Anxious prologue (written July 5th 2019 in Rothenburg ob der Tauber). I’m a bit apprehensive about this walk. Just behind my eyeballs there’s a nagging voice saying “Are you ready for this?” It has been grating at my brain with three unanswerable reasons not to do the walk. First, it says, old age is withering your muscles. You don’t have what it takes to go up and down hills. Yes, it’s true. It’s a rude fact, and I was reminded of it yesterday when we checked into our hotel after a long and complicated trip from Amman in Jordan. The Gerberhaus Hotel is a traditional establishment in a large, picturesque 16th century house not far from the centre of Rothenburg. We were assigned a room under the roof, up three flights of stairs from street-side reception. After four months in Israel, Emmy and I have accumulated stuff, and yes… it’s mostly useless stuff. My suitcase weighs 26 kilos and hers 23 kilos. We also have heavy backpacks. The Gerberhaus has no lift, nor staff to help with luggage. So yesterday I had to haul my 26 kg bag, step by painful step, up to our attic room. Then Emmy’s. How many times did I go up and down those three flights of stairs? Five times, I think, and each time the stairs stretched up higher and steeper. My stringy old muscles were definitely not up to it. I’m feeling fragile. (This afternoon, we’ll pack up all our excess stuff and send it back to Canberra by DHL’s courier service.)
That small, grating voice is also reminding me: “You’re not fit, are you!?” Six weeks ago, we did a four-day hike through northern Israel (see my four reports on The Jesus Trail). Since then I have hardly exercised at all. Jerusalem’s summer heat put a stop to my daily walk from our apartment in the suburb of Katamon to my office at the Israel Institute for Advanced Studies, a return distance of about five kilometres. I had to go by bus. I have lost condition. I can feel that my walking range – my stamina – has taken a big hit. And there’s no time now to build it up again little by little. We start walking the Romantic Road tomorrow with an initial hike of 16 kms.
Then there’s the weather. A week ago, Europe went through an unusual heatwave. Temperatures in parts of Germany sailed up over 40 degrees. I’m looking at my mobile phone right now: tomorrow’s maximum will be around 30 degrees. That’s too hot for two easily dehydrated old people who don’t have the strength or the stamina to carry a big load of water.
The prognosis doesn’t look good. We will walk tomorrow, but we are going to suffer.
Report from Schillingsfurst, our first stop. As predicted, July 6th dawned dry and hot. As we walked out of Rothenburg at 9:00 a.m. the sun was already like a branding iron in the cloudless sky. Initially there wasn’t much shade. We walked through quiet fields of beige-yellow spelt-wheat and bright green corn. Luckily our trail notes (supplied by Macs Adventure: https://www.macsadventure.com/holiday-1479/germanys-romantic-road ) were detailed and clear, and the trail markers along the route were frequent and clearly visible.
But by the village of Bochenfeld, less than half-way through the day’s walk, attrition had climbed like a gorilla onto our shoulders. It was a relief to enter a stretch of shadowy woods and sit for half an hour on some fallen logs. We ate a little and drank a lot, enjoying the restorative quiet. Tiny waspish-looking flies traversed my outstretched legs, hovering like tiny helicopters on a reconnaissance mission over the ridges and gullies of my clothes, sniffing out my sunscreen lotion and salty sweat. There were a few lazy chirps in the trees, but otherwise all was silent. A church bell tolled from kilometres away, muffled in the heavy heat of late morning.
In the afternoon our stops became more frequent, but around 3:00 pm we managed to edge into the village of Schillingsfurst – wrapped in Saturday afternoon somnolence. From the terrace of our accommodation at the very welcoming Die Post Hotel, high on the slope of a valley, the countryside rolled out to the horizon: orange roofs of farmsteads amid a quilt of corn and wheat fields, belts of dark forest, small villages holding fast to the spikes of their church towers, high-tech ridge-top windmills slowly, gracefully waving their slender arms in the late afternoon breeze.
It was a relief to reach our destination, but in a kind of mild delirium I made a mistake. I drank a big stein-mug of Bavarian beer, then at dinner devoured slabs of beef that (the publican told me proudly) had been marinated in rich red wine for six days, and followed it with an ice-cream dessert dressed in a high-octane liqueur. The combination of alcohol and dehydration triggered an attack of gout in my right big-toe joint. The following morning I was yelping in pain and limping. The day’s walk to Feuchtwangen – 22 kilometres – grinned at me in evil anticipation of my suffering.
Dear reader, I won’t impose on your reserves of sympathy with details of my agony. Anyway, I don’t remember much of the day… I was walking through a paracetamol induced fog. Somehow the kilometres crept past like ghosts. At least the temperature had fallen to around 20 degrees. As we walked unsteadily into Feuchtwangen I swore a solemn oath: never again any alcohol of any kind in any quantity during this month of walking. And… success! I have strictly observed the oath for a whole two days.
We have found the Germans we have met to be warm and friendly, tolerant of our practically non-existent command of German, and wonderfully ready to help. We had two examples of this as we left Feuchtwangen. I asked our hosts at the Karpfen Hotel to prepare two packed lunches for us to eat on the road the following day. As we checked out, our lunches were handed to us.
“Oh, no charge,” was the smiling reply. Inside each pack we found three freshly cut sandwiches (thick cheese and ham), a tomato and a boiled egg. Free! On the edge of town we stopped to buy water at an old mill that had been turned into a popular restaurant. The proprietor emerged with a big bottle of top-quality mineral water.
“Oh, no charge,” was the smiling reply. And we hadn’t even entered the restaurant!
This earthy generosity lent wings to our feet. My painful toe had settled down, the rich green fields and shade-filled forests flashed past, and by three o’clock in the afternoon we were passing under Dinkelbuhl’s tall, red, medieval clock tower. Survival is a kind of success, and we had survived the first half of the walk. Time for a day’s break in the exotic surrounds of “Germany’s most beautiful old city”.