September 30, 2018 Hiking at Schwelm!

Everyone know autumn is the perfect season for hiking, and today was a great example. Probably since last Sunday, the weather forecast was sure about today's weather. Pity, that it's the transition period and not many people join.

In contrast to the great weather, I wasn't really looking forward to today's hike. Partially because we've been to Schwelm already several times. This region between Wuppertal and Hagen is a precious area that offers many hiking trails. I just feel we've been going there too often. Of course it also testifies it is a great place, but concerning today's trail, I rather had the feeling it's going to be a bit boring with too many trees and less variety.

And just as it is the transition period now, many don't have their tickets yet. And there was a huge ticket shortage this morning. In the end, by combining several tickets we managed to get almost all the tickets. I'm really stupid that I organized it in Schwelm today, whereas the possibility of hiking near Düsseldorf was actually there.

At first, it indeed looked like it was going to be a boring trail today, but as we proceeded, we actually saw quite a few changes on the way. There were constant changes in landscape, as well as altitude (which was something I was expecting anyway). Hm, actually Schwelm could be more interesting than I had previously thought.

At the same time, it was also a wild area. There were huge trees lying on the path. And we had to literally climb up to continue. There were also those who came for the first time. It must have been a surprising experience for them. Not that I care, though.

Fortunately, even on the steep and narrow forest paths, nothing bad happened. This time, I'm not exaggerating. I'm really happy that nothing happened.

There were free apples on the way (just like this on the photo). They were probably not expecting this large number of people; obviously almost all of the apples disappeared within a few minutes. This year apparently we are having surplus apples. Pity that not the same thing is happening with the computer.

We had a break at Beyenburg. I knew there was a nice café there. Due to the great weather, it was well crowded and we were treated like we were slaves, while being clients. We had a similar experience last week.

The rest of the trail was just as wild as before. This was actually what I was expecting for today, as there is one mountain between Beyenburg and Schwelm (which was today's destination), and we already bypassed this mountain both to the right and the left, so this time, we directly went through this mountain. Great that we climbed right up after the break.

We've already been to Schwelm several times, but still I wanted to come back here, because there's a nice ice cream dealer close to the train station. This small ice cream dealer is every time hopelessly overcrowded because of our presence. And even though I don't apologize to the poor locals who probably feel invaded, I do actually feel sorry. Not that we stop doing it, though :)

September 23, 2018 Hiking from Essen Stadtwald to Kettwig!

Only a few weeks ago, I was saying summer was over. Today, winter arrived. Maybe it's going to snow next week. Who knows.

The very reason was because there was this storm called Fabienne arriving in Germany exactly today. It must have been severely affected in the south. Not because the center of storm was there, but because most likely, the German railway stopped working. Here around Düsseldorf, fortunately, it was not quite the case, but I was cursing the storm for bringing the rain exactly today and only today, although I should probably also say we must have been lucky to not have been affected by rain so much this year.

Anyway, watching the weather forecast this morning, I was almost hoping no one would turn up today, which I knew of course would never happen. Since the snow storm of last year, I hardly believe there'd be any weather that would entirely inhibit all the people to come. And this was pretty much the case today. On the other hand, it was also Jen's last hike, so I couldn't have cancelled it anyway.

The fact that there were quite a few people turning up might have been related to the short break of rain around the meeting time. As soon as we got on the train, it started to rain again.

You might remember me saying I bought a new pair of hiking shoes at the end of last year. They are still there and still in good shape. However, today I decided to take my umbrella and didn't really care about taking hiking shoes. After all, it wasn't raining so hard. Since I was ready quite early this morning, I went to the DB lounge, which is available to frequent travelers inside the central station (I feel old). I had a cup of coffee, left the place, and quickly realized that I had left my umbrella there. I went back, and it was already gone. I mean, I don't so much care about the money that I lost for this loss, but still it gives me a weird feeling that it is often claimed these days here that the increase of refugees in Germany led to security problems in Germany. It's not only the indigenous Germans who use the DB lounge, but it must have been someone who's been here for a substantial amount of time in order to get the status of frequent traveler. So my umbrella is gone, on a rainy day, where I'd actually need it pretty much the entire day for the first time this year.

It's been a long time since we were in the Ruhr region for a hike last time. I was happy to be near Düsseldorf and see something beautiful. It's not really something that is crucial to me, but still I would like to share my first amazement of discovering beautiful things nearby, without even undertaking a long hour journey.

My wish to see something beautiful was quickly destroyed when we arrived at Essen-Stadtwald, as the rain continued falling down. My shoes were completely soaked. If at least I had had my hiking shoes, I might have still somewhat enjoyed the trail.

We had a break at a fancy restaurant on top of a hill. Right before we reached it, the rain briefly stopped, allowing me to have my lunch quickly outside, just to find out it was really only briefly. The staff at the restaurant obviously were trying to dodge us, seeing we were bringing only mud to the restaurant. It's a bit sad that in such restaurants they don't offer particularly good cakes.

Most all of the people actually decided to go back home after the break. We were maybe 7 or 8 after the break. There, actually the rain stopped. Somehow it happens often that the weather becomes better after the hike. On the other hand, I guess we never had rain after the break when it wasn't raining before the break. Maybe there's an explanation for that. Anyway, it was cold, extremely cold. That's by the way the reason why there aren't so many photos here, as I didn't want to take out my phone.

I met a girl from Dominican republic today. After quite some time, I could have a full conversation in Spanish. Whereas I probably speak Spanish better than Italian now, I have never been to a Spanish speaking country. This is probably the reason that, in strong contrast to Italian, I'm not really interested in Spanish. I know I would love it once I go to a Spanish speaking country, and I'm still trying to find opportunities to keep up with their language.

After the hike, we had some time to stay in Kettwig, which is one of the most beautiful cities around Düsseldorf in my opinion. Having an ice cream after the hike in Kettwig has almost become a tradition for us.

When I was sitting on the train today, I was really happy that we were heading back home. So much for today's hike, the very last one for Jen. From next week on I'll have to organize quite some stuff all alone, although on normal hikes there's pretty much no difference, but on weekend hikes I'll certainly feel quite an amount of work befalling me. Well, I'll for now look forward to whatever progress she's gonna make in Japan and wait to see what's gonna happen afterwards. After all, she might be back before the next weekend hike. Well, let's see.

September 16, 2018 Hiking at Königswinter!

There are beautiful corners inside the VRR region, like Hagen of last week's hike. But they are still not comparable with the south of North Rhine-Westphalia, like along the Rhein between Koblenz and Bonn. I was quite looking forward to today's hike to Königswinter, a famous castle on top of a hill with a great view over the Rhine. If you've been following me for more than a year, you might remember our hike last year, where we were essentially in the same region. At that time, the entire event was overshadowed by the delays of German railway and the bad weather. And especially because it was not a success last time, my expectations were even greater this time. After all, it was to be nicely warm and a little bit cloudy, the best weather you can think of when you go hiking.

This time, I organized the event also on Spontacts, which is a German meet-up website, and accordingly it's known only in the German speaking countries. Since it was for free, I thought I'd give it a try. And I must say I saw a completely different community (30+ and German) than in Couchsurfing (20s and international). But why not? After all, those who want to stay together can stick together, and maybe also there's a new type of mixture for those who haven't tried it out. There were something like 8 people who signed up. It must have been a shock for them to see this large group after all.

Today, early in the morning. We were trying to figure out which tickets to buy. We got two group tickets, and we had to ditch those who came just before the train departure. I did write in the event description page that it was outside the VRR and we had to buy tickets, but the event description becoming longer and longer over time, probably there aren't so many people any more who read it to the full extent. Next time, maybe I should write it in the WhatsApp group as well, even though it was also exploding with the overwhelming number of messages flying around.

When we arrived at Bad Honnef, our starting point and also the last station in North Rhine-Westphalia, we must have been something like 50 people.

The new semester is going to start at the beginning of next month. There are therefore some new students joining us today, exploring the area and meeting new people. I was glad to see 4 people joining us from our institute, even though none of them were from my department.

It took some time to leave the city of Bad Honnef. But then it went up like forever. Compared to the mountaneous regions in other countries with a height difference of maybe 300m, but we were still suffering a lot. It felt like it was summer again with this temperature.

So, Jan was there today, who actively changed the trail two weeks ago. Today, it wasn't Jan, but it was the front group that took a completely wrong path, which made us follow a completely different route altogether. This made the trail slightly longer, but probably the outcome was pretty much the same, as we were walking through a forest all the time with zero possibility of knowing what was the altitude at each moment.

On top of the hill, there was one castle called Löwenburg, which is a medieval castle just as every corner in this region between Bonn and Mainz. To be honest, there's nothing to see in big cities in Germany (mainly because most of the stuff was destroyed during the war), but these castles/fortresses make Germany so unique and attractive that I can start thinking Germany is underestimated in tourism in this regard. Anyway, we stayed there for lunch, and continued the break in the nearby restaurant, a nice place where I had a piece of horrible cake. Even though I really liked the place, the break was clearly too long (with around one hour and a half). It felt weird to continue walking afterwards.

The landscape looked EXACTLY the same all the time. It almost gave me the impression that we were going the same path all the time, with a lot of trees on both sides and almost nothing to see otherwise. Now looking at the landscape with Google maps, I don't think it would have been better in any way, but still I must say it didn't meet my expectations at all.

But still I must say in this great weather, the castle Drachenfels was just so incredibly spectacular that it's almost a shame nothing in the VRR region could ever be at the same level. The photos you see here tell you to a certain extent what it was like, but being there was a completely different story. And you will know what I meant with "Germany is underestimated".

With Drachenfels being so spectacular, there's one thing I didn't do well today: time management. When we arrived at Drachenfels, there were three groups of people. One was those who wanted to go back as quickly as possible, maybe because of the accumulated exhaustion which was certainly not negligible with so much up and down all way long. Another one was those who wanted to go to the museum of the castle, which was not where we were in that moment (Drachenfels actually consists of two places; one is the castle and another one is the ruin, of which the ruin was where we were and the castle was the museum). And the last group, that wanted to stay there to enjoy some moments in this great view. If we had had more time, we could have stayed there together without having to think about when to move, but since the museum was closing only within an hour and we were anyway destined to arrive in Düsseldorf after 8pm, we were in a hurry. So even on the group photo we don't see all the people. We simply got dispersed as quickly as possible.

So did the end of the day go to an end. There was Robin, who had our 5-person ticket, who didn't want to go back home and stay in the museum instead, although all the other 4 people wanted to go back home (and had to buy tickets in the end since he stayed there). I still feel how badly it went at the end of the day, with the lack of time and the chaos it caused. With the hiking trail itself not being quite interesting, I must admit it wasn't much more of a success than the last time we were at Drachenfels last year.

At the same time, I should probably remember that the hikes started in a completely different way, namely we were actually walking through nearby (almost dull) regions, looking for beautiful local landscapes and finding the joy of discovering the beauty of the neighbourhood. And that was where people found it so attractive. Maybe it was anyway wrong to try to go to famous regions far away. Maybe I should come back to my first principles and try to find the beauty there. In this sense, we can now look forward to the hike next week, where we'll walk from Essen Stadtwald to Kettwig, something we didn't do since last winter. Let's see what's going to come out next week.

September 9, 2018 Hiking from Rummenohl to Hohenlimburg!

Thank God summer is over!

You might be thinking I said it sarcastically. Well, even ignoring the fact that I'm anyway not a big fan of summer, I cannot describe how much we suffered this summer. And today was particularly a day that demonstrated how nice autumn is. Exactly the right temperature, with exactly the right amount of clouds, I might have completely ignored the joy of being outside if I hadn't been out for today's hike. And I'm certainly not the only one thinking this way.

