I spent the three very last days of April in North Yorkshire, in the land of wild garlic, frolicking ewes and magnificently shaped rocks.
Little brooks, arched bridges, slate roofs, trees that are still barely accepting the arrival of spring, private fancy bidges and light hearts – these are the keywords from one of the best weekends of the year. So far.
My heart feels light in Yorkshire. Not because you can go trekking with llamas there and imagine yourself to be standing high on the Andes platoo. Not because it offers you the best little pies in the country, and shop keepers who literally say “Welcome to Yorkshire” in your face. 🙂 It’s actually not all romance and glory. On our circular walk from Pateley Bridge (via Brimham Rocks) we also saw large flags with the word “Brexit” written all over them. Fair enough, the flags were also half-burnt but… Even that could not take the lightness away. I do not know how to be a political person, really. And probably never will.
North Yorkshire’s lightness seems to come from the wide open spaces, from the tiny brooks leading you to bigger rivers and bigger bridges. Yet, there’s no unnecessary quaintness (like sometimes in the Lake District, for me, sorry!). Spring always arrives much later in here. In fact, it’s almost like you get two springs in one year, just by travelling between Yorkshire and London.
The source of the lightness seems to be a mix of natural beauty (the land is never too flat), a certain sense of time (nothing is too compressed or too eternal or long) and from forgetting to complain. Completely. (A habit I picked up during last 6 months and am now dancing a slow departure walz with.)(Can’t wait for the music to end!)
And then there’s a sense of magic. Somehow, behind every corner, there’s a surprising view you just did not think or imagine to meet you. Everything is clean. So clean that is has an immediate effect on your mind. Something would almost suggest the presence of a monastery, of sorts, but all you can see are country lanes and daffodils. Maybe this it, though? Might as well be. The real reason why the heart becomes so light in here? Parts of North Yorkshire feel like a vast, outdoors monastery where walking is proof of your silent yet lively dedication. To life.
And it sure helps to hear the cry of a close-by yet unseen peacock just when you are crouching down to pick some of that long-awaited-for wild garlic. In your undefined and unnamed temple gardens.
The second walk from our series was framed by field edges. (This is not even a pun. Framed by edges… Ah, never mind.) When our first walk was formed by bench and forking path descriptions, then this one was definitely all about following the fields. Which is not bad, you know. I can definitely think of a worst thing than walking next to a field on a cool yet sunny day!
Section 17 took a bit of time, although it was not very long and did not feel very long either. Once again, we chose the sunniest day of the week and hit the road. Arriving at Cockfosters was strange. Strange in a way reaching a final destination on yet another tube line is. It did not take long for the car parks to end and greener parks to start. Also, it still had not rained in London by that time. It was getting close to 5 weeks.
There was a lot of green happening that day. A lot. Spring is getting properly ready to turn into summer soon. With the blue skies in the background, it was a lot like walking around in alternative versions to Windows’ desktop wallpapers. K. also knows that you can use a word meaning “greener than green” in Turkish in occasions just like this.
It was a walking day which did not enwrap me (or possibly us three?) in anything impossibly magical, but gave us many small surprises that were sweet in their own everyday way:
little fresh oak leaves
ivy-smothered forest signs in Enfield
cherry blossoms on the grass (up to this point I had only seen them on pavement)
the Railway Inn of Enfield that plays opera and smells of old cigarettes
two women nailing “Missing: Rooney” posters on trees (Rooney was a parakeet, there was also a photo)
the sweetest sign post, saying “New river. (Old course.)”
This one got me thinking. Life, literature and philosophy are brimming with the idea of the opposite: old river, new course. You know, the idea that you can always turn a new page however tired or alienated you have become. There’s also the idea of the opposite of this opposite – old course, new river – meaning that some things get discovered over and over again throughout our lives, in different situations. But new river, old course, exactly in this order, contains something devastatingly romantic, if not even unforgiving. It seems to either hint (in the unforgiving version) that life has certain patterns or ways of influencing us which no one can escape, no matter which century we’re living in – or – that were there has once been life, there will be life again (the romantic version). What I don’t like about this sign, however, is how it seems to rob the one who is living (the new river) from any other options. In a way, it almost makes it not trust itself, without even giving it an option.
And this is also the reason why I finally need to take a month off work for the first time in my life. Because I am so tired that I get offended by forest signs.
London Loop is a 240-km signed walking route that is created for the incurably curious. In other words, it makes it very easy to walk around London.
