Day 22. Wild nature.

Something hit my right hip. An explosion of sound. I woke up, my heart jumping out of my chest. It was pitch black. I reached for my knife and telephone.


I didn't dare to move. My brain worked fast. Could my cart have fallen over? It couldn't, I put it on its back. Was somebody trying to steal it? If so, I would have heard the noise of somebody dragging it through the dark wood. No sound still. No light. I felt small, I had forgotten how it felt to be vulnerable. I knew my telephone didn't work here. And even if it did .......

I still didn't move. I thought my eyes would get used to the darkness and they did but all I saw was a deep black. Nothing. I held the knife. There were only two options really. Either a dead branch had fallen from high up a tree, all the way down through other branches and landed on the side of my tent or a big animal had smelled some food and had been trying to get into my tent but got scared off by me moving. I couldn't remember what came first, the blow on my hip or the sound. Or had I been dreaming?

I moved. My air mattress squeeked. I looked at my phone inside my sleeping bag. 00.01. April 30 had started. Today I would be walking with Albert. We used to spend April 30, Queensday in the Netherlands, together in Amsterdam, wandering around the flee market in the Vondelpark, walking
along the canals just outside the city center, drinking beer at the chess cafe.

I made myself comfortable again. It was cozy inside my tent. Forest floors are usually quite nice.
The best thing to do was to get back to sleep. I thought about other dark nights. Nice ones. About the comfort it can bring. Biking home as a teenager in the dark. Going on night walks when I lived in the countryside. About a night long ago when Albert and I had just met and we spent a whole night sitting at a bench in a field in the night, talking.

I slept. At six I opened the tent. There was no branch. The cart was still there. My shoes had moved though. I saw some dots of light coloured hair.
A deer had smelled my shoes and kicked me.

I thought of the big stag I had seen when I was walking pilgrim trails in Sweden last year for an art project funded by the Swedish church. On the worst day ever, when my mood was so heavy I almost bended over, suddenly it was there only a few meters away from me, carrying its huge antlers. And the one in Italy, the one I hadn't seen but whose antler I had found when I walked the same trail I had walked the day before because I had lost my sunglasses. I didn't find them but I found the antler instead. A nice swap. There was another one during a residency in Kolderveen, I saw it when I connected white dots on the thirteenth tree on the right along the path leading to the church. I usually see it as a good sign when I see a deer. But getting kicked by one, I wonder ......

It was foggy. I walked through small villages. I saw a monkey crossing the road. I looked again and the monkey turned into a cat. I entered Hückeswagen and followed the Bergischer Panorama-Radweg, a bikeroad that used to be a railroad. The area was famous because of the production of gunpowder, among other things. I read some of the signs. When the sun came out I napped.

In Marienheide the clouds opened. Heavy thunder. I hid in an Eissalon and drank coffee. I talked with the Italian owner. May 1st, Tag der Arbeit, Labour Day. A holiday for most people but not for the ones who work hardest and have to make sure the others have a nice day.

Three campsites nearby. All private. No tiny tents allowed. The last one was the most deserted of all. I found a quiet corner. I would be gone again before the sun was up.

(Today's story is for Albert van Veenendaal)


Day 21. Back into the (not so) wild.

Wuppertal was veiled in mist. The streets were empty.
The excitement of leaving without knowing where you will sleep that night.
I decided to do a detour through the woods instead of following the big road.
Bergisches Land. Mountainous Country. No joke.
I ploughed along narrow muddy forest paths, uphill, sometimes downhill, which wasn't necessarily easier. When my cart and I were trying to cross a field and there was a tricky spot where we had to manoeuvre over pieces of wood randomly deposited over a wet area to be able to keep your feet - or wheels - dry, I wondered if I should give my cart a name. Immediately the name "Odysseus" came up, I could shorten it and name it "Odi". I felt a bit ridiculous though.

After having slept in a bed and on a couch three nights in a row, having taken two showers and eaten two serious diners, I was quite keen on finding a good spot in the forest somewhere. But not until the end of the day. At some point I found the perfect place to spend the night. It was five meters high up in the air, was just big enough to stretch out on the wooden plateau inside, it had blankets even and a superb view. A hunters outlook post. Unfortunately it had a lock as well. I tried to crawl into the hunters mind and come up with the right three number code. I tried the easy ones first. 123, 000, 987, imagined him to be a bit more creative then and even got as far as trying 007. Alas.
For my next walk I might add a locksmith course to my preparations. If I would have been able to open it in any way I would have slept inside. I follow my own rules here. I don't have a problem with using somebody elses property when it is out of use and when I am in need of a place to sleep but I don't destroy anything. The border lies there. No exceptions.

Some things I thought today:

- It is always the same walk, the same story. Walking in circles but in a different way.

- In the Netherlands people I passed smiled at me, they gave me coffee, invited me for diner, to sleep over even. In Germany so far nobody offered me anything, except for the man in Neviges who ran the cafe and information office. A lot of people just stare at me and when I pass them and say "guten Tag" or "hallo", they look the other way and don't say a thing. There are nice responses though. But the staring I find hard at times. It makes me want to turn inside myself instead of open up. But I keep smiling and greeting.

- Pina looked so sweet and sad in the documentary I watched yesterday. I keep seeing her face and are thinking about the things she said, about sincerity, struggling, about how she never tells one of her dancers what she things is good and what isn't. "Dahin zu gehen wo ich nicht weiss was heraus kommt." Go where I don't know what will happen.

Around six thirty I found the perfect spot. A cluster of trees and bushes in a circle, forming a tent-like structure at the edge of the forest. Close to the path but inside it I was quite invisible. My tent is camouflage green, about two meters long and 70 centimeters high. The leaves formed a roof, the soft rain was only audible.

I always carry bread and cheese and dried fruit with me. But I found a tiny dried sausage and some  white creamcheese too. The last bit of chocolate. And an apple! Or maybe I would save the fresh fruit for breakfast. No greens but I ate a decent portion of rapeseed flower buds and young stems earlier in the day.