And I must say I'm proud of myself for having chosen today's hike correctly. Namely, we went to Hagen, probably the most exciting region inside VRR for hikers. I was kind of surprised that there were only about 30 people today. This might have been caused by the fact that there were quite some people who declared their absence ceremonially in the WhatsApp group today. I still don't know what is the purpose of those who declare their absence on WhatsApp, but I happened to read an article on BBC this week, which says you should say something before leaving the group. This is extremely wrong in our case. The main reason of this is because the WhatsApp conversations become usually overfilled, which simply cannot be avoided because of the geographical distribution of the participants and the unpredictable nature of the German railway. So in the effort of reducing the number of comments, I ask the people to simply leave the group. But at the same time, probably the comments saying they are not coming make the impression that there are only those who won't come, especially because it's normal that you see only comments that say they aren't coming because there's no reason for those who are coming to say in the WhatsApp group they are coming.

Anyway, even though I arrived at the station in time this morning, I went to the DB lounge and joined the group only a few minutes before the departure of our train. And this brought an unexpected consequence: there weren't enough tickets and we didn't know how many tickets we had to buy (NB for those who don't know the system: a monthly card holder can take another person for free on weekends in this area). Quickly we counted the number of people on the spot. There were three missing. The train ticket for Hagen costs about 15 € per person for the normal fare. Now it's been a few weeks that the VRR app doesn't let us buy tickets online, so we were trying to figure out which ticket to buy with this stupid vending machine. There were also group tickets and day tickets etc. While checking for the train ticket, some people with tickets arrived. And in the meantime, I also found out it was possible to buy tickets with the DB app, so we hurried to the platform. With Markus waiting at the platform, we thought we had enough tickets, but there was still one missing. We anyway took the train, and counted the number of tickets again, still one missing. But there was one person having a job ticket, which is valid inside the Düsseldorf region, but not for Hagen. For this kind of ticket, there's something called "Zusatzticket" (additional ticket), which extends its validity, and this one is WAY cheaper than the normal ticket from Düsseldorf to Hagen. I just had to buy this one, but I didn't know how to do it with the DB app. In this moment, I saw an inspector entering the train. And I didn't want to take the risk of paying the penalty of 60 € plus possibly a criminal record, so I bought the normal ticket from Düsseldorf to Hagen, for 15 €. A few minutes later, I found out how to buy a Zusatzticket with the DB app, even before the inspector started controlling the tickets. And this guy even didn't really care who was going with which ticket. Why did I buy this ticket at the first place. Well, at least there was this train that we took, which is already a huge improvement to last week. And it was also punctual.

There was this one girl, Natasha, from Marl, who was trying to catch our train at Hagen, with a transit time of 2 min. It was clear to everyone that it wasn't possible, but she still tried, and failed. We could see her on the platform when our train left Hagen. Amen. A few minutes later, she posted in the WhatsApp group that she even missed the train to go back to Marl. In the end she came with the train an hour later, whereas there was another guy who was in the same situation as her exactly an hour later. This guy didn't make it today in the end.

Rummenohl. We were there for the third time today. This train station has a crossing right next to it, which is not even automatic. There are two control men who put a rope instead of a bar over the street whenever there's a train coming. When the train goes, they remove the ropes. This is Rummenohl. It didn't take even minutes to leave the human civilization.

Just as we were climbing up the hill, we could have a great view over the valley. This is the great thing about the region near Hagen. It's not only hilly, but it is always on a "cliff" so that one side is always open.

For the first time for weeks, Claudia came with us, so I didn't really have to do the navigation for other people. Jan, on the other hand, wasn't there, so we only followed the trail that I planned. It might have been actually good that we weren't eccentric today. We might have got into a serious problem in this region. Well, indeed I didn't have to navigate the group, but still I had to tell Natasha what to do, and send Robin to fetch her, who was himself lost on the way. In the end, I was attached to my phone almost all the time before the break.

The total distance was only 13 km today, but we couldn't have walked much more when we had a break in the middle. There was this one place, Haus Becker, which I discovered when I was hovering over this region on open street maps. At first I didn't really understand what it was. Then I saw their website, which didn't really explain whether it was a restaurant or a pension. So I called them a few days ago to ask this question. They were saying it would be open today. And it was, but the great thing is, it is closed for two weeks from tomorrow. So perfectly organized today.

In front of this restaurant, there was this perfect beautiful grass field. We all had lunch there and then I went to the restaurant for a cup of coffee. It was almost like a wonder that there was this restaurant in this place, in the middle of nowhere. I still don't know what kind of people usually come there, but it couldn't have been situated better for us anyway.

A few minutes after we left this place after the break, there was a site which must have been a forest before. Actually today, we saw a few bare sites where the trees were freshly cut. I don't know if they are planning to do something, but these places were not particularly beautiful. I might have preferred wilderness there.

I had written something about Hohenlimburg castle, which was indeed there, but closed to visitors. There we finished our hike. Afterwards, we stopped at Hagen and had a beer. Most of the people must have gone back home directly. It was indeed a powerful hike today. I was myself not sure if I still wanted to stay for a beer.

But I must say, this was maybe the best hike so far this year. Partly it's because of the trail itself, but probably also because of the season. In a few weeks we'll certainly see horrible weather season, but until then, we can enjoy the greatest period of time. I'm really looking forward to the future sessions.

September 2, 2018 Hiking at Wuppertal and street and music festival!

SEV. What is SEV?

When Onno spoke of SEV in the WhatsApp group yesterday, I was vaguely thinking about new sport cars or novel electronic techniques. SEV. Without thinking deeply about it, its morphology makes a somewhat modern and cool sound. I didn't think much about it. After all, it must be related to Onno's circumstances, I thought.

It was only this morning that I understood the gravity of my error: SEV stands for Schienenersatzverkehr, which is the generic term for the replacement transport system when the trains are not working. Yes. Today, there was no train between Düsseldorf and Wuppertal, for reasons we'll never know. And this was only the beginning of the disaster.

So, after the movie session after quite some time yesterday at my place, I was really looking forward to today's hike. Not only because it was taking place in Wuppertal, which is a relatively hilly region, for the first time after quite some time, but also because there were more than 80 people signing up on couch surfing. Even though I was sure there'd be less people, I was looking forward to knowing new people.

It was only a few minutes before the meeting time that I finally realized that there was no train to Wuppertal. They were saying they suspended all the train due to construction work. Whatever the reason is, the connection was shown on their website when I looked for it. No idea when they decided to do so, but it's almost like a wonder that they simply cancel all the trains with no further notice and it's obviously a normal thing to everyone. Anyway, I might have known that it was cancelled if I had double checked it yesterday or day before. So far, probably it was my fault. But this was not the end of this story.

So they prepared buses between Düsseldorf and Wuppertal, which should replace all the trains. The one that we were planning to take was the one that would come from Venlo, and it's a particularly important one that carries quite a lot of passengers every time. And what does the German railway do? They prepare a small bus. This hopeless box was overly overfilled, and just physically speaking, it was not possible to carry all the people waiting at the bus stop. We were all reassured when the bus driver told to those who were still outside that there was a second bus following. And of course, there was no second bus. Those who had to wait at the bus stop had to wait for the next one for almost an hour.

In the meantime, I was inside this overfilled bus which looked like the subway in the rush hour in Tokyo 20 years ago. And of course, this bus did not go where it was supposed to go. So instead of arriving at Wuppertal Vohwinkel, we arrived at Wuppertal central, from where we had to take a train to go back to Wuppertal Vohwinkel. By the way, this bus driver told us we should wait at the bus stop, because there was another bus arriving to take us to Wuppertal Vohwinkel. No one waited.

The trains between Wuppertal central and Vohwinkel did work. This one train that took us one station looked like a miracle train to us. Maybe for the German railway, this isn't so exaggerated.

Anyway, at Vohwinkel, we had to wait for those who were still at Düsseldorf. There were also those who came from Bochum, Essen or Cologne, for whom it worked without a problem this morning. They had already waited for one hour by the time we arrived. And at this tasteless station, Wuppertal-Vohwinkel, I wouldn't be surprised if there were some of them who were regretting the decision to join us today. I don't think many of them would come back in the future knowing that the transportation system is often like this in Germany.

Luckily for us, the bus that the rest of the people took did arrive at Vohwinkel. So in the end, we had a delay of only 2 hours or so when we started.

It's a great honour to tell you that this was not the end of this story, but the other problems arose after the hike, so we can finally start talking about this hike here.

So Wuppertal. The starting point was the same as the one that we did more than a year ago, the very first one for which I created the trail myself. At that time, I thought I was extremely lucky to find that trail just by chance. It didn't take much time after that to realize it doesn't really matter where you go in Wuppertal. It is simply always great.

And this was also quite the case today. After leaving this path that I already knew, we were walking through a forest. Even though I don't understand why there are so useless paths, I'm really grateful for their existence, whoever made them.

There's this one guy, Jan, who's been with us for a few months now. You might remember me talking about "autonomous democracy" (although it was quite some time ago that I mentioned it last time). Essentially, I was, and am still suggesting that there should be a different form of democracy, not like the indirect one that we know today, but the one where people do decide things themselves. And when I talked about this saying we should be hiking not following the trail that I put online, but according to what we feel like, depending on what the front group does. And pretty much for the first time, thanks to Jan, this was working today. So essentially he was flexibly changing the route with reference to what I suggested, but according to how the local environment looked. Of course the route modification was still a special thing and I don't think everyone would follow him immediately, but it is an important milestone that this happened. And if you are joining us on the hike, I strongly encourage you to do so. After all, there's absolutely NO reason to follow my route all the time, as I always determine it without really having been there myself.

Not quite surprisingly, there weren't as many as 80 people as CS was announcing. But as I had expected, there were quite some new people joining us for the first time. However, I missed most of the opportunities to talk to them. Every now and then, I wonder what it is like to join us for the first time on the hike. There was this thing called board game evening that was organized until last year on CS. I went there a few times, but every time I felt somewhat isolated, because they looked like they all knew each other. I'm pretty sure that we're making a similar impression in this group, even though it's not really true, since a significant portion of the participants usually is there for the first time, and even those who have been there aren't there every time so they see a lot of new faces whenever they come. I'm still strongly against the idea of official introduction at the beginning of each hike, as it has been suggested by some people, because I don't like the sense of belonging to a group (and therefore there's no facebook group or what so ever). Still, I probably should think about how to make it easier for the newcomers to talk to other people. I don't know if there's a general solution to this problem, but it's certainly worth spending some time thinking about it, since this problem applies to many situations in today's society.

After so many sessions without up and down, it was fairly touch to continue walking until the break at Königshöhe. The very reason that we had a break there was because there was a restaurant there. Not more than that. But it turned out to be a beautiful grass field with a great view over Wuppertal. I'm pretty sure that I could impress the newcomers with this great place, even though I had no idea about it when I chose it beforehand. Some people took beer at this restaurant and brought where we were having a break. This restaurant was run by Italians and they didn't mind their glasses/cups being taken away outside from their property. Nice to see Italians here again.

Right next to this place, there was a nice German flag, where we had a group picture. I still have no idea why people put their national flags, but they do it in many countries. Now in the meantime I did understand that it doesn't mean to exclude foreigners, but it still appears to me like a very significant thing take photos in front of German flags with a lot of foreigners.

I must say, the original path that I had prepared was just boring and dangerous today, as there were many cars and bikes passing by. And like before the break, Jan flexibly changed the route and we were on a forest path again.

Going down the hill, we arrived at Wuppertal. I chose Wuppertal this week because of the street food and music festival of this week there. And just as Wuppertal is simply not the most exciting German city, this was probably the emptiest street food and music festival I've seen so far and the only one without music. Anyway, since we usually have to fight for a place to sit together, and since this was not the main focus of today's hike, it might have been actually better for us this way. I don't even mind the fact that they started even closing the vans while it was still bright outside and we were still there.

So, here comes the final twist of the day: after this festival, we went back to Wuppertal Hbf, where we took this floating train to go back to Wuppertal Vohwinkel. Usually there are direct trains to Düsseldorf from this station, but for the same reason (i.e. for unknown reasons), there was no direct train to Düsseldorf. According to the German railway app, there were still replacement buses going directly to Düsseldorf from Wuppertal Vohwinkel every 10 or 15 minutes or so. We waited outside. No bus came. At some point, we asked the driver of a local bus. He said there wouldn't be any replacement bus.

