February 18, 2018 Hiking at Aprath!

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50 times. Yes, 50 times. That's the number of hikes that I organized since I arrived here in Düsseldorf. If I look back now and think of what it was like to come so far, I can hardly believe that my capricious idea of going hiking every Sunday turned into such a success in the meantime. Stefan told me it was the highlight of the year. Vitali met his girlfriend on a hike, so did Nicola, too (although I don't know their girlfriends so well). On this occasion, I'll write about living abroad as a foreigner coming from a very different culture below. But before doing so, let's see what the hike of today was like.

I must have talked about my flatmate Alfredo who went to the Caribbean some time ago. During his absence, his room is essentially empty. So he decided to sublet his room. Now I'm having a temporary German flatmate, Axel, who joined us on the hike this week.

In strong contrast to last week, we had a quite substantial number of people in front of the central station today. But it was quite tight regarding the number of people who had a ticket. We just got it right.

Today's hike, around Aprath, was a kind of hike that I made up just in order to have something that can be done in winter. I would certainly not do this hike in summer, but anyway right now we can be happy to be able to go out at the first place. So a satisfactory hike, not much more than that.

It's been quite some time that it's sunny here in this region. So I thought I wouldn't need my hiking shoes this time. Quickly I realized that I was quite wrong: there was still snow lying here. Aprath right in the north of Wuppertal, it has a fairly distinct climate. So it's actually not so surprising that it was different. I just didn't expect anything like this. And it was quite slippery. Good that I didn't fall down (although some of us did).

I was planning to have a break at a tennis court on the way, which on the map said had a restaurant. Whenever I see something like this, I should probably also make sure that it's open, because it rarely is. And appropriately enough, it was closed, just because it was closed since last Monday for some time. Still, the place itself was open and we could use the toilet. And it had a nice playground right next to it. We had a break there. Nice to see that we can have a proper break outside again. Even though there was still some snow, it was not that cold outside.

The way back to the train station was just as complicated as the first part. Quite muddy at some points. But we had a better mixture of forest and fields. And sunny. That's when it becomes nice to make photos :)

There's this restaurant called Aprath mill at the end of the hike, which has rather horrible references on google. Since we were just staying for a short while, I thought anything would be fine. As we found out, the staff were really friendly.

So, the 50th time. About a year went on and we came so far now. I have no idea how many people I met over this year. All of us started as strangers. We all got connected, over the hikes.

Abound three years ago in this period of time, I hosted a schoolgirl from Japan at my place, who was staying in Germany for an exchange year. The very reason that I knew her was because I gave a German course to a group of Japanese exchange students about half a year earlier, and she was one of my students. On this occasion, I wanted to know what she found difficult in her life in Germany.

"Nothing in particular, but I don't know how to behave with those who want to help me."


February 11, 2018 Hiking from Steele to Hattingen!

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This week saw a radical change at my place. I'm not really sure, if I already wrote that my flatmate, Alfredo, went to the Caribbean for 2 months for his work, which happened last weeks. And on Tuesday this week, Karina, who is Alfredo's girlfriend and also lived here, announced she was leaving for the Caribbean as well, exactly the day after she told it to me. So all of a sudden, I'm living all alone in this large apartment, although it's very likely that their room will be occupied by another person, whoever it is going to be.

Today's hike was supposed to be from Steele to Bochum. However, those who knew the region found the trail extremely unattractive (not quite surprisingly, since it was essentially going through the city), which made me change it to the one that we did today. It was pretty much the same station, just the destination was quite different. While creating this trail, I was myself not quite impressed by it. The fact that there were already some people who had signed up for the event made me unwilling to change the location. And this was the best possible choice, I believe.

It is again the carnival week here in this region, from Thursday to Monday. To cite what Théo last year said "it's the only week of the year where Germans are funny". Even if this statement is a bit exaggerated, it's true that it's a crazy week and you can see people, well dressed up and well prepared, everywhere in the street. I was walking towards the railway station in this craze, to see only Ehsan. Today, we were exactly two people when we entered the station. Even at the very first hike, we were four. Well, it's maybe rather weird that we were still going hiking on the day of Carnival. Fortunately, more and more people joined on the way. When we arrived at Essen-Steele Ost, we were around 25 people.

