In the Mountains

Posted: January 23rd, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels, Route | 1 Comment »



Couple

Originally uploaded by Luke Buehler


Over Christmas we went to the mountains. The weather was beautiful all the time, but even better was the company: My girlfriend Chrystal.
I must admit though that the transition from being alone in strange places to the comfortable life of Switzerland was quite intense but much more easy than I imagined. Crazy how fast I adopt to laziness and how hard I have to fight to cope with the hardship of a pilgrim.

There some new pics on my Flickr account. Enjoy.


Back to Field One: Switzerland

Posted: January 20th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels, Route, Switzerland | 4 Comments »

Exploring Istanbul was exciting, but after a little over a week of only rain I started thinking how my journey should continue. The days got shorter and the temperatures kept dropping so I was unsure how the pilgrimage should continue in the winter.

I heard that my girlfriend was in Switzerland and that my mom was planing to go to the mountains for a week or more and since I found a cheap flight ticket home I decided to just do a surprise visit. On the 18th of December I flew home. It was quite weired to fly home, all the distance that I made in four month just melted down to three hours. There was some melancholy because I had to say good bye already to this new life of being on the road. At the same time I was looking forward to meet Chrystal and to see my family.

As I arrived in Zürich late at night no one knew that I was coming. I took the train to Zürich main train station and then went to a friend and knocked on his door, he was quite surprised to see me but it was no problem to let me surf his couch for the night. Early in the morning I walked back to Erlenbach where my journey started. It was quite a special time I walked through the woods and slowly everything became familiar. I was a little nervous though how my family would react and most of all Chrystal. We had some great troubles in our relationship and didn’t talk for over six weeks. My mom invited her to celebrate Christmas with my family even though I wouldn’t be there. I approached the house as it was still early in the morning and just walk in. No one was around except my moms cleaning lady she was quite surprised too to see me but let me in. I snook up to the room where Chrystal was sleeping and you can imagine she was quiet surprised to see me. She hid under the blanket. Also my whole family was cheerful to have me back alive.

After two days in Zürich we went to the mountains of Flims to celebrate Christmas up there. I loved to spend time with Chrystal and get some things straight that we struggled with. It was hard for her that I went on this trip and I can understand, we had a long distance relationship for over three years and me hiking alone didn’t make it much easier. After our time in the mountains she had to go back to university in Vancouver, we parted cheerfully knowing that more good things are to come. Since then I was mostly at home studying, following up some of the spiritual discoveries I’ve made along my way.

Many people ask if I will continue the pilgrimage but I don’t know yet. I’ve learned to take the decisions day by day not looking ahead too far. I might go to Canada for a while until summer starts and then continue from Istanbul to Jerusalem, but honestly, I don’t know. Currently I spend a lot of time studying, praying and meditating. Besides that I work a little as a software developer to refill my wallet.

More about what I’m learning here in the next post. The pilgrimage continues and it is less about making it to the real Jerusalem than to find the inner one.


Constantinopolis

Posted: January 19th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels, Route | No Comments »

After staying in Alexandroupolis which is about 45 kilometers away from the border to Turkey, I decided to walk the rest to Istanbul. So I started walking again, slowly the outer skirts of the city vanished and gave way to the harsh and simple nature of north Greece. I took it slow spent some time sleeping in the sun when I got tired around noon and instead of hiking along the main road I made my way through the wilderness. There were occasionally fields, the wind gently blew and the winter already seemed close. As it got dark I decided to sleep outside in the tent just a few hundred meters away from the road. The night was long because it got dark early, but none the less I slept like a baby. If you have trouble sleeping, try walking for 8 to 10 hours during the day, you’ll find a fast cure. The next morning I met a hunter that was quite amazed that I slept there and observed me curiously. After I packed I decided to make just hike to the border of Turkey and see what would happen. After I hiked for 10 kilometers or so, crossed a highway, met some “nice” shepherd dogs and walked on unused railroad tracks I came to the big red flag. Its always fun to cross a car border by foot, especially if its on a highway: you get some funny looks. Anyhow, the custom officer told me that I wasn’t allowed to pass the bored by foot. There was a lot of military and it was a bridge with many solders on both sides. So he asked one of the cars if they could take me just on the other side. A little compulsive they agreed, and took me over. After that they asked me if I wanted a ride to the next bigger town. We stared talking and I told them that I’m a pilgrim to Jerusalem and that my next goal is Istanbul. After a little discussion among themselves they asked me if I wanted to come to Istanbul with them because that was their destination too. A little amazed that it worked out for me again like that I said yes. The ride was long but none the less we made what would have taken me ten days to walk in 4 hours.