And now, there were two possibilities. One, we go over Essen and Duisburg, which is like as if flying from New York to Los Angeles with a layover at Vancouver and Montreal. Two, we go over Solingen, which is like flying from New York to Los Angeles with a layover at Mexico city. Both possibilities sounded like the worst ones, but by this time we were starting to wonder whether it's ever possible to go back to Düsseldorf. Having one possibility was already good enough.

And so we decided to go over Solingen. The train was supposed to arrive in 20 min. Then came the announcement that the train would have a 10 min delay. In the app it was said to be a 30 min delay. And not quite surprisingly, the app was right. With a platform change, we had to wait almost for an hour in total for this one particular train, in which the train driver started to insult other trains using the announcement system. At least we caught the connection at Solingen, the only one train that went properly today. It was almost 10pm when we came back. It was nice to be back in Düsseldorf again, which seemed so far away at some point this afternoon.

Camp+hike+BBQ trip to Dutch German border!

It was like taking a sudden farewell to this year's summer this week.

Until Wednesday, we had this heat wave that started sometime in July. Then there was a sudden huge drop on Friday. That's it. The temperature dropped by something like 10 degrees and we broke into the weekend. It must have been a huge blow to the 70+ people who signed up.

The option of postponing the event was there this time, as I had indicated the possibility in the event description. Still, the extremely pessimistic weather forecast at the beginning of this week was getting somewhat better day by day. And there's no guarantee that it's going to be better in the coming weeks, which is rather unlikely regarding the usual weather here in Germany. In the end, I decided to go ahead with the plan. After all, we'd anyway overcome any weather, but I know how much I regret canceling this kind of event when the weather forecast is altogether wrong.

So, camping. The plan was very simple this time: go to Effelder Waldsee and camp there over the weekend, with BBQ, swimming and hiking etc.

Despite the WhatsApp group being quite active a few days ahead of the event, I seriously thought I made a mistake when I saw that there was no one at the main entrance of Düsseldorf central Saturday morning.

There was one problem this time: the campsite was far away. I tried to figure out something simple, but in the end, what I could think of was this: first, everyone comes to Arsbeck (regardless of by train or by car). Then we put all the stuff in the cars, which then go to the campsite. In the meantime, those who came by train start hiking. When the cars arrive at the campsite, they put all the stuff in a few cars, then come back with as few cars as possible. Then in the end, we see each other at Dalheim, which is the train station after Arsbeck, and therefore is slightly closer to the campsite. Then we go hiking together towards the campsite.

Even though most of the people didn't know anything about what we were up to, I didn't have to explain the strategy many times. Maybe they all decided to follow other people.

You might be interested to know why in the first place I chose this campsite for this weekend. That's because this campsite, Effelder See, has a lake. And therefore it's not surprising that the hiking path was not particularly well organized. At this Dutch German border, everything was extremely flat, not particularly exciting.

But probably what really mattered was the weather. Unfortunately, it did start raining sporadically. And partially there was significant amount of rain pouring down at some point. I was pretty much the sole idiot having no umbrella and rain jacket. I shouldn't have trusted the weather forecast after all.

Near the Dutch border, I lost my phone connection. A few minutes later, still within the German border, I got a welcome SMS from the Dutch operator. The German phone coverage ends somewhere before the border.

Before we arrived at the campsite, we had to ask the people what they wanted to have for dinner (i.e. BBQ). Jen had already created a list of things in advance, but we didn't have a proper place for a break because of the rain. At some point, we found a Chinese restaurant, in which moment it poured so hard that there was no need to announce a break. On the one hand, we were lucky that the restaurant was there. On the other hand, the fact that they offered all you can eat (and that some people took it) might have been a bit stupid.

But it might have been fortunate that the weather was not particularly good this weekend, as the campsite was not overly crowded, although I'd have loved to curse the weather publicly when it pouring down all of a sudden when we started putting our tents. I had merely took out the cover, with which I managed to keep the nearby stuff dry.

While Jen and some other people went shopping by car, we went to the lake. By then the weather was quite okay, and the water was nicely warm. And again, I must say I was rather happy to see that the lake was not overcrowded, or rather, empty. As obviously it's not going to be hot again within a foreseeable amount of time, those who didn't come to the lake this weekend will probably regret their decision over the long winter which is not so far away anymore.

By the time Jen and Jan came back, we put fire on the BBQ. In general, I'm not a big fan of BBQ, probably because usually we have to clean up the place as we have to leave the place, but the great advantage is of course we can sleep direct at the same place, so that we could do as much nonsense as we wanted. Besides, we brought ice cubes this time ourselves, so that the beer was deeply cooled down. So we started off, together with Hernán's techno, which was somewhat peculiar for a campsite.

There were of course other people at the campsite. I was almost sorry that we were making so much noise in this probably otherwise relatively peaceful place. Even though there were other groups having party, we were most likely the noisiest ones. The cool thing is, there was a security guard of the campsite, but he told us only once we should be quieter, then he simply went away. The others obviously didn't mind much the noise.

I don't even remember what time we went to bed in the end, but I was so drunk that at some point I realized that I simply shouldn't be awake anymore. I quickly prepared the sleeping bag in my tent and went to sleep. I guess one more beer would have completely messed up everything.

And so, it wasn't so surprising that I didn't feel like doing anything next morning. I had to force myself to two pieces of bread, without even having energy to put butter or jam on them. Even so, maybe we should call it brunch, as it was almost noon when we finished. The others looked better than I, but still there wasn't enough energy remaining to do anything.

Most of the people then directly went to the train station. A few of us remained there, to enjoy the lake, probably for the last time this year. I was happy that I got a bit of time to get a nap. I hope I'll be smarter next time.

Olaf took most of the stuff back to Düsseldorf by car for me. Then we walked back to the train station, Dalheim. This one is the last station in this line and didn't even look like a train station. There was of course one platform and the railway simply faded away towards the end. There was maybe one house next to the train station and otherwise nothing. And as we later found out the vending machine there didn't even know in which fare region this station was.

And so was the camping this time. Apparently summer is over. And so this was probably the last camp weekend for this year. I might be sounding sad by saying so, but actually it blew my energy away so much that I cannot even think about going hiking next week. But this being said, I'm pretty sure that I'll look forward to the next one next year. And hopefully I'll see a similar success there.

August 4, 2018 Summer vacation over the Alps

So as I've been always saying, the summer came. And this year it seems to be a dreadful one: we've been seeing new temperature records everywhere. At least here in Europe we can take some holidays. And this time, I decided to go from Munich to Italy, the country that I loved so much after my travel during the cycling trip 6 years ago.

Since then I visited Italy only once, even though I lived in Lyon for quite some time, which is close to the Italian border. I probably come back to this point later.

This time, I'm travelling with Jen, who's been helping me in the organization of hikes for some time. This is the first time that I'm travelling with someone on a cycling trip that involves camping (last year I cycled with Clara in the Netherlands but at that time we did not camp).

The plan was simple: we start cycling in Munich and go towards the Mediterranean sea. Except for the beginning of the end (bus from Milan to Düsseldorf on the 19th), nothing was fixed. It's up to us to decide where to go and what to do.

So my bicycle was fully loaded. It's not the one that I used to go to Japan (that one got stolen in France), but still a fairly good one. With all the stuff it was still possible to carry my bicycle.

The drama started on the train. Firstly, the coach 5, in which we booked the places for our bikes, was a passenger coach. It turned out that the one that carried bicycles was coach 3. Chaos on the platform. Then on the train, we found out that our places were already taken. So we put our bicycles at other places.

The cooler on the coach was broken. We were forced to stay in this sauna.

Next station, Cologne. There were more bikes arriving. There was no place anymore. Here's apparently what happened: the logistics of the German railway completely failed and the reservation numbers were apparently completely wrong. Then there were also Dutch travellers, whose train had a delay and missed their original connection. So they took the one we were on. So, what's the solution of the German railway? Force them out. In the end these poor Dutch travellers were left on the platform at Cologne. This is German railway.

Somehow still we managed to arrive in Stuttgart. Being now a Bahn comfort customer (thanks to the hiking trips that I organized), I could stay in the lounge with Jen. Around one hour later, we went to the platform, only to find out that our train was cancelled. And the one one hour later as well. Great.

As an alternative, we had to take a local train for Ulm and then change trains there to go further to Munich. We entered the coach designed for special luggage. Jen asked the ones occupying the zone for bicycles to leave the space. No one stood up. In the end, we were forced to stay in the entrance area (which is actually quite dangerous with the bicycles).

The departure time came, the train doesn't seem to leave. 20 minutes later, an announcement came, saying "there are technical problems on the train and we don't know how much time it is going to take. An alternative train for Ulm leaves from the opposite platform". We rushed to the other train, only to see that the original train leaving right after this.

And the alternative train that we took was apparently the slowest local train and it took twice as much to go to Ulm as the original one (the one that was canceled would have been even faster). In the end, we gave up the hope to go to Munich and stayed in a hotel at Ulm. Great job, German railway.

Ulm, being at the border between Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, is not a very famous city even among Germans (although probably most of the people know the name). I was here briefly when I cycled from Lyon to Husum four years ago and at that time it appeared to me like a beautiful city. At that time I did not have enough time to explore the city. Today, we did. And indeed it is a very beautiful city. There is this distinct church which looks like the one in Cologne, with a large marketplace in front of it. And this was obviously the heart of the city center. This is how a German city is supposed to be constructed. In contrast, Düsseldorf does not have such a place, the real center of the center.

There was a wine festival in Ulm this evening. It was not much more than a beer garden, but still we took a glass of wine each. I had a glass of rosé called Weißherbst. The problem with rosé is that it is extremely difficult to find a good one, even though in summer, like now, it's too hot to drink red wine (and I don't like white wine). To my great surprise, this was a good one. Unfortunately I couldn't find out what the grape variety it was, as Weißherbst apparently only refers to the fact that it was made of one single grape type, and not a blend.

The reason why I couldn't find it out was because I had left my bag at the restaurant where we had dinner. So the wine festival for us was over quite abruptly. And so did this extremely long day go to an end.

Next day, with Jen looking quite awkward in the hotel, which is not very familiar to her, we went to the train station not early in the morning, to go to customer service with the hope that we might get a new ticket for Munich. We did, for free. This is a kind of situation where I always have to think how important it is to speak a local language. Even if it was German railway's fault and it was certainly not very cheap to stay in the hotel, we could still avoid the worst.

Munich-Innsbruck

Munich has this river Isar, just as many cities around the world are built at rivers. However, in great contrast to Düsseldorf, Isar is a very beautiful river and we could see hoards of people everywhere on the riverside. Europe being in a great heatwave right now, this looked like an oasis. It was maybe a bit unfortunate for us as the train journey took nearly 24 hours and we really wanted to cycle at last.

On the other hand, we had a strong tail wind all day long. Cycling along the riverside felt like flying. With the Alps still far away, we could fully enjoy cycling on the flat road. And wherever we were, there was cold clean water.

Accordingly, we had a break in a small river where there was no one else, although in this vast area, it wasn't very difficult to find such a place even with this high number of tourists. My body was overheated in this moment, and entering the water was like putting a boiling kettle into an icy lake. In this moment, I thought I got a new strategy: cycle intensively and cool down in the river.

However, probably I should have known that the body doesn't allow you to go through such a cycle so easily: I was extremely sleepy after this. I don't now why, but apparently when you for example take a cold shower or swim in a pool, you feel sleepy even if you didn't lose much energy. I know this physiologic effect for quite some time and I enjoy taking a cold shower before I go to bed, but this time it was fairly hard to continue cycling after this.

Anyway, on the first day, we somehow managed to arrive at the campground Arzbacherhof, with a friendly staff and a nice beer garden. We put our tent right next to a small stream, which somehow helps me sleep well. Then to the beer garden for dinner.

