a good glass of wine in my (almost own) home.
So yeah, I’ll enjoy this little haven for the next 4 weeks. I’ll also spend time at the beach which is only a stone’s throw away. I’ll find a favorite cafe to sit and write in, and I’ll work hard on Le Francais.
Check out my place as well. The house is awesome on the outside. If you look closer, you’ll see that the entire front isn’t real. It’s a street art mural. It looks even better in real life. The apartment is simple but has everything I could possibly need.
As for hiking, the Wonderweg is still on! It will just see me blabbering more confidently in French after the course is finished on September 26. The idea is still to head further West through France, Spain, to the Street of Gibraltar and then onwards to Portugal. I still have about 2’500 km ahead of me.
For this next month, I’ll most likely post a little less since my brain will be fried. But, I’ll still keep you posted about my adventures wandering and wondering around Montpellier. Probably every second day.
Bonne journee! Et un gros bisou a tous x
So Far… a Little Recap and Overview
It’s time to share a map again, now that the third leg of my journey is done: from Grenoble to Montpellier. It was a mix of hiking and traveling by car, since during the last week I was lucky to be able to catch up – and catch a ride – with a couple old friends.
All-in-all, I have now been on the trails for almost 2 months, hiking from Brugg in Switzerland towards Portugal. So far, I have covered a distance of 500 km. 100 km were trains and cars. 400 km were tackled entirely on foot. Three days ago, I finally reached the Mediterranean Sea at Saintes Maries de la Mer. A real highlight of my journey!
Here some random observations and practical thoughts so far:
Feet: are ok now, but… oh boy. I can recommend to anyone who has spent years living in flip-flops like I did, to do a lot of smaller hikes before embarking on the big one. My feet took ages to acclimate to being in closed shoes again, all day long. Also, the heavier your backpack, the more strain you put on your knees and feet. Knee problems can easily be avoided by using walking sticks. But, the feet feel the heavy load all day long. This is one reason why I am strongly considering leaving behind even more of my stuff. I am at 12 kg now, but would love to bring it down to 7 or 8 kg. Will need to see what to do…
Gravel paths: the worst!!! So many hiking trails have gravel on them. I’ve come to hate those paths. They absolutely kill my feet. No matter how thick the soles of my shoes are, after a few hours I can feel every single sharp rock.
Water: is a real problem when you hike through the Swiss and French Jura regions in summer. I brought a water filter but was never able to use it, because all creek and river beds were completely dry. I ended up depending on the kindness and close proximity of farmers. In Switzerland, where everything is closer together, this wasn’t so much of a problem. In France, the distances between any settlements and farms are much farther apart. Sometimes more than a day’s walk. Additionally, many small restaurants along the way are currently closed due to Covid19. For the first time in my life, I experienced what it feels like to be thirsty and to be afraid, not knowing where the next drop of water will come from… and when. It all got a bit better once I came through the Rhone valley and the Massif de la Chartreuse. But, since it’s a very hot summer, the water situation remained precarious throughout.
Walking alone: overall no problem. Each day seems to just fly by. After a few hours my feet start hurting and I need to take a break. But, ten hours of walking pass by so fast, even with pain. Which is something I need to be consciously aware of. It’s better to pace myself and not do too many hours in one day.
I haven’t listened to any music yet. I love the sounds of the wildlife all around me and of the wind gently, or sometimes not so gently, blowing through the trees and over the meadows. And, I enjoy my own company.
However, what I do struggle with is my homelessness. If I did this hike knowing I have my own little home base to return to somewhere, I would feel more at peace. As it is, I do not know when and where I’ll find my next job. So, I also do not know when I’ll have my own little private space again. I miss having an actual home. That’s why, sometimes, I wonder if I should have bought an old car, so at least I’d have a home on the road. A little mobile space that’s mine. But maybe that’s also something I need to learn: to be ok without that.
In essence, camping has so far never been a problem, but it has been stressful nonetheless. I am the kind of guy who loves to have his little quiet sanctuary somewhere to retreat to after a hard day’s work. And, somehow, a tent in which I always have to anticipate people, deer, cows, wild dogs, etc. disturbing me, just doesn’t quite measure up.
Covid19 considerations: I always have my face mask in my pocket, within easy reach. As soon as I get close to too many people at once, I put it on. For their protection and mine. In Switzerland, social distancing rules were followed in some places and not in others. Some people wore masks, some didn’t. It seemed to be different in every single farm, village, and city I walked through. In France, the preventive measures so far seem to be in place everywhere. Most people seem to be quite disciplined when it comes to wearing a mask as well, even out on the street. I am surprised the numbers in Southern France are going up so much, because everyone I see is being so careful.
Horse flies and tics: I just really hate them. So far, thankfully, I have found every single tic that was crawling around on me before it latched on. Grrr. Tenacious little buggers!
This is all I can think of right now. I’ll stay in Montpellier for a little while. It’s just too beautiful here to leave quickly. And, after so much forest and nature (which I love) it is great to feel so much vibrant city life and culture around me (which I also love). More about the next steps in tomorrow’s blog post!
