Walking

Walking is one of the most independent things you can do. When I was little, I would be taken along on one, not yet knowing the magic, the infinity impression of what was going on. I just stepped in (my own, slower) time, my small hand held gently in someone else’s, looking at the world. “Let’s go for a walk” was always an exciting thing to hear. It still is.

On one of the first walks I remember, we followed a forest path. It was summer. The shade of it, the coolness from the open heat of the road earlier enveloped me. The earthy floor was sprinkled with sand that others had brought with their shoes on the way back from the beach. Tall pine trees lined either side. Roots occasionally popped up on the ground and I was quietly reminded to step carefully. Then we (slowly) ascended a staircase to a bridge, with my sturdy, but still short legs determinedly mounting every step. The same process followed at the other end, downwards.

The conclusion to this part of the walk was magnificent. We arrived on an open train platform and in a few minutes a regional one always rushed through. For a few seconds there was nothing but sunlight, rushing air and noise. I was ecstatic.

This love of walking was opened up in me, and nourished, by my parents. It was a gift, because no matter where I am, when I do it, I think of them.

Walks are contained slices of infinity that can repeat themselves. They are part of discoveries in new places that you make for yourself, and yourself alone, and that you digest at your own pace, literally.

I walked as I grew up, everywhere I went. From the days when a bigger hand held mine, we would gradually walk next to each other with those who had watched over me, and we would talk about where our journeys on foot took us. One day, in a city that became my home, I discovered a river, and being around it became My Walk. That river was my point of focus during multiple times in my life. No matter what was going on, no matter how unsuccessful a day had been, or how much happiness about something was filling me up, I had that walk. For two hours I could enter something like a dream, as my feet carried me through comfortingly familiar, but never boring territory.

Halloween Afternoon in Hamburg

This is what a stroll on All Hallows’ Eve looks like in Hamburg. Before night falls and I jump on my broomstick. So appropriate, the dark branches contrasting with all that fabulous foliage. I suspect we’re seeing the last days of our golden autumn, so I hastened to snap as much of it as I could. Absolutely glorious.

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I Love Going to the Movies Because…

Buying tickets is fun. Choosing seats provides you with necessary decision- making exercises (love seat – might want to move one over; four seats in front of chosen spot occupied and it’s a chick flick – might get loud with the giggles; splurge on the back row or not; almost everything is full, but I really wantto see this movie NOW etc.) Buying tickets online is even more fun, because the usually present ticking clock indicating for how much longer this operation will be reserved for you provides that extra kick.

It’s the only place where I can really cry, and since I’m not a loud cryer the cinema suits me just fine. Shedding a few tears during a well written and well acted sad scene is satisfying and cheap therapy (this also works at home – try the scene in Homeward Bound when Shadow slips in to a pit and is talking to Chance after he realizes he can’t get up).

For an hour or two the world outside is forgotten. The lights go out (yay!), the screen lights up and there is only the story, sights and sounds in front of me.

Seeing a good movie with your favourite actor(s) is a special kind of joyful experience. Seeing a bad movie with your favourite actor(s) reduces the amount of spitting afterwards regarding the badness of the movie due to the presence of the favourite actor(s). Seeing a movie where everything is bad reminds you that the things you love doing include a risk and some money.

Sometimes the audience claps and that is extra cool, because while we all know the people on the screen can’t hear us (though just maybe), letting emotions like happiness and enthusiasm in to the universe is a heart-warming shared experience.

 

 

Surfing in Munich Airport

One can surf directly in Munich Airport during the summer.

Wait, really? Yes, really.

This year saw Munich Airport’s Surf & Style event take place for the fifth time, from the end of July and through August. The Forum of the Munich Airport Center  houses a large pool displaying a permanent non-breaking wave. This pool was also the venue for this year’s European championship in Stationary Wave riding. Surfing a standing wave is also a competitive sport – another thing learned.

The attraction has become so popular since it’s opening that enthusiasts had to register in advance. But admission was free, equipment was provided, instructors were on hand and beginners or even non-surfers could come in the afternoons, getting 45-minute slots each.