Bavarian cuisine is a bit special. It consists of a lot of meat and potatoes. I still remember how much I struggled long time ago when I first arrived in Bamberg, with Schweinshaxe or Knödel. With this in mind, I got a salad, still a quite powerful one, and a soup. And of course, a pint of beer. This one sent me to a very deep sleep subsequently.

There's one thing I love about camping: it resets your body clock. Next day, I got up at 6am, fully awake, without an alarm. I stayed in the empty beer garden and waited for Jen.

Today, we were in a weird competition with another cyclist, that we saw at least 5 or 6 times over the entire day. At first we were just saying hi to each other but at some point we got into a conversation; he was also cycling from Munich to Venice. He was apparently going more slowly than us, but we might see each other more often.

Nearing the Austrian border, we were clearly entering the Alps. The brilliant weather was making the situation even worse. At least the water was always nearby, so we could cool down our bodies whenever we needed. This particular one on the photo was where we had a break. And I must say it was way more beautiful than what you see on the photo. This time, by the way, I also had an extensive nap.

So did we arrive at the Austrian border. There might have been also refugees a few years ago at this border, but today, it's a very calm place, with only this collapsing old building.

There was a small shop right next to the border, which might have been an important one when the border was there. We could order slices of bread, cheese and ham (all local) for lunch. Even though it was far away from what you might think of a restaurant, it was exactly what we needed in this moment. It's a pity that such a place doesn't exist elsewhere.

Right after this, we had a lengthy slope. So lucky that we got something to eat beforehand, especially regarding the fact that it was Sunday yesterday and we couldn't buy anything, and there was nothing up to this point today.

We reached a plateau after this slope, which somewhat characterizes the Alps, at least in this region. And this was an extremely touristic place. In particular, there's this lake called Achen lake, which was FULL of tourists. It was more than a good decision not to look for a place to camp.

The height that we had gained before the Achen lake went away very quickly after the lake. It felt like we were going down an abyss by bike. We could even feel a strong temperature difference before and after. Anyway, this wasn't particularly a problem in this moment: there was a storm coming in front of us. First we had to go through a strong head wind. Then the rain came. There was only one campground and it was still quite far away. No other choice. We continued cycling.

Luckily, the rain didn't become very hard. It was starting to become dark but we managed to arrive at the campground Schloss camping Aschach. We had no energy to talk anymore. We simply prepared the tent in silence, then still cooked some stuff for dinner.

Innsbruck - South Tirol

It's been a while since I did a cycling trip like this one. When I got up next morning, I could feel the exhaustion from the previous day. Apparently Jen was having the problem already on the second day. It might become difficult over time to go over Alps like this...

Innsbruck, which is a fairly important Austrian city, turned out to be a quite small one. It is quite common that in the Alps, like in Switzerland, the famous cities are very small, like Basel or the Swiss capital, Bern. Before crossing the city, we entered a bakery for my breakfast. There was only one socket for electricity, and since Jens' phone had no battery anymore, only her phone could be charged. This has been a strategical problem since the beginning. So we absolutely needed one USB charger with several sockets. Innsbruck still being an important city, we could find one Mediamarkt. And I got one charger with 4 sockets. It came to me like a huge relief as we wouldn't be able to go anywhere without our phones.

By the way, I never really thought about the origin of the name "Innsbruck". As I found out, there was this river called "Inn" that goes through Innsbruck. And "Brücke" is a German word for "bridge". So Innsbruck literally means "Inn's bridge". Not a surprise that it's a small city.

We had a quite easy day yesterday, but today, right after Innsbruck, we had to overcome an altitude of 400m, which is certainly not the most difficult thing I've done by bike, but still it was hard enough to make us silent for some time. At least there were some clouds that cut the sunlight.

At the same time, this is what you might think of the Alps. The scenery of hilly grass fields is reminiscent of Heidi. Even though there was a highway going not far away from where we were, I had the feeling that we were breathing the best air on the planet.

The animals were living simply with the people, and at the entrance of the village, sometimes you see this kind of lattice, which can be crossed by humans but not by animals. Quite clever, although it's important to think about cycling in the direction perpendicular to it...

Going upwards, we noticed that the temperature was going down accordingly. And there was no campsite in sight. Not quite sure where to stay tonight.

Before we started cycling, Jan, who also joins us every now and then on the hikes, who by some chance was traveling also in Italy, told us that there are many private houses, who don't put their offer in the internet, mainly because those who run the business are too old to know how to put it in the internet. And they tend to be cheaper. Anyway, I checked hostels nearby, and indeed on open street maps I could see quite some places that did not show up in the internet. We decided to try it out ourselves.

It might be important for you to know that the average offer is around 90 € for 2 people in this area. With this in mind, we were thinking about 70 € for both of us. We visited one place, and as we had imagined we were welcomed by an old lady. The price: 48 € for two people with breakfast. What a difference.

This was another occasion in which I thought how important it is to speak the local language.

There was a supermarket nearby, open until 6pm. And obviously this was the only one in this hamlet. Actually we were lucky that there was one. And we were probably also lucky that there was a restaurant right in front of the house. It's hard to end a day without half a liter of beer, just as what people do in this region.

Next day, when we got up, the breakfast was prepared on the table. Except for the fact that we slept quite long, we could start the day fairly early today.

The Italian border was not far away from there. Both Italy and Austria (as well as Germany) being within the Schengen zone, there's virtually no border anymore. However, there were obviously activities around this place. Coming from a country which doesn't really know the notion of land border, I always find the existence of such a thing quite intriguing. Today, the Austrian-Italian border is simply an outlet mall, but probably these buildings used to be used for official purposes before.

Especially, this region, South Tyrol is a complicated place. This German speaking region belonged to Austria until the end of the World War I. Since then it is part of Italy, but the population is still largely German speaking. According to what I learned, they also feel abandoned by the Germanic countries, which makes the situation even more complex. They are apparently going to get a double nationality from next year (cf. this article). I don't know if the problem is solved then.

It is anyway a tragedy that this extremely beautiful place has been a focus of political conflict. Fortunately, it's now simply part of the EU. If Italy is not going too much in the nationalist movement, maybe it is anyway not particularly important to talk about borders.

At the border, we bumped into a guy who was cycling up to Bulgaria. He was saying this path is the easiest one crossing the Alps. So far I'm not surprised to hear that.

Just as in many countries, the border was at the highest point of this region. We went down a long slope for some time, enjoying the scenery reminiscent of Heidi. On the way, however, there were some old buildings falling apart over time. They must have been built at least decades ago. There were not only one or two of them, but they were too see regularly over the way. It looks like the cycling lane we were cycling on was used as a street or a railway line. And maybe these buildings were used as stations or some other stops.

In the first city after the border, we had lunch. Next to us was a young couple from Italy. For the first time after quite some time I spoke Italian (even though it was only about whether the seat next to us was available or not)...

We went further. The bike way looked perfect at first. However, at some point we bumped into a couple from Italy. I was far behind Jen and saw only that she was explaining to them that she doesn't understand Italian. They then came towards me and started explaining that the path in front of us was closed due to construction works with quite some emotions (how difficult it is to recognize the place and which way has to be taken in order to avoid this problem). They looked very happy to have been able to help us (and not to mention that we were also happy to get this piece of information). Italians are, as much as I know, always glad to help other people, even if not everyone does the same. It must be frustrating for them that not many people speak Italian, as they are not the people that speak foreign languages the best.

The story of my Italian started around 10 years ago. At that time, I was living in a student dormitory. There was an Italian girl, Chiara, in the room next to mine. Not quite surprisingly, she didn't speak German, nor English. Whereas there was much communication between us, she tended to use Italian words whenever she did not know how to say something in German. Like this one:

Chiara: "Do you have Aceto?" (pronounced like "Acheto")

Not a word that I was familiar with. However, I somehow managed to think of "acetic acid" (of which the term "acetic" sometimes becomes "aceto" depending on the morphology), probably because I tried to think of scientific words, which usually derive from Latin words. And Italian being 90% Latin, it makes often sense to relate it to Latin. The thing is, the acetic acid is the main ingredient of vinegar. Hence, what she was looking for was vinegar.

Trying to find out what Chiara was trying to say was a fun activity for me. Later on, I got in touch with way more Italian students, mainly because a lot of parties in Göttingen, where I studied, were created by Italian and Spanish students. German being a fairly difficult language, it happened quite often that they simply continued speaking their own languages. At the beginning I had hard times figuring out what they wanted to say. After some time, I started understanding some words, and probably much more. Anyway, whatever language they spoke, I always replied in German. Since I was not good at English either at that time, there was no other way for me.

Even though I kind of had the feeling I knew what Italian students were saying, I didn't think I'd be able to communicate only in Italian. At my first visit in Italy during my bicycle trip, I had a quite awkward first encounter with an Italian lady at Genoa, where I was speaking a mixture of English and Italian even though I knew what I was saying could not be understood. At that time, I had to think about what it would have sounded like if I had said everything in Italian. Surprisingly, I found out that I could have said everything in Italian.

It was towards the end of my stay in Italy that I was definitely sure that I was able to speak Italian. Not that I learned the language quickly during my stay there, but I simply was not aware of what I had learned from these Italian students. Learning a new language to many people is probably something like visiting language courses to learn the basic grammar and going through pre-defined steps. My experience with the Italian students gave me a whole new notion of this, something many people probably don't believe in. But ultimately, what we are doing is communicate with other people, and it is certainly not that surprising that you learn a new language by trying to understand what other people are saying.

From the moment this Italian couple told us there were obstacles, we actually had to think of which way to take every now and then, because the trail we were having was obviously not up to date. On the other hand, it somewhat showed that these cycling routes are renewed now. It will probably become much more fun to cycle in Italy.

There's one absolutely positive thing about outside Germany: functioning basic infrastructure. Just as well as in Austria, there are water fountains everywhere here in Italy, so that you can simply move around with an empty bottle and get water whenever you find one. I don't know one single place in Germany where you can get water for free. Similarly, the mobile internet works everywhere outside of Germany. It almost doesn't matter whether you are in the nature or not. In Germany, on the other hand, you might see that even within a city you don't get the internet on your phone. Similar things are applied to post, railway etc. It's somewhat weird too see how miserable those things are in Germany...

There was exactly one campsite and we were arriving way too early. On the way, however, there was a fortress, which was a museum at the same time. It was called Franzensfeste and was constructed in the 19th century, when Austria was still having a strong hangover of Napoleon's invasion. With much expenses, it was supposed to barricade the path to the Austro-Hungarian empire. Unfortunately, Austria losing WWI and South Tyrol being annexed to Italy, they lost control over the fortress without really using it. Then during WWII it was geographically useless and with the invention of airplanes it was not quite relevant anymore. However, these were probably the reason why this fortress was not destroyed in history, although except for the fact that it looks like a nice village inside, there isn't much to see right now. According to the information we got inside, they might put more stuff some time in the future.

We arrived at the campsite. Surprisingly, we saw Franz /Ferdinand again, who was in a weird competition before Innsbruck. He was actually a manufacturer of bikes, although his bike looked like having way too much stuff for a trip of 3 weeks (in which he is also going to Venice).

Apparently here in Italy, there's always this spice set, which consists of olive oil, vinegar (usually Balsamico), salt and pepper.

It was extremely windy in the night and we could hear thunders a few times. It did not rain fortunately, but in the mountains it's difficult to predict the weather. We have to be careful..

Next day, we had breakfast in a nearby city. The city itself looked like a piece of art. I don't know if they earn much money except for tourism, but it must be inspiring to live in such a city in the middle of the Alps. We saw Franz Ferdinand passing by.

We had lunch at Bruneck, a city in which there was a horrible mixture of German and Italian. There were even people who spoke Portuguese on the street. In the supermarket where I bought fruits, they apparently have to say the prices and all in two languages. It must be exhausting to live like that.

