My experiences with thru-hiking

Vianden

Posted in Hiking GR5, 1500 miles across Europe by onefootatatime on May 29, 2009

May 29 2009

May 29 2009

Saw that sign on a door right across from the church.

I’ve reached Vianden. Victor Hugo lived here as part of his self-exile from France, and wrote some of his better poetry in his home by the river. The home is now a museum – of course.

Got here early, and checked out the castle on top of the hill, and found the youth hostel while I was up there. I was early – they asked me to come back at 5pm to check-in, but they did allow me to leave my big backpack behind.

Found a patisserie and grabbed a bite to eat.

I’ve noticed that the people here are stuck in the eighties. The music, from every youth hostel to every campsite to every restaurant, has been culled from the eighties pop charts. How strange. I’m talking Scorpions, Wham, Duran Duran, Phil Collins – stuff like that. There are some songs I remember, but I’ve forgotten the artist. Like that “Every time you go away, you take a piece of me with you…” song. Who sings that? Can’t remember. I’m guessing a Paul something. Hmm. Anyway, I swear every campsite has the same CD, and they keep playing the songs on a loop.

I’m not complaining. It’s just bringing back a lot of memories.

 

Table For One – Story Of My Life

Posted in Hiking GR5, 1500 miles across Europe by onefootatatime on May 29, 2009

May 28 2009

May 28 2009

Got up to a cold morning and slight drizzle. Not a good thing. I had washed some clothes last night, and they were still wet. So that means I have to carry wet clothes too.

After I packed my stuff, tying the wet clothes to the outside of my backpack, I set out for Dasbourg-Pont, which is on the Luxembourg-Germany border.

As soon as I left Ouren, the familiar GR5 marker (with the red and white stripe) disappeared, and was replaced by a yellow circle. Luxembourg has it’s own trail-marking system, and I have to get used to the yellow circle, until the proper GR5 marker comes back up in France.

I got to Dasbourg-Pont and bought a few snacks from the gas station, and crossed a tiny bridge into Germany, where I sat and ate a late lunch at a picnic table. After I was done, I crossed the bridge back to Luxembourg and tried to cover some more distance.

Finally saw a campsite and pitched my tent. The office is closed, and the owner who was walking about asks for my passport, and says he’ll return it the next morning after I pay for the night. Sounds like he’s had trouble with other campers. Hope I get my passport back.

Anyway, the hot water is free here, so I have a nice, long hot shower. The bathrooms are unisex, so both the women and the men’s showers and toilets are in the same area. The women here are definitely not shy about farting loudly. (When you have to go, you have to go.)

After the shower, I grabbed some food at the restaurant. The campsite has a really fancy restaurant, so I treat myself to the steak.

I needed the protein.

Really.

Rice!

Posted in Hiking GR5, 1500 miles across Europe by onefootatatime on May 29, 2009

May 27 2009

May 27 2009

Headed for Ouren today. I passed Burg-Reuland, and started my hike in a new country: Luxembourg.  It’s taken me 20 days to pass through Holland and Belgium.

There’s a campsite in Ouren, so I picked up the pace and got there around 5.30pm. The campsite has a restaurant, so I quickly showered and ordered the “plat du jour”, which was a chicken marsala thingy with crisps and rice made with vegetables – just what I needed. I practically inhaled the food, and I think I alarmed a few of the other diners when I nearly vacuumed the plate with my mouth.

I haven’t eaten any rice since I started this trip, so it was great having some for dinner. You should know that one-third of the Goan diet consists of rice, so I naturally crave rice. The other two-thirds of the Goan diet: fish and curry.

Got an early night’s sleep next to the lake, and fell asleep to the sound of lapping water.

The Dark Clouds Keep Following Me

Posted in Hiking GR5, 1500 miles across Europe by onefootatatime on May 29, 2009

May 26 2009

May 26 2009

The hiking is getting better now. I’ve got lots of hills to climb, and they offer spectacular views of the valley. My feet have stopped hassling me too, that’s because I’m practicing proper blister management.

(The trail has been really muddy, and every step feels like the mud is trying to yank the boots off my feet.)

I was heading for the town of Vieslam and got there early in the afternoon, and grabbed a bite from a small snack place. I decided to move on and cover some more distance and passed a grocery store, where I bought some grapes and apples.

Stopped at the top of one of the climbs at a bench, and sat and at my grapes. The grapes were from Chile, according to the plastic bag they came in.

I kept on walking, trying to get to Burg-Reuland, which is the last stop here in the Wallonie part of Belgium – the French-speaking part, I might add. I must say that it’s worth visiting the Wallonie area, because it’s really beautiful.

Got close to Burg-Reuland, and found a spot and camped it wild. Just after I pitched my tent, it immediately started to rain.