An example of interesting, albeit at first unexpected, use of urban space, in particular a large international transportation hub. But it seems to be working and these surfers definitely felt at home in Munich Airport’s beach bubble.

 

First Real Bike Ride When You’re Not Five

The touchscreen in front of me insists I’m from Azerbaijan. My best friend and I are standing in front of a column and trying to rent a city bike for me. Scores of them are standing there in the sunshine, waiting. It’s a beautiful summer day. Opportunities to just feed coins in to a slot if you want to get something are becoming fewer and fewer. I have to register an account with the bike company and I get increasingly foul-mouthed as the country list won’t budge. We try to download the app on our phones. After several attempts with three different devices in this digital age it works. The app then tells you what to do. There’s another touchscreen on the bike. Where? I locate it between the wheels, hidden underneath a metal lid with the bike number on it. After another series of pushing buttons, starting again, tugging on the lock the bike is finally mine.

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It’s heavy, but this is somehow reassuring. Having asked most of my friends to push their bikes, I feel confident with this phase of the journey. We take a wide, shaded path, the tall leafy trees of the Hamburg Stadtpark meeting overhead. Everything is green and wonderful and the slightly grainy terrain underfoot immediately reminds me of my recent cycling course.

“The time has come, the walrus said.” With my first attempt to get on it feels like I’m trying to climb the Empire State Building, so we lower the saddle. To be on the safe side I let a few cyclists and walkers pass, and then off I go! The still present issue is getting both feet on the pedals and starting to cycle in time, but that works out quicker than I expected. Otherwise I just brake and try again. When I do get going, the beginning is sometimes still a bit wavy, but the width of the paths around us is perfect, and with me keeping a lookout for senior citizens, bike enthusiasts, dogs and children I feel confident.

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The park with its almost 150 hectares is the best training ground for the first real bike ride outside of my course and my friend’s triumphant “You’re doing it!” makes the whole experience all the more enjoyable. We occasionally ride side by side and she warns me about upcoming turns. I make every curve, even if it doesn’t really feel like I know what I’m doing, but the (hopefully) elegant turns do wonders for my self-esteem. We can even chat, only I look straight ahead while doing it and keep a very firm grip on the handlebar.

This afternoon trip brings several profound discoveries with it. For example, even the smallest incline that you wouldn’t notice walking becomes immediately apparent when you’re on a bike. Duh. I sweat as I pedal harder, feeling like the wheels are sticking to the ground, and a few minutes later I’m amazed at the speed with which the bike is rolling along without me doing much. “We’re going very slightly downhill!” my friend calls. I can’t see it, but I can definitely feel it. Can I brake, can I brake?! Yes, I can brake! Gentle braking, slowing down in time, check! Successfully passing other people, check!

 

Learning to Cycle When You’re Not Five – Graduation Day

The death grip on the handlebar has relaxed, though it’ll be a while before “Look, Ma, no hands!” I arrive at the familiar football field one last time and we’re instructed to ride around, practicing braking and getting off the bike. “We will cycle a bit on the street before heading in to the park, and since there will be people and other cyclists around, I want you to brake, get off and push the bike if you feel unsure.” After two or three wobbly starts I shoot off, gathering speed, inwardly crowing about getting my left foot down on the pedal in time and pedaling successfully. The wind suddenly picks up and I make another small discovery – what it’s like to cycle against it and why my cycling friends notice in particular if it’s windy outside. I stop for a break, and my instructor comes up to me, laughing, asking if she can hop on and have me take her around.

But it’s time! We file out on the street, me at the very front. Our instructor is excited. “One behind the other! Go!” She jumps on her bike beside me and pedals off. I touch my handlebar…and the world changes.

world change

The leaves on the trees around us are intensely, vividly green and the trunks are standout dark against the background of houses and streets. Fences, lampposts and trash cans pop out like obstacles in a videogame. The bike path stretches on narrowly ahead. Every slope, however small, seems to move. Traffic gathers in noise like a tidal wave and every cyclist passing us looks like he or she knows exactly how I feel. Everything is louder.

