Family Gap Year adventure – Chapter 2, Mongolia

Bye bye Russia, hello Mongolia

On 12 august, we woke up together with the sun, and walked towards the train station of Ulan Ude, floating in a bubble of warm feelings, having been so spoiled by russian hospitality.

The good thing about travelling by train, is that you have plenty of time to prepare for crossing the physical and cultural borders. Like when your coach waits, abandoned for 300 mins, at a side track of a russian border town.

Somewhere between Russian and Mongolia

Somewhere between Russian and Mongolia

Slowly, slowly, something happens, passports get checked, and re-checked, and rechecked again. We can hear the engine before it is there, and finally, the train begins to move. The landscape is different, I was accustomed to taiga passing by outside the window, now it is softly rolling hills, another shade of green.

Excitement, as we roll into an mongolian border town.

– Change money, change money – the corridor is full of pleading voices. We change a few rubles for a terrible rate, and a later visit to the stations ATM turns me into a tugrik millionaire. The day fades, and we roll into sleep.

Ulan Bator – in game as Ugliest city?

Around 5 AM I wonder, why these insane times of arrival, as our train brakes to a stop in Ulan Bator, and our “provodnitsa” has been banging on the door several times.

We stumble out into the crisp morning air, the city still asleep, after several attempts we are allowed to leave the backpacks in the luggage store, we wave goodbye to our fellow passenger, that is assembling his bike on the platform, and venture out to explore, but beaten by the early our, end up in an european style cafe, hanging over mugs of coffee.

The city is ugly, no doubt about it. Post-soviet, built by nomads used to moving on, crazy traffic that stands still most of the day, nothing green kept alive in the center, still not Kathmandu-bad.

We have arranged to be picked up by Stepperiders, and half an hour later, traffic jams forgotten, I am greeted by a puppy, a kitty, and some horsey noises. We unload into a ger – and wonder at the lush, soft green hills that surround us.

I have never learned how to ride, and the next 2 days I am making up for the neglicence with my very sore ass. But hey, its FUN to gallop!

Olgii – the wild west

We want to go to Bayan Olgii, a province in the nort-western corner of Mongolia. Mongolia does not have to many kilometers of asphalted roads, and the 1500 km drive is masochistic 56 hours bus trip. After a long family discussion, and a very bumpy jeep ride, we decide to get some plane tickets.

When we arrive in Olgii, we are greeted by a desert mountain scenery, some snow capped peaks shimmering in the back ground, and a sky full of falcons, that soar and play with the winds like childrens kites.


Mt Khuiten, 4374 m, the top of Mongolia

We meet our guide, and embark on another bumpy jeep drive to Tavan Bogd, the national park that houses Mt Khuiten, 4374 m, the top of Mongolia. Our mountain guide, Ms Gangaamaa Badamgarav from Mongolia Expeditions, the first mongolian woman to summit Everest is a bundle of energy and mountain tales.

Khuiten means “cold” in Mongolian, and it is cold to sleep on ice. It is  hard to crawl out of the sleeping bag in the morning, when everything inside the tent is iced over from the humidity in ones breath. It is steep, the glacier gaps with crevasses, and crampons must be placed with care. We move slowly upward, roped up all the time, the sun shines from a perfect blue sky. The view from the ridge and the top is amazing. All these untouched mountain peaks on the chinese side, soaring needles with ice.

Kazakh eagle hunters


The Shaimurat family, our nomadic hosts

Back from the trek, we enjoy a few days of relative civiliation, with hot shower, internet and laundry, before embarking on a magical, cultural adventure.

We are greeted by the extremly friendly Osban, a man that is a journalist on the Olgi newspapers, hunts, edits radio shows, and also can arrange a home stay with a local nomad family.

We go, again a bumpy jeep ride, featuring a few break downs, and stay over a week with a family of Kazakh eagle hunters, where we eat together, ride together, laugh together, play various silly games. Not to mention drink together the vodka, and the fermented horse milk.

– Kha, kha – I crouch and call the eagle, waving enthusiastically with a chopped off goat leg.


kha, kha …

The eagle flyes towards me, dives, and straightens the curve into the sky.