When I was halfway my diner (wearing all the cloths I carry with me, including my rain coat), had removed two ticks on my ancles while eating and felt already very happy about the food and the nice background blackbird choir, I suddenly remembered I had a plastic bottle with the leftovers of the Bordeaux I bought in Neviges somewhere tucked away in my bag.
You should have seen me smile.

Three weeks already! I walked about 350 kilometers, spent just over € 300. Everything on schedule. Not bad.


Day 20. Looking for somebody elses footsteps.

"We really are quite transparent if we just look at each other."

Pina Bausch


Day 19. Meeting twice and leaving once

They walked behind me. I tried to walk in a slower pace. I remembered how as a kid I never wanted to go on walks with them. On holidays, sometimes we didn't have a choice. My sisters and I walked behind them.

You walk behind your parents for a long time anyway.

They drove 200 kilometers to walk with me, behind me, sometimes next to me.

Before we left we visited the convent church. I've never been inside a church so beautiful, austere, filled with shadows. The building is called a pilgrim's tent and from the inside it does seem to be constructed like a meticulously designed tent.

We drank coffee in the Nostalgie Cafe where I had enjoyed listening to the owner's stories since 10. We walked 6 kilometers. It was good to walk together, to be together.
The last 6 I walked on my own. They took the bus and drove from Neviges to Wuppertal to meet me again. I arrived before them. Slowness can be deceiving.

We ate together. We all wanted the same dish from the big menu.

I am getting good at leaving. But mothers won't ever get used to seeing their child go.

The hostel was on top of a hill.

Happiness is the smell of a fresh pillow.


Day 18. The name of things

Essen-Kattwich. "What are you doing at our field?" the lady with the dog asked. I had just packed all my things and was eating my breakfast at her garden table, in front of her mobile home. I knew this place belonged to other people but I had registered and payed and the man who was in charge of the "atomstromfreie" campsite had told me I could pitch my tent here, the best place, with a nice view overlooking the Ruhr river. I could use the garden furniture. And he only charged me €5, because I was an artist. 
The lady understood I wasn't to blame and she said she wouldn't have charged me anything for using her property. Anyway, I think the man sincerely wanted to give me a nice spot. And I had an interesting chat with the lady as a bonus. I heard it before but it always surprises me. How a lot of Germans appreciate it so much that most Dutch approach them without prejudices, without still seeing them as the enemy. This feeling of guilt because of the war must be huge. 

Yesterday I had enjoyed seeing the big hills, getting away from my flat country. I didn't fully realise it meant climbing though. I know now why they sell the Wheelie carts with breaks. And why this region is called "Bergland", Mountain Land. They are merely big hills though, not mountains. Which makes me thing of the "big" hill in the Netherlands at which foot I was raised in the small town of Haarle. It is called the Haarlerberg. The Mountain of Haarle. It is 69 meters high. Or maybe 72. I don't know exactly.

I walked. After a while a woman came walking next to me. People do that sometimes. We walked together for 10 minutes, we discovered we share the same name but mine in the French version, hers in the German one. Monique, Monica. She wished me a safe journey.

Fields, winding roads, but cities at close hand always. The roar of cars. I passed through another ugly conglomeration of houses, too ugly to remember its name. I had to get at the other side of a big road. 
There was a tunnel, a tunnel like all those tunnels, tl light, graffiti, dirty tiles, a concrete floor. Deserted, creepy but intruiging. I wanted to pass quickly. But then I heard the music. Soft chanting, a spacious sound, peacefull, open. I stood still and listened and hoped it would last forever. It came out of some small speakers. And when it had ended a voice was saying something I didn't fully get but I heard "traditional music from Mauretania". Later on I looked it up and I read that the musicians in the Mauretanian Moorish society occupy the lowest caste, iggawin. The iggawin are regarded as truth-telling folksingers, keepers of the poetry and heritage. They had the traditional role of messengers, spreading news between villages.

I was heading towards Neviges. By coincidence I had found out there was a big Franciscan convent there and I had three reasons to go and see it. First of all it is an amazing building, designed by Gottfried Böhm. He has been considered to be both an expressionist and post-Bauhaus architect, but he prefers to define himself as an architect who creates "connections" between the past and the future, between the world of ideas and the physical world, between a building and its urban surroundings." Secondly, I am carrying four small books, two practical ones about knots and survival, one about walking and one about the life of Francis of Assisi which I mainly bought because I am an admirer of the author, Christian Bobin. Last year I also carried around one of Bobin's books. And thirdly, because I wondered what would happen when you knock on a convent door and tell the monks you are slowly moving through the world, leading a simple life, collecting stories, talking to people, trying to be fearless and share that feeling with others and that you are looking for a roof under which you can sleep safely that night. I didn't even know then that the city is known as a pilgrim city and there is a big pilgrim house next to the convent.

I reread Bobin while walking, stopped to eat, arrived at the convent around five. It was stunning.
There was a young monk outside typing on his iphone. I waited until he went into the church, then went inside and asked him if he could help me. He asked me if I was walking the Jakobsweg, if I was a proper pilgrim. I told him I don't call myself a pilgrim but other people do. He asked if I was a practising christian. I asked him if it mattered. He told me the pilgrim house had to be booked through some evangelical organisation in Düsseldorf beforehand and that the convent had a guest room but the monk in charge of it wasn't there. He called another monk who came over, shook my hand but he also said he could do nothing for me. They gave me a book with prayers from saint Francis. I thought I could make a fire out of it later on when I would be in the cold woods. I bet Francis would have liked that.

I didn't know what to do. I sat outside, waiting, but nothing happened. It got later, it started to rain softly. I knew you can't expect people to help you, you aren't in title to count on something ever, but Franciscan monks ........ 

I read some more Bobin, some more Francis of Assisi. I read "be carefree about tomorrow, give your full attention to all living things. It is the happiness of not holding on to anything, the wonder of all presences ..... Do you want to know what joy is? Do you really want to know? Then listen. It's nighttime, it's raining, I'm hungry, I'm outside, I knock on the door of my house, I say it's me, and they don't let me in, I spend the night at the door of my house, in the rain, famished. There it is, that's joy."

