Monthly Archives: June 2012

2012 Summary Notes

1. The Prague to Nuremberg route is interesting, very different from France, and well worth the walking. The forests and panoramas in CZ are especially noteworthy. I’m glad I made this trip.

2. The planning resources, both in print (Der Jakobsweg: Prag nach Tillyschantz and Jakobsweg: Eslarn nach Bodensee) and digital media (gps track on peterrobbins site) are very helpful and reasonably accurate. All the lodging establishments were still open and their contact information was current. There were minor variations in the designated route from the gps track, but nothing that was not immediately apparent. The stage length (from lodging to lodging) is reasonable – I averaged about 16 km. Of course the German authors of the guidebooks consider this a half day distance, but it was plenty for me.

3. Route marking on the ground is not as frequent as in France on the Le Puy route. This is especially true in CZ. Having access to the gps track saved many (but not all) needless backtracks. This was also especially true in towns (where I always have trouble regardless).

4. Bus service is often available in the small towns, which is useful in adjusting stage length to suit the walker’s capacity. There is no taxi or baggage-transport service available. Bus service is affected by Sunday, holiday, and weekend schedule reductions.

5. In CZ, the small towns do not have pharmacy, bank, or even market services available; just residences and a bus stop, with the occasional pension. Large towns (those with a rail connection) will have these services. In Germany all these services are available in the small towns.

6. Once outside Prague, it is rare to find an English-speaker in CZ, and rarer yet to find a German-speaker. English is taught in the high schools, so teenagers have the best chance for English. There are no tourism offices outside Prague, and only in the cities in Germany. Czech is a really strange language, difficult for me to learn at all. I relied on my audio dictionary quite a bit. My phrasebook German worked in the small towns in Germany, and English in the cities. I used to learn a bit of Czech and to brush up my German. The app Michel Thomas produced very good results for pronunciation in German, and basic verb constructions. I was frequently complimented on my German (more than I deserved – my listening comprehension is still not good).

7. Everyone was very helpful even if there was a language barrier. Pilgrims are rare and people will look out for you.

8. The weather (from mid-May to mid-June) was quite good for walking. I did not encounter consecutive rainy days until the last week of my walk.

9. Path conditions were generally quite good, giving much better walking than in France. There were no Stretches of eroded stones. There was minimal asphalt or pavement walking. There were a few boggy spots (with the accompanying swarms of oversized mosquitos) but these were isolated. There were some very steep spots (even on the marked route) especially in CZ. The short stretches that were steep in Germany seemed to rely on the network of tree roots for their integrity. Every stream crossing had either a bridge or stepping stones.

10. Cell phone coverage was universal. Hotels in the cities offered wifi; and very occasionally I was able to find a wifi connection in the small towns. Eventually I made a data package buy from my US service provider and used that for my email and blogging. Cell phone companies in Germany are different from CZ even if they have the same name.

11. Since there are so few walkers (or other travelers) at this time of years, there is no need to call ahead for reservations. If there are two lodgings in town, and one takes vacation, the other will be open.

12. The holiday schedule in Germany differs from France. In Bavaria (both routes from Prague run through Bavaria), not only is there the Pfingsten (Pentecost/Whitsunday) a long holiday weekend, but Corpus Christi is also (Thursday after Trinity Sunday, about ten days after Pentecost). Both these are moveable feasts, being counted from the date of Easter. These holidays impact bus service and local festivals can fill lodgings. So check the calendar.

13. Pricing level. In Germany, an average of 35 Euros would get me a private single room (clean sheets, duvet, and towels) with private shower, and an enormous breakfast with enough left over for lunch. Dinner ran 10-15 euros depending on taste and beer consumption.

13. Electronics and apps.
– iPhone 4GS. Often had coverage when other phones did not, I assume because of the multi-band capability.
– Collins German dictionary
– Collins Czech dictionary
– Collins Czech audio phrasebook
– GPS Track
– Camera Plus. Supports photo editing.
– Blogger
– Kindle. Essential for entertaining oneself in the evenings.
– Unlocked cell phone. I did not need or use.

