December 10, 2017 Hiking from Unterbarmen to Barmen!

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From Monday to Thursday, I was in Lyon this week. The main reason was because my legendary previous flat was supposed to be dissolved at the end of this year, although as it turned out, my old flatmate, Adrián is apparently going to stay for some time more. At the same time, his Ph.D defence happened to be in the same week, so it really made sense to go there.

However, to be honest, I'm happy to come back to Düsseldorf in the end, probably because I don't like the idea of "going back", regardless of how beautiful the life there was and how nice it was to see the people again. At least I'm happy that it was not other way around.

So, today's hike, from Unterbarmen to Barmen. There's a phrase that I always put in the couch surfing events, that it takes place anyway, regardless of the weather. So I always recommend everyone to check the weather forecast themselves. And today, they were predicting snow storm. And not quite surprisingly, they were right. And quite surprisingly, there were still people joining the event.

December 3, 2017 Hiking from Dormagen to Benrath!

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It's been some time that it's fairly cold here in the Ruhr region. According to one of my colleagues, it's going to be quite cold this year. Right now, it is not so easy to find a place, where we can have a break on the way. I contacted one restaurant on the way near Hagen to ask if they would also accept people bringing their own food (whereas I guess they would also order drinks, and also many would anyway order something to eat). They gave me a clear NO. Actually, I was not quite aware, but the waiters at the restaurant of last week complained as well, even though the place was empty. That's the problem of Germany. Whether they would eventually make more profit or not, they wouldn't be flexible. Probably I'm not going to negotiate anymore.

This time, I wasn't sure whether to do a hike from Dormagen to Benrath or not. Some time ago, I decided to organize a "special" hike one a month, which would have been the Benrath castle, a UNESCO world heritage. On the other hand, the first week of December is still like November, i.e. the weather probably wouldn't be good. In the end, I decided to organize a different hike, from Grevenbroich to Mönchengladbach, which is near Dormagen, because there was a Christmas market on the way. However, a couple of days after I organized it, I found out that the Christmas market was not for free (never heard of such a Christmas market). As people had already started signing up for the event, I didn't want to change the plan drastically, which made me decide for Dormagen-Benrath.

And as I feared, the weather was simply horrible. Actually the weather forecast was always right this time. For this reason, I didn't really understand why there were still so many people who signed up for the event on CS, why there were so many who joined the WhatsApp group and why so many really came with us. There were nearly 30 people.

In fact, it was not even raining. It was snowing. As I looked out of the window this morning, I could see that "our" garden was completely white. Not quite surprisingly, the scenery was characterized by the snow.

Actually day before yesterday, I bought my first pair of hiking shoes, at Amazon. I'm not particularly proud of myself buying such an important stuff at Amazon, but the very thought of having to go to a specialized shop and spend so much time wondering which shoes to buy made me so sick that I ended up going to the website of Amazon and taking the very first hit. I didn't like the colour, but it was rather cheap. Today, with my new shoes, I appeared in my duffel coat and jeans with an umbrella. Except for the shoes, I clearly did not look like a person who was about to go hiking.

In contrast to rain, the snow fortunately doesn't make the path so muddy, which saved us in the trail at the beginning which could have been quite muddy.

The plan was to have a break at Zons before we cross the Rhine by boat. Of course it was not the weather for a picnic, we decided to split up. The meeting point beeing right next to the port, I wanted to sit at the café there that I saw a couple of weeks ago. Strangely, I could not find the place on my map, but on Google maps it was still there. It's difficult to say whether Google maps is better or Open street maps, but since I saw it just some time ago, we decided to go there. As it turned out, the place obviously went broke. And in this weather, where the snow in the mean time turned into rain, we had to go back quite a distance to get into a restaurant, although other people who found a place quickly did not need quite as much time. In the end, we (who decided to go to the café near the port) made everyone wait for 15 to 30 minutes. Those who joined us for the first time hopefully did not think that this happens every time...

According to the weather forecast, it would be better and better in the afternoon. This was not quite the case today. Actually because of the snow turning into rain, it was even worse. The UNESCO garden of Benrath castle looked like a horror labyrinth.

The castle itself was much smaller than we expected. If you imagine something like the Versaille castle, you're unfortunately very wrong. Anyway, the reason that we went to the castle was rather the Christmas market there, and not the castle itself. At the hikes in the coming weeks, we'll probably always visit a local Christmas market, because they are actually everywhere, even though in other countries probably only those in Nürnberg or Stuttgart are famous. I'm not a big fan of Christmas, but a cup of hot wine at the Christmas market in Germany is something quite special, especially when it's cold out there.

November 26, 2017 Hiking at Bochum!

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Apparently I never wrote it here, but at the movie sessions, that I've been organizing for around 2 months, there was pretty much no one coming at the beginning. Even though this was not really a problem, as we ourselves enjoyed the evening, I was hoping it would change sometime in the future. And it certainly did, now we are about 10 people every time. And accordingly it takes more time, like until 2am, which makes it quite difficult to get up in time the next day. At least I did not drink as much.

Today, we had only about 20 min between the meeting time and the departure of the train. As I got up late in the morning (because there was Jen who stayed at my place who got up late), I arrived right before the train departure. Just as last week, people got organized themselves.

I still remember the hard day we had at Bielefeld, when we went to the Externsteine. It was a great hike, but it doesn't have to happen every time. This was mainly the reason that we went to Bochum today. Bochum has exactly one subway line, which goes towards the university. So we did not have to go very far from the city center to start hiking. On the other hand, you might know that most of the students that join us for the hikes are from Bochum, i.e. we did not have so many tickets today. Fortunately we had enough tickets, maybe one or two more than required.

Just like last week, the weather was quite good, even though it was cold. Maybe the temperature doesn't matter so much, as long as the weather is okay.

Actually I had a different route for Bochum, which I replaced by that of Clara, because she lives in Bochum and she apparently cycles or walks around quite often. For some reason, she didn't want to join us though, maybe because she's moving to Darmstadt soon and she's also mentally busy.