Good timing.

 

Danger. Like The Picture Says.

Posted in Hiking GR5, 1500 miles across Europe by onefootatatime on May 29, 2009

May 25 2009

May 25 2009

Woke up this morning and had breakfast with Anne, Simon and Julia. Simon made himself a sandwich with slices of chocolate inside. Apparently, that’s one way to eat chocolate in Belgium – there’s even a brand for “morning chocolate”. I stuck with my classic bread and butter. Anne makes her own bread at home, and it’s really good.

The food is very simple and really tasty in this household. The dinner Anne prepared last night was just broccoli soup, which we had with bread, cheese and some sliced meats. The soup was made with broccoli, leeks and celery.

I didn’t have time last night to update my blog, so I spent the morning typing stuff up while Simon and Julia headed for school. Anne suggested I stay for lunch, and that she’d give me a ride to the next town. It sounded like a good idea – how quickly I was getting used to the luxury of a home.

When Simon and Julia came back for lunch, Anne had prepared what looked like peppers stuffed with mince in a tomato sauce, and served it mashed potatoes – also very tasty. After Simon and Julia went back to school, Anne and I sat and had tea, and chatted about kids and education.

And then, we were on our way. Anne drove me to Stavelot, and as we passed the town of Francorchamps, she told me that they had a beautiful racecar circuit. It was like out in a middle of nowhere.

I got off at Stavelot and waved goodbye, and got back on the trail. Hardly an hour went by when dark clouds appeared above me, and I had to pitch my tent too close to someone’s home. After the storm passed, I heard a dog barking, and it got closer, closer, and closer until it was growling right in front of my tent. Of course, a few minutes later, I heard some footsteps and someone call out. Busted! I unzipped the tent and poked my head out. After asking the owner of the property if he spoke English (and he did), I explained about the storm (which he obviously had to endure as well), and asked if I could camp there for the night. He said fine, as long as I don’t dirty the place or start a fire. Whew!

I’m glad he didn’t kick my ass, because he looked like someone who could. He sported a handlebar mustache, and could have passed for one of the characters out of a Guy Ritchie film.

 

Spa

Posted in Hiking GR5, 1500 miles across Europe by onefootatatime on May 25, 2009

May 24 2009

May 24 2009

After a long, winding walk through the woods, I get a glimpse of Spa. It looks lovely from the hills. Later, I got lost on the trail, taking the GR573, and landed somewhere else, so I took the road back to Spa. Saw lots of guys on dirt bikes tearing up the trail.

I decided to stop at a “Frites” place to get a bite to eat. I was looking at my maps and asking the guy behind the counter about a campsite nearby, when one of the customers helped me out. He knows about the GR5, and he even draws me a map of the trail to the campsite on a napkin.

After finishing lunch, I stepped out and bumped into the same man on the street. His name is Olivier, and he decides to accompany me to the campsite. Before I know it, I’m in his house talking to his family, and they all agree I should stay over at their place for the night, and I find myself not really objecting to the plan at all.

I did get my shower, and Olivier’s wife Anne throws my dirty clothes in the wash. By the time we have an early dinner, Olivier, a doctor by trade, has told me the history of Spa with the bubbly waters (yes, that’s where the term “spa” came from), and shared his love for art and hiking with me. His wife Anne is a writer and has a book published. She’s also a painter. The kids Simon and Julia are busy studying while Olivier tells me about his house that was built in the late 1800s. It’s a lovely house with a beautiful secret garden at the back – very peaceful. They are a very kind and giving family.

Simon plans to study photography next year in the UK, and Julia has recently played a very small role in a French film that’s due out this year in November. It’s a tiny, tiny scene, Anne tells me modestly. The name of the film is “Rapt” – in English that would mean kidnapping or abduction.

Simon and I talk about music, and he tells me he likes Radiohead. Awesome. And I play some songs from Sigur Ros for him. Anne thinks they sound like Maxmilian Hecker. Another band Simon likes out of Belgium is Girls In Hawaii. I should check them out. Olivier chimes in and tells me about a famous harmonica player from Belgium called Toots Thielemans, and he plays the CD for me.

After dinner, we head to the town square, where everyone has gathered to watch the final championship match for the Belgium football league. It’s Liege against Brussels. It seemed like everyone in Spa was rooting for the Liege team. I met a couple of Simon’s friends, and we hung out and watched the match on the big screen. Liege finally won 1-0 and the crowd went crazy, and started singing “We are the champions” together. It was quite a night.

Went to sleep on a nice comfortable bed, like my old futon in Austin.

I miss my old futon.

