The many joys of walking up a hill

So, this will be a deep dive into the metaphor of ascending a mountain. Ever since one beautiful winters day that I walked up a hill in the absolute smack bang geographical centre of Sweden in the beginning of March this year I have had these notes with me. Actually I had been thinking about the many joys of walking up a hill even longer than that. Because a few days before a friend had asked these particular questions on Facebook:

“Uphill. Do you have any uphills in your life?
Do you consider it taking height or does it mostly burn energy?”

Thank you Joel, your questions definitely got me thinking.

So needless to say. A couple of days later I found myself walking in an actual uphill but also mentally climbing some hills. It got me thinking through the many ways of metaphorically enjoying the uphills of life.

So I decided to make a list and post it here to share my thoughts about it with you and maybe even get some new perspectives on it. If you have anything to add to my list, feel free to comment below. Let’s start treading!

1. The challenge

To take on a hike like this one needs to be aware of the challenges on beforehand. To climb a mountain, however small it is, will always push you and take some energy from you. But it will also challenge you in good ways, like building strength or proving your own capability and capacity to yourself and the world. It will test your boundaries and perhaps even show you your limits of your capacity. Which also is valuable knowledge in life.

2. The preparation

I always love preparing for adventure, however small or big it may be. I enjoy thinking ahead and gathering all the necessities that I can think of. And then taking some of them away to not make the pack to heavy for me to carry all day. It’s partly knowing the risks and trying to prepare for them, and partly actually taking some extra risks in order grow. I always bring a lot of snacks and warm clothes, but usually unpack the second spares of dry socks and sometimes even my mobile phone (depending on the safety situation). I feel good knowing how prepared I am, and also that I will get to test my skills at handling things as they come along during the hike.

3. The longing expectations

While planning any excursion there is hopefully always some longing and excitement involved (if not you should consider if this hill really if yours to climb). There has actually been a bunch of research done saying that the anticipation of something good to come can be even greater than the actual experience. This is definitively one of the many joys of hiking adventuring for me. The planning.

4. The adventure

As you know life is itself an adventure, but hiking or doing everyday excursions into nature really ads something extra to the sense of living my life. As long as I can chose the scale of it and adapt the effort and risk taking involved to my capability it is a true joy to go out looking for new adventures in life.

5. Slow travel

To slowly walk uphill, or go by skis or bicycle, makes you notice things you might not see from the window of a car or even during the faster descend. It’s easier to keep the eyes lifted and take short breaks to really notice nature, how I feel, what’s above and what’s below. Scents, sounds and vistas are so much more easily accessible.

6. Being in nature

There are so many well documented health benefits of hanging out in nature soaking in some sun, breathing clean air and just hanging out with the trees. Besides what the research so clearly states, I just have to mention one of my favorite ecotherapy ideas which is Shinrin Yoku, a Japanese concept that translates to “forest bathing” and which is used as therapy or as alternative medicine for humans to feel good.

7. The best things in life are free

Have you heard it before? It doesn’t make it less true and wise.  To take a hike up a hill for one day not only improves your health but it’s near completely free of charge. At least my hike was free due to the fact that this mountain sits just outside the village where I live. So no paying for transport, no admission, no gym membership fee. Just fresh air, a good workout and a nice view.

8. The overview and perspective

Reaching the top is not so much a goal (you still have half the way to walk back down again) but still gives yet another treat on the journey. Peak hike if you will. To see the world from above gives so much clarity yet is still so humbling. The houses seem small and the cars are tiny. The people can’t even be seen from this far above. Maybe almost none of the personal issues you may have really matters in the big run?

 

9. The reward

Another perk of peak hike is that even though you’ve only reached the halfway mark this is the time to celebrate. Take a longer break, relax and enjoy the view, some food and the stillness. It’s almost silly how luxurious it can feel to have a big celebration half way. One of the many joys of walking up a hill, indeed…

10. The descent

But wait a minute! Because toward the end of the hike it actually gets even better. What was tough and straining in the beginning of the journey now gets easy and fun to do. Ah, downhill. The backpack is lighter with less food and water in it and all muscles can relax a bit and work in new ways with some help from gravity. The pace speeds up and you look at the scenery with a new perspective, from the other way around.

