June 14: Fourth anniversary

Four years ago today, I walked 29km in Spain with a stranger.

The previous day, I could hardly walk. My feet were blistered and my legs were tired, after six days walking 135km on the Camino Frances from St Jean Pied de Port to Los Arcos. At the hostel, after I’d showered and tended to my feet, this stranger commented on my slow, heavy gait. “Do you always walk like a duck?” he asked in accented English. “No” I replied and strode past, muttering obscenities under my breath. What a nerve!

The next morning, the morning of June 14, I set off early thanks to five snoring Hungarians who’d been up well before dawn. I walked alone, and turned to take a photo of the sunrise over Los Arcos. And there he was, walking towards me. “Oh great,” I thought, “here comes The Duck Guy.”

We fell into step and walked together – me trying to be pleasant to this Italian born, Swiss raised bloke called Leonardo, while cursing my blisters and sore legs with each metre. Yes, I was walking very slowly, and still like a duck, but I wasn’t going to forgive him in a hurry for that comment!

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Leo, on our first day walking together. It was my seventh day on the Camino, hence him holding up seven fingers. I took many photos of walkers representing each day

After a few hours, talking about music and movies, we met an American-German woman named Simone and the three of us walked for a while before taking shelter from the midday heat in a tunnel with a South African actress, a young German guy, and one of my original Spanish walking friends, who I’d met on day one.

When we checked into the hostel, we were assigned beds, with Leonardo’s being above mine. I wasn’t sure what to think by this stage – he had been really nice on the walk, and a part of me wished it had been just us walking together all day. But I was on this “long walk with a small backpack” adventure alone and meeting someone wasn’t part of the plan. Especially someone who lived in Europe.

After an afternoon relaxing, including Leo washing some of my clothes while I had a beer with Simone (!!), it was time to sleep. While getting settled, I noticed his arm hanging from the bunk bed. His hand was right in my line of vision. Was he trying to say something? Or was he just asleep? I looked at his hand for a very long time, and eventually summed up the courage to take it in mine. He gave a warm squeeze, as a kind of ‘hello, thank you for a good day and good night’, and that, as they say, was it.

We were together for the next 24 days, walking to Santiago de Compostela. You get to know someone very well spending 24 hours a day with each other, walking and talking. We had no commitments (work, family, social and so on) to distract us. It was an intense month and at the end we had to make a big decision.

I stayed in Spain and walked to Finisterre, Leo stuck with his original flight and flew home to Switzerland, and 11 days later he met me in Barcelona. We spent four days there, then I flew with him to Switzerland for three days, to visit the little gingerbread house where he lived and to learn more about his life. We said a sad goodbye and I returned to Barcelona to continue the final few weeks of my European adventure.

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In Barcelona

Fast forward to November 25, 2011 – Leo flew to Australia to meet my family, and December 5 we arrived in Switzerland to begin our life together. It’s amazing how things work out. I had no intention of meeting someone while I was on the walk, and that’s exactly what happened. Sometimes you just have to go with it and I’m very glad we’ve had the courage to ‘give it a go’.

Happy fourth anniversary, Leo, you cheeky monkey! Imagine if you’d never made that duck comment? Imagine if I’d not walked with you that day? It’s amazing how life can instantly change for the better.

(And, yes – for the record – even without the blisters, I still walk like a duck.)

Wishing you a wonderful day.

February 11: 15 minutes of squats and sit ups and … chocolate

As part of Monday’s celebration, Leo bought me a 500gram bag of my favourite chocolate – M&M Peanuts. They’ll be finished tomorrow. Oops. This was NOT part of the fitfor15in15 plan … but gosh, they’re a whole world of yum for me.

Must. Stop. Eating. M&M Peanuts (tomorrow … when the bag is finished). I know I’m addicted, despite not feeling all that great after eating them. Sugar overdose, perhaps? The idea of that crunch gets me all excited, but now, gorged, the thought of half a kilo of chocolate in mah belly is not so cool. No more good news please. I can’t handle the treats.

I spent this morning in the city and then had a lovely lunch at my friend Claudia’s. She cooked a three-course lunch so I didn’t feel like dinner … but still managed to fit in a lot of those coloured balls. 😦

Because I was all juiced up on the little suckers, I did the minimum 15 minutes tonight – squats, lunges, sit ups and knees up with the tin cans going all over the place (in specific movements, not willy nilly) while watching the series Arrested Development. (We’re a little late to the party on this one and have just started watching season one.) But, sorry, back to the exercise …

While shifting my weight from one leg to the other in a side-to-side movement, I could actually feel the muscle above-and-to-the-right of my left knee, and above-and-to-the-left of my right knee. I’m sure they have proper names. But for now, let’s just call them WOW 1 and WOW 2. There are actual muscles there! They moved. Real muscles. Not fake. Gob-smacking, jaw-dropping get-out-of-town real muscles. I haven’t felt the muscles there since The Camino in 2011.

It’s amazing how doing 15 minutes at the moment doesn’t feel hard enough. Maybe exerting myself can be my new addiction? Must up the ante tomorrow … or maybe Friday … when all the nuts are gone.

Wishing you a wonderful day.

