Our Journey

Posted: December 26th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Photos, Route | 1 Comment »


This is the scope of our journey. Looking at the map like this, I remember how much fun it was. I will miss the walking. It’s about 6500 kilometres (about 4000 miles). Total walking: about 2500 Km. Including my first journey about 5000 Km.

(Click image for interactive Google Map. Every day of traveling is marked and has a small note.)

Road to Damascus

Posted: November 14th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels, Route | No Comments »

Walking through Syria is an experience in itself. Once across the borders of Turkey a culture of hospitality and simplicity welcomed us. As we crossed from the warm and cozy coastal line over the mountains to the desert we truly felt like we entered the middle east. The most striking thing about Syria is the hospitality. People have such a deep openness to strangers and a welcoming attitude that still no day passes without me being surprised by a act of kindness, a thing that was more rare in the previous countries. By now, we walk into villages with absolute certainty that someone will take us in for the night. There doesn’t have to be a hotel or guest house, we just know that a family will see us and wave us in. The challenge is more so how to decline the hospitality because if we would accept all offers for tea, food and sleep we would make only 10km a day.

The way led us mostly along the road, first down close to the coast and then over the mountains to the gate of the desert, a city called Homs. We were curious how walking through the desert would be. It turned out to be quite uneventful except that we had to finally face the winter. One morning, about two days walk into the dry area, we stepped out of the house of the family that hosted us for the night and had almost zero degrees wind and rain gushing against us. We were not prepared for this temperature shock, so we put on all our warm stuff and started walking anyhow. It was a though day but we still made it to our goal 30km further. In the evening I got a high fever which lasted for two days. The days before were already hard, my motivation for walking was nearing the deepest low of the journey, the sickness brought me to the bottom. Fortunately we were now just 15km away from a monastery that we marked as our most important goal in Syria. Once strong enough to walk, we took a taxi to the foot of the hill where the monastery was on and then hiked up. There we spend five wonderful days that allowed us to rest and regain strength physically as well as spiritually. Deir Mar Musa, as the place is called, is a place of deep spirituality and true communion with Muslims. What impressed and nurtured us most was the mass held every evening in the Syriac rite (catholic), there was such a presence of fellowship and genuine approach to the mysteries that communion felt truly like participating in the body of Christ.

To our surprise we also met the Swiss pilgrim Patrik again at the monastery and so continued the journey to Damascus with him. From Deir Mar Musa the way is called “the monastery trail” because there are so many historical monasteries, nicely spread apart by a days walk distance. It took us four days to reach Damascus but it was through gorgeous landscapes, mostly deserty mountains. A memorable stop was at Malula which is an ancient town where they still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. Christians are definitely a minority in Syria, so christian towns just seem to be overloaded with churches and crosses.

The second last part of our pilgrimage ended with the three of us taking the road to Damascus, entering this city with great curiosity about the unique historical and holy places there. To give just a few examples: the grave of John the Baptist, the house of Ananias and the place where St. Paul fled the city over the wall.

Now we are getting ready for the last part of our walk which should not take more than 14 days.

Walking through Syria is an experience in itself. Once accross the borders of Turkey a culture of hospitality and simplicity welcomed us. As we crossed from the warm and cozy coastal line over the mountains to the desert we truly felt like we entered the middle east. The most striking thing about Syria is the hospitality. People have such a deep openness to strangers and a welcoming attitude that still no day passes without me being surprised by a act of kindness, a thing that was more rare in the previous countries. By now, we walk into villages with absoloute certainty that someone will take us in for the night. There doesn’t have to be a hotel or guest house, we just know that a family will see us and wave us in. The challenge is more so how to decline the hospitality because if we would accept all offers for tea, food and sleep we would make only 10km a day.
We spent a lot of time walking on roads and unfortunately they were often high ways or primary roads.

New Land

Posted: October 20th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels, Route | 3 Comments »

It’s been a while since I last updated you on our journey. It’s not that we’ve not been traveling, more so that we were having so many impressions meeting people and seeing places that the writing had to go back in line several times. It might continue so for a while, but for now here’s a short update what we’ve been up to.

