A circuitous route to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Stage One beginning in Munich, Germany ending in Jerusalem - traveling through Austria, Italy, Albania, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and Israel. Second stage from Vienna, through Germany, Czech Republic, Holland, Belgium, France and Spain.
Final destination - Santiago!

Post Script: The changeable situation in Jerusalem has led to a change in plans. The Rome to Jerusalem leg of this journey has been changed to the 'End to End' in the UK, after which the journey will resume as above in Vienna.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Leaving Belgium, for the second time, tomorrow.

Over the past week I have been in and out of three countries, border hopping as I worked my way both into Belgium, and now into France, where I will remain.

Leaving Maastricht I had a beautiful sunny, though hazy, day.  It was hot as I worked my way down the river to Liège, my first big city in Belgium.  I had hoped to catch a boat from Maastricht but they are only running on the weekend so I dipped out on that, and with the roar of traffic constantly in my ears I decided that I would hop on a train for the last few kilometres into the city.  I hadn't been successful in purchasing a guide book in Maastricht and was hoping for success in Liège.  I spent two days traipsing from one book store to another, in between getting distracted looking at things, without any luck and at the last one I discovered why.  The Belgium Friends of the Camino group only sell their guides through the website, which, being itinerant at present, was absolutely no help to me, and exceedingly frustrating.

Because I had had some problems with signs disappearing at odd times, and having absolutely no idea where the path went I decided my only option was to catch a train to the town of Huy, where I knew I could pick up a cycle path following the River Meuse to the city of Namur.

It was at this point, through the wonders of the internet, that my way connected with Sylvie, Nicholas, and their delightful family.  Sylvie kindly loaned me her guide books, sent with Nicholas to his work and collected by me in exchange for some of my heavy gear, which I reclaimed again the following evening when they opened their home to me, providing a warm welcome, a dinner of traditional Belgium dishes, and a comfy bed.  The guides meant that I had a couple of days walking through some beautiful forests, instead of along the river, though I was never far away, and have spent quite a few days walking along it too.
My "Botel" in Maastricht where I spent 2 nights.  It is moored on the River Meuse
The length of the working barges on the river was a real surprise.
Église Saint Jacques, Liège
These columns in Liège intrigued me, a contrast to the grand building behind.  Sylvie told me that they actually marked the old cathedral that once stood there.

Liège has many contrasts between old a new - here the extension to the Opera house.
Liège railway station is an extraordinary building, elegant lines and reflections throughout, and looking like a spaceship from outside!

I stayed in an old château (above and below) about 5 kms from Huy........

.......... though the view from the front door was a bit scary!

Below is the impressive church at Huy.

The square in Huy.

Nicholas walked with me from their home to the path on a beautiful sunny morning, spending time to show me an old château which is being carefully restored.  After connecting with the path I had an enjoyable walk through the forest to the town of Namur.  Having stayed in a château two nights earlier this night I stayed in a Casino, and the following night I stayed in the Abbey at Leffe, famous for its beer production, exported around the world apparently.
The château being restored in Wartet.
Walking through the forest means a climb up out of the river valley, generally followed by a descent.
The further up the River Meuse I walked the more impressive the cliffs were.
A street scene in Namur.......
.......and a river scene - near my hotel.
An impressive and different statue in Namur.

On the way to Leffe there were views across the river to interesting villages and the odd impressive château.

Leffe is just on the outskirts of Dinant, the birthplace of Adolphe Sax and this bridge has a line of oversized models of  the instruments on each side.
At the other end of Dinant stands the Rock of Bayard (left) a 40metre monolith.
The path was very close to the river (still the Meuse) at times ........
........ and going along this bit was quite scary.  I had to be very careful going around the overhanging part of rock - not a lot of space with a large pack on!
Looking across at Waulsort.

At the Abbey at Leffe I met the first pilgrims for the year.  I shared the room with two men from Germany, a young man from Holland and two women, also from Holland.  The monks fed us with a tasty dinner and breakfast.  A couple of days later, in a cafe, I met another chap from Holland, and that night in Marzee Jaap arrived at the Chambre d'Hote.  There was no restaurant in the town and so Aafke, Elisabeth, Jaap and I pooled what food we had for dinner.  A tasty meal.

The next day I had the company of Aafke and Elisabeth for the first part of the day until our paths diverged.  They have continued on towards Vezelay, while I'm on the Via Thierache now, heading for Saint Quentin, on my way to Paris.  Not only have I lost fellow pilgrims, but, after many days of its company, I have also left the River Meuse behind.
Dinner with Jaap, Elisabeth and Aafke
Elisabeth and Aafke heading into Treignes......
..... and later heading into Olloy sur Viroin, where our paths diverged.......
..... and I headed into Nismes.
Chimay.  Interestingly the villages after Nismes have been quite "grey".  The stone work in the buildings has been of grey stone, though the newer buildings on the outskirts of the villages are often bricks of various colours. 

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Köln, in Germany to Maastricht, in Holland.

I was dreading leaving Köln, as cities are often unpleasant to walk into, and out of, along busy streets.  I was pleasantly surprised as the path took me through a lovely park, on a lovely day.  For the time it took me to get to Aachen I had sunshine everyday.  Indeed I had to take a layer of clothes off and didn't wear my beanie or gloves for the week.  I have even dug out my hat and worn it for the last few days.