14. Equipment.
– Pack. Osprey Exos 46. This is my third walk and my third pack. I am very happy with this pack. It is lighter weight than either predecessor (Osprey Kestrel 45 and Kestrel 35), and much cooler as it stands well off the back. It was quite sturdy, receiving only a 1 inch tear when I took that fall down the ravine. For some reason this pack has about as much usable volume as the Kestrel 35.
– Water bladder. Platypus 2 liter was adequate, the days were not hot.
– Boots. Vasque Bitterroot boots with a prescription orthotic insert produced zero foot problems of any sort. If there were more asphalt walking I would really need some additional insole cushioning. Goretex liners were very helpful in the boggy bits.
– Poles. I have used Pacer Poles for all three walks, and they probably saved my life this trip. I was able to lean very heavily on them while working my way down the ravine and descending the waterfall. They bent but never broke.
– Sleeping bag. Yeti Passion One. In Germany a silk sleep sack would have been sufficient, but a sleeping bag is essential in spring in CZ, as the places are not heated and nights are cold.
– Long underwear. Likewise the silk long johns were not necessary except in CZ. This was my first experience with the Smartwool Icebreaker merino wool undershirt; it is definitely a keeper, ver comfortable both day and night.

15. There are not other walkers, to be encountered either during the day or in the evenings, either in CZ or in Germany. The exception was near German cities on weekend mornings, when local people are making outings. Your social contact will be with your lodging hosts (if you speak the language). I would be strongly inclined to bring a walking companion with me, if possible. This is especially true in CZ, where assistance resources are so limited.

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11 Jun 12: Markt Wendelstein to Nürmberg

Distance: 10+ km

I am amazed at how quickly one transitions from being in town to being in the woods; no extended suburbs here in Markt Wendelstein. Somehow they managed to save quite a lot of forestland around the south side of Nürnberg, so that is where the route takes us. One just keeps going, putting one foot in front of the other. It starts to rain a bit. Out comes the rain gear, and I trudge onward. All of a sudden, I pop out of the woods, cross the street at the pedestrian crosswalk, and I arrive at the Nürmberg-Reichelsdorf S-Bahn (regional surface light rail line) station. I’m done.

Done. After a month. It takes a while to sink in.

Nürmberg does have extensive, industrial suburbs, and it is recommended to not walk them. So this S-Bahn station is the place to use, whether you are inbound to Nürmberg from the east, as I am, or whether you are outbound westerly through Rothenburg. However, if you are outbound southwesterly towards Ulm (my next trip), then you should take the S-Bahn down to Schwabach instead. For die hard purists there is a completely walking route along the King Ludwig Canal.

So I take the S-Bahn into town, and the tourism office finds me a small family-run pension in the old part of town. And I do what pilgrims have done for centuries: I wander around in shock and disbelief. Where did all these people come from? What is this stuff in the shop windows? What is this odd language they’re speaking? How can I decide where and what to eat? There are just too many choices! It’s overwhelming.

This is the third year I have walked the Way of St James, but this part at the end of the walk does not change. I always have the same reaction. I suppose this has been true for the pilgrim experience from the beginning. The intermediate stops were themselves places of pilgrimage, so they drew the associated crowds and commercialism. Just goes to prove the Way itself is the objective, not the town at the end.

I do find my way over the St Jacob’s Church, which is a Lutheran parish these days. They have a stamp! Yay! And a lovely painted wood altar panel. And for other pilgrims passing through, there is an Anglican community that holds worship in English here in Nürmberg, on the 2nd Sunday of the month. See for details and locations (they circulate among several host churches).

I return to my awe-struck wandering about town, thinking of the next walk. It is about four weeks walking to Konstanz, on the Bodensee (Lake Constance).

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10 Jun 12: Rummelsberg to Markt Wendelstein

Distance: 12.5 km
Climbing: Flat

Rummelsberg seems to be right on the edge of the greater Nürnberg area: except for a bit of logging road early on, today’s route has been all suburban, small town, or city or county parks. So, no wide, expansive vistas or broad panoramas; just the closed-in view of woods or houses. This part of Germany was once an inland sea, so the soil is quite sandy and it really resembles the sand hills section of the Carolinas. It is Sunday morning, and many people are out, walking or jogging or bicycling or dogging.