10. The memory and sense of accomplishment

Once the hike is finally over and you’re back home again after many hours walking, the things you would usually consider mundane and boring can all of a sudden become highly appreciated. Roof over the head, a nice comfortable bed to rest in, a meal of hot food, a nice shower and a safe and peaceful place to live in, are at an instant clearly things to feel great appreciation and gratitude for. Since the hike was major and took a day to do it will linger in the memory for a while.  The experience will keep giving insights, a sense of accomplishment and some muscle pain for at least a week to come. Or as in my case two months and counting…

 

So all and all my daylong excursion turned into a quite spiritual exploration of the concept of hill climbing. And funnily it has stuck with me ever since. What do you think, did you find the metaphor of “walking up a hill” helpful to understand challenges in your day-to-day life any better?

Here is some bonus food for thought:

“To see the mountain more clearly you have to put some distance between you and it. To experience the mountain fully you have to be willing climb it in your own pace.”

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Escaping the city: weekend trips to Rügen

baltic sea camera sunset over the ocean

In another attempt to practice the art of “slow travel”, and not get in an aeroplane in search of exotic adventures, I went for sun, sand and slightly sustainable instead. Yes, this summer, after more than five years in Berlin, I finally got around to visiting Germany’s famous Baltic Coast, the Ostsee, as some people (German ones) call it, otherwise known as Brighton for Berliners. In fact, I actually ended up going to the same island, twice, doing pretty much the same trip in about 10 days and travelling back to Berlin for about three days in between. Why? Well 1) because I am a ridiculous person and not good at organization and 2) because a trip to the Baltic Coast is the perfect weekend trip from Berlin. It is SO NEAR. (How did it take me five years to get there? Well, see point 1))

More importantly, I only saw a tiny bit of the island of Rügen and the weather was pissy 50% of the time, but it was still pretty much all-round aceness. So everyone should go.

Rügen Part 1

The first trip took place right in the middle of this summer’s two heatwaves, when it was rainy, windy, and cold, with a few little splashes of sun in between. The weather was so schizophrenic, even on the one whole sunny day we had there, at one point the sky went dark and there was a massive insane hailstorm. But there is of course one obvious advantage to clouds, at least broken ones: sunsets. This is the one that greeted us on our first evening (after it had stopped drizzling).

sunset at rügen in august after rain

apocalyptic clouds at ostsee rügen

last rays of august sun on rügen The next two days were mixed too, meaning we saw the beaches greyish and ominously dark…

grey ominous clouds over rügen

And also some Simpsons style sky…

strange clouds at rügen

But it wasn’t enough to stop people walking down to the water and jumping (most of them naked, we are in former East Germany after all) into those (really big and crashy) Baltic Sea waves.

swimming in the freezing baltic sea in august

The first night we just parked in a road near the beach and actually slept in the car that we came in (Please don’t do this, apparently this is not legal. But it only cost us 30 euro when we got caught, so, actually cheaper than a campsite...)

The second night we stayed in the aforementioned expensive campsite which was only about 10 minutes from a beach, in a place called Thiessow in the most south-easterly point of the island. This sign lists the different types of beach you can find on this part of the island: nudist, dog, and “textile”. A difficult choice. Take your pick.

textilstrand ostsee rügen sign

Here are some of Rügen’s vigorously fenced-off and really quite lovely dunes.

sand dunes on rügen

This trip also took us to the most northerly point of the island, the lighthouse at Cape Arkona. The weather was the grossest. I’m posting one picture and that’s it. Here.

kap arkona in the wind and rain

Right? We got back in the car and left quite soon after this assault of wind and rain and grossness. FYI, this is kind of what Germany (almost always) looks like from the motorway.

wind turbines in germany

Rügen Part 2

The second trip was to the neighbouring corner of the island (the most south-westerly point), to a place called Zicker. Only three days later, but the weather was slightly different.

rügen cornfield

rügen zicker strassenschild

One day I took a walk down to the very very southern-most point of the southern-most part of the island, to a place called Palmer Ort.palmer ort pfad schild