In the first 30 min or so after we left the train station we were just going through civilization. Actually we could have started at Essen-Horst. It was just a question of train connection that made me choose Essen-Steele. Probably rather a stupid decision in the end, because we could have been directly to the Ruhr river if we had arrived at Horst.

While walking along the Ruhr river, I noticed that the water was extremely clean there. There was no real beach, but it was so shallow that probably we can go into water in summer. Another nice discovery along the Ruhr river.

When we started walking, the weather was not so bad. The situation changed very quickly right before the break. We quickly quit the riverbank and went into Dahlhausen, a small city near the river. There we found this place, Pizzaland, which was clearly not run by Italians but had enough space for everyone inside. And fortunately enough for us, there was no one inside. The staff must have been overwhelmed by the sudden appearance of such a mass.

We had a short hilly section of nature after we left Dahlhausen. But we quickly came back to civilization and the hike went towards the end. The others must have had the feeling that we hardly walked in the nature.

At least Hattingen was a nice place, with a good old city center. Thomas and Conrad did a short tourist guide for us. At the end, we went to a nearby café. Hattingen is certainly going to be the destination again, probably in a few weeks. Thomas seems to know this region well, so I'll look forward to his suggestions.

On the way back home, on the train, there was one incident that took place. And since it was particularly important for me, I wanted to write it down here. But before talking about what happened and what I want to write, maybe it's good to understand two German things: firstly, here in Germany it is not very common to make jokes. Especially after I came back from France, I engendered several horrible moments where German people did not understand that I was telling jokes. Now it doesn't happen very often that I make this mistake, but if you don't come from Germany, it's probably important to keep it in mind. The second quite German thing is that here what boys say matters A LOT. So whether you say nice things or stupid things doesn't really matter. If you are a boy, everyone pays attention to each and every word you say. If you are a girl, apparently it does not matter. Again, when I came back from France, it felt like I suddenly became a very important person.

And here I am. As you might already know, I love telling stupid things. Especially I do it often during these hikes, also in order to avoid to be respected and honored by the people as a leading person. So, since I am a boy and love to tell stupid things, I am like the worst person for Germany. It's not difficult to understand that it's almost inevitable that I have problems here. Fortunately, there are some people like Oli or Jen, to whom I can tell stupid things. And they can fire back. Of course I don't start doing the same thing with those who don't understand it.

In this context, I said something stupid and fairly horrible to Oli and she immediately started firing back. So far, it was fine. The problem was, there was one German girl in front of me, who obviously did not understand what was going on (I can understand, because it's difficult to know when Oli is joking by looking at her reactions), and she started intervening in it, accusing me of being sexist and telling me that boys don't understand how girls actually feel. Well, it's true that what I said would have been unacceptable if I was saying it to a random person in Germany. But this is not the point. What throws a big question to me is the fact that she intervened.

It's been a couple of months since this MeToo movement started. Notably, we saw Larry Nassar and Harvey Weinstein who were accused of sexual abuse.

In this story, what was striking to me was e.g. this video, where the female sexual victims of Larry Nassar are seemingly confronting their abuser. We can see 8 female faces that pop up on the first page.

Is this representation normal to you?

Here, let's suppose you went through the same abuse. It must have been a disgusting experience with a life-long nightmare. Now, you are reduced just one eighth of the picture, treated just as one of "those victims". But you must have had your own sickening experiences, that are not to be reduced to just one of those pieces to fight against the abuser.

We can also put it other way around. If there was only one person accusing Larry Nassar instead of eight or one hundred, would we still have respected how she felt? I don't know. At least that's not what we've been observing.

Are we truly trying to understand each and every victim?

On the other hand, there was this French actress, Brigitte Lahaie, who said you can enjoy being raped (cf. this article). Later on, she apologized... but for what? For telling what she truly thought? Do we really live in a society where people are punished for telling what they think? That's ridiculous. We cannot possibly forbid people to be true to themselves.

To me, what's wrong is clear: each and every person is different. Just as this German girl cannot possibly represent Oli, whose name she didn't even know, we cannot possibly say that boys don't understand how girls really feel.