Here a few heartfelt thanks:
Big thanks to Maggi and Abel for picking me up close to Avignon. Thanks for letting me stay at your place for a few days! It was so peaceful and I loved our conversations! Thanks Lionel for driving so many hours just to come see me. I loved exploring Uzes with you and was glad we had a chance to catch up after so many years. Thank you Ute and Jim for giving me a ride to the Camargue. How awesome that we had a chance to meet and then hike for a couple days together through the beautiful Camargue! From now on, every time I hear someone burp loudly I’ll think of those strange flamingos, of the weird sounds they make, and of our bird watching adventures! Mylena, how awesome to meet you upon my arrival in Montpellier. What a great day! I could have continued forever. And thanks so much to Evelyne at Villa Stella. Thanks for sharing delicious fruits and coffees with me and for inspiring me with great conversations.
And, thanks to all of you who read this, for being there. Writing these posts is as much a means of letting friends and family know how I am, as it is a means for me to not feel so alone on the road and stay connected with the people I care about and with the world in general. Thanks for your support!
A bientot xxx
I’ve arrived in Montpellier. This bustling city is quite the contrast to the quietness and natural beauty I experienced in the Camargue during the last four days. However, albeit different, Montpellier has abundant charm and beauty of its own. I am quickly falling in love with this old town. Every street is rich in history, flowers, and an international mix of humanity.
I got lucky with my accomodation as well. For three nights, I am staying at this private villa in the middle of town. Upon arrival, Evelyne, a former journalist and the owner of this lovely jumble of rooms, provided me with a unicorn key, a street map, and great off-the-beaten-path advice.
Everything in this old building has such a welcoming atmosphere. Over the last few weeks, I’ve mostly had restless nights. In the tent – always – because it’s just truly far more uncomfortable than romantic. In the hotel rooms I take once a week, I don’t seem to feel comfortable enough to sleep deeply either. My mind is racing and seems to never quite calm down. Here, in this old villa however, it’s so comfortable and homy, I’m actually resting.
Still in the Camargue. I could easily stay another few weeks here. I feel like I’m getting more sensitized to the local flora and fauna. With every hike, I’m spotting more little plants and critters. Today, Ute, Jim, and I went to the protected area ‘Les Sentier des Rainettes’.
I now have a new favorite plant, called “Saladelles” – Sea Lavender.
Apparently, as the grass dries out during summer, sea lavender takes over and begins to bloom everywhere. We saw whole fields of it at the nature park, buzzing with dragonflies. Beeeaaauuutiful!!!
Hiking through the Camargue today was just wonderful. I don’t even know where to start… let’s see…
Flamingos! Flamingos! Flamingos! So many and so close. And… they are hilarious. They mooonwalk through the mud like Michael Jackson to stir up critters and gobble them up. They stick their entire head in the mud, coming up cackling and squabbling with the other flamingos around them. The noises they make sound a lot like a mixture between a fart and a burp… I just couldn’t stop laughing while at the same time observing these beautiful (elegant and gangly) creatures with awe.
There were so many dragonflies as well. I got quite ambitious photographing them. You tell me… what do you think of my favorite dragonfly shot of the day?
Then, I saw a couple birds of prey, black storks, lots of herons, several beavers, and lots of white horses.
The Camargue landscape is a thing of beauty in and of itself. Rarely have I seen such warm and intricate compositions of sunshine and foliage. I am utterly in love all over again (I was here twice before) and will surely be back again in the future!
Tomorrow will be one more day of hiking through the Camargue together with my friends Ute and Jim. Then onwards and westwards, towards Montpellier…
I found It!
I found it! The ocean! Ah, how I’ve missed it. The Mediterranean Sea is as beautiful as ever, stunning, stretching out towards the horizon, azure blue, making it impossible not to jump in.
Other than that, today was truly a good day. Caught up with two of my best friends whom I haven’t seen in ages and never thought I’d ever see in France.
Walked through the Camargue. Soaked in the sights, said “Hello” to every horse, ox, cow, dragon fly, flamingo, stork, herron, and butterfly I saw. Nibbled on wild blackberries and figs.
The South of France is glorious.
Yesterday, I explored Arles a bit. It was great to visit the Arenes d’Arles, a two-tiered Roman Amphitheatre. I was happy to see all the scaffolding and seating, which gave the strong impression that there is just a little pause… until concerts and plays will be back…
Overall, the town had abundant charm. Lots of little corners that made the photographer in me go wild. Some places just looked so inviting, I was tempted to settle in and never leave.
Other than this, tomorrow I’ll move on towards the Camargue where I’ll stay for 3 days to explore all over the place without my heavy backpack. A couple friends and I will go hunt birds (with a camera). I’m looking forward to seeing flamingos again, and many other beautiful bird species. And, of course, I’ll finally reach the ocean! Ahhh, beautiful deep blue sea. I can’t wait!!!
Keeping The Ghost Light On
Before Covid19 hit, I worked as a stage manager, mostly for circus shows. It is one of my greatest passions and something I worked hard towards for many years. Now, as I hike and travel through Southern Europe, no matter how beautiful it gets, sometimes it’s hard for me to stay in the moment. I can’t help it. Even as I am passing breathtaking vistas, I catch myself hoping that, someday soon, I’ll be able to work backstage again.