And appropriately enough, I missed the route very often today. Every 30 minutes or so we were walking nowhere. So weird whereas the route looks quite simple.

If you've been following this blog for some time, you might know that I was in Greece in September for a conference, where I hiked with one my colleagues, Visnawadh. He brought another guy from the institute, Srinivas, who works in the same field (medium manganese steels) as I do, although his work is fully experimental and mine is fully theoretical. I'm not going to describe why medium manganese steels are so interesting, but this is something people (especially industry) are extremely interested in. Both from the theoretical and experimental point of view, manganese is something really difficult to treat, because of its high evaporation pressure value (i.e. manganese may simply disappear in the air) for the experiments and its magnetic instability for the theory. Our conversation flourished. And in the end, I managed to make an appointment where he's going to show his experimental installation to me and my Ph.D student. And actually this is the first time that I'm going to see what experimentalists really do.

When we arrived at the Baldeney see, which is part of the Ruhr river, there was one restaurant, where the owner allowed us to sit and eat our own stuff, whereas we also ordered small stuff like coffee or tea. After all, we were still something like 30 people and there was no one at the restaurant. It makes more sense for them to allow us to sit there even if we have our own stuff to eat (which was probably what they though considering their attitude...)

It would have been certainly boring to walk along the river in summer, but today I had the feeling that walking itself is something special in winter, which was probably the reason why I still enjoyed the moment. And I'm pretty sure that many of us felt the same, because I was getting much more people interested in the movie sessions of next week. This is something a bit weird about the winter hike, or maybe it exactly corresponds to the human instinct: people get much closer than in summer. For me, regarding the new acquaintance, summer was like vacuum. I did get in touch with new people, but it was somehow different. Now, after so many sessions, I'm getting the feeling that we're real friends.

After the hike, we went to the city center, because the Christmas market started last week. Then, we found out that today it was the "dead Sunday" (whatever it means) and it was closed. Well, fortunately we were in Bochum, and it was quite easy to find an ice cream parlour nearby, where we could sit together inside. We effectively chased away the customers who were already inside, something that's actually not so nice in Germany, but with the Italian people it's apparently possible.

40. Does the number bell a ring to you? 40 is the number of hikes we did so far. It looks like I'll really be able to organize 100 hikes before I leave Düsseldorf (which will be end of June 2019). I realized this fact after the hike, when I started the number of hikes we did. So there was nothing special today, but I just want to write what came to my mind when I was talking with others today.

As many of you already know, I have a flatmate, Alfredo (and his girlfriend, Karina), who actually almost never appears at the hike. People every now and then wonder why he never joins us. Well, the reason is clear: it's too early for him to wake up. He's certainly not someone people associate these hikes with.

Alfredo was one of the first people I met here in Düsseldorf. At that time, we lived in a different place, but we were also flatmates there. And from the very beginning, which was the beginning of this year, I was motivated to organize hikes. At the same time, I was not really sure about it myself, because "organizing an event" appeared to me like a huge undertaking, until I met Adrián, who was my flatmate in Lyon. He implicitly taught it to me. When I came here, I wanted to do the same. Yet, I'm not Adrián. And this is not Lyon.

The very reason of organizing it myself instead of simply waiting for someone to do so was related to what I dream of, namely, what I call "self-consistent democracy", in which the leader exists only from the point of view of efficiency. The idea is, it's not up to the leader to decide what to do and people agree or disagree, but people themselves decide where to go. The hikes are the place to simulate such a system. Indeed, people sometimes get confused when they find out that it's not up to me to decide what to do. But more and more people agree with the idea and we already have so many people now.

With this ideal in mind, I put my first hiking event on couch surfing in February 2017. And there was --- one person. Now, looking back on that moment, I can say that it was only the beginning, but at that time I was truly not sure whether there would every be more people interested. So, I was about to cancel the event altogether. After all, I wasn't even sure if this one person would come.

Probably I would have done, if Alfredo (and Théo, who was also in the same flat) didn't say they would come with us. With them, we were four. And the hike, which was in the snow, was a great moment.

Still after this great hike, I was not sure if I wanted to continue organizing the event, especially if it was only to see that there would be again only one person. Then there were again Alfredo and Théo, who assured me, that they would join us for the second session too. From that time on, the group grew significantly. Now, with hundreds of people already having participated in the hikes, the decision was indeed right.

Yes, I did doubt, but then Alfredo supported me. After the honourable 40th session, I still vividly feel the importance of Alfredo in the still ongoing hikes.

November 19, 2017 Hiking from Erkrath to Hilden!

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As many of you already know, Saturday is our movie night. With only 3 people turning up (+Jen and Sumanta who went back home at the beginning of the movie because they were too tired), my expectations were not particularly high. That changed drastically, when Nikola introduced two bottles of red wine, one from Macedonia and another one from Sicily.

This morning, at 10:30, with enormous difficulty I got out of my bed, hitting the wall several times without being able to stand straight for some time. I had a quick breakfast and went to the station. Today's meeting time was 10:45 and I arrived there at 10:55. I was wondering what people would do without me.

To my surprise, they got organized and went to the platform themselves. I mean, I have always claimed that they would be able to do everything without me, but it was really nice to see that it was true.

I was expecting less people now, since the temperature dropped significantly in the recent weeks. But still we saw something like 35 people this time. Maybe people spend more time in the internet and check out couch surfing events more often. Well, in the end I don't know why there are still so many people. There were also some people from last time, like Tim from US, who has been traveling in Europe for some time.

The train journey took only a couple of minutes. I would have loved to sleep a little bit.

As you can see on the map, this area has already been visited extensively. Some people, like Bulut, recognized the trail quite quickly. But anyway the last time we visited this area was when it was still very warm.

It's not really like I'm talking all the time whenever I go hiking, but today I talked particularly little. I was still feeling horrible during the hike. The small hill at the beginning of the hike felt like I was trying something quite impossible.