There was a large river right after Bruneck. So great that there's clean water near a large city like Bruneck. And especially, there was no one, unthinkable if it would have been in Germany.

After some time on the way, we could see more and more clouds gathering. They evolved so fast that from a blue sky we could already see far away that it was raining. I checked the weather map on my phone. It looked like there was a storm passing on our way. Then we decided to stop at a café. The storm didn't really come. After a cup of coffee and a piece of cake there, we started cycling. We entered the storm in the right moment.

I still had the bicycle bags of my bicycle trip 6 years ago. And just as that time, they aren't so appropriate when it's raining really hard (at that time it didn't really matter as I was very often in deserts). We stopped in a hut nearby, but according to the weather map it didn't look like it was about to stop. So despite the heavy rain we continued cycling.

Fortunately, it did stop. I don't really understand what this weather map really understands. And we somehow managed to arrive at a campsite nearby.

I first looked for Franz Ferdinand, who was appearing in our trip every now and then so far. He wasn't there at the field where we were ushered to put out tent. This field was allegedly an emergency field in case there are too many people. According to what we eavesdropped, the campsite is full until the end of September. It must be horrible for them to turn down all the requests that they get everyday, especially when the people directly come to the campsite and ask.

After putting the tent, we went over to the restaurant. There he was, Franz Ferdinand, as if he was destined to appear on our trip at each occasion. We had dinner together and beer afterwards.

It was so far the coldest night we had on our trip. Fortunately, I had two sleeping bags and Jen got an extra blanket from Franz Ferdinand. By the way, Franz Ferdinand should be simply called "Franz". I just always called him "Franz Ferdinand", because it sounded so noble. It might not sound so funny if he'd ever go to Sarajevo...

Next day, the weather forecast was predicting a storm from midday, although there were conflicting reports among websites. Wetter.com, the one that I'm not trusting as much anymore, was saying it wouldn't rain. Google weather and Meteo Italia were both saying there's a storm from noon. I decided to trust the latter information and tried to book a hotel not very far away from where we were. There's one thing I must say though: usually everywhere in Europe you can get a hotel for something like 60 € per night, maybe 80. However, I could not find anything less than 120 € per night today. And 120 € was absolutely the cheapest one and the second cheapest was something like 150 € per night. The reason for this is that this region, Dolomiten, is famous for hiking or mountain climbing among German tourists (according to Jen) and there were too many tourists right now. Still it's crazy to see such a situation here.

Fortunately, I found one hotel for 80 € in Borca di Cadore, a city a bit father away. Apparently it was far away enough that it's not inside the touristic zone anymore.

When we were about to leave, we noticed that Jen's bike had a flat tyre. There was apparently one thorn in the tyre and it went through to the tube. Anyway, while I was fixing the problem I probably damaged the tyre. Now there was a swelling on the side of her tyre, a kind of one that becomes worse over time. We had to quickly find a bike shop to buy a new tyre.

South Tyrol - Vittorio Veneto

We started cycling. There were tons of German tourists cycling on their E-bikes. I assume that they rented these bikes at the campsite. Jen and I were going uphills on our own. Luckily it didn't take much time to achieve the highest point. And this highest point was the border between German speaking Italy (South Tyrol) and Italian speaking Italy (Veneto).

After crossing this line, it felt like we were at once losing all the height that we gained over the past few days, although the slope was not that steep so that we could enjoy the downhill for quite some time.

Whatever the weather forecast was saying, the sky was blue (more than what you see on the photo). And it was hard to believe that it predicted a storm. Towards Munich and Innsbruck, on the other hand, it was apparently quite stormy. So they (weather forecast) had probably hard time predicting where it's going to happen. It's anyway dodgy that only wetter.com had predicted the right weather, the one that I don't trust as much anymore.

We arrived in a medium size city, Cortina d'Ampezzo, where we could find one bike shop. They had the right one, for a good price, and even changed the tyres on the spot. Jen seemed to be happy to have a professional do the job. 5 minutes later, the bicycle came back, with the tyre put in the wrong direction (NB: there's a rolling direction for bike tyres, just as car tyres). I don't know if it really makes any difference, but it looks at least quite unprofessional...

We had lunch in the restaurant right next to the bike shop. There, we put our bikes in front of the restaurant. Then the owner of the store next to the restaurant started complaining that it disturbs her and we should put our bikes elsewhere etc. This Italian grandma was powerful, even though still I don't see any legal right for her to make us remove the bikes from there...

Since Cortina d'Ampezzo was a fairly large city, we decided to go shopping to get stuff for tonight. Tonight we wanted to have normal German dinner, i.e. bread, cheese and ham, with some salad. As I usually don't eat ham, I had hard time figuring out what kinds of ham there were at the counter. Then, we needed bread, but couldn't find any. We noticed that there was also a bread counter, but they didn't have what we were looking for, either. Apparently here in Italy, they use this light wheat, which they use for pizza, to make bread as well, so that you get only white and light bread, whereas in Germany, bread is rather dark and massive, especially the one that you eat for dinner. In the end, we had two ciabattine, which I used to use to make sandwiches when I was in Germany, but a far lighter one than the ones that I used to use.

We continued going down the hill. Since the beginning of South Tyrol, there were a significant number of isolated buildings like this one. On open street maps they were indicated as stations. Probably just as I wrote above, there was a railway line where we were cycling. I might have loved to take a train that goes through such a beautiful region.

Some time in the afternoon, I noticed that the mobile internet was not working. My phone was showing it was connected to the internet but nothing was shown. Well, fortunately the maps are off-line so we could continue cycling anyway.

We arrived at the hotel, which turned out to be actually a fully equipped apartment. At the same time we also discovered it was nearly impossible to get food outside with this place far away from anything. So the decision to buy stuff for dinner at Cortina turned out to be a brilliant idea.

In he evening, I was checking the campsites nearby. At one of them, I noticed that there were three price classes: low season, high season and peak season. It's not surprising that we were in the peak season, but its period was weird: from Aug. 10 to Aug. 19, i.e. starting today for 10 days. Not quite understanding what is so special about this week, I contacted Nicola, our Italian friend who joins us on many hikes. As it turned out, this is a special week for Italy, in which all the Italians travel at the same time. And the 15th of August is called Farragosto and is supposed to be a day of festivals. In Nicola's hometown there are fireworks in the evening on that day. So, apparently we took an extremely wrong period of time where probably everything is closed or many times as expensive as usual.

By the way, the problem with the mobile internet that I was having was apparently related to my German phone provider, ALDI Talk, as I found out in the evening looking it up in the internet. Hopefully it's gonna be fine tomorrow during the day.

Next morning, I was still eating the same ham from the previous evening. There was a moka pot in the apartment, but I didn't have coffee. I should have checked it out better before coming there.

Right after we started cycling, we found a café, with the owner obviously more than willing to speak English. At the table behind ours were two old ladies, one of whom smiled at us constantly. I talked to her to ask what this special vacation week looks like in Italy. She looked like she was very happy to help a foreigner, maybe especially she probably didn't speak English. Anyway according to her, the supermarkets and normal shops should be more or less open, at least not that we'd have significant problems on the way. Talking about our bike travel, she explained to us (or to me, since Jen doesn't speak Italian) where to take a bus in order to go to Venice, or where to take a train and how much it is going to cost. I failed to make her understand that we were cycling all the way up to Venice, but probably not because of my Italian :). Anyway, it was great to talk to someone like her, who enjoys talking to a foreigner like me, and also to see that the old lady next to where we were also joined the conversation.

The problem with the mobile internet that I was having yesterday was still persisting. At least by contacting a few friends in Germany I knew that the problem was related to the provider and not because of me or Italy. Nothing else to do than just wait.

We stopped in a very small city on the way for lunch, which looked like the only one place with a restaurant. I had the feeling that everyone at the restaurant was looking at us. Maybe it doesn't occur very often that there's an Asian tourist arriving by bicycle just like this.

When we arrived at the restaurant, I briefly got my internet back. I knew the campsites nearby and did not have much hope on them. So I looked for hotels, with even less hope, and found one for 50 €, which was a 4-star hotel. Aha? The reviews looked also okay, so I quickly made a reservation. Then the mobile internet connection went dead again (which came back some time in the evening). What a luck.

There's something I don't really understand about the Italian cuisine: when you open the menu, you'll see there are antipasti, primi piatti and secondi piatti. Literally, they are translated to starters, first plates and second plates. So for lunch, I would then expect to be expected to choose one from each category, to have a full course. However, the prices are quite high and also you get a significant quantity every time. So my hypotheses are: 1, you order simply one dish from any of the category and that's your lunch/dinner; 2, the dishes are supposed to be shared among the people at the table. I'm right now rather inclining to the second hypothesis, as it appears a bit weird to me to order just one antipasto. Hopefully I'm going to have an occasion to talk about this with other Italians.

In this restaurant, there's what we call "French toilet", which is called Turkish toilet in France, Asian toilet in Turkey and Japanese toilet in Japan. German people find it disgusting, which I did, too, until I did my bicycle trip over Asia. Actually if the toilet is really dirty, you will probably prefer this one to the normal Western toilet.

After the restaurant, we were cycling along a steep rock cliff. On the cliff, however, there were caves every now and then, from which cold air was streaming. So these caves are not just some indentation in the rock, but they must be somehow interconnected. Even though I can totally understand that due to security reasons it is not possible to enter these caves, I still wondered if they were used for military purposes sometime in the past.

In the evening, we arrived at the hotel, which stood pretty much in the middle of nowhere. From the road side, we wondered if it was really a 4 star hotel, but when we entered the area, the quality was clear. With a large garden, we got a very large place with two rooms. Hard to believe that it was just 50 €. My guess is there was someone else reserving this room, but canceled it in the last moment, so that we could make a reservation a few hours earlier today. Whatever the reason is, huge luck it was.

There was a Lidl nearby (which is a German supermarket chain). Inside it looked exactly like Lidl, although the quality was higher here. We went there to get something for breakfast for the next day and a bottle of wine. For those who are not familiar with the price range of wine: a good bottle of wine can be bought from around 6 € in France, and 8 € in Germany, although with a bit of luck, you might get a good one up to 2 € less in each case. Here, at Lidl, however, we could not find any bottle over 5 €. And no bottle over 3 € for local wines. Not so sure whether to buy one at the first place, but still we bought a random relatively local one from Emilia Romagna for something like 2,50 €.

We had pizza for dinner. Even though the pizza are really good in Italy, I still wonder how often we'll be have eaten pizza in total during our stay in Italy.

At the hotel, we opened the wine. And actually it was quite okay, not like the one you get in Germany for the same price. Apparently here in Italy, you get a good bottle of wine from 2 or 3 €

While drinking wine, we had to think about what we are going to do in our trip next. There's still a week to go until the end of out trip, which must finish at Milan next Sunday, as our bus will leave from there early in the morning. Regarding the distance to do up to Venice and from Venice to Milan, we would have to cycle quite a lot every day. Besides, we found out that this is the vacation week for Italians and there'll be a lot of tourists everywhere, especially at the seaside near Venice, which is anyway a famous touristic place. Therefore, in the end we decided not to go to Venice and instead start cycling towards Milan.

I could not find any particular cycling route from Vittorio Veneto (where we were) to Milan. So we simply made outdooractive. Let's see what's gonna happen.

Vittorio Veneto - Milan

It's difficult to estimate the amount of food you need for breakfast. And it's usually overestimated, at least in my case. And it was. It took more than an hour and extreme amount of energy to finish the breakfast. It would have been certainly smart to order breakfast in the hotel.

We had to stop right after we started at a nearby café for my breakfast coffee. This one must have been a really local one, as everyone, and really literally everyone was looking at us. I had a cup of coffee. The guy in front of us obviously wanted to talk to us, but didn't manage to do so. I, on the other hand, had nothing to say either, although I might have wanted to talk to him as well. I'll think of a good conversation starter for the next encounter like this one.

Not surprisingly, we had an exemplary traditional Italian toilet, elegantly explaining the importance of hitting the hole.