I left. I walked to a cafe that was the tourist information at the same time. I asked about cheap accomodation. There was a small group of people asking if I was a pilgrim. They advised me to protest and stand with my cart in the church, they thought it was outrageous that they didn't help me but I told them you should never demand, you can only ask and if you get a no, that is what you get. You accept it, smile and leave.

The only hotel in town wanted € 59 for a single room. The man in the tourist office had told me the forest was safe and nearby.

I passed the convent's carpark on my way to the forest. There were two other monks. One of them had silence in his eyes. Brother Thomas, I learned later. I asked again. I told him I already tried, I quoted in my own words what I had read about Saint Francis earlier, I don't know if that made the difference but I said it didn't really matter anymore, I could sleep in the forest as well, I told him I was happy anyway. He asked me to wait and he came back and brought me to the guest room. He said it hadn't been cleaned for a while, that it was a bit dirty but all I saw was a lovely room. He explained that the monks sometimes don't know what to do when the abbot isn't there to decide. I thanked him from the bottom of my heart.

And I still don't know. What is a pilgrim? What is a christian? What is a mountain? But does it matter? You just look people in the eye, you look at things and you see who they are, what they are. You don't have to name it. And if you do, you can name it whatever you want.


Day 17. Flying lesson

Flügelstrasse, Wings street

Day 11 - 16

Day 16

"I don't want to intrude", he said, "but can I help you?"
I had just entered the forest because I got tired of walking along a straight busy road without bike lanes. He was an elderly man in a Simpsons t-shirt, about to go running.
"No", I said, "I've got good maps. I just try to figure out if I want to make a big beautiful detour or keep walking along the terrible road. Still a long way to go today."
He asked where I was heading, again saying he didn't want to be too nosy, but I told him he could ask me anything. He used two words to describe what I was doing. Tapfer und leichtsinnig, brave and reckless. I told him I wasn't reckless, I told him I am carefull but trying to rely on my gut-feeling, on people. He said we live in terrible times. I said we don't, they are not more terrible than other times but the difference is that there is more fear and fear creates an unsafe feeling, an unsafe world. We have to fear less, trust more. My walk is about that. About trying to be fearless and look each other in the eye and make the best out of it. He said: "They found dead bodies along the road you were walking!" I told him sometimes people get shot not far from where I live in Amsterdam under my safe roof. Sometimes people in tiny peacefull villages get burgled. Bad things happen everywhere. Just like good things. He smiled. He shook my hand. He said: "Sometimes I am like you, I like to talk to people but it can be so difficult. "Life is complicated" I said. "But it is what you make it." He wished met good luck. I returned to the big road. I walked past carbage bags, old shoes, cars drove by fast. I headed for the worst part of Duisburg. The industrial area. Huge rusty constructions, former furnaces, pipelines in the air. And in the middle of all of it a hostel.

I ate diner. I wandered around the "Landschaftpark". They had turned the industrial complex where they used to melt iron into a place for people to visit, learn about their cultural heritage, relx and enjoy, even learn diving or climbing. A quiet place with impressive metal towers and lots of green inbetween. I sat at a bench in front of three enormous furnaces. Cowperplatz. Cowper Plaza. They had planted cherry trees everywhere. They filtered the light. The blossoms had fallen on the ground but were brown already. I imagined how amazing it would be to sit here when the trees are in bloom. Rusty iron and soft white petals. Birds everywhere.

I thought about the man I had met earlier today. It would have been nice to sit on this bench with him and talk a bit more.

Back in the hostel I took a shower. Two ticks were trying to hide. Wild nature is everywhere.


Wednesday 23/4/13

I had planned to take the train but when I woke up I felt like walking. I need the walking. I need to be in the walking more. So I packed and left and made sure I didn't forget anything and I walked all day and didn't talk to anybody. Yesterday most animals on the road were dead. Now they were very much alive.

The mobile internet for which I payed a lot of money in order to have 5 Gb a month still didn't work. I decided to forget about it. Maybe I payed the money to have no internet so I don't have to worry about uploading things every day.

Just walk.

And now, when I am writing this, the sun is setting. I ate lots of rape seed greens on the road and I find myself sitting in the middle of a forest. The birds do their thing and I am looking forward to a dry warm silent night on a forest floor.

I didn't loose anything today. I stopped counting days and kilometers. Gained some things defenitely. Courage to go on is one of them.

Biggest threat these days are the smallest animals. The ticks are everywhere, I removed five ones today already. And the first place I sat down to stop for the night, beautifully overlapping a rape seed field, was inhabited by big agressive ants.

I am walking through the Ruhrgebiet, the Ruhr area. These days it has a lot of big cities and a lot of industry. When I hear the name I always see smoking chimneys, huge scary buildings, I think of noise, pollution, roads, factories. Only today, looking at my map, I realised the Ruhr is a river. It is nature.

I wonder what my route will be like the next days. I expect a crazy mix of grey and green, city outskirts and roads and water flowing and small oases of green

But I will sleep softly on a bed of dead leaves first.

Day 14

Today I walked 30 kilometers and by the end of the day I find myself where I started.

Some days are like that. Everything goes wrong, you walk in circles. Or up and down, like I did.

Some days you don't manage to get your mobile internet arranged, the right shoe of your spare pair of shoes breaks in two, you leave too late, you find dead animals everywhere on your path ranging in size from a baby mouse to a full grown deer. Some days there are too many cars on the road and your walking cart gives you electric shocks when you touch it. Some days you realise after having walked 12 kilometers that you lost something, or possibly even forgot it at the startingpoint. And you return and the day is ending already and you see a blackbird, the bird that usually finishes the day off with his song but he is flat and his song is gone and you walk on and the only thing you hope by now is that the item you lost is really still there waiting for you at your starting point.

Loosing things, I could write a book about it.

When you are travelling the question isn't if you are going to loose something but what and how valuable it is. Value can be difficult to measure. Most of the expensive things can be replaced easily. Lots of things you don't need really.
I carry two of some things with me. Things I often loose.  Two pocket knives. Usually two pairs of sunglasses but not this time. I've got a spare pair of gloves though. I didn't bring them myself but seeing lots of gloves on the road every day reminded me of how easy it is to loose them. I rescued two gloves I found on the side of the road. An odd pair, one pink and fuzzy, the other black and straight.

