Little stories I collected from my trips around the world

Colorful walls – Lima

I am not the kind of person who studies travel magazines and googles for sightseeing tips before traveling to a new country. I do not own and do not like travel guides.

This is a deliberate choice. I love the feeling of arriving somewhere and not having any idea what expects me. The thought of having a list of must-see things that I need to chase after so that I can then cross off from a piece of paper sounds senseless to me.

Many years of traveling showed me that I can enjoy things much better if I discover them on my own, without being biased by somebody else’s opinion. I might miss a tourist spot or two that everybody says one must see before they die. So what? I really do not have to see them.

I prefer the small hidden things anyways.

Needless to say, I did not know what to expect of Lima. The plan was to check in to my new home and start exploring the city. That was the only plan I had. And it was a good plan.

After a few hours of walking and getting a feeling for the place, I found myself surrounded by street art I had never seen before. I was fascinated by the subjects I found, by the stories they were telling, so I decided to deliberately search for more. I never expected that my trip to Lima would include a treasure hunt for colorful graffiti.

A foggy experience – New York

We arrived in New York after three weeks of an intense road trip on the West Coast from San Francisco to San Diego, and after a six-hour night flight from Los Angeles. I can never sleep on anything that is moving, so by the time we landed at Newark Airport I felt extremely exhausted. All the fatigue and the memories of the experiences of the last three weeks were still lingering over me and I was feeling like I was in a trance.

It was around 9 o’clock in the morning as we took a cab to our hotel in New York. The traffic was so heavy that it took us almost one hour longer than planned to get to the hotel. And the air was hot and suffocating, the noises around us loud and ceaseless.

All I could think of was a quiet room with a shower to refill my energy supplies.

At the hotel, we were informed that our room was not ready yet. I felt I wanted to surrender, lay down in the lobby and stay there forever. Obviously, that was not an option. We needed something to fill the almost two hours until we could check in to our room. As the hotel was just a few steps away from Times Square, we decided to walk there, find a quiet place to sit and watch people go by.

Little did we know that a quiet place in New York was a dichotomy. We did find a place to sit, but it was very far away from being quiet. We were two people among hundreds. We were barely able to hear our own conversation that was overlapped by thousands of other conversations, by what it felt like millions of cars driving by, by the lights of the constant advertisements on the surrounding buildings.

I do not remember exactly what happened during those two hours waiting for our room. It all became a blur caused by the overflooding visual, kinesthetic, olfactory, and auditory stimuli coming our way. I have never done drugs, but I can imagine that they might have a similar effect to what I had experienced within those two hours in Times Square.

 

Little gems – Peru /Cusco region

People always say amazing things about Peru, and after my visit there I certainly understand why. I was there for only two short weeks as my goal was to experience high mountains. However, the little things that I got to see besides the majestic Andes mountains were so extraordinarily rare that they not only made me regret that I was not able to stay longer but also ask the question, what else did I miss?

Alone the Cusco region is so rich with natural beauty and ancient history that I feel that spending a few months alone in this region would not be enough to discover everything it has to offer. And I am sure that I am not exaggerating.

The first few days in Cusco were under the sign of altitude sickness for me. I spent the first night barely sleeping, panting for air, and the morning in the living room sipping coca tea for four hours straight until I was able to move around without feeling extremely dizzy.

As I did not want to sit around and wait until I was feeling better, I decided to take a few small day trips and hikes around the Cusco area. I did the hikes on my own, however the day trips were organized and quite touristy. I was skeptical at the beginning as I prefer to discover things on my own, but as I was still occasionally fighting against the lack of air, I did not want to risk bigger things on my own, such as driving a car to a remote place.

I certainly do not regret taking those day trips as I witnessed natural gems I did not image that I would ever see.

A beautiful townTübingen

The first time I saw Tübingen was during a lazy autumn day in the year 2000. I had freshly moved to Germany and was barely speaking German. In order to learn, I was attending language school at the local Volkshochschule in an industrial town in the southwest called Böblingen, where I met a Spanish guy.

One weekend this guy invited me to a short trip to this interestingly sounding town of Tübingen. I said yes.

I was surprised that the trip by car only took us about half an hour. I had no expectations whatsoever. I imagined that it would be like Böblingen, which was an okay town, but in my opinion not very special.

I always heard people say that the best things come to us when we have no expectations. Tübingen proved this saying right.

I will never forget the feeling that overcame me the very first time I set eyes on this uniquely beautiful town. I felt like I had been displaced in time and space: I was suddenly surrounded by houses built in the 16th century, walking on cobblestoned narrow streets that lead from a majestic marketplace to a beautiful sycamore island surrounded by the calm waters of the river Neckar. I was enchanted. I had never seen anything like it before and I was like Alice in Wonderland releasing constant wows from my lips.

On that very first trip, I had never imagined that one day this town would become my home. Even now, over twenty years of living here, I still feel joy when I walk the streets of Tübingen and I realize that I live in a town that other people travel long ways to visit.  