The new route, suggested by outdooractive, initially coincided with the original Munich-Venice route. We were going down a hill for quite some time. On a high summer day, it was going extremely hot and humid over the course of the day. This is Italy. A bit crazy that we were cycling in this weather.

There were, however, tons of cyclists on the way. Not like us travelling over a long distance, but they were cycling on road bikes. Cycling must be really in right now in Italy.

This vacation week must have affected the shops everywhere here, as we could not find any restaurant for lunch even in a medium sized city. We were thinking about skipping the lunch all together, when we found a restaurant in the middle of nowhere.

This restaurant must have been quite local as well. At least all the customers and the staff seemed to know each other. Just as every time, we didn't know how the Italian lunch worked, and ordered some stuff randomly. We got an enormous portion of pasta. I don't understand what is the normal portion in this region.

After the lunch, we got melon liquor as digestive (not the glasses on the photo, they are aperitivo). I wanted to give a small tip to the staff, but it is quite uncommon in Italy that people tip, in strong contrast to Germany, where it is almost rude not to tip at all. On the other hand, there's something called "coperto" in Italy, which is the base price that you have to pay in a restaurant regardless of what you order. So maybe it is considered to be included inside this coperto.

We had an extensive siesta after the restaurant (in a place right next to Bavaria). With a shop of liquor and this heat it was the best thing to do. After more than an hour, we were ready to go further.

The siesta obviously brought back energy, and we did the rest of the journey pretty much non stop. We left the original route from Munich to Venice at some point and followed the route suggested by outdooractive at some point. And it was a quite good one.

Yesterday, I looked for nearby campsites, but couldn't find many of them. It might have been related to how I looked for them, but my conclusion for now is that it is not very common to camp in Italy, at least not as means of travelling. The thing is, despite this super week, it was fairly easy to find cheap hotels everywhere. So I booked a hotel in the city called Cittadella, without really knowing what it stood for.

Still before arriving at the city, it was clear from the shape of the city on the map that it was something quite special. It turned out that it was a medieval city that was meant to be a fortress for Padova. And most of what was constructed in the 13th century was still there. We could walk around the city on top of the muro, the rampart surrounding the city.

There weren't so many restaurants inside the rampart, and the only one that we found was quite crowded. We somehow arrived in a good point of time as we quickly got a place. There, we had the same problem of what to take. This time, as I didn't have much appetite for pasta or pizza anymore, I got simply roast beef, even though it clearly wasn't an Italian speciality. It was an antipasto, probably a starter. And I guess what I did wasn't quite Italian. At least the order didn't go quite smoothly. Probably I wasn't supposed to order just an antipasto.

There was a party going on in the city center. Here in Italy, it is probably a bit like in France and not like in Germany: people don't really complain about neighbours having parties all night long. This is at least the impression I got while looking at the buildings nearby, where people must be living and having ordinary lives. I'm sure that it's really cool to live there, but I'm happy that I'm not living right at the market square.

In many cities in Italy the streets are extended to the area half inside the buildings, which allow you to walk around even when it's raining. It's really a pity that it's almost always sunny in Italy and this structure doesn't exist in almost always rainy Germany.

The hotel we booked offered free breakfast, or breakfast was simply included. It was nice to have a cup of coffee at the hotel.

It looked like outdooractive suggested a good route yesterday. Today, it was mere disaster. It looked like we were cycling all the time along with high speed cars in large streets, which almost could have been highways. Beside, we bumped into one way streets from the wrong direction. By the time we had lunch, we were so exhausted from the traffic that we had nothing in mind than looking for an alternative.

Speaking of lunch, here in Italy restaurants are apparently closed on Mondays. We managed to find a kebab restaurant (run by a Kurdish guy who learnt the stuff in Germany), but we must have been lucky to have found anything at the first place.

After lunch, we decided to take a new strategy: we choose villages to go through, and decide which streets to take on the spot.

This new strategy, which was actually rather an old strategy for me, worked out quite well. We cycled through vineyards and other kinds of field, going through villages with no tourist at all. It was a cool feeling to be in places where no one expects you to be there. People might look at weirdly, but they might also be intrigued. At least there was a huge unknown factor, which made the trip even more exciting.

In the evening, we arrived in a small village called Monteforte d'Alpone, where I had found a hotel (and no campsite nearby). Right after we arrived there, it started raining. We went to a nearby supermarket, which was disproportionally large for this village, to buy wine and other small stuff. Since the supermarket was fairly empty, I could talk about what kind of stuff Italians have for their aperitivo with the staff behind the cheese and meat counter. It wasn't particularly different from the apéritif in France (like olives or ham on a small toast).

Just as yesterday, we got a bottle of local wine for a surprisingly low price. Just as yesterday, it wasn't so bad, although I must say I still prefer French wine to Italian wine, which is slightly too sweet for me.

This hotel, which was more like just a family-run apartment, also offered free breakfast. There were in total three groups staying in this place. In addition to us, there were one Italian family, and one ... German family. The Germans are somehow always there where other Germans are. I'm happy that I was the only one Japanese within kilometers.

There was a strategical problem today: the next city, Verona, was only about 25 km away (too close). The one after Verona, Brescia, would be something like 90 km away (too far away). In between there's this lake called Garda lake, which is an EXTREMELY touristic place and it was impossible to find a hotel over there. Besides, Jen wanted to go to lake Garda. In the end, we decided to book a hotel at Verona, put all the stuff there and take a train to go to lake Garda for a day trip.

The plan sounded perfect, until we realized that it was rainy today. After the very short journey to Verona, we simply decided to do sightseeing there, instead of going to lake Garda. We'll anyway be passing it tomorrow so there's no need to hurry.

Verona is certainly a big city, but we didn't know anything about its history, or rather, its tourism. The city center was more than overcrowded. There was a significant number of Italian tourists as well, but obviously the largest group was from Germany. Maybe those who are staying near lake Garda simply came over to Verona because of the weather. Actually, except for Germans, there was no large group from any country. There were some French, some Dutch and some Japanese, but they were to see only sporadically.

In this crowd, all I was trying to do was to be a standard tourist, taking photos of historical-looking monuments and ordering meaningless cup of espresso. Since Jen is German, I really wanted her to order pizza and cappuccino, but she already knows that cappuccino is a breakfast drink.

I know in such a touristic place, service at cafés won't be as appropriate as it traditionally should be, but I wasn't expecting a cup of espresso in a plastic cup.

Tomorrow is the Farragosto, i.e. everything will be closed. We bought some stuff for dinner and for breakfast, hoping we'd find restaurants on the way. At least by noon we'll be at lake Garda and I'm pretty sure that there'll be some restaurants for the German tourists there.

Here the temperature during the day was probably something like 25 °C, but somehow it didn't go down much in the night. Apparently it's cool again in Germany. I'm really looking forward to sleeping there. There are also an infinite number of mosquitoes in this region. Even during the day they are active.

We left the apartment around 10am next day. The weather changed drastically and it was already hard to stay in the sunshine. Looking at my fully burnt arms, I wonder what kind of reaction I'm going to see at my workplace next week.

It was rather a catastrophe with outdooractive yesterday, but it looked more or less okay today, so we decided to follow the route again. And luckily, it was quite okay. We were cycling through the vineyards most of the time. Vineyards being quite rare around Düsseldorf, I'm not going to complain, but I wouldn't mind seeing other stuff than vineyards as well now.

So, today was the long awaited Farragosto, an important holiday for Italians next to Christmas. Farragosto being religious, there was a Mass in every church on the way. At the same time, all the local restaurants/bars seemed to be occupied by the locals. Just as Nicola told us, it must be an important local celebration as well.

We were told that there won't be anything open. In reality, the supermarkets were probably open in the morning. In the afternoon, indeed all the shops seemed to be closed, except for restaurants or bars. In the end it wasn't as much of a problem as we had feared. Also we had quite some stuff to eat.

Since it was almost like a break yesterday, we could cycle almost non-stop today. We stopped at a gas station, where they simply left tables and chairs outside even though all the service was closed except for self-service petrol. The 70 km we did today felt like nothing.

We arrived at Lake Garda. And when we arrived there, I wished we hadn't. It was a horrifying view with infinite number of German and Dutch tourists with no space for bicycle to cross the area. Jen's wish to swim there quickly evaporated and we simply continued cycling from there. I'm happy that we didn't have to stay there even a minute more.

We arrived at Brescia quite early today. We put our stuff at the hotel Igea, which sounds like a furniture shop in Bavaria, and roamed around the city together.

Here, for the first time, we ordered one antipasto together and each of us ordered something else (Jen pizza and me pasta). With the antipasto (which was tomato and mozzarella), we got two plates. And the order went really smoothly. So my current conclusion is that the antipasti are supposed to be shared among the people at the table and still are considered to be side dishes. I feel like I became more Italian than what I used to be.

The city of Brescia was really empty. Compared to the mess in Verona, it was REALLY empty. According to Nicola, people celebrate Farragosto at seasides or in the mountains, so it was probably not really a surprise that we didn't see anyone inside the city.

We were at the market place, when out of nowhere this drum musicians appeared and started drumming. The cool thing, the garbage man arrived with a car and could not go further because of the musicians. Then the garbage man simply waited until the end of the music. That's probably Italian. Germans would have honked immediately.

As I already stated above, we are not going to Venice anymore but heading for Milan, where our bus for Düsseldorf is going to depart this Sunday. When we first changed the direction, we thought there might be a day or two with rain, or other problems that might have hindered our trip. This didn't really happen and therefore we're now having a day too much. So, instead of going to Milan directly, we decided to take a detour around the lake Iseo, which we didn't know before, but looked like a nice one near lake Garda. Luckily, we could also find a hostel to the north of the lake, so that we'll be arriving at the lake from the south, cycle along the lake completely to the north, then go south-west to arrive at Bergamo. Lake Iseo being inside the region called Prealps, we can probably even expect a fairly mountainous region.

With this in mind, we started cycling next day, after we went to a nearby bike shop to repair Jen's bike (the sprocket of her bike got damaged), which they did for free. So nice people.

When we left Brescia, we met an old Italian guy on wheels. He was a retired engineer living in Provaglio d'Iseo, which was on the way for us too. His name was Luigi, and this was not the very first Luigi that we met in Italy. He didn't particularly seem eager to talk to me at first, but on the way up to Provaglio, he talked quite a lot. The cycling route was surrounded by vineyards again, and he was saying the grape, Franciacorte, makes high quality wine. That's a great piece of information as I don't know so much about Italian wine.

After Luigi abruptly left us at Provaglio, we went further to the lake. It was certainly a touristic place, but was clearly not comparable with lake Garda. There were also mainly Italians at lake Iseo, compared to the chunk of Germans we saw at lake Garda. And I must say, the water quality was way better at Iseo than Garda. It's sad that people go to famous places to suffer from the fact that the famous places attract a lot of people.

Going towards the north of the lake, we saw less and less tourists on the way. Probably this is rather a local place, just as we suspected.

Since our hostel was in the middle of nowhere in a mountainous area, we decided to buy dinner and breakfast at a nearby supermarket beforehand. I had to ask the staff to find a bottle of Franciacorte, a local one that Luigi recommended to us, as there were so many different wines, unsorted. The very person I asked was obviously an expert in the area and explained to me what kinds of Franciacorte there were. Apparently, most of them are sparking wine (to different degrees) and above all, quite expensive. Since we were not having a fridge at the hostel, I didn't want a sparkling wine, which already limited the number significantly. And since the wine is anyway good almost regardless of the price (although we've already had one bad bottle), we didn't spend so much money either. The wine boy continued explaining the stuff, and at some point he showed me one bottle, from 2008... Usually the wine you can easily buy in a supermarket is not something that you should keep for a long time, they say. I personally never have tried aged wine. Not too expensive. So why not taking the risk.

We went towards the hostel, which as I already stated was inside a mountainous area. Good that it wasn't all flat in Italy. After dinner at the hostel, we were drinking the wine from 2008: indeed it tasted like it was aged for quite some time. At least the 10 years didn't make the wine worse.

