Day 26: Should I stay indoors or should I go far away from here?

Day 26

For every atom belonging to me, as good belongs to you.

Visit at least one new town, state or country yearly.

Some years ago, I read a book about Carsten Niebuhr, the famous German explorer. In 1761-1767, he was one of six men in the Danish Arabia Expedition; in fact, he was the only one who survived. The five others died along the way.

I read that book at an impressionable age, in my late teens I think, and like any other teenage reader of that book, I was mesmerised by Niebuhr’s adventures and imagined myself going on the same journey 250 years ago.

Just reading the Wikipedia page still makes me dizzy with wanderlust:

The expedition departed from Copenhagen in 4 January 1761, and, landing at Alexandria, ascended the Nile. Proceeding to Suez, from where Niebuhr made a visit to Mount Sinai, in October 1762 the expedition sailed to Jeddah, and then journeyed overland to Mocha. Here, in May 1763, the expedition’s philologistvon Haven, died, and shortly afterwards its naturalist Peter Forsskål also died. The remaining members of the expedition visited Sana, the capital of Yemen, but suffered from the climate and returned to Mocha. Niebuhr seems to have preserved his own life and restored his health by adopting native dress and eating native food. From Mocha the expedition continued to Bombay, the expedition’s artist dying en route and the surgeon soon after landing. Niebuhr was now the only surviving member. He stayed in Bombay for fourteen months and then returned home by way of Muscat,BushireShiraz and Persepolis. His copies of the cuneiform inscriptions at Persepolis proved to be a key turning point in the decipherment of cuneiform and the birth of Assyriology.

However, it wasn’t Niebuhr’s journeys which made the most lasting impression on me. Of course, when I put down the book I wanted to travel myself, explore the world, preferable without dying, just like our hero — but it was something else which made me feel even more like him. It was this:

In 1778 he accepted a position in the civil service of Danish Holstein, and went to reside at Meldorf (Ditmarsh), where he died in 1815.

I the Danish Wikipedia it’s even stronger: in 1773, he makes plans to go to Africa, but then he got married, and he changed his plans. In 1778, he feared he might be sent to Norway (!), and he asked for, and got, a position in Meldorf, where he spent the rest of his life untill his death in 1815.

As I remember the book, it was even stronger again: the last 35 years of his life, he rarely or never went many kilometers from his home. Some explorer, huh?

But I think I know exactly how he feels. I am not old and infirm yet, but for me too, travelling is best done either for as long and far as possible — or hardly at all. My favourite memories from journeys are still my hitchhiking trip through Europe, my barefoot climbing (and subsequent inability to use stairs) in Italy, a two-month-long trip to Italy with friends and then Croatia and Bosnia with my future wife, my trip from Belgrade to the Merry Cemetery in Romania (the oldest trains I have ever seen) and so on. When we are moving back to Oslo in two years, my plan, my hope, is not to fly back, or to take the car, or even cycle. No, I want to row back along the swedish coast (my first idea was to cross the Skagerrak in a dinghy, but I realise that might be a bit over the top), alone, hopefully without meeting too many cargo ships along the way.

And yet, for all my great plans of conquering the Himalayas and whatnot — when I am at home, I usually stay at home. It’s usually my wife who wants to go out, to find things to do, to go somewhere, I am usually the one who suggests we all could sit in the living room and read books or play games or just play something we make up as we go along. When we lived in Prague, 90% of the places we visited, were her suggestions.

On the other hand, she never talks about cycling to Greece with our two (soon three) kids. When we sit and discuss our fantasies about going on a sailing trip. her fantasies are spending a year along the coast of Croatia, going from place to place at a leisurely speed. My fantasies, on the other hand, includes fighting off pirates on the coast off Somalia, getting stopped by police on the Yangtze River, and going back and forth over the Pacific several times.

It’s as if it’s not worth travelling unless it’s really something else. Going to yet another sleepy small town in the Czech Republic? OK, I suppose it might be alright. Sail with three small in the Mediterranean, without any sailing experience whatsoever, but with lots of instinctive antipathy towards water? Great idea, when can we go?

I imagine Carsten Niebuhr must have been the same. Great journeys are great, especially if they are dangerous and difficult. Small journeys, however, are just a hassle. One is either a vagabond or just a bonde (farmer). Travelling should be adventures, not something you do just to pass the time.

Visit at least one new town, state or country yearly? Yes, I have done that most of my adult life. And although I sometimes prefer staying at home, it is only the flip side of the wish to go completely new places. Stay at home or go very far, that is my mantra.

Who knows, one day I might even move to Meldorf.

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