Today I lost my water bottle. It wasn't an expensive one and I could have replaced it without too much trouble. But. I love my water bottle. And it isn't mine in the first place. Last year my husband and I went to one of our favorite shops, the army surplus store. We both bought a water bottle, I bought a silver one, he bought a green one. I carried mine all the way to the South of France, walking and afterwards I took it with me to Portugal where the farmer I worked for drove over it with his tractor. It looked even better afterwards, shaped oddly, carrying the memory of the event with it, but it got smaller as well, so I didn't want to take it with me. Albert gave me his bottle to accompany me to Austria. I use it every day. This morning I filled it with water and took off.

I returned and on my way back I though about the consequences. Should I walk the same stretch tomorrow or take a buss? Do I have to walk every kilometer of the road to Austria? Can I break my rules? And what are my rules anyway?

I returned and the bottle was there and I put my tent on the exact same spot, the spot that was slightly lighter, yellower, than the rest of the field. It fitted perfectly.


Day 13

In the supermarket in Kevelaer you can buy edible flowers. They are carefully packed in lots plastic and styrofoam. They are very expensive. I buy my groceries and walk back to the campsite. Outside my tent there are two kinds of flowers. Edible. They don't cost anything.

A few days ago I saw a hairy pig grazing. He carefully removed all the dandelions and ate them. You could see where he had been in the field. In the back it was completely green, in the front he still had many yellow dots to go.

One of my tasks when I walk the road from the campsite to Kevelaer is to pet the donkey and the ram. Their field is empty, little left to eat. I feed them greens and flowers from my side of the fence. The sheep prefers white flowers. The donkey doesn't like them. He likes the yellow ones, but no dandelions.

Before I left I bought a nice e-book about edible wild plants by John Callas. There are some great simple recipies in there I would love to try. An appetizer of raw young dandelion buds soaked in extra virgine olive oil, marinated with rosemary and salt for example. Or boiled dandelion greens, drizzled with olive oil, a spritz of lemon, sprinkled with a touch of salt and dandelion flower petals.

I brought a small wood burner and a small pan to do my cooking experiments but I am starting to wonder if I will use them. Inbetween the walking, talking, writing, embroidering, collecting seeds, pieces of string, drinking coffee with strangers, finding a place to spend the night, taking care of my body, communicating with people online, there is little time for cooking. I don't even manage to throw a wild salad together. When I arrived in Kevelaer I felt stressed and sad. There is too much to do.

But is there really?

I have to get back to the beginning. What is this all about? Moving slowly through the world. Collecting stories. Being happy. Accept what you find on the road. Use it well.

There is only one person telling me what to do and that is me. I have to deal with the stress and the sadness first. So I stayed for three days close to this city where they worship Mary, Comforter of the Sad and the Distressed. And I received messages. More than once. They travel through the air, they are timeless. They come from everywhere.

I believe in friends. I miss them, but they travel with me. They are in my thoughts, I am in their thoughts. They send me poetry, music, small videos, words. I couldn't do this without them.

Long live the internet. Long live friendship. Long live this world where everything is possible.

(today's story is for my parents, 42 years ago they got married, 5 months later I was born)


Day 12. Wood burning and carpenters wandering

I stayed. I became visible again. I joined the Easter party at the campsite, ate "Eier-Döner", drank Hasen-Bräu beer and stared into the flames of the Easter fire. I talked to the woman who runs the campsite and she asked me if I knew about the German "Wandergesellen". I do. It is an old custom, young men who have finished their apprenticeship as a craftsman wander around for a couple of years, gaining experience, learning while travelling, finding skilled masters to teach them. They are not allowed to return to their homes or live and work nearby during this period. These days carpenters in Germany have retained the tradition, although there aren't too many out on the road. They are beautifully dressed in the traditional carpenter costume and wear big hats. I have seen a few walk around when I lived in Weimar.

When it got dark I walked to the big Easter fire down the road. People from the neighbouring villages had gathered there, they were sitting on hay bales. I got into a conversation with a man from Kazachstan, Sergej. His parents moved away from his country when he was 10, they moved around a bit, he went to school in Germany and started his own business in Kevelaer. He was a carpenter. I asked him about the Wandergesellen and he said that these days these people are exploited, underpayed, he didn't like the system. He wasn't a big fan of Germany anyway. He was aiming for the USA. Or maybe Canada, Alaska. I asked him if the cold wouldn't bother him and he laughed and I laughed too, of course it wouldn't. Kazachstan.

I didn't have to explain why I was doing what I was doing, or why it was art. The questions most people ask. He understood. He had seen the world, he was just temporarily staying here, making things out of wood, waiting for his second child to be born.

There were so many things I forgot to ask him. But it got late and the fire got smaller and most of the crowd had dispersed and I walked home in the dark, the fire at the campsite was still burning, somebody played guitar, I sat down and silently listened.


Day 11. Mothers and Marys and being invisible

I cross the Dutch-German border. I try to take a photo of it but like a lot of borders it is invisible. A long windy road leads to Kevelaer, a pilgrim town, dedicated to the virgin Mary. It is one of the most important pilgrim towns in North Western Europe. In 1641, a travelling salesman, Hendrik Busman, stopped at a Cross on the heath of Kevelaer on his journey from Weeze to Geldern and, as was his custom, prayed there for a few minutes. Today the chapel of Grace stands on that spot. Suddenly he heard a mysterious voice that came from the direction of the cross: “Build Me a Chapel on this spot”. At first he took little notice, but he heard this mysterious voice on three different days. With the permission and help of the then local Parish Priest of Kevelaer he started promptly with the building of the chapel. Shortly after the Easter of 1642, Hendrik's wife had a vision one night. She saw a pure white light and a chapel with therein a picture of Our Blessed Lady of Luxemburg.