I believe in the magic of streets, paths and roads. A city always feels like home when you know you have many streets to choose from and many ways to get to a location. The trouble finds you when you start running out of streets. I was thinking about this exact thing when looking down from the parapet in Malta’s Mdina: with a tiny squint in your eye, you could almost imagine a slice of Istanbul petting the soft edges of your horizon. But what makes Istanbul Istanbul is the feeling and the knowledge of the Possible. The same pleasant tingling you get before job interviews, exams and first dates. And Malta lacked that feeling. The streets were counted.
K. and I got the idea to walk the London Loop by an accident. I know that in my case, it is a path of solace (among other things) and a path that I slowly start building into my Denali preparations. It keeps me sane when away from the mountains and hanging low in mood. And gives me time to spend with my friends.
The other meaning of the loop
On our first walk already managed to direct us through a tiny trickster point as well. There was a parting of roads and benches whence we choose our itinerary only to end up at the very beginning of the original path at least a kilometer away. I guess this is just one of the meanings for the loop. When retracing our steps we were greeted by an elderly couple at that same trickster point who had also been mislaid from their path (yet coming from the opposite direction).
If I was free to roam forever (and immortal), I’d start mapping all the trickster points in this world. Hopefully, such cartographers are already out there, poking at the crossroads of possibilities.
The older I get, the more I like spring. With every year. It was the only season I never noticed in my 20s. In my 30s, springs come with a sense of relief.
On Sunday, 9th of April, me and my lover set our course to Epping Forest (of the Chingford area). We had been there once before and we both remembered it for its luscious magical properties. READ: tense green foliage with foxes jumping onto forest glades and butterflies circling the air. The last and only time we visited this area, we walked out of it mesmerised and refreshed.
For the record, I don’t know Epping Forest very well. So far, I’ve been to:
Epping Forest in Chingford
Epping Forest in Epping
Epping Forest near Whipps Cross
Epping Forest in Aldersbrook (across the Wanstead Flats in E7)
Of these forest areas, the Chingford one was the fairy tale one, the Epping one the muddy one, the Whipps Cross one the wormhole one (you can end up where you started while thinking you have just reached the other shore of the lake) and the Aldersbrook one the cultural looking one.
Choking on expectations
But this time, Epping Forest was different. That’s because the spring is uncommon. How? It has not rained for weeks. For WEEKS. In England. In Spring. In London. On top of that, on that particular Sunday, I was not walking with my mind really at peace, so my steps were not always in the present but also falling into past memories and expectations of the forest. I think it was the only time I have expected the forest to be something. To show me something. To give me something. (How funny and stupid is that?)
But forests teach you good lessons. When you go looking for foliage magic, you will end up inside the landscape of Arizona. When you go looking for foxes, you’ll barely spot a squirrel. When you want to find moist moss, you end up staring at cracks in the dead bark. What is this, spring of death?!
The great fox god of dryness.
It is quite safe to say that is really has not rained in a while.
Relaxing into it
There was nothing left to do than to give into the half-lifeless state of it. And just like any good story or a well-built moral structure would suggest – as soon as we accepted the New Arizona, bits of life started revealing itself to us. We even found grass to sit on.
There is no moral to this sotry. Apart from not to expect things, from people or from nature.
So. I visited Norfolk for the first time this February. Norfolk has a skull-shaped coastline but I did not discover it all on my feet. We wandered around Hunstanton and the Holme Sande Dunes instead. And the biggest thing that happened to me in February is straightly related to that visit.
Holme Dunes National Nature Reserve, Norfolk.
When the tide is out in Norfolk.
Into the great beige open.
Namely, I came up with a new theory about human nature which answers the most spike-y and acute questions I’ve had about what makes us all so different. (Well, technically, what makes us all the same, but using different means to reach that sameness.)(Uhuh.)
Imagine you get an unplanned job project that suddenly leaves you with you a nice amount of extra money. What’s your first reaction?
I, being a slow thinker, spent the most of 2015 and 2016 pondering over the following question: is it possible that not all of us feel the same thing in that situation?
Hunstanton Cliffs. February 2017.
The same cliffs, indeed. February 2017.
The answer: it is not only possible, but it also is the actual case. The actual life. With a perfect shock I discovered that not everyone is thinking about new routes, roads, mountains and destinations all the time. And that explains it. The difference of us all.