Everybody follows running, calling and searching, and this is how I learn, that I am no material for a good eagle hunter.

Luckily my son Pawel saves the family’s honor, and I am consoled by the view of my daughter, the looks of a Kazakh princess. Slowly, with patience, we learn the forgotten art of milking, fetching water from the river, living a simple life, in harmony with the land, and what it has to offer.

The nomads make the best of the land, the soil is not rich in nutricients, but can be grazed by animals. Every family has about 50 horses, cows, goats, sometimes camels, sometimes yaks. The food consists of dairy products, meat, a few potatoes, and lots of salted milk tea. With butter, for better taste.

The flocks of animals wander freely around, there are no fences, the neighbor is also living in a ger, and its easies to go there on a horse.

Time flows at a slower, more satisfactory pace, as the water boils, goats are milked, and we learn and practice kazkh words for “heart”, and “thank you” and “thank you very much”.  Our moments together are magical, we are blessed to be together with this family, to experience their harmony, love, engagement.

Next stop china!

Goodbye Mongolia. You have been mind blowing, a continuos how-can-it-get-any-better-than-this experience. Climbing, riding, eagle hunting and staying with nomads … it was pure magic. Next stop, China.

Family Gap Year adventure – Chapter 1, Russia

Overland from Denmark to Australia

We are a polish family, live in Denmark.

A mom and two teenage children.

We decided that its time to go on a long adventure, and after about a year of planning, saving money, working overtime, completing visa applications, we can take of on a year long gap year adventure.

I think of myself as a regular person, my friends tend to call me crazy.

The plan is to go overland to Australia.


… instead of buying the commute pass …

So we rented our house, with our cats. And instead of buying the commute pass Odense – Copenhagen, I purchased a set of tickets for the transsiberian railway. To Moscow. And Beijing. And Lhasa.

An officer checks our passports at the Poland – Belarus border:

– Where are you going?

– To Australia

– You are in the wrong train. This train does not go to the airport.


This is such an imperial city. I walk around, and feel to small, the houses and streets are oversize, crossing the Red Square seems a daunting task.

We are greeted warmly by our couch surfing host Dimitri, and feel quickly at home in his cosy appartment in the very center of Moscow, served with pet rats, and long intellectual discussions over tea, that drag deep into the nights.

Kosmonauts celebrated as heroes of a laboring nation

Kosmonauts celebrated as heroes of a laboring nation

The metro is a series of beautiful temples, the parks are huge, filled with life, flowers or old soviet era statues.

We ave at the uber-cool Kosmonaut memorial, full of silver foil, rocket parts, space suits, and this shiny rocket and its trajectory, catapulting into space.

We hang out with the crowds in Gorki park, and enjoy the waves of hot summer.

Wish, we could stay longer, to decipher this city.

But the train is leaving from Kazansky vokal. Time to board the transsiberian.

Siberia, Siberia

We float trough the taiga on white pillows, the train departs every single station on time, after some time it seems as if the sun was to early, as we whizz trough time zones.

Suddenly 3 days have passed, and I face the overwhelming fact, that next morning we are getting of the train.

Krasnoyarsk is pretty much in the middle of Siberia.

We paddle down the Mana and Yenisei river, and visit the Stolby national park.  

Andrej is our wonderful host, and we have a magic evening with guitar play and polish – russian – english songs, straight from the heart.

Volunteering at shores of Baikal Lake

It is the oldest and deepest lake in the world, 365 rivers flowing into it, one for each day of the year. The water is ready to drink, thanks to the purifying effect of the Epishura – a tiny shrimp that keepst he water crystal clear.

For two weeks, we are blue-capped volunteers for the Great Baikal Trail project.

We are a group of 19 people, driven by various degrees of idealism, a mix of russians and foreign volunteers, helping the national reserve to maintain trekking paths, that can tempt eco-tourists to supplement the meager budget.

We camp at the sandy shore, and every morning, when I crawl out of the tent, I am greeted by a completely new scenery, sky playing with the lake water.

And every evening, we sprawl quietly in the sand, watching the spectacle of sunset, amazed by how different it is, and how beautiful.

