A glimpse into the vastness of the Tien Shan mountain system, Uzbekistan

So… It happened! Nic and I traveled to Uzbekistan with Adventure Clinic (#Seikluskliinik), and slept on windless mountain plateaus, escaped poisonous snakes, walked in wolf paw prints, woke up to donkeys braying in the night, trekked in the mountains for 5 days, wandered in the great cities of the Silk Road touched by Tamerlane and Genghis Khan, snuck into crumbling mosques, witnessed wild date trees shedding their sun-yellow leaves, saw colours that I did not think possible, and ate tomatoes that were inherently life-affirming. Not to mention the plov. Yup! Kind of exactly as amazing as it sounds!

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There were tiles that were more turquoise than the dreams I carry under my heart, and some giant birch trees growing together with the cypress trees. There was a young mountain guide who should have listened to an older one; there were moments when we had no gear for the night with the sun starting to set and no one having a real idea as to were our donkeys were. There were men up in high walnut trees gathering their early autumn treasures, and horses transported in the blue, open kamaz trucks. I felt nostalgy for the first time in my life (which means I am getting old) – for can openers and cars no one in my family ever had.

There was the 5-day-trek in the Ugam-Chatkal National Park, with Greater Chimgan often in the view. It was also the mountain that our older guide used for navigation to get us into our camp before the nightfall. We (almost) touched 3000 m in altitude, and did touch some petroglyphs on our way down. (Or was it up? Sometimes you can’t tell these things very well on the long road.)

We slept, but rather rough, for the mattresses being thin. But there were mattresses and dinner tents and vodka and local wine and fresh water and no rain. And there was peace. It always finds you in the mountains despite whether you are tired, travelling with strangers, or just very far away in your own small thoughts. It always finds you. And that for me, is a reason enough for getting out of my comfort zone.

PS. It does help to not immediately fly home. It helps when you see the cities of the Silk Road coming up on the road in front you, almost making you feel like you are entering Middle-Earth because the layer of legends is so vast and heavy.Β  It helps to see symbols of strength, love, and patience. Step by step, we shall go through this dark season.

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My little baklava heart

Istanbul is a city that is as multilayered as the best of baklavas, as emotional as the tensest of novel plots, as fabulous as visiting a planet from Star Wars.

My last weekend there was my third visit to Istanbul. The first two were worthy of a longer post, and this would surely be worth of one as well, only that I would like to keep this one more private since it was a family visit in search of old relatives, their graves and memories of strangers.

Magic will readily happen in cities as old and as prone to storytelling as Istanbul. I don’t know what future will bring but Spanish and Turkish seem to be the languages I will start properly brushing up/re-learning. And not only because of the desserts.

On turning 35 in Snowdonia National Park, Wales

I’m 35 now. To celebrate the arrival of this strangely angular number, I travelled to Snowdonia National Park in North Wales. I took my lover and my four amazing friends with me. Everything else we needed was already there.

Apparently, this location is the wettest place in the United Kingdom. Which did not throw us off our track to walk up the path to Moel Siabod. Up to a point, I mean. We had to turn around before the summit scramble because the winds were getting too stubborn. And we were getting too wet. But the mountain lake was unforgettable in its grim wavyness. And we imagined dragons looking over us. It is easy to see the legends coming to life in here.

By next day, a group of us joined our mountaineering instructor Huw Gilbert from Expeditionguide, and we drove to Ogwen Valley to do a grade 1 scramble up the Seniors Gully on Cwm Idal. Afterwards, we found a fairy glen, more amazing mountain scenery, a man-made canyon, and I ventured on a grade III scramble (the Tryfan Bach approach on Little Tryfan) in the nearby mountainhood.

It all ended in a little church in a little village. No one got married. But nearly everyone got really soaked again. This time in a hot tub. There’s nothing like a hot tub with autumn rains and mountain views, by the way. I forgot about my angular new number, and just soaked in all the rain, the mountain paths, the cliff walls, the rainbows and the wine, and the absolute bestest people to head into the unknown with. (Not all of them pictured. <3)

 

Finished walking the Lea Valley Way!