While we were drinking wine on the balcony, there was one Italian guy who appeared there to smoke. He was a local and we first started talking about our bicycle trip. Then it went over to his honeymoon to Japan when he found out that actually I was Japanese. Even though he couldn't remember much about his trip anymore and I'm anyway not the person to talk about Japanese stuff with, he seemed to be excited about talking to a foreigner like me. I find it really great that Italians don't really care where a person comes from. Obviously, as long as they manage to communicate, the rest isn't so important. That's the impression that I got in the encounters that I've had so far.

Next day, after a rapid breakfast, we went down the hill very quickly up to the point we started climbing up and we cycled along the lake, the other end though, for some time. This area was more touristic this time. This being the same lake, it didn't interest us that much anymore. We simply went further.

We had to climb up a hill again after the lake. While doing so, I noticed one thing: from the very beginning, I could go up a hill much faster than Jen, but now, I was WAY faster tan her. This was the very first time that I cycled with a girl for some time, and I don't know how their muscles develop, but obviously not with the same speed as the male muscles do. At least except for sweating a lot, I don't really feel anything anymore.

There was a funny thing about Italian churches: the entrance is often open. It might be difficult to recognize on the photo, but it's not just the first door, but the second door is open as well, so that we can see directly what's happening inside. When there's a mass, you can also hear the choir from outside every now and then, which was quite often the case this week probably due to the holiday week.

Nearing Milan, there was less and less nature. Now it looks almost like we were simply going towards the end of our journey. Whether it's with maps.me or with outdooractive, the route was horrible. On the other hand, we could arrive at today's city, Bergamo, much earlier than planned.

As I already stated above, we are not staying at campsites anymore, but book different places with hotels.com. This time, just like in Verona, we got another apartment. The owner of this apartment living nearby, we just had to call him to get the keys. It is still not clear, whether he spoke English or not. Certainly he wasn't particularly good at it, as at the beginning he asked me whether Jen or I speak Italian and gave all the explanations in Italian after I told him I do but Jen doesn't. I was slightly surprised when Jen considered it as "impolite", since for me, not being able to speak English is maybe inconvenient or uncomfortable, but I don't see why people not speaking a non-local language should be considered impolite, as the premise of hotel business doesn't require the clients to be foreigners. But maybe hers is a German point of view, and it's certainly not bad that many Germans do speak English.

I have heard of this city before, but I'm not quite the expert of Italian cities. The owner of this apartment explained to me that there's what's called Città Alta (high/upper city), which is like a fortress and registered as a UNESCO world heritage. With so much time and nothing to do, we walked up there on foot. Nice to be on foot again.

And as expected, it was crowded with tourists. We made a photo from the fortress, walked through the inside of the fortress and went down. There was a university inside the fortress. Some time in the future, I must travel around the world to visit universities around the world. Not just make beautiful photos (which can already be found on Wikipedia), but to picture myself as a scientist there. I have been having this idea for quite some time, but due to its ill-defined concept, I haven't made it happen so far. But surely I'll do it some time in the future, so please look forward to that :)

In the city center, we looked for a restaurant. We spotted a random pizzeria, which was full and made us wait a few minutes, which we thought was quite promising. Yet, regardless of the quality of the restaurant, what I hate most happened. Something subtle, but had a devastating effect some time in the past...

Waiter: "... and what do you want for drink?"

At the beginning of this article, I said I went to Italy twice. It's just an objective fact, but in reality, maybe we should remember that I lived in a city near the Italian border for 3 years, I spoke fairly fluent Italian and I had huge interest in Italian culture. All this makes it inexplicable that I went there only twice, one of which was not even my decision.

After my bike trip from France to Japan 6 years ago, in which I discovered Italy, and discovered my knowledge of the Italian language, I was highly motivated to go to Italy again at some point. With the small amount of money I had at that time, I couldn't get there right away, but still looked forward to the next opportunity. At the same time, I also read Italian newspapers, watched Italian TV etc. in order to keep my Italian afloat. I didn't look for anyone to talk to in Italian. For me, Italian was much more a natural language that I had to speak casually. So I didn't really want to look for a "language partner". After all, Italy was right next to Lyon. I'll certainly get Italian friends soon, I thought.

A year and half later, it happened. I was friends with someone who happened to want to learn German but already spoke it quite well, too. Great, I thought. At the beginning she wanted to learn French first so we talked in French.

Later on, I suggested to speak Italian and German. From that point on, I talked to her only in Italian. It was meant to be the following of an exciting experience in Italy for me. Yes, meant to be. The reality was very different.

I ask something in Italian, the reply comes back in French. Hmm. Weird. Maybe she thought it was French. After all, they are similar languages. Then I talk to her again in Italian. Again, the reply comes back in French.

It didn't matter what I said in Italian, whether a short phrase or a long, a simple or a complicated. The reply always came back in French. I got confused, especially because it is an extremely difficult thing for me to continue a conversation in different languages. There must have been a reason that she didn't want to speak Italian with me.

At some point, I asked her why she ignored my Italian. I got a few reasons ranging from she didn't know I could speak Italian to she wasn't aware that I was speaking Italian etc. All this didn't make sense to me. I was startled. It appeared to me like she was hiding something.

A few years later, I'd find out that there is a certainly number of people, who cannot speak a different language to a person that they started speaking to in a certain language. If you start talking to them in English for example, it doesn't matter which language you speak, they will always reply in English, which is exactly the opposite to me, since if you for example talk to me in French, it's extremely difficult for me not to reply in French. For me, unfortunately, she was the very first person who was like this. And while facing this new kind of person, all I thought was she was being dishonest with me.

I was starting to have the sensation that the intention of speaking Italian itself is something useless, something to be ignored. Yes, whether my message was semantically fully transmitted or not, I felt like I was simply ignored. At some point, I could discern the change in myself: even though I was reading the same newspapers, even though I was watching the same Italian TV, I was doing all this absent-mindedly. I had to try hard to keep going, but with every single reply in French, my ambition flew away.

My motivation was gone.

By then, I started taking it quite personally. I started hating her, the Italian language, all those who spoke Italian and above all, Italy. I stopped all the efforts.

To this day, I still don't know what it would have been like if all this hadn't happened, and wonder how a subtle occurrence like this can form a completely different future. I see that I still haven't fully recovered from the scar, as whenever I make a mistake in Italian or I don't know certain words, I can't stop thinking I might have spoken perfect Italian if all this hadn't happened. Since then, I met quite some Italians. And whereas I do some effort to actively restore my interest in the Italian culture, I never talk to them in Italian, out of fear that the same horror comes back. At least, which language it is, I don't take it personally anymore. And the same problem is happening with my Spanish flatmates, it is fortunate that I've overcome this problem at the personal level (even though accordingly Spanish is therefore not my favorite language).

To a certain extent, I do understand that the waiters in the touristic cities are tired of hearing tourists saying one or two words in Italian. Or maybe they are not tired, but they are used to simply replying them in English. But I would like them to remember, that there's a certain number of people, who seriously try to understand their language, and there's no reason to believe that they should continue speaking English with them.

I don't really remember what I had for dinner in this restaurant. I simply didn't like it. I was simply happy to leave this place.

It's getting later and later every day that we wake up in the morning. It was almost 9am today. My expectation for getting up early in the morning at the campsites is falling apart.

Today, it was really just all about how to get to Milan. Today is de facto the last day, so it's not quite surprising that what we were doing was simply needed from the organizational point of view. At least we arrived at Milan quite early in the afternoon, which allowed us to do some tourism. Tourism in Milan is complicated. And I'd strongly recommend you not to go to Milan in summer. It's just hot, and you'll be offered everything twice as expensive as usual.

And so did my vacation in Italy go to an end. Next day, we took a bus from Milan to Düsseldorf, a powerful 15-hour ride.

Closing words

For a long time in my life, Italy didn't mean much to me. All this changed when I first went to Italy 6 years ago. And one more time, when my admiration for Italy was torn apart a few years later. Yet looking at its essence, it didn't go much beyond the Italian language. I wonder what I knew about Italy otherwise. In this sense, it's maybe not wrong to say it was the first time that I went there to know the country.

Opening a menu in a restaurant, looking for "Antipasti", which every time brought something new and unexpected... In reality, my entire stay in Italy was like opening a restaurant menu. They have always been there, yet there was a new discovery every time. The beauty of its mere existence is what made Italy so attractive to me.

A few days went on, I was in an Italian restaurant in Düsseldorf. In the menu was cappuccino, the rude Italian waiter brought an antipasto of a size for one person. Obviously, it doesn't matter whether the restaurant is supposed to be Italian or not. What is Italy is apparently only in Italy. So, even though Italy seems to be all around, it makes still sense to go there to see the "real" Italy. And of course, not to forget the great nature and rich history.

July 29, 2018 Hiking from Boisheim to Kaldenkirchen!

Hot.

It's not like I don't like good weather. Especially if I think of what it was like last winter, we can be more than happy that it's not raining. But still we might have wanted to see some drops this week.

Fortunately the extreme weather somewhat finished on Friday and today, even though there was no rain at all, it was cloudy. Not a surprise that a lot more people joined today, especially new people.

This is the train that we took when we went to Venlo a few months ago, or rather, that we did not take, because at that time after changing the platforms a few times, the train arrived in a different platform than the one they had announced. This time the train fortunately came, with an initially 5 min delay. On the way right before Mönchengladbach, they got a "signal disruption" (Signalstörung). When you take a train in Germany, very often it just stops in the middle of nowhere. And the reason is mostly "signal disruption". I always wonder if it is so difficult to make functioning signals.

After some time they announced in the train that since the signal problem could not be quickly solved on the spot, they'd go slowly. For me, there is no logics in "signals have a problem so we go slowly", but at least we could continue our journey without having a 45 min delay.

This hiking trail was a part of what was given on this page. Out of the original plan, I created three trails and today's one was the middle one. I was not really sure if we'd ever do this hike when I made it, since this part of Germany is only extremely flat and it's also a little bit weird to stop right before the Dutch border. However, I saw there were quite some lakes there. So just like last week, we could maybe swim there ... ? With this in mind, I took my swimming stuff, without being sure if it's really possible to swim.

Boisheim (our starting point) was a small city and we could almost directly start walking in the nature there. Very quickly we reached the river Nette, which we followed more or less the entire day. The dry days had a clear damage to the water quality; we could smell the effect every now and then.

There were quite some Persian people today, especially those who arrived in Düsseldorf recently. It's now the start of next semester they apparently arrived here. Anyway, for the first time after some weeks I tried to speak Persian. My Persian is in the meantime not so impressive anymore, but still somehow I managed to converse with them more or less. Whether I could say something meaningful or not, it was a very encouraging moment. I'm pretty sure that I'm gonna spend some time next week on Persian.

We arrived at Ferkensbruch, the only one lake which looked like it might be possible to swim (and had a restaurant nearby). Unfortunately, the water was too dirty there, more like a toilet for ducks. At least we found a nice grass field where we could picnic. I feel a bit sorry for Mahsa who brought her swimming stuff just for today.

And I must say today's hiking trail was not particularly beautiful, but luckily we had mostly newcomers and they were anyway enjoying their first hiking experience. Hopefully they'll come back for the future sessions.

At Kaldenkirchen, we got icecreams and went back home by train, the one that's always full in the afternoon (because of the Germans who go to Venlo for shopping on Sunday, where in Germany everything is closed, whereas it's a rather normal day in the Netherlands).

Next Saturday I'll go to Munich on vacation and I'm coming back in three weeks, i.e. the next event will be in four weeks. See you there and have a nice summer!

July 22, 2018 Hiking at Lennep!

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True, I complained a lot last year. It was raining all the time. Now, it's been more than 10 days that it's sunny. It's not like we mind sunny weather, but we wouldn't mind if it starts raining. Anyway, today was one of those sunny days that I would have dreamed of if it was arriving last winter, with around 30 °C.