It was already dark when we arrived in that famous city, they let me out somewhere far away from the center. Istanbul is big, 14 million people big, over 100 kilometers from one side to the other. So I decided to take a bus more to the center where I could find a place for the night. I stayed in a cheap hotel in the Fatih quarter. That evening I went to a internet cafe, a friend I met in Greece (Prespa) was online and she told me that she knew someone that probably knew someone in Istanbul (yep that how it works down there). 15 minutes later I had a place to stay for the coming night. I could even have gone there that very night but I already payed the hotel. So the next day I visited Sultanahmet, the old and famous district where Aya Sofia is. I visited that church and I was so amazed by its scope and beauty, definitely a place you must see before you die. In the evening I met my new host, Gözde. She was very nice to me and let me stay as long as I wanted. Almost every day she showed me something new of Istanbul. I stayed with her over a week until my departure from Istanbul, but more about that in the next post.

So After four month I arrived in this historic city, it was quite special for me to do the last bit of the journey in these two big jumps with people taking me so far with the car. I didn’t know if it was good or if I should have fought harder to keep walking, because with this I almost saved a month of walking. But I decided to let it go and just be good with it. My journey has always been different than I imagined it from the beginning. Every day I had some expectations and every time it turned out different. Suddenly I would stand in Istanbul and ask what just happened, to cope with this and accept openly what God brought along my way became the essence of the pilgrimage. I’m glad and thank God that I have made it until there (2 thirds of the whole distance) safely and learned so much along the way.

Thank you all for your amazing support until now!


To the Holy Mountain

Posted: December 18th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels, Route | 2 Comments »

After a lot of anticipation my dad arrived in Thessaloniki, quickly we found a hotel to spend the night and decided to stay for two so we would have some time to talk. After a nice day exploring the amazingly European city Thessaloniki and realizing that the two million people living there are ahead of us Siwss in many ways we started our journey towards Athos. Immediately we plunged into a colorful adventure. To leave a big city by foot is not that easy, most city planers probably never thought, “Hey how should the pedestrians leave the town?”. After all we found the way out, after a few hours of walking we decided to take the bus for a bit, but first we strengthened ourselves with a juicy meat sandwich along the street. Shortly after we’ve entered the bus an elderly lady collapsed in front of my dad, we could catch her just in time before she would fall horribly. She just lay on the ground for a few minutes totally passed out, in the common panic everyone kept telling us what to do in Greek without being willing to take action themselves. After we finally got to the coast where there were no more industrial buildings we continued hiking. As the night fell we were only a few kilometers away of our targeted town to sleep. To increase our safety we packed out our lamps so cars would see us better and as we were standing on a drive way to a house a car pulled in. The guy was curious what we were doing and we told him that we wanted to walk to Athos. Immediately he responded that we cannot find a place to sleep in the next town and that the way we tried to go was not good, for we planned to hike along the coast instead of taking the main road more inland. Kindly he took us in, his wife quickly prepared something for us to eat an then they found us a hotel for the night drove us there. An interesting coincidence was that his son is a monk on Athos in a monastery that I wanted to visit most and I actually stayed there twice for one night.

So after our little detour we hiked along he main road, sometimes talking, sometimes each pondering his own thoughts. There is much pondering going on in a pilgrim, you know, the feet just walk by itself and the thoughts wonder of to the hidden places where the busy man can never go. The furthest my thoughts wander when my body is still fresh in the morning and the freedom is almost physically touchable. But I must admit that wondering in thought is not always helpful because it can distract from the essentials. The essentials are the inner peace and freedom not outer and the ideas from far can easily disturb the mind by fantasies leading the mind astray.

