Category Archives: island walking

Arctic tundras and canal shores of Venice. Going after unstructured experiences.

A hunt for unstructured experiences is the easiest way to summarise my year of 2016. Yes, I did doctoral research on the topic but the theme was definitely prominent also in other areas of my life (in art, mountaineering training, etc.).

For a while now, I shall probably be posting about different ways to go after that specific type of experience. I will give my best to try to approach it from all angles, large or small, crooked or right angled, and see what makes it longed for, for me and for a lot of people of my time.

This post will focus on two very straightforward ways of achieving a completely fresh spatial experience without throwing yourself off a train without a map. It will focus on ways for designing surprises that work, for yourself.

1. Give someone permission to take you on a trip without telling you the destination.

Lessons learned from the Arctic Norway and Finnish Lapland in September 2016.

Let another person pack your clothes, choose the date and not tell you where you will be going. Destination awareness can be left for the check-in desk, train station or the boat mooring spot.

In September, I had a fabulous chance to experience that type of once again. It is definitely one of my most favourite modes of travelling. Of course, it is romantic to the core, but it also frees you from the philosophical task number 1: to know where you’re going.

And this is where the surprise design kicks in. If all you know is the return date, every following detail starts acting as a structural element of your adventure:

– not knowing when you have to wake up;

– not knowing whether there are plans for the next day;

– not knowing what is in the neighbourhood, near or far;

– not knowing what to take with you;

– not knowing which means of transport to use;

– not having to worry about reaching a place at a certain time;

– not knowing when and where you’ll be eating;

– not knowing which direction you’re going;

– not knowing what to expect.

Unstructuralism achieved!

2. Change the time and scope of your wanderings

Lessons learned on Venice canal shores in November 2016.

It is worth it. If you suddenly find yourself attracted to a city that is an object of admiration to the entire world … don’t go exploring it at the heels of it.

I am talking about these destinations that do not even have an off season, to use holiday parlance.

So, how to find your city inside everyone else’s?

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Night in San Marco, Venice. November 2016.

If possible, arrive very early or very late. This makes your first impression more personal.

Then, schedule your first longer wander outside the tourist hours. Yes, you are on a holiday (I only use the word “holiday” for city trips; outside of it, the concept does not even work), so setting the alarm for 3.30 AM may feel like the first signs of madness, but the sleepiness will lift as soon as you enter the empty maze that every new city is.

Imagination works better when left alone in an empty space. It is also easier to get a feel for a place that is uniquely meaningful only for you.

What else helps? Making a game of spotting a certain elements (like a weathered pattern on a wall) in every new street or square. This way you will end up looking into little side streets and courtyards more often.

Visiting cemeteries always helps. When a city is crowded, her cemeteries are usually less packed (well, depending how you’re counting). Cemeteries let you in on the spirit of the place (no pun intended) without having to fight the crowds.

For extra ideas, it is worth reading Microadventures by Alastair Humphreys or taking a an official city guide book and reversing everything that can be reversed.

Also, on the topic: “The rational flâneur is someone who, unlike a tourist, makes a decision at every step to revise his schedule, so he can imbibe things based on new information, what Nero was trying to practice in his travels, often guided by his sense of smell. The flâneur is not a prisoner of a plan. Tourism, actual or figurative, is imbued with the teleological illusion; it assumes completeness of vision and gets one locked into a hard-to-revise program, while the flâneur continuously – and, what is crucial, rationally – modifies his targets as he acquires information.” (From Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleeb)

 

 

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Memories of Madeira: 13 reasons for a summer visit

It was June. I travelled to Madeira with KJ, another dramaturge from Estonia who has an eye and a tooth for faraway places.

I’ll be honest – I only spent a week in Madeira. I have not hiked all of her levada trails, climbed all of her highest peaks or swam in all of her waves. But I have done portions of all of that.

Madeira makes you feel welcome. The atmosphere in here is so relaxed that every thing that your brain decides to distinguish gets interpreted as a greeting just for you. Maybe it’s that cute mongrel that is wagging its tail? Or maybe it’s that passionfruit mousse that has your first and (secret) middle name whipped into its fluffiness?

