Friday, June 24, 2016

Eastern European Traverse Part 1

More than one year I have led a sedentary life - not because I had been tired of travelling but because I had been writing a book. The book has become a great success which kept me some more months in Germany touring talk shows, giving interviews and lectures. I have thorougly enjoyed this exciting period but now it is time to go hiking again!

I had been deliberating back and forth which of the many projects on my bucket list I should tackle and I have decided to continue with one of the two big European hiking trips: I want to hike through Europe West to East - from Santiago de Compostella to Istanbul. Four years ago I had started from the German-Czech border crossing Zinnwald hiking westwards. And I had reached Santiago de Compostella 5 1/2 months later.

On Sunday I'll return to Zinnwald and hike eastwards. Although my ultimate goal is to reach Istanbul (or any other place that can be defined as the Easternmost point of Europe) I am taking a rather convoluted route: I'll hike eastward until Eastern Slovakia and then turn Southwest again. Why? This is not the straightest route to Istanbul.....



The reason is that I had tremendous route finding problems in Romania and Bulgaria. Although both countries have great hiking areas there are no long-distance trails. The so-called E-trails (European long-distance trails) are all interrupted and there is no hope that this gap will be closed in the near future.... But other interesting trails have sprung up on the Balkan like the Via Dinarica through Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro and Albania and the Via Egnetia through Albania, Macedonia and Greece that will hopefully eventually lead to Istanbul. But instead of going straight from Zinnwald to Slovenia I am hiking one big loop. Why?

Because the trail and the countries it traveses are too interesting to be passed. I will basically follow the only international long-distance hiking trail that was created in the former East bloc: the International Mountain Trail of Friendship from Eisenach to Budapest. This trail was officially opened in 1983 and became a "cult" immediately in the Eastern European hiking scene. When the Iron Curtain fell the trail was incorporated into the E-trail network and is now part of the E3, E8 and E4. But I will not stop in Budapest but continue hiking Hungary's Blue Trail, one of the oldest long-distance trail in Europe that traverses Hungary from East to West althoug I will probably leave it at Lake Balaton to head towards Slovenia.

In three months I will hike through Czech and Slovak Republik and Poland following the Western Carpathian mountains and then continue through Hungary's hilly North. I have never hiked in these countries before and to say that I am pretty excited is an understatement. This is a trip I am really looking forward to because it interesting in so many ways: Beautiful landscape, interesting history, new cultures and some amazing cultural sights. As usual I will keep you posted here on my blog.