Anyhow, we walked into the night and decided to hitch hike for a while so we would get to the port town in time to take our ferry. But no one took us strangers so we stood out in the cold for two hours until a bus came that brought us to our destination: Ouranopoli, the port going to the independent province of Athos which cannot be reached by foot or car. We took a little pension for two nights and waited eagerly for our departure to the holy mountain.


I’m Back

Posted: December 10th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels, Photos, Route | 4 Comments »

Hello my friends, after a half a month on the Holy Mountain Athos I’m back in the “world” as the monks used to say. It was until now the most special time of my pilgrimage, because it is a place so full of wonder that I don’t even know where to start. And for now I won’t tell you much because it will need hours to write an account worthy of what I’ve seen and heard there. I just spend some time updating the pictures on Flickr, you’ll find them here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/lukebuehler/

I’ll give you a short update, but I’ll promise to write more sooner than later.

After I waited for one week in Thessaloniki my dad arrived to visit me. He stayed for a week. We traveled together to the little town Ouranopoli, which is the port town to go to Mount Athos. This place is a peninsula that is now for over a thousand years set apart for orthodox monks. There are many monasteries, skites, and hermitages. My dad came with me the first day to the mountain but had had to go back the next day. I stayed for half a month visiting many monasteries and staying at some places longer. I spend many hours in prayer and reading literature of the orthodox church, hiking around or talking to monks (when I found an English or German speaking one). On the ferry back to Ouranopoli a guy heard that I’m going to Constantinople and offered me a ride to Alexadroupoli which is brought me over 300 kilometers closer to Istanbul and to the border of Greece. From there I’m writing now and its likely that the next post is from the city that rests on two continents.


Reaching My Second Goal

Posted: November 18th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels, Route | 6 Comments »

The first main goal was making it to Venice then the next step was to get to Thessaloniki, the second biggest city in Greece. Now after two more month of traveling since Venice I’ve made it here. But let me tell you first what happened the last two weeks.

I stayed with those really cool people working as volunteers in this small village in the back country of Greece. The village and its surrounding nature was amazing, very untouched with the mountain peaks covered with snow and the trees still in the autumn colors, I could go for long strolls or some adventurous hikes with someone. The people were even better we had so much fun. We cooked together, went on some exploring trips, had movie nights or long and interesting conversations. One night we went dancing and it was so much fun as we were only about three to four people dancing and let ourselves go. In the end I could look back on a week of resting and enjoying good people what motivated me to move on.

After a week up in the mountains, I hitch hiked back to the city Florina where I took the train for my first time to Edessa. At first I was quite bored in this city, but I didn’t know that there were so many interesting places to discover. Edessa is built up on a big platform where the south part suddenly drops off with high rocks. There are rivers running trough the city that then fall over cliffs as beautiful waterfalls. I stayed there in a hotel where I read for a while and fell asleep early. The next morning I continued walking towards Thessaloniki. It was a rainy day but I didn’t care as I felt so free and new motivation surging trough my soul to finish this trip. After about 20 kilometers of walking I hich hiked for another 20ks to a City called Ginnaitsa where I stayed again in a hotel. I explored the town and read a lot in the bible. I love to read this book right now, often at home I rarely read it and find time only about once a week. But here on this trip I read it all the time, for the first time in my live I discover the psalms. All the mysteries that are buried in those praises and songs to God its amazing I could definitely recommend to start reading some psalms when you’ve never read in that book. But don’t read it like a normal book, find a psalm you like or you can connect to and meditate on it. I often experience how a totally different world of thought opens up.

After Giannitsa I visited Pella which was the Capital of Macededonia in the hellenistic period and the birth place of Philip and Alexander the Great. There is a good museum and a big archiolocial site that is quite impresseive becuase you can see a little bit how the people lived like in this time over 2400 years ago. In Pella I met two girls from Latvia and Germany and we traveled together the last 40 kilometers to Thessaloniki by bus. There I found a hotel for only 20 Euros, but it was the most ghetto hotel I’ve seen so far in Europe with puke in the toilet and the shower had no shower head etc. It was okey though for one night. I made a big effort to find someone to stay so I contacted some people via CouchSurfing.com and found a place to stay. The people there are so cool, especially the hosts. I’ll stay there now for a few nights and even some people I stated with up in the mountains will come here to visit with me the film festival of Thessaloniki, which is happening right now.