I miss the daily challenges and joys of being a stage manager. I miss life backstage, the vividness of a show family, the collaboration, the continual growth, training, learning, and stretching of limits and boundaries. And then, to see what we have created come to life. There is nothing quite like that concentration of energy and dedication at top of show just before all our hard work materializes as magic onstage…
At the moment, like so many of my peers, I have no idea when I’ll be able to get back to work. Until then, I will continue to travel. Througout my hike, I am stopping wherever I stumble upon a theater. I am working on a photo series of old village theaters, just like this one. Whenever I get the chance to speak to someone on the way, I interview them and through this endeavor have already discovered wonderful people and places. But I also draw on past experiences, or interview people around the world for my articles in TheatreArtLife. It is my little contribution of keeping the ghost light on until we are back. Celebrating and keeping the performance arts, the arts in general, alive.
You can find my articles here:
Then there is #Step4Circus, an intiative, still in its infancy, which will hopefully grow over the next months. The idea there is to build up a long-term international foundation to help create projects and shows within the circus community. Anyone will be able to help us achieve this by organizing small (or big) events to raise funds for our initiative. So that eventually we’ll be able to utilize these funds to make a difference and create new opportunities around the world.
Until Monday, I am in the beautiful village of Montaren, soon heading to the Camargue, and then after to Montpellier. I might stay a while in Montpellier if I can find a good intensive French course to do what I have put on hold for years: refresh my French and finally get a chance to get closer to being fluid in it.
The Wonderweg (“Weg” is German for “path” or “way”) truly is full of wonder. Often also doubts, worries, exhaustion, and breathlessness in the face of, at times, almost overwhelming uncertainty. But, I am hopeful, bursting with creative energy. I do the best I can to make the most of the present, learning more to stay in the moment every day. At the same time, I feel ever more ready to tackle all that will come my way.
The Greatest Painter Of All
The Southern sunlight and olive trees. For me a near irresistible combination.
Since yesterday, I am close to Avignon, staying with friends.
The landscape and flora have changed. I have longed for this for weeks. To be out of the cold Central European forests. To escape the chilly, heavy dampness at night, that permeates your body through to your very bones. Now, there is a gentle warmth at night. And scorching heat during the day.
Olive trees are shimmering silver, like beings from another planet. Tough and delicate all at the same time.
The light has changed, making all colors so much more intense. As Antoni Gaudi once said, “The Sun is the greatest painter of all.”
Reflections And Not So Peaceful Doves
I didn’t sleep much in the hotel last night, but it was peaceful lying awake in the dark, watching the lightning through the skylight in my room.
Waking up, I took it easy, had a real coffee, and read a book. A few hours later, I went outside, had another coffee, and attempted to have lunch. Which was harder than I thought due to a whole group of incredibly pushy doves. This is just two of them, sitting on the plates that had been left on the table right next to mine. The doves ended up squabbling so much over all the pieces that half of the dishes and cutlery crashed to the floor. Then, they tried to grab food off my plate as I was still eating. They succeeded in stealing the cake I had looked forward to for dessert. But, the cheese baguette was and remained mine!!!
I’ve thought a lot this past week. About life. About being homeless. About all the uncertainty. About what I am doing (not entirely sure…).
I’ve thought about my trip. And about how to continue. Whilst my feet and mind were moving in tandem, I realized something. It’s no coincidence that I love being a stage manager. Apart from feeling at home backstage and enjoying the challenges of battling with the unexpected, I also love structuring, planning, and scheduling. It seems to be in my blood. So in a way, without noticing, I’ve stage managed my hike as well.
Then, there is plain old stubbornness. Sometimes, there are two trails, and I actually like the other one better. Yet, I feel the need to keep following the E4 Long Distance Path because I said so. Keeping my word to the point of masochism. There is ambition there as well, and personal pride, and my German perfectionism. Somewhere along the line, I’ve gotten way too serious and overly relentless about this. Way too concerned about following the trail rather than experiencing the journey.
Amazing, how an extreme endeavor like this really does bring us closer to ourselves and shows us more clearly who we are.
I need to take this opportunity and jump over my shadow. This is not the time for planning and structuring things. This hike is a time for me to enjoy, be spontaneous, change direction, change my mind, follow my heart, do what makes me happy. I don’t need to prove anything to anyone. Not even to myself. I don’t need to follow a specific route. And I don’t need to arrive. This is about the journey. It’s for me. And it’s for #step4circus. No matter what shape or form it takes.
So, I’m going to liberate myself ☀️
I‘ll start with “jumping over” the Vercors mountains. Yesterday marked 6 weeks of me hiking through mountains. Frankly, I’m a bit “mountained out” at the moment and need a change of scenery. I am craving rolling hills rather than steep ups and downs… and I’m craving ocean! Also, the Vercors mountains hold beautiful memories of a life that’s over… which at the moment will break my heart all over again…
Instead of hiking three more weeks south through the Vercors mountains, I’ll take a train to Avignon tomorrow. Then I’ll spend a few days near Uzes seeing friends.
And then… well… we’ll see 😁
I need to research a bit these next few days (There I go again. Relax Liam. Not too much planning). But, I am thinking to definitely move as close to the Mediterranean Sea as I can. Find paths that will get me close enough so I can jump into the deep blue sea every so often, but also paths that lead me a bit further away here and there so I don’t end up enveloped by masses of sunbathing tourists.