From the beginning, the break was supposed to be at the Unterbachersee, where we did the second break when we were there last time. It was around half of the entire trail, but it appeared to me like we were walking forever, even though it must have been something like 8km up to that point. It was really good to sit down again. In this moment, it started raining a little bit, only a little bit, though. As obviously I did not have enough time this morning, I did not have anything to eat. I ordered sandwiches at the restaurant. They said it would take some time. "Some time" turned out to be more than 30 min. I started wondering whether they would ever give me the sandwiches, so I asked them again, only to hear "we told you it takes some time". This is a typical situation in Germany. For having warned me, they are allowed to do whatever they like. If I warn you I might steal money, I'm entitled to stealing money. Why not.

When we arrived at the lake, it started raining a little bit, but then we were under the roof. It rained every time until last week and today we could see the sun almost all the time. Not quite surprisingly, Clara was not there with us.

Some people went back home from the lake. I was sharing almost the same desire... Well, on the other hand, I was also starting to feel better.

The end of this "short" hike was in Hilden, where almost all of us went to a local ice cream dealer. Hilden being actually a quite small city, the ice cream dealer was also quite small. The same thing happens every time but there was a panic with 20 people arriving at once. Still Italians are nice people. They apparently enjoyed the unusual moment there.

November 12, 2017 Hiking from the Externsteine!

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Originally, Clara was the one who wanted to do this hike. Externsteine, which was the main destination of today's hike, is a holy Pagan site that has been important for Germany for years. Being at the other side of North Rhine-Westphalia, it was not easily reachable, but still an important one for us.

The preparation of this hike saw particularly chaotic steps.

First of all, the hike was planned for November 1st, which was a holiday together with October 31st. We changed it to the 12th because the 31st was Halloween. Appropriately enough, almost no one went partying. And we had a relatively good weather on the 1st.

So, in the end, I just simply changed the date. All the participants stayed there. And from that moment on, I saw a huge influx of participants. On Thursday, we saw that the number of participants surpassed 100. By far the highest number I have ever seen so far. Simultaneously, however, the weather forecast was predicting a horrible weather for Sunday. That was probably the reason why the number stopped growing there.

Then yesterday, there was a storm of people cancelling their participation. At some point, there were those who wanted to participate for the first time and did not know if there were still people remaining after so many cancellations. Actually, this has always been a big problem in the WhatsApp group in the previous hikes. As you can see on this page, it doesn't really matter who is coming, because we simply go hiking with those who appear (not that I don't care about the people but it's just the only one viable way from the very practical point of view). For some unknown reasons, some people still find it important to apologize if they're not coming. If there are a lot of them, the WhatsApp group gets completely messed up, which was particularly the case this time. I guess I'm going to make it clear from next time on that people should not apologize while leaving the group.

At the same time, we actually found out that the Externsteine was open from April 1st to November 5th, which was exactly one week ago. Seeing the number of participants also coming from different cities, I did not want to change the location in this moment either.

At 8am in front of Düsseldorf Hbf. There were still around 10 people there. Luckily enough, we could all take a seat on the train. This one was going up to Herford, which is already quite close to Externsteine, while going through all the major cities in the Ruhr region in 3 hours and a half. With the journeys in both directions, the train was the main activity of today. And it was even more particularly the case, as our train to Herford had a 30 min delay and we missed the connection there, losing 1 hour.

Rain itself is actually not a big issue. I was rather afraid of muddy paths, like the ones that we saw during the last session. Appropriately enough, it was raining, and the very beginning of the hike was muddy. In contrast to the others, who had hiking shoes, I had normal jogging shoes, both of which deeply soaked up the cold November muddy water. As you can see on the photo, it even started snowing from a certain moment, just like the very first hike we did in February this year. And just as on that day, we kind of enjoyed the extreme weather we would not expect during a hike. I don't know what my picnic blanket would have been good for.

There was a small tower on the way. We went up and saw .... nothing. Everything was white around the tower. Holding a cup of hot tea, it was still just as cold as not having the tea.

We went down the hill right after this. Then the snow became more liquid. Actually it stopped raining/snowing altogether. It felt like going through a rain forest today.

There was a restaurant at the perfect location, actually even two of them a bit separately. It is, however, worth mentioning that the sunset is currently at 4:30pm here (although at Düsseldorf it's 10 min later). With the delay of one hour thanks to the German railway, we definitely had no time for a break. I don't know why we were going through this.

Even though many newcomers were confused at the beginning because of the large number of cancellations, there were still quite some newcomers this time. One of them, Parivash, was actually a colleague of Soheila, who every now and them comes with us, like when we were at the Moselle recently. Apparently they did not talk about it at the workplace. Hiking connecting people.

It was just before sunset that we arrived at the Externsteine, which in the end rather looked like a block of rock. We got closer to the rock and saw some people going upstairs: as it turned out, the ticket counter was indeed not occupied, as I wrote above, but the entrance was open. In this moment, I understood that I had misunderstood the information on the website of the Externsteine. It was not that it was not open, but simply the ticket counter was closed. In the end, it was good that we did not come here one week ago, as each of us would have paid 3€ for nothing.

The view from the Externsteine right before dawn was somewhat refreshing. Indeed, Germany is not a country that offers a clear endless blue sky. Yet under this ambiguous sky, the view over 360 degrees with no one else than us, the silent moment at the beginning of chilly autumnal evening and people who underwent the adventurous hike. All this is somewhat heartening and revitalizing.

Going back to the train station was an urgent issue. We were fighting against the time. The path was hardly visible, but fortunately, we reached a large street quickly enough. And the rest of the way was fairly safe.

Here's Jen preparing the pumpkin soup at the train station. That's how it works in Germany :)

So was our special hike to the Externsteine today. And I must say, we never saw such a complicated one since Königswinter. Well, in winter things are simply complicated. I just have to take this into consideration in the next sessions.

