Calgary! Fully half of this country has been crossed! The Grey Cup has been witnessed! (Though the ‘Rider celebration will have to be postponed, again). I’m sitting at my cousin’s place, enjoying a glass of red wine, and feeling pretty good about myself. Somehow, somewhere along the way, this post sort of wrote itself, so . . . Enjoy!
Somewhere between Munchen and Berlin.
I love travelling by train. It’s such a civilised, sedate and rewarding way of moving around when compared to the hectic and cramped paranoia of flight or the burden of responsibility that comes with driving. I sit here, with all of my luggage within easy reach and my laptop open on my lap, the beautiful hills of the Bavarian countryside sliding by in a peaceful quiet as we speed along at 150km/h or better.
I’m slowly learning the vagaries of train travel, in that if you don’t have a reservation, there will be some on the wall next to some seats. I’ve been moved around several times, but I think I’m starting to get the hang of it. Also, It’s interesting to see that there is far less taboo about bare feet here than there is back home. I’ve met several people who wander around the streets and businesses with no shoes and they don’t get a second look. Although I applaud them in this, I don’t feel like I would be comfortable doing that in a city (Broken glass anyone?). . . Or on a train, as I’ve seen one fellow do just now . . . Nice to know people won’t be grossed out if I pull my shoes off along the way though.
I’ve also had the opportunity in these last few days of train travel to read two books, the seventh Harry Potter (finally) and “Climbing High” by Lene Gammelgaard, an account of the first Scandinavian woman’s ascent of Everest, and the subsequent death of her expedition’s leader on the way down. That last one was an exquisitely interesting read, and has left an impression on me, as that lifestyle is one that I crave. The book taught me two things, above all else: If you are going to do those sorts of things, you can depend on no-one but yourself, and never to get too certain of your own abilities, as nature does indeed, still reign supreme. That, I think, is why I want to do it, to push these limits of human endurance, because there are places and times when anything a human can do will not be enough, and I want to search out those limits, and see where I measure up. It’s funny because I’m already confident, not in my ability to complete the challenges, but to know when I’ve come up against my limits, as I already feel that I’ve made some of those decisions in my life. Essentially though, I want to be me, and I’m not sure that I can be unless I find ways of pushing myself, of conquering new challenges, of succeeding in ways that many wouldn’t, and discovering more about myself along the way.
Then there’s one of Ms Gammelgaard’s convictions: That it isn’t right to both have a family and risk your life on a regular basis, leaving spouse and children behind to wonder if their partner / parent will ever come home, and, all too often, having their worst fears confirmed. It’s an insight that I suppose that I’ve long shared, but reading her words forced me to realize it, and now I know why I’ve almost forced myself to remain single for these last two years as I try to figure out what the hell it is I want to DO with my life. I am afraid of hurting someone else by my absence. I am afraid of not being there for my partner and even more for my potential children. I suppose it’s been driven into me by my father, who never really came to terms with leaving every week to bring home the bread that the family he loved needed. I’ve long since forgiven him for any perceived inadequacies, and in fact, I never felt that I lacked in anything, but he’s always mentioned that it’s the one thing that he would have done different if he had the chance. I wish to avoid such regrets, and I’ve already had some similar ones with girlfriends that I’ve had. It’s another refrain on the old theme; that the man is afraid to commit, but I feel that the difference at this point is that I keep myself from even getting started in a relationship in order to never let anyone down. I realize that this isn’t a healthy way to be, but that said; I’m not sure how to fix it at this time. I suppose that I could find someone willing to put up with my crazy and be an unfettered spirit with me for a time. It’s not the idea of being tied to someone else that worries me; it’s all the things that are likely to go with that, the end to adventures, the sedentary lifestyle and the lack of discovery. It’s when things get too comfortable, too predictable, too SURE, that my feet get itchy.