Onward and southwest-ward bound is still the general idea. But following my heart more and not forgetting to have fun as well along the way is the prime objective.
As a good friend of mine said a few days ago, “If you stop looking for the trail signs and instead go forth with your head held high and remaining in the moment, your journey will take you to the right place no matter where that may be.” (Thank you for reminding me, dear David!)
Approx. 370 km So Far
Here a little map again to show the leg of my journey from Geneva to Grenoble. It took almost 2 weeks. Approx. 150 km. 370 km altogether since I started in Brugg 6 weeks ago. First the Swiss Jura Crest Trail, then the French Jura mountains, on to the Rhone River valley, then through the Massif de la Chartreuse.
Now in Grenoble, with (as always) rebelling feet, sore muscles, and a head full of thoughts. I’ll explain more in my next post.
It’s been super lonely this last week in the mountains. On the one hand, I really enjoyed having the forests all to myself. On the other hand, I missed having some company. Missed having people around me, hearing laughter, and conversations. And I missed hugs. Actually, ever since we got into this whole Covid19 crisis, I’ve missed hugs. I am a teddy bear and I am definitely suffering from hug withdrawal. Tried to hug a few trees along the way. But, it’s just not the same. Just saying. Hope you are all well my dear friends around the world. I am thinking of you and I miss you x
Yay!!! Made it to Grenoble with minutes to spare before the big thunderstrom will hit full force! Glad to be looking at it through a skylight rather than being out in the open. Time to rest those weary muscles and feet for a couple of days…
The Show Must Go On
Long shadows after another almost sleepless night… thoughts… nightmares I’ve had for months… sadness… heartbreak… a bit of exhaustion… mosquitoes… and an owl which, I swear, was sitting somewhere right next to my ear…
Thankfully, I managed to set up my little camp close to a small and ice cold little mountain creek. That meant a cold and prickly footbath while eating crackers… last night, as well as this morning.
I walked through this enchanting green ocean of dancing grass when the first message reached me that Le Reve, a beautiful show, the beginning of an era, an amazing vision, literally a dream, is being closed down for good in Las Vegas. Another almost 300 of my colleagues and friends are losing their livelyhood for now, not knowing where to turn.
I wish the initiative my friends and I are trying to build was not still in its infancy. Step4Circus is something that needs to come about. A small, yet important contribution to create jobs, hope, and a positive step forward in our circus community. It’s still a work in progress… I’ll keep you updated on all further developments! https://step4circus.com/
Today, as every day, my heart goes out to all my colleagues in the performance arts, to cast and crew, my show family, who put so much passion, soul, and hard work into creating moments of magic. We will find a way. We will be back. What is humanity without storytelling and the collective experience of eloping into our imagination? The show must go on xxx
Forging My Own Trail
Looking at the horizon, this is the general direction I’m heading towards at the moment. Through the Rhone valley and then the Massif de la Chartreuse to Grenoble. By now, the trails have already led me away from water again. So I must be in the area of the Massif de la Chartreuse. Can’t wait for the next lake or river (the river Drome).
It’s been cloudy these last 2 days, off and on. And, this morning, I just managed to take shelter underneath a huge oak tree before a rain storm hit. But, overall, it is still hot enough so that a swim in a cold lake will feel like heaven…
The longer I walk, the more I think I won’t follow the exact E4 trail anymore. Well, sometimes I will, sometimes I won’t… As soon as I get close to the Mediterranean Sea (which will be in about 1-2 weeks), I will forge my own trail and rather navigate by instinct and by where I want to be… instead of following that one exact route. There are so many trails, after all…
Hot Coffee After a Sleepless Night
Chanaz was an idyllic little place to come through. I stayed a few hours, sat at the river and just soaked in the beautiful scenery.
It was also a stop I sorely needed after another cold and humid night in my little tent. Wild camping can be quite stressful. Ticks are everywhere, so are millions of flies and mosquitoes. I want to thank the inventor of the mosquito net!!! Without it, I wouldn’t be able to get any sleep at all. Then there are all the noises in the forest. Seemingly romantic, but not when you are exhausted from a day of walking and really need to sleep and then there is yet another deer crashing through the underbrush just as you are finally falling asleep. I’d love to just go to designated camp sites. But so far, I’ve never seen any.
300 km so far – from Brugg to Culoz
In Culoz, I saw this map of the French Jura trail. It was only then I realized I have just walked both the entire Swiss and French Jura Crest Trail (only that I started in Brugg, in the German part of Switzerland, not in Mandeure). Around 300 km, all-in-all, give or take. I am a bit proud of myself, I must admit ☺️
I also confirmed something I already knew: I am not a mountain person. As much as I admire the natural beauty all around me, I immediately felt so much happier when I was close to water again. Now, following the Rhone river, smelling the rich scent of river water, seeing the blue ribbon meander through valley after valley, I feel like I can breathe more easily.
To be honest, more than anything, I am looking forward to reaching the Mediterranean Sea. The ocean feels a bit like home.
I miss having a home.