However, there's something that I noticed after this hike: it was cold, there was no break, I was completely wet and the train journeys were extremely long. But the thing is, I have the feeling that I got much closer to the people I hiked today with. Actually, at usual hikes, we simply walk along the trail, chatting every now and then. It's always a nice moment, but we are not more than "we had fun with them today". After today's hike, there was some sort of special connection that I could feel with the people who were there. Probably because it was particularly complicated, and because the accomplishment was not the same as usual. In this sense, it's maybe not so surprising that most of them immediately signed up for the next hike after today's hike. In this sense, a hard hike is hard, but the achievement is extraordinary, probably so extraordinary that it cannot be replaced by anything else.

November 5, 2017 Hiking from Langenberg to Neviges!

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I experienced a dramatic change concerning Tetsu, who appeared in the article of last week.

After he went back to his host family after the hike last week, there was a serious quarrel between him and his host mother, for reasons that I still don't understand well. Actually there was absolute silence on Sunday and the real conflict took place on Monday. As my priority was to help Tetsu I immediately offered my place to him. The thing is, he fled from his host family's place even without telling them that he was leaving. Anyway fro that moment, he's been living at our place, although fortunately we could find a new host family for him very quickly.

Another drastic change that we were experiencing was the weather. Last week, it was predicting sunny weather, but it started telling us it would rain today. In the end, it was cloudy but it never rained. Maybe I should still note that Clara was not with us this time, and it was raining in Bochum, where she was.

We already hiked from Langenberg to Neviges recently (cf. this article). Shortly after this hike, I made another trail, which is completely different from the one that we did before. This region is simply amazing so I'm making a lot of trails right now.

These days, it is colder outside in the night than in the fridge. And accordingly, it is not particularly warm during the day. I'm expecting the number of participants to start dwindling, but still there were around 30 people. For the next week's hike, there are already twice as many people, so maybe people don't really care about the temperature.

Today's hike consisted of two parts, between which there was a strip where I could not really find a path. I took one that looked more or less okay. And basically, it was not okay. We were trying to go through a horse path, which was extremely muddy (and I don't think that it was accessible to outsiders). So for the first time in a couple of months we had to go back. It felt like a humiliation.

Indeed, the other path went through a main street, but the second part was just as great as the first part.

There's this restaurant called Haus Nickhorn, which I found in the Internet. Since it was in the middle of the hiking trail, I was thinking about having a break at this place. And perfectly enough, it was closed, because it was broke recently and the new owner is opening the restaurant from November 15th, just two weeks to go (by the time you're reading this article, it's probably open). So we simply stayed nearby. The great thing was they allowed us to use the toilet. So nice people.

We have already been to Neviges, as I wrote above, but there were local sightseeing spots of Neviges that we did not visit last time. In particular, there was a castle and a very weird church. We saw the church from outside once. And it looks really weird. From inside it looked essentially the same. Regarding the fact that the churches look almost always the same otherwise, it's nice to have something like this, too.

We went to the same ice cream parlor as last time. Just as perfect as last time, although it was a little bit cold this time outside.

October 29, 2017 Hiking from Hagen-Westbauer to Gevelsberg!

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According to the weather forecast, it should have been sunny the whole day today. An extremely sunny weather. Appropriately enough, Clara hadn't signed up for the event. The weird thing is, she said she would join us yesterday. And today, the weather changed drastically. And it was raining. I don't understand how might she is.

This was particularly the case, when we drove at Hagen-Westbauer, which was the starting point of today's hike, because exactly in that moment, namely when Clara arrived by train, it started raining hard. By the way, Clara is the person on the photo.

Just like in many countries in the northern hemisphere, the beginning and the end of October are simply not the same. Warm days are now definitely gone. We're heading for winter. November is the first month of snow for me, even if this changed a little bit over the years. Anyway, the hikes are not the same anymore, although I wouldn't say it's bad, because we can enjoy it in a different way.

This area around Hagen has somehow been spared so far, even though there are so many hiking paths I could create recently. Whenever we changed trains at Hagen, I looked at the beautiful mountains from the station and thought it must be a great place to hike. Today was the first session that I could finally organize, an important one, because due to lack of information in the Internet, I must rely on the feeling I get by looking at the satellite pictures and open street maps, which usually is not enough to fully understand how successful it would be. So if we experience a very bad hike, I might scrap the other hikes altogether.

Here, I have to talk about something that happened to me recently, even though it's not directly related to the hike of today: there's this thing called YFU, which is an organization that arranges exchange programs for high school students. And there was one exchange student from Japan, Tetsu, whom I hosted at my place recently, because he lives in Düsseldorf and there was a problem with his host family. Anyway, I invited him to my hike. Coming from such a homogeneous society like Japan, it must have been a shock for him to see so many foreigners at the same time.

Right after we left the train station, the path went up, a lot. And this was even better, because there was no real path. Luckily, it was in the woods and we could move freely. So somehow we managed to go through the area. In any case, the feeling of adventure is something that we should not lose, not (only) because out of necessity, but (also) it's also about exploring a new area. Why not having trouble every now and then?

When we arrived at the top of the mountain, we found a path again. Tetsu was saying he was not expecting a hard hike like this one. That's good. That's how we can make a dull ordinary day exciting.

There was a good mixture of fields and forest today, but when we reached the middle, it started rain, and it was exactly when we came out of a forest. Next to me was Clara. I don't know how much I wanted to accuse her in that moment, even though she was the one who started to complain.

There was a restaurant where I was planning to have a break. As always, I didn't announce it in the WhatsApp group, because I don't really check whether it's really open or not in advance and I don't want to take responsibility of it. It turned out to be a good decision: closed. The rain had stopped, but it was still wet. Not so nice.

Right after the restaurant, we found a beautiful field, which would have been a perfect place if it was summer. I just find the idea of having to live with this reality until the end of winter so horrifying. Anyway, we decided to stay there. The warm tea that Nikola had was just heavenly. The energizer of Clara we played there left a UFO circle.

We arrived in the city center of Gevelsberg at the end of the hike. Gevelsberg itself was a very small place, but sufficiently large to offer a nice bakery in the city center. We stayed there until the train came. Gevelsberg is definitely going to be a place that we'll visit at the end of the hike in the near future. So comfortable and good size.