After the St. Paul’s Trail we rested for almost a month in Antalya. We rented motorcycles and rode east to Kas to go to Mais, a Greek island where we could renew our visas, since they were only valid for 3 months. A few days after returning to the home base in Antalya Phil told us his plans to go on alone. It was a sad parting but all felt that it was also good and that we’ll see each other again hopefully sooner than later. With Phil gone, also a new chapter of traveling for me and Chrystal started, until now we walked as a team of three, now it would be only two.

From Antalya we walked and hitch hiked along the coast down to Antakya, the ancient Antioch. The time in that city will be unforgettable. A catholic sister founded a house of peace there with the aim to support inter religious dialogue. The house has become somewhat of a hub for spiritual travelers of any kinds. During our stay there, we met many incredible people including two independent pilgrims that are also walking to Jerusalem.

From Chrystal:
Then from Antakya to Syria, finally a new country. We waited 5 hours at the border and got the visas! But they took all the money we had! 75 dollars. we decided to take the challenge and go without money, the next bank was a three days walk away or an hour or two drive. We turned down offers for rides, but took offers for food and places to sleep. There are not near as many little hotels here as in Turkey. It is much different here in Syria than in Turkey. So for three days and two nights we ate fruit from the pomegranate trees, mandarin trees, apple trees, and asked for water along the way. People cooked meals for us and one family gave us their bed, where the parents slept, and the family of 6 slept on the floor! We are contemplating going the whole way without money! But we got a hotel here in the city, two nights bad sleep, one on the concrete floor with mosquitoes as our intimate companions, made the hotel irresistible (we searched for a monastery without luck), we slept 12 hours without waking once in a room facing the loud center street.

Do not worry, yes this all sounds maybe crazy but we have been very safe. We have to be most careful walking along the road, as the cars pass each other very fast. We had some very long days, walking 40 kms (25 miles!) one day. I have learned my limits now. We like walking 25 kms, or 16 miles, and 30 k or 19 miles is OK, anything over that and blisters start forming, and the legs ache so bad each step goes by with awareness, no daydreaming. Also the weather is hot here, well humid on the coast and unlike turkey the roads are blacktop, so harder on the feet. Oh and the most fun news, we were inspired by the nun, who we met in Antioch, as she walked the whole way from turkey to Jerusalem by foot in 45 days with resting days. And also by two foot pilgrims who have been walking, one two years and the other 7 months, only walking! so we are trying, unless emergency to only walk. We also figure we will be in Jerusalem, now in around 45 days. Each family we stayed with told us to come back and please stay longer. They are so kind an hospitable, and they have so little. One family gave us a can of tuna they had and they ate only rice and yogurt. I need to sit down and write for myself a bit, my head is absolutely spinning and I have had no time to process the last 5 days. We feel ashamed of our flashy backpacks and high-tech sleeping bags and saying we have no money. So we are unsure what we want to do, we are thinking about it today. We just saw a side of Syria and traveling we know we would never have seen if we had money or took car rides. While just being here to some is crazy, when you have a livable amount of money and securities like transportation, you determine so much of how life goes.

One man was drilling us from the first minute we met him about how much money we have and how much money we will get from the bank and it felt so intrusive, I kept saying no I have minus money, debt, and trying to avoid saying how much Lukes account has on it (Syrian lira is 50 lira=1 dollar) and then we realized he has never seen a bank card or a visa card and he only wanted to know how it worked. He was the whole time asking how much it costs to purchase the card itself, not how much money we had. That was so amazing to realize, they are not at all begging for money and rather they refused anything we offered. One student showed us around the city, and he was so helpful, we assumed he was along for what he could get out of us (this happened many times in Turkey), but he secretly paid our meal, fresh falafel, mmm, and bought us ice cream! Syria welcomed us with a new level of hospitality.

The Heart of Turkey

Posted: August 28th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels, Route | 3 Comments »

The three of us, Chrystal, Phil and I, left Istanbul early in the morning trying to catch the first boat to Yallova. Unfortunately we got screwed over by a taxi driver and missed the ferry ride. It was already around noon when our virgin feet touched the new continent of Asia minor. As the land rushed towards the wide metal ramp of the ferry, I got nervous, this was the continuation of where I left almost 2 years ago. How would the others do? How would Turkey receive a few rugged wanderers? All fears and uncertainties proved to be far from justified, but between that certainty and the moment we stepped off the ship would lay 800 kilometers of walking, much stretching of the soul and quite a few mountains.