Because, no matter how much I’m trying to stay in the moment and make the most of things, no matter how much I am enjoying this journey, I long to have a place to come home to again. A place to relax and just be. A place with friends, with surprise visits, laughter, BBQs, and kinship. A place with a job I love and am invested in. A place surrounded by ocean if possible… and maybe, if I’m lucky, even, one day again, a family in such a place…
Reaching The Limits
Definite highlight yesterday was when I reached the top of Le Grand Colombier at 1’534 m altitude… and spotted the Rhone river for the first time. Those trails were not made for people with heavy backpacks. As I worked my way up slowly with the help of my hiking sticks, I felt like some extra-terrestrial spider conquering Earth. Totally exhausted, I flopped down in this very spot on the photo after, took off my sweaty t-shirt and settled in for a while. Swallows were hunting all around me, zipping past at insane speeds. With no other sounds to distract me, I realized for the first time that they actually sound like mini jet fighters as they accelerate towards their prey. How they’re even able to spot and grab tiny insects at high speed is a mystery to me…
After a while, I wandered onwards towards Culoz, yet again encountering paths that needed the skill of a mountain goat.
To be honest, yesterday I almost gave up. These last two days were tough. Water was the biggest problem. All small mountain restaurants were closed because of Covid19, and all river and creek beds were dried out. There was simply nowhere to re-fill. Also, the day before, I had walked a good 20 km. Not because I wanted to, but because there was nowhere to set up my tent. Either the trail went through an extreme slope, or it went through a cow pasture. I finally found a spot at 8pm at night, after 9 hours of walking. My water was almost gone and I had to force myself to keep some of it for the next day.
Then, yesterday morning, I set off at 8 am, feeling quite cold after a humid night in the forest.
I had a little less than half a liter of water left. Almost immediately, the ascent to Le Grand Colombier began.
Resting on top, from where I was sitting here in this picture, I could see lots of cars and a few huts, and I thought, “Yay, finally, a place to refill my water.” I was parched, so I drank what I had left. When I arrived at the huts, I could see that they were all closed, too. Nothing to do but hope for the best and keep on walking. My saliva was growing so thick, I began to understand how Mr. Anderson must have felt in The Matrix when the agents were gluing his mouth shut. With every minute, I felt more like exactly the same was happening to me, too.
Luckily, about an hour later, I came upon an open restaurant. I ate a real meal and drank 2 liters of water. Took another two liters with me. By then, I had already been 6 hours on the trail. Only 3 more hours to Culoz. With a freshly filled stomach, I felt optimistic. Plus, there was nowhere else to go if I wanted to refill my water supply again at the end of the day. Everything else was just forests and the dried out Jura mountain range.
So, I pressed on. The trail began to go downhill and was horrible. Have I told you how much I’ve come to hate gravel? Almost every hiking trail is fortified with gravel. Not the small pebbly kind either, but large, sharp pieces of rock. I try to avoid them as much as I can. I always watch my step. But still, these trails are killing my feet. After about the 8th hour of walking I felt like crying. “Who had this great idea of going hiking? Oh yeah, me.”
Thankfully, I could see Culoz from above. A trail sign told me it was only 1 1/2 hours more. At that moment though, 1 1/2 hours felt like an eternity. All my water was gone again and I was completely exhausted. I pep-talked myself all the way down, running a constant string of dialogue with myself (with the intermittent “ouch” and a lot of swearing). Finally, after an insane 10 hours of ascents and descents, and approx. 25 km, I reached Culoz. Where I found a fountain to refill my water supply and found a secluded spot to set up my tent.
This morning I feel a lot better again. Heading out towards Chanaz along the Rhone river.
Undercover in Underpants
Every day, I am amazed with the regenerative powers of sleep. My body feels a hundred years old when I go to bed. Everything hurts. In the morning, a little ache here and there but I’m good to go again.
This adventure happened yesterday. I fell asleep before I was able to share it with you. But here it is. I’m still chuckling just thinking about it:
Mid-afternoon, I needed to take a break. I was on a beautiful plateau and spotted shade underneath some trees. I took off all my gear, put my towel as a blanket on the ground, and then took off my sweaty t-shirt as well. Shoes, socks, and pants followed. I spread everything out so it could dry a bit, relaxed, had some water, and a snack.
All of a sudden, I heard a noise. I looked up to see twenty large cows coming through the trees. They looked utterly surprised and shocked to see me. The feeling was mutual.
I got up slowly and carefully, my mind quickly going through all the options. There weren’t many. All my stuff was spread out on the ground, and I stood there barefoot in my underpants. This was when the cows began stomping their hooves and moved towards me.
Could I quickly gather all my things and make a run for it? Too late. As several cows began charging towards me, I grabbed my phone and my walking sticks and moved slowly backwards. I began singing to the cows since I had heard grizzly bears calm down when they hear singing. Maybe it is the same for cows? It isn’t. If anything, they seemed to double their speed. I doubled mine, too.
As fast as I could, I hopped over some rocks and scrambled up the hill in my underpants. Then, I wiggled underneath some bushes.
The cow herd arrived at my stuff and, stomped their hooves. They circled my backpack and clothes suspiciously. Some of them gazed towards where I was hiding, but soon they were preoccupied with my stuff. I was scared. What if they trampled my backpack? What if they chewed on my shoes?? Should I run out and charge at them, screaming my head off? I followed my instincts and opted for keeping quiet instead, hoping they would soon lose interest.