When I stayed in Aigos Germanos in the mountains I had a lot of time to refocus on my pilgrimage. I made up my mind to continue without taking a long break somewhere, because I was thinking about staying in a city for the winter and then continue. I even had a job in Athens as a computer supporter but I felt quite strongly that I should continue going to Jerusalem. I made some adjustments though to how I make my distance. The most important way of transportation will still be my feet but I’ll also hitch hike sometimes and maybe take even buses from time to time. The time of the year makes it to hard to only walk because it is cold and gets dark early, to sleep in my tent is also quite uncomfortable because I don’t know what to do with myself being alone in the dark for so many hours before I can go to sleep and it is freakin’ cold at night. Anyhow I’ll still walk because it is so good for soul spirit and body, I notice every detail along the way. Mountains come closer slowly over days and I can feel the elements as make my distance. When traveling with a car I can still notice the landscape but it is like one big blurry picture in the end where I cannot remember much of what I’ve seen and experienced. It is also quite distracting and so the meditative aspect of walking is not preserved when using some sort of fast transportation. It was quite hard to make that decision because I felt like I would give up, but I realized that my main purpose for this trip was not walking but going on this spiritual journey where I can find God and myself.


The Land of Mercedes: Albania

Posted: November 1st, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels, Route | 2 Comments »

The first impression of Albania I got in Shkoder a dirty but lively city in the north. I stayed there the night in a hotel. People are quite rough here but still hospitable and friendly. They try to help when you ask, sometimes I cant shake off the feeling the roughness comes from a sense of inferiority towards the “rich” wester countries. Anyhow, I like it here.

From Shkoder I started walking towards Tirane what would have taken around 3 days. As I asked someone for directions he was confused that I was walking and just stopped the next bus for me and shoved me in there, before I knew what was really happening I was in a bus into Tirane. Combined with my motivational low point it is hard for me to resist the continuous thread of being piked up by a car and driven to the next destination that would usually have to be hard earned work by foot. As I arrived no one could really tell me how to get to the hostel so a taxi driver helped me out again b driving me there. The hostel is awesome, its the only backpacker place in Tirane and the people are so cool. I stayed for three nights planing to get some rest and trying to refocus on my mission.

What am I dong this for? Why do I walk and not take buses? And how can I keep going when winter is coming? I spent time today to refocus. The problem is that all the admiration I get in the hostels for walking doesn’t help too much, I need to see why I chose this and why I should keep going. I feel like the only valid reason is that it is not a geographical journey but a inner, spiritual journey. The times I profited most until now was when it was hard and I got somehow through instead of taking the easy way out. I don’t mainly grow by sight seeing but by facing the challenges ahead of me. So with new strength I try to move on tomorrow.

Here’s the link of the recommendable hostel: http://tiranahostel.com/

PS: It’s true, there is a mind boggling amount of Mercedes here in Albania. The saying is: “The roads is bad, Mercedes is strong, Mercedes it is then”.


Passing Through Montenegro

Posted: November 1st, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels, Route | 1 Comment »