The training ground was a dream. This is the real world and I don’t know what’s coming.

With sweaty palms I mount my bike, make a few wobbly turns and get off. There was room to regroup and straighten out on the football field, but not here. You immeditely become much more attuned to risks. I push the bike until we come to the park entrance, and then I get on again. Green fields covered in dandelions are on both sides, with trees further away. But the ground is similar to the one we had during training, so I feel more at ease. We cycle in a group, keeping a good distance from each other. I brake a few more times.

wobble

I’ve had two falls during my training, and the third adventure comes my way. I approach a loop in the road, and at the knot of the loop is a very large tree with leafy, low-hanging branches. I see some other participants going around the end further from a small fence. I’m cycling towards the fence. The path width between it and the tree is just enough for me to pass through, and I think I can do it since I’m still cycling. Coming out from under the branches, I see an old man standing there with his two dogs. I realize a little too late that I won’t be able to cycle past him after all, as my bike steers towards him, but my fingers don’t find the brake. In a few seconds there was some uncoordinated wobbling from me, braking/ getting off and stopping just short of catching one of the dogs with my bike. I didn’t get its tail or paws, nor hit it, but that was so close! The owner immediately starts shouting at me and complaining about all these people not knowing how to cycle. I apologize sincerely, saying I hope I didn’t hurt the dog. “If you did, he would have BITTEN you!” With that I mumble an apology again and carefully push my bike away, with him shouting at me to get on and go on.

We make a circle to get back and this time I’m doubly careful. I make it back to the park exit without incident and brake so nicely that I give myself a mental pat on the shoulder. My instructor slaps me lightly on the butt as she passes. Ultimate sign that I “passed”.

The bikes are locked away in the shed and we have cake and coffee to celebrate. The sugar does me good.

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Learning to Cycle When You’re Not Five – Lesson 6

I’ve started looking at cyclists on the street with different eyes. Each one that passes sets off questions in my head. How did they learn to cycle? Where did they get their bike? How long did it take before they were confident enough to cycle on the street? Do they ever have sore muscles? How does it feel for them to be on a bike? A (clearly unhinged) man cycles past me, wildly shouting obscenities at the top of his lungs. But I guess he feels comfortable, as his cycling is disturbingly at variance with his chaotic behaviour. Three little kids decked out in helmets pass in orderly duckling fashion, following their mother, their bikes just skimming her knees. However, among teenagers, scooters seem be in these days, though their models are much slimmer than the ones we practiced on.

I still remember the first exercises on those scooters. Two weeks ago I couldn’t imagine riding a bike and now I pedal along the familiar football field like it’s just something I do. Starting is a little tricky and I have to stop a few times, but I discover it’s because I don’t speed up properly before putting my left foot on the pedal. So I give myself some more time, practice getting the other foot on the pedal in time, et voila. Cycling in a straight line is easier today, as is making curves closer to the corners of the field. But I have to watch the distance between me and the other participants. Timely steering is a work in progress, though now using the handlebar feels more in sync with my movements. I create a small obstacle course for myself, cycling around a few orange cones. I barely avoid riding in to one, but I do knock it over. After yesterday’s fall I take care cycling around the small goalposts, and I successfully brake in time in front of some bushes.

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“Keep pedaling, and then let it roll, pedal, roll, always changing,” my instructor calls out, so off I go. The rolling part feels short at first, but lengthens with repeated attempts. It’s amazing how once I’ve gotten a feel for a bigger bike, I don’t want to get off it, even if I can go on the smaller one too. There are only a few big ones to go around, and they are in popular demand today, so some wait and switch when the others take a break.

I barely look at my feet on the pedals, I just feel them, and while things in my direct line of vision, like people, the other participants and occasional obstacles or a stray bike left on the field (put it away!) are what attract my attention, I do look up. I see how green the trees already are, what the houses in the distance look like, all while being propelled forward with movement underneath me.

My instructor suggests another exercise, namely cycling off, raising myself off from the saddle and balancing. “Of course you can do it!” she says encouragingly. But my lower body refuses to part with gravity and I safely finish the last few rounds, seated.

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