Leaving Köln was interesting for another reason - a football match!  The path passed near the football stadium and so I walked with, and then against, the throngs heading to the stadium.  I had to cross a street where there were police in droves and dozens of paddy wagons lined up.  A man told me that they were there because a train from Frankfurt was expected full of "hooligans"!  I could hear them singing (the tune was Loch Lomond) for miles!

I met several lovely people along the way.  A couple of women in the park decided I was the wrong colour for an Australian - no suntan! Interestingly an English man who had visited Australia later made the comment that he was surprised how Australian women covered up, and he noticed how our women protected themselves against the sun!

Later this day I met another delightful woman who shouted me a coffee and spent a lovely hour chatting with her.  Indeed, I spent the day chatting to people the whole way, and those who know me will say - with a touch of sarcaam- " what a surprise"!  It was such a lovely day people were out in droves - cycling, walking the dog, or just ambling along the many paths.
My hotel in Köln (on left) and the spires of the cathedral in the background.
The Rhine at night.
Leaving Köln and the start of the park.
The police, cars, supporters in Müngeradorf.
Brauweiler (above and below)

Heading to Kerpen I met this traveller.  He didn't like my bright red back pack!
I had to invent the route I was to travel through the Königsdorfer forest.  I lost the markers, but found this along the way.
The crocus were flowering on the banks of the moat at the Schloss at Burgerhausen.
A sign in Spanish on the way into Golzheim.
More power plants!
The ruins of a monastery in the forest heading to Schevenhütte, on my way to Vicht (pronounced Fisht!)
This not so little granite character was reclining in a garden in Vicht.
Leaving Vicht I climbed up onto a lovely plateau, a nature park, which I was told later used to be an army training base and also, at some point, a dump.
The village of Breinig.  Here the buildings are made of bluestone, a change from the half timbered buildings.
The beautiful village of Kornelimünster.
The Benedictine Kornelimünster Abbey built in 814.

Aachen was a big surprise to me.  It was, for me, a surprise to come across some historical characters I had met on other parts of this journey.  The big character was Charlemagne.  I had no idea that Aachen was his capital.  There are references to him everywhere - a Charlemagne centre, a Charlemagne museum, the town hall has portraits of him as this was the place that began life as his palace.  I could go on but will stop at that.  Interestingly all the portraits and statues of him are different as there is no surviving pictorial record of what he looked like, and only a brief description by his friend and biographer which could fit many of you reading this!

The other surprise character was Napoleon.  Charlemagne was a role model of his and he visited Aachen, along with Josephine,  several times.

The other surprise, and it shouldn't have been, was the Roman heritage of the town.  A lot of the Roman evidence has been recycled, the walls for one being demolished over time and the stones being reused in other buildings.  This was a spa town, with hot springs coming from the ground around which the town was built.  In the garden in the centre of the town a structure has been built over archeological remains of a former Roman temple and hostel.  They would have made use of these springs back then just as the locals turned this into a very fashionable place of therapy and healing in the 1800's.  I watched people coming to the spring, around which a fancy building has been built, to fill bottles with the warm water pouring from the fountain.  I could also smell the sulphur in the air around it, reminiscent of Rotorua in NZ, but not as strong.
The Aachen cathedral (above and below).  It was part of Charlemagne's palace and the entrance is an ocatagonal shape.

A modern stained glass window in the cathedral.

Below is a little chapel, recently built on the way.  Inside was a stake of the pilgrim St James (or in German - St Jakob)

Just one of the many churches on the way into Aachen
The Elisenbrunnen.  It was built in 1827, badly damaged during the war and rebuilt and restored to its former glory.  The Cathedral is in the distance.
A lady fills her water bottles at the fountain.
In the centre of the Elisengarten stands the protected Roman archeological dig, with the Elisenbrunnen in the background.
Inside the Coronation Hall in the Rathaus (town hall), venue for the crowning of 32 German kings.

There were some gorgeous statues in Aachen, but generally speaking the fountains are still not working, presumably in case there is more icy weather.

Heading towards Gulpen.  The village in the distance is Vijlen and somewhere between there and where I'm standing I crossed the border into the Nederland's.  I have no idea where, the only way I knew I was in another country was that the signs were in Dutch instead of German.
The village of Gulpen, my first stop in the Netherland's.
The path in the Netherlands was sometimes lacking in signs, and needed a lot of interpretation.  Eventually I figured that I was to follow the direction the little bloke on the left is headed.
I missed the heather in flower in Scotland but have seen plenty in flower here in recent days.
Heading into Maastricht.

Like Aachen, Maastricht was a surprise.  A truly lovely city.  Cobbled streets, old buildings, lovely churches and a river on which the barges travel up and down stream.  It is a very outdoor living city with many, many bars and cafes complete with chairs and tables on the pavements.
The river around which Maastricht is built.  The barges are frequent and fast.
One of the churches in Maastricht.
Vrijthof square lined with bike racks and bars.  This is the square where Andre Rieu holds his concerts in July.
This is the view of St. Servaas Basilica from the square.
The portico in St Servaas Basilica.
The Markt square in Maastricht.