October 21, 2017 Hiking along the Moselle!

When I talk about my travel over Eurasia, people often think that I planned it for a long time. That's actually not quite true. It took maybe a day in order for me to make a specific plan from the moment I first had this idea.

Similarly, I had a conversation with Bhagyashree during the hike in Weeze recently about the possibility of going far away over a weekend. And probably the next day, I already had the whole plan.

All this happened right after the cooking evening which was the first event at our new apartment, which unfortunately did not go very well. On the other hand, I really really wanted to organize this travel successfully, so I put a bit more pressure than usual. In the end, after we bought the train tickets, it took just a week until everyone paid. So great that it went so well in the end.

One of the main reasons why it was possible to organize such a long-distance travel was because there's something called "group ticket" offered by German railway. This is offered to group with more than 5 people. In our case, we could travel for 26 € for both ways. Why not enjoying this possibility?

So much for the planning. And all this was not a problem for me, because there was something that we had to think about all the time, and we had to talk about all the time: weather. Just as always, two weeks ahead of the hike, the weather forecast was predicting bright blue sky for this weekend. The situation drastically changed about a week before the hike. I can hardly believe that they could change it to storm. And in the end, they decided to converge to something like a mixture of sun and rain. Brilliant, especially because it ended up being cloudy.

Well, before talking about how it went, here's the overview: in the morning of the 21st of October, we see each other in front of Düsseldorf main station. Then we take an IC, up to Koblenz, where some people (such as Bhagyashree) join at Cologne or Bonn. Then from Koblenz we take a local train, that goes slowly along the Moselle river, which is a very famous place among the hiking lovers. It goes up to Ürzig, from where we hike towards the hostel in Traben-Trarbach along the Moselsteig. Then on the second day, we hike from Traben-Trarbach to Reil (which is at 16 km from Traben Trarbach) or Bullay (at 21 km), depending on how much energy we have. And finally, we come back by train from Koblenz to Düsseldorf, by doing the inverse of the outgoing journey. Easy, right?

In addition to the habitual participants of the hikes, we also had my flatmates, Alfredo and Karina. Instead of going to Ürzig with us by train, they decided to go to Koblenz a day in advance by car. This made me think that it might make sense that I organize something with Japanese people. I did it. And it lasted until 2 am, with a lot of beer and energy.

If you know me well, you are certainly not surprised that I planned to prepare my backpack in the morning of the departure, thinking that I would have enough time. This assumption was extremely wrong. I didn't even have time for breakfast, which I just put in a lunch box (which is conceptually wrong) and went to the train station. I'm not a kind of person who can sleep well in a vehicle. But this time I slept away the complete journey up to Koblenz.

As always, our train had a significant delay, so that we missed our train for Ürzig. Thirty minutes later, we took a different one, which did not directly go there, so that it took much more time in the end. The weird thing is that, while waiting for the train and on the way, it was quite stormy.

And it was thanks to this delay, that we could avoid rain altogether. It looked even almost sunny when we arrived at Ürzig, even if it was just for a very short while.

Probably because of the weather, there was pretty much no one along the Moselsteig, even though the path itself was a perfect hiking path: most of the time, it was surrounded by trees, but every now and then we could have an open view over the Moselle. For us, coming from Düsseldorf, there were simply too many perfect spots to have a break, so that we stopped fairly often. It would have been a perfect view if the weather had been very good, although we cannot complain since it was at least not raining.

I was still struggling with the remaining alcohol from the previous day. Going up and down only seemed to me like a physical exercise.

Appropriately enough, there were several locations for a break. It must be crowded in summer. But we had a break in the middle of nowhere, although we had a great view over the Moselle valley.

I still remember exactly who joined the hike this weekend. But the very person that everyone will certainly remember is Oli. Not because of her distinctive voice, but more because of the energizers she wanted to play. The very first one, ninja, for which actually I found an instructive video on vimeo, kicked me out at the very beginning. I'm just not aggressive enough for this kind of activity. I'm a peaceful guy :)

Today, it was not particularly necessary to show the path. So I simply stayed at the end of the group almost all the time. Quite surprisingly, it was the Latin people who were near the head of the group (by the way, when I say "Latin people", I also mean people from Latin language speaking people from Europe). I was not expecting this from my otherwise extremely flatmates (Alfredo and Karina).

At the end of the day, it started raining a little bit, but it was just the remaining 3 or 4km. We arrived in Traben Trarbach without being completely wet, which is quite satisfactory for Germany. The youth hostel in Traben-Trarbach was not quite a youth hostel that you find in other countries. It was indeed simple, but very clean and comfortable. That's probably the nice thing about youth hostels in small places, because if you go to Amsterdam or Paris for example, you often bump into something you don't really want to see.

Then came the problem: dinner. In such a small place, it is simply not easy to find a place that can spontaneously contain so many people. When we crossed the bridge, we saw a restaurant/bar with a terrace with enough space for everyone.

When we left the place a few hours later, I was not quite able to go straight anymore.

October 22, 2017 Hiking along the Moselle!

After coming back from the restaurant, actually we stayed awake for some time in the hostel, playing football etc. It was probably good that there was no alcohol anymore in the hostel. I must have been the most drunk person before we went to bed, but somehow I was also the first person to wake up. Actually, the breakfast was half over when everyone arrived. So strange. Anyway, despite my very low expectations, the breakfast at the hostel was actually pretty good. Not bad for a hostel.

There's this thing called "German youth hostel association membership", which they call "International membership", even though I have never heard of it in other countries. It's usually for one year and is actually not very cheap (something like 22 € for adult?). I didn't have a problem with paying that money but it would have been a little bit stupid, as the year is almost over (because it's always from January to December). In the end, however, they did not ask for it. Now the hostel has an even better impression for me.

We waited for Anirban for some time in the morning, as he used couch surfing instead of staying with us in the hostel (and his hosts started breakfast fairly late). We very often forget about it, but almost all of us met each other on couch surfing. It's not quite surprising that one of us is indeed using it in the way as it was conceived.

