Episode 16 on my walk around the world: in which i reached the first big milestone – I walked 1.000 km and beyond; in which I walked 321 km in eight days; in which I walked from a campus in Amsterdam to a campus in Bremen, at Jacobs University; in which I was desperate at points, but nevertheless thankful and happy; in which the people at Lyca Mobile got involved in helping me keep on track; in which I made a fool of myself (thought I could naturally speak in front of 500 people), but hopefully this will come as a reparation.
Intro & a tune to go with this all
People assume I am mostly happy on this walk, now when I’m far from every piece of daily routine life. I’ve been warned, though, that that’s the general feeling most get when reading the usual posts with photos from my walk around the world. But I do have my big question marks hovering above me, there’s still a lot I haven’t said, there’s still a lot I haven’t lived. Sometimes I still wonder if it’s not all just in vain. This. The world. Our very existence. But then I take a deep breath and enjoy the soothing comfort of my shoes: I’m not rich, I’m not poor. I’m not healthy, but I’m not ill either. I’m not stupid, nor a genius. I am not ugly, nor a magazine model. I like what I am and I like what I see in the mirror, both inner and outer, with all my imperfections of a rather mediocre being that just set out to try and get spiritually richer, away from some bad shit that happened in my life. I have a chance of making it for myself, may it be this road or another one. That I know. And not having faced all my fears, not having reached all my goals, I am all my fears and hopes put together. Is that an identity? Is anything else? Most of us like to think we are the little centre of the world… In my opinion, that’s seldom the case, unless you love. Someone or something. Because of this, I feel ridiculously lucky. That’s probably why I rarely brag about my sufferance from the road, I rarely write about the hardness of it all. Because although I feel it, this road, so far, rarely gets to me in that way. But this post will not be one of those happy-go-lucky ones. For a week now, my body is in pain. But you know what? It doesn’t matter, there are greater sufferences than mine! And, as Bill Hicks put it, it’s just a ride!
After the party-hard period in Amsterdam, during which time I got to spend the Easter period (no, I’m not a believer) with Răzvan and Matthew, Bob, Jordan, Dan, Shari, Mira and Susana and all the great gang at the Vrije Universiteit, it was now time for walk-hard. But not before another little party (beer-pong included), followed by a day of rest for what was about to come…
Right, so it was on a Monday that I left Amsterdam. And at this point, I don’t even know where to begin with telling you how beautiful Holland is! And I did tell you about all the Holland’s struggle with mastering the water in the previous post. Well, from Amsterdam to Kampen I was going to walk through the biggest artificial island in the world – Flevoland, I was going to see entire cities that didn’t even exist 40 years ago – like for instance Almere (modern and daring architecture there) – a city that even now expands on new territories laying 8 meters below the normal sea level. It was evening when I got in Almere after a day of walking and it was there where I met Nicolas. ‘Met’ is just a way of putting it, as he rather walked at me and pretty much asked me straightforward what am I doing. We then had a chat and he, as a kid growing up on this artificial island, expressed his fascination with places where you can trace history centuries back, in cities, cultures, even nature… And it’s this artificiality of the place that got to me as well. For instance, they have a so-called natural park in Flevoland, with forests and wild horses and heck cattle and deers and everything else… but, considering the place was in its entirely on the seabed of Zuiderzee just 50 years ago, it’s all a bit strange. Man-made island? Yes. Man-made forests? Yes. Man-made ‘natural park’? Double yes! It was in Hollandse Hout Nature Reserve, in Oostvaardersplassen, where I had my tent pitched for the night. The rangers woke me in the morning, but they were ok once they found out what I am up to, so I then continued my route towards Kampen.
Once in Kampen, as I waited for my host there – Tamara Bottenberg – I took the time to visit the town centre. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful! I will not go into all the historical details, if interested click here. One interesting fact: there’s no word for orange (fruit) in Dutch. I mean, there is, but it’s two words put together – sinaasappel, which literally means China apple. And orange juice? Well, that’s one of the very few Dutch words I know: sinaasappelsap.
