I am Simon Cole, a British writer in the ultra-competitive field of freelance travel & fitness writing. I have an eye on a book one day, perhaps.
An international educational tour guide, in 2012 I started my own tours (as featured in this Guardian feature) where I live, here in London’s Hackney (www.hackneytours.com). Why Hackney? It’s the nearest I found to the vibes of Berlin and San Francisco. If I hadn’t found Hackney, I’d have moved to East Berlin.
I’ve spent at least five years of my life on and off the road, in some 30 or so countries. I did the 9-5 for a while in the UK, but I have worked on three continents, from leading divers to cleaning toilets and sanding floors.
Profoundly curious, I never tire of exploring and trying new things. Just when you think you’re finally getting a handle on the world there’s something new to shake your latest paradigm.
In this respect, travel and books perform the same function. We can travel without ever leaving our armchair, though real people challenge us more than texts, and making our way in the world takes us out of our comfort zone.
In 2009 I crewed a London Routemaster bus in the Nevada Desert at Burning Man and visited a refugee camp in Bosnia. I took part in a historic run along the former East German border and met Leipzig locals who laid the groundwork for the Wall’s famous opening in Berlin on 9th November 1989.
And I was in Berlin 9th November 2009 for the official ’20th anniversary of the Wall fall’ celebrations; to watch Gorbachev walk over the same bridge as that first wave of wide-eyed exuberant East Berliners, and to join the countdown as Lech Walesa toppled 1,000 painted dominoes. I saw Jay-Z rap with U2 in a genre-defying gig under the Brandenburg Gate; Europe and America collaborating where East and West had once clashed.
That same year, I was the only Briton to run the length of the internal German border (Innerdeutsche Grenze) with a mixed team of ‘East’ and ‘West’ Germans, led by the visionary Stefan Esser. We ran from the bottom to the top of Germany following the course of the original (pre-Berlin) Wall. We have another – even bigger project – for 2014.
But “The more you see, the less you know” (q.v. that man Bono again); there is always so much more to be learned. Another city to get a feel for, another language to experiment with or another soul to make a connection with. Or maybe even just a different perspective to be considered on something we thought we had nailed years ago. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the past is constantly evolving. As is the future.
If you think you know it all, you’ve already closed the door; I hope I never reach that stage. If I ever do lose my sense of wonder, I’ll throw in the microfibre travel towel, retiring to that cave of my convictions that F. Scott Fitzgerald said older people hide in.
But for now, there’s a big wide world out there, and some incredible people with some amazing stories. Let’s go take a look?
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page”
– St. Augustine
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