Story of a rainy pilgrimageSantiago de Compostela

In 2013 after I quit my job and decided to take a sabbatical year, the idea of walking the Camino de Santiago began to take forms in my mind. I was not quite sure whether I was ready to walk the whole six weeks as it was more of an impulse of the moment rather than something I had been planning on.

One day I was talking to a very good friend of mine who at that time had two small children at home. She suddenly said to me “listen, if you are willing to walk the last 115km instead of the whole camino, I will walk with you.”

Said and done. Only a few weeks later in April 2013, we were sitting on a plane to Spain.

We were prepared for rainy weather as we knew that April was quite rainy in western Spain at that time of the year, however, our decision was deliberately made for that period as we knew that the place was crowded in summer with pilgrims and finding places to sleep was supposed to be very challenging.

The six days in which the rain kept pouring down brought out the best and the worst in us, and we experienced some tension between us. Imagine walking six to eight hours daily in constant rain. We got used to it at times, but sometimes, mostly towards the end of the day, frustration took over us and we cried out into the face of the rain “when will you finally stop?”

On the second day of our pilgrimage, we decided on a strategy though: we would walk only if we were still talking to each other. The moment we got too tired, and felt tension coming up, we decided to stop and search for a place to sleep.

The rain finally stopped on the last day when we were walking towards the town of Santiago de Compostela. The sun came out as if it wanted to reward us for all our efforts. The cathedral was covered in bright light and the air was full of happiness coming from the pilgrims sitting in the sun, eyes closed, enjoying the warm air on their skins.

We felt relief, happiness, sadness, joy, all in one. Arriving at our destination after six days of walking in the pouring rain changed something in us. I believe the biggest lesson for us was to learn to accept situations exactly how they were. Nature was indifferent to our yelling, anyways.

A nature show – Machu Picchu

The real reason why I went to Peru was to experience high mountains for the first time in my life and to find out how I was able to cope with thin air in high altitudes. The idea was to train for climbing Kilimanjaro. Peru had always been a traveling target for me, and I had even given thought to volunteer there during the time I was a student, but as I always had to work several jobs to support my studies, that plan was thrown away.

When mountain hiking became an important part of my life, I began understanding why mountaineers longed for higher peaks. It was no longer enough to be on mountains that were 2.000 m high. I wanted more. I wanted to have the breathtaking experience of being close to the top of the world and see what all the fuss about the altitude was.

When I arrived in Peru I was fixated with the Andes and with training my body to be able to complete a five-day Salkantay trek that went up to 4.600 m. The last day of the trek included climbing to Machu Picchu, which, at the time being, I did not consider as the highlight of my adventure as it only lay at an altitude of 2.430 m.

To be completely honest, I always thought that the hype around Machu Picchu was way louder than the village itself. Thus, I kept my expectation low and thought about it as something to see if I was already there.

After four exhausting hiking days, we got up at 4:30 a.m. because we had 6 o’clock tickets for Machu Picchu and the hike up to the entrance was to take about one hour.

After climbing what felt like an endless number of huge stone stairs, we reached the Machu Picchu village gates in 45 minutes. The sun had just risen, but it was very foggy so we could barely see what lay two meters was away from us.

We entered the village and the only things we could see were a very saturated green grass, some stones, and tourists. The fog covered everything. “Great”, I thought, while my mind was searching for evidence of my conviction that Machu Picchu was nothing special.

We lingered about fifteen minutes in the village listening to the history of how the village was built and the mysteries around it. I was still quite unimpressed, especially as I was told that I was standing directly in the spot that was most well-known and most photographed in Machu Picchu. Whatever. All I could see was white fog.

Soon, the noise of people talking faded away (guides had finished their storytelling), and I was still standing on the alleged notorious spot, staring into the fog, my mind wandering around the experiences of the last hiking days. And then I suddenly witnessed something I had never seen before in my life that made me choke and left my mouth open automatically. The fog began to pull away, just like the heavy curtains of a theatre, letting through the first contours of the stage, announcing the beginning of the show. Oh, and what a show it was! Machu Picchu lay right in front of my eyes mocking me “I told you so!” At that moment I truly understood why it was so hyped: It WAS absolutely breathtaking.

Story of a little girl – Nepal

In 2018 I took a hiking trip to Nepal with a group of people I had never met before. It was an organized trip of sixteen people who happened to book it at the same time. And so, fate brought us together, not knowing what to expect neither from the trip nor from the people.

The first time I saw my hiking companions, it was at the airport of Kathmandu after recovering my baggage. The group was waiting outside of the airport with the group guide holding a printed list in his hand and asking for our names. We timidly looked at each other trying to form up our first impressions of each other while taking in the lazy afternoon sun of the Nepalese capital.

I look back now at that moment with a deep nostalgia as it was the beginning of a sensational ten-day trip full of adventures and good times. The group was absolutely fantastic and we were lucky to realize that we were very much alike and got on well right from that very first hour at the airport of Kathmandu.

One day while hiking back from the Annapurna National Park we stopped for lunch at a Nepalese family house. The food was being made fresh by the lady of the family and we were invited to sit down on the deck of the house where the table was set for us. As soon as we got on the deck I discovered two big eyes fixing us, belonging to a small girl of approximately three or four years old. As our gaze met, I smiled at her and she instantly smiled back.