There is a bear in our valley, we see fresh tracks on the sand, and burn fire each night to keep it from our camp.

We cook food over open fire, cans, potatoes, and finish each meal off with tea and lots of russian candy.

The work is very hard – carrying stones, crushing rocks, digging with the “kirka” – pickaxe.

Slight to mild degrees of disorganization can lower the morale, but Kostia is my patient russian teacher, every night the evening fire sends sparks towards the infinite sky, that is full of shimmering stars, and we are a hard working family, spell-bound together by this majestic scenery.

When we return to Ulan Ude, after 2 weeks in the wilderness, I am amazed by wonders of civilization such as water in the tap, electric kitchen kettle and flush toilet.


My necklace, and some thoughts about existence

I wear a necklace with a leather string, and two silver hangers. A carabiner, and a flower.
The carabiner represents, what climbing means in my life.
Courage. The courage to go, and meet your limits, see your fear, and leave it behind you.
The courage to reach higher, further, to go to the top, to find my dreams.
I think that there is no freedom without courage.

The flower represents the lotus of a Buddha mind. Harmony, the inner self, peace.
Like a japanese sakura – the cherished cherry blossom – it lives so shortly, and beautifully, and then vanishes and dies.
It reminds me, that life has to be lived beautifully.

Sometimes I feel alone. Busy among friends and family, surrounded by laughter and people, and still alone.
I have chosen to abandon husband, and cosiness of married life, to be true to myself.
For so many years, I havent found anyone to share my life with. I keep walking, higher and higher.
Sometimes I think, will there still be love for me in this life? Or have I spent my quota?

I am alone, fighting my way towards my own mountain, whether physical, or in my mind.
The day will come where I die. That day comes to everyone, and we will all be alone on that day, facing the mystery of existence.
So, I comfort myself, thinking, that aloneneness is a good thing to practice.

We should not only live with courage and beauty, but finish our journey on earth in the same way.

High up a multipitch route, where I feel, that I belong.

Me and my necklace, high up a multipitch route, in Montserrat, Spain. Where I feel, that I belong.

Balikaylar Canyon

Around 1 hours drive from Istanbul, close to an international airport is a fabulous canyon – Honey Rocks – or Balikaylar in turkish.

weekend vocabulary

  • fire – ateş
  • rope – ip
  •  fish – balık

It surprises me to se63321_439805333213_7562749_ne litter scattered around this beautiful place, but luckily its only around the head of the trail.

We run along the trail with my 2 turkish friends, dragging the lunch with us, following the gorge upriver.

We meet friendly climbers, that let all of us have a go on an easy route, my first encounter with the vertical world.

We eat our lunch, bread, cheese, eggs, watermelon looking at the rainbow sparkles from a waterfall.

We get back to the camping, its first time my turkish friends try to tent, they are full of worries, but relax when we join the company of the climbers around the fire.

We sing aloud to celebrate the birthday of the owner.

We wake up in the morning mist, the body gets warmed by hot turkish tea from these small glass cups. Time to pack the tents, say goodbye to new friends, a little photo session before driving back to Istanbul.

On the way back to the city of 20 millions, just half an hours drive away, I am  tired, happy, and have a smoky smell in the hair.


Fjallrevan Classic 2010

So I am here, in the far north, in the city Kiruna:

67° 51′ 0″ N / 20° 13′ 0″ E

This means we are above the polar circle, in an eternally frozen country, where the summer is full of light, and the winter is darkness.

I came here to participate in an adventure run called Fjallevan Classic. Its a trek along Kungsledan, a famous long distance trek that was used for centuries by the kings tax collectors, when they came to gather goods from the Lap people for the king far away in Stockholm. Its 110 kilometers with backpack and tent, and its on time.

I came here, because I dreamt of this run since the first time I heard about it. My kids told me:

– Mamma, go for gold!

This means, that I have to walk the trek in less than 72 hours.

When I am getting ready in the start area, I wonder what I am doing here. I like my mountains with silence, contemplation. But what is this, a crowd of people, 200 trekkers preparing to walk, and that is only the second start group. During the next 3 days, 2000 trekkers will pass trough the start area, and fill up the beautiful trail like a colorful slowly moving snake.