Yes, I have a job that’s my love and my hobby, and which I would also do it for free (for any clients reading this, only kidding). Yes, I’m reaching an end of a long academic road this year which just might leave me with a PhD degree. And yes, there is life, and a house renovation that is nearing its finish this year as well. But surely, SURELY, all one really thinks about is what unknown roads there are, just hours from their doorstep?!
Towards Hunstanton Cliffs. Norfolk, England, February 2017.
Definitely quite bleak.
Did not get bleakless.
New theory for human nature
Based on long hours of interviewing my friends, and on accounts heard from others, I am now convinced that humans fall into two large (and obviously not always straightforward) categories:
– people who get properly grounded, energised and refocused by visiting places they know well or where they have been before (visiting the same fells feels like visiting an old friend, a friend once said);
– people who get their soul back and reach their metaphorical home by going to places that are completely new.
In Norfolk, you shall find fossils, they said.
How the theory really explains it all?
Here’s why and where it can be applied. It shreds light on:
why some people are not upset when an idea of a trip gets forgotten because no one really takes the lead in organising it;
why people have savings accounts that are actually savings accounts, and not cover-names for Travel Accounts;
why some people follow maps in new cities and others could not think of anything worse;
how certain work and living choices get made;
why it is not the most shared dream of all people throughout all times –> to sit around a map or a globe, dreaming of places you can’t yet pronounce;
why some of us have a need to return to certain places that give us back the sense of self (a ritual of sorts, technically);
why some people always choose the new dish from the menu or never cook the same dish twice, and why some do.
Entering the rounded rock area.
Hunstanton Cliffs and Rainer.
Icelandic moon landscape of Norfolk.
Looks like a troll cemetery.
A ritual for relocating the self
Usually, humans need rituals to create a new space either physically or mentally. This is why we choose the same roads to walk on when feeling on the edge, and why we re-read the same books or visit theat same holiday spot. This is partially why meditation works, and why regular workouts keep us sane (apart from the funky hormones, of course). It is curiosity that’s been given a form. But there’s another way to handle curiosity.
Gaining security and strength from the new
The other way is the following: you are one of those people who feel most secure and yourself-like in places where you have never been. This makes a rucksack full of sense. In a new place, your idea of the self has no familiar triggers to bring on the feel of a certain image, so you can feel borderless and – in the lack of a better description – the most authentic version of yourself.
You probably belong to this category, if:
you’re willing to sit on a bus for 7 hours just to see a new place for one evening;
you feel like sleeping in the palm of your favourite god when sleeping in a new place (a bunkbed, an airport, a hotel, someone’s sofa, etc.);
you prefer hiking new trails to returning to a set of sweetly favourite ones:
your mind rests like crazy when having boarded a local bus or a train in a country you have never been in;
the unfamiliar makes you love and respect life and strangers more;
an amount of fear in the day renders the peace of your evening more serene;
it’s bliss to sit on trains for 12 hours withour internet or books;
you need the knowledge that you’ll never run out of streets to walk on. You need it for your daily sanity;
horizonless cities make you feel home;
mountaineous terrains make you feel home (ok, now I’m just talking about me, but mountains are some of the last areas of true wilderness left);
not having your things around you makes you feel creative again.
It happened on a Thursday morning, on August 11, 2016. The alarm went off at 1am. I unzipped the tent door and looked outside. There was not a cloud in the sky. Only the largest number of stars I had ever seen.
“Fuck!” I thought with bone piercing joy and a good amount of intimidation.
We were at the base camp on Mount Kazbek. In Georgia.
It was time.
→ Everything before Monday, August 8
For 10 years I dreamt of climbing a mountain in Georgia. But between a 24/7 drama school or 24/7 agency work, taking proper time off that was not spent writing seemed inconceivable. Then followed the years of getting settled as a freelance writer. This is not the time for investing in mountain gear. No.
Finally, in 2015, I joined a group of young mountaineers getting ready for Mount Elbrus. For the first time, my plans and reality were facing in the same direction. And then that expedition was called off due to fiscal reasons.
It started to dawn on me that I couldn’t wait for possible new groups to get formed. I needed to find people who were set on going.
This year, my waiting ended.
I had kept my eyes on Mount Elbrus – the highest mountain in Europe and Russia – for the most part of those last 10 years. But this year, a fully fresh perspective suddenly introduced itself: Mount Kazbek. A dormant stratovolcano situated on the border of Georgia and Russia. Third highest mountain in Georgia. Lower than Elbrus, but exactly as pretty and as famous. (Amongst other criteria.) The mountain Prometheus was chained to. And quite a legendary baseline for an adventure.