As I left Dubrovnik, I felt energized to move on into the hardest part of my trip down to Thessaloníki. Down here are no side roads or foot trails, so I had to walk along the main route, called route 8, towards Montenegro. I slept in a house along the street for the usual price in Croatia (100 Kuna) and hiked over the borer to Montenegro. Its always a bit special because the people look at me quite weired as I line up on behind the cars that pass over the border. From there I went to Herceg Novi, a beautiful little town on the entrance to the large bay that leads to the fjord of Kotor. Where the river bay almost meets I could pass over the channel with a car ferry and walk to Tivat where I spend the night in an apartment. On my map I saw that there was a monastery along my way and guessed I could sleep there. I had to travel along a intensely used road where the air was extremely polluted. I get so frustrated and angry at those cars and buses and hope I don’t get any health damage. When I arrived at the monastery before sunset I was told that I could not sleep there. I was so sad and discouraged because I was looking forward the whole day to stay there, especially after a tour guide told me I could spent the night at that place. I got permission to sleep in the garden with my tent though, which was quite nice but storm clouds started showing up. After I cooked something I looked a little bit at the monastery and watched how the orthodox church does the liturgy called “liturgia”. The night was stormy and a lot of rain. It’s actually quite nice to sleep in the tent when its storming, because I can feel the elements but be warm an cozy in my sleeping bag. The next day was not much different, walking in rain along the main road, it was dull and is mostly a mental exercise to somehow get the 30 kilometers done. When I arrived in Bar it was already getting dark and I was quite frustrated because I couldn’t find a place to sleep so I just walked up to two police guys to try my luck there. They where keen to help and one guy called a friend who arrived 10 minutes later with his car. He offered me to stay in his house for some bucks what I happily accepted. I stayed there for two nights because it was raining and I hoped it would get better after that. When it was time to move on the weather wasn’t better but my mood was and so I went about to do do the last few kilometers to the border of Albania. Shortly before the border someone offered me ride to the fist city in Albania called Shkoder. I went with them realizing that it was going to be hard to stick to only walking because people don’t understand what I’m doing and just want to take me with the car.

Its hard for me to walk right now. There were some things happening in my close relationships which set me back emotionally. The days are short now, so I have to find a place for the night before 5 o’clock and the weather isn’t on my side anymore either. I think its a motivational low and the temptation is big to just take the buses and rides to the cities… more about that in my next post.


The Dalmatian Coast

Posted: October 22nd, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Equipment, Life & Travels, Route | 9 Comments »

It felt good to go about the second half of Croatia, there was much to expect I had Šibenik ahead of me, Trogir, Split and Dubrovnik. The main road leads along the coast southwards so I didn’t even had to use maps, I could just walk. The first stop was at Biograd, a small sleepy port town. There were many places for camping but the most places were closed and when I finally found a camping sight that was open there was no one around. Somehow I could arrange myself in the end though. I was too lazy to but up mt tent so I slept in the bathroom on the floor with my sleeping bag, since I was the only person besides two Germans it didn’t matter. The next day I moved closer to Šibenik but had to camp beside the street somewhere because it was getting dark. The shepherds since old times clear the ground of the many rocks to create small patches of grass for the animals so its quite easy to find a place to put a tent but its difficult to put it up right so that I stands against the harsh wind for a whole night. From there it was only a few hours to Šibenik where I enjoyed a cappuccino and visited the famous basilica. From there I hiked land inwards, taking a shortcut saving me almost 30 kilometers to Split. As soon as you go away from the coast here in Croatia, life gets quite simple. People farm olives and grapes, live in little houses and smile at me as I hike by like an alien. Again I camped out on a grass patch beside the street. It gets dark around seven around now. So I usually crawl into my tent read a little and go to sleep around eight or nine. I like it, because its such a different lifestyle from staying up late every day and being always so busy. The only errand to do is putting up the tent and eating something then if I want I read or pray a little. I mostly read the bible (I have no other book with me), prayer means for me mostly to consciously acknowledge the presence of god as I become quite inside and push away the worries of life. It is not so much of just saying things to god, even though I do that too but more trying to have a heart attitude directed upwards.

The next day I could walk to Trogir which is another port town and from there I tried to get to Split. A underground taxi driver (they have no signs on their car and don’t pay taxes), stopped around 15 kilometers before split and insisted for me to go with him. He brought me right into split. In a tourist office I asked for a hostel, a lady heard me talking to them and came after me outside the office and offered me a room right beside the city center for a good price. I took the room for two nights so that I could explore split and have time to work out some things with Chrystal. Split it big and full of life, the ancient town part is gorgeous and very enjoyable.