But this feeling of regret only lasted the first couple of hours. Soon the trek was really fantastic.

I liked the challenge – see how fast you can walk a specific distance, carrying everything you need to survive with you into the mountains – food, gas, tent …
The high North is insanely beautiful, the sky is so clear, absolutely no civilization, and these fantastic shapes of mountains and valleys, lakes blinking like jewels.
It was a hard trek for me – at moments I felt like crying – my feet hurt from blisters, and I had too put on so many compeeds, that there was no room for the foot left in my shoes. And I really, really hated my shoes the last 30 kilometers, and decided it was time to let them go on retirement after 10+ years of service (at the time of this writing I am the happy owner of a new pair of Meindl boots).

When the walking was too hard, the road too long and lonely, I discovered that it always helps to remember to breathe, and walk with the breath. One step at a time, and you eventually get everywhere.

Repeating like a mantra:
– This is your dream, you wanted to do this, and you can do this. Right now, you are living your dream.
I was alone, I wanted to do this challenge alone,  so I had to talk to myself in my head, too keep walking when every stone at the side of the road looked so comfy to rest on.
It taught me something about, that I am  the only one person responsible for realizing my dreams, sometimes it can be hard, but with enough motivation I can do it. But I am also the only person responsible for not realizing my dreams, if I stop motivating myself, nobody will reach my goals for me.

When I arrived at the goal, the official time was 53 hours. As I approached the target, I was surprised to see people clapping at me. Such a warm, happy feeling overwhelmed me, tears fled on my face, I must have walked the last few steps on air. They gave me a drink, and a golden medal, and I knew I have made it!

The night comes, a folk music band comes and start playing lively A big festive party, everybody clad in hiking gear, pocketed trousers, fleece shirts, people hang around the tents and the goal area, clapping everybody in. The music is faster and faster, soon people are dancing, whirling, jumping. I am dancing on the table, I am dancing with a boy, and another, and another, it start raining trough the whole in the roof, but we dont mind, we keep dancing  too the wild, crazy folk music.

– Why are you so happy? –  I asked Krister, my new friend.

– I am on a drug. The Fjallrevan Classic drug – he replied.

Who would believe that this lapp-kota was full of tired wanderers, that had the weariness from 110 km trekking trough rough terrain in their legs?

What a different mountain experience.

Europa on Rails

Back and forth with the Orient Express

I am 34 years old. I have never ever been on a real interrail trip, with sleeping bag and foam matress slowly rolling and rocking trough Europe. Each year a new summer comes, the train stations fill up with young people with big backpacks and even bigger dreams.

Each summer I was dreaming of going too. But I couldnt, cirumstances were never auspicious.  At some point the young people stopped looking at me as “young”, and together with this change in perception the dream faded slowly away.

Until this summer. 2010.

On my daily commute to work, I have been passing a poster every morning “F*ck the plane, go Interrail“.

Power of marketing?

I bought an Interrail ticket. The best kind – one month of continuous travel – total freedom, no restrictions. And one for my 15 year old son as well, whom I managed to convince to go with his old mamma on a holiday, that involves changing lots of trains.

This is how a magic adventure started, that took us from Scandinavia to the Orient, and back, filled all senses, and left an impression of Europe as a single landscape, interconnected by culture, languages, family ties, rail roads, power lines, long black stretches of asphalt and fields of corn and wheat and sunflowers.

We went as far as we could go – to Istanbul in Turkey – and then came all the way back to the North.

It was a trip of many discoveries …

In search of European Longdistance Walking Path E3

I have a special love for long roads and paths that wind, spanning its own reality, leading a wanderer trough villages and cities, trough space and trough time, in a series of arrivals and departures, on a journey that quickly becomes internal as well as external. A couple of years ago walking the Camino de Santiago left a strong imprint on my mind and my feet. Where can I have more walking magic?

The European Union has a webpage, with so called Longdistance Walking Paths. I found one called E3. I dont know why I fell in love with it.

Maybe it was the one with blank spots on the map? Maybe because it starts in Istanbul – the easternmost possible corner of Europe, and runs across culture, countries and history, all the way to Santiago de Compostella in Spain, the westernmost corner of our continent.