From Traben-Trarbach, we could already see a castle on top of the mountain. This was our first goal. I almost never talk about what kind of map I use, but it's actually not really adapted for 3D problems. And this time we could strongly feel the effect, as we were just walking upwards for quite some time. It was a great view from the top, but on the map on my iPhone it just looked disappointing, because it looked as if we were still in Traben-Trarbach.

I don't know exactly why, but Bhagyashree looked extremely exhausted all the time, actually from the very beginning of the trip. I was already worried about her, but then there were people like Oli, who tend to be tired more quickly than others. Anyway, the general consensus was that everyone looked tired when we arrived at the castle. I was really not sure anymore if we could manage to go the entire route, which was estimated to be around 22km.

Fortunately, we did not have to go up and down so much anymore. Not completely flat, but it was comfortably hilly.

Around noon, it started raining again. Luckily, it was not far away from the civilization today. We quickly moved to a nearby city/village. This place must be a very busy place in summer, when there are a lot of hikers, especially because also a Camino de Santiago goes through this place. But as it was rainy and cold, there was pretty much no one from outside. It was not surprising that there was on one in the Italian restaurant that we dropped in. The owner of the restaurant clearly seemed happy with a sudden influx of so many people.

At the beginning of the hike, we thought we wouldn't make it to the end of the trail. So we quickly moved to the plan B, which was to stop at Reil.

While we were staying in the Italian restaurant, the rain stopped, despite my weather forecast app. Today, it was virtually completely useless. Actually it was getting better and better. And the landscape was getting more and more beautiful. In the end, we arrived at Reil at 4:15pm. The train going from Bullay, which was around 5km away, was leaving after 7pm. This probably led almost everyone back to my initial plan, to go up to Bullay on foot. Only Bhagyashree and Amulya stayed at Reil and took a train.

The sky was almost blue. We might have been going the best part of the entire hike. The hiking path I made up just in order to make a good distance turned out to be a very good one, going through a forest on the hillside, giving a perfect view over the Moselle.

In the end, we arrived at Bullay an hour before the departure of the train. Right after we arrived at Bullay, there was a train going to Koblenz. And we stayed at Koblenz until our IC came and took us back to Düsseldorf. I must say, the IC was not quite the same as before. Now it's not the dirty slow train, but is now fast and offers so much comfort.

So much was my first experimental trip. And I would like to state my observations here. Firstly, from the organizational point of view, there was nothing I had to fear in the end. I knew that no one would complain if there had been a mistake in the plan, but I was afraid of not being capable of carrying out the plans according to my planning. Actually, from the moment this trip was conceived, there was almost nothing to do. Everyone was extremely cooperative. And we all spontaneously participated.

On the other hand, I'm now not so sure if I'd organize another trip in the near future. This is because in total, I don't really see why we should stay at one place overnight. The reality is that anyway for living in Düsseldorf, we can go out in the evening together. Especially, we organize movie sessions and other fancy stuff at my place. And it's working perfectly. In this sense, there was no reason that we sleep at the same place. And I must say, I could feel high expectations of everyone, just as mine. And I guess everyone felt the same as I did. But in this regard, it was maybe a little bit unfortunate that we stayed in a hostel, because we did not have the possibility of bringing drinks from outside and we were not really staying at the same place. So since I made a reservation of an entire apartment complex for the Easter vacation, this point might change entirely.

In the coming days, I'll think about it again and find a conclusion. Let's see what's gonna come out :)

October 15, 2017 Hiking around Schwerte!

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It did indeed rain last week. And it actually made me believe that the sunny days were over for this year, because winter is simply horrible in Germany. So I decided to organize a rather rain-proof one with asphalted roads mainly, which led me to the hike in Schwerte. This strategy turned out to be horribly wrong: endless blue sky, like the one you would see at the Mediterranean sea. All this was probably because of the hurricane Ophelia, that's going over Ireland right now.

In such a situation, it was not quite surprising that the number of participants skyrocketed in the last moment. The surprise was maybe the fact that there were only 2 people that arrived in time at Düsseldorf Hbf. (and of course I was not one of them). And on the way to Schwerte, we were getting more and more people. And in the end we were about 40 people. It's been quite a while since we saw so many people last time.

Actually today's trail came from the book that I had borrowed from Felix, who is a coworker of mine. I copied some of the trails, although none of them really convinced me at that time. Still incredulous, I decide to try out this one today. Maybe I discover something positive.

From the main station, we crossed the city going through the city center, which took maybe 10 minutes. Essentially from that moment on, we were in the nature. So far it was good. We had then a very common problem of this region: bicycles. It was certainly not a good choice to walk in a very flat place, especially on asphalted roads, but it is extremely annoying to hear the ringing all the time. Some of them quite excessively. We really have to think about a better solution next time. Today, I was rather near the end of the group. I could hear the conversation of the cyclists coming from the opposite direction: "they were all foreigners.". This happens every now and then, but it must be really weird for them to see so many foreigners in such a small place.

On the map above, we walked clock-wise. There was no reason to do so. Soon, I had to regret my decision: there was a very nice café along the Ruhr river, but it would have been too early to have a break there. If we had walked other way around, that would have been the perfect location.

Anyway, we walked further. You may already know that the region along the Ruhr river is one of my favorite, even if this one did not particularly impress me. Anyway, appropriately enough, we could find a very nice grass field in the middle of nowhere, just as the one we saw in Witten. Just as at that time, we were wondering if the inhabitants would call complain or call the police, because in Germany everything is illegal in principle, although it's apparently not so strict in this region. For example, along the Rhine, it is actually forbidden to do BBQ, but everyone does it. It's unimaginable in other regions in Germany.

It's been some time since we had to look for shadow during the break. Probably it was the last time this year.