After Split I followed the road from tourist town to tourist town. The camping sights are empty and mostly closed but people didn’t mind when I stayed there. In Split I bough a cooking pot so I made a fire sometimes and cooked soup or goulash out of the can which is actually quite good. The tourist season is over and the towns are getting empty and dead. Tourism is like the life in the veins along the coast. Every fall its bleeding out and the villages become like ghost towns. Places where easily could be 10’000 people in the summer, are almost empty now and sometimes I meet only ten people or so. The coast is so beautiful and rich on amazing sights so I can understand why it has been sold out to tourism but its sad that the Croatian way of life is lost here.

I was still three days away from Dubrovnik, in midst of farming land and it was getting dark, there was no place to camp out and there was only a nice hotel. As I asked around if there were any cheap rooms or so but here weren’t any so I took the hotel, it felt so nice after two days of cold harsh weather and camping. The next morning I move on southwards, at lunch time I met a swiss guy that was taking a break along the road. His last name is also Buehler (what a coincidence) and it was cool to have someone to talk to in Swiss-German. He moved on with his bicycle, and I by foot. I passed through the 10km corridor that Sarajevo has to the sea. Around 65km before Dubrovnik it was still three days to go, but then a car stopped of some construction workers and asked me if I wanted to ride with them to Dubrovnik, without much thinking I accepted the ride. In the car I realized that I just took a huge shortcut, I didn’t mind though as the weather was getting very bad and stormy. In Dubrovnik they tried to find a room form me and finally brought be directly to the youth hostel. Right in that moment when I got there, the swiss guy I met earlier, also arrived with his bike. We took a room together and went out for dinner. We talked a lot about traveling because he has traveled half of the world with his bike, its crazy to hear his stories.

Now I’m in the beautiful old town of Dubrovnik three days early. The weather is horrible tough and I’m so glad I got out of this. There are many nice cafes to hide from the cold wind and rain that has arrived after almost one month of continuous sunshine.


Being a Lone Wolf

Posted: October 11th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Life & Travels, Route | 2 Comments »

From Rijeka I hiked along the street to Senje in four days. Even tough it is mainly street it is very enjoyable here in Croatia, most of the time it is nice weather, the sea is glass clear and warm enough to swim and the food is cheap and good. From Senje I hiked up into the mountains. Its a mountain chain, called Velebit, reaching from the Vratnik passing above Senje until east of Zadar. Even tough the highest peak is only 1699 meters it is quite rough nature and very remote.

The first night a old lady in a abandoned village let me camp in her garden. She cooked for me and took me into her house. It was hard to communicate but none the less I got to experience some real good Croatian hospitality. From there I walked into the national park and stayed at mountain huts most of the time. There are some nice trails trough the nature especially in the northern part is a famous track that leads southwards for 50 kilometers while staying on a constant height of 1500 meters (only small up and downs). The nature is so amazing, it feels seriously like being a Hobbit in Lord of the Rings sometimes I walked for two days without meeting anyone. There are wolfs and bears, but sadly I didn’t meet any. It was also tough on the body as I had to carry always a lot of water and food. But often I met people in the huts where I stayed the night that took good care of me. Especially one group of cavers that I met in the last hut I stayed, called Stap, became good friends. They cooked Gulaš and shared their wine, tobacco and conversations with me. We had so much fun that I decided I’d to go with them to visit a unexplored cave. I didn’t have any equipment so I couldn’t go down with them but it was so interesting to hear and see what they are doing up there. There are still many unexplored caves here in Croatia and thus many adventures not experienced yet. There are many amazing sights up there in the Velebit, but I’ll wait to tell more about it until I have an opportunity to upload pictures so you can see and feel with me 🙂

After being in the mountains for more than a week it felt good being in civilization again, but the way from Starigrad to Zadar was saddening too as I got to see and hear many things about the recent war. For two days I walked along one mine field after the other and people in the small towns told me how their houses got destroyed. It was a hard time for everyone here and I don’t think there are any unscarred hearts here on the cost. Everyone remembers something painful of the war.

Now I’m in Zadar and take a break for one day in a Youth Hostel. Zadar is a recommendable little city full of Croatian life.