Germany doesn't like problems that cannot be treated systematically. Around 10 years ago, we had a huge problem of school bullying here. At that time, I participated in a discussion table, where we invited a schoolteacher who presented us what was being done. She spoke of the systems at her school and explained how the school bullying would be solved automatically. I still remember how ridiculous it sounded, as if all the schoolchildren were the same. The same problem could be observed this week, in this couch surfing event, where they were talking about racism in Germany. One guy proudly said: "Black facing is actually NOT considered racism by the black community in Germany! I've checked with them". And all of a sudden, all the black people were reduced to the standards given by the "black community".

Sure, the recent development of this MeToo movement is certainly a good thing. Yet I don't want to live in a society, where individual sentiments are reduced to social standards. Particularly not, if they start separating people by gender or race. In this sense, I really didn't want to hear anything like "boys don't understand girls", not only because it's substantially wrong, but also ethically. In fact, this phrase itself is sexist.

Oli doesn't like that I say "hey guys", because she thinks "guys" sounds like "boys". According to the Oxford dictionary it's not exactly true ("guys" includes both genders), but I still try to respect what she says (even though I still don't know whether she's just joking or not). Now I try to replace "hey guys" by "hey everyone", which was at least the case in the invitation for the movie session last week (2 weeks ago it was in Russian so it didn't matter). It's not easy, but I'm trying my best.

5 years ago, I finished my bicycle trip from France to Japan with similar thoughts. It's a wonder that the same principle is still persisting: yes, the society might be requiring you to stick to whatever ethical standards. But the matter is much more simple to me: there's you, there's me and there's the world.

And nothing in between.

February 4, 2018 Hiking at Hagen-Dahl!

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Yes, indeed, all those gray days are now over. Now it's almost quite common to see an endless blue sky for a few days in a row. Great --- well not so quickly. We may have got the sun back, but we traded off the temperature. Now, it looks like the winter finally arrived. And the temperature hardly goes above 0 degrees. My flatmate, Karina, who comes from the south of Spain, looks like she's living in hell.

And the hike of this week was severely hit. It is almost a wonder that people still come to join us. Stefan, who joined us last time at the legendary hike a few weeks ago, somehow decided to join us for the first time since then. Such an unlucky guy.

By the way, I started organizing the hikes February 5, 2017, which was tomorrow of a year ago. I put the hike while I was still in France, i.e. way ahead of the date. I still remember how disappointed I was to see only one participant from CS (Chaomo, who happened to join us quite often after that). Just as on that day, there was quite some snow on the way today, although we were nearly 30 people this time.

Today, we went to Hagen, pretty much for the first time, although this region is known to be quite mountaneous. The very reason why we never went there was because I did not know exactly up to which station was the VRR region, in which we can move for free. In particular, I thought it was up to Hagen central station. In fact, we could go a couple of stations further, which allows us to organize a bunch of new hikes.

11am in front of the train station. As always, I arrived fairly late, pretty much the last person to arrive. It was just simply too cold. Not quite a wonder that Ariana, who comes from Venezuela, did not want to join the group outside.

To the south of Hagen, there's the river Volme, which you'll see Google does not really want to understand (because it thinks what you wanted to write was "volume"), which makes a valley, where there's a small railway line. We stopped at Dahl and started hiking, which was the second last station from the end of the VRR region.

The first hike at Hagen turned out to be just as difficult as I had imagined, namely about the same level as Gevelsberg, but maybe a bit harder. It was extremely cold outside, but we were probably all sweating inside. The steep path right from the beginning was simply impressive.

Just a couple of days before the hike, I changed the path, in order to include Rummenohl instead of Priorei, because I saw that the temperature would be below 0 and there was only a petrol station at Priorei, whereas at Rummenohl there was a train station and a hotel (with a restaurant inside obviously). This modification changed the total length (from 12 to 14 km), but I thought it was a justified decision. When we saw Rummenohl from the top of the mountain, it just looked all promising.

However, as it turned out, the restaurant inside the hotel was already closed. I had something to eat so I went up to the nearby church and sat there with some other people, even though it started snowing in that moment. In this already extremely cold weather, it felt like a punishment. We finished the break as quickly as possible.