Along some back streets we headed south aiming for some hills, the firs goal was already set: the town Iznik, or better known as Nicea of the famous christian creed and home to the 1st and 7th Ecumenical Counsel. To get there we had two rough days, but most importantly we had to decide how to handle the opportunities of taking a ride. The first day, on some random crossing, as the sun was already setting, we decided together on the one and only rule we’ve made so far: taking rides is allowed within reasonable distance (walkable) and cannot cost anything. So far we have kept to it except once where a guy offered us a ride and then in the end demanded an exorbitant pay of 20 Liras. So as we were standing at the crossing of legislation, of course the first car to stop was a shared taxi, called “Dolmush”, we tried to wave him by and make clear that we were not willing to pay and so he offered us to take us for free.
As we arrived in Iznik most of the anxiousness was stripped as I quickly realized that just like everywhere else the true dangers lie in the soul, how we relate to each other and ourselves, and not in “bad Turkish men”. From Iznik to Eskesir the way we chose brough us along the Sakarya river through many remote villages, canyons; a way mostly labeled by the locals with all kinds of impossibilities: too far, to dangerous, too bad road (“uhm, we are on foot, what do we need a good road for?”). It all turned out to be quite simple and doable, sometimes very hot and sparce on opportunities to buy food, but the farmers were giving us all we needed and more. The greatest challenge was to learn how to acknowledge and respect Chrystals and Phils rhythmswith staying true to mine, an art I still haven’t perfected yet. Chrystal is slower, Phil is faster than I. A stretching of a new kind, when I walked alone this was never an issue, the challenges were of a different kind, like being alone and so on. Now, walking in a crew has a different dynamic, it’s easier in many ways since we carry each other, one just has to be careful to keep allegiance to the mission of working on ones own soul in solitude when it would be possible to always have communion.

The day before we made it to Eskesir we were looking for a place to spend the night, as we asked for it in little villages they kept us pointing to the mountains saying: “Hotel, hotel!”. The sun was setting and we’ve had a long day walking but kept going. Jokingly we said: “I bet, we’ll find an all inclusive resort…”, Phil pitched in, “and a water slide!”. Believe it or not, that’s just what we found! A few road turns later a hotel appeared with a pool in front of it and a winding slide into the water. Unfortunately the hotel was full and the pool was closed, but since Turkish hospitality prevailed once more over circumstances they reopened the pool just for us and let us sleep on the lounge chairs and in an abandoned hotel, all for free of course.

In Eskesir we stayed three nights or so, enjoying the atmosphere of an university town. At Varuna cafe (recommended, and NOT in LP) we met some students that were excited to show us the city. From there, we headed to Yalvac which became our next goal after we decided together that we should go all the way south to Antalya. The most important factor for our decision to go so far south and not head more east was that there’s a 300 km long trail from the lake region to the sea. Between there and Eskesir lay still 300-400 km of central Anatolian highlands. These we crossed with a mix of walking and hitch hiking along small roads far aside of the main highways that cross the country like pumping veins. We wanted the slow blood and little veins, the real life of Turkey, the stuff you don’t find in tourist brochures and Lonely Planets. We found it in abundance. In villages that count the appearance of tourists in years are keen to give the best and welcoming hospitality I have ever seen. Sometimes we heard, “Yeah we’ve seen people like you before… four years ago.” The days passed in a rush everyday was something new, we all struggled to keep our diaries in sync with all the input and developments of the inner life.

Once, in Han a little town almost in the desert, a team of archaeologists hosted us, they enthusiastically showed us their work, took us to their sights where they dug out graves and channels running under the rocks for hundreds of meters that were once used to hide from the invading Persians. We were the first “tourists” to visit the site and felt special once more taking a liking in the way we travel, for it’s only on this way those special acquaintances are abundant.
After days of yellow grain fields with a mountain to cross or avoid once in a while we arrived in Yalvac, a small city at the foot of the Sultan mountains and the gate to the southern lake region. The last part of walking was ahead with the rugged Toros mountains guarding the way. The St. Pauls trail would be our way through.