Maybe as a preparation to walk this fantastic route one day, I had this romantic idea of tracking down the eastern (blank, uncharted) part of E3 by train, and spending a few days here, a few days there, hiking the most scenic parts.

The E3 goes roughly like this:

  • Turkey – Bulgaria – Romania – Hungary – Slovakia – Poland – Germany – France – Spain.

Given a non-existent amount of information, like a map of Europe with a winding line, no travel accounts, blogs or description, I thought we can just go along the winding line, and try to find a path. Having choosen thecountries, I did a little bit of planning by looking for nice Couchsurfing hosts in each of these countries. And I thought that you can always buy a better map, ask people around, and hear more about the trail once in a given country.

How do you pick whom to meet of the thousands and thousands of possibilities? You dont pick, just trust that you will meet exactly whom you are supposed to meet:

David, an active himalayist from Budapest, that happened to be gone, but left os directions to his yurt.

Georgi, a construction engineer from Bulgaria, that dreams of standing on the highest point of each european country.

Kubilay, a security engineer from Turkey, that understands how to link psychology with the war on terror and information security into a bunch of cool new ideas.

Let me admit it at once. We didn’t find the E3. But we found so much else, that it didnt matter. E3 is for walking, anyway.


I was really struck by the beauty of Budapest Keleti, the Eastern train station. Like a temple of progress, like a belief in a better future, created by steel, rail, and working hands. 9am, crawling out of a delayed sleeper train, sweaty and weary by 48 hours of travel.

The day before I was sipping a Mojito toes buried in the sand of a river-beach-bar in Eastern Berlin, close to the Gallery and whats left of the Berlin Wall.

The day before that I was sipping a capuccino at Nyhavn, a historic port  in Copenhagen, trying to get a hectic work week to disappear, and tune into the concept of holiday and adventure.

First things first. Money, bathroom, luggage store, food.

Beautifull secession architecture, the Fos, termal bath.

Stroll around, look at how Buda and Pest mirror each other.

What kind of money do we need here?

We follow the classic route of the Orient Express.

Ours is worn down and shabby, but we are rolling.

Hungary.  Serbia. Bulgaria. Turkey.

In 36 hours of travel, from leaving Budapest until arriving in Istanbul, we go in and out of the European Union. The language is changing from hungarian to serbian to bulgarian to turkish. Money is changing from Forinth to Dinars to Levi to Lira.

I have to write the exchange rates down on a piece of paper.


East meets west over a small glass cup filled with çay.

Bosphorus is spanned by several bridges, and criss crossed by ferries, that carry people from one shore to another.

Haga Sophia and the minarets of the Blue Mosque on one shore, the Galanga tower on the other, a breath of fresh air in the dusty warm city.

We are met on the station by our Couchsurfing host, Kubilay, and he looks nice, and I dont know that he will be such a fantastic friend, such a wonderful addition to my life.

He drives us trough the city, we pass the famous bridge, and we are in Asia. I am a little disappointed, its not allowed to walk there, and stand with one foot on each continent, its a highway with dense traffic, no room for romantic pedestrians.

We are in our hosts spacious apartment, where we are met by Ozan, the house mate, and we drink a cup of çay, looking a bit surprised at each other, still strangers.

But soon we arent strangers anymore, and even trough the boys are busy with work during the day, the nights are ours and fill quickly with laughter, and joy, and sheer happiness. A few days later I discover,  that what I thought a cliche is so true, and happened to us –  we were picked up from the stations by a stranger, when we left, it hurt because we were leaving a friend.

Our hosts give us directions, and everyday we go exploring this vibrant city, with its eternal clash of culture. The turkish flag is so proud, it is waving in the wind from every imaginable importan position, the red background and the moon. The city is crowded, the traffic jams are traditional, every word and concept has a deeper meaning.

Our hosts play a traditional turkish instrument called baglama, and my son is soon hooked into learning a simple tune. We learn lots of concepts about nazar, intuition, soul – and about hospitality. The words are so complicated, almost nothing is recognizable from other languages I know, and I have a hard time sticking a few courtesities to my brain.