The story of the vision on this night is supported by a night watchman who had, during his nightly rounds, seen a strange light in the home of the Busmans. This on copper printed picture of Our Blessed Lady of Luxemburg had recently been offered for sale to her, by two soldiers. She did not buy it as she thought it was too expensive. This for Hendrik was the confirmation of his Heavenly assignment. He sent his wife out to obtain this copper printed portrait, which she, with a lot of difficulty, succeeded in doing so. This was portrait of Our Lady of Luxemburg as she had been portrayed and worshiped during the pest epidemic of 1623, as the “Comforter of the Sad and Distressed”. Hendrik was now really inspired to make sure that the chapel would be build.

On Sunday 1 June 1642 the chapel was finished. Father Johannes Schink placed the portrait, also known as the statue of Grace in the chapel. The portrait is a simple copper impression measuring 7.5 cm x 11cm. The text on the picture says, “A faithful portrayal of the Mother of Jesus, The Comforter of the Sad and Distressed renowned for miracles and worshiped by many people”.
Lots of curious people came on this day. The story of these wonderful events spread like a wild fire throughout the district. Kevelaer became a place of pilgrimage.*

I always feel uncomfortable in these places when I am walking in my suit. People think I am a pilgrim when I walk around in a pilgrim town. Last year in Vezelay, where a lot of people start their walk to Santiago de Compostella, people pointed at me and took photos. I heard Kevelaer is a touristy place. When I enter the centre I see a broze statue that resembles me. A person with a hat and a cane, carrying a big basket with things on his back. I see it on flags and in shopping windows too. People stare at me. But it might just as well be my strange cart they stare at. Nobody asks me anything.  Probably because they assume I am a pilgrim. People always see what they want to see. I become a different character in every setting. Or maybe it is the other way around. Maybe I am what people see. Maybe I am a pilgrim here, today.

I play my role. I go to the chapel and I burn a candle. But it isn't because I am a pilgrim. It is because it is my mother's birthday today. And burning a candle is what she would do. She would burn a candle for her mother, my grandmother, who was very dedicated to the virgin Mary. I burn a candle and I think of her. Of my mother and her mother. And I walk on and drink a beer on a terrass and take another long windy road to find a campside next to a small stream. On my way I pass a pile of wood. It will be Easter tomorrow. I haven't seen an Easter fire since my childhood. I decide to stay around to see it.

The campsite is a gentle place. Next to a stream, friendly people, wonderful atmosphere. I find a corner where nobody can see me and I become invisble. It is time to be invisible for a while.

*quoted almost literally from this site: http://www.marypages.com/KevelaerEng.htm

(Today's story is for Mary Rothlisberger whom I know as Marybird. I take flying lessons from her from time to time. Thinking of her comforts me wherever I am. You can find her here: http://bangbangboomerang.com)


Day 11

A lot of walking, a lot of talking. Little time to write. Crossing the border today. Easter. No idea if I can get online in the next couple of days. But I'll be back.

Just ate apple pie with friends who hosted me last night. Wonderful meal after a 35 km walk. Great company. And now on my way to Kevelaer, a pilgrim destination just across the border.

I will be thinking about my mother today. She taught me how to walk. And she's 60 today! Happy birthday mom. Lots of love from the road.


Day 9. Tying the days together

(Today's story is for Tirza Bosgoed. It is her birthday.)

Day 8. Barbarossa

Frederick Barbarossa (1122 - 10 June 1190) was the Holy Roman Emperor from 1155 until his death. He was elected King of Germany in 1152. He became King of Italy in 1155 and was crowned Roman Emperor by Pope Adrian IV in the same year. He got the name Barbarossa from the northern Italian cities he attempted to rule: Barbarossa means "red beard" in Italian. In German, he was known as Kaiser Rotbart.

There is a lot to tell about Frederick's life but what intrigues me most is his death. He embarked on the Third Crusade (1189), a massive expedition in conjunction with the French, led by king Philip Augustus, and the English, under Richard the Lionheart. In the middle of this, he drowned in a river. He had decided to walk his horse through the river instead of crossing the bridge that had been too crowded with troops. The current was too strong for the horse to handle, and his suit armour was too heavy for him to swim in: both were swept away and drowned. Some of Frederick's men put him in a barrel of vinegar to preserve his body.

Frederick's death plunged his army into chaos. Leaderless, panicking, and attacked on all sides by Turks, many Germans deserted, were killed, or committed suicide. Barbarossa's son, Frederick VI of Swabia, carried on, with the aim of burying his father in Jerusalem, but efforts to conserve his body in vinegar failed. Therefore, his flesh was interred in the Church of St Peter in Antioch, his bones in the cathedral of Tyre, and his heart and inner organs in Tarsus.

I wouldn't have known this if I hadn't stayed in hostel Barbarossa in Nijmegen, the oldest city of the Netherlands. Joep, the owner, has a red beard but it is a coincidence. When he started the hostel he didn't have a beard. He just chose the name because he liked the historical connection. The Barbarossa ruïn is only a short walk from the hostel.

It is a great place. I feel at home in the living room where I catch up on my writing. The hostel puts an empasize on art and sustainability. It isn't easy though. Joeps tells me he would love to serve a biological breakfast but it is simply too expensive. In the future he is hoping to grow food on the cozy roof terrass. He has a vision but isn't afraid to compromise in a modest way to reach his goal.
All the furniture is second hand. The upper floor houses artist studios and Joep brews beer with a few other people, planning to set up a small brewery in the future. I offer him to pay for my stay in art instead of hard currency. He is defenitely interested. But we are both busy people and haven't found an opportunity to sit down and talk business.

I wandered around in the city. It was sunny. I wore one of my two solar panels. It brought me into a conversation with Karwan. A young man from Iraq who has lived in this city for a long time. We
talked about sleeping in the wild, about the man who decided to be a sovereign citizen and live without money and was hosted for a couple of night by both him and hostel Barbarossa. We sat in the sun without shoes, people passed by and greeted him. When I felt it was time to continue my solitary
exploring he gave me 5 euro to support my project. I gave him today's story in return.

I walked to the Barbarossa ruin, embroidered my suit. Had dinner at the political café where on wednesday they serve soup and salad for a free donation. I listened to the lecture about anarchism but made sure to leave before the discussion started. I returned to my temporary home. Watched the moon from the roof terrass. Slept. Dreamt.