One by one the cows checked out my belongings. They circled, sniffed, probed. Then, finally, one by one, they got bored and the herd slowly walked off into the distance.
It took about an hour, but then, finally, I was able to carefully approach my stuff at the bottom of the hill. All things considered, I was lucky. The cows hadn’t chewed anything. However, everything was covered in cow slobber. I took a couple minutes doing my best to quickly clean my clothes, shoes, and backpack and get rid of all the gooey slobber… always keeping an eye out in case the herd decided to double back.
Then, I quickly got dressed, worked some more on the slobber on my socks, put on my shoes, shouldered my backpack and snuck away.
This probably was one of my scariest and most hilarious experiences to date. For the rest of the day, I kept laughing every time I thought about it.
Of course, I had been way too busy running around in my underpants to take any pictures. So this one is just in the spirit of cows, showing some peaceful and curious bovines I met further on along the way.
The Foot Whisperer
My favorite spot today. Even though there wasn’t any shade, I couldn’t resist sitting on that chair for a while and letting my thoughts roam.
So many things going through my head… the present moment, cows, my growling stomach, memories, happiness, pain, the rich scent of the french jura meadows, a wasp landing on my face, cows coming closer, missing my work backstage, enjoying the physical exercise, blisters building on my left foot now (grrr), wondering where all this will lead, and telling myself to not wonder too much.
Signage was much better today. So strange after not seeing anything yesterday.
5 hours per day seems to be my limit for the moment. Longer than that and my feet start screaming.
I found out that heavy hiking boots don’t work for me on a long distance hike. With the lighter trekking shoes, it feels so much better. I am becoming a foot whisperer, noticing every little signal those two rebels are sending me. Never ever paid so much attention to my feet before.
French hikers are very polite, too. Bonjour-ing all over the place. One hiker shared his water with me today on the trail when I was out.
Beautiful landscape. Mont Blanc often shining like a diamond on the horizon.
Oh, and I did make it to Plan d’Hotonnes today!
I’m in France! 🇫🇷
Great! Bonjour! But, oh boy, where have all the trail signs gone?
In hindsight, I realize, even when it comes to marking their hiking trails, the Swiss are meticulous. There is a sign at every fork of the road. You literally have to be braindead to get lost. And, it’s not just the signs that make life easier. Little restaurants are everywhere. Apart from painful feet, hiking on the Jura Crest Trail was insanely comfortable.
Now, I’m on another planet. Trail signs seem to be almost in the endangered species list around here… and, most of the time, I just hope for the best…
Today, I made it to Bellegarde-sur-Valserine. From there, I ambitiously hoped to walk five hours to Les Plans d’Hotonnes.
However, my confusion already began in Bellegarde. No signs anywhere. After 1 hour of searching and asking people, finally the village’s little tourist office opened and I discovered I had to follow the Rue de l’Industrie to find the Grand Randonnee trail GR9.
Off I went, into the scorching heat, passing quite a few cats who disagreed with any form of movement.
At some point, I saw a couple of red and white stickers marking my way… and then… nothing. I followed the road for a while and all of a sudden ended up in a village far away from my trail. Then, I followed my nose… along roads and fields with no shade… until I realized the trails I was taking were leading me back towards Bellegarde. I tried a couple of those expensive hiking apps I had installed. Useless. Finally, I had enough reception for wireless. Et voila, good old Google maps told me I was only 30 walking minutes away from the village of Ochiaz.
I burst out laughing, because it turned out I had spent 5 hours hiking in circles. By car, Ochiaz is only 10 min away from Bellegarde.
According to my research, the GR9 is supposed to cut straight through this picturesque little village. Yet, once more, the trail signs were either well hidden or non-existent. As I was standing by the side of the road, scratching my head, a lady in a silver Mercedes stopped next to me and asked if I was lost. Oui, I definitely was.
We chatted a bit and it turned out her family has an auberge (guest house) for hikers. I wonder how many geographically handicapped idiots she picks up at the side of the road each week.
I spontaneously decided to call it a day. Once at the auberge, I was surprised by an ice-cold pool with a view (my feet loved it 🥶). But, after dipping in for just a few minutes, I got distracted by a large number of insects who had come to drink from the pool and were in the process of drowning themselves. I spent the next half hour rescuing about 50 of them out of the water.
A couple hours later, the auberge owner cooked a cheese fondue dinner 🧀 (I looove cheese fondue!!!). Seeing Mont Blanc turn first golden, then orange, then pink on the horizon made it even more delicious.
All things considered, my clumsiness seems to have led me to the right place today, after all. And France isn’t all that bad so far 😉.
Yayyyy, my toe is finally getting better! It went on for weeks, and turned out to be an ingrown toe nail which got more and more infected and hurt like hell. I tried every ointment known to man. Nothing worked. It just kept feeling like someone stuck a knife in my toe. I got seriously worried that maybe I might have to stop hiking. But, since yesterday, I am trying yet another cream. This time an antibiotics cream and, now, the pain is already gone and the toe doesn’t look like a cherry anymore!
I am so happy and relieved. A few more days to let it heal just a bit more, then I will finally be back on the trail again.