The rest of the trail was better than the beginning. Actually I probably should have taken more from this part of Schwerte. Maybe next time, we can go simply southwards from Schwerte, so that we can also walk along the Ruhr. Anyway, Felix's book was just as I thought it would be like. There was no particular surprise. I just wonder, what it would be like, if I write a book about the hiking trails in this region.

The city center of Schwerte was not bad for after-hike, but because of the weather there were a lot of people at the ice cream parlor. And again, everyone was looking at us. So nice :)

October 8, 2017 Hiking from Kettwig to Ratingen!

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I was boasting my luck about the weather in the last several articles. Today, the weather forecast essentially never changed the prediction: rain. That was probably the reason why there were not many people at the meeting point in Düsseldorf. On the other hand, my flatmates, Alfredo and Karina, came together with Mami, who was a friend of mine from Göttingen. And since we did not have enough people, we had to pay for the first time after so many sessions (except for the hike of last week, which did not depend on the number of people participating).

By the way, Clara, who is a Ph.D student in math but doesn't know how to diagonalize a matrix (which, of course, I do), is consistently here when it rains, in particular at Neandertal, Neuss and Xanten. I don't know how she manages to do it every time.

On the way to Kettwig, our starting point, we could see a blue sky and rain at the same time. That's something quite German, an indecisive weather. And fairly enough, it was raining when we arrived there, although it stopped very quickly and it became sunny. There were already some people waiting for us and from their point of view, it must have been like they were waiting for us in the rain, and we brought the sun. Actually, maybe we did.

When we hiked from Werden to Kettwig in April (cf. this page), we took a similar path as the one that we took today at the beginning, although last time we went to a castle there (which was rather boring because we could not get inside), and we went through the main gate of the castle. Just in order to make it slightly different, I chose a path that was right next to the main gate, which probably everyone would have missed if I didn't explicitly say that was the path. Yesterday, it was raining almost all day long. And as I already said, today was also somewhat rainy. In the middle of a forest, it was VERY challenging. I think we all made it (even though I didn't count the number of people so I don't know whether it's true or not), but I must say I was quite amazed by the fact that no one complained.

The sun disappearing incessantly until noon, until we started picnic. Then it started raining. I thought it would be a perfect place with a huge field, also because I brought a volleyball (or made Alfredo bring a volleyball). In the end, we stayed there just for lunch, maybe for 30 minutes. Actually when we were about to leave, the rain had already stopped, but it would have been weird to put all the picnic blankets again. We rather decided to go ahead.

Just with Google maps, you might think that Ratingen is just as interesting as Kettwig for hiking, or maybe at first glance Ratingen looks even better than Kettwig. That's unfortunately not really the case. The region from Ratingen to Duisburg is indeed green, but in contrast to the zones around the Ruhr or the Wupper, this region lacks of wilderness. I don't know how many hiking trails I had to scrap that I had planned for here. Anyway, after the break it was rather insipid, although for a leisure walk, it was maybe not that bad.

At least the rain that came for a couple of minutes during the break did not come back for the rest of the day. That allowed us to stay outside when we arrived in Ratingen. Actually when I created the event around 10 days ago, I wanted to go from Ratingen to Kettwig, but then I changed my mind, because Ratingen has a nice market place with a lot of different bars, which is almost the case in Kettwig too but it's not as large as in Ratingen. And we were still something like 20 people who wanted to stay, I happened to have made a good decision.

Next week, we'll go to Schwerte, which is almost the limit of the VRR region on the eastern edge. Then we'll travel to Traben-Trarbach over a weekend.

October 3, 2017 Hiking to Belgian Dutch German border!

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Yesterday evening:

Clara: "Hey Sam! Organize a guitar-karaoke evening!"

Clara is a mathematician, and we don't really understand much when she talks. Still, I knew that I had to take my guitar to the hike today.

And I knew that I would suffer today for carrying a guitar, because today, we were hiking from Aachen to Belgium, then to the Netherlands along the border. A special hike that I've been planning for some time now, as Aachen is fairly far away from Düsseldorf. And so we decided to do it today, on the German reunification day, which was the last day of this long weekend of 4 days.

The funny thing is that it rained a lot and was partially quite stormy this weekend, but the weather was consistently good, when we were hiking outside. Of course the fact that the weather is always good when I organize a hike has no real basis, but I wouldn't surprised if there were people who believe in it by now.

This trip to Aachen was planned for quite some time now, because it's fairly far away and it's a different railway region, meaning that we needed a special ticket for this trip. I changed the trail several times over the course of last weeks, just to make sure that this is going to be a good one. And appropriately enough, there were almost 40 people this time. It has never been as many as this time since Müngsten bridge, which was long before the summer holidays.

I do truly appreciate the fact that we almost never have to care about the ticket whenever we go hiking in this region, especially today, it was fairly complicated, because there's something called 5-person ticket in Germany, which is way cheaper than 5 times normal ticket. And of course it had to be fully centralized. Fortunately, for those who came there was no problem, they all came early enough today. But there were some people who had confirmed yesterday, for whom I bought an extra ticket, but they didn't appear in the end. Luckily, there were people who joined us later in Cologne who needed a ticket, so in the end it was not exactly wasted. But I don't want to be dependent on my luck every time. So somewhere I'm happy that we don't have to go through this from next time...

Only two days ago, we saw that Schwelm was actually not so small. Surprisingly enough, we managed to get into the nature almost right after we left the train station in Aachen. It's probably related to the fact that the railway makes a circle around Aachen's city center with several stations. So depending on how you start walking, it's relatively easy to get into the nature. Schwelm or Mettmann, on the other hand, have the main station right in the middle of the city. So even though these cities were far smaller, it was not quite easy to get out of the city.

There was some discussion before the beginning of the hike, whether this region was flat or not. Quite some people had guessed it was, probably because we were heading for the Netherlands. For sure, we cannot say we were trekking in the mountains, but it was certainly flat either. Actually this triple point is the highest point in the Netherlands, with 300 something meters above the sea level. It doesn't sound high, but for the Netherlands it's a considerable height.

