Sunday, August 26, 2012

Looking back and forward

Farewell to the Apennines, at last hill before Fornovo di Taro

What an inspiring and wonderful experience this journey has been! How difficult it is to explain why this was so special.
One of principles I started with was to be well equipped to be self-reliant to have no pressure to find a sleeping place or food to make it to the next day. In the Italian part this worked well, in Switzerland I had more problems with this because of the weather. One wet night is still OK, but subsequent days of wet weather  becomes a problem with my tiny tent. Another element I had to pay attention was the route  schedule, because of the arrangements I did make with the friends that joined me from time to time. But overall I was quite flexible to alter my route depending on the needs or opportunities that crossed my path.
Another element was the decision not to take books or music with me, to ignore TV sets at the overnight places and not to read papers. The communication channel with the external world was limited to my mobile telephone to call my family at home and very limited access to the Internet. This was important to be open for what I encountered on the road. This was even enforced by the fact that I walked most of the time alone. Until I reached the Black Forest in Germany almost without encountering other people besides the hosts at the night stops. One of the surprising facts is that you never feel alone, it seems that you need to be isolated surounded by other people to feel lonely, not so in a forest or on a mountain that feels familiar. I enjoyed the spare talks with people along the route or in the evening more than a lot of bla-bla all day long could do.
I never considered giving-up, although I feared sometimes to be forced by external conditions. The weather or the path was never bad, although sometimes it was demanding. In the morning I was from time to time uncertain what the day would bring. But I always arrived sooner or later than expected and in good condition in the evening. What is more beautiful than the sunshine when it stops raining, how well does it feel enjoying a panorama after a steep climb?
The religious places in Umbria and Lazio and the wonderful architecture in the small towns impressed me a lot, before I crossed the Apennines with its splendid and diverse nature. The lovely backyard of Italy. Lovely but these are also the passes between Tuscany and Emilia has also been the battlefields of World War II. It makes me think how import the European union has been to make this as something of the past. Further up the PO plan has a lot of charming places. The stretches along the Serio and Ogno rivers are far from dull tracks. And a city like Cremona is like a pearl to the Po crown. It should be pity to skip this part of the route to or from Rome as some do, but you need to carefully plan the route to avoid the straight asphalt lanes. But paved roads you always will have in this part, this was the reason I also did some 30 kilometres by Bus to avoid problems with my feet. My advice is not to plan day stages that are too long in this area.
After Bergamo I entered the Pre-Alps. What’s in a word! Before you get to the Splügen pass, it goes well up and down between 100 and 2000 meters in an area of old trading routes being used for centuries. I was glad not having taken a by-pass through the valleys in this part although it would have been possible. Leaving Italy entering Switzerland it’s a luxury to have everywhere well marked paths. It allows you go without detail maps and to enjoy the overwhelming nature of the Alps. Crossing the Rhein in Waldshut didn’t mean stop climbing, it goes straight back up to 1300 meters showing me the Alp’s painted as a fresco in the sky. This brought me in the Black Forest with the more than 100 year old westweg. A well-equipped road and used path until today. After crossing the Rhein again near Drussenheim, I entered first the North Vogues and the Saarland, two regions I didn’t know a lot about, but again walking paradises. This wasn’t different with the trails in the Ardennes. So close to home and so surprisingly. Walking the E5 in Luxembourg is like walking in the decor of a fairy tale.
But this journey didn’t come to an end yet, there is the phase before and the phase after. This last part still can go for a while, writing down my memories, arrange photographs, provide some details for people walking same direction. I like to refine the Strada del Nord, some parts I plan to walk again or to work out some alternatives. This route is just like a toy for me.
And what’s next? Making another trip of four months might be difficult to realize. But I’m still dreaming to extend the Strada del Nord, from the South to Rome and from the Low countries to the North Hanse cities. See you again in 2014?

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