The decision was made. Some last minute injuries were survived. And the missing part of the kit gathered.
→ Monday, August 8. Getting used to the rucksak. From Tbilisi to 2100 m.
This is where it all started. When Turkish Airlines reunited me with my luggage after a 24-hour delay, I was finally ready. It felt like the past 10 years were nothing compared to those last weeks of haste and hectics. Finally, I could relax.
Our group of 11 climbers and 2 mountain guides packed themselves into a van in Tbilisi and headed off towards the mountains. It was warm. Both outside and inside the van. One of the van’s doors could only be opened with a screwdriver. Our bags were all tied to the roof. We were properly off!
We reached Kazbegi village (1700 m) in a couple of hours. After a lunch of salty meats and soft breads, we were ready to start walking. It took a bit of time to getting used to my rucksack. Mine weighed around 18 kg, if not more. Some people were carrying 23-25 kg loads. I was not carrying any ropes, hence the lightness of it all.
We reached the Gergeti Trinity Church (at 2100 m) nicely before the sundown. It was time to set up camp, eat and fall asleep. The sun was setting quickly. The massive Caucasian sheep dogs were curling up for the night between our tents. The adventure had begun.
→ Tuesday, August 9. Toughest day of the week. From 2100 m to 3600 m.
A day of many, many novelties!
Today, I stepped over my first crack in a glacier. I also walked up a glacier carrying my 18 kg rucksack. While occasionally stepping into little streams created by the melting glacier.
Almost without noticing, I became used to crossing mountain rivers while carrying a rucksack on my back. It was wild and exciting, and I could not believe I had not been doing this all my life. Also, the rivers were not 20 m wide.
Luckily, all river crossings happened after my period had started. It means that my period cramps did not disturb my balance while skipping on the “stepping” stones. Because of course the period started now – during the hardest rucksack carrying day of the entire trip. Otherwise, things would have been too easy.
But. Luckily again, all the river crossings started after the middle toes on my left foot had released their cramps. Never has a magnesium powder tasted sweeter than the one I obtained from Raki, one of the climbers and organisers of our trip.
This ascent gifted me with a well-timed moment of wonder: “Which hurts more? My period cramps or mytoe cramps?”. But before getting through with the analysis, a strong wave of nausea hit me as soon as we reached 3000 m. I forgot all about the cramps. (I still don’t know whether my nausea was caused by the change in altitude or by the 150 g nuts and raisins that I had just inhaled within 10 seconds.)
The nausea was the strongest I have ever felt. I wanted to lay down and not move for a long time.
Of course, I could not stay behind during this part of the journey. That was the *only* reason that made me pick up my trekking poles. (Together with the hope of reaching the base camp by the evening.) And even when doing so, I was certain I would not make it through the next 100 meters. I positioned myself near the end of the line, hoping that not everyone would have to witness my involuntary projectile spill.
But as suddenly as the nausea had picked up, it also abated. (Kind of like a storm in a Brontë novel). Either it was the sugar kicking in or my body deciding to reduce three pains to two, I do not know. All I know is that from this point onwards, it was easy to change tampons behind random boulders.
By the time we got to the edge of the Kolka glacier, I was fine again.
The rest of the climb to the base camp at 3600 m was relatively easy. From the distance, the old meteo station looked like a castle featured in a 1980s children’s movie that the EU is refusing to show on television.
And with our eyes on the growing outline of the meteo station, we all reached the base camp. There was almost no reception up here. There were horses, however. Upon reaching the camp, we learnt that one can also send their stuff up (and down) from the base camp on a horse. Later, we also found a specific area on a slope which shared some mobile reception with us as well. Today, the surprises never stopped.
Today, I climbed more than I have ever climbed (in altitute meters) – 1500 m straight up. Technically, also up and down in the middle of it. They say that one should rise 1000 m a day, and not more. Especially not at very high altitude. But our guides knew what they were doing. And Kazbek is funnily shaped like that, it really is. Mostly everyone felt fine when reaching the camp, with a single, light exception. It had been a good decision.
In the evening it was our tent’s turn to cook dinner. Buckwheat with canned meat it was, mmm, mmm, mmm.
Sunset at base camp.
Old meteo station in base camp.
→ Wednesday, August 10. Acclimatisation day. From 3600 – 4000 m.
A practice and a rest day.