I was expecting something special at the border to Belgium, at least some sign. Unfortunately, that was not really the case. The only one difference we could see was that we had a blue sky on the German side, and not on the Belgian side, whatever the reason was.

This triple point is actually itself a famous touristic place. And when we arrived, there were a crowd of Germans celebrating there. We went up a tower for 3€50. We wondered who actually gets the money, Germany, Belgium or the Netherlands.

And at the end of the break, it finally made sense that I was carrying my guitar all the time. Whether people sing along is quite culturally dependent. Here in Germany, it seems to be associated with embarrassment, probably because they pretty much never have the opportunity to sing. Fortunately, the Germans in this hiking group, of whom there were quite some today, were different. And so, it really made sense that my guitar was there. The unfortunate thing about singing was also that even though we share the famous songs in America and Western Europe, they are not quite known in other parts of the globe. So since we had only some Europeans and two Americans (Daniel from Mexico and Paloma from Brazil), the majority could not join us. Especially I don't know any song from India. That's something I'll have to change in the near future.

On the way back to Aachen, we lost two people. It doesn't apply only to hikes, but whenever people cannot find each other, people tend to ask "where are you?". And the weird thing is that the other person also asks the same question, leading the conversation nowhere. Actually rather than asking where the other person is, it's much more helpful to say where you are. This is particularly the case for the people in the hikes, because usually they are the ones who are left behind and we know where they should go.

I was planning to go to the city center at the end of the hike, but unfortunately we could not do it. This was the problem with the ticket, as on each ticket, we have to put one name, and almost all those who put their names wanted to go back home. So we didn't really have a choice. As a matter of fact, there was no control on the way to Aachen this morning. I somehow managed to stay there, because Kairi, who had a ticket, wanted to stay there with the Asian participants (+Sarah).

October 1, 2017 Hiking in Schwelm!

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A couple days ago, the weather forecast was predicting a rainy weekend. And appropriately enough, Tuesday is the reunification day, which makes a long weekend for many people stretching from Saturday to Tuesday.

And just as predicted, it rained a lot on Saturday. On this day, however, there was Bhagyashree who wanted to go hiking. Even though she put me as an organizer too, I had already declined it beforehand, because it was a bit far away from Düsseldorf and I had to be back home early. It rarely rains whenever I go hiking, but on the two hikes that I did not attend, it rained a lot. So the contrary might also be the case (that it rains if I'm not there).

As you can easily guess, my strong luck was confirmed on Sunday again: it was the sunniest day of the week. When we were on the train we could feel the sunlight coming in all the time. Hopefully day after tomorrow will be similar, since we're going to hike near Aachen towards the Belgian and Dutch border.

Despite the weather, there were actually not many people today. Probably because of the long weekend. I myself would have travelled if there was no hike, which is a weird thing because when I was still a student, I used to do expensive travels, going to Paris for example and staying in hotels. Now that I earn far more, I stay only nearby. And I'm still fully enjoying my holidays.

If you take a look at my entire map, you'll notice that there are quite some trails concentrated around Schwelm, between Wuppertal and Hagen. Most of them were created recently, but we could not do the old ones during the summer vacation either, since the entire region was not accessible by train. And for this reason, I don't have a clear idea of what it looks like here either. In this sense, this one hike was a particularly important one determining the hikes of the coming weeks.

And as it turned out, the landscape was pretty much the same as in the West of Wuppertal. Quite some forest, slopes and some farms in between. So the distance we covered, 15km, was about the maximum of what we all can do. If I can change one thing, maybe I should have chosen a path that directly leads to the forest. Just as we had the same problem in Mettmann (cf. this) recently, I didn't think Schwelm was so large.

It's a rather side story, but Sarah decided to celebrate her birthday in a restaurant. And for this, we went to Sichuan Restaurant, which is my favorite, because we can get authentic Sichuan food and all you can drink. It's pretty much the unhealthiest place in Düsseldorf, and every time I regret to have ordered too much beer. This was particularly the case today. I was even not really sure if I'd go hiking. I did. And still I can't believe I did it.

It's been a couple of sessions that we're having a break in the middle of nowhere. There must have been a restaurant nearby, and indeed some people also went there, but I don't know exactly how close it was. It was good that we did this hike now, because in winter it would have been complicated, I guess.

We had these perfect Supermario mushrooms everywhere on the way today. I wonder whether I become taller if I eat them.

In the original plan, we were supposed to go to Schwelm West, which is a different train station. As many stations in this area, there was obviously nothing around the station. So I decided to make a slight change in the trail, so that we'd arrive at Schwelm. This kind of change doesn't happen very often, but it might be an advantage that we're quite flexible. I still don't really like the fact that I'm acting like a dictator, but as long as we have nothing too complicated, maybe it's fine.

Schwelm was somewhat larger than what we expected. And the city center had also some stuff to offer, fortunately. We could sit in an ice cream parlor comfortably. The tradition of ordering beer at an ice cream parlor had to be cancelled this time. I didn't even want to think about alcohol.

From here, a bit of personal stuff: back in Lyon, it was my flatmate, Adrián, who took the initiative of events for everyone. After some time, I started doing it as well. Now without him, it feels weird that I'm doing it all alone. Anyway, I'm not Adrián, and Düsseldorf is not Lyon. With this in mind, it will probably take some time for me to establish the know-how. I had a bit of hard time after the cooking session that we organized a couple weeks ago, which had an effect on the organization of the hike over a weekend at the end of October, which was organized about in the same period of time. At the same time, as I really wanted to do it successfully, I put more pressure on the people. In the end, the organization was completed very quickly and now we only have to go there and enjoy.

So after seeing this success, I thought it might be interesting to organize an even more complex trip. And I saw that we could rent apartments over Easter for 20 people. It's a bit early, but I did it. I'm not making a list of participants yet, but it would be nice if you can start thinking about it seriously. I can cancel the reservation until the beginning of March, but for now it's very likely that I'm gonna truly organize it. A bit of risk is there, but I'm fully enjoying my life here.

Personal stuff: