I was telling my mother-in-law the other week that while I love travelling and exploring continental European cities (like, ahem, Berlin in February, Warsaw in March, Krakow in April and Amsterdam in May), all I really want to do is get out and hike. I find being a tourist in a city incredibly exhausting – so many streets to navigate, languages to decipher, monuments to check off the list, museums to get through, and that constant pressure of needing to use every minute of your time constructively as well as always trying to answer the question, Okay, what am I going to do next?
Hiking is the complete opposite. There are no checklists, no expensive museum fares (which obligate you to convince yourself that you’re enjoying it – even if you’re not), no restaurants with over-priced and underwhelming food. You always know what’s next: you walk some more. It is exhausting too but in a completely different way; you finish the day with your body battered and spent, but your mind invigorated and renewed. It is, to me, more relaxing and more of a vacation than visiting a new city.
Last Saturday, on the most spectacularly beautiful day we have had in London since we arrived, we set out on a 27 kilometer hike with a few of Allan’s classmates. We took a 90 minute train ride to the town of Eastbourne and hiked the South Downs Way trail, including the breathtaking series of chalk cliffs known as the Seven Sisters.
It was such a beautiful day and we were all so glad to be active and outside that we joked about banning a few topics from our conversation, including the Boston bombings and our upcoming exams. But hiking together in such natural beauty (not to mention sharing a seven hour walk) has a way of making you reflective, pensive and speak openly about what’s on your mind.
A couple of Allan’s friends lived for a number of years in Boston, including a significant amount of time in Watertown. They were in disbelief, heartbroken at what has transpired in the last couple of weeks.
There are times when I’m travelling, usually when I’m in a rural or remote area, when I marvel at how big the world is, how much there is to know and see and how little of it I have. I consider myself a seasoned traveler and yet there are so many achingly beautiful, remote corners of the world that I will never even know to explore – and an infinite number more like them. I didn’t know the South Downs Way existed until last weekend and its stature, with the expanse of the ocean as far as I could see to my left and rolling, grassy plains as far as I could see to my right, made me feel that the world was very big indeed.
Other times, the world seems very small. One of the cities that Allan and I considered moving to this year before settling on London was Boston. And I’m not saying that we would have been hurt (really, I’m not trying to make this all about me) but there is an acknowledgement that there could just as easily be here – it has been, before, and, no doubt, wherever we go in the world it will be again. I’ve been glued to the news and trying to process what has happened. I’ve thought a lot about how our world has changed once more, how fear motivates some terrible responses, and ultimately, what I am going to do to help create a world that I want to live in, one that is vast in its grandeur and small in its interconnectedness of the human community. I might need a few more hikes before I’ve got that all figured out.