Kampen – Coevorden
After Tamara’s boyfriend bought me breakfast the following morning (thanks!), I then went back to walking, through Hasselt and Dedemsvaart, towards Coevorden. Until reaching Coevorden, though, I had my rest over the night, pitching the tent in a grove at the side of the road (by the way, Holland is so poor in forests!), at the end of a day in which I mostly walked through farm lands. Interesting fact number two: a lot of people don’t take the time nor pleasure to mown the lawns any more. Instead, they have robots doing it all day long.
Later during the day, heavy clouds kept threatening my dry state of being and it literally went like this: ‘Little man, we’re gonna rain on you today!’, the clouds said. And I was like ‘Oh, noooo!’… And then the clouds said ‘Ah, we’re just teasing you. Here’s your sun back!’, thundering with laughter. And I was safe, for throughout the day, although surrounded from both North and South by these storms, I walked on a safety corridor which fortunately enough was on my exact planned route. The next day I kept on walking to Coevorden – nice little place, and had my rest in what seemed to be a public park. At least Haans Cremer, a local man, thought that was the case, and with his empowerment, I had my much needed sleep in a good spot.
From Coevorden, I followed the route Haans told me about, the Schoonebeeck Path, right on the border between Holland and Germany, along canals, oil fields and little villages in which a lot (and i mean A LOT) of houses are literally covered in solar panels. The end of the day found me in Germany (Dank u, Holland, je bent geweldig!), after an exhausting walk to Meppen and even past that nice little town, all the way to a farm where I camped. My first German encounter ended in a morning I set out towards Bremen, after the family there (whose names I thought I would remember – ah, I just feel silly now!) gave me some fruity breakfast. By this day, the pain in my knees reached an all-time high, but no time to waste – I thought back then. For a good reason, i just wanted to reach Bremen as soon as possible. That didn’t stop me from actually noticing the first big difference between the landscapes in Holland and the ones in Germany. For there are a lot more forests in Germany! Real forests! :) And I can’t even tell you how glad I was to see the first sign of actual landforms, with even the slightest variations in altitude (long, otherwise rather boring ‘hills’) making me smile, after having spent the last month in endless flats. From Meppen to Vertle I mostly followed the ‘Straße der Megalithkutur’, a route which follows some of the sites of tombs and impressive calendars and living areas spanning across Western Europe from about 7.000 to 3.000 years before our times.
After having spent the night in a forest between Vertle and Vrees (in between these two, late in the night, I spent some time at a Gasthaus), and the following one in a forest South of Wardenburg, I continued my walk to Bremen, well, actually to Bremen – Vegesack, where, at the site of Jacobs University, where I was invited by a Romanian student there – Alin Iacob, after having been taken in and put up at Iulia Ignatov (thanks, Iulia, sorry for having taken over your room!), I collapsed and slept for 14 hours straight. And, on this note, I must thank Maria as well, at least for all the tea in the world, jasmine pearls included. :D
Life at campus, Jacobs University edition
Ever since I started my walk around the world almost three months ago, the longest time I spent in a single place was at Jacobs University in Bremen – Vegesack. The site on which the University is located was at first a Nazi tank military compound. Shortly after it was build, the Allied Forces won the war and the military base was until about 10 years ago an American and later a NATO base. But now it’s a university. One of the best in Germany, they say. And certainly one of the most expensive. But most of the students here enjoy the comfort of their scholarships, which they won because they really deserve to be here, and which are paid for by the numerous group of donors, the most notable being, of course, Jacobs. It’s been rumoured that, beside Krupp and Nordmetall (these are both big donors and colleges at Jacobs bear their names), even the local beer producer – Becks, is a big donor, but no college bears that name out of a sense of… common sense.
About 1.300 students study at this top-ranked research university. Being an international centre, here you can find students from about 100 countries. And about 110 of the students here are Romanians. One of them is Alin Iacob, pursuing his goal of becoming a doctor in theoretical computer science. It’s him that introduced me to the others around here. And I do like Alin – a rather secluded, but a very zen kind of guy. Kept me up to date with the campus agenda. Quiet at times, until the pure humour bursts-out in a punch-line. Showed me a path on which my reason regarding religion would be questionable. Showed me around. Took me to the hospital, where I found out that I have a stretched tendon in my right leg, and that’s what causes the intense pain. Rest time was recommended.