Lea Valley Way is the 50-mile long-distance walking route following the River Lea from its birth spring in the suburbs of Luton to the Thames near Limehouse.

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Originally, I planned on finishing the walk in 4 consecutive days in July 2015, but as life would have it, I finished it in September 2017. : )

Chronologically, the walking went like this:

– Lea Valley Walk, Stage 1 / 17.07.2015 / ~ 36 km; read about that stupidly lucky walk here

– Lea Valley Walk, Stage 2 / 16.04.2016 / 25.9 km; the unfinished attempt for Stage 2 is documented in this post

– Lea Valley Walk, Stage 2 / 07.09.2017 / 22.6 km — THE REAL FINISH DAY —

– Lea Valley Walk, Stage 3 / 19.07.2015 / 23 km

– Lea Valley Walk, Stage 4 / 26.09.2016 / 7.9 km

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Practically, the walking went like this:

  • You think it will be easy-peasy and everything will be waymarked, so you won’t take a map or a compass, and will follow your gut feeling. You also wear woolly winter walking socks on a late July day.
  • You reach home after getting stuck at potato fields with your feet bleeding.
  • You go out again, this time with friends, and end up walking next to the canal for such a long tine that some people go home because of boredom.
  • An entire year passes.
  • You are now ready for the two last stages.
  • You head out with two walkers. One of them leaves half way. A mere 2 km from the finishline, you learn that the road have been closed. The road workers give you a lift to a train station in the night.
  • You walk the final stage out of spite in autumn. It is lovely. But the unfinished stage bothers you. Obviously.
  • An entire year passes.
  • You go out with two friends to finish the unfinished journey. When being 2 km from the finishline, you suddenly understand that you took a wrong turn the last time, and could have finished the journey probably already 1.5 years ago. πŸ˜€

The lesson learned?

Never ever underestimate a journey. Always take a compass. And don’t forget to carry apples. Also, walk with friends who carry them.

Thank you, Lea Valley Way. You were my first long distance walking path. And the start of many things that have made me happy.

 

How the summer ended in Cornwall

The last weekend of August was one of those super warm ones. Hottest in a decade or in a hundred years or since the temperature recordings began in the UK. And that’s when I spent my 3 days in Cornwall.

It was a strange weekend. The land itself was ripped out of time and space. The rocky ground was very different from the luscious Newquay region I had visitied some years ago. The turquise of the ocean was a surprise to me once again. The vertigo-inducing holes in the coastal cliffs were magnificent and scary. Here was summer that lasted when the rest of the world was going to hell.

There was a Guinness World Records book attempt for most pirates in one area. There was a white caravan from the 1970s where the bed was surprsingly soft. There were cows on the hills, and cows standing against the flaming evening horizon, their black silhouettes giving them the feel of artistic cardboard cut-outs.

I saw a friend whom I had not seen in two years. The cancer she has is so rare that nothing can be done to hinder its growth. But there are some things that matter. The conversations, the I-can-still-hide-the-pain-almost smiles, and the sweet dreams for next visits. Actually, it is the taking each day as it comes approach that seems to work best. Even if you have to rip those days out of their surroundings, to make them less horrible.

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The next day I walked on the South West Coast Path. The National Coastwatch’s “Eyes along the coast” magazine reported a local incident. They had copied the article to the wall of their bunker on the cliffs:

“A passer-by reported to our watchkeeper that a couple were having a very serious domestic close by, near the cliff edge. Naturally, the edge of any cliff is not the place to have animated discussions since heat-of-the-moment actions can have much more serious consequences than if they occur – for example – in your local High Street! Our watchkeeper kept a close eye on the situation in case help needed to be summoned but, thankfully […], after 20 minutes or so, it degenerated into a “Your Dinner is in the Cat”-type scenario, with one party storming off to the car park, followed, after a few minutes, by their partner.”

I just hope this autumn will be a peaceful one.

IDEAS, ITINERARIES & TIPS FOR WALKING IN & OUT OF LONDON, IN SCOTLAND, IN EUROPE AND THE WORLD. ALSO A COLLECTION OF MEMORIES.