In the meantime it’s wonderful to spend time with my friends here in Geneva. I’ll always remember the relaxed, fun, and uncomplicated time we had together. Thank you for sharing your home with me!
Time flies. It’s my 5th day in Geneva already. The idea was to only stay for two days and continue on, but it’s all about the journey and the moment, isn’t it? To appreciate it, and enjoy it…
I feel so comfortable here with my friend Jonathan. Geneva seen through his eyes is surprising me in many ways. And the little toe on my right foot is still infected. So, I have extended my stay a bit more every day…
Yup, that damn toe is still acting up. It’s been two weeks now and I’m frankly a bit worried. I have tried a lot, and put so many creams and ointments on it… Currently, I am trying a new tip I just received yesterday: bathing the toe in camomile tea and then putting Betadine on it afterwards. If this won’t help either, I’ll go and see a doctor on Monday to get some antibiotics.
At least those toes are now getting a lot of freedom and sunshine in Geneva, as I am slowly walking through town in my flip flops.
It’s wonderful to see Jonathan again. We met while we worked for a circus show in Macau ten years ago. Even back then, his boundless positive energy blew me away. And his easy, relaxed smile often made my day. Especially, since we went through often hard times back then. He left after a year, I stayed a few years longer, and since then we’ve always tried to get together for a beer in Geneva, but it took me a whole decade to finally make it there ☀️.
He lives right next to CERN and it is ominous as well as exciting to think that the large Hadron Collider is operating underneath us as we sit on the couch watching Netflix. Who knows, one evening we just might end up in another dimension…
Yesterday, I had a chance to go sailing for the first time in my life. Like all good things, it was over way too quickly. But, ahhh, what a moment!!!
Other than that, I have spent a lot of time in the Bains des Paquis, Geneva’s favorite outdoor bath at the lake. I have watched Mont Blanc turn a soft pink at sunset whilst sitting at the pier and have enjoyed the uncomplicated international atmosphere of this special place.
I have picnicked on the banks of the river Arve. In the middle of the city. And it felt as if I was far away from any metropolis. In general, I keep getting surprised by just how much nature there is in Geneva. So much water. And so much green.
At the end of the day though, it’s never really the place, isn’t it? It’s all about the people you meet. And, so far, I’ve met wonderful people here in Geneva.
Oh, and I am shoe hunting… again. It turns out regular hiking boots, no matter how good, just don’t work for my feet on a long distance hike. They are too heavy and rigid. I will aim to find some comfortable trekking shoes before I continue on the trail beginning of next week.
For now, happy weekend to you all! Seize the day ☀️⛰🇨🇭
Byebye Switzerland, Hello France
Here a little map (it’s not exact), to recap and get an idea of how far I’ve hiked so far, where I am now, and where I’m headed next:
Yesterday, I walked until shortly before Sainte Cergue, then took a train to Geneva, where I plan to rest a couple days and have quite a few cold beers with my old friend Jonathan.
This finishes the Swiss part of my long distance hike.
The Jura Crest Trail was something to behold. Every forest, every meadow, every little village, every town more beautiful than the last.
I started my hike in Brugg (Canton Aargau) on July 6th, 2020.
Since then, it’s been 22 days, but only 15 hiking days
(7 days rest in between).
So far, only counting walking kilometers, it’s been approximately 200 km.
The Jura Crest Trail went up and down like a yoyo…
The highest point for me was at 1’600 m above sea level.
After Geneva, I’ll cross the border into France and continue onwards through the Rhone valley and the Vercours mountains…
Lac de Joux
After three weeks of hiking, I finally came across a mountain lake.
It’s about time! I always saw the big lakes in the valley: Lake Murten, Lake Biel, Lake Neuchatel, Lake Geneva. They were beautiful but way too far away. I kept longing for a cold lake to be right next to the trail, to dip those tired feet in. Or, even better, to throw that whole tired body into the rejuvenating mountain spring freshness. Well, today Lac de Joux did not disappoint. And the little village of Le Pont (aptly named) was so beautiful it almost hurt the eye.
Beware of Speedy Hikers
On my way towards St. Cergue this morning… getting ever closer to where I will cross the border from Switzerland into France…
As I stumbled to an open restaurant for a strong morning coffee, I came upon this curious little sign on the path.
Does it mean, “Beware of speedy hikers”? For slow hikers like me, so we won’t get run over? 🤔🌬
We Need To Talk About Cows
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They are everywhere. Which is great, overall, and there is something soothing about all those Swiss cow bells, too… unless the cows are right next to your tent… Because, somehow, cows seem to never stop moving their heads, so the sound never stops.
Then, there is the good advice of “avoid the cows.” Great. How can I avoid them when my hiking trail literally leads me through every single cow pasture of the Jura region? Then, there are the signs saying, “Please don’t leave the trail.” Right next to other signs saying, “If cows are on your trail give them a wide berth.” Oookayyy.