After about two kilometres of pretty much deserted road, heading towards the sea and about 100 metres from the beach, you run into something really cool (if you’re into this kind of thing) and completely unexpected.

verlassene sommerhäuser rügen

abandoned houses rügen

Abandoned houses! A whole group of them! Inspired by the beauty that is Abandoned Berlin, I tried to capture them in all their crumbling, faded glory (and failed). They were incredibly cool though, pretty much open still, and with lots of retro fittings (see 70s print curtains at the windows).

verlassenes haus rügen

abandoned houses rügen

The beach when I finally got to it was pretty nice too. Yes, amazingly, this is Germany.

Palmer Ort Rügen in the sun

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Walking down to the very tip of the island and seeing the waves lapping on each side was pretty special too. Access to the island is usually over a bridge, not via ferry – so it’s easy to forget you’re on a piece of land surrounded by water, Rügen just doesn’t feel like an island most of the time, and it’s massive too. Here you were reminded of the amazing geography of the place.

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Getting to Rügen from Berlin

I’d recommend getting the train from Berlin to Rügen – it doesn’t take much longer than driving, even with the regional trains, as getting out of central Berlin can take forever in a car.

There are direct (!) regional trains to Stralsund from Berlin Hauptbahnhof that take about three hours. From there you can change to another train depending on where you want to go on the island.

When I go again I’ll head for Sellin with its huge and crazy pier:

sellin pier rügen germany

Photo by xuxxy on Flickr

And to see the ancient ruins down by the beach in Heiligendamm:

heiligendamm abandoned houses rügen

Photo credit:
PercyGermany on Flickr

How traveling changes your understanding of the world

The people writing this blog all love to travel. We travel whenever we can and in all ways possible. Sometimes it means physically moving from a place to another, but it can also mean something as simple as listening to another persons story. To me traveling has the same meaning as learning and understanding the world and the people in it. By being brave enough to open new doors and stepping into other peoples lives as a humble visitor we can all discover the workings of the world right where we are.

Being a visitor at the Pantheon in Rome was a very humbling experience. Thinking of all the people that have been there through thousands of years.

This is me being a visitor at the Pantheon in Rome. Thinking of all the people that have been there through thousands of years.

This is why I think traveling in all its ways is so important for us to understand the world and the people in it:

  1. It opens your eyes to what’s different. It puts you in a natural state of curiosity instead of fear for the unknown.
  2. Makes you listen to the stories of others. This is of course crucial for understanding any other person than ourself. Somehow traveling makes it easier to listen.
  3. Puts you in the way of culture clashes. We even expect them to happen while traveling. Culture clashes can also be constructed at home. Once you realized the beauty of clashing for new ideas you will be looking for opportunities to clash with any interesting people you see. It could be your neighbor, a relative, someone from work or just going to an art gallery.
  4. To be the visitor is humbling. This is good for any learning situation. You will never be truly welcomed into a new culture if you come stomping in.
  5. You always learn something new. Even if it’s a short journey to the supermarket there is always something new to learn. Keep an open mind always.

 

Berlin: A day trip to Liepnitzsee

leipnitzsee berlin trees forest

I love to travel. Usually as often and as far away as possible. I must have covered thousands of miles in the past few years, on long-haul flights, shuttling from one side of the planet to the other. When booking flights I usually tick that little box that asks me if I’d like to offset the carbon emissions by paying a few extra euro, even though I know that it might just be a trick to make me feel better about all the fuel that’s being burned to get my body from one country to the next, a sort of economical absolution of my sins. And I do feel bad about it, I really do. So recently I’ve been trying to take trips to discover the country that I live in, taking ground transportation only, and travelling by train, bus, hitchhiking occasionally, or just hopping on the metro and seeing where it takes me.

