Bart Och - Travel Journalist
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People often say it is important to look inward in order to find the strength or meaning of life or whatever else people say. But the most enriching moments, the most enlightening experiences, what keeps life worth living, I think, are when you are looking outward, at least metaphorically. For most of us, almost all the time, we are looking inward, at ourselves, thinking about how things matter to us or because of us or with us at the focal point, concentrated on how we look and how we act and how important we are – or aren’t. But if you really look inward, there is nothing there. We are out here. In every little detail, of every little thing, in every little moment – in immersing into all the unfathomable features of the simple and mundane, and in realising, viscerally, what it means that you can perceive at all. That is where, I think, life is. I believe if there is any kind of spiritual experience, it isn’t when you look in to find yourself, but when you look out to lose yourself.

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The thudding and clonking rumbles riotously through the carriage. Ardent skiers in heavy boots, like armed troops, stomp into the small cogwheel train that in just under an hour will put us on the gelid peak of Rochers-de-Naye. It is the start of the Winter holidays and everyone is eager to enjoy what is left of the season.

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A familiar, rhythmic “clickety-clack” sound permeates the wood-panelled carriage adorned with gold-plated decorations as the wheels roll over rail joints and squats. Terraced vineyards gently slope on one side and the chic, palm-studded Swiss Riviera stretches along the shore on the other. In and out of the morning light, we glide beside crescent-shaped Lake Geneva, or as locals prefer to call it, Lac Léman – at 72 kilometres in length, it is the largest Alpine lake in Europe explored by four submarines! The clear sky and the water appear to merge into one. Small fishing boats, heavily laden with the fruits of their labour, slink on the glimmering surface of the lake as the careening gulls gather above and await their chance to swoop on the leftover feast of perch, fera, pike, and char. Although it is only February, spring is poking its head through majestically-towering, snow-capped Alps. At just over 2,000 meters, Rochers-de-Naye’s gunmetal icy peak looms beside the train. High up, rocky outcrops crawl with pine trees that look like they were dusted with confectioners sugar.

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How cliché … In the French capital, the glorious city of love, while drinking café noisette, a shot of espresso with a drop of milk, and gorging on copious amounts of pain au chocolat, I felt the way you feel when your stomach flip-flops over and drops to the ground when you stare into the eyes of someone you want to spend the rest of your life with. A feeling that can be measured by the enormity of emotions that swell your heart when you hold hands and kiss for the first time.

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To most people, it seems that life on the road and all possessions jammed into a small rucksack is kind of a dream come true. The truth is a little less quaint. Backpacking is laborious and tiresome. It forces you to talk to strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comforts of home, family and friends. You are constantly off balance. You are always reminded that nothing is granted or yours except dreams, memories, the air, and the sky.

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Almost from the moment I boarded my flight, life in England became meaningless. Seat-belt signs lit up; problems switched off. Broken armrests took precedence over broken friendships. My anxieties were gone, replaced by a peculiar emotion. An emotion seeped in balance and possibilities.

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After returning from Iceland, for a long time, I couldn’t find myself in everyday life. Exhausted and inhumed by the dread of going back to work, I lay in bed for a couple of days. When I finally got up, I saw that the world was functioning without any changes, and my absence had no influence on it. Perhaps humility is the ability to accept that we can’t influence everything. It is, ultimately, acceptance of how small an element of the universe we are. Maybe the idea that we are supposed to change the world is an illusion. Maybe, it is the world that changes us. Except, I couldn’t function in this world anymore.

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It happened suddenly. A looming realisation that the designs I have imagined for my life rest on blurred lines and intoxicated dreams. Disappointment. Heartbreak. On a cold, wet grass, surrounded by hills wrinkled with the cruel Icelandic weather, I put my backpack on.

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The road snakes its way over large glaciers and mottled peaks reminiscent of a marble cake. I walk for many hours, and, many times, I resist the temptation to stop in case I lose my pace and motivation to continue hiking. Through the eyes of my imagination, everything looked so simple – probably why it is easier for most of us to dream than to fulfil our dreams, to complain than to look for solutions, to stay than to leave.

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Acquainting a new chicken with the general flock is quite tricky. While some chickens will be tolerant of the newcomer, others will give the bird a hard time wary of the ‘intruder’. Instead, giving them a little time to familiarise themselves with their new living arrangements, your chickens should be settled and quietly roosting after sunset before you introduce any new members.

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Maybe I was naive to think that it is as easily done as it is said. Or maybe I was grasping at straws seeking some kind of revolution in a life that was beginning to feel static. I ached for something to make me feel alive, and I was desperate to find something to live for.

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I was sat on the edge of the half-empty pool. The water turned green and swampy. Burnished blue tiles were now covered with a thin layer of grime, the lifebuoy found its way into the shallow corner, and the volleyball we played with just a few days ago swelled up with moisture in the overflow. I wondered what good this pandemic gave me. The pandemic that took my job, prevented me from realising my passion, erased much of my plans, buried the effects of many sacrifices and efforts, and turned my lifestyle upside down. Did I really need a lockdown to learn what was important to me; to feel connected to nature and recognise the need to take care of our planet and myself? I understood all of this a long time ago, and that is why I followed this path.

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