This morning, we were to see each other at 10:45 in front of the main station, which is just 5 min away from my apartment, to take the train which was leaving at 11:12. I somehow managed to arrive extremely late, so that there was only 10 min or so remaining before the train departure. Everyone had already left the place and went to the platform. So good that no confusion arose for not having me there. In fact it's been something like training for the participants, who rarely see their organiser arriving in time.

When I arrived at the station, an unexpected problem emerged: we didn't have enough tickets. Indeed, usually we have enough people who have a monthly card (which allows to take another person for free on weekends) and students (who automatically have this monthly card). However, we are now in the middle of the exam period. And there were way less students than usual today. When we arrived at Düsseldorf Hbf, we were 5 tickets short. Usually it's other way around. And especially we were going to Lennep today, which was in the zone C, i.e. we would pay more than 10 € per person for one way (and so something like 25 € for two ways). And badly enough, I didn't even know how to buy a ticket anymore. While I was panicking, more people arrived, and fortunately those were the ones who had a monthly ticket. In the end, there was still one ticket missing. The great thing is, there was someone on the train who was listening to our discussion who told us that she could take another person on her ticket. And so we did not have to buy an extra ticket (NB: to be precise, we were still continuing discussing on the train, which was already unlawful). Unfortunately, this person was on the train up to Wuppertal-Oberbarmen, where we changed trains. Some people joined there, but still there was one ticket missing. I was about to buy another ticket, when the train came and we had to enter it. In this moment, I found Mahs (who is a student) on the train, who saved all of us.

It's been quite some time since I created the hiking trail at Lennep, which I thought would be a perfect one to swim in the lake at the same time. I waited for quite some time to put this one, because whenever I put a trail with a possibility of swimming, it was cold. This time, the weather forecast was saying two weeks ago that we'd have an excellent week. Even though usually I don't trust anything weather forecast says about tomorrow, but somehow I decided to trust what it was saying about two weeks later.

It took some time to cross Lennep. There was one Canadian traveller, Tom, who started wondering whether what we call "hike" was just going through the city (which is actually possible if Germans use the word "Wandern").

Jan, who is going to Italy next week, bought a gadget to follow the trail. And apparently he wanted to try it out → we were simply following him. I even did not really check the map so often. And I have no intention to question his capacity, but somehow we were going through an extremely rough route. And so in total, we had a quite spectacular transition from city to nature at the beginning.

Yet I must say Jan also modified the hiking path quite well, which was actually necessary regarding the fact that I made this trail at the beginning - I didn't know at that time how to properly make a hiking trail.

The lake, Wuppertalsperre, has a proper swimming area which is free to enter. Usually in Germany, it's whether extremely dirty and forbidden to enter the water or it's commercial. This was probably the first time that I saw a reasonable place to swim. The problem was, we didn't have a lot of students this time. So the dynamics was completely different. There were me and a few more people who went into water, but most of the people simply stayed on the field. It was really a pity since we could enjoy clean water this time.

Unfortunately the rest of the trail wasn't particularly beautiful. The highlight of the day was clearly the lake. Pity that not many people wanted to go to the water.

July 14, 2018 Weekend trip to Trier!

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There's this system called "invited talks" in the scientific community, which is essentially treated as something honorable. Something people write on their CV. Something extremely unscientific and ridiculous, if I'm the one who gives the verdict. It was only because it was my former boss, Michel Perez, who invited me to the conference that I went there. After all it's kind of impossible to refuse an invitation like this. The problem is, the conference was so horribly organized that the very person who invited me apologized to me for having invited me. Anyway, this was the last thing before summer that had to be done. Now the next thing that is more or less waiting for me is the conference in Japan which takes place at the end of October. Until then, I essentially have a long break. Time to think about what to do this summer.

The conference being in Paris, I came back Friday evening, fairly late. It's funny that I decided to organize a weekend hike exactly this weekend, leaving pretty much zero time to recover from the exhaustion in Paris.

Rhein-Ruhr-Region-LEPUsually the majority of the participants live along the line that connects Düsseldorf, Duisburg, Mülheim, Essen , Bochum and Dortmund, which makes it really easy to organize a train. This time, however, there were Robin from Velbert (which is more or less in the middle between Düsseldorf and Bochum), Inez from Mönchengladbach, Oli from Kaarst (which is between Düsseldorf and Mönchengladbach) etc. And there's this thing called Schönes Wochenende Ticket, which is a free pass for local trains in entire Germany on weekends. And this ticket is cheaper if it is shared by up to 5 people. Due to the complicated distribution of places of provenance, we had to well organize the purchase of train tickets.

Trier is so far the farthest south city that we've visited in this group. And accordingly it took quite some time to go there by train. It almost felt like the day was going to an end after the train journey.

Since the youth hostel where we were staying was inside Trier we decided to leave our stuff there, although actually the distance between the train station and the youth hostel was not quite negligible. Just as last week, the sun was burning like we were in a tropical country.

The youth hostel of Trier looked extremely modern, although I'm generally surprised how clean the youth hostels are. It took quite some time to leave the stuff there (for whatever reason...). And it was already around 3pm. Not quite realistic if you want to go hiking then.

Still, we went hiking according to the plan. Actually the main attraction of this trip was the city of Trier itself, and the hiking path that I had created was almost merely there just in order to have some activity. However, the hiking trail turned out to be extremely beautiful, going over the Eifelsteig, which was part of what we did in Blankenheim.

I already had lunch in the train to Trier, but there was a neat local pub on the way. Olaf, who is vegan and looks extremely healthy, started drinking beer. This ignited the range of orders of beer. It was just too hot outside. And we're in the country of beer. We should also follow the tradition.

And unfortunately we could manage to go only up to Ehrang. We took a train there and went back to Trier.

After shower, we all gathered in front of the hostel and went to the city center for dinner. It was already around 9pm and many restaurants had closed their kitchens. We went to one of the traditional restaurants (Ratkeller). Outside, when we started moving the tables to put them together, one waitress was implicitly complaining. Another one came for the order, shouting at us for not giving the order quickly. Funnily, she was addressing us with "du", which is the casual form in German, while we were talking to her with "Sie", which is the polite form. Not bad for a traditional German restaurant...

We did not have enough time to do sightseeing in the evening, so we went back directly to the hostel. We had actually bought a case of beer on the way when we came back from the hike, which we put in the river for cooling and we were sitting on the landing stage. It was extremely dark outside, but at least we were not disturbing anyone. Somehow the others did not drink beer as much as we thought they'd do. Well, it's probably rather a good thing since the trip is not completely over. Actually I prefer this way of enjoying the weekend, because we don't have to change the daily rhythm a lot, enjoying the entire day and going to bed also early, instead of not doing anything during the day and going out only in the evening to come back home at something like 3am, which in my opinion is only extremely unhealthy and destroys the next day, even though that's what often happens in Düsseldorf (and everywhere).

Next day, I got up around 9am and found out that I was, together with Jen, the very last person to have breakfast. All the others were apparently already waiting for us outside, playing table tennis or doing something else.

Since we couldn't do the sightseeing in the evening on the first day, we decided to do it first. The original plan was to go to the Freilichtmuseum, which is like an open air museum. You can find these museums everywhere in Germany. I know one near Hamburg, and since I liked it a lot, I wanted to try it out here as well. But with Stefan having to be back in Mülheim by 8pm, the schedule was quite tight.

In the city center, we were standing in front of the Porta Nigra, when there was one local starting to explain us the history of Trier. He turned out to be a tourist guide, who obviously wanted to be our guide. That's in principle totally fine, but his explanation seemed almost endless. After some time, I gave up the hope to go to the museum later, and decided to concentrate on the sightseeing.

After we left the Porta Nigra, Mami somehow became our tourist guide. We were essentially following her instructions to go from one sight to another. What you see on the photo is Karl Marx's house. There's nothing wrong about it but it looks somehow weird that his house looks stately. Similarly, you can see the statue of Karl Marx on the photo. This one was a gift from China and caused controversy a few months ago. The funny thing is, when the weather is good, you cannot recognize the face of Karl Marx anymore. And it's true that it's at the city center, but it's somehow separated from where you'd be as a tourist.

Trier is certainly a nice city. But sightseeing is simply not my stuff. Maybe it was more or less the same for the others, when we had a break some time after noon and did not come up with any new idea after that. Then we split up into two groups, one of which stayed in the city center and the other one went to the river.

I was in the river group, drinking beer. I wanted to go to swim but the water quality was just simply horrible. At the next table, Mami was drinking alcohol free beer. Alcohol free doesn't mean directly zero alcohol. According to wikipedia, a drink can be called alcohol free if the alcohol content is less than 0.5%. This fact could be seen clearly today, as Mami's face was going between red, purple and blue back and forth.

Then we went back to the train station. Right in the moment we arrived there, rain started to pour down. So brilliantly organized :)

As planned, we were back in Düsseldorf around 7pm. I didn't have to be there so early, but I was also happy to have a comfortable night, especially after this trip combined with my stay in Paris. But having a stormy period of time is also a good thing, as I was truly looking forward to going back to my normal life this time.

July 7, 2018 Hiking from Boisheim to Dülken and Beer festival!

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As I am going to Paris next week, I organized a hike on Saturday for the first time after quite some time. The problem of going hiking on Saturday is that many people actually cannot join. This time, especially because a lot of people have already left for vacations, there were really not many people coming. It's summer. And simply there's no one remaining in Düsseldorf in summer.

Today was the beer festival in Dülken, which is on the train line to Venlo. So I was thinking we could take the Eurobahn which we always took to go to Venlo. The great thing is, exactly this weekend, this very weekend in which the beer festival is taking place, the German railway decided to shut down the zone between Düsseldorf and Mönchengladbach, so that we had to take an enormous detour to go to Dülken. This involved two transfers, which I just hoped would somehow workout. They did. And I must say I was very happy this morning.

Well to be more precise, we started from Boiheim, which is on the same train line. And this hiking trail was originally just one part of a very long hiking trail which was going from Viersen to Venlo. Since the most interesting part was the last part that leads to Venlo, which we already did last year, this first part was in technical limbo. So in this sense as well, I was very happy that we had a reason like beer festival to go there today.

Denis had brought his ukulele today. Apparently he bought it after the hike where I played the ukulele a few weeks ago. The wave of ukulele came some time in the past in Lyon, when Adrián introduced it there. It might be coming here in Düsseldorf as well. Anyway today it was mainly me who was playing his ukulele (just as last time).

We were like burning on the way up to the break. There were some trees, but there were more fields on the way. Really a pity that there was no water today.

Still we managed to have a break in a forest in front of the German war monument (which was actually not planned to be visited).

At the end of the hike, there were some signs indicating the direction to the train station, which we were completely ignoring. Some people pointed this out, but of course the main idea was to go to the beer festival, which was clearly not part of the hike, but anyway I decided to take everyone there first and end the hike (because otherwise not many people remain...).

Dülken is a very small city. And maybe it was this mentality of small city, that there were people bathing in the well, which was in the market and right in the middle of the beer festival. The water was clear and extremely cold. Such a great moment after a day of burning sun. We stayed there for almost an hour and went to the train station.

There were two platforms at the train station, which were separated by the railways. According to my intuitive understanding, the correct side for Düsseldorf was the platform on the city side. But on the timetable it was indicated that the train was to arrive on the other side. We went through the underpass to go to the other side. A few minutes later, the train arrived, but at the other platform. We ran to the other side. We missed the train. Yes, in Germany, this can happen. They don't care how inefficient it is for the society that the trains follow no rule, although this kind of basic problems started when the German railway was privatized, which follows roughly the same pattern as the German post (so if you don't know the situation in Germany, don't trust the German post, because since the privatization a few years ago it's just a chunk of chaos).

Anyway, the next train was to arrive one hour later. We desperately tried to catch a bus, only to find out that the bus stop was moved and the bus we were waiting for actually never came. At least there was one train every hour, and we managed to come back to Düsseldorf accordingly.

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