And then, there is the thing about mother cows supposedly being especially aggressive to protect their young. If there are no calves, then you need not worry. But, today, I almost got attacked by cows who had no babies with them at all…? Thankfully, I had my walking sticks. The aggressive-no-baby-cows were standing right on the trail…
I left the trail, and gave them as wide a berth as possible, avoided eye contact, and literally tip toed around them through the high grass. When suddenly, I heard one cow stomping her hoves, followed by sounds of her galloping towards me. A quick glance backward confirmed she was headed straight for me. And another cow started to move towards me, too. Instinctively, I whirled around, into some sort of Kung Fu stance, both walking sticks extended towards the aggressive bovine ladies, and screamed at them “Leave me the fuck alone!” Somehow, the combination of profanity and sticks worked. The cows stopped in their tracks. I kept brandishing the sticks and continued tiptoeing, backwards, away from the large ladies, until I reached the gate in the fence and unceremoniously fled through it as fast as I could.
To celebrate my rather rude escape, here a herd of cows for you, changing pastures, and a little cow bell concert. Enjoy! To get the full cow-bell-fix, turn the volume up high 😉
Creux du Van
How can I possibly have lived so many years in Switzerland without ever hearing about the Creux du Van? It’s lovingly nicknamed the ‘Grand Canyon of Switzerland’ by the locals. Which (I have to be honest) is a massive overstatement. But, Switzerland is a small country and, like many other things around here, small doesn’t deter from being fabulous…
My good friends Angie and Leo caught up with me in Noiraigue yesterday around midday. From there, we hiked three hours up to the Creux du Van. As the trail zigzagged up the mountain, the Swiss were so kind to number the bends. It drove me nuts, because it made me feel as if the hike up was longer than it actually was.
One thing I’ve discovered over the last three weeks is that it’s best not to think about how long something will take. I’ve also learned not to think too much about the trail going up or down. It’s best to just move forward, step by step, no matter what the trail does, without obsessing about details which can’t be changed anyways. But yesterday, try as I may, I couldn’t ignore the bright yellow number on a tree at each bend.
Oh well. All worth it in the end. When we finally made it up to the plateau, the Creux du Van lay beneath us in all its glory. And, albeit small, it really is glorious!
Leo and I shared his first ever cheese fondue. Then, Angie and Leo headed back down. I stayed the night in a tipi in the forest which was slightly warmer than sleeping in my own tent. The nights are freezing up on the crest!!
In the morning, I got up at sunrise and went to the edge of the canyon. The wildlife I had hoped to see wasn’t there. But, the sun was out. I just sat there for a while, drinking in the beauty around me before I indulged in a large Swiss farmer’s breakfast at 8am to then head out along the Jura Crest Trail once more…
The Perfect Performance
Yesterday was a day of butterflies. They were everywhere. One thing I notice as I am hiking through these meadows and forests is that if they’re healthy there is nothing quiet about them. Everything buzzes, scuttles, and moves. Insects are everywhere. I haven’t seen this many ant hills since my childhood (and I’m ooold). Some of those ant hills are as wide as a person and at least one meter high. There must be a metropolis of millions in each one. On the trail, I can’t step anywhere without stepping on something. I just hope all those little critters are small enough, and the forest floor has enough give, so I am not crushing too many of them (Watch out for giant Liam!) Flies and bees are hovering and zooming all over the place. Oh, and I am rediscovering my grave dislike of horse flies. Give me a cute little mosquito any day. These horse flies are tenacious and their bite hurts like hell (grrrrr).
The beauty of this landscape is almost indescribable. I was thinking, will my photographs be able to convey how it feels here? But they really can’t. It’s the scent in the air as well. This potpourri of different grasses, leaves, bark, and dirt. It’s the perfect combo no perfume designer will ever even come close to designing. I wish, I could breathe more, breathe deeper, to let this wave of natural scent saturate me completely. Then, there is the sunlight hitting the foliage and blades of grass in different angles. And then, there is the wind, playing trees and grasses like instruments. Altogether, it is the perfect performance, the perfect composition. An opera for eternity.
Hiking in French
On the trail again!
Wednesday night, I said goodye to the area around Lake Biel in style, with a cheese fondue in a beautiful little mountain hut at Chasseral, up at 1’600 m, in wonderful company. Thanks so much to my friends Irene and Sylvain for making time and pampering me to bits!
On Thursday morning, my hosts Kathrin and Sepp and I drove up to Vue des Alpes. They did this trip extra to bring me to my next waypoint on the Trans Swiss Trail (which, I now found out, is more accurately called the Jura Crest Trail). We had a last coffee together before they “abandoned me in the forest” as they put it with a charming twinkle in their eye. I can’t thank them enough for all they have done for me and for letting me stay with them for an entire week. My stubborn feet and I couldn’t be happier.
I took it easy on this first day back and hiked only for about 5 hours. The trail was more stunning than ever, staying above 1’400 m for most of the day. Below I could first see Lake Biel, then the even larger Lake Neuchatel, stretching all the way to the horizon. The clouds were spectacular. So were the grass lands up above the tree line. There were quite a few hardy Swiss hikers on the trail. The many “Gruezi”s have now fully been replaced by “Bonjour”s though, as I have entered the French part of Switzerland completely. Unfortunately, the Swiss dialect of French spoken here sounds rather different than regular French. So, beyond “Bonjour” I don’t really understand a word my fellow hikers are saying.
Et voila, at the end of the day, I found a rustic “Sleep in the Hay” mountain hut where I spent the night to avoid the thunderstorms which seemed to threaten on the horizon.
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- On Stage with Kurt Aeschbacher at Haebse in Basel
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