To Istanbul (Again)

Posted: June 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels, Route | 3 Comments »

The road did not end completely in Rome, we kept traveling to the place where my last journey ended. After 10 days in Rome we felt the urge to move on so Chrystal bought tickets to Patras, first with the Train to Bari and then with the Ferry to Greece.

As I early in the morning entered the train in Termini Roma and then saw the lush landscapes of Lazio hush by I felt leaving someting behind and ready for new input that would challenge my soul. One would be amazed how easy 6 hours of train ride feel after 2 weeks of walking. Once in Bari we had six hours to kill so we walked all around the old city letting our feed guide the way. Suddenly we found ourselves facing a tall romanesque church; going inside, it appeared even mightier and for an unknown reason at that time the church was full with pious christians performing postrations before the altars. A stair lead us to the grave of the saint. The cellar roof was held by numerous small pillars connecting in bows, bellow, like under umbrellas, pilgrims prayed and sang hymns. Thus we found the grave of St. Nicolas (Santaclause) by accident, which was established there after seamen have brought the relics to Bari.

Later that eavening the ferry left and took us to Patras in Greece. In the morning the boat arrived and we decided to stay a night. Then we took a train to Athens where someone hosted us for a few nights through couch surfing. Greece is always good, the hedonistic lifestyle allowes the visitor to feel no guilt at all to spend most of the days sipping a frape in a café and even fills him even with a sense of obligation to do so. Our host sparred no effort to introduce the city to us. On a high rock, that algededly was dropped by Athene herself, a panoramic view opened for us to get a chance to acquire a feeling for the city. Sorrounded by mountains Athens cant grow larger on the original plain as it already fills the vast ditch and makse it look like milk poured into a bowl, about 5 milllion people inhabit the place which makes up half of the population of Greece and so it easy to imagine that it is somewhat of a boiling pot.

The next stop was Thessaloniki where we were welcomed again by a couch surfer. After a few great days there we took the night train to Istanbul. In the train we had our own cabin and could sleep on beds so we arrived well rested in the central station. From there we took the ferry to the asia side. It was the first time for me to go to the this part of the city, and it meant for me the true beginning of our journey because I at last moved further on this pilgrimage than I did before. There was another surprise waiting for us though: Phil, our good friend from Switzerland, arrived a week before us and found a place to stay. It was a warm welcoming, with broad smiles we entered the bus and couldn’t wait to exchange some of our experiences from along the way.

On the Road Again

Posted: May 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels, Route | 2 Comments »

In the literal sense of the word. We are walking again and it feels so good! Right now on the way to Rome on the Via Francigena. I hope to blog about the many adventures Chrystal and me have experienced so far.

A Year Ago…

Posted: August 12th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels, Route, Thoughts | 1 Comment »

One year ago I started my pilgrimage. It was an exciting day for me (see this post http://www.lukebuehler.com/?p=38). During that time I often wondered where this journey would take me. What God would do in my heart. Somehow I felt that there would be some detours until I would reach my goal, but what has actually happened in the last year, has far exceeded my guesses. From that day where I did my first step out of the home of my parents to start walking, I often dreamed about how it would be to reach Jerusalem. Over time it became more and more a symbol, the determination to reach the actual city didn’t become any weaker, but it found a spiritual companion that empowered it even more. After a year I’m still half way, I stopped in Istanbul, never crossed the Bosporus to Asia. If cities have a symbolic meaning for me (and they do), then Istanbul is the life in the middle, since the dawn of history caught between the interests of the west and orient. Its the city of both continents and has thus two hearts: The heart of Athens which is cradle of our western civilization, and the heart of Jerusalem, our spiritual mother. I for my part long more for Jerusalem than for Athens and interestingly the reality of my pilgrimage reflects that. I had a good offer from someone I met during my trip, to work in Athens and stay there for the winter. I could have had an apartment there and made some money with which I could have finished my trip, but I felt like that it was not right for me to do this detour and I declined. Only to come back to Switzerland one month later from Istanbul? Yes. Where the pilgrimage of heart and body will lead I do not know, but one day I will make my home in Jerusalem. Hope with me.