This trip through Europe has, more than anything, only outlined how many more things I want to do, how many places I’d like to visit again with more time and a more focused plan. Cycling or hiking my way through the Scottish highlands, for example. Or climbing the top ten peaks of Switzerland, or learning German and then canoeing my way across this country I currently see speeding by my window. This is what travel is meant to be like! I fear that very soon however the cost of travel will increase exponentially due to an end of cheap oil. I predict that mine will be one of the last generations that enjoys cheap travel, but I’m determined to have my part of it while it lasts. If the new age SHOULD come sooner than anyone predicts, I’m determined to carve out a way to travel in the new environment, whether it be by bike, sail, or on foot. Hmm. How’s “Sustainable Expeditions” as a first stab at a moniker? Not as a business model, but as a new vision into travel, making travel as it used to be, a true struggle. It’s possible that the couch surfing community could be a model for something like that, or even an important intermediary step, where you would stay at local places as you slowly move your way across counties, countries and continents?
I still dream of a return to the age of sail, when the oil runs out and once the chaos has died down, that a shipping industry would spring up from the decks of those few tall ships still around and there would be a rush to build more, and those with sailing skill would become indispensible in this environment. I think that my children will need to learn to sail, for all these reasons and more. It’s funny how I get introspective and forward thinking like that when I’ve just read a good book or two and had some time to think. I also think that I’m almost done with this travelling thing for the time being, and I’ll be quite happy when the 15th rolls around and I get to put down roots, at least for a time, in Norway. I’m quite happy with the experience I’ve had so far, and it’s stated goals of me seeing Europe with my own eyes have been met, but I’m not made for this much last minute running around. I like to have a plan and modify it as the situation demands, but this whole trip I’ve been flying by the seat of my pants, and I know now that it’s not my preferred modus operandi. I also bemoan the lack of a travel partner to bounce ideas off of, but on the other hand, my self reliance is growing in leaps and bounds. There’s nothing that builds self confidence quite like figuring out a subway system written in a tongue that you’re unfamiliar with or ordering food in a foreign language.
I also know now that I can live in incredibly cramped conditions with people that I don’t have much in common with, at least for a time, though it’s not my preferred course of action. In that respect, my tolerance is much higher than I would have imagined.
In Munchen, I stayed for two days with a fellow who quite literally lives in a shoebox. His entire apartment could fit inside of the living room of my old house, with no exaggeration. Not only does he feel perfectly comfortable with this but feels that he has enough space to share with guests! I can’t fault him his hospitality, and it WAS good to see how folks in other countries live, but I’m quite comfortable being spoiled by the vast areas of Canadian living space. In Munchen, it was interesting to see that there are still some ghosts of the past lurking around the corners of society, though the prejudices and hatreds that led to world war two have been banished, thankfully. It was when my host, his pal, and I went to watch the Germany – Spain world cup game in an outdoor stadium and met some girls there that this became clear. Now, it took me a long time to figure it out, coming from a universally tolerant place like Canada, but there WAS a difference between the three blond haired, light eyed girls and Ori and his friend, who both had dark thick curls. They were speaking in German, but I got the gist that they were asking where everyone was from (prompted, no doubt, by my lack of German and “Canada” hat, worn to remind folks that I’m not American). To my surprise, Ori and his pal both turned out to be Jewish (and if I heard right, Jerusalem itself). As mentioned, the ghosts of the past are benign, and we were invited out to a pub for a beer afterwards, but I was a bit shocked that it was even worth noting the fact that they were different, as in Canada a dark haired fellow and a blonde will cross paths and start conversations without a thought, whereas in Germany they point to two very different cultural backgrounds and it’s brought up in the first five minutes. I suppose that it speaks to the diversity of Canada since I just sort of assume that EVERYONE I meet will have a different cultural background, no matter what they look like. In the end, we didn’t go drink with them, abandoning them at the station, since in my host’s words: “It’s too bright in here, or I am perhaps not drunk enough. I now realize they are Bavarian Grandmothers!” Altogether, the night was only slightly marred by Germany losing to Spain.
Edit: Unhappily, I somehow totally forgot to take any pictures during this portion of my trip, so I have none to share with you. However, I have uploaded my pictures of Berlin for your enjoyment. (Make sure to check out the parking lot that is the non-monument in memory of where Hitler’s bunker was. Now it’s Berlin’s most popular place to bring your dog to do his buisness . . . )