 

Happy Hikers

Posted in Hiking GR5, 1500 miles across Europe by onefootatatime on May 25, 2009

May 23 2009

May 23 2009

What a lovely morning. Decided to get up late and try to make it to Spa. It’s a long way off, but I hope I get there, because they have a campsite where I can shower. And I need that shower.

While walking in the hills I saw a bunch of hikers, and one family in particular decided to chat with me. They were from Holland, and had come to Belgium for the “good hiking in the hills”. They were very friendly, and the youngest kid had a lot of questions for me, while her Dad patiently translated back and forth. She wanted to know where I slept on my hike – stuff like that. They were all doing an eight-kilometer hike, and the kids were taking it really well. The best part was the candy break, and they shared a Kit Kat with me. It’s amazing how good conversation can make the time go by so quickly.

After we split ways, I kept walking on, and suddenly realized I was out of water again. And what do you know, there’s a cemetery right around the corner. So I filled up on water, as a dog kept barking at me from a distance.

I’ve had dogs bark at me every day, and they look vicious. Some have even hurled themselves against the fence to get at me. These are serious dogs, not the kind you dress up for Halloween.

Was getting tired, so I found a spot in the woods and wild camped for the night. I think tomorrow I’ll hit Spa.

A Tip About Water

Posted in Hiking GR5, 1500 miles across Europe by onefootatatime on May 25, 2009

May 22 2009

May 22 2009

Had a long walk ahead of me to get to Nessonvaux.  Now that I’ve hit some hills, I see other hikers walking the trail, though they are just day-hikers. Nice to see I’m not the only one, but I still look like a freak with the luggage on. Can’t wait to meet some other long-distance folks.

Ran out of water somewhere close to the end of the day. Not the best thing to happen on the trail. Saw a man in his garage and asked him if he spoke English. When he answered yes, I quickly asked him for water. Michel filled my Camelback and Klean Kanteen, and he told me that he’s walked the GR5 trail from Holland to Luxembourg. He says it’s very pretty. His friend Roger joins us, and Michel tells him about the walk. Roger can’t speak English, but as he slaps his palm against his forehead repeatedly, I can tell he thinks I’m crazy.

Michel also gives me a tip for acquiring drinking water on the trail. Cemeteries, he tells me, all have drinking water. Not a bad tip, because I keep passing a lot of cemeteries.

Not sure I’ve reached Nessonvaux, but I grabbed the first nice space I can find and camp there for the night. Heard no cows.

Whew!

Up And Away

Posted in Hiking GR5, 1500 miles across Europe by onefootatatime on May 25, 2009

May 21 2009

May 21 2009

Walked to Vise today. I hit some hills, so the flat areas are behind me, and I look forward to struggling with the load on my back.

Gone are the grey skies, and the sun is out sucking every drop out of me. Summer has arrived.

I turned a corner in the woods and at least forty kids are walking down the trail with their backpacks. It was awesome. Some of them dropped down into the tall grass and started shooting at me with their imaginary guns. I kept my cool. Almost wanted to do a Matrix thing and bend backwards, but I do have a big-ass backpack on, you know. The teachers had to get them in line, and as they walked by me, the kids looked at me in wonder. They probably thought I was a soldier or something.

Further on, Pierrot, a young man catches up with me, and wants to chat about the GR5. He (like other Europeans) walks the GR5 in bits and pieces. I think with my pack and all he guessed I was doing the trail. He asked me if I had GPS. He was carrying a Garmin and he showed me the trail on the screen.  Pretty cool. I will stick with my maps for now. Maps don’t need batteries.

Finally reached Vise. Met these two ladies who are out on a pilgrim walk. One of them knows about the GR5 trail, and has walked the trail from Lake Geneva to Nice. She looks me up and down and says that I’m carrying too much. We pose for a picture, both of us pointing to the GR5 marker. May need to shed some stuff when I get to Lausanne.

Couldn’t find a campsite, so I finally found a spot and camped wild. I kept hearing a cow bellow through the night. It sounded real close.

Collin

Posted in Hiking GR5, 1500 miles across Europe by onefootatatime on May 20, 2009

May 20 2009

May 20 2009

Walked around Maastricht today. It’s a beautiful town, and nice blend of the new and old.

Strolled by lots of shops and lots high-fashion stores and lots of restaurants. And walked by a small gallery with some cool work you’d see out of Juxtapoz magazine. The art show is opening this weekend, but I walked in as the gallery owner was putting stuff up on the walls. His name is Collin, and he’s also one of the three artists showing their work. We talked about art, the documentary “Beautiful Losers”, and about other graffiti-like artists who’ve showed their work in and around Maastricht, like Barry McGee.

Check out his website: http://www.collinvandersluijs.com

Spent the rest of the day trying to finish my book, so I can leave it behind.