Day 7. Finding things

Wageningen. A purple plastic bag in the middle of the bike path. I look inside. There is a brown leather handbag. Inside a wallet, a phone, a notebook, a skirt. A letter from the hospital confirming an appointment today at 9.40. It is 9.00. She must have been on her way, bag on the back of her bike, in plastic because it was raining. Her address is on the letter. I check my map. It is on my route.
I call the hospital so when she arrives they can tell her her bag is found. But I know she would already be slightly panicking by then because she must have found out latest when she parked her bike. I know how these things work. I'm quite experienced when it comes to loosing things. Aren't we all?
I walk on, find the place where she lives, her husband arrives at the same time I do. He invites me in for coffee and asks me how he can reward me. Coffee and human company are the best rewards on a cold morning.

We exchange stories. He likes to go out on his own on his bike. He tells me about his dream to bike to Santiago de Compostella. He has done a try out already, doing half of the trip, all the way to the Spanish border and back. On that trip he endured a severe hail storm. Stones bigger than his hand falling out of the sky. He didn't get harmed but his tent was covered in a pile of hail stones but worst of all: all his route books got damaged, soaked and stuck together like one clump of book. At home he fixed them because he needed them for the real trip. To make sure they would survive the next journey he dried all the pages and laminated them. The only problem is that now they weigh twice as much.

There are more stories about people on the road, we talk about whether it is nicer to travel alone or with a companion and before we know it a lot of time had passed and his wife is back. I want to ask her if she is ok but I don't know her, I don't know why she has been in hospital so I don't. She is still wearing her rain trousers since her skirt, the one she had been planning to wear for the doctor's visit, was in her handbag. She asks about my walk and when I explain it is how I make a living, she says it is good these things are possible these days, that it would have been impossible in earlier times. But in fact it is the other way around. Artists used to be payed by kings, counts, emporers, be in their service or have them as their maecenas. Getting commisioned to make work and get money or a place to live in return. Goya, Leonardo da Vinci, Mozart, there are many examples.

They ask me if they can sponsor my trip and I tell them they can if they like my project but not as a reward for finding the bag. I had my coffee and new stories to share. They wave me out.

I leave Wageningen, thinking about all the stories I collected, about my story being spread. About all the stories becoming one story. I think about the times before there was internet, tv, radio, mail. How storytellers moved around to spread the big news. How people listened to them, celebrated when they arrived, payed them in different ways. I felt connected. I realised these days people can see what is happening in the world any moment of the day, the big stories, the terrible news, earthquakes, wars, revolution, elections, crisis, global warming, etc. What I try to do is bring them the small stories, ask for their small stories and tie them all into a big story. A story about moving through the world in the best way possible. A story of slow change. A story about getting rid of fear. A story about combining the old and the new, the big and the small.

And then I met René and he confirms my thoughts. I pass his house while he is walking up to his mailbox - when we are drinking coffee inside the house later, he tells me that in fact walking to the mailbox was an excuse to see what I was dragging behind me - and at the same time a car stops to ask for directions. René explains and I ask him if by any chance he knows how to get to Austria. Without hesitating a moment he explains me how to travel. He laugs. He is a busdriver, driving tourists around Europe to all kinds of destinations. He knows the road to Austria.

There is a text on the wall of his house. Hier is 't. It is here. He invites me in.We drink coffee and he tells me how these days the people in his bus don't care about the historical facts or background information he used to tell his pasengers. People sit in the bus with their tablets and check what happened outside while they pass by. So he tells them more personal stories, jokes. They aren't there to see what is outside, they know about it, they've seen it on tv, on their computer. They want to be informed, entertained in a different way.

It is early in the afternoon. Too early to stay for spareribs and pitch my tent in his garden. He and his partner just moved there. She trims dogs. They look happy.
5 minutes after I left René drives by in his car. He forgot to explain to me what is the nicest road to walk to Nijmegen. Nijmegen, a proper city with a nice hostel. It will freeze tonight. I booked a bed. I will have walked almost 120 km in 5 days. Time for a walking break.

But not yet. Still 12 km to go. Through fields. Villages. Passing people. Cars. Churches.
In Slijk Eeuwijk I find a set of car keys. It is a day to find things. I look around me. The nearest house has a big hummer standing in front of its door. The keys say Volvo. But the hummer man owns a
Volvo as well. He already saw me, thinking I admired the big hummer. I don't. I like old cars. I've got a secret love for the Niva Tatra. I still dream of turning a Citroen HY into a Zen Van with a friend from America (the basic idea is his, the car suggestion is mine). I remember the old blue Saab I used to pass as a teenager biking to school. The hummer isn't my kind of car. The owner, who is used to having his Volvo car keys lying under a tree outside because his dog always takes them when he comes home and sometimes he forgets to get them back, the owner of the Volvo and the hummer tells me the big guy drives 1 on 3. His young daughter and a friend join us. The friend just came back from Austria. Their mouths fall open when I tell them I will go there walking. When I take a photo of the girls they put up their thumbs for the picture. And for me. I leave Slijk-Eeuwijk, enter the dike, see the big river Waal. From the far distance I hear two girls shouting something. I can't see them but I wave. "Good luck!" They are calling.

I can see Nijmegen in the far distance. I just follow the river. It is the end of the afternoon already. I stop to collect seeds I see lying on the ground. I look up and see big acacia trees. A man on a bike stops to ask what I doing. "I collect seeds" I tell him. "I research the air quality" he says. "Co2 emission". I tell him we are in the same branch in a way, researching how to live in the world in the best possible way. I tell him I am walking to Austria. "I had a job interview in Austria once", he says, "but they didn't take me". I tell him I am an artist. He says he makes art too, he has just bought something important. It is on the back of his bike. He shows me prints of old locomotives. I ask him what he will use them for. "You will see", he says."It will be a big thing. I've got drawings at home but I can't publish them yet. They would sue me. It will have a big impact. It will be applied everywhere." He looks around him as if checking if anybody is spying on him. I try to find out more. "I will put these in a landscape", he says. "But I am not an artist. I am a constructor, a creator. I don't trust people who call themselves artists." I smiled. "Artist is just a word. It doesn't matter how you call yourself. What you do is what matters", I answer. He doesn't listen. I guess I am one of those people he doesn't trust. I don't mind calling myself an artist until I found a better word for what I am doing. He strokes his steam locomotives. "I am an absurdist!" he says. Time to say goodbye. "Check the internet" he says when I get ready to move, "you will see!".