After eating breakfast, we walked up to the edge of the white glacier to practice rope work. And to give our feet a reminder of what walking and jumping on crampons felt like. Our 400 m rise went really slowly, however. It felt proper heavy and difficult, even after a good night’s rest. This was the first time I really felt the change in altitude.
Our 400 m climb in new altitude lasted 2.5 hours. While up on the white glacier, we practiced rescue techniques and jumping over tiny glacier cracks at 4000 m. It was warm, sunny and felt like a practice-based holiday. Everyone was happy until our mountain guide Sirxan let us know that we had no chance of reaching the summit if we progressed that slowly also on the summit day. Eeeek!
Kazbek’s famous seracs.
Glacier travel practice.
Moraine glacier of Mount Kazbek.
Everyone gave their absolute best when descending later. To prove that all of us might be worth it. That we can actually move. And to hopefuly get a blessing from the mountain gods.
Later in the camp, Sirxan admitted that we might have a good chance after all. And not only because our foot work. The weather report was extremely benevolent for tomorrow as well.
We all knew that our good weather window was closing soon. Technically, we would need one more acclimatisation day, but since Kazbek is shaped funny like that (and with the not-so-favourable weather coming in), we made the decision. Tomorrow was going to be our summid day.
It was time to put everything on one card. To take all the sprats and chocolates with us.
We set our alarms to 1am (that’s 10pm back at home!) for tea drinking and gearing up. Our last 1400 m climb was to start at 2am, sharp. This would get us to the glacier after the coldest time of the morning had passed. And back to base camp around 4-6pm. Hopefully.
We talked through some basics and to double-checked our kits. It is a beautiful, quiet time: every climber going through their gear with focus and hope on their face.
PS. Tonight I popped my first blister on my foot sole. (With the sharp edge of my little toothpaste tube.) It is a scientific fact that I’m a proper outdoors person now.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?)
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.)
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.
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!)
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 returned to Istanbul at the very end of spring. And with that, Istanbul became a second city that I ever revisitied as a chosen destination. (London was the first one.) Because usually, it is still about new and new and new and new and new and new places. Still.
The walks from the first Istanbul trip are described in one of my favourite posts on Institute of Wander so far. (* pet pet pet *)
And this time it was all different.
Last September I travelled there with my lover, so Istanbul became a whirl of sweetness (from baklavas and otherwhere), of wandering steps, crazy shop keepers and blindly discovered alleyways. But this happens to places where we end up together – wormholes open into storybook illustrations of giant icecubes or dancing monkeys in the night. (Long stories, all of the private enough.)
This time, however, I still walked Istanbul with my lover but also with two of our friends. Istanbul being Istanbul, everything still became dressed in baklava honey.
But something new also took place.
As I’ve never felt full nostalgia in my life (blame it on the boogie, the youth-time weed pipes or an insensitively structured memory), I wasn’t quite sure what was happening when the first signs started popping up. There was also no single deail that would have unleashed a string of yearning. Somehow, it was all around me.
I have always thought of nostalgia as of something somewhat linear. It is something you feel when you go back in time through your chosen means: visiting an old school, looking at photos, entering your room in your parents’ house after having moved out, etc. Always back, always in the back of the head of Time. But! In Istanbul, nostalgia is alive at the same time with you. It does not point backwards but spreads iself out in a parallel fashion.
In here, nostalgia is not only personal.
One of the strangely beautiful things that starts happening in Istanbul is that you start seeing your childhood years as something less unique; of them having been spent inside less of an idiosyncratic structure – in a place that was somehow connected or still is connected to other places and cities of this world. Maybe this is where Istanbul’s magic comes from? (Yes, I’m still after its source.) It is a city that manages to hold all other cities and all other times inside it.
Fun Fact: we actually did try to keepa list of all places Istanbul reminded us of, and ended up with nearly 20 items listed, from Krakow at the end of the 1970s and Vilnius in the 1980s to the side streets of Montmartre and of Marrakech right now. And none of us has even lived out of the current centuries.
And I think there’s one more way for nostalgia to get born. It comes to life from the feeling of not having to prove yourself as a place, of embracing the past in full totality, of selling old photographs of the city to the locals and to the fresh-eyed wanderers instead of the newest design bric-a-brac. (Although, yes, yes, all that totally exists.) But what place offers authentic pieces of itself away to strangers so freely? You can only do that when you have near-endless amounts of yourself to give, and when by doing that, you feel like not giving away your past but sharing your very present. This is how nostalgia can be born and alive right in the same moment with you.