The problem was, those who needed something to eat went to a restaurant far away from the meeting point, so that they needed more time to come back. We, standing in front of the hotel, were trying to negotiate with the staff in the restaurant in order to sit inside. We were straightforwardly refused, although they allowed us to use the restrooms. This must have been a huge mistake for them since obviously our boots left dirts everywhere. On the other hand, I sincerely think that they would have made a significant amount of money if they had let us in.

The return journey towards Dahl was far more difficult than the first half. Somehow, we were climbing an extremely high hill for quite some time. I liked it, but it must have been horribly hard for those who joined for the first time.

No beer and nothing at the end of the hike today. But I promise that we'll come back here in the near future. Maybe not in winter, but I saw a very beautiful landscape today. I'll just look forward to the future sessions.

January 28, 2018 Hiking from Meerbusch to Krefeld!

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Surprise of the day: my Ph.D student, Omkar, from India, sent me a facebook friends request. He is actually so polite (just as all the others from India) that I never know whether he finds the meetings with me useful or just abominable. At least it's good to know that he didn't find me as abhorrent as I had feared, although obviously there's still a long way to go until he truly understands that there's no need to feel any barrier.

Another thing that happened this week, that was extremely important: I bought a dishwasher. It's been actually quite some time that I thought about it. I was never really sure about it, but this is a kind of things that would always disturb you, and once you buy it, you don't have to think about it anymore, even if it's expensive. Now, the life is completely different for me. And it makes it also significantly easier to invite other people here.

So finally back to the hike. It's been quite some time since we went to the other side of the Rhine last time. As a matter of fact, it was the beginning of September. This area is just too flat for hiking. And the last one we did, which was from Meerbusch to Neuss, was not even particularly beautiful. Nevertheless, it's nice to go everywhere inside the VRR region.

My work (as a scientist) is going pretty well these days, so that I took the advantage of living right next to the train station and worked at home before going to the hike, which made me arrive almost too late. There was apparently a certain confusion at the station, although in the end we all managed to see each other in the train. This time, we took the subway (which is actually not underground most of the time).

The weather forecast predicted rain until yesterday. In reality, it never rained. Winter is probably not over, but those awful days might be gone. After all, December was just too horrible. It should be somewhere recompensed

Just as last time, there was a huge confusion regarding the starting point. The problem was clearly the way the subway/tram stop was constructed, namely only one side of the railway line was accessible. There were Ariana and Cláudia who lived in Meerbusch, both of whom showed a different direction than my trail. I decided to ignore them and go my way. So weird that no one complains.

Compared to the hike from Meerbusch to Neuss, this hike was way nicer, even though the weather was much better last time. Well, the question is maybe also what the "normal" weather is like. At that time, it was sunny everyday. Today, we were happy that it did not rain.

As you might already know, I learned Persian when I was in Iran. After that, I went back to France, where there was pretty much no Iranian. There in France, I almost never spoke Persian, which made it difficult speak it again. Now, here in Germany, I have five Iranians in my institute. And almost at each hike, there are Iranians. Today, there were four of them. Not quite for the first time since I was in Germany, but today I tried hard to speak Persian. It sounded horrible, but still I did it. I'm extremely proud of myself.

The final destination of today's hike was Linn castle, which was right next to Krefeld. We finished there, took a group picture and went to a café nearby.

January 21, 2018 Hiking at Nierenhof!

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This week, I was in Austria from Monday to Friday, for the second time this month. This time, it was a group trip with my lab. While we had some leisure time there, it was snowing pretty much all the time, and the most important activity seemed to be presentations. Honestly, for someone like me who looks for interesting stuff, it's really difficult to understand why people still present stuff in conference manner. Anyway, I had my own style, and it was hugely successful, although the sense of success was largely drained by the 10-hour bus trip to and from Austria. The 3-hour train ride to Externsteine last year was already horrible. I'm happy that we don't have to go so far away for the hikes.

So today, the hike went to Velbert-Nierenhof, right next to Essen. The line that connects Essen and Wuppertal has already been visited several times (Langenberg, Neviges, Wülfrath etc.), but we have never been to Nierenhof, although I always saw a huge potential because of the proximity to the Ruhr river.