What a strange day.

Walking on. Last kilometers. A big bridge crossing the Waal. Big stairs to get up there. I like obstacles. I am in training still. Heading for the Alps. I tried some small hills, crowded supermarkets, narrow sandy roads. No stairs yet. There is a thing for bikes. I make my cart pretend it is a bike and it goes well. Going down at the other end is easier.

Nijmegen. Hostel Barbarossa. Last hindernis. Stairs again. The steepest ones I've seen in a long time. Joep comes out to help me carry. He has a red beard. But more about that tomorrow. After I had a shower and slept in a warm bed.

(Today's story is for Joep & his Hostel Barbarossa)


Day 6. Today's yesterday.

So many things happen in a day that it is hard to remember what happened yesterday. That is why I try to write every evening but sometimes I don't manage. Sometimes the walking and finding a place to spend the night and staying warm takes up all my energy.

Today (which in fact is yesterday, because I am writing this a day later) was a long and cold day. Showers, wind, hail, but a good walk anyway and by the end of the day I found a perfect spot to stay. An old shed - very unlike the shed from the day before - in a field, far away from farms and houses, some old wagons and pieces of wood on one side, enough space to put my air mattress on the other side. A roof for the night! Luxury comes in many shapes.
Nothing very much out of the ordinary happened. Little people on the road. But a nice long conversation with Arie. He passed me by, stopped his car and wanted to hear all about my walk. He told me about his travels in Africa and invited me to stay over at his house but it was far too early to call it a day. So I continued.
At some point I saw a road sign with the name 'Tiel' written on it and an arrow pointing in the right direction. I know two people in Tiel. They both walked with me for a day - in real - last year when I walked to the south of France. I took a photo of the sign and thought about the walks I made with them. The things we discussed, the route we walked, the small coincidences happening on the road.

I walked and ate and slept and woke up and walked and when I arrived somewhere by the end of the day and checked my e-mail, I saw there was a message from a friend. It was a message from the day before. He wrote "I thought it would be a good idea to adopt a day in the past ... But in your calendar I saw that today is open as well. I like that even better. Today is still open at the moment. And it is open for you as well, at least until you read this e-mail. I hope you read it at the end of the day. Or not at all. In that case it has been a nice open day. And you know what? Keep it like that. I don't want anything in return."
It was a nice mail. And indeed even nicer a day later. My friend lives in Tiel. I had thought about him the day before. Today.

(Today's story is for Janus van Binsbergen)


Day 5. Pine cones and floor heating

There it was. Early this morning. After a cold sneaky stay in somebody elses caravan awning. The big question. Why? It drives me crazy at times. I try to stay away from it but it always comes back. Why am I doing this?
I was happy I took my gloves. An early Sunday morning. When I sleep in 'unusual' places I always make sure I am gone when the sun starts to rise.
I walked through woods again. I thought about the 'why'. But I know it doesn't make sense to try to answer it. I know the answer isn't in my head. It is in my feet. The walk is the answer. It is the question and the answer at the same time. But I haven't walked far enough to really know it.

I aimed for a campsite. I walked through woods again. I collected dry pine cones. Birch bark. Things that burn well. I hadn't used my woodstove yet. It was windy. I mentally prepared for a cold night.

While walking I realised I have to learn all the things I learned last year as if I never knew them. I forgot. I forgot how much time everything costs when you are living outside. How organised you have to be on the one hand (always put all your things in a fixed place) and how flexible on the other hand. A daily routine doesn't work. Not when you're on your own, not when you don't know where exactly you'll end up and what the weather will be like. There is no use to plan to start your day with yoga exercises and finish them by brushing your teeth. To eat your breakfast in the morning and your diner at night. To write a blog every evening and embroider your suit during the day. You do things when the circumstances are right. You do yoga after you made sure you left your illegal sleeping place and walked until the sun is strong enough to keep you warm during your exercises. You might eat your diner at lunch time. You write your blog when you pass a cafe with free wifi. You forget about your daily shower. If there is a tap somewhere, drink water. If there is a toilet, use it. Carry as little food as possible. It always shows up at the right moment, there will be coffee when you really want it, fruit trees when you need your vitamines, a shop when you were getting worried about your empty stomack. Although when you count on it too much it might not happen. But then something else might.

Things never go the way you expect them to go. That is what I like most about doing this.

So I arrived at the campsite with my pockets filled with pine cones. The owner of the campsite showed me where to put my tent. The field was empty apart from one mobile home. She told me there was a space I could use if it was too cold outside. She pointed at a door in the far distance. "The showers are there" she said, "and I will open the shed for you".

I pitched my tent. I walked to the shed.
I opened the door.
I took my first shower since I left Amsterdam. A long one. The water was hot.
The shed wasn't a shed really. It looked more like a 4 star conference room in a hotel. It had floor heating, sockets everywhere to power my equipment, a kitchen corner with a watercooker. Stylish wooden benches with soft pillows, leather chairs, big windows opening to a garden with three donkeys.

I found a small bottle of wine in my bag. Some cheese from Amsterdam. I played music on my Ipad.


Day 4. The wild salad bar and fancy china

I woke up with the sound of swan wings.
It was foggy outside.
27 kilometer to go.

I came up with an idea. But I wouldn't be surprised if somebody else already did it. I thought about it when I walked through the wood and illegally picked edible weeds. I had seen the sign, I've seen it often but it doesn't make any sense to me. I could be fined if they would catch me taking some chickweed with me but of course I could always eat the proof before they arrest me. Most people don't eat things straight out of nature anyway. And if you do it with care, there's no harm done to any species.
My idea is titled "the wild salad bar" and it is a movable salad bar, built on a small cart like the one I am using now. I can travel around with it, picking wild edible plants and turning them into tasty, healthy salads, very different from the ones (most of) you know. I could turn them into teas as well. Wild salad and wild tea. Maybe fruit salads too.