The last few km lie along the King Ludwig Canal, built during the heyday of infrastructure development before the railroads came along, just like the Erie Canal in the US, which it resembles. Unlike the Canal du Midi in France, the houseboat lobby has not got their oar in the water, so to speak, so the locks are not functioning and there is no water traffic, apart from the stray water lily.

Unlike the situation with walking in France in September, there is no need for a cellphone for calling ahead for lodging reservations. Almost invariably I am the sole lodger. If anything, one would call to see whether the establishment is open at all – many seem to be taking vacation during this timeframe. And so the pension here is closed, and I am in the hotel instead.

I am stopping here so as to take advantage of the smaller towns, rather than spending several days in the big city of Nürmburg. Lunch was at the first gasthaus I came to. This is Sunday, as I mentioned, and the tradition of “Sunday dinner” is big here; since I had to picnic for last night’s dinner as well as my breakfast this morning, this seems a reasonable compensation. Oh my – what a delight! Pan-fried filet of fish, swimming in lemon butter sauce (there is no German word for “lightly sauced”), potatoes with bits of bacon, and fresh broccoli.

Dinner was at the hotel, and they had some seasonal asparagus specials on the menu still. So I had fresh spaetzle with asparagus and fresh herbs. Yummy!

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9 Jun 12: Sindlbach to Rummelsberg

Distance: 17.5 km
Climbing: 45m up and 70m down

The further west, away from the Czech border, I have walked, the more moderate the terrain has become. The highest point along the Jakobsweg in CZ was 600m (this was on the section I skipped around) while the elevation midday here is only 385m. This is a rolling landscape, with small farming valleys separated by small wooded hills. It makes for very scenic walking. The local hiking associations, who are in charge of the routing of these long-distance paths, including the Jakobsweg (there are others), have taken pains to give reasonable and picturesque experiences. They avoid the main highways and will even go uphill to avoid suburban and commercial development. There is much less road-shoulder marching than in France. (Most of the road-shoulder I have walked here has been by my choice, either a shortcut or a misdirection).

Today’s route wended its way through these small wooded hills en route to a former monastery mill. I came across another one of the giant rabbits; he was curious at first but then anxiety struck and he dashed off. I also passed a very large wayside cross, similar to the several I see each day, but larger. (Note to translators: “roadside cross” is different from “crossroad”.)

In Gnadenberg I passed ruins of a cloister dedicated to St Birgitt, which had been burned in the Thirty Years War. This part of Bavaria seems to have both a Protestant and a Catholic church in every town, unlike the earlier area where I saw only Catholic. Later, in Rasch, I saw half-timbered buildings (the first since I started walking on this trip), with the Rathaus dating from 1727.

I arrived at my day’s objective, Altenthann (14 km) about 2:00 to discover they were having a festival. Think carnival rides, popcorn balls, feats of strength for the young men, and so on. Meaning, of course, to coin a phrase, there was no room in the inn. There was nothing to be done but continue to the next town, as the buses were not running. I arrived at Rummelsberg just as it started to sprinkle. It is not looking like a town, more like a cross between a college campus and a business park. I locate the hotel, which is listed in my guidebook. The hotel is closed for renovation. (Just as well, the tariff would have been over 70 Euros). I went into the adjacent building, thinking it is another (possibly open) wing of the hotel. No, this is a nursing home: elders in wheelchairs nodding in the lobby. I go back outside, encounter some competent adults heading into the building, and ask for directions to the other lodging mentioned in the guidebook (the next town was yet another 5 km and I just wasn’t up for that much more, another 2 hours of walking). One dear woman took pity and drove me over to this place. We manage to raise one resident on the intercom, and he manages to locate the housemother, and at last I end up with a room, for which I am immensely grateful. I do not even mind that there is no restaurant or any food service of any kind. I have a bed, a shower down the hall, some brown bread provided by the resident, and my pack larder of cheese and gorp. It is enough.