I’m lucky that I don’t have to go far to find beautiful places: the Brandenburg countryside (the area surrounding Berlin) is a mass of forests, rivers and lakes. If you live in Berlin, or you’re just visiting, one suggestion for a really great summer day trip is to pack a picnic and take the train to Liepnitzsee, one of the most beautiful (and accessible) lakes.man swimming in liepnitzseeliepnitzsee swimmer jetty stegliepnitzsee water wasserThis lake isn’t exactly a secret anymore, but if you walk for long enough around the edge of the water, you should be able to find a quiet place to sit. It does take slightly longer to get to than lakes within Berlin itself, such as Schlachtensee or Müggelsee, but it’s worth the extra effort. The forest around it isn’t bad to look at either.

tree trunks cut pile liepnitzsee liepnitzsee berlin-032 liepnitzsee berlin-035 trees liepnitzsee berlin trees on a path liepnitzsee

Don’t forget to check out the shops in Ützdorf selling really old German romance novels like this (Yes, one of the price labels is still in deutschmarks).

begnadete hände buch

To get to Liepnitzsee, get the s-bahn to Bernau (with your bikes) and cycle the remaining 15 km on the nice flat bicycle road R1. If you don’t feel like cycling, go to Bernau and then catch the 903 bus to Ützdorf and walk the last bit from there.

South Tyrol: Brunico’s War Cemetery

One of the most beautiful places in Brunico (Bruneck, to give it its German name) is the war cemetery, or cimitero di guerra, situated on a hill just to the south of the old town centre. The walk up the hill takes you past several small lakes, shaded by towering larch trees.

Brunico housed several military hospitals during the First World War, meaning that a large number of soldiers who were fighting on the Dolomite front passed away in the town. When it was no longer possible to bury the bodies in the local cemetery, a second one was placed on the slopes of the Kühbergl. Drawn up by Austrian architect Bechtold and built by Russian prisoners, it was designed specificially to blend well into the forest backdrop, spread out over various levels, smoothly sloping like the hill, and with simple wooden grave markers.

It is home to 669 soldiers of the Austro-Hungarian army, as well as Russians, Serbs and Romanians. Various religions are at rest side-by-side here too, including Catholics, Christians and Muslims, with a different section of the cemetery dedicated to each. Since 1921 the cemetery has been looked after by an association of women who give equal care and attention to each and every grave.

cimitero di guerra in brunico bruneck, alto adige

war cemetery brunico bruneck cimitero di guerra

Tree reflections on the lakes on the way up to the cemetery

war cemetery bruneck brunico cimitero di guerra soldatenfriedhof

war cemetery bruneck brunico cimitero di guerra soldatenfriedhof tyrol alto adige

Guatemala: Acción Poética Xela, the writing is on the wall

At the beginning of 2014 , I spent 3 months living and working in Guatemala’s second-biggest city, Quetzaltenango, otherwise known by it’s indigenous name of Xelajú, or more commonly, just Xela.

Walking around the city’s quiet backstreets, intensely lost thanks to the extremely logical but highly confusing street numbering system, I kept finding hidden messages written on the walls. Unlike other types of graffiti I had seen around town, they didn’t seem to have any political or practical message, they were just there to entertain, to comfort, to make a connection. None of them were more than a sentence long, they were all around the theme of love, and underneath nearly all of them was the same phrase: Acción Poética.

Started in the mid-90s, by the poet Armando Alanis Pulido, Acción Poética was an attempt to bring poetry to the streets of Monterrey, Mexico, and has since then spread to other countries within Latin America.

You can see more examples of Acción Poética’s beautiful work on the movement’s official website or follow them on Twitter, (where their profile states: “If our lips don’t whisper, then may our walls shout!”).

During my final weekend I ran around trying to photograph all the phrases I had found over the past few months, but I think in the end I only tracked down about half of them. Maybe in order to find them, first you have to get genuinely lost.

Even the walls know that I love you.

Even the walls know that I love you.

Accion Poetica Guatemala Xela Quetzaltenango Graffiti Wall Street Art

While nothing can save us from death, at least love saves us from life.

Accion Poetica Guatemala Xela Quetzaltenango Graffiti Wall Street Art

I use up so many walls remembering you.

Accion Poetica Guatemala Xela Quetzaltenango Graffiti Wall Street Art

I love you. Whether you read this today or tomorrow, that won’t change.

Accion Poetica Guatemala Xela Quetzaltenango Graffiti Wall Street Art