But we have patient teachers. We leave after having stayed longer than originally planned, and with a brand new baglama strapped to the backpack.

Definitely the most amazing thing about Turkey is its people.

Bulgaria – enchanted by the mountains

We are in Devin. Rodopi mountains are lush green, full of herbs, birds, bees, smells.

Farming is done with the power of back and hand, horse carriages move with dignity up the winding mountain roads.  We go exploring into the wild country side, discover a termal swimming pool, and get lost on a pretty easy trail. When we climb up to the top, we see the country around us, we are pretty high, its wild, isolated. Range after range of mountains spans the horizon, everthing covered by green vegetation, and far far away gray-violet shapes mark the tallest mountains in Bulgaria.

Georgi, such a beautiful human being, full of dreams and determination is here in the little town of Devin to build a dam. We laugh that its a long flashmob, a thousand men came, spent 5 years building a dam, and will soon go away.

Learning, sharing, giving. That is what Couchsurfing is about.

Istambul take two

Back to civilization after a wonderfull time spent in the mountains. We bumble with bus from Bansko to Sofia, find the Central Train Station, and have a long look at the list of train departures, in all directions, everything written in the cyrillic alphabet.

We can go there. Or there. Or there. We had plans of going to Romania, we have left Istanbul.

At least we tried to leave, because we find out that we have to go back to our new turkish friends. An invisible power is pulling us back, and soon we are in the little glass booth that sells international seat reservations. Friendship has its demands.

The woman has such an unintersted face when she tells me, that I cant go to turkey because  I am a woman, and the train has only reservations left for men.

– No problem.

No, no, you cant go.

– But I want to go to Istanbul.

Cant, cant be done. Only for men.

The feminist inside me wakes up. This is gender discrimination! We are inside the European Union, where my right to free movement is restricted because of gender. I decide to tell this unparticipating lady, that I want to report the incident to the police.

– Little english, little english.

But in the end she produces a ticket. I can go – my son is a bit worried.

– Mamma, maybe you have to wear a fake moustache? Otherwise everybody can see that you are a lady.

We roll trough Bulgaria, a full moon is accompanying us, spilling a flood of white light on the corn fields, the roads, the power lines.

Everything is so connected, we move along lines planned by others, new roads built on old ones, for thousands of years people have moved on this road, like a river.

The ceremony of getting the right stamp in the passport at the Bulgarian – Turkish border is repeating itself, just as entertaining and surreal as the previous time.

And in the morning we are back in Istanbul, the city-desert full of houses, the horizon cut into pieces with tall minarets from all directions.

Back together with our two new friends, more sightseeing, more museums.

A full moon is shining for us on our night walks.

There is more of the singing, playing, laughing, nagre, rake – turkish people know how to enjoy life.

All the way back

I am talking with one of the room mates in the sleeper, a middle aged lawyer from Argentina, and I discover that 1o minutes, talking non-fluently in spanish, you can drill down to core of thing, the essence of life, and purpose in life. We are like naked to each other, and seeing the reflection of oneself in the eyes of the other brings a new clarity to the understanding.

We are talking about love, about divorcing, about integrity.

The Argentinians leave us in Sofia, the train is running late, we cant leave it to power shop some food supplies, so we ask them to do a favor, and they come back from the food run with new supplies of chips and ice tea.

The next new friends in the sleeper room is a couple thats romantically in love, two jewish-russian-american college students reunited after a year of studying abroad and self-realization. We make lists of countries we should love and hate, its a competition, the couple with the longest hate list will loose the game.

– Germany, Russia, Gypsies, …

– Aussies, Mexicans, …

Time flows, we pass a border, stamping game, passport control, and the dicrete 3 men in suits, that slip a bunch of money into the pocket of the controller. Its the only compartment that doesnt get a thorough check.

We have left the European Union, and rolled into Serbia.

The trail is winding trough mountains, high faces rise on both sides and shadow the sun. Its grey rocks, emptiness, a hard land to live in, a hard land to fight for.