Once we were all sitting at our table she did not bother with us anymore. She simply continued playing with random things she found on the deck, such as small stones, branches, leaves, or an empty package that used to contain soup spices.

It was something about her self-sufficiency and creativity that captured my eyes and made me follow her moves throughout the time we spent there. She was just content in her own world. She never once drew our attention to herself. She did not stay in the way of her parents who were doing their best to feed us. She was simply there doing her thing. Fascinating. I just do not see a lot of small children in our western society playing alone and quietly with random items on the street.

 

Discovering nature – Eremitu  

A few years ago, I met a nice Romanian girl through my job. I was already living in Germany, and she was based in Bucharest, Romania. We had a lot of contact due to our daily work and so I finally got to meet her in person when her department paid a business visit to Germany.

We got along very well and decided to keep the personal contact alive.

So, one winter while I was visiting my parents in Romania, in a relatively large community in the heart of Transylvania called Eremitu, I invited her to visit us for a few days. And so, she came. As she was from a big city, she did not have much experience with living in the countryside. She came without knowing what to expect.

The first night, after dinner, she went outside to smoke (she used to smoke back then). It was a very cold and clear evening, with barely -10 degrees, so the rest of us stayed in the house. Only seconds after she went outside, we heard her scream. Not knowing what happened, we jumped up from the table and rushed outside. We found her gazing at the sky in awe. She said, without taking her gaze off the sky, “oh my god, there are stars in the sky! I never ever get to see stars!” I then realized that what I thought would be a boring trip for her would be something she had never experienced before.

The next day I took her hiking around the village. It had snowed for weeks, and nature was still, covered in deep white sparkling snow. My friend just could not stop screaming with joy, jumping into the snow, making snow angels, and taking incredible pictures. I believe I have never seen anybody as happy as she was in my whole life, and it made me thankful that I had invited her to us and given her an unforgettable experience.

Here are a few pictures she took.

Story of why I had to walk backward – Zugspitze (2.962m)

Ever since I was a child moving my body a lot had been part of my existence. I was a professional tennis player in the junior league in Romania, so I was used to the routines that come with daily training and tournaments. Even after I stopped playing tennis, I continued to be the person who was moving a lot. I simply loved (and still do) walking long distances.

However, in the first years after I moved to Germany, moving my body changed for me as I had to work different jobs to finance my studies and was oftentimes too exhausted for further physical exercise.

We took a lot of day trips on the weekends back when I was a student, so walking was still a part of my life, but it was reduced only to the weekends.

So, one day we decided to do something different on the weekend. Instead of getting on a train to discover yet another new town, we agreed to try out mountain hiking. The idea was not foreign to us as we all had had different hiking experiences in the past, but it had not been something that we were particularly pursuing those days.

At that time it sounded like a great idea to start out with Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze because that is exactly how normal people start their hiking careers… To be honest, we did not really give much thought to what we were about to do. Not only did we not have the necessary physical condition to hike a mountain of that caliber, but we did not even have appropriate hiking clothing and shoes.

Looking back to that trip from where I am now, almost 15 years later, I can only shake my head in disapproval, but well, we went on with our plans.

Knowing that we might not be able to hike up, we came up with the brilliant idea to go up by lift and hike all the way down (yeah, I KNOW!!!). So that is exactly what we did.

The weather was beautiful and the view from the top of the mountain was breathtaking. That day I realized how much I really missed and loved mountains.

The hike from the top of the Zugspitze down to the town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen took us nine exhausting hours. By the time we got back to our hotel we mostly stopped talking to each other simply because we were too tired to speak.

The next day was even harder. We had such sore muscles that we were barely able to move. Certainly walking was a challenge, but we still needed to get from one place to another. What we found out was that walking backward was less painful, so that is how I spent most of that day, walking backward and collecting awkward looks from other people.

 

Story of a frozen moment in time – Eibsee

During a trip to Germany’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze, my friends and I experienced something I will never forget.

We arrived on a cloudy Friday afternoon at our hotel and we decided to take the two hours hike around the Eibsee followed by a nice, relaxing picnic with a view of the lake.

The Eibsee lays directly at the foot of the mountain and contrasts it with its deep, still, clear, sometimes turquoise water.

Around 8 p.m. we found a small bay by the lake and were sitting on the ground eating fresh bread with cheese and grapes, drinking wine, having nice conversations while the evening was letting down its curtains on us.

As soon as the darkness covered the landscape, it suddenly felt as if the time had stopped. At that moment I felt strangely frozen as if I wanted to search for light but my feet grew roots in the soil and wouldn’t let me move. It was like in those dreams when you find yourself in danger and no matter how hard you struggle, you just cannot remove yourself from the situation. I felt that everybody else was feeling the same way. We were collectively scared of all the silence and motionlessness that surrounded us.

The only thing we could grasp was each other’s presence even if it was too dark to see each other.

Until one of us found her voice and said what we were all afraid to say: “It is all so silent that it’s creepy. In the movies, this is when something bad happens.”