So I took the time to enjoy more of the campus life. Survival courses. Country Information Days – special events where groups of students give presentations and throw little parties with a flavour of their home countries. I first attended the Ethiopian one (brilliant presentation!). Spotlight 2012 – an annual competition on performing arts. First the rehearsals, then the actual show, which I ended up being a judge for. Towards the end of the show, I even went on stage in front of some 400 students, giving a presentation on what I do and making a fool of myself when speaking. I actually had it all in my mind, but it all changed once on stage, so what I planned as being fun, yet deep words, ended up in something like ‘sjgnsi woehhf ias fow shhog s iehf ejf! Thank you!’. I’ll rephrase that later.
During one of the days I spent there, Alin took me downtown Bremen, offering me the chance to see the old town centre, the Ratskeller – a restaurant home to twelve of the oldest wines in the world, laying under the Marktplatz, where Roland’s statue still stands (its said that for as long as the statue will be there, Bremen will continue to be a free state-city), the Böttcherstraße, a street that went through the stages of complete redesign in the ’20s, in a nice reinterpretation of the local artists, out of which we can now see the mixture of Gothic and Art-Nouveau – mainly through a lot of brickwork. We then followed the route to Schnoor – an area of very narrow crooked lanes and streets, formerly home to fishermen’s and shipper’s through the 17th and 18th centuries (Schnoor vaguely means rope). We the went at the building of the former WTC – Wool Trade Center, and the further east, in the more artistic neighbourhoods, in the search of the street-art around there. Back in town centre we settled for a beer at the Schüttinger brewery. Fab! And no, with all the respect, Becks is not a good beer! After enjoying a pint there we paid a visit to the University of Bremen up north. And, back at the campus in Vegesack, it was time for the German Country Information. It all ended up in drinking games! Proper.
So there you have it! Ohh, not done yet. The photos, of course! But before that, I’ll just go ahead and dispense my thoughts, as I wish I would’ve been able to express them on that stage at Spotlight. So here goes.
It’s been a while I was around here. And during this time, I’ve come to get used to the spirit around, as I generally do on my walk. I tried to blend in. Some of you may have wondered – who is this guy? You probably saw me trying to blend in and getting used to the campus life at the surviving course. Or getting bored at some Fluid Mechanics course. Or at the seminar on free will. Or at the Country Information Days. I got used to all that. I even got used with going to bed at 7AM. And in this time, I came to know some of you. I came to meet some brilliant people. And some of you got to know a bit of me. I’m just a guy walking around the world with a camera around my neck.
It was at the rehearsals for the Spotlight show where – if I got the facts right – I saw someone struggling with the inspiration lock – as he was trying to go beyond the phrase Once upon a time, probably in the introduction of a flashy presentation on how amazing the Jacobs Campus is. Well, I would’ve put it like this: Once upon a time, there was an era of universities like Harvard and Cambridge and Oxford and Princeton. And then there was a time for centres like Jacobs University. So yes, during my stay here I’ve come to be impressed with everything I saw – from the university itself to the campus itself, from the multicultural and international atmosphere, to the bright, hard working students, from the stories of you have to tell to the ideas of changing nurtured by you guys. And if there’s one thing I could say I know for sure so far in my life, that is that anything is possible. And I do hope you realise the opportunities of change that lay before you. You may be the leaders of tomorrow. Either in science or politics, there’s pretty much nothing you wouldn’t be able to cope with. And seeing more that 100 nations so beautifully living together, you make it possible for me to hope for a better tomorrow. A tomorrow with no religious, economic or resources driven wars, nor fears. Just look around you, and then look into you. Realise it. You have that power. Seize it. It’s only a matter of choice, as Bill Hicks said. A choice between fear and love. Not tomorrow, but today. Grow bold, grow wild, grow strong, grow beautiful!
How I felt at 1.000 km? Like a boss. I just stopped at the approximation of having completed 1.000 km, had a cigarette and took some pictures with the phone (the camera battery was dead). I actually just realized I’m a bit tired. Oh, by the way, that tendon – the quadriceps tendon in the right leg didn’t get at all better. :| There were times when I walked in pain because I had to (like nowhere to camp).
Over and out. Heading towards Hamburg now…