On the Road Again

Posted: April 30th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels, Route | 1 Comment »

I’m on the road again. Last Saturday Chrystal graduated, all in black robes and the square hats just like we know it from the movies. Then we packed up got everything in our car including her younger brother Ben and started driving back to Pennsylvania. We had 3700 miles ahead which translates to about 6800 kilometers. So I think its justified to call this a road trip. We are planning on taking it slow, visiting cities and consume some eye-candy that the USA has to offer. Since we’re couch surfing every city also brings its own social adventure. Our first city to visit was Portland. We drove right into down town and were surprised to find ourselves to be in one of the nicest cities in North America. Chilling out on the main square, an open-minded black guy introduced himself as our tour guide. Of course we were happy to accept his offer and follow his lead to one of the coolest book stores ever, Powell’s books. After that we started looking for the home of our host that was ten minutes outside of the city. We found ourselves in a cute wooden floating port where we were warmly welcomed to the house of Dave, who is also the port master there. After showing us around we just looked at each other and realized that the adventure of driving out into the blue has hit us again. It was a very interested night and we met many good people that we will remember for quite awhile. Two highlights were definitely burned into our memories: a big old Danish wooden boat maintained by two of Dave’s friends and his awesome singing, which made the whole crowd become quiet. We finished the evening by philosophizing deep into the night. The next morning we headed to Idaho, which brought us along a broad river to some glittering waterfalls, vast prairie’s and stormy mountains. We drove for almost 8 hours when we finally arrived at our destination, Boise Idaho. We called up Nick and we met him at his apartment. We chatted with Nick and his girlfriend and also his brother and we had some really good chocolate chip cookies. They offered us the kitchen so we made some pasta ate dinner as we watched their game of scrabble. It was so nice to eat a good meal after driving in the car all day. So far we’ve had pretty good weather, only a small bout of slushy rain as we went over a mountain pass. We’ll tell of the rest of Idaho and our venture down to Salt Lake city in the next post.

New Map

Posted: April 10th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels, Route | 2 Comments »

There’s a new map that gives a better overview where I’m currently at and of my last journey.

If you wanna see the old map with the details of my walk by foot, follow this link.

This is the link to the new Google map.

L’Abri & Looking into the Future

Posted: February 18th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Photos, Route, Switzerland | 1 Comment »

Everyone has been asking me what I’m going to do now that I’m back in Switzerland. Well, let me first update you on what has been happening until now.

My days were mostly about studying some of the things I’ve discovered on my journey and meeting friends. Besides that I’ve been working for a mobile phone software company that is about to be started soon. It’s been some good weeks and hard ones too.

One awesome thing that I was able to do after three years of trying, was visiting the L’Abri fellowship. It’s a community of truth seekers that live together, share their meals, work and have committed time to study whatever heart felt question they are currently facing. The fellowship was founded by Francis and Edith Schaeffer, well know philosophers and theologians of the last century. Most people stay there for quite a while, because of my responsibilities here in Zürich I could only go for a few days but they were so valuable. Early in the morning I packed my backpack and took the train to the southern part of Switzerland. I love it down there, Lausanne and the Geneva Lake is just breathtakingly beautiful. But L’Abri is situated up in the mountains and the view of the bold Alps is even more impressive. Quickly I got to know most of the people there and figured out how it all works. Working in the morning, studying in the afternoon and fun in the evening. I love to learn in community, in contrast to the more individualistic study style of todays academics, you have more space to breathe, you can go the pace you want and need and the best is, that you can exchange so naturally about what questions you are having since you are in a close fellowship. After four days I went back to Zürich.

See: L’Abri Website

Now about the future. I’m gonna fly to Chrystal for three months in Canada. It came up with my good friend Tii. He said, hey why don’t you go to your girl and then maybe travel some more. A few days later I bought the ticket. I’m gonna live close to where she studies until her graduation. Then we are planing to do a road trip from Vancouver to Pennsylvania (from West to East America), where we will stay with her parents for another month. Then I have to go back to Switzerland and what comes after that I cannot tell.