Orange is the New Freedom

02:40:00



The lines in the concrete road of the Austrian highway play a monotone rhythm as we drive over them. The tunnels seem endless. The orange lights accompany the dull beating of the tires. Emerging from these tunnels feels like being reborn. The dark concrete gives way for incredible mountain vistas, snow capped peaks and rustic wooden sheds perched in green meadows. Isa marvels at the scenery while I try to keep my eyes on the road.

 This is exactly what I had in mind when me and Isa embarked on this roadtrip: The majesty of the mountains and the stillness that comes from a couple of hours of driving. The roadtrip is a mystic endeavour. From the beatniks and the hippies in the 60s and 70s to the #vanlife nowadays it inspired people to pack their lives into their cars and head nowhere in particular. And here we were, with a little more than three weeks ahead, a mattress in the back and an endless amount of curiosity. 

Cloud formations over the Austrian Alps
With a van home is where you park it, but every night that also leads to nervousness about where that’s actually going to be. On our first night outside of germany we quibble over which spot to chose, if we should go and look further or abandon the idea of camping wild every night and just opt for the local camping ground. Our fierce stubbornness finally leads us all around the lake of Bled, where we find a secluded parking spot right next to the water. We find a wooden jetty to have diner, play ukulele and gaze into the starry night. This process of finding a wonderful sleeping spot just about as we want to settle for the ugly parking lot will become an evening tradition. 



Driving in Slovenia is an absolute pleasure. The roads wind up and down the treelined mountains and the distances between places is short. We explore the Triglav national park, pitch our tent next to the clearest river I’ve seen and scream of the cold when we take our morning bath. 

 


After a couple of days of enjoying the magical landscapes we head towards Ljubljana. Like so many other former east block cities the capital is an eclectic mix of medieval and socialist architecture. Over the baroque palaces and the brutalist concrete boxes crowns the Ljubljana Castle. We head there to visit an exhibition of National Geographic photos, which spark our imagination and for a second I consider to just drive the van all the way along the old hippie trail to India. My remaining bit of common sense and responsibility holds me back but Isa and I frantically discuss future travel plans and routes.


 

We wander the cities old and new quarters, it’s alternative and traditional parts, its broad main streets and little back alleys. What I was most exited about was to visit Sebastiao Salgados Genesis exhibition. I heard about this enormous photography project since two years now but never had the chance to see it in its complete form. Inside a cool, ambient-lit gallery we enter the mind of one of the greatest contemporary photographers. The scope of this project is huge as are its aspirations. Spanning multiple continents it’s intended as a love letter to the planet. He travelled to the most secluded regions in the world trying to find what’s left of earths natural beauty. But what I found most striking was not his renderings of indigenous tribes or the Antarctic wilderness but his entire approach to taking pictures. Salgado is an extremely patient photographer. He takes his time to find the theme for his project, he develops deep relationships with his subject and waits for the decisive moment. This stands in such a stark contrast to the people outside running from sight to sight and taking pictures without even standing still.
People often tell me to take down my camera and enjoy a moment just as it is. But taking a picture can actually make for a richer and deeper experience of the moment. It is a sort of dialogue with the environment and by looking for the right angle and the perfect exposure I come closer to the moment rather than putting up a barrier. But this only happens when I stand still for a moment and take in the scenery. Salgado is a powerful reminder how a photographer should proceed. It’s not his equipment that makes him such a great artist but his patience, mindfulness and vision. Genesis is as much a love letter to the planet as it is to photography itself.
 


Thick raindrops slap the roof of the van that we have been calling home for about 2 weeks now. A lightning strikes and illuminates the landscape like a flashlight. I draw the curtain back and peek outside. The gorgeous Croatian coast has turned itself into a nightmare. The wind is howling and shaking the oak trees that we parked under as if they were nothing but little twigs. After a couple of hours of constant rain the ground turned into a mud avalanche and so trying to move the car somewhere a little more protected was out of the question. Another lightning strikes and reverberates through my spine. While I’m having a mild anxiety attack my girlfriend Isa is sleeping next to me like a baby. “Sweetie?” I inquire softly. A mumbled response comes from the pile of pillows. “You think it’s safe to stay here?” … “Yeah sure” and back to sleep she goes. No exactly calmed down I turn to my side and try to stay away from the metal parts of the car.
The next morning we awake to a world washed clean. At six in the morning Croatias coast has the tranquillity that we were looking for. The rain purged the rocks of the cigarette stubs and plastic cups that the crowds leave here during the busy summer months. We scramble up the rocky coastline and are rewarded with crystal clear water and a beach just for us. Living out of a car enables us to sleep in a thousand star hotel with private beach every night; as long as we get up early enough.