I did not talk about it last time, because I was not really sure about it, but it's been confirmed: now there are intrinsically more people. And the reason is because apparently Couch surfing changed the criterion for "nearby events", which were only really the events in the same city. Now, I can also see events from nearby cities like Cologne or Essen. Obviously, there were more people who saw the event from other cities and they decided to join us. That made 41 participants today. Really not bad for this period of time.

This was one of the hiking paths that I had downloaded from wanderwege-nrw, but I had to change it a lot in order to have a place to have a break. The original path was fortunately fairly short, so it was not difficult to include a nearby city (Niederwenigern). Anyway, my only one concern was that there were quite some negative references on the website about this trail, although it did not look so bad on the map.

From Nierenhof, we directly went towards the nearby hill, which was right next to the Ruhr river. Actually, the path was going through the top of the hill, so that it was going down on both sides, something we don't see very often, as from the practical point of view, usually there's no reason to go over the top of the mountain, but it offered a quite spectacular view.

There were two surprises today. One was that Clara, who moved to Darmstadt because of her Ph.D supervisor joined us this time. The second was that the weather forecast was predicting a good weather for today all the time, but then as it turned out ... it was rather rainy... If you've been following my blog for a while, you certainly know that Clara was the person who always brought the rain. And here she is. She's still capable of doing what she is known for.

Quite some time ago, we had 6-year-old Indira when we hiked at Solingen, who surprised all of us by walking up to the end with us. This time, we had a new record: Amin brought his daughter, who was 2 years old. Not that she managed to walk all the time, but still she managed to walk quite some distance.

The city, Niederwenigern, where I thought it would be nice to have a break, was not that small. Yet, as it turned out, there was nothing open there. Strangely enough, I had something to eat myself for the first time in quite some weeks. At least there was a petrol station nearby that was open so some people could use the toilet there.

On the way back towards Niefenhof, I talked about our weekend trip to Cochem. It's true that I haven't talked about it with a lot of people so far, but there are only 8 people who are interested right now. In fact, I also managed to get the group membership card for the German Youth Hostel Association, so I was thinking about organizing a lot of overnight trips in the coming weeks, but I have to see how things evolve from now on...

Unfortunately, there was no bar and no café (at least for this number of people) at Nierenhof. So in the end, we took a train directly back to Düsseldorf.

January 14, 2018 Hiking at Gevelsberg!

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Welcome to 2018! And from my side, welcome back to the hike! Just as last year, we'll also hike throughout the year in 2018. And hopefully, it's gonna be just as successful as last year.

On couch surfing we were seeing more than 60 people who signed up. It's not rare. After all, I've already seen something like 100 people once who signed up, but usually most of them don't turn up. Maybe there's something like new year's resolution for everyone. And it might have been related to going hiking regularly. If not, it might have been because of the weather today, that there were mind blowing 55 people who came to the hike. I had the feeling that most of the new participants were German. Nice to see so many locals here.

We went to Gevelsberg some months ago (cf. this post). And just like last time, we quickly lost what we could call a "trail". With so many people joining for the first time, it must have been a surprise to see such a hike, especially with this number of people. The number of people is not something I controlled, although the trail was not either...

Still, it was nice to see that no one gave up on the way. We all made it up to Voerde, where we made a small break. Like every other German city, it had a nice place in front of the church. As many of us and I did not have anything to eat, we stormed a nearby kebab shop who was run by a one poor Turkish guy who was hopelessly serving all of us at the same time.

In this great weather, it was just a little bit cold to eat outside, but otherwise there was nothing uncomfortable about it. December was just miserable this year. Great to see that now it's not the same anymore. Hopefully it's gonna continue.

From the break to the end of the hike was fairly straightforward. I must say, we were extremely lucky that it went smoothly with so many people. On the way, we saw a couple of locals who were obviously shocked to see so many people at the same time in such a small place.

Also, we were extremely lucky concerning the end of the hike, because there was a fairly large bakery at Gevelsberg, which we had actually already crashed before. In fact, the bakery was not particularly empty when we arrived, but somehow while we were ordering stuff, we managed to make it empty. Someday, we'll certainly get a problem...