And since Istanbul seems to stand above and around time, I now know that my next trip there will be a (definitely baklava-fuelled) hunt for the future. Because – where else?
So, what will actually happen when I finish the Lea Valley Way? Will there be a tiny deluge or will the river itself disappear? (No, no one is suffering from illusions of grandeur in here, no one.)
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.
It can be pleasantly walked in 4 days or so the Internet says. When I was planning to walk it in one go last summer, there was only one proper description of all stages available online.
I’ve walked the Lea Valle Way:
– Lea Valley Walk, Stage 1 / 17.07.2015 / ~ 36 km; read about that stupidly lucky walk here
– Lea Valley Walk, Stage 3 / 19.07.2015 / 23 km
– Lea Valley Walk, Stage 4 / 26.09.2016/ 7.9k km
– And on 16.04. 2016, S-L, G and I set out to do the Lea Valley Walk, Stage 2 (25.9 km)
Stage 2 of the walk stretches from Hatfield to Broxbourne. By all accounts it should be pleasantly doable in one day, during the warmest sunlight hours. “I can’t believe I’m finally finishing it today!” I told my lover, my friends and my housemates when leaving for that last stretch that Saturday morning.
The first half of the walk was cloudy, but after leaving Hatfield behind and lunching in Hertford, the skies lit up and our step got faster. (Sadly, G actually had to go home, since his foot had managed to seriously convince him it was too exhausting to move.) I also witnessed my goldenest golden hour during this stage of the walk. Everything was going brilliantly.
We continued on, following the lovely water. The darkness had long-ago fallen when S-L and I reached Dobb’s Weir – a location separated from the Broxbourne train station by a few kilometers. Finishing the Lea Valley Way was going to happen tonight. Suddenly, all the tiredness was gone from my legs as we started to cross the canal (the river has been directed into a canal around those parts already), I could clearly imagine reaching the station within the next half an hour and… and… and… The road was closed. Blocked (even cordoned off, maybe?; can disappointment also create false memories?) off by a large road works sign. Somewhere not far off in the darkness we saw the orange working lights of the industrial vehicle. But. Not all was lost yet!
I dashed off to talk to a security man. And yes, all types of roads were closed. However, he directed us to a path in the forest which would take us straight to Broxbourne train station. So we entered the dark forest-like area with the help from the flashlights on our dying phones. We walked to the railway (“When you’ve reached the railway, you’ve gone too far,” the man had also said). Upon then retracing our steps we found the path. Also to be blocked off.
And we decided to call an end to our day.
I asked for local cab numbers but the security van gave us a lift to the train station. (Reminder to self! Always carry chocolate around to give to nice people!)
I still have roughly 3 km to finish, which I will do at some point this year. How else can I ever say that I’ve followed an entire river, right?
1) Never underestimate a journey;
2) If destination becomes a goal the journey will lose a bit of its magic;
3) Passing a race track in the dark makes you feel like a character in a James Bond movie;
4) Trips can be undertaken that take you to a beginning of a journey which itself is actually shorter than the trip to get there. (Which part of the journey is the real journey? she asks in an ominous voice.)
My dear and much-esteemed last kilometers of the Lea Valley Way, I’m coming to find you in 2016.
May is in full swing in London. I have no need for music with all the windows open and all the birdsong streaming in.
Things that will have blog posts dedicated to them in June:
“7 reasons to walk the Rannoch Moor in March”
“More lessons from the Lea Valley Way, April style”
“Why should everyone return to Istanbul?”
Two days ago we visited Canterbury. It was full of magical gardens, bridge arches made of books, guinea fowls and curious trinkets from bygone centuries. It also featured one of the most amazing cathedrals in the world and luscious amounts of ice cream. It did not feature a lot of walking but this shall be amended very very soon.
There was also a small stone sign/plaque next to the cathedral, signifying La Via Francigena – the medieval pilgrimage road that lead from Canterbury to Rome (or vice versa, depending on your chosen destination).
Thinking of starting interviewing people about their walking habits, to add more flesh to the book I’m slowly writing. Luckily, I’ll have plenty of opportunities coming up.
Will interview a digital jewellery artist in Istanbul next week, a composer-actor in Tallinn in June and a wayfaring playwright-dramaturge in Madeira also in the next month.
The summer looks like freedom (if I finish my PhD thesis in 13 days, that is), with a real mountain on the horizon! And hopefully, a book as well.