The train pulls into the station of Nis. Serbian railways havent discovered the concept of a restaurant car, but they will change the engine, and we have a little less than 10 minutes to make a food run. With a loudly beating heart and using hand gestures and a mix of polish/english we make a quick order of two gigantic hamburgers with freshly grilled meat the size of my plate at home. I forget that I am semi-vegetarian, and enjoy the sight. Breathless from running back we are at the coach just in time for departure.

We keep rolling, the sun is lower and lower, the turkish train conductor pays us a lot of small visits, he gives us tea, and fruit, we show each other family pictures and talk in a mixture of sign language, and the few turkish words, that we managed to learn.

The train creeps trough Serbia, and is unbelievably sloooow, but we learn from the turkish conductor, that this is a record trip, we are only a couple of hours late, and not the usual 18. Its dark outside when we finally pull in to the station in Belgrade.

– Train to Budapest?

– It left 3 hours ago!

– When is the next one?

– Tomorrow!

We have to admit it, we are stuck here in Belgrade.

A couple of desperate phone calls isnt enough to arrange an emergency-couch, and we decline the conductors kind offer of letting us sleep in the train. Instead,  we check in for the night in the youth hostel thats just opposite the train station. 6 Euro for a dorm bed and  hot shower after such a long train ride – thats gooood value.

Smiles come back on the tired faces, and stay there until we discover lice in our hair – the seats were suspiciously looking in the sleeper from previous night.

So we have to find a pharmacy-after-dark, and a restaurant, and try to find the main walking street, and also do some sightseeing, now that we are here.

So strange to be in a city that has been at war not so long ago, now its vibrant and modern, full og highrise building, glam shops, fashion and open air cafes.

Back in the hotel we improvize some lice-extermination attack with plastic bags and a chemical potion that has a very acid smell, and gives tears in the eyes just from bein near it. My son goes to sleep, but I cant resist the tempation of joining a happy party of people sitting on the balcony, overlooking the roofs of Belgrade, sipping wine.

They are so amazed, that I am here just by coincident, moving on the very next morning.

Warszawa Rising

After 48 hours of hardcore train travel, we arrive in Warsaw Central. We have an unmovable deadline with history, that my son doesn’t want to miss.

Its August 1.

A day full of emotions in the city of Warsaw.

The anniversary of the Warszawa Rising.

During II World War, in 1944, when the russian red army was camping on the left hand bank of the Vistuala river, a desperate military action started in Warsaw. For 63 days thousands of young boys and girls participated in a desperate effort to liberate the city, and threw out the german oppressor. Really not armed with weapons, but with songs and love for the homeland. The new untrained soldiers were beaten, shot, deported. The city was burned down to the ground, the population carried away on trains to unknown destinations. Unbelievable loss of life, of everything that was beautiful. Warszawa has been rebuilt, but the old one is gone forever.

We go together to the military cemetery, Powazki, to participate in the memorial.

Exactly at 1700 the traffic stops, and every driver in the city makes a long noise with the car horn. The infernal sounds go on and on, everyone knows, that  it was exactly at this hour 61 years ago, that the fightings started.

– We are proud that you dared.

-We remember you, that you died fighting for our freedom.

-You didn’t win – but we admire your courage.

Red-white flags, red-white flowers, red-white ribbons.

A sea of solemn faces, in deep thoughts.

North, north, north

Next day comes, and I am going further north.

From Warszawa to Berlin, we pass fields of wheat, and small villages, I pass the time practicing my few japanese words with three wonderfull ladies that were in Poland to play Chopin. Japanese love Chopin.

In Berlin i try to buy a ticket for the sleeper train to Sweden, but there are none left. I ask the train conductor, but he says there are none left. I decide to stick around the train anyway, because I have set my mind on going to Sweden. Another woman with a backpack looks like she is doing the same thing. Combined magic of two determined female travelers works, and the train masters hushes us into the train. I share the tiny cubicle with Margita, she is returning home from a circuit of Mont Blanc.

We discuss the different sizes of our backpacks, compare shoes and blisters, what a fabulous meeting on platform 26 in Berlin Hauptbahnhoff. When we wake up, we are in Sweden.

I have to switch trains in Lund, a hurried hug to Margita, and I have 1 hours to drink a cappucino, and see the famous Lund cathedral.