 

But reality has a way of reasserting itself just when your dreams become a little too real. What mass tourism does to a place becomes painfully clear on this trip. As we enter Verona we expected masses of people looking for the romantic beauty of this north Italian town. But as we enter the city it seems empty, almost desolate. We parked the car in the outskirts and enter the old town through one of the less frequented bridges. The area is what you would imagine from a city, which inspired artists and poets since hundreds of years. The narrow alleys are lined with the most beautiful facades, all carefully restored to the point that in some you still the ancient wall paintings.

 All of a sudden we turn a corner and enter a stream of people. We swim with the crowd and end up in Veronas most famous part, the balcony of Juliet. A narrow doorway leads to the secluded backyard, and people are pushing inside as if they are running away from an invisible monster. We hesitantly enter. The walls are covered in little love notes and hearts, painted on the old stones. Lovelocks are chained to every possible spot. I see a girl on her tiptoes trying to find a clear spot to scribbling a heart. Her what I assume to be her boyfriend stands behind here looking slightly annoyed and shiny from the sweat running down his forehead. Isa immediately turns around and wants to leave this appalling place but I’m fascinated by it the same one is fascinated by a car crash.
The guard watching the scene notices our distained looks and starts to grin. “It’s terrible isn’t it?” I ask him. He usually works at other museums around town and this is the part of the job he hates the most. He has to stand here for 6 hours and watch people declaring their never ending passionate love for each other by destroying the place that symbolizes that notion of love for them. The irony is so obvious that it's painful. He advises us to explore the north of the old quarters, the part we accidently entered through. His eyes start to sparkle a bit when he starts telling us about the architectural museum, where he likes to work the most and which has the giant remains of an old amphitheatre. But people prefer to come here, scribble their name and a heart on the wall and then visit a spectacular show in the new amphitheatre at the heart of town.  We hurry out of there and return to the quaint little alleys and wonderful facades of the rest Verona.



We head north to escape the heat of Italians flatlands and make our way into the dolomites. A couple of years back I saw a picture in a magazine of a lake with a rustic boat shed. It became part of the long list of places I will go whenever I’m in their vicinity. I was partly delighted partly worried when I saw that there was a road leading all the way to the lake, but when we arrived late in the afternoon we only saw a couple of campervans in an otherwise empty parking lot. Happy about the lack of people we ventured to the lake after diner as the sun had already set and were rewarded with a night sky so clear that almost no black sky was visible behind all the glistening stars. The milky way throned over the towering mountains, perfectly reflected in the clear lake. We stayed for several hours wrapped in sleepingbags and enjoying the sensation of feeling so small under the dome of the universe.



During university I was introduced to a concept called the urbanization of nature. I could never fully grasp what that would mean until the next day the parking lot started filling up. Cars came in by the minute and build almost a second lake of shiny metal at the top of the mountain. I chatted up our neighbour, a solo traveller in his 50s, who spend the night in his spacious campervan, which he shared with his motorbike. He has been coming here since a couple of years and watched this wild place become overrun by people more and more. First there was only one parking lot, then the road got extended all the way to the lake. A hotel got built, which has loud entertainment every night, and new parking lots were built. The forest had to leave to make place for the cars.

But how can I blame anyone. People leave this place clean and as untouched as possible with the sheer amount of people. As a matter of fact we came here just like all these people to enjoy the scenic beauty of this easily accessible wild place. This is just what happens to a place, which reached iconic status on Instagram and is pictured in countless travel magazines. But it’s still possible to truly enjoy this place. I forced myself against my innermost instincts of a nightowl, out of bed at 6 in the morning and trudged to the lake. Just when I arrived the moon disappeared behind the mountains and sunlight started to caress the peaks. The white domes bathed in orange and pink sunlight while I was joined by another mid-twenties urbanite from Berlin. He looked as KO as I did but we couldn’t help but have a stupid big smile on our faces for the entire time. We both opened our camera bags, adjusted filters and composition, taking our time and snapped our pictures. 


We already covered quite a bit of distance on our trip when we left the lake towards Innsbruck. Our curiosity sometimes got the best of us and we left places almost in a rush to get to the next one and sometimes not leaving enough time to take in how special the places we found were. At this point we were exhausted, needed a shower and some peaceful days. We still had time and my eyes were glued to the map looking for a place to spend every available day of free time we had. But instead of visiting friends in Amsterdam or taking a detour through the South of Germany we simply decided to return home. As with every trip you come to two conclusions in the end. Travelling doesn’t fill up the innate wanderlust but brings up new itineraries and new ideas. There will always we things left undone, places left unexplored and new people to meet. And that a couple of days of free time in the place you feel connected to and call home can be worth just as much as days on the road.




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