Oh, and here are some photos from today …

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Taken about 8.45am, on my walk to the bus

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It might be too hard to see, but on this little cleaning cart is a witch broom, just like in Harry Potter. They still use these stick brooms to clean the streets here

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A quick stroll along the Aare river in Bern

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Using English expressions is sometimes considered cool. The play on words with Aare/Are is part of a safety campaign for swimming in the glacial river, which runs very fast in summer when all the snow has made its way down from the mountains

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I think I may have found a good set of stairs to jog up. Looking up to the final part …

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… and looking back down to where I’d come from. A potential killer workout

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Walking across the Aare back into town. I’d been at a meeting in the building under the bridge, which was an old brewery. Sadly, no beers there now, just lots of fitness classes!

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Walking the road home. It’s amazing how quickly the snow has melted, after just two sunny days

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Icy fields

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And finally, the view that greeted me from home

The KonMari Method, with gusto!

The past few days may not have been excellent, exercise-wise, but, wow, have I achieved with the KonMari method! Ha! I can’t believe how exciting it is (yes, I am slightly mad!). Freda from livesimplysimplylive (this link should work now!) has been doing a Friday Fling to declutter her house using The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying UpThis best-selling book by Marie Kondo, and Freda’s achievements, have inspired me to begin ridding the house of excess stuff (hopefully) once and for all! I say it with gusto! ‘Cause I want it to be so! Aha!

Minimalism is something I’ve been interested in, and semi-practising, for years. Walking The Camino in Spain in June 2011, or “A long walk with a small backpack” as I call it, was one of my first steps to living with less. The idea for that trip formed in January of the same year, when I couldn’t find my grandmother’s tablecloth. Weeks of searching high and low in my two-bedroom rental house resulted in no beloved cloth, but I did come across a whole heap of stuff I didn’t even know I had, had forgotten I had, knew I had but had never used, had no need for anymore and so on and so on and … it was so bloody overwhelming!!

It didn’t take long for a creepy feeling to take over – my belongings owned me instead of me owning my belongings. It was like the house was choking me. The weight of all that stuff was stifling. By Google-searching ‘declutter’, I found Francine Jay’s book The Joy of Less, which I still refer to now and then. Her website is also a regular read. She inspired me to start getting rid of the unnecessary. After several (borrowed) car trips to the Salvation Army, my stuff was still making me feel claustrophobic. Rather than go nuts and give everything away, I decided to leave it all for a while so I could appreciate what I owned upon my return.

The 10-week overseas trip, from June to August 2011, resulted in me moving to Switzerland before the year’s end. On that 900km walk, I met my partner Leo! Meeting somebody wasn’t really part of the plan, so it was all rather a lovely shock. I lost a tablecloth and gained a partner! How’s that for weird?!

My minimalistic adventures continue here too. We live in a small house which restricts what we can bring in – it’s a little slice of heaven. But fast forward three years, and I seem to have acquired enough to no longer consider myself a minimalist. How could that happen? Easily!

The KonMari method says to pile every item of clothing you have on the floor (I chose the bed for ease of access) and when you pick it up, ask yourself, “Does it spark joy?” If you love the item, you keep it, if it gives you nothing back, it’s a goner.

When you see your entire collection of clothes in one place (Kondo says to get everything – coats, hats, undies, gloves, scarves, handbags, you name it), it feels insane. Minimalist? Pfft!

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All my clothing piled on the bed

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All my shoes lined up, ready to be culled!

Previously, I’d separated all my clothes into the four seasons, using the Project333 method, where you wear 33 items of clothing for three months. Until yesterday, winter stuff was in the cupboard, and summer, autumn and spring in three designated drawers, awaiting the seasonal changeover.

Now, with KonMari, I have nearly all my hanging things for all seasons in the cupboard (apart from some summer dresses in a drawer. I don’t own enough hangers and will not be buying more) with belts (in a box), scarves and handbags on the shelf above the rail. In the larger chest of drawers, where the seasonal clothes used to live, are tops and t-shirts etc in the top drawer, jeans and shorts etc in the middle, and my exercise and walking gear in the bottom drawer.

This system has also freed up one drawer in my smaller chest of drawers (where I have underwear, socks, sleepwear, jumpers etc) for all the things that were getting dusty on the chest top or the little shelf beside the bed. Now my hand cream, nail file, hair brush, jewellery boxes and so on are in the top right-hand drawer, and books to read now live on the shelf, instead of the floor (yay!).

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No more clutter on the chest of drawers and almost all the hanging clothes in their place. The garbage bag in the office doorway holds unused shoes

I can’t bring myself to throw away the bag of shoes just yet. I love shoes! If I remember a pair of shoes in that bag after better weather has kicked in, I’ll bring them out. If that bag remains unopened by the end of summer, all seven pairs are going.

Another exciting change is the way the clothes are folded. They’re not stacked on top of each other, like we see in the shops and most of us normally do – they’re laid on their side, so you can see every item easily from the front of the drawer to the back. No longer will there be that forgotten t-shirt at the bottom of the pile! I’m really looking forward to seeing everything I own whenever I open the drawers or cupboard doors. That may stop me from wanting to buy something new, when I’ve seen something like it at home already.

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All my long, short and sleeveless t-shirts, in three rows, lying on their side from front to back

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All my jeans, trousers, shorts and excess summer dresses lying on their side

Would you do the KonMari method? What do you think about the whole idea? A bit over-the-top? Or a great way to only own what you truly love?

Wishing you a wonderful day.