Turns out, this place is a social services ministry (retirement home, handicapped residences, etc.) operated by a brotherhood (1000 strong) of Lutheran deacons. (For you Anglicans reading, think “permanent diaconate” not the transitional deacons on their way to being ordained as priests.) And the building where I am lodged is the dorm for the deacons-in-training. Training takes six years and includes what Americans would consider undergraduate as well as seminary. It is local to the Nürmberg area and apparently very well known. An appropriate place for a pilgrim to spend the night.

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8 Jun 12: Kastl to Sindlbach (bus)

My plan had been to take the bus from Kastl to Trautmannshofen, involving a bus transfer at Neumarkt. This would leave me a 11km walk downhill into Sindlbach and about 3 hours to do it, putting my arrival about 5:30pm.

Alas, the bus system had other ideas, since this seems to be a continuation of yesterday’s holiday. So, I was not able to catch a bus leaving Kastl until 1245, and the bus through Trautmannshofen was not running at all. A nerve wracking hour later, a bus heading through Sindlbach appeared and so I took it. And a good thing too, as the heavens opened up and the downpour began the moment I set foot inside the bus. If I had been walking, I would have been thoroughly drenched despite my rain gear – it rained that hard and long and the route was out in the open, with no sheltering trees. So I was very glad of the bus, actually.

The frustrating thing is, none of the highly computerized signs at the otherwise well integrated Neumarkt transit center had any knowledge of the change in bus schedules due to the holiday. This seems very odd to me, in a country that is in so many other ways so very orderly. Neumarkt seems like a big place, larger than Schwandorf. The suburbs extend quite a ways – I suspect this is within commuting range of Nürmburg.

My lodgings tonight are directly on the Jakobsweg, very nicely kitted out (Ikea must be making a fortune in the gasthaus trade). Dinner was a splendid plate of fried fish (it being Friday and all, a nice change from pork) with home-fries and a tall pilsner.

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7 Jun 12: Kastl Rest Day

The next stage on the designated route was 23 km, which is at least 7 km more than I can manage (this section includes many steep climbs and descents). So I decided a bus section was in order, and that put me at the mercy of the bus schedule.

As I was nosing about Kastl, I discovered it was a holiday; a Holy Day type holiday actually, complete with open air Mass on the Market Square. This was a festival Mass: incense, bells, organ, acolytes, etc. There was procession afterwards with firemen in uniform, banners from community organizations, the priest carrying a monstrance with a cloth of gold canopy overhead, and several hundred townspeople trailing along behind. And a while later the saluting battery carried on. I am often asked why I walk in Europe, and I think this morning’s experience is one good answer. Walking affords me the opportunity to be a participant in Europe and not just a spectator.

Afterwards I waited at the bus shelter for several hours, but indeed there was no bus service due to the holiday. It was a lovely, peaceful, place to sit and watch the world go by for a while. Not that I was opposed to a rest day, mind you; I just had not envisioned an enforced one. This brings to mind the classic saying,”Tourists make demands, but pilgrims give thanks.” Since the bus stop is immediately adjacent my last night’s lodgings, I went back for another night.

Dinner was a wonderfully tender roast beef with wild mushroom sauce and spaetzle, and something that wasn’t quite cranberries but close.

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6 Jun 12: Hohenburg to Kastl

Distance: 13.5 km
Climbing: 40m up

Frau has laid out a lovely breakfast, with meats, breads, cheeses, yogurt and – eggs!

Mercifully, as I am still tired from yesterday, today’s route lies along an asphalted bike path, following a stream up the valley. It is gentle, it is picturesque, it is benign. Up on the heights overlooking it is less benign however, as the American military uses that area for field training exercises.

My noon halt was on a shady bench, with a soft breeze, and a babbling brook, and birdsong for company. Just immersively tranquil. And at that point I won free of the asphalt, being grateful for the sandy replacement.

The Germans are nuts for asparagus, which has a short season here. So dinner was an asparagus and ham strudel (in German very alliterative: spargel und schinken strudel) with a glass of Riesling (well, two). And as a treat I ordered dessert, fresh strawberries with vanilla ice cream.

Kastl has an old Kloster, and the complex is atop a hill. Fortunately my night’s lodgings are not.

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