It was Saturday today and sunny. Everybody was outside for a walk or a bikeride. Everybody wanted to talk to me. It was nice, somewhat exhausting though. I still have to get used to having turned into a 'public figure'. I had an interesting talk with a woman from Afghanistan about possibilities for women in her country to do things the way I was doing them. A small group of walkers accompanied me for a few minutes to ask questions about my walk. An elderly man couldn't get enough of my story, he told me the other day another funny person passed his house with a strange vehicle.
This walking trip is defenitely serious business but I don't mind being funny.

People scanned my QR code. It worked well.

Later on I bumped into a pig wandering through the woods looking for acorns. I found the perfect hut to spend the night in but it was too early to call it a day. I bought some fruit from a table at the side of the road outside somebodies house. I love it when people do that. In the morning I had passed a house where they were selling beautiful tea cups and saucers. I had been tempted. Imagined myself at the end of the day building a small fire, boiling water, throw some fresh leaves in the pot and then pour it into the fine china, sit down in my three-piece suit and drink it while thinking over the day.

At the end of the day I found a deserted campsite. Empty caravans but the toilet building was open. Pity I didn't have a coin for hot water but showers are overrated anyway.


Day 3. The third first day.

I left. I practised leaving for two days. I dealt with the mountain of things. I wore my hiking boots to the corner store. I drove the walking cart around the block. And then I left for real. I wasn't ready but are you ever? I don't think I've ever been ready to leave but I haven't ever been ready to stay either. Being inbetween always.

I walked through Amsterdam. Like I have done so many times. But I saw it with different eyes. I never realised how many edible wild greens there are in the Vondelpark. I walked through the P.C. Hooftstaat, smiling. Amsterdam's most fancy shopping street, glitter and gold. The jet set buys their  outfits here. I carried my house behind me along the sidewalk.

I wondered what on earth I was doing. Again. And then there was this smell. I suddenly felt at ease, I felt it all made sense. Freshly cut grass. The smell of spring.

Amsterdam. Lovely city. You only really realise the value of things when you let them go.

I walked to the outskirts of the city. I ate the cookies a friend baked for me. I felt the first blister. I walked on. I picked sheperds purse and ate the seeds. I found a campsite next to a highway. It almost sounded like the ocean.

First night in my tiny tent. The coffin, as my friends call it. It is cold outside. But the sky is clear. I can see the moon. I can smell the trees.

I' m tired. No highway will keep me awake. Sleep.

"Great things always begin with sleep. Great things always begin by the thinnest edge."

(Christian Bobin, The Very Lowly)


Day 2. Mountains

I didn’t plan my route, I didn’t even know where exactly I was going until today. The only mountains I climbed lately were the piles of things that had to be done before I could leave. We all know these mountains well. Like real mountains, they sort of stay the same size always. They don’t really get smaller, they erode a bit, they appear to get higher at times, they change through the seasons but they remain located at the centre of the world, of your life, always.

I bought new shoes before I left.

In the shop they asked me what the terrain would be like, where I was going to walk. I told them I wasn’t sure. But I suspected there would be a lot of tarmac and especially in the beginning quite flat areas, getting hillier in Germany and finally, in the last part, in Austria, the real mountains.

I love mountains.

They advised me to get a light shoe with a flexible sole. I tried them on. I walked around. I thought of tarmac and the Dutch countryside. I thought of the Ruhr district, of well paved roads. But I couldn’t get the mountains out of my head.

Most of the light flexible A/B category shoes looked beautiful. I didn’t trust those shoes. Shiny see through soles, soft blueish leather, fancy details.

Once, when I lived a temporary solitary life at the most Western part of Europe, on an Irish island, I stayed in a pink house located opposite a mountain. In the late afternoon I would sit at my desk and stare at the mountain. Sitting still while the mountain was moving. Changing. Turning from grey to brown to orange to black to golden. Being covered in clouds or impressively naked. Being threatening or beautiful or comforting. Sometimes everything at the same time.
During the day I was biking around the island. On my bike, I felt like a mountain. Everything changing around me, I myself changing colours and texture, my surface becoming wet or shiny or dusty. The island staring at me. The mountains nodding when I wasn’t looking.

I tried to think like a mountain. I bought a pair of shoes. And today, when I was wearing them, I received an e-mail from Captain Klaus, the Nomadic Village mayor, announcing this year's location of the village. My destination is at the end of a steep climb. It is on top of a place called “Hohe Wand”, “High Wall”.

For now I am still below sea level. But the mountain in my head doesn’t mind. And my feet don't either. They are already imagining walking mountains.

Here's my final destination: http://nomadic.cd/2014/location/ 

(Today's story is for Danielle Besten. It is her birthday.)


day 1. leaving

Today was an exercise in leaving.
I left many times and returned to leave again.

I still haven’t mastered it.
I know it is easy.
Not too long ago I even wrote it was easy,
I wrote it is the easiest thing you can do.
Pack your things
open your door
close it behind you

But the easiest things are the hardest.

I thought of a poem a friend gave me last year when I walked to France and he walked with me one day. It is by Derek Walcott.

Love after love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

(today's story is for Albert van Veenendaal, I am leaving the house he will be staying in)


Some people would rather have wings but we don’t, we have feet. We were born to walk. Scientists say that walking gave us our brain capacity, walking turned us into the human beings we are. Walking made it possible for us to have the desire to fly and to come up with ways to turn our dreams into reality.

Walking made us fly. We can go anywhere. Still the easier it becomes to move through this world, the more disconnected we seem to get from it. We have to land again. Get close to the things. Be part of the world. Walking teaches us where we are, who we are. A slow speed makes our brain work fast. Makes us see more. Be more. And best of all: walking makes time disappear.

(from my article "A Soft Armour", published at the Dark Mountain Project website: http://dark-mountain.net/blog/a-soft-armour/ )