Cathedrals are so inspiring – this effort of thousands of uneducated people, that made them dream and transcend from stones and mortar into a world of timeless beauty.

Next train goes to Stockholm. Like the last frontier of civilization, Stockholm is the city where I always spend time between trains running around for last minute shopping – fuel for the mountain stove, new trekking socks.

The next train, from Stockholm to Kiruna is full of people dressed for the fields, backpacks, boots, light in their eyes.

I share the appartment with 3 old friends, they invite me to their meal of cheese, pears, bread and wine. We make mixed english-swedish conversation, and go north, north, north.

Sweden is full of woods, unending stretches of dark green woods.

The sky is different, higher, lighter, the air is cooler. It doesnt really get dark that night. I lay in my berth, and I think that its time to get ready for the next challenge.

A challenge of a 110 km adventure run in Lapland, a frozen country above the polar circle, the Fjellrevan Classic 2010.

The interrail ticket is due to expire. End of one adventure, a new one is beginning. But thats the next story

My Camino

We just got back home to Denmark after spending a month on the ancient pilgrim route to Santiago. The backpack sits in  a corner, not yet fully unpacked, a white conch proudly hanging on the side – somehow it is hard to understand that I reached my goal, finished the pilgrimmage tour, am back to the real life – like if it was anymore real than the camino.

So how was the Camino?

Many wonderfull experiences, many fantastic people, a lot of magic on the way, and even my fairly rational soul was moved and felt sensible, open. Blisters on blisters, aching feet – that still feel a bit numb, some days to hot, other days to wet. I had to send home my good old mountain boots, and buy a pair of new lightweight hiking shoes. And I became very good friends with our walking stick.

We walked 800 km during the summer heat, on asphalted highways, dirtroads, grass, mud, cowshit, you name it.

Crossed north of Spain, starting in San Sebastian/Donostia – trought the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturia and finally Galicia, ending in Santiago de Compostella.

We walked a variant called the “Camino de Norte” or the northern route, and from Oviedo we followed the oldest of the pilgrim tracks “Camino Primitivo”.

Totally, we spent 26 days on walking, slept in the albergues on the way, moved forward every single day.

The third day was the hardest one. Crossing forrested hills from Deba to Markina, I was crying, the feet were miserable with – yes, blisters – I was sure that I will never make it, ready to go home. Then we came down from the mountains into the little medieval pearl of a town Markina, and were greeted by Marko in a beautifull albergue, located in an Dominical Convents high, calm walls. He greeted us with a big heart, garlic soup and wine – we started talking with other pilgrims – and all of a sudden going home was not an option anymore.

We met so many fantastic people on the way. In this regard the camino is truly exceptional.

First time you meet somebody, you greet them, exchange names, countries, where do you go, where did you start, the like.

Second time you meet them, it is hello, all smiles and waving.

Third time you meet them, it is your best friend, with whom you can share your dreams, hopes and worries.

Why did we do it?

Many times, uphill, in the worst of the heat, I was thinking that I have been a very bad person, with a very bad karma, since I ended up here. I felt in contact with myself, more whole as a human being with the child I once was, and the woman I am now – and could see who I would like to become in the future.

You walk every day, yesterdays town is in the past, you don’t know where you will be tonight, only the present exist. You feel this is a strong allegory to your life, that your life, your family, job, attachments, are like cities in time, you are passing trought them, one day you enter, another time you have to leave them. It is only the moment of walking that is real,  don’t be impatient for it to be over

You walk and follow the yellow arrows, and the conches, with radiating arms, that all meet in a single point – Santiago de Compostella. As you walk, you know that pilgrims have been walking here before, that you follow their footsteps for hundreds of years, every day, someone have been walking this road. The camino – really its just signs – but it is a special world, with special people, a Nation in its own right.

Tourists require. Pilgrims thank. I learned that early. Without this humble, thanking attitude, the road would have been to hard, I wouldnt have been able to complete it.

I feel more as a human, have a stronger sense of the preciousness of my life now, than 800 km earlier.

It was hard, hard, hard, but it was worth it.


ConcheMe and Piotr on the