So, what are the ways Madeira greets you with even when you just have a week to explore?

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1.The lounging rooftop dogs.

You know how cats usually rule lots of Mediterranean (or generally warm) towns? And how they can be seen curled up in flower pots and sunbathing on window sills? Madeira has dogs sleeping on shed and house roofs with their snouts hanging over the edge in the warm wind.

2. Never-silent lizard steps.

There’s an endemic lizard species on Madeira that can be seen everywhere. No, really, everywhere! Which means that the bushes and shrubberies are never silent. Whether walking in the interior of the island or passing flower beds in town parks, the constant littil rustling never stops.

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3. Peaceful-looking ocean waves that still throw you onto the smooth but painful rocks.

In here, is better to jump in from a deeper place than try to approach the ocean on foot as you’d do on the shores of the Baltic Sea, for example. (You can trust my words or trust my bruises.)

A positive side to this is the sound of the receding waves over large pebbles and rocks. They sound like a rave where DJs play sped-up ice cracking recordings.

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A spa built around a volcanic beach. The softest place to swim.

4. Blossoms. Everywhere.

Everything that can blossom, blossoms. The nickname ‘The Island of Eternal Spring’ really holds true. And if you haven’t breathed in the white Angel’s trumpets’ blossoms yet, you’re lacking a drug-like experience which will change your life forever. (Only a slight exaggeration.)

One man’s front yard really can be the other man’s botanical garden.

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5. The demon ducks (?).

I mean, there are birds in the wide levadas that reach the ocean in different towns across the island that sound like demonic dog toys.

You can’t see the birds for the lush vegetation, but the sounds bear a resemblance to the common duck. Just be warned.

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No demon duck pictured.

6. The post-rain eucalypt trees.

Yes, they smell nothing like pines. And they also look slightly magical. And being amongst those trees does feel like your lungs are getting clinically cleansed by a forest dentist.

7. Scarecrows of all sorts.

You will see the human lookalikes and the classic tin can men, but you’ll aslo see figures designed out of wood blocks shaped like bones. (Check point 5 again?)

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8. Views from higher than cloud nine.

The highest part of the island lies away from its shores. For a superb view of mountain tops covered in clouds, head to Achada fo Teixeira in Santana. Only this is enough to give your horizons a stretch, but from here you can go for a pleasant hike to the top of Madeira’s highest peak, Pico Ruivo (1862 m). (It’s the descent at the other end of the trail that takes a bit more time.)

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9. The rise of the vertical forest.

They say that Estonia is 50% covered in forest. The percentage must reach 85% in Madeira. (Actually, 85% of the island is a national park.) The shape of the landscape (let’s just say it: the mountains!) also offers you either Alpine or near-Hawaiian views. Many mountains in one, as they say.

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10. Dolphins, dolphins, dolphins!

It will not be a beer commercial or an overpaid nature cruise. You just take literally any of the boat trips from Funchal’s harbour area and spend the next hours floating away on the Atlantic ocean, jump in if you want to, and of course, – seeing those littil friends come and accompany your boat for awhile. The spotted kind followed us, but there are others. (Ok, I’ve never seen dolphins in an ocean before, I’m still so so happy about this!)

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11. Eye-catching sculptural works.

You know how in Europe you often come across the following sculptures: men on horses, a couple with one of the people lying in the other’s arms, little children wrestling fish and/or peeing, or men wearing funny hats while looking serious?

Not in Maderia. Here you see (a lot!) larger-than-life-size cogs and conveyor belt pieces, angels with fallen heads stranded in mid-air between apartment blocks or 2D farmers hugging 2D cows.

A very welcome addition to the first list, as I see it.

12. The Airport.

If you’re afraid of flying (I used to be), don’t look it up. Even if you already know that it has a motorway and a little boat harbour under its runway and that the latter * used * to be the shortest in Europe, just don’t look it up.

However, if you do like side-wind landings, this is your party time. (Only if you land on a blustery day, of course.)

13. Parasols made of palm tree branches on urban beaches.

Some of the parasols are older, so their branches are withered.(The branches are probably taken from the banana plantations, but I could be wrong.) And when the wind blows, they rustle in that classic tropical manner. And this is amazing, although it can probably feel like a catalogue-ordered amazement. I have never heard a withered palm tree branch rustling over me on a beach, though.

I’m from the north. All this is magic.

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Unwell Wight walking

Last month I spent a week on the Isle of Wight. This means I have now rambled between its coastal and non-coastal villages both in dream-defying sunshine and in that awkward drizzle which never reached the promised rage of a storm.

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On our second day on the island, a group of us set out to walk from the Needles in Alum Bay to a oh-it’s-not-that-far-away town on the southern coast. Out of the entirety of our planned walk, we managed to get through a one-third and no one can really tell, why.

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As for me, I was feeling the worst I had ever felt without being subjected to proper corporeal suffering. All I remember is the loaded tiredness mixed with a headache backed by heavily blocked ears. I had never walked in a such a state before and am hoping that the next opportunity stays hidden in the unlikely corners of the future.

Walking when unwell is a shapeless, blunt pain. You can direct your mind away from painful swells or specific sore spots on your body for quite long distances, but when that feeling is not focused or concentrated (on a shoulder or on an ankle, for example), you slowly acquire the gait of a person who is dragging a crocheted parachute across a field of thistles. This type of walking is a literal and poetic pain, both at once, and comes with extra factors that render it especially nerve-numbing and gruesome.

1) You never see where you’re going.

Playing the connecting game with the dots, trees and shapes on the horizon is one of the most pleasurable games you can play when walking. When feeling ill, all you are left with are the edges of your shoes. You are not counting your steps but are aggressively trying to avoid noticing the vastness behind the distance. Or the distance behind the vastness. In both cases, your horizon ends with your next step.

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2) Every new sight becomes greeted with a sigh.

Especially a high one. Of course, general functionality becomes an effort of its own when you are feeling poorly. Noticing beauty becomes an effort. A curious texture that definitely needs your quick touch becomes an effort. A 50 meter ascent on a sunny cliff side becomes an effort of a grander scale. Suddenly, an innocent beach cliff is turned into a winter approach of the Karakorum. Without noticing, you swap speaking for sighing and patiently trod along in hope of someone demanding a break.

3) You focus an intense amount of time on breathing.

At least I do. Forcing my breathing into a set of slowly rolling waves helps to lift some of that vague fatigue. However, when you do it too intensely and on too hot a day, it tends to create an ill-advised side effect. So you must focus even more.

4) Side-stepping into possible futures.

To escape your current efforts, you automatically imagine yourself somewhere else, crossing an unfamiliar terrain under very different circumstances. This is what I found to help me the most – being mentally transported into a training or preparation mode for something more difficult to come. I guess imagining your current journey being a small part of some bigger physical challenge gives you some mysterious and near-ridiculous strength. The step not to reach is imagining your current journey being one of your future journeys from the past.

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5) Not only your ears but also your mind becomes blocked.

The prospect of getting lost doesn’t fill you with any romantic notions. You don’t want to step off the path (fair enough, you can barely keep an eye on it) or get fully carried away by the Awe of the Bizarre. That feeling of sparkly freedom which usually accompanies reaching utterly unplanned places seems to be gone forever. Actually, quite a lot of general willpower gets directly overtaken by those small mundane operations you must perform. You might just stop and go back indoors. In fact, it’s a fact of life that walking without feeling an ounce of romance is actually not considered walking at all.

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6) Something other starts hurting, just because.

That is a rule of some sort. I just need to find a name for it.

7) Realisations about your surroundings reach you later. Much later.

Nothing sudden can penetrate your shield of dullness and you also can’t derive any pleasure from your non-linear thinking pattern. Things that are obvious to others remain out of sight for you. You miss the cliffs formed of differently coloured minerals, the cooing of the wood pigeons, the sight of land slide a couple of meters from your cliff path. Later in the evening, you curiously turn to your camera to see whether you captured